Cooperative Bank: one less thing to be smug about

I used to write a fortnightly column for Guardian Unlimited called Financial Hypochondriac, in which I had some fun with the idea that the financial system was too complicated to be understood by ordinary mortals, and that consequently we were all being forced into a state of constant anxiety about our finances. At least, those of us who thought about such things were. The columns are still online, too, though I shan’t be reading them myself.

But one thing I’ve been certain of for a long, long time is that the Cooperative Bank is the place to do your day-to-day banking. Why leave your money with the spivs and cowboys of the High Street banks when you could stick it with an organisation that has members not shareholders and even boasts an ethical investment policy? When people complained about the banks, I would say what on earth’s wrong with you? There’s an obvious solution. Move your account to the Coop!

Those smug, carefree current account days are no more. For the Cooperative, it turns out, was being run in just the slap-happy fashion as all the other banks, overstretching itself and essentially making like a third-year undergraduate who’s just negotiated yet another increase to his overdraft. And, to make good its previous indiscriminate cash-splurging, it’s now having to float on the Stock Exchange. Imagine! Grubby stockholders, pawing over the pristine Coop’s finances with their ravenous jaws! Now, when I log into, the Coop’s now-rather-poignantly-named online banking service, it smells slightly of disappointment and betrayal.

Where do I go now? Nationwide twitches its mutual skirts in my direction, while the fat cats at HSBC open their soiled gaberdine raincoats and offer me a First Direct login. But who to trust, now that good old dependable Coop has turned into a dud?



A Pound of Obscure June 7, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

  • “There are three first-rate international universities in Turkey”
    “There are three first-rate international universities in Turkey, and they have faculty clubs where wine is drunk. A decree came out that alcohol must not be sold in universities. The faculty club is now a nuclear winter. You have to apologise to foreigners, then take them by taxi to a hotel; the academic staff have lost a friendly place and the waiters are out of a job. Other nonsensical restrictions were rushed through parliament in a vote taken at 7 a.m. with half of the government’s own supporters absent: a little cloud to be placed over wine glasses on TV and film; warnings à la cigarette packets placed on bottles of wine (at the making of which the Turks have become proficient); administrative chicanery to stop drinking even in places popular with tourists. Prime Minister Erdogan defended it all with reference to restrictions elsewhere, but everyone knows that Turkey does not have a Finnish (or English) drink problem to justify such things. Drink-driving accounts for about 1 per cent of traffic accidents, far less than speeding, let alone the fasting month of Ramadan, when drivers with low blood-sugar swerve around the road.”- What’s eating Turkey » The Spectator
  • “Books and films are totally different things”
    ““Books and films are totally different things,” Sharpe said during his interview on Desert Island Discs. “I say throw the book out the window and use the characters.””- BBC News – Tom Sharpe, Porterhouse Blue novelist, dies aged 85
  • joehillsthrills:We built this together. – John Green

    We built this together. – John Green

    Fuck, yes. – Me.

    Oh my yes indeed.

  • Welcome to Disorient Express

    On July 6th a dozen of us will set off from London by train and attempt to do an entire circuit of Europe (though unlike Napoleon we shall not attempt Moscow). We’re calling it Disorient Express, aka Tourism Grande Vitesse. Here’s the T-shirt.


    And here’s the route we’re taking.

    You can follow us here on Tumblr, on our website, on Facebook or on Twitter. There’ll be lots of info, lots of stories, lots of pictures and lots of maps. So if any of that sounds like your thing, climb on board. It will be expressive and disorientating….


The dismal science is being cheered up

Yesterday, I read this in the Atlantic. It’s an argument from Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and star of the Zuckerberg-Winkelvoss dispute, for why spending money now, even at the expense of debt, might create less of a burden on our descendants than is commonly thought. It’s designed as a counterpoint to those (normally right-wing) assumptions that any debt accrued today is, by definition, a bad thing down the line:

The example I always like to use is Kennedy Airport is going to be repaired. It is going to be repaired at some point. Potholes in roads are going to be filled. The question is whether we’re going to fill them now, when we can borrow to fill them at zero in real terms, and when construction unemployment is near double digits, or whether we’re going to do that years from now, when there will no longer be any multiplier benefits to those expenditures and when the deficit problem will be a more serious problem.

Two things strike me about that. One is the forehead-slapping obviousness of Summers’s argument. The other is the phrase the example I always like to use.

That phrase implies a whole series of explanations by this very finest of economic brains (whether you agree with him or not). A whole sequence of attempts to make the complex comprehensible.

Economics as an academic discipline has long had this yawning gap between use of the system – by ourselves in financial transactions, by companies, by investors and most of all by governments – and understanding of the system as outlined in academic papers. Put bluntly, we none of us really know how this stuff works (and, to be fair, economists can face the same problem).

Only in the last decade has explanation been something economists have felt they have to do, perhaps following the lead of those who have sought to popularise science. It also seems that economists have embraced blogging as a platform for explanation. Tyler Cowen, Tim Harford, Jonathan Portes are all frequent and interesting explainers of obtruse theory, such that even dunderheads like me can understand them (and if you want to see economic blogging taken to its absolute limit, try following Brad Delong).

Along with this, Stephanie Flanders and Robert Peston at the BBC have done an outstanding job in turning seriously complicated economic considerations into narratives which anyone, with a bit of effort, can take in. Here’s an excellent example – Stephanie Flanders explaining why the US bond market is a complex signal of economic futures.

Why are Flanders and Peston so good at this stuff? Because, I think, economics is the one area where an “on the other hand” approach to news can really work. Because there is such profound disagreement at the heart of economic debate, an even-handed approach works. I think the BBC have made a bad mistake in inviting UKIP and even the EDL into the heart of the national debate in the name of “fairness”, because political ideas, at least when expressed on television, are hard to judge in terms of seriousness. Bad ideas can look just as important as good ones if expressed with sufficient certainty. Economic ideas do not have that problem, because they have academics observing them closely. These ideas are, in their essence, the thoughts of clever men and women who have considered carefully what they are about. We can rarely say that of politics.

Economics, then, is the perfect “digital” discipline. It needs lengthy explanations. It invites dissent. It thrives on numbers. And it’s so complicated that stories, such as the one Summers tells, are essential.


Blogging and the art of enthusiasm

It’s been a while since I posted anything meaningful on here.

It’s also been a bit of a grumpy month.

Yesterday, when I was filling in a profile for someone (of which more later) I came up with a possible link between these two things. The question which sparked the thought was Why do you blog?

To which my immediate answer was I don’t, much, anymore, or at least at the moment.

So I asked the question differently: Why DID I blog? 

And I came up with this answer: To maintain enthusiasm for as many things as possible. I find that when I’m not blogging, I’m crabby and uninterested in the world.

It was an odd realisation. But I think a true one. I used to blog about a lot of things: politics, music, books, movies, digital culture. And when I was doing it, I felt interested and connected in all of those things. There’s something about having a thought and then working it out via a blogpost which deepens one’s attentiveness to something. I read something by Somerset Maugham recently which I now can’t quite remember, but it was to the effect that a notebook is essential even if one never reads one’s notes, because writing something down causes the brain to recall it by engaging with it more deeply.

Blogging’s a lot like that, with bells on, because when you blog you also share. And that causes you to take a little extra care, give things a bit more thought. Not a great deal more – it’s still a sloppy medium – but it is, again, a different quality of attention. Which I’ve rather missed.

I thought for a while that other things had taken the place of blogs: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and the rest. But they’re a 20/20 slugfest compared to the Test Cricket experience of blogging. Sharing a link on Twitter is an ephemeral, knee-jerk thing. Taking the same link and trying to tease out one’s thoughts on it is is essence of blogging, and I’ve missed it.

So I’ll be doing more of it. Sorry. It’s for my benefit, you see. Not yours.

A Pound of Obscure May 31, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

  • explore-blog:

    …into rotten English

    …by an ass

    Mark Twain’s improvements on the title page of Plutarch’s Lives of Illustrious Men. Twain, a master of dissent in general, was no stranger to handwritten snark and critiques of the English language.

  • “It’s been quite awhile since I was really afraid that there was a boogeyman in my closet”
    “It’s been quite awhile since I was really afraid that there was a boogeyman in my closet, although I am still very careful to keep my feet under the covers when I go to sleep, because the covers are magic and if your feet are covered, it’s like boogeyman kryptonite.” – Stephen King, Author Of ‘Joyland’: On Growing Up, Believing In God And Getting Scared : NPRI still do this, too.

  • “Music’s like a long train. Some people got on at the beginning of the line.”
    “Music’s like a long train. Some people got on at the beginning of the line. Others join it later. They can explore the rest of the carriages but their experience of the journey will not be the same as the people who got on earlier. The passengers who’ve been there longest may point out that the train is going round in circles and has passed certain landmarks before. The newer passengers don’t care. It’s new to them. In fact they might get excited about a station which they previously passed through without comment. Their view of the journey is a different one. Unlike real trains, this one has unlimited capacity. Once you’re on the train, nobody checks your ticket.”- David Hepworth’s Notebook: Music’s like a train that nobody gets off

  • A 419 of sublime beauty

    “These are our works that remain when we fall on the curtain of death. Dying we carry away any good equipment with us. The prayers and faith in his lord worth much more than any time in the latter. Fate directs me to you by chance but certainly your destiny would be drawn by the Lord. This is in pain that man is the revelation of his strength. I Natacha PALMER I am terminally ill with cancer and medicine can do nothing to save me for three years then I hear my time in the death row. It would be an honor if you would accept this gift of $ 2,250,000 that I give you this money because hugged me useless in the abode of Lord if I find a place down here but this money will be used. There are several organizations that I could contact but I’d rather not I’d rather it be a person like everyone else, to whom I entrust this great responsibility to create a foundation and good works that will fire as the Abbe Pierre and you keep to yourself 25% of this amount. Please contact me on my private email address: to give you more information and I am reassured by your good self-sacrifice and integrity to put you in contact with my lawyer.

    Natacha PALMER”

  • Andy Flower is… Strontium Dog

    It’s been bothering me, who Andy Flower resembles

    And then I realised.

  • Dee D Jackson: ‘Automatic Lover’ Top of the Pops…
    Dee D Jackson: ‘Automatic Lover’ Top of the Pops 1978 (by lee nichols) – I had to check Youtube to be sure I didn’t dream this last night. I didn’t. On ToTP they cut short Baker Street to go into this. This says everything you need to know about ToTP.

    This was also Tony Blackburn’s Record of the Week. I make no further comment.

  • Archaeological News: Clear evidence of Roman road in North Wales:



    CLEAR evidence of a Roman road has been found during an archaeological dig close to the home of a Welsh Prince.

    A section of a metalled road on the line of the Roman road from Caerhun to Segontium (Caernarfon) was found during excavations at Cae Celyn, a field near Garth Celyn at…

  • Star Trek Into Darkness: The Spoiler FAQ:

    I finally saw Star Trek on Thursday evening. It was exhausting. By the end I was praying for a static camera on a room painted in primary colours with people doing plot exposition to each other. It moved so fast that I was able to ignore my deepening feeling – from the opening scene – that what was going on made no sense whatsoever. But then I came home and thought about it. And then I read this. PLOT SPOILERS, SO MANY PLOT SPOILERS.

    I’m beginning to think Damon Lindelof has buried a dirty bomb somewhere in Hollywood and is using this as a means of securing work.

A Pound of Obscure May 24, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

A Pound of Obscure May 17, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

A Pound of Obscure May 10, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

A Pound of Obscure May 3, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

  • Britain enters the Drone Business, from home soil
    Britain enters the Drone Business, from home soil, for the first time. Wired salivates. (via For the First Time, Brits Launch Drone Strike From Home | Danger Room |

  • London Environs 1832 – David Rumsey Historical Map overlaid on Google

    Beautiful – David Ramsey’s extraordinary map collection, overlaid onto Google Maps. Here’s London in 1832.

  • collectivehistory

    In August 1961, two young girls speak with their grandparents in East Germany over a barbed wire fence, a barricade which later became the Berlin Wall (U.S. Department of State)

    One of those photos that’s as much a short story as a picture.

  • “Consider this; the range of good guys has expanded”
    “Consider this; the range of good guys has expanded, but not the bad. We now have investigators from all over the world, from Deon Meyer’s South African detective to William Ryan’s Moscow cop. There are Maasai warriors and Thai Buddhists solving murders, and a complete timeline of historical sleuths, not to mention cases being cracked by Oscar Wilde and Josephine Tey. With such a variety of crime-solvers to choose from, it’s a little mystifying to realise that our available choice of villains seems to have shrunk.”- Whatever Happened To The Art Of The Con? « Christopher Fowler’s Blog

  • lifeHappy birthday, Willie Nelson. Happy Birthday, that man.
  • “Can you imagine Oscar Wilde on Twitter?”
    “Can you imagine Oscar Wilde on Twitter? Holy shit, that dude would’ve had, like, four million followers, and every tweet would’ve been essential. Every tweet would’ve been the best part of your day.”- Interview: “NOS4A2” Author Joe Hill Talks the War on Christmas, Mark Twain’s Twitter, and Movie Adaptations | Complex

  • Would-Be Pirates Get a Taste of Delicious, Delicious Irony…
  • Ghostly Plane Wrecks Found in Remote, Exotic Locations
  • “The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political”
    “The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy. Too many influential people just don’t want to believe that we’re facing the kind of economic crisis we are actually facing.” – Knaves, Fools, and Me (Meta) – NYTimes

  • After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,

    I heard the announcement:
    If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
    Please come to the gate immediately.

    Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
    An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
    Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
    Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
    Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
    Did this.

    I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
    Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
    Sho bit se-wee?

    The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
    She stopped crying.

    She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
    She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
    Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

    Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
    We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
    I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
    Would ride next to her—Southwest.

    She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

    Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
    Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

    Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
    Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

    She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

    She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
    Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
    And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

    To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
    Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
    The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
    Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

    And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
    Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
    American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
    And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

    And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
    Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

    With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
    Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

    And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
    This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

    Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
    —has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

    They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
    This can still happen anywhere.

    Not everything is lost.

    Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be.  (via oliviacirce)

  • Obama: Still a class act.
    Obama: Still a class act. President Obama at 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (C-SPAN) (by CSPAN)

A Pound of Obscure April 26, 2013

I keep a tumblr at called A Pound of Obscure. Here’s the last week’s posts from it.

  • 2000adonline: Some superb art for this month’s Forum…

    Some superb art for this month’s Forum Competition(Apr’13):Bad Company,which has MarkChillyChillcott hitting the mark once again with his fabulous Muppet/2000AD mash-ups!

    • Sam the Eagle as Kano
    • Zoot the sax player as Shrike
    • Animal as Dogbreath(of course!)

    You’re In Bad Company….Yaayyyy!!!

  • “You have to put in the time. In addition to creating/building, you have to build the platform.”
  • abandonedography: Abandoned railroad by 小巨人看世界
    abandonedography: Abandoned railroad by 小巨人看世界

  • “Professor Henry Brubaker of the Institute for Studies”
    “Professor Henry Brubaker of the Institute for Studies said: “In an age where literally everything has to be arch, knowing, witty or retro, Iron Maiden fans somehow still don’t give a fuck. “They just like their thing for what it is, their hairy backs aren’t a statement and when they wear double denim with a bumbag it’s in no way ironic. “The rest of us will never achieve that level of enjoyment of anything, because our stupid aspirations have made us into dicks.”” – Iron Maiden fans somehow immune to self-consciousness epidemic
  • Sharing the responsibility

    There’s a big fuss online today about an unreleased Hyundai ad which some agency shot, which shows a guy trying to kill himself in his car, but failing to do so because of Hyundai’s super-low emissions. Obnoxious, clearly. Hyundai are saying the ad was only a creative sketch, and was never intended for release. A lot of other people are saying ‘well, yeah, Hyundai, but you signed off the test’. In other words, the people who paid for it are getting it in the neck.

    Fair enough. But when I see something like this, I always wonder about the ‘talent’ involved. The actor playing the guy in the car. The person operating the camera. The director. When I hear the educated tones of a nice lady offering me PPI insurance on a robo-call, I always think ‘you must have known what sort of people you were recording this for.’ When a talented copywriter produces something obfuscatory about a radiator or a luxury holiday, I always wonder ‘what did that do to you, doing that?’

    It probably didn’t do anything. There’s a long tradition that the talent is immune from the intent, and a job’s a job, darling. But if you take money to do something which makes you uneasy, what does that make you? And if it doesn’t make you uneasy, what does that say about your state of mind?

    Easy for me to say, of course. And a job IS a job.

  • “The Singh case”
    “The Singh case illustrates an important point about liberty. People imagine that freedom comes in revolutions and bills of rights. But sometimes revolutions turn authoritarian and bills of rights turn out not to be worth the paper they are written on – as article 10 of the Human Rights Act shows. More often, change comes when bloody-minded individuals refuse to accept the commonsense advice to “move on and let it be,” square their shoulders and fight back.”- Nick Cohen on: Simon Singh: Let us now praise a bloody-minded hero » Spectator Blogs

  • My guitar teacher’s new single
    My sickeningly talented guitar teacher’s new single, with his band The Mustangs – Yours Sincerely (by MustangsUK .) Get some mellow Brit Blues in your life….

  • “Cheerfulness, unaffected cheerfulness”
    “Cheerfulness, unaffected cheerfulness, a sincere desire to please and be pleased, unchecked by any efforts to shine, are the qualities you must bring with you into society, if you wish to succeed in conversation. … a light and airy equanimity of temper,—that spirit which never rises to boisterousness, and never sinks to immovable dullness; that moves gracefully from “grave to gay, from serious to serene,” and by mere manner gives proof of a feeling heart and generous mind.”- The art of conversation, 1866 (via explore-blog)

  • Memento Mori from the 1520s (via Retronaut – Memento Mori)

    Memento Mori from the 1520s (via Retronaut – Memento Mori)

    As a friend on Facebook pointed out, this puts Damien Hirst and his tattered like to shame. Who made this? What was their name? How did they learn their craft? And what else did they make?

  • “The paradox at the heart of music recommendation engines”
    “The paradox at the heart of all music recommendation engines is that as soon as a recommendation process is blunt enough to be performed by a machine it’s no longer sharp enough to be much use to a human being. Similarly, as soon as a process is mass enough to make money for a company it’s too mass to be of much benefit to an individual. As soon is it’s insistent and mechanical enough for somebody to claim it as a success it’s so insistent and mechanical that you want to turn it off.”- David Hepworth’s Notebook: Everybody likes recommending. Nobody likes being recommended to.