Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's Troo-dos anyone believe it?

Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain. Who’s next? Cyprus.

These are the European Union countries whose banking systems are in such a mess that some belevolent uncle agrees to pay off their overdrafts, provided that they promise to be more financially astute in the future. Of course, the benevolent uncle doesn’t have any money either, so what he’ll do is offer negligible returns to his investors until he gets his money back, or get taxpayers to refund him.

We all trust the banks with our savings, those same banks play fast and loose with our money plus a whole load of additional imaginary money, and then when it all goes wrong, we the savers – the ones who trusted the banks because they told us we could – have to pay for those rather expensive mistakes.

What genius thought up the latest idea for Cyprus? Basically, all bank depositors have between 6.75% and 9.9% of their deposits stolen in a one-off burglary perpetrated by the same organisations who have been trusted to look after everyone’s money. Never mind the alleged money laundering by Russian oligarchs; hundreds of thousands of Cypriots and expatriates stand to have up to a tenth of their life savings stolen, replaced by shares in clearly worthless banks that could collapse given an unexpected gust of wind.

This is so wrong. Investors are supposed to receive interest and borrowers are supposed to pay interest.

Naturally, the good citizens of Cyprus are concerned, and they queued over last weekend to withdraw what cash they could until the ATMs emptied or were shut down. It can hardly be a coincidence that Cyprus banks chose to stage this stick-up over a holiday weekend. And they’re planning to stay closed until Thursday. I think arguments will rage behind closed doors and the outcome will be that depositors will not be robbed.

However, the damage has already been done. No amount of promising not to do it again can restore savers’ faith that their money’s safe in the bank’s safe. The EU and the banking industry, by demonstrating a willingness to consider such measures, may have signed their own death warrant.

If banks cannot be trusted, and recent events illustrate that this is indeed the case, an awful lot of people will withdraw their savings the instant the banks re-open, and there will be a run on every bank in Cyprus, as savers all switch their investments to Sokunda-Matres Bank: no interest, no overdraft, no charges.

And how will the depositors in other bailed-out countries react? I fear panic withdrawals from every bank in southern Europe and the consequent catastrophic collapse of the Euro.

In the short term, I’m just glad that I didn’t open a bank account last time I was in Cyprus.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grandpa's Advice

Totally by accident I found this song. Turns out it was written by Adie Grey and Dave MacKenzie and performed by Adie Grey. Being a song about motoring, it even found its way on to NPR's Car Talk programme.

I found the music here between 2'50" and 6'22" on a short video involving Royal Enfield motorcycle maintenance.

Verse 1
I remember Sunday drivin’ in my Grandpa’s car.
Old songs on the radio; the smell of his cigar.
Everybody’d honk at him because he’d drive so slow.
He’d just laugh and tell me, “Kid, here’s something you should know...

Chorus 1
They’re all jerks!
When you’re out here on your own,
Just assume that everybody else is half-asleep or stoned.
They’re all jerks,
And not a one knows how to drive,
So you gotta pay attention to make it home alive.
I’ll give you my philosophy, I guarantee it works:
Repeat it after me, kid: They’re all jerks!”

Verse 2
He said, “They’ll let any fool with money buy himself a car
And you can get a license here, however dumb you are.
Oh, they all turn into hotrods when they slide behind the wheel.
When you get old enough to drive, remember here’s the deal:

Repeat Chorus 1

Verse 3
Twenty-five years later, I’ve got children of my own,
And I do all the driving between school and job and home.
Sometimes on the weekends we head out for the beach.
Now with the kids strapped in the backseat, now it’s my turn to teach.

So every time I’m cut off by some wise-guy in a truck,
Or some hero in a sports car whose gotta push his luck,
I don’t get scared or angry, I just sing this little song.
It always cheers me up to hear my children sing along:

Chorus 2
They’re all jerks!
When you’re out here on your own,
Just assume that everybody else is drunk or on the phone.
They’re all jerks!
And not a one knows how to drive,
So you gotta pay attention to make it home alive.
I’ll give you my philosophy, I guarantee it works.
Repeat it after me, kids: They’re all jerks!
I said,
Repeat it after me, kids: They’re all jerks!


Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tap dance

Today, 3rd March, was Arab Water Day or some such commemoration that wasn't publicised in advance. I was listening to the presenters and guests on Dubai Eye talking about how everybody in the UAE wastes 250 litres a day, and that the UAE consumes more water per capita than any other nation on the planet. In a former life I did water audit work. At the time, total domestic daily consumption in the UK was taken as 180 litres per person.

Most potable water comes from desalination, which is a huge consumer of energy, producing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even with (the now environmentally friendly because it doesn't produce carbon) nuclear fission producing a quarter of the UAE's electricity by 2020-something, that's still a shitload of drowning polar bears.

The UAE has to reduce its water demand.  According to Dubai Eye, hundreds of dams and more desalination plants are to be constructed, and there are plans afoot to cap domestic consumption.

I have a few ideas relating to reducing consumption.

  • Ensure that everybody pays for the water they use. The most sensitive part of the human body is the wallet.
  • All new builds should include grey water recycling. This can be a nightmare to retro-fit into existing buildings and is only really practical if a building is being seriously renovated. The local version of serious renovation is usually to tear it down and start from scratch. So install a grey water tank, and then you can flush the loo and water the garden with minimally treated shower waste.
  • Don't make it a criminal offence for watchmen to boost their meagre incomes by washing cars with bucket and sponge. And neither make it an offence to have a dirty car. An automatic car wash typically uses between 68 and 265 litres per cycle; whilst enthusiastic use of a hosepipe might use up to 450 litres, a bucket to wash a car plus another to rinse and leather will use probably 20 litres.
  • Discourage houseboys and maids from using hosepipes to sweep sand from driveways. A broom is just as effective and costs nuppence.
  • Try to get the Afghan ex-truck driver who masquerades as a gardener not to leave hoses running for an hour or more. I tried to reduce water consumption by fitting spray nozzles to my garden hoses. He simply removed them every morning, drowned the entire garden, and then refitted them when he left, in the apparent hope that I'd not notice. That was the guy that Beloved Wife fired when she caught him standing in a thunderstorm watering the cacti. His replacement has a similar attitude to water conservation: "I'm not paying for it so it's OK if I waste it."
  • The biggies for domestic consumption are where hosepipes are involved. Modern toilet cisterns are presumably designed with Fitness For Purpose in mind, and many have an economy flush feature for where only liquids are involved, but putting a brick, a hippo, or some other device in the tank to reduce the volume of the flush may be false economy. Apart from the nasty prospect of having to flush again and again, insufficient water flowing in the foul sewers causes very real problems of blocked drains and all that this implies.
  • In accordance with one of the guidelines of Abu Dhabi's Estidama manual, plant native species in public areas where possible. Plants from northern Europe may temporarily look pretty, but they drink a massive amount of water and still have to be replaced when they burn up under the Arabian sun. A lot of the public flowerbeds are watered with treated sewage effluent, which is a step in the right direction, and this re-use of grey water needs to be extended. I refer to my earlier comment.
  • Growing local fruit and veg consumes enormous quantities of water. I'm not going to sit here and do the arithmetic, but the carbon footprint of watering local tomatoes could well be greater than that of air-freighting them from Spain.

As for my bit, the car gets washed once a month down at the EPPCO, the bike generally gets a weekly once-over with a duster and some furniture polish if it's been out. We shower rather than bath. I even turn the tap off while I'm brushing my teeth. Beloved Wife wanted a dishwasher, and I refused until she showed me a model that used less water than washing the pots in the sink. Our extravagance is the garden, and that would use a lot less water if I could convince the gardener (q.v.) that aloe vera and agave really don't need to be drowned every morning. In the winter we seldom get a DEWA bill beyond the green (lowest consumption and therefore cheapest rate) zone of less than 6000 gallons a month. That's still 450 litres a day per person, and is on the whole shameful. Over the past couple of months our consumption has been half that, but it always goes through the roof in the summer.


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