Thursday, 27 July 2017

Fiction Is More Interesting Than Fact

Recently there has been a good deal of coverage about fake news etc. in the media raising questions about what can be trusted and who. The answers seem to be little and few.

The National Archive at Kew has a number of events on Wednesdays in August, we have been a few in the past and not only are they interesting but they open the eyes to what is said to be history but may not be quite as we thought it would be.

On the 2nd there is "Sorcery And The English Royal Family" on alternative facts in 15th Century England, nothing to do with the present, I think. On the 9th "Making A Martyr" how child murder libel was born in Medieval England.

The 16th is "Ambassadors And Arms Dealers" in 16th Century Italy. So what changes? The 23rd "Unloved, Ignored and Misrepresented", the Victorian paupers in their own words, perhaps your family.

Lastly, "Hitler Lives!" about alternative facts and conspiracy theories. As a child I used to claim that the grumpy neighbour who disliked our street games was in fact really Adolf who had become a clerk in a local factory, claiming to be Polish.

Truth it seems is often more elastic than lies.

Monday, 24 July 2017

What's In A Film?

It has been difficult to avoid the news that there is a new film "Dunkirk", running time 106 minutes, in the cinemas. It is not a repeat of the 1958 one but a 21st Century one, no doubt quick cutting vivid noisy and of its time. We have had a lot of wars since then and need to keep up with them.

Already the critics point out some flaws. The railway carriages for the returning men are said to be 1970's vintage. The name of the Beach Master, a crucial figure, has been changed for reasons unknown. The sharp eyed and informed will also spot problems. I bet the uniforms may be right but will not reflect the reality of the wear and tear of being in the field.

Part of the debate about the film is what impact if might have on the audience of today. In 1958 there were a good many people around directly or indirectly connected with Dunkirk 1940 and some of those were in the film. There are not many left of them. I was around at the time but childhood memories are sketchy and too affected by false memory from later sources.

This audience mainly reliant on modern education and propaganda will have little or no idea of the period nor of the significance of the rescue operation. It is old history which in our new Europe we are trying to forget along with much of the rest of history in favour of our modern concerns.

What always interests me in many aspects of history and the way it is told is what is left out or is unknown because no record has been kept or again because what was happening we do not fully grasp because we do not really understand the period and the people and who and what they were.

A major question is why didn't the Germans finish the British Army off and capture the lot? Here it gets technical which usually has the effect of provoking a loss of interest or belief. As ever there could be several interacting issues relating to the condition of the German Army and the thinking and talking going on among their General Staffs.

One is the tanks and in particular the tank tracks. By Dunkirk the German panzers had been going hard for enough time for major repairs and tank track replacements becoming vital, especially if a French counter attack might happen. We may know now that it wasn't going to but the Germans did not. And the tanks were needed for the drive South.

Having served in an Armoured Division and spent quality time running round the countryside chasing tanks these great hunks of metal take a lot of TLC to keep going. They also need a formidable amount of support that has to be organised and directed.

For the German infantry they had been on the march for a few days and despite their successes no doubt there had been wear and tear on them and their equipment. How exhausted they were is guess work, but we can assume they were needing respite. But the units left by the British to stop them and fight it out were hard to overcome.

Then there is the artillery. Again the German guns were good and well organised, at least when they started, but they too were likely to need repair, replacement and what ammunition was left and how much was going to be needed were other questions.

Behind all this are the logistics. Again, the German Army was capable, but even the best armies cannot go on stretching its logistics for too long before the strains show, shortages arise and the planning is no longer met by performance.

Along with success can come complacency. It is quite likely that seeing these battered crews of men going back to England without their kit, their weapons and in major defeat the Germans took the view that they would never come back and the best course was to conserve their resources to finish off France fast.

But unlike in many films we know what happened next.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Can I Have A Word?

The tidal wave of apologies continues. Today's leading sorry statement has come from Dick Van Dyke once a star of TV and film in the 1960's and after. In the popular film of 1964 "Mary Poppins" he played a London chimney sweep, Bert, and his "cockney" accent was alleged to be as bad as it gets.

The film was neither documentary nor serious drama, it was a way over the top musical for the delight of young children and their parents wanting a simple noisy bit of fun. It was well done with popular songs and dance routines and a film to relax to.

His accent may have seemed bad, but there was form for this. Ever since sound and film came together and especially in Britain the accents and bearing of the actors were sometimes a little or a lot removed from reality, especially the cockneys, who featured on film more often than particular provincials.

Parallel with "Mary Poppins" the 1964 film "My Fair Lady" had topped the ratings, from a musical based on the early 20th century play "Pygmalion" by GB Shaw, in which a language scholar takes a street girl, Eliza Doolittle, to change her voice and therefore her status in society.

In this film it was Marnie Nixon who did the singing while Audrey Hepburn did the acting. The casting raised some questions about why Julie Andrews had been dropped who had played Eliza on the stage, but that was Hollywood at the time, Julie was thought to be too English.

When GB Shaw was walking between his home in Fitzrovia and work in Fleet Street, Covent Garden was on the way and he would have met many street sellers and traders.

He was a progressive of his time and a believer that national compulsory education would mean a people not only able to read, write and count but to speak their language clearly and understandably.

It is a pity he failed.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Down Under And Over

The research goes on to find clues to how mankind developed, when and where. We thought we knew, but now we know it was more complicated.

There was limited evidence in the past and science was much less able to tell the detail. So there was a lot of hopeful conjecture or guess work.

Now there is a case for believing that our species arrived in Australia before they arrived in Europe.

There is only one comment that can be made.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

New Money Old Problems

In Richard Murphy had a post on 18 July titled "Dear Gareth A Letter To A Wealthy Man In Denial" as a response to an item by a chartered accountant who seems to have done quite well in his life; very much better than the great majority of people, but does not like the implications of Inheritance Taxes.

RM discusses the issues of these taxes making the present case for them. This is not a new problem, it is over a hundred years now since it became "live" in UK politics with Lloyd George, and the debate had been rumbling for many years before that.

Among the comments is one by Leigh Caldwell who expands on the issues involved.


Apart from all your very well-made points Richard, the guy has received plenty of state services in return for his £1m. The only one he acknowledges is child benefit: currently about £1750/year for 2 kids x 16 years = £28,000. But the state also paid for their schooling: circa £5,500/year/child x 2 x 13 years = £143,000. And most of the first child’s university costs: £20,000 say.

Average NHS spending for a 4-person family is circa £8,000/year – let’s count the children only until they turn 21 years and start earning, and the two adults throughout their adult life, assuming they live to 80. He may not have spent as much in younger years, but the costs will probably be accelerating soon as most of health spending is in the later years of life. Total = £320,000.

The state has provided him with domestic and foreign security services in whose absence I suspect an accountant would not keep his £5m of wealth for long. Approximate share of Home Office, Defence and “public order and safety” budgets: £1300/year throughout an 80-year life for 2 people: £208,000.

Depending on whether he was contracted out and/or receives SERPS, state pension is hard to calculate, but at minimum it should be £6,000/year for each partner. Depending on his wife’s age this could start between 60 and 66, but let’s say they both receive it for 15 years. £6,000 x 2 x 15 = £180,000.

No doubt he has used the public roads and the odd train (£500/person/year), local authority bin collections, libraries, etc (let’s estimate £100 for the parts not covered by council tax – I’ll exclude social care and public housing as no doubt he would tell us that has nothing to do with him), the fruits of subsidised scientific research (£100), the great British countryside protected by the government’s environmental agencies (£250); and as an accountant he will recognise the value of accounting and administrative services to collect and distribute the tax, pensions etc so I’m sure he won’t mind paying his £100 share of all those overheads. That’s £1050 x 2 x 80 = £168,000.

I won’t count the services he’s received from private sector employees whose income was subsidised by tax credits, the implicit insurance policy he’s been given by the social safety net, the benefits of visa-free travel to, and duty-free imports from, Europe – and the many other more intangible gains from being a member of a stable, prosperous society.

I could have counted his own free university education instead of his first child’s, which would nudge the figures up a bit. I could have allocated a bit more of the security costs to him since as a business owner, he receives extra benefit from a secure stable society beyond just those accruing as a citizen. But let’s give him a break at this point.

All the above are calculated based on current budgets, so they may differ if spending levels were different in earlier years. In some categories this reduces the figures, in others it increases them. Gareth’s total bill for state services over his lifetime: £1,067,000.

So according to his own calculations, he hasn’t even covered his OWN COSTS from the state, let alone contributed anything in return for the good fortune of being one of the richest people in the country.

£1m of tax might sound like a lot, but over a lifetime an average couple on national average income (one working for 40 years, the other 30) is likely to pay circa £600,000 (in income tax and NI only – not counting any VAT, council tax, corporation tax).

This guy has barely paid more than an ordinary working couple, despite the astronomical assets he’s accumulated over his life. Not to mention the slightly sneaky “tax, NI, etc” in his email – does this mean he HAS included VAT, corporation tax, employer’s NI, council tax, business rates and everything else?

In which case, he has most likely managed to pay LESS tax than the average worker and it would hardly be surprising if angry voters were sympathetic to the idea of simply confiscating his ill-gotten gains.


If a man of this wealth and income in the course of a working life, can incur such costs in excess of what he pays then the implications are that few people cover their costs.

Which explains the debtor state we are in, literally, and why the levels of debt and liability are growing. Yet our politicians propose to spend more and more to get the votes.

See you in the Marshalsea.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

How Much For The Beeb?

The press are hotfoot after the BBC people to discuss the matter of their salaries, now revealed. They are saying little or nothing about their own. The example they chose is that of the Prime Minister. It is a little like comparing a train driver to a truck driver. They seem to be doing much the same thing but that is not the case.

When we were tripping up and down to London and visiting places we would often see a face and ask, who is he or she, were they in this or that programme, do you remember this once famous person? One such place was Stratford Upon Avon where family visits meant doing shopping and such like.

Some of these people had enjoyed longer careers, but for some their period of fame and therefore fortune had not lasted for long and they had to go into other trades. There was a time when once famous film faces were often to be found running boarding houses in the days before seaside resorts declined.

In short many of the people who are now among them will soon be forgotten and their agents will no longer be able to dictate the terms of their contracts. The crucial figures are those for audiences. If a face fails to pull the viewers the curtains will be drawn. For them this fame can become a liability, in that very many do not want a former star on their payrolls.

In the world of film, commercial theatre and general TV this is the norm and it is a business where you get what you can and if wise this will give an income and pension if you can hold onto it, or better chose the right financial adviser. Even then there is bad luck, divorce and financial crashes to contend with.

The root problem is that it is the BBC, a state entity, that is the employer and this is funded substantially by the license fee although there are other income streams. This means that the performers are seen as being paid out of a tax, chargeable whether or not you ever watch them.

The real question may be is it time for this ninety year old state radio, later TV and now internet service to be sold off to the highest bidder; probably foreign, or do we want to keep it as one of the few things left to us?

Monday, 17 July 2017

Scare Stories

There have been two stories in the media that have excited the various pundits who try to control our thinking. The more important is the person to play the role of "Dr. Who" in the coming series.

Apparently, it is no longer the sort of chap you would never invite to a party but an active female who reminds you of the Head Cook in the school kitchens only wearing trousers. When it first started in November 1963 after a few minutes we decided it wasn't for us.

The lesser story is that we are all going to starve if we do not stay in the EU. Committees and commentators are queuing up to say that food supplies would become insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive if British exit succeeded. Around thirty years ago I recall seminars and lectures saying the same about food supplies.

Only they were not discussing it in terms of Europe, in or out, but trying to tell us that something was happening which if it went on would be as bad, if not worse, than a nuclear world war or a collapse of major states for economic reasons usually related to monetary and debt problems.

At that time they were careful to stick to the numbers and implications to avoid issues of race, culture and others which would mean that the real threat was relegated in other conflicts of ideas. Simply, there were few places in the world where the population was becoming relatively static or reducing.

Most were others where populations were either still growing steadily at relatively predictable rates and others where growth was rapid and there were uncertainties as to what would happen when food supplies became inadequate or failed. This last group was largely composed of the poorest states with least economic growth or potential.

Their concern was that there had to be a point when humanity had demanded so much of the Earth's resources that no more increase was possible. The lessons of history were that there had been many times when one area or another could no longer feed the people dependent on it.

This had been largely countered in the mid 20th Century when progress in transport, storage, technology of food and management of the land enabled increases of supply. So when I was born into a UK population of around 40 million emigration was regarded as essential to the future and this was reinforced by war and its aftermath. Now I am in a population of 65 million where immigration is said to be essential for economic reasons.

But the Greens tell us that time is running out for Earth and its ability to feed us . There are scientists who claim that the larger crops arising from the way the land is worked mean that there is a limit to how many more the land can produce and before that decreases will begin and in parts of the world are already evident.

In short food supplies are destined to become insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive whatever happens and on a world basis. The Brexit issue is only at the margin and requires us to trust Brussels to manage it properly.

Those areas that suffer worst will become the ones from which large scale population transfers occur to other places, any places which have basic food. This has happened in the past in many places and in the Atlantic Isles in recent centuries. It happened in Germany in the late 1940's. We forget this too easily.

Back in the 1940's we knew a man with a van who now and again on his work travels would go out to farms to buy potatoes for cash, no questions asked. They did cost more, but we were never short of spuds.