Monday, 21 July 2014

Money May Not Go Round

In the run up to the vote on Scottish Independence the respective parties are trying out bid each other in how much the money will be in the pocket and what it will buy.  Added to these are other vague notions and promises of the future, allegedly economic, but remote from the realities of political economy.

Neither seem willing to admit that the world has changed in the last decade and with it political economies, financial systems and what governments may or may not be able to do. Given the inadequate and misleading data available and wishful thinking what they are promising is to predict the unpredictable, deliver things they do not have and are unlikely to have and prosperity for all when in reality it could well be only for the select few.

One attempt to correct this is a long and closely written article by James Stafford in Open Democracy.  It deals with not what might happen so much as trying to show where we are at present.  This entails an awareness not just of the latest but the history of fiscal, financial and monetary disruptions of the past and their impact on the political structures we have inherited.

He argues that the reality of the financial economics and current basis of economic power in the world is not so much ignored but neither understood nor taken into account in the public debate.  Our leaders are naive and ignorant of how much has changed and will continue to change.

While the disaggregation of the old nation states and their merging into large quasi imperial groupings may seem to be a given, it comes with heavy costs for the lower income groups.  Also, those at the head of those large groups, such as the EU, will not be capable of dealing with the real sources of power or have a functioning political economy to deal with crises.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

UK Response Over Flight MH17

As the crisis in the Ukraine has unfolded, I have been wary of too much comment.  Mindful of the complex history of Eastern Europe for over a millennia this means not only being careful about applying recent ideas to the issues but avoiding either simplistic judgements or involvement.

The Russian stance on the atrocity of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 and subsequent behaviour and attitudes has forced a change of mind.  It has been disgusting, disturbing and questions the whole approach of Russia to other peoples.   

As for Germany, it seems that Chancellor Frau Merkel's new best friend has shown the colour of his stripes and with German energy supplies dependent on Gazprom is in two minds or perhaps more.

In the meantime, not only is Moscow obstructing neutral investigation and careful treatment of wreckage but her best friends agents and followers are stripping and defiling the remains of their victims with the assent of the Kremlin.

What should we do?  Here are some options.

Withdraw diplomatic privileges from the Russian Ambassador and Embassy.

Expel the Russian oligarchs from London and confiscate their properties to pay for some of the consequences.

Freeze other Russian assets and force sales of any major holdings in British companies.

Cancel the Maryinski visit to the Royal Opera House as an affront to decency in the circumstances.  Also tell Valerie Ghergiev to go home and stand down from the Proms.

Ban all Russian flights to the UK.

Remind the Germans of what happened in Berlin in the spring and summer of 1945.

At least would show our government has a little understanding of basic morality.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Just Blew In From The Windy City

A long hot day, too much to do and with little inclination to do it and interruptions, where politeness and patience is needed. So rather than make a misjudged hasty comment on present events this is restricted to something more technical.

This article today in the Telegraph by James Kirkup is not just another about the government reshuffle and the dumping of Michael Gove it's thrust is how politics have changed in the last decade or so and how the coming election might be very different from those before.

We are joining the 21st Century and it is not the same.

This is a sample:

"And this is where the next big change in political operations beckons, a change that offers the difference between trying to forecast the English weather by holding a licked finger to the wind while looking at the horizon, and American hurricane watchers using a network of GPS satellites to track anticyclonic activity patterns over the South Atlantic.

The 2012 US presidential election campaign was fought using data, almost unimaginable amounts of it, about voters: their finances, families, beliefs, even their television-watching habits and Facebook friends.

President Barack Obama’s successful re‑election campaign built a computer system, named Narwhal [after the tusked whale], that assembled more than 50 terabytes of data on voters. Printing that on paper would mean cutting down 2.5 million trees."


Quite what will happen and whether these changes do have salient effect we shall have to see.  But as a dedicated hurricane watcher since the day I took to the net, at least I understand what he is trying to say.  The picture above is of Doris Day in "Calamity Jane" explaining the rapidity of social change in Chicago to the inhabitants of Deadwood in the wildest of the West around 150 years ago.

Blow the wind southerly......

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Have Portable Will Travel

The news that in the highest echelons of the Government of Germany there is the suggestion of a reversion to manual typewriters for ultra sensitive documents because of American spying caused a lurch into the memory banks near to the random frontal lobe, tell you a story......

Smiley's Hardware

It appeared to be a busy day at The Circus, all at their work stations fully engaged.  In truth most were either reading blogs or looking at pictures on screen that were more interesting but had nothing to do with their duties.

Too many were engaged in online betting and more were trying to sort out their complicated lives, either making or breaking relationships to reach some ideal never to be found.  The overriding sound was the hum of fans and clicking of mice and keyboards.

The main door opened and heads turned.  An old man, gingerly using a stick to favour a bad knee slowly moved through the room.  Dressed in a black overcoat and wearing a bowler hat, suit and tie at first many thought he was a ghost.

Then the voice of old man Guilliam, tucked away in a corner where he could be less of a nuisance and spin out time to maximum pension entitlement, piped up.  "Good god almighty, George!  What on earth are you doing here?"

The old man turned, gave a soft wry smile and replied,  "You must be the last man standing, how good to see you again.  Glad you got out of that bad scrape in '89."  "How did you know, George?"  "I saw a fleeting image of you on the box, you were only supposed to be liaising, not urging them on to knock the wall down.  Now they are running Europe and you are headed for the same knackers yard as I inhabit."

George Smiley waved a gloved hand, the arthritis was playing up, and went through the door into the Chief's office.  In there already was an assembly of the good and great.  After the data fiasco and the consequences the air was thick with plots and counter plots.

It was four hours later when the Minister, young Lacon, emerged.  He was brusque and brutal.  "There are to be radical changes, the Chief is taking early retirement to go into investment banking and his team will go with him."  All, or almost all stopped to listen apart from those on the 6.45 at Pontefract.

Lacon continued.  "A former Chief, distanced from all this, George Smiley, is to return with a handpicked team to oversee the transition and ensure the tightest security possible.  You are to go home now and have a long weekend to return on Tuesday; good evening."

On that morning, the workers of The Circus were corralled into the basement for full security checks.  Their phones and gadgets removed and then taken up to The Office.  On the desks were strange machines sitting quietly, no screens but with large ungainly keyboards and not connected to the mains and without batteries.

George was perched on a four wheeled walking frame; the knee was worse, it had been given more to do and beside him were other quite old people.  He waved a disarming hand.

"These are manual typewriters rescued from an old stores.  They are to be used for all communications in future.  Special delivery arrangements using young interns, hitherto referred to as office boys, regardless of gender, have been made to avoid the internet at all costs.  Connie here will tell you how to use them."

He paused in the way men do before giving the bad news.  "All copies will be individually numbered and carbon copies limited to no more than two per document.  There are to be photocopiers of an early electro magnetic type but use of these will be personally supervised by special staff who will record manually all communications in a ledger for that purpose."

Another pause, "All files will be manilla folders.  On an inside sheet will be recorded all items in the file.  All will have the security classification clearly marked.  All pages in all documents will be numbered.  All distribution will be clearly stated.  All will be kept in steel locked boxes called filing cabinets and checked and cross checked daily.  No files will be allowed out of the room unless there is supervision and security checks.  All outgoing and incoming items will be checked by a senior officer."  He looked at the lady.

Connie saw the shock but did not worry.  They had been careless and had to pay the price.  "So, dearies, I will teach you how to operate the typewriters, use carbon inserts for copies, lay out text and amend errors.  A basic rule is that any obvious grammatical error or more than two amendments means retyping the page.  I'm sorry but not sorry, the party is over for you and it is back to real work."

A complaining voice came from the middle of the group, "But all this will take all day, what about our usual contacts and searches which are important to us."  Connie gave a hoot and George a chuckle.  She replied, "That's the way it is and the way it was.  No social media.  No indiscriminate searching.  No easy contacts.  Now it is tradecraft, attention to detail and absolute control of everything we do."

There was an unquiet silence.  "Was that Harman?" asked George who did not wait for a reply.  "You have a best friend on Facebook, I believe, Phillipa of Weybridge?"  Harman simply stared.  George went on, "Oh, and Cooper, you also have one called Odile in Manchester and Balls, yours is Sandy in Glasgow."

The silence became more unquiet.  "Strange," said George, "They are all the same person, it is someone called Cookie who lives in a condominium in Maryland and freelances for the CIA.  They seem to know a lot we are not happy about."  He let it sink in.  "Once we liked to help our so-called friends over there but now we need to be more careful, especially where contracts and trading are concerned."

They realised that George might be old and shaky but the cold in his eyes told them that life had changed and there was nowhere for them to go.  He knew everything.  They knew he knew everything and he had wanted them to know.

George went back into the Chief's Office and left them with Connie, "Hello children," she said, "Now you are going to be taught how to work in security.  Peter Guilliam will be in charge of the lot and able to hire and fire at will, so do not annoy him.  Some of you already have in the past.  Anyone fired goes without references or help looking for other work."

The workers went to their designated seats and waited for their orders.  Connie began, "Pick up two pieces of paper and insert between them a sheet of the carbon paper in a way that allows a copy to be made.  Then I will demonstrate how to put them in between the rollers properly to enable correct typing to begin."

It was not going to be a long day, but a long month and a very long year.

Etc, etc.

I still have my old Imperial Good Companion portable and carbon paper, could there be a job in security for me?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Defence Of The Realm

About all the talk of the UK role in the world, influence, punching above our weight and possibly below the belt as well; here is the revised version of an old song. 

The picture is of The Wreck of the Birkenhead, marked in verse as well as art.

We don't want to fight.
But By Jingo if we do!
We've lost the ships,
We've lost the men,
We've lost the money too!

Apologies are no long necessary.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

All Change And No Change

The main thing about the Cabinet and Government "reshuffle" is that it does not really matter much in the great scheme of things.  It is thirty or so years ago now since the TV series "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" taught us that whatever we thought our governments did not govern.

In the last couple of centuries many Ministers have come and gone and quite a proportion have not done much governing.  In the days when the propertied classes dominated for the most part they were expected to preside.  There have been many exceptions but a lot of those are not thought well of.

Essentially, our "Prime" minister, David Cameron is not a chancer as some suggest, he is a gambler.  Chancers may have an even chance, or if lucky, win more often than they lost.  Gamblers normally lose and Cameron's rate of error and mischance puts him well into the category of gambler and loser.

A reason for Michael Gove during his tenure at Education being so unpopular with teachers is that he did try his hand at governing.  If there is one group of people who object to discipline and control it is the teachers.  By and large they detest being told what to do and how to do it.

Whether he was right or wrong or wise or foolish is something to argue about and this is a debate for others.  At least it tells the incomers to office not to try doing anything like that but stick with the usual business of acting as fixers for vested interests, spinners of media tales, cheerleaders for anything that seems popular or keeps the media happy and preparing the way for a lucrative career in consultancy and lobbying.

In any case if the experts are right and we are bound by no less than 14,000 absolute commitments, the EU, making laws on what are essentially policy matters and allowing the barmier element of the judicial body to dictate what they think the law is, then our ministers who may think of doing the odd bit of actual governing just to see what it is like may not have much or any scope for action.

In any case, what can be done in the few months before the next election is not much at best and it not just a holding operation it is yet another high rolling political gamble to win over the voters.  In effect governing has been given up apart from the occasional populist pretense.

Looking across the world and what is happening there is a lot going on which may produce crises or challenges that will test this new Cabinet and pose unwelcome choices.  There are too many unknowns and too few good omens.

Cameron, like too many of our recent leaders has scant regard for history or its lessons and the reshuffles and reshaping of Cabinets and Minister appointments in the past hopeful of turning things round is not a happy one.

For us, the risks are high, because if Cameron is again the loser it is us who will be the biggest losers, saddled with a government that cannot govern because it does not know how it, does not have time nor the wit to learn and is incapable of making decisions that are wise or sensible.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

More On Modern Living

Usually, doing successive posts bearing on the same, or nearly the same subject is avoided, the two previous ones touched on how the world now works in the literal sense, up to a point.

But the Dilbert cartoon above, for today Sunday 13 July, fits all this so well, it was difficult to resist using it.

The particular matter is that without the web and the instant international contact doing this kind of thing within the time frame would  have been impossible even a decade or so ago.

Another feature of modern life is that when our sporting persons win and bring home the trophies our political leaders are all over them, showering honours and making promises of funding for this and that.

When they are not they seem to become "unpersons" in the Orwellian sense to be shunned and forgotten as soon as possible.  Given the margins between success and failure are so fine, perhaps our leaders could have something to learn?

Notably, pressing the "delete" button does not mean that things have been deleted, they are still there short of total destruction.