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I’ve just had a chance to see ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room’, (previously reviewed on CT by Ted here), having also just finished reading Frank Partnoy’s ‘Infectious Greed’, a fascinating history of large-scale larceny in the financial markets over the last quarter-century in which, unsurprisingly, Enron figures fairly prominently.

‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’ gives some explanation of how Enron’s central scams worked, but it mainly tells a modern-day horror story about the doings of the the repellently amoral, dishonest people at the top of the company: CEO Jeff Skilling comes over as an especially nasty piece of work, and it seems clear that he did his best to build a corporate culture in which his own arrogance and brutality would be writ large; Andy Fastow, the CFO whose creative accounting kept the shell-game going long enough to take tens of millions of dollars out of the company for himself, is pretty clearly a psychopath; and Chairman Ken Lay, who of course to this day denies any wrongdoing, seems to alternate between buffoonery, cynicism and utter delusion.

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Hoorah: David Cameron on the 11-Plus

by Tom on January 9, 2006

The BBC are reporting an interesting speech by David Cameron in which the leader of the Conservative party describes the rough shape the British education system might take if he were to be elected as Prime Minister.

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Boris Johnson on Bombing Al-Jazeera

by Tom on November 26, 2005

As a follow-up to Chris’s post on the subject, I notice that Boris Johnson MP, the editor of The Spectator, has offered to publish the memo detailing Bush’s alleged conversation with Blair about bombing the al-Jazeera TV station. (That last link is to the Speccie’s website, which requires registration; if you can’t be bothered, Johnson’s piece is also available on his own website).

Johnson is of course a notorious self-publicist, and he may have made some shrewd calculation about the actual likelihood of his being passed the memo versus the brownie points to be had from posing as a courageous editor standing up to the government. None the less, fraternal relations between the American and British right have reached a pretty desperate state when the leading article in Britain’s most prominent conservative magazine contains the following sentences:

Outlandish and inconceivable the story certainly is, but what we really want to know is: is it true? If true, then this magazine would finally abandon its long struggle to find anything to support in US policy towards Iraq and the Middle East in general.

Shrill indeed. I doubt that Johnson would have kept his job for very long if he’d tried taking this line when that greedy crook Conrad Black owned the paper, but when the ship starts to sink, even the most polished and charming of rats has to consider an exit strategy.

Here’s Your Reading List, Tony

by Tom on October 30, 2005

I’ve just picked up Brian Barry’s new book, Why Social Justice Matters, and despite having very high expectations based on the man’s track record, I’m not in the least disappointed so far. Barry’s work always combines extraordinary clarity and patience in argument with enviable command of the relevant chunks of social science. ‘Why Social Justice Matters’ is no exception – the chapters on the effects of growing inequality in the US and the UK on the health and education of the worst-off are fantastically useful distillations of what I presume are massive literatures. I shall hope to blog about some of Barry’s ideas about responsibility when I’ve mulled them over properly.

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Coalition of the Clamped

by Tom on October 18, 2005

I don’t know whether a definitive bean-counter’s verdict has yet been ventured on the costs and benefits of London’s Congestion Charge, but I’m in favour of it anyway, partly because that nice Paul Krugman was kind enough to write a very clear description of the economic case for road-pricing which I found pretty convincing, but mostly because as a resident on the edge of Zone 1, I can now walk to work without choking on the traffic fumes. Hoorah.

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Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner…

by Tom on October 17, 2005

Brian Leiter is on sabbatical and seems to be enjoying a stint in London, most of the time, anyway. Welcome to our city, Professor Leiter, I hope you have fun while you’re here.

Oh, and by the way, you’re right both about the belly-buttons and the buffoon, but try to have closer to the correct change in supermarkets, it’ll make your life so much easier.

Clear Blue Water?

by Tom on October 9, 2005

If you wanted some evidence that significant strands in the modern British Conservative Party have simply no understanding of the country they aspire to govern, and consequently an explanation of why they’ve deserved to lose out so badly in their last three attempts to be allowed to do so, I suggest you could do worse than having a quick listen to this.

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Back to Blogging

by Tom on October 7, 2005

I’m pleased to say that, after a truly epic hiatus from blogging of more than a year on my part, my fellow Timberites have very kindly consented to my coming back on board to post here at CT. Nice one fellas.

For the last year I’ve stood to blogging much as Dick Cheney stood towards serving in Vietnam in the late ‘sixties, but the various pressures and distractions that have kept me from writing have receded significantly, so I’m planning to be hanging about the place, wittering pointlessly about such topics as may catch my fancy, much more regularly than hitherto. No, please, control your excitement, really, do.

As part of my re-entry into the blogosphere – do we still call it that, or is that just a bit too 2003? – I’ve wanted to grab hold of all the posts I wrote on my old blog before joining CT in the first place, to find them a home and serve ’em up somewhere in public so that the peanut gallery can take aim, or indeed link to the damn stuff if it wishes.

Well, one thing I’ve found is that although the cool kids all used Movable Type, Blogger is still a deeply cool product. I’ve not put anything on the site since May 2003, still less ponied up any cash to maintain it, but appears to be basically intact. That’s very good, but after that date, I moved everything onto a hosted server which is, due to a series of oh-so-hilarious postal mixups, now defunct. I thought I’d lost all the stuff I’d written subsequently, but then I discovered the truly mind-boggling Wayback Machine, which truly makes elephants look like goldfish: it scrapes the web and archives what it finds, forever. They have a very good FAQ if you’re interested.

This is excellent news, in that if you’re the kind of doofus who forgets to renew his server fees, and I am, you can recover your work – my missing posts are here. It also induces, in me at least, a sense of something like vertigo to think of the sheer volume of data that has to manage. But finally, it’s a fairly sobering reminder that even if you trash your files yourself, and wait for the google cache to expire, your various web-related foolishnesses may remain visible for the public to cackle at for years to come.

So blog carefully, folks – I certainly hope I manage to.

Fodor on Hughes on Kripke

by Tom on October 21, 2004

Brian Leiter points out that the London Review of Books has recently published a characteristically clever and funny piece by Jerry Fodor in review of a critical work about the writings of Saul Kripke, Kripke: Names, Necessity and Identity, by Christopher Hughes.

True, Chris has already linked to that LRB article, but I’ve my own meanderings to add rather late in the day. They’re below the fold.

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Spot the Difference

by Tom on July 31, 2004

Our wise masters at the UK’s Home Office have decreed that, being bears of little brain, Her Majesty’s loyal subjects can’t be trusted to distinguish between Preparing for Emergencies, the official government site designed to scare the living shite out of us all by waving the threat of a terrorist attack in our faces offer useful information to concerned citizens about the government’s plans for coping with a terrorist attack, and this parody.

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Following Chris’s post about topics in philosophy that provoke worries about angels and pinheads, I was going to pitch in with a comment setting out my own pet hates, but realised I was veering off-topic when I began to whine not about the problems themselves but about the values of the discipline itself.

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by Tom on May 12, 2004

I have simply no idea what the point of fairly predictable, mildly revolting, ex-Lefty right-winger, seems

Goodbye, Mr Cooke

by Tom on March 30, 2004

I wrote what I wanted to say about Alistair Cooke when he announced, not very long ago, that he didn’t feel he could continue to write his ‘Letter from America’ any more.

Well, (to steal a favourite Cooke sentence-opener), AC died today, so the ‘Letter’ really is done forever, and there’s no hope of a reprise.

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Buzzword Bingo

by Tom on March 12, 2004

Yeah, the guys over here probably think they’re pretty hot stuff, right?

After all, it’s definitely a very cool thing to be able to print off your own specially configurable buzzword card from the web, take it to the next buttock-shrivelling meeting you have to attend, patiently tick off the matches against your boss’s (or boss’s boss’s boss’s) tedious meanderings, and finally get yourself fired by standing up during his/her peroration and shouting ‘Bingo!’

I can’t be the only one, can I?

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Alistair Cooke

by Tom on March 8, 2004

I’m saddened by the news that Alistair Cooke has decided that the ‘Letter from America’ he read on the 20th of February would be the last one. If Cooke had decided that, at ninety-five, he simply didn’t want the hassle of the damn thing anymore, that would be one thing, but it seems that the decision to stop was prompted by the outrageous medical advice that it’s usual and desirable for ninety-five year-olds to slow down a bit. Fair enough, but I was rooting for Cooke to be making me smile when he’d made his century.

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