Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Chirp Of The Day

Today is Budgie Day when we are told how to take care of that intruder into our homes whose demands are insatiable.

You will be asked to feed it with more seed, although you will be told that this is not a problem.

Also,  you will be required to do more to take care of it and all the associated foreign budgies that we are helping to feed.

You will be told that this will enrich your lives. Sadly, when the reality dawns on you it will be too late.

When you next get the chance to vote, it will be a question of which is the biggest budgie but it will be impossible to tell.

Also, it might be a catastrophe.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Is Anybody Listening?

The TV channel RT, Russia Today, has a programme hosted by George Galloway (who?) a former politician famous for saying a great deal, many feeling a great deal too much. A few of our politicians etc. have appeared on it. The fee is said to be a very good one.

The programme is called "Sputnik", because RT intends to orbit the world with it as a must see news item for the masses displaying that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with. The name comes from the space mission of April 1961.

One avid viewer is John McDonnell, the Labour leader in waiting, who wants to nationalise everything that moves. Apparently, in order to flee capitalism when it collapses he has a small sailing boat named "Morning Star".

This is the name of the ultra Left daily newspaper. Once it was called the "Daily Worker", but when it became clear that in 1966 it was  more written and read by the London bourgeoisie of the Left it was changed to something more inspirational. The workers were saving up for a deposit on a house.

The web is a wonderful place and from it came the picture above of the "Daily Worker" issue of April 1961 which headlined the Soviet space mission, the first manned flight to make it outside the Earth. Yuri Gargarin was the hero of the day, rightly, in this major step in science.

Look across the picture above, however, to see what the UK ultimate space guru, Professor Bernard Lovell, has to say.

You might just make out that in referring to who would be the first to put a man on the moon he states that the chances of the USA doing so were now negligible.

I wish I had put on a bet on that one.

Monday, 20 November 2017

My Artificial Brain Hurts

One web site of choice is "Bank Underground" from the Bank of England. Essentially it is about how it works and tries to explain what it is up to or not up to as the case may be. It is neither fun nor easy.

Certainly, it needs a site like this because it is all too evident that most or nearly all of the main media, political parties, traders, dealers, retail bankers, experts of one sort or another and far too many economists are not really up there with the economic game.

To be fair, the game is not the old fashioned single entity where the rules are more or less the same from year to year, and there is a fair chance that predictions may be right or work. In effect, the rules change almost by the day as well as the pitch, the players and the purpose.

This article in titled "New Machines For The Old Lady" is about the advances made at the Bank of England in applying high and new technology to its function as a central bank. There has been, it says, an explosion in the amount and variety of digitally available data.

All you need are machines that will analyse it and allow you to suggest the policy options it alleges are required. If you are in a hurry with all those berserker politicians crying for answers, it seems a good idea.

I prefer the Bank articles to be brief and not to challenge the wiring between the ears. This one needs time because of the subject matter and having to explain what is what. But if you want to know what your central bank is up to, why and how, it is part of the answer.

Unluckily, in this world however good the mathematics, science, data gathering, artificial intelligence, analytic systems and coffee machines, there are no certainties and not much comfort. After all the explanation, it ends:


However, care is needed when interpreting the outputs from ML models. For example, they do not necessary identify economic causation.

The fact that a correlation between two variables has been observed in the past does not mean it will hold in the future, as we have seen in the case of the artificial neural network when it is faced with a situation not previously seen in the data, resulting in forecasts wide of the mark.


Told you so.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Hundred Years Ago

I had just sketched out another "what if" item which may or may not have worked when I came across a better one. It is good reading and tells us how our world might have been a much better one had the opportunity been taken.

It is in The Spectator by Simon Kerry and the title is "What if the first world war had ended a year earlier" and is not simply a think piece. It is about his forebear who was a leading political figure at the time.

The Lord Lansdowne, a former member of the Cabinet had composed a letter arguing for a negotiated peace and end of fighting in 1917 and had been discussing it earlier with friends and colleagues, who soon became former friends.

In essence they ratted on him having gone too far down the road that would lead to the destruction of Germany. The events at the Somme and Passchendaele had been too much and the sacrifices demanded too many.

It is possible also that the Lloyd George government's ambitions in the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire may have been a reason.

Only three months later the new Soviet government in Russia agreed an end to hostilities with Germany and Austria.

We are still paying the price today for Lloyd George's obsessions with the Middle East and the Palestine question. Reading the article it is difficult to avoid considering that Lansdowne may have been right.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Pass Me A Handkerchief

The debate on the National Health Service goes on and from the Left we are given the impression that they are the "defenders" from the forces of change who must be wrong if they wish to change anything. In the meantime medicine and medical problems move on.

We learn more and more and realise much better the complexities and difficulties of many conditions. But the Left want to just remind us of the past, indeed the long past, as though nothing could or would change.

A choice example is this tear jerker in The Canary from Harry Leslie Smith about the indeed tragic loss of his sister, Marion, who had tuberculosis, TB, at the age of 15. He says she was denied medical treatment nor were the family given a wheelchair.

There are one or two problems here. The three towns given for his family are Barnsley, Bradford and Halifax. All of these had local authority hospital facilities plus provision for the poor, advanced for their time, and for those signed up with friendly societies. Also, Marion had been diagnosed, who by and what were his parents told or asked?

In December 1943 an uncle of mine, much loved and respected died young from TB, he was not in hospital nor was he given medication. But he had been one of the rare men working as a nurse in an isolation hospital, where no doubt he had contracted TB. He opted to die at home with his family.

The drugs that beat TB, the antibiotics were not available then. The hospital beds were for any potential survivors, most likely who had the condition spotted early, for whom long months in an open air ward might just help them beat it.

And you did not want the serious cases on the ward. The only two options were either a managed death facility, more or less an annex to the mortuary, or being at home and told to stay at home.

So contagious was the disease and so dangerous you did not want victims being wheeled around the shops or any other public place or even up or down the street. It was not just a death sentence, it was being put into isolation as well.

The local Medical Officers of Health had TB as a major priority along with other bad ones, for example Typhoid. I recall one school I attended before the NHS was created where a pupil was found with TB and they came in like the cavalry at Waterloo to deal with it.

Go home, stay at home and wait for the results parents and pupils were instructed. Parents who did not take heed were told that if they were not careful their children would be taken into isolation for months. My parents were far from happy but obeyed.

The creation of the NHS occurred at the same time as major advances in pharmaceuticals, treatments, surgery and in other fields of medicine, notably training and functioning of family doctors. It was never simply "private" and never had been.

The problem in the late 1940's arose mainly from the effects of two world wars within thirty one years, other crises, all the industrial and employment conditions on the rise, the ex-service injured and the increasing numbers of births etc. The greater movement of people added to this.

Clearly some central policy thinking and direction would be needed in certain fields, also how to give stimulus to improvement and to even out the differences between local authorities. What it did not need was the wipe out of so much of the local and charitable provision and imposition of detached bureaucracies regardless of function.

We now have the transformations possible in the digital age and other major challenges. Does the Left seriously think that these can be dealt with by people sitting in offices in London being directed by committees of politicians with poor degrees in PPE?

Back To The Land

Digging in for Labour on rural matters comes up with some strange ideas. This is a party for whom food begins and ends at the supermarkets, especially those who come up with the contributions to party funds.

Quote from last week:

Speaking in Lincoln on Saturday, McDonnell will say that tens of billions paid to shareholders should have been used to bring prices down for consumers. “These figures show what could have gone into investment in these public services in order to expand and improve them or keep their charges down,” he will say at the event to mark the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, which, in 1217, enshrined the rights of people to the lands they lived and worked on.


The Charter Of The Forest has a Wikipedia article which explains it briefly. Let us say it seemed a good idea at the time.

Over the centuries much of the Atlantic Isles became deforested. Then  the common land was over grazed to the point of failing to sustain animals for meat and industry. Then it was not possible for the land to grow much in the way of crops. Harvests were scant at best, and often total loss occurred.

Last but not least, in the common lands the rule of law failed as groups of individuals and families came into violent conflict over whose rights were paramount. The failure to keep records of the past and decisions of the relevant bodies or courts made this a great deal worse.

So when Kings who believed in Divine Right came to rule and with them group or tribal leaders who had major following they began to carve up the land for their own benefit. At least in some it gave rise to improvements in agriculture and greater productivity.

The end came with the mass migration from these lands when weather conditions turned adverse over long periods. Notably from the uplands worse affected.

McDonnell appears to be saying that any surplus from an industrial or agricultural source of production should not be applied to that or others that promise a surplus but should be redirected to State spending. That is we should have an economy that will be largely static in a world of global trade and finance.

Neither he nor his comrades seem to realise that the world they grew up in has gone and cannot be recreated by committees of the brothers and laws passed in Westminster.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Riding The Money Go Round

When in West Germany first, before we were fool enough to allow it sovereignty, being sent to save the world from the Soviet hordes, the money question was of key interest. Not only did we have little of it but neither did the locals.

There was actual sterling coin and notes for the better off, then Army scrip, bits of scrubby paper valid only in particular British outlets, but which might used with people who could access these, the then Mark, distrusted, inevitably cigarettes and in addition anything which was desirable and could be bartered.

Both we and the Germans were used to barter. For all of us the 1940's had been a time for the resurgence of barter, for those in the UK, to get our hands on things not available or rationed and for a time for the Germans to survive in the collapse of its state.

How did we manage? The answer is that we did because we all knew the basic rules of this money game and if we applied common sense and straight dealing we would both benefit. It could apply to services. I dig your cabbage patch because I have boots, you clean my windows because I do not like ladders.

So when the government permitted the making of more cigarettes it was not just a health matter, the medic's then insisting it was good for us, or helping our sense of identity or social mixing, it was in effect money creation given the multiple effects of the ensuing transactions.

All this began to go in the 1950's and it became the norm to have a cash economy for the great majority of transactions. As our two main political parties in the UK were closely matched the electorate had to be bribed, which meant promises and therefore spending and that meant flows of money and credit.

The theoretical basis for much to this was alleged to be Keynes, albeit the convenient parts. The inconvenient were skipped. Sometimes our rulers got it wrong and other times they took the risks, hoping they could evade the consequences. Inevitably we began the long era of persistent inflation with occasional surges.

Half a century further on as the tribes of economists stalk the land and the statistics, we are still no wiser. Allegedly, a good many have been better off, but whether that has been better technology allied to greatly increased productivity plus greater reliable trade is something we could debate without coming to any real conclusions. There has been the property boom which has entailed transfers of wealth to some.

The losers, acutely aware that the winners have had a great deal of help from the State, directly and incidentally in many ways, understandably want assistance and support as the economy rapidly changes and their futures are uncertain. They also have a lot of votes in key areas.

We have on occasion nearly come off our money go round. But might the next time the gear wheels fail, we all fall off?