Ronan Lyons | Personal Website
Ronan Lyons | Personal Website

Just for fun

A Budget daydream: “Sorry sorry, Brian”

In my opinion, there’s no better way to break the tension before a major economic decision than to adopt the style of Weird Al and write some song parodies. A few months ago, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah became ‘Board Snip Nua’. Before that, we had Copa-Obama. Today is of course Budget Day and I’d like to recompense blog readers for not re-writing YMCA as NAMA a couple of months ago, by recreating a dream Don McLean had where he was Taoiseach and a luckless lawyer was Vincent Van Gogh.

Sorry, sorry Brian
Taint your career in a day
Took you from the DoJ
To Finance at the darkest time of all
With a deficit that kills
Sketch the cuts and the bitter pills
Catch them on prescription bills
With price hikes that nobody understands.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
About staying in Justice and equality
How you took that job with glee
I would not listen, I did not know how.
Perhaps I’ll listen now.

Sorry, sorry Brian
Inflaming tensions with cuts in pay
Surly unions, violent days
Reflect in Lenihan’s eyes of china blue.
Talking to SIPTU can age you with all the strain
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are irked by the Budget’s humble plans.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you loved Justice and equality
How you took that job with glee
I would not listen, I did not know how.
Perhaps I’ll listen now.

For they could have loved you,
And still many do like you.
But when no hope was left in sight
On that cold December night,
You cut their pay, as Ministers often do.
But I could have told you, Brian,
This post was never meant for one
With a legal mind like you.

Sorry, sorry Brian
Arguments in empty halls,
Bearded heads and nighttime calls,
With PAs that watch the news and can’t forget.
Like the voters that you’ve met,
The ragged men in ragged clothes,
Children with a bloody nose,
Lie waiting while you handle the IMO.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered in your popularity,
How you tried to shift the blame to me.
I would not listen, I’m not listening still.
Perhaps I never will…

And now back to work…

It’s so cold and it’s so broken, Board Snip Nua!

I’ve always had a soft spot for song parodies, as longer established readers of the blog will probably ruefully attest. My last foray into this territory with my economic hat on was “Brother, Can you bail out my bank?” in the midst of our global financial excitement last Autumn (although I did try my hand at Copa-obama later last year). Anyway, with the launch of An Board Snip Nua’s report later today, that peculiarly Irish name, for a peculiarly Irish public sector expenditure body, will probably recede back into the depths of our subconscious until the next time national debt threatens to cripple us.

But before it does, I feel we should mark it in song. You can thank An Taoiseach’s about-turn on publication date for the missing fifth and sixth verses… but as it happens only die-hard Leonard Cohen fans know those anyway! Yes, today’s ditty is to the tune of Hallelujah, and while I think Cohen was most inventive to come up with no less than six sentences that sort of rhymed with the title word, surely An Board Snip Nua was made for rhyming with it! So, crank open your itunes and put on Cohen/Buckley/Wainwright/whatserface-from-X-factor – or else open the video below – and get singing…

Now I’ve read we are so short on bread
That even the Galway tent is dead
But you won’t really go for tax hikes, will you?
“You cut like this
Cut FAS, cut NESC
Cut the lads who print the car tax disc”,
The baffled Cowen is told by Board Snip Nua
Board Snip Nua, Board Snip Nua
Board Snip Nua, Board Snip Nua

Your vote was strong but you needed the youth
You cut stamp duty on the hoof
While the OAPs dreamt they overthrew you
They cried you
didn’t really care
They broke your vote, it collapsed in Clare
And the best that you could do was Board Snip Nua

In the 80s we were here before
We know this gloom, we left these shores
We used to live State-side before we knew you.
We’ve heard all about the ECB
But have you seen our GDP?
It’s so cold and it’s so broken; Board Snip Nua

What will you do-ah, Board Snip Nua?
Board Snip Nua, Board Snip Nua

It’s about time that you let us know
What’s really going on with our dough
But now you never tell it straight, do you?
We paid two mill to move in here
But NAMA’s going to cost us dear
And every budget cut by Board Snip Nua

Board Snip Nua, Board Snip Nua
Board Snip Nua, Board Snip Nua (repeat to fade…)

Youtube: Rufus Wainwright on Tubridy, getting the lyrics to An Board Snip Nua wrong

Wisdom of the crowds? Web2.0, hubdub & guessing Ireland’s unemployment

I had the rather pleasant task today of going through a range of Web 2.0 / social networking tools and establishing the potential in their application to primary research. Some key things that the new generation of web tools can give include:

  • Using something like digg or scribd to find key themes and recent developments in a topic, and – because you know who’s posted and who’s posted most – experts on a particular topic
  • Using something like basecamp or dimdim to project manage flexibly, particularly when teams are non-traditional, i.e. they are globally dispersed, working from home, volunteer-based, etc.
  • Using something like LinkedIn or indeed WordPress to access groups of experts on a particular topic and start a discussion
  • Using something like Manyeyes (which I’ve done in a few posts) or wordle (which I may have done in one too many posts last year!) to come up with new visualizations and ways of thinking about data

Many or most of these I was already somewhat familiar with. Indeed, twitter is increasingly one of my main sources for accessing news, thanks to RTE’s twitter services, and accessing expertise, as a surprising number of economists are on it. (I may also use it to keep tabs on Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, but that’s probably for another post!)

Anyway, what I was not aware of, or rather perhaps only vaguely aware of, was the plethora of wisdom-of-the-crowd prediction markets tools out there. By way of example, I’ve set up one at hubdub, that hopefully proves my point:

When will Ireland’s Live Register top 350,000? I hope the crowds will tell me…

The Ballad of Barack Obama & Sarah Palin (or Manilow's Nightmare)

Following the success (my targets were small) of Brother, Can You Bail-out My Bank?, and given that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my blog-time blogging about the election, I thought it only right to sign off on the election with a tribute to the election that was.

So, to the unmistakeable tune of – and with sincere apologies to – both Star Wars Cantina and Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, here is ‘The Ballad of Barack Obama & Sarah Palin’ (2008):

His name was Barack, he was half Kenyan
With a daughter on each side and a smile five small states wide
He ran for office, he sought election
And while he said “Oh, yes we can”, people worried bout this man
Across all fifty states, would he get the mandate?
But then he went to Berlin where they thought that he was great…

He was Barack… Barack Obama
Not to be confused with Osama
Here he is… Barack, Barack Obama
Jobs and emissions and TV transmissions
He was Barack…

Her name was Palin, she was Alaskan
McCain had set her loose, she loved to kill a moose
She spent a fistful, on her wardrobe
She talked to CBS, it put her handlers in distress
And then the crisis grew, and the bailout too
Didn’t have a chance, she’ll be back in two oh one two…

It was Barack… Barack Obama
Not to be confused with Osama
Here he is… Barack, Barack Obama
Oprah and Kerry, and even Chuck Berry
voted Barack…

His name is Barack, he was elected
But that was two weeks ago, he has to get on with the show
And pick a new dog, one from a shelter
Also a Secretary of State, a human would be great
John Kerry has the hair, or maybe picking Clinton’s fair?
It could have been Lieberman, but let’s not go there…

He was Barack… Barack Obama
Not to be confused with Osama
Here he is… Barack, Barack Obama
Jobs and emissions and TV transmissions
He was Barack…

(and continue through fade out)

The genealogy-grammar paradox & Obama's endorsement of T&E Plumbing (or maybe it's the other way around)

The Huffington Post has an excellent collection of pictures from around the world, in response to the outcome of the US election – for more check out Election Day Around The World (PHOTOS).

I had to laugh at one in particular, the one from an hour down the road, Moneygall, County Offaly. The first thing that catches you off-guard is Mr. Obama’s somewhat atypical tan, for an Offaly scion. The second is the photo’s incongruity, following two photos from Kenya. The third thing is the haste to produce the ad, which seems to have produced a somewhat unexpected paradox. While complicated genealogical heritages stretching back over two centuries are no issue for this shrewd plumber, the age-old question of apostrophe or not seems to have suffered!

"WARNING: Your investment may go up as well as down!" and other signs that you're in a financial crisis

Warren Buffet – no relation to the Pina Colada-swilling Jimmy – has been widely quoted in recent days giving his latest advice for the market. In short, what with everyone being fearful, he’s recommending that people be greedy. Take the long term view, he says, and the US stock market (and, based on his logic, most other stock markets) look like excellent value.

It seems that the value of investments may actually rise. To those of us for whom the period since February 2007 marks the bulk of our market exposure, this came as something of a shock. Not only this, it seems the Financial Regulator has found a clause in its Terms of Reference indicating that, to regulate financial organizations, it’s allowed find things out about them and so is going to employ people to do just that.

Given these twin bombshells, the pressure is surely mounting for the Financial Regulator to change the blurb that they give to their oversee-ees (digression: how many actual English words have the same letter more than two times in a row?) to put in at the end of their ads, to something along the following lines:

XYZ Bank is regulated by the Financial Regulator. No, honestly, we mean it this time. We’ve actually got people on the inside and everything.

Warning – your investment may go up as well as down. Past shocking performance is no guide to actual positive returns in the future.

Some other thoughts on how you know you’re in a financial crisis:

  • References to today’s losses of x billion euro on the stock exchange are the equivalent of the weather. You try your best to pay attention but it all sounds so similar that you just can’t help but switch off.
  • You’re shocked to get through an entire edition of Morning Ireland/Prime Time/Six-One News without one reference to ‘more news from the stock markets’ (as happened on Friday 17th, honest!)
  • Casual conversation in the pub may actually include a discussion of the liquidity and solvency of Icelandic banks. (Pre-post-Celtic Tiger references to Iceland’s economy would surely have just been a reference to some amazing off-the-plans property deal north of Dalvik.)
  • Every ad for your money – and have you noticed that there are an awful lot of them about at the moment? – makes absolutely no reference to average annual return year-to-date or even over the past 5 or 10 years.
  • Jokes not heard since 2001 are being reeled out. (Prime example: “Q: What’s the quickest way to become a millionaire? A: Lose your billionaire status.” Chortle.)
  • There is great demand for punters who even half sound like they know what they’re talking about when it comes to (a) what’s happened Japan since 1990, (b) the Great Depression or (c) the ability to Google Sweden’s early-1990s financial crisis.

Personally, I’m gambling it’ll only be a matter of time before someone wants a pundit on the Long Depression of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s. That’s right… it spanned three decades! And when they do, then… BAM… I’ll make my move.

(Right after this guy.)

Brother, Can You Bail-out my Bank? (1931 revisited!)

Every crisis creates its own artistic genius – take for example Picasso, or the Credit Crunch Blues. Mere mortals mightn’t move in quite the same league, but we can try. So, with sincere apologies for the butchering of Jay Gorney’s lovely music and the usurpation of Yip Harburg’s original lyrics, Weird Al, this one’s for you!

Brother, Can You Bail-out my Bank, lyrics by Ronan Lyons, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

Once I built a hedge fund, I made it fly, made it rise all the time.
Once I built a hedge fund; now it’s gone. Trichet, can you bail-out my bank?
Once I bought a bank share, at the top, lent a mortgage, sub-prime;
Once I bought a bank share, watched it tank. Paulson, can you bail-out my bank?

Once in red braces, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Ghekko Doodly Dum,
Half a trillion bills went slogging through, Hell,
And I hit the NYSE gong!

Say, don’t you remember, they called it wrong; it was to go up all the time.
Why don’t you remember, before it sank? Darling, can you bail-out my bank?

Once in red braces, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Ghekko Doodly Dum,
Half a trillion bills went slogging through by the bell,
And I was the kid with the gong!

Say, don’t you remember, they called it wrong; it was to go up all the time.
Why don’t you remember, before it sank? Sucker, can you bail-out my bank?

(Next stop a recording studio!)

Bush versus Zapp Brannigan

Now, I know it’s very trendy these days to knock George Bush. Fun too. For those reasons and more, here is the world’s first ‘Can you tell whether Zapp Brannigan or George W. Bush said this?’ quiz…

All you have to is have a guess whether each of the following was said by Captain Zapp Brannigan of Futurama or Commander George W. Bush of USA. This is only a simple blog, unfortunately, not a survey, so most untechnologically savvy-wise, the answers are at the bottom!

  • We don’t know anything about their race, history, or culture, but one thing’s for sure. They stand for everything we stand against.
  • They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
  • Rock crushes scissors. But paper covers rock! And scissors cuts paper! Kif, we have a conundrum. Search them for paper! And, bring me a rock!
  • I think — tide turning — see, as I remember — I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of — it’s easy to see a tide turn — did I say those words? (when asked if the tide was turning)
  • Now, like all great plans, my strategy is so simple an idiot could have devised it.
  • I’m also not very analytical. You know I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things.
  • Men, you’re lucky men. Soon you’ll all be fighting for your planet. Many of you will be dying for your planet. A few of you will be forced through a fine mesh screen for your planet. They will be the luckiest of all.
  • Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words.
  • I hate these filthy neutrals, Kif! With enemies, you know where they stand, but with neutrals—who knows. It sickens me.
  • Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
  • One day a man has everything. The next day he blows up a 400 billion dollar space station. And the next day he has nothing. It makes you think.
  • Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
  • If we can hit that bull’s-eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate!
  • We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates.

Some weird parallels, alright! But as you might have guessed, in each pair ‘Dubya’ was the second of the two, while Captain Zapp was numero uno!