Christina Patterson: Energy, drive, decisiveness – and knowledge of libel laws

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The Independent Online

"The culture of our company has been built around the qualities of the markets in which we work. We encourage our people to be energetic; driven and decisive and pursuing opportunity; respectful both of the significance of what we do and of the individual needs and qualities of our customers and suppliers."

It's the kind of corporate gobbledegook which would, no doubt, go down a treat on The Apprentice, or Dragons' Den, the kind of gobbledegook that people apparently spend thousands at Business School to learn. It is, in fact, a statement (a "mission statement", perhaps) from a company called Trafigura. This is not a company that runs congestion charge collection, or buses, but "one of the largest independent companies trading commodities today", specialising in the "sourcing and trading of crude oil".

You need to be "energetic" to work at Trafigura. And you need to "pursue opportunity". What do you do, for example, with the black, stinking slurry you've been left with after buying truckloads (well tankloads, actually) of sulphur-contaminated crude oil for a song, washing it in caustic soda to turn it into gold, or the nearest equivalent to gold, and you're all ready to go laughing to the bank, but you've got this little problem of the smelly sludge. Which isn't dangerous. It's "absolutely not dangerous", but it's true that it's a tiny bit tricky to get rid of. It's a nightmare (costs a fortune!) in Europe, the US or Singapore. I know! You ship it off to Africa, ship it off to one of the poorest countries in the world. They'll love it!

Ivory Coast didn't love it, as it happens, but it took it, or rather a local processing company called Compagnie Tommy took it, and dumped it on waste ground. Thousands of people fell ill.

But you're energetic, driven and decisive, so you insist that the stuff was safe, that you had no idea what Tommy was doing, and that all these Africans dragging themselves to the hospital are making a lot of fuss about nothing. And you employ PR consultants and libel lawyers to fight your case, because that's what you do when you've done nothing wrong, isn't it?

Okay, so you agreed to pay £30m as compensation to 30,000 Ivorians (a grand each, the jammy bastards!), but that was only in case they had a bit of flu, or a headache. And it was unfortunate, you have to admit, that those emails came out, taken out of context of course. You know, the ones where you referred to the sludge as "shit" and said the waste was "hazardous" and said "I don't know how we dispose of the slops and I don't imply we would dump them, but for sure, there must be some way to pay someone to take them".

So, you hire Carter-Ruck, who take out a "super-injunction" to try to stop the press from publishing the contents of a report on the whole incident, which also means they can't report on a parliamentary question on it, but this, unfortunately, after a Twitter campaign which reported it anyway, seems to have failed. Still, business is business, and at least you got the dosh.

Who are these people? Just who are these people? Who are the friends who eat their food at dinner, and drink their champagne? Who are the women they marry? And how do they kiss their children at night?

And you thought MPs' expenses were a scandal.

Who do we value most? The people on telly, of course...

Jonathan Ross is a clever, funny man, with a penchant for puerile humour and colourful suits. His chat show, in which he smirks at his own cheeky boy wit, and leers at actresses plugging their own films – occasionally even declaring that he might deign to copulate with them – is, apparently, the most important thing in the BBC schedule. This, presumably, is why pensioners barely able to buy a bag of carrots are forced to fork out more than a week-and-a-half's income in compulsory tax (simply to switch on their telly) so that Ross can be paid £6m a year. Not quite the equivalent of 1,000 BBC journalists, as he once joked, but not that far off.

Now, there's a possibility, with his contract up for renewal, that he won't be paid quite so much. But luckily he'll be able to make up the shortfall elsewhere. His "golden handcuffs" deal is expected to be modified, because a TV presenter can't be allowed to starve.

Somehow, I don't think he will. Nor will Simon Cowell, who spent between £500,000 and £1m on his birthday bash last week. Cowell, who is said to have earned more than £50m last year, $36m for "judging" on American Pop Idol (and, according to reports in The Guardian, seeking up to four times that to renew his contract) has paired up with the Top Shop mogul Philip Green, in hopes of producing an "entertainment" empire that's "bigger than Disney".

Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the salary of public service employees (teachers, nurses, dustmen, etc) must be frozen, or cut.

Here's what your friends say about you

It's always been a bit tricky for "resting" actors to make ends meet. Now, help is at hand, at least in Japan. Actors keen to make a yen or two can play a bridegroom's boss, or a bride's friend, or a dead person's grieving relative, or a new partner, or a husband.

Not in a play or a film, but inreal life. Yes, Japanese companies are increasingly offering a rent-an-actor service, to fill those embarrassing gaps at significant social occasions. Recently unemployed, but don't want to lose face? No worries! Someone will pose as your boss at your wedding and give a speech, saying how hard you work. No one to invite to your birthday party? Office Agents, or Hage-mashi-tai (which means "we want to cheer you up") will offer you an instant cast of friends, ready for display.

It is, I suppose, only one step away from Facebook, where "friends" are totted up and flaunted, like notches on a bedpost – "friends" being people you've never met, on whom you inflict your holiday snaps, or the tedious trivia of your daily life. And it's less than a step away from the celeb parties or weddings, where guests are selected for criteria which rarely have much to do with intimacy, loyalty or trust.

What all these people have in common is chronic insecurity and excessive regard for how they're seen. "Friendship", said Thomas Jefferson, is "like wine, raw when new, ripened with age". Not, it seems, any more.