Sunday, 20 October 2013

20 more finance clichés

"about to evidence a disconnect"
The irony of Management BS is that addicts use its platitudes as shortcuts to sounding smart or in the know. Meanwhile, it cuts down their vocabularies to a shortlist of overused stock phrases, repeated beyond any would-be intellectual value-addAnd from its high pinnacle on the corporate BS pantheon, financial services are shovelling this ersatz gravitas by the truckloadI last visited the horror story just over a year ago, but the BS continues unabated. So here are another 20 howlers.

It's everywhere, apparently necessity for US Fed coverage. Makes me think of tampons.

Disconnect (noun)
It's fine used as a verb - very useful - but horribly overused as a noun, for any unfilled gap or comms chasm.

Key learnings
This really is PR speak, as in lessons learned, sans any hint of humble pie.

While angry protesters hold placards outside office buildings complaining about fat cats and the "1%", it's perhaps stirring the pot to use a metaphor that encourages you to visualise rotund executive board members reclining on the C-suite's chaise-longues, eating swan canapés and ringing the bell for more Bolly.

Fiscal loosening
More central banking bunkum, sounds like a colonic.

Inflexion point
Or "inflection point" if you prefer, either / or. It haapparent status as investor jargon, meaning the moment when the tide turns for a firm or market (micro or macro, you might say). Why not use pivot? Or fulcrum? Sounds like falconBirds of prey and fighter jets: dynamic imagery indeed.

Anniversary (verb)
As in something this time anniversaries something else that happened a previous time. Sounds ghastly. Thanks to Laurie for this one.

What's the difference between procyclicality and cyclicality?

Evidence (verb)
Another PR speak suggestion from Laurie. Used to sound more factual and forensic than just "showing" or "meaning" something.

Green shoots
There have been so many "green shoots" in the economy since 2009 that you might believe that the wolf that was being cried about had appeared and then pissed all over them.

Impact (verb)
More badly overused PR speak. Repetition has undermined its initial appeal, which I suspect came from its sounding less pugilistic than 'hit' and more decisive, less flaccid than 'affect'.

Results orientated
Pure corporate BS. Presume this means focused rather than daydreaming or licking the windows.

Paradigm shift
I do not know what this means. However, I've looked it up and apparently it is based in science, for when underlying assumptions, laws or theories become altered.

Maybe too useful to discard, but it's just another acronym.

Client focused
Sales, PR or marketing speak at its worst. Works better if you just view it as empty space on the page to pause over while  reading, perhaps imagining you're anywhere else.

Big data
When heard on the lips of those on the sell side of the floor this is indeed a huge topic. It's a lot rarer to hear it shouted about from would-be buyers and actual practitioners. Also it just sounds dumb.

It's a seminar that's done for the web. Awful.

I hesitated at including this one, because it is useful in its investment and regulatory compliance contexts. Still, it gets used so often it sets off the BS alarms for my original gripe about repeating shortcuts to sounding smart. Full marks to The Economist for arbitrageur, seen earlier this month. Sounds pleasingly louche, rakish, debauched.

The current economic environment
Uttered ceaselessly by those concerned with finance today, rarely in historical comparisons to Dutch Tulips or the South Seas Bubble.

Hard landing
Used so often in stories about China's economy that I'm now conditioned to think it inappropriate in the context of any other country

Have I missed any out? For the first 20, click here.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery opens

The new Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery at the National Maritime Museum had its opening party in Greenwich last night, with TV historian Dan Snow as speaker, while your correspondent was also lucky enough to attend.

Or unlucky enough to be suffering a sore head today from the potent rum cocktails on offer, depending on your perspective on things.

In a bit of related news, the museum has secured for the nation a Union Jack that was flown from one of Nelson's warships at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the NMM's director, Kevin Fewster, let slip.

The historic flag had previously been in a private collection, Fewster said, but will now be displayed in the NMM, once the museum takes possession, within the next year.

The Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery opens to the public this Trafalgar Day, that's October 21 (next Monday) for landlubbers. I was attending last night's sneak-peak in a bit of naval capacity, as a member of HMS President, the London unit of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

The new gallery showcases some of the most important artifacts and artwork in Britain's naval history, and therefore for the world's maritime heritage (seeing as the two became so interwoven by Nelson's time).

The centrepiece remains, of course, Nelson's coat, worn when he was shot and mortally wounded at Trafalgar, the moment of his death and also his greatest victory, ushering in a century of imperial Pax Britannica.

I was chatting to a former lecturer of mine from university days, Professor Andrew Lambert of King's College, London, present at the gallery's opening, who has described the tunic as "The Turin Shroud of Naval History".

Blasphemy, perhaps, but understandable from the author of the eminently readable Nelson: Britannia's God of War, as well as being a nice line that rings true among navy geeks.

There are too many precious artifacts presented in the gallery to list, but one beautiful example is an ornate musket presented to Nelson by a grateful Ottoman Emperor, one of many gifts Nelson received after his dramatic victory at the Battle of the Nile, which shattered Napoleon's ambitions in Egypt, the Middle East and India.

These many objects tell the story of the global repercussions of Nelson's and the Royal Navy's victories, not just for securing naval supremacy, but also for advancing global trade, commerce and prosperity.

Dan Snow (pictured, up top) echoed this point in his speech, talking about the ongoing legacy of Nelson's era, observed through the proliferation of British values, like free trade and parliamentary democracy, that we can see in the globalised world of today.

Other speakers at the gallery's opening included Admiral Lord West, Falklands veteran and former First Sea Lord; and Lord Sterling, chairman of the NNM's trustees, former P&O boss and an honorary RNR Rear Admiral.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Three reasons the LibDems deserve to get shot down over Trident

Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarine,
carrying Trident missiles. Source: Defence Imagery
The Liberal Democrats talk about an alternative to Trident, but come off looking deservedly silly on the UK nuclear deterrent. I see 3 main reasons for this.

1. The reality of their defence policy of reviewing Trident is that it is not a defence policy at all. It has only existed as a political ploy, for satisfying a throng of leftish, Green-leaning middle-class pacifists. 

That flock of dovish voters likely always sided with the old CND Cold War-era position. An additional aspect of the LibDems playing party politics with national security is their strategy of Trident opposition to mark them out from Labour and the Conservatives, both of which agree on Trident as a pillar of the country's security. Put simply, a defence and security issue ought to be addressed from a defence and security standpoint; anything less is a dishonest subversion. 

2. Whining about it being twenty years since the Cold War came to a close is not an argument for scrapping all nukes. It is certainly an argument for what has happened: trimming to the minimum, on the basis that a world with fewer nukes pointing at each other is certainly a safer one, while old foes the Russians and US have moved to do the same.

The fact is: thirty years ago nobody expected the Soviet Union to collapse so suddenly. It happened, and the world changed dramatically in the decade between the collapse of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. It is still changing fast. The few rogue states with nukes (North Korea, perhaps Iran soon) are just the present problem. What would happen to Pakistan's arsenal if it becomes a failed state within a decade from now? That's just the start. How can you predict that there will be no need for the ultimate insurance policy in defence, still offered by nuclear deterrence, thirty or sixty years from now? What will the threats be? Nobody can know.

3. The LibDems seek to undermine Trident by dressing up the issue as some sort of compromise, on an issue that is by its nature uncompromising. Continuous at sea deterrence – delivered by the four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines, and in the future by their replacements – is already a highly efficient system, and the safest possible means of a credible deterrent.

As announced by the impartial independent review, which the LibDems were allowed to chair (but could not control its outcome), cutting one submarine would create a “part-time” deterrent (ie. no deterrent at all).

With four boats at present, one is always on operational patrol while three others train, refit, and undergo essential maintenance – with no room for a cut. In contrast, relying on aircraft or a land-based system is inherently less safe, and much more vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes (undermining the whole art of deterrence, you know).

On the other hand, developing a cruise-missile ‘fudge’ would (the review says) be more expensive, inevitably late in coming online, with a far slower speed and a much shorter-range than the global range and supersonic speed of the Trident-D5 missiles:  not like for like at all, and nothing like it.

"Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy
the FEAR to attack." - Strangelove.

PS. I didn't even touch on the UN Security Council status, diplomatic clout among the great powers (old and new). Any additional thoughts (or criticisms) very welcome as comments.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Prism: Spy agencies caught spying shock horror

The Prism spying scandal generating headlines this week on both sides of the Atlantic is not half as shocking as mock outrage in the press would make out. Some righteous indignation is due, as is a detailed attempt to learn lessons to stop any excessive invasions of privacy, where national security is found not to be at risk. But muting the media frenzy for a moment, are we really so surprised that government intelligence gathering agencies are recording and sifting our personal, private information stored on the web? 

The Prism US National Security Agency (NSA) "scandal", leaked by former CIA employee Edward Snowden, has now spread to the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), by virtue of the uniquely close UK-US information sharing relationship which has existed since the Second World War. Cue outrage of spies circuitously evading online data laws.

The UK's GCHQ. Source:
I'm not overly surprised or worried by it. Intelligence sharing is one genuinely valuable facet of the much-talked-about (in the UK) "special relationship" with the US. It is hardly surprising, and I think it's highly encouraging, that the Americans share the minutiae of their online data snooping with the British secret services (GCHQ, MI5, MI6 and Defence Intelligence).

As for the spy agencies playing fast and loose with laws for protecting personal privacy and online data, it's easy to feign outrage, but we have always known that spies do this. They are spies.

Indeed, we are supposed to sleep more soundly in our beds knowing that they do this. Rest assured that the competition Chinese or Russian spooks will stoop to any means to steal data of value for their own murky ends. By comparison, our spies are supposed to protect us from terrorist enemies within and state-level foes abroad: largely meaningless boundaries in cyberspace as well as the physical world.

Nobody has yet suggested that data stolen or otherwise obtained by spies has been abused for some perverted intent. Provided that innocuous information is not stored once deemed insignificant from a security point of view, and doesn't find its way into malevolent hands, I don't mind. Naturally, human nature being what it is, such abuses might occur. Even secretive spy organisations need disciplined governance policies and procedures, with strict structures in place to make sure that even when the laws most of us live by are skirted or broken, it is done within the framework of intelligence organisation's 'house rules', with informed judgement and senior oversight, in the service of genuine national security interest. Foreign secretary William Hague has noted as much by saying that Britain's spooks operate within a "strict legal and ethical framework".

Taking the howls of the press to their logical conclusions would hound the intelligence agencies into powerless, ineffectual shadows of the spooks' former selves. The idea that spies are accountable like ordinary civil servants and administrators is ludicrous. What would they have government do: set up a publicly accountable supervisor to "check the checker" in the case of spy agencies, highly sensitive information and national secrets? No such body could ever work, as it would need to be staffed exclusively by personnel from within the intelligence community in order to have the necessary security clearances, expertise and maturity in judgement. Any politician would be wise to steer clear.

Indeed, "plausible deniability" and other stock euphemisms have always been among the spymasters' best cards, and most beloved by the politicians who would seek to distance government from the dirty work of its organs. Small wonder that government is downplaying the Prism affair: it's unearthing only confirms what should have been implicitly understood and accepted all along.

Many believe that more transparency is desirable and spy agencies should be outed and shamed. Some of this is idle stirring by those partial to thumbing government and to any good conspiracy story. This is particularly true in the case of whistle-blowing organisations like Wikileaks, its fans, and online "hacktivists" pushing a myriad of rogue agendas, acting with little respect for law, and seemingly without any regard for threats to national security.

There can be little doubt that Edward Snowden is a brave and principled man, much like Bradley Manning before him. Agree or disagree with their choices, both took heroically brave decisions.

However, I regard Julian Assange (pictured), Wikileaks and its whistle-blowing ilk as a menace, operating beyond rules of journalism or any established boundaries of national interest, more driven by ego, ambition and rebellion, and evangelising a dangerous, anarchist, seductive, extremist ideology of transparency.

Sometimes openness can bring about good. I am a journalist by trade: I have to believe that. But it is not self-evident that openness is in itself a force for good; its specific applications need questioning. Unlimited transparency is naive and dangerous; I would suggest that allowed unchecked it is no less an evil than extreme secrecy and subterfuge.

In 2010, when Wikileaks began leaking 250,000 US diplomatic cables, like many readers I was curious to know what diplomatic duplicities had been unearthed and what international relations riddles had been solved by the embassy documents. That was followed by a far more uneasy pang of guilt, accompanied by fear that while unfettered transparency makes great reading, the sheer scale of Cablegate and its sensitive content meant that untold secrets had fallen into the hands of those who seek to watch the world burn. Lives were put at risk; tensions were fanned; smug malcontents cooed at US discomfiture. Given the choice, I'd prefer to trust the good judgement of the intelligence agencies: at least I know who they are supposed to serve.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Norway's ship-killing missile video

This is an awesome clip. That's probably as profound as I'm going to get with this particular blog post. Norway's navy has tested an anti-ship missile by destroying one of its old frigates in dramatic style. Here's the video.

The ship on the receiving end is the KNM Trondheim, which was built in the '60s and was retired from Royal Norwegian Navy service several years ago. Her lines remind me of WWII era warships with the rake of her bow, that funnel and clutter amidships. 

The Naval Strike Missile / Joint Strike Missile, from defence firm Kongsberg, is planned for use on warships and also in the air-to-surface role from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, once that troublesome plane is eventually delivered. The missile reportedly has a range of 100 miles and packs 275 pounds of high explosive punch.

Impressive stuff, although from a Brit's viewpoint it sends a shiver as it is an uncomfortable reminder of the catastrophic damage missiles can wreak, and did wreak, in the case of Exocets in the Falklands war (see vid below). Oh well, there you go, if not profound, a least a pause for thought.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Russia's Mediterranean focus

Russia has let it be known that more of its warships are headed into the Mediterranean, this time from east of Suez. Ships of Russia's Pacific fleet are expected to transit the Suez canal today, according to state media outlet RIA Novosti.

Udaloy class destroyer Admiral Pantaleyev
The vessels will take their turn in Russia's new Mediterranean Task Force, relieving other warships sent into the Med earlier this year from Russia's Black Sea Fleet, its Baltic Fleet, and its Northern Fleet.

The five ships took the long trip from Russia's Vladivostok naval base in the northern Pacific.

The warships reinforce Moscow's commitment to keeping a naval presence forward deployed in the Mediterranean, rather than idly rusting in its Arctic, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific ports.

The RIA Novosti report reads:
A group of warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet is about to deploy to the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in decades, fleet spokesman Roman Martov said on Monday.
The group has entered the Red Sea and is preparing to transit the Suez Canal, and should reach the Mediterranean by mid-May, he said.
The group, including the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, the amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelsky, the tanker Pechenga and the salvage/rescue tug Fotiy Krylov left the port of Vladivostok on March 19 to join Russia’s Mediterranean task force.
The task force currently includes the large anti-submarine ship Severomorsk, the frigate Yaroslav Mudry, the salvage/rescue tugs Altai and SB-921 and the tanker Lena from the Northern and Baltic Fleets, as well as the Ropucha-II Class landing ship Azov from the Black Sea Fleet.
The task force may be enlarged to include nuclear submarines, Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov said on Sunday.
Pulling these forces out of the Pacific represents a major concentration of Russia's available naval forces. The deployment is all the more marked because it continues the Med-bound focus, with other vessels already concentrated on the area from Russia's Arctic, Baltic and Black Sea fleets.

The assumption is that in order to maintain its constant Mediterranean presence, few or none of these ships can return to their original fleets, and must instead flit back and forth between the Med and Russia's leased Black Sea base at Sevastopol.

Russia is keen to flex muscle in the Med to influence the situation in Syria by deterring any Nato intervention there against its besieged ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and to maintain its Syrian naval base at Tartus, which ever side might win the civil war going on in the crumbling country.

Russia wants to raise Western perceptions of its strength in the Mediterranean more generally, in reply to the strong Western deployment of force around the Middle East, upped by present tensions with Iran, and the oil-rich region's general propensity for long-term instability.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has long been seen, by France in particular, as well as the EU and UK, as a strategic backyard, and will remain so, demonstrated by France and Britain's Libyan operation in 2011, and (further south) by France's Mali intervention this year.

The Russian attempt to increase regional influence is opportunistic,  relative to the economic weakness of EU members, such as Greece and Cyprus. Russia's move comes amid the EU's continuing sovereign debt crisis, potentially allowing Moscow to build influence among Mediterranean countries to undermine the fringes of the EU alliance, and thence the old rival, Nato.

At the end of April, Russian and British Royal Navy warships were both docked in Malta. Russian warships have also docked in Greek ports. Such meetings, echoes of the Cold War era, look to become more frequent in years to come.

Russia's means are limited, demonstrated by its need to send ships from the other side of the globe, weakening its resources available elsewhere. The effect, however, will be to ramp up tensions in the Mediterranean: more fish swimming in the same goldfish bowl.

Ropucha-class amphibious landing ship
The types of warships deployed by Russia are also designed to register on Europe's political decision-makers. Nuclear subs add scare factor. Tankers imply permanence.   And a growing list of amphibious landing ships (Ropucha-class) in the Med gives Russia, at least on paper, options for limited intervention, whether in Syria or elsewhere.

For example, if Russia needs to send troops ashore to secure its Tartus base, or to evacuate it, should the coastal town fall to the rebel forces, the ships give Moscow options.

As the US continues with its strategic pivot to the Pacific, to counter China's growing power in Asia, it seems that Russia has decided it should shift its resources to compete with the EU and the West to lever additional influence in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).