Thursday, August 10, 2006

Anti-terrorism strategies: two in the hold are worth one in the overhead compartment

It's been all over the British media today that the Home Office has shifted the security alert to its highest level - a terrorist attack is imminent.

The nature of the attack is said to be a bomb carried onto an aeroplane in someone's hand luggage. There is no indication in the media that the proposed bomb is a dirty bomb, but just a bomb that goes bang and destroys things.

The recommended course of action is for airlines to ban hand luggage until further notice - meaning that people will not be allowed to carry any more than a lipstick and a piece of fruit on board, in a clear plastic bag, like a shopping bag - which seems like overkill given that they are also going to be swabbing passengers for explosive residues. Surely you could hand-search a handbag sized piece of luggage in the time it takes for the swab to be processed, and it would distract the passengers from thinking about how much they are being delayed.

Those questions aside. My big question is, why is a bomb unacceptable in the cabin, but acceptable in checked luggage?

And of course, if it's a dirty bomb, an aeroplane is about the best place for it. Everybody already has an oxygen mask, and you can remove the toxins in about a second by de-pressurising the cabin. If the dirty bomb is in the hold - which isn't usually pressurised - surely there will be bomb residue all over the luggage, which may end-up being tracked all through a foreign city by a bunch of travellers grumbling about all the dust on their luggage after being in the plane.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Film: It's a lot of shots in chronological order that ultimately say nothing at all

Universal Wifey and I attended a screening of The Notorious Betty Page a couple of weeks ago. Sorry not to write it up earlier, but I have been trying to find something to say.

The film is not bad. You will not resent the ticket price. But you will leave the theatre feeling slightly conned.

The promotional literature talks about how Betty Page attracted the attention of the FBI and tries to paint her as some sort of Goodnight and Good Luck style mis-targeted threat to American morality. The film, on the other hand, portrays her as a simple country girl who just, sort of, fell into taking her clothes off for the camera. I am sure she was quite naive when she started, but surely she noticed that she was becoming famous. Surely she noticed that she had the money to flit-off to the beach when she wanted to. The film shows her moving from her, "And then my clothes just fell off!" innocence to S&M royalty, the whole time behaving as if she never realised what she was doing, "But we were laughing all the time when we took those pictures - they're not bad". The first indication that she is self-aware is when she heads home for thanksgiving one year, and has to check that her mother hasn't seen the nude pictures - only the nice ones. And the audience is there thinking, "Oh, so she did notice she was modelling nude."

We don't at any time discover whether the Notorious Betty Page was promiscuous or chaste, wealthy or poor, a real threat to the American establishment or just a girl who got naked a lot, happy or sad about her life, or how she ultimately ended-up. Not knowing much about Betty Page when I went into the screening, I would have liked to have known more about her after I left. But no. Nothing. it's like a dramatised sequence of moments in someone's life, placed in chronological order and completely failing to tell any kind of story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Books: Essential reading

I cannot claim complete objectivity with his book. If you read my profile you will see that I work in publishing. The company I work for publishes an industry journal for the structured credit and credit derivatives market, and a few times each year we publish a book about a hot part of the market.

This time we have gone educational.

About a year ago we started noticing our niche market going mainstream - our online jobs were getting masses of hits, especially for graduate positions; existing capital markets practitioners were trying to move across from other asset classes; and specialists in this asset class were better trying to understand the parts of the market that they interfaced with, but did not necessarily understand. At the same time, B&B Structured Finance was establishing itself as a leading trainer in this market, and experiencing rapid growth in demand for its training and consulting service. We got together and the book was born.

Biased as I am, I do not think that you will find a better value primer on structured credit and credit derivatives. It is cheaper than the competition by about £30, it is clearly written and easy to read, and you would struggle to find a better credentialled writing team than Mike Peterson, Terri Duhon and Anu Munshi.

And if you are trying to get a job in structured credit or credit derivatives, it really is essential reading before your interview.