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Heads will roll?

中国日报网 2013-03-05 14:37

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Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “It’s a matter of days before heads will roll,” he said.

My comments:

He simply said some people will lose their jobs. It will happen soon, perhaps in the next few days.

“Heads will roll” is just another, an emphatic expression for severe punishment. In other words, no real heads will be chopped off.

And by “heads will roll”, he probably means that some people in positions of power will be sacked to account for some unfortunate event that’s just happened. That’s how one interprets a statement like that, because whenever you see the term “head will roll”, you usually infer that somebody’s going to get the sack for negligence at work, especially dereliction of duty, or some other wrong doing. Or someone in a leadership position may choose to resign instead of waiting for the sack.

“Heads” in “heads will roll” are real heads originally. When the human head is seen rolling like a ball on the ground, it has to have been severed from the neck, right?

Correct. This phrase is inspired from observing ancient executions where people were beheaded – having their head chopped off by a huge knife. These days, prisoners take a bullet to the back of the head or a lethal injection, but in the olden days it was more brutally done. Or at least it looked less humane, as members of the public who liked to watch an event like this, a rare occasion to be sure, watched the prisoner’s head roll tumbling to the ground, in horror and excitement.

Sorry for being graphic but this helps you get the picture.

Hence today someone talks about “heads rolling” instead of saying plainly that someone’s going to get the sack, you understand that by “heads rolling”, the speaker means to say that they should be severely punished and not a day sooner!

In other words, it serves them right!

Or something to that emphatic effect.

Alright, without further ado, media examples:

1. The misery continues for those still remaining in Equitable Life.

Last week’s news that Ernst & Young had won a partial victory in the £2.6 billion legal battle initiated by the current board, is just the latest in a seemingly endless succession of depressing developments at the society whose name long ago became synonymous with all that is wrong with the regulation of the financial services industry.

As legal fees (to be settled out of policyholders’ dwindling funds) continue to soar, the board, led by Vanni Treves - himself a top-flight lawyer - must surely now face facts and decide not to appeal against the Ernst & Young decision.

Plans to sue the former directors and threats to take the Government to court at some future date are also beginning to look equally over-ambitious as the society fights to stem the flow of money from its depleted coffers.

As policyholders continue to quit the sinking ship, despite the hefty 20 per cent exit penalty, annuitants - who cannot move - can do little other than pray that their monthly pensions payments will continue.

Meanwhile, the board repeats the mantra “we are solvent and will remain so” as though the very repetition will guarantee the required result. Regulators busy themselves with other matters in the vain hope that the problem will somehow solve itself before heads begin to roll in the corridors of Whitehall.

Somewhere far from the public view, Lord Penrose and his team are interviewing whichever witnesses deign to answer questions about what actually happened in the (50-year) run-up to the society’s decision to close its doors in December 2000.

Ever since the new board took over the reins in April 2001, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Policyholders who voted in favour of a “compromise” package more than a year ago have subsequently learned they were sold a pup, but can do nothing about it because the deal included signing away their right to sue.

A similar deal involving up to 90,000 investors lured into the society in the run-up to its closure at the end of 2000 was mooted in a report by B&W Deloitte at the end of September.

But, perhaps because of the broken promises that came in the wake of the first compromise, the board’s hopes for a similar “yes” vote now appear to have been scuppered by doubts that they will be able to pull off the same trick twice.

Meanwhile, few of up to 70,000 people originally promised full redress for being wrongly sold income drawdown plans in the 1990s, now look likely to receive little if any of the money they had been told so confidently to expect.

Added to all that, there are fears that Lord Penrose’s report, not expected to see the light of day until the end of this year at the earliest (well over two years since he was appointed) will shed little new light on how the regulators got it so wrong for so long, not least because the Treasury has intimated that much of the more damning evidence could be suppressed.

The only apparent remaining hope rests with Ann Abrahams, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who does have powers to demand proper answers, and to recommend compensation payments.

But the Treasury appears intent on blocking this route for as long as possible, or at least until Penrose has published his report.

- Piling misery on misery, Telegraph.co.uk, February 19, 2003.

2. After Enron disintegrated in 2001 amidst brazen balance sheet chicanery, high-level heads rolled. Former CEO Jeff Skilling went to jail. Ken Lay, another Enron chief, was found guilty of fraud but died before sentencing.

Later in the decade, other unscrupulous executives ended up behind bars, among them former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers and former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski.

These convictions were part of a difficult process of restoring a shattered public confidence in the American economic system. But it has now been two years since Wall Street helped cause a financial collapse – one which sparked a grueling recession and cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion – and only one trophy scalp, that of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, has been obtained by authorities. Several major financial industry targets have wriggled free without ever being charged, while some others were tried and went free.

However, for Americans still craving accountability from the most mischievous masters of the universe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a message: Stay tuned.

That’s because a special category of FBI cases connected to the epic subprime meltdown – and involving high-level Wall Street executives – remains the Bureau's highest priority, according to Peter Grupe, the assistant special agent in charge of white collar crime for the FBI’s New York field office.

“We have a large number of active [subprime] cases which are being aggressively investigated,” Grupe said. “These are complex, long-term, and resource intensive, but we will continue to pursue them for as long as it takes.”

- FBI Keeps Wall Street in Its Crosshairs, ABCNews.go.com, June 30, 2010.

3. Describing the escape of seven hardcore criminals in Penang as “embarrassing”, police yesterday warned that “heads will roll” following the latest fiasco.

Federal Criminal Investigation Department director Datuk Seri Bakri Zinin said they were looking at the matter seriously as this was the fourth such incident reported in the past month.

Last month, four prisoners escaped while they were being taken to court in three separate incidents.

Two Colombians, suspected of pulling off several burglaries in the state, gave their escorts the slip at the Petaling Jaya courts.

Less than 30 minutes later on the same day and at the same compound, an African woman on a drug trafficking charge, walked out of a courtroom and was last seen being driven away in a car.

Two weeks later, a suspect being charged with murder, escaped from the Klang court. He was last seen escaping on a motorcycle with an accomplice.

“They never learn,” said Bakri, referring to the Penang incident.

“There are clear guidelines in place when escorting prisoners but apparently this is not being taken seriously. This is embarrassing.”

- ‘Heads will roll over escape’, NST.com.my, January 9, 2013.

 

本文仅代表作者本人观点,与本网立场无关。欢迎大家讨论学术问题,尊重他人,禁止人身攻击和发布一切违反国家现行法律法规的内容。

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

 

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