Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Friday's Child

Having kept more or less clear of the USA Presidential business, partly out of amazement and partly to avoid trying to take up a position on a situation that is changing by the hour, just one thing.

It is said that Donald Trump is having a problem recruiting suitable celebrities to do a stint at the Inaugural Ceremony because so few either supported him or want to be included.

Or perhaps he does not pay as much as Russian oligarch's having a family bash. But in these digital days do we need the living any longer? It might be more entertaining to have those of the past who gave so many so much pleasure.

This from mid 1946 is as good as any.

We live in interesting times.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Going For A Ride

Having said something about vehicle taxation, it reminded me of an item on file on transport costs, probably inspired by a TV series set a couple of hundred years ago. It is one of my gripes that we do not understand the real costs of living all those years ago.


We are all very worried about our transport costs, personal, public, and those supplying our food and essentials.  But historically, even if oil prices do move up a good deal, they are very much cheaper than in the past.

When you look at the historical dramas on TV and see all the coaches, horses, and the rest, much of it is flights of fancy, for the vast majority of people it was all a lot simpler.  Basically, you walked, unless you were possessed of a good income.

If you look on the four in hand coach used for Stage or for private purposes, necessarily four horsepower and run down the potential costs they are very high.

A two or one horse rig would be for lighter and shorter distance work, and six horses is at State Coach levels or magnate display purposes.

So restate say 1830 prices at 2009 levels, by calculations that relate to labour costs rather than price comparisons of identifiable consumer products.

Cost of coach new: £250,000 or more.
Cost of horses:  £15,000 each, good quality horses cost a lot more than others.
Annual forage cost:  £5000 at least for four horses.
Annual maintenance:  £50,000, given the rate of contemporary wear and tear.
Labour costs for driver, guard, postillion, ostlers, and boys, plus stabling and incidentals, then probably up to £300,000 a year at least of probably more.

For that you would get 0-6 mph in five minutes.  You might need a full service (that is change of horses) at every 15-25 miles.

Commercial Operation Seat Prices for London-Bath (100 miles)
Inside - £1500; Outside rear - £1000; Outside top - £750
Partial refund for winter outside passengers freezing to death on journey.

Now for freight an example is a ten ton log going from a woodland to the boatyard for the shipwrights to make a mast would need a team of 16 heavy horses, plus a full complement of drivers, minders, and labourers and ten miles a day would be good going.  Try working the cost of that out in modern money.

A single horse and cart would cost much less than a stage coach, less than half, and need less support labour etc., but carries only as much as an average size van.

So why complain about motoring and transport costs today?

Because the future may become much more like the past.  At least we will have free compost deposits in the streets.


To think, how we all complain about car insurance........

Friday, 13 January 2017

Wacky Taxes

One of the early joys of the day is to check the local roads to count the accidents and road works and see whether the red lines are all around, or if we are lucky, only adjacent and avoidable. The motoring question soon may become more political and a source of many discontents.

A plea to go back to the past to when vehicles displayed tax discs from the DVLA is made by Stephen Glover in The Daily Mail. One of those wonderful wheezes of government to save a bit of money was to get rid of them by digitising the system. Yes, we have heard that one before.

He claims that the losses incurred are massive, they mutter and say, yes well, it is a lot but not that much and hey guy's we are digital. The basic law of humanity that if there is a way round or a risk worth taking because the chances of being caught are minimised many more will have a go was ignored.

So on our roads it seems that a great many cars now are not taxed. Which raises other questions about whether they are insured or not. The other question, especially in the younger generations is whether many of them do not have a valid license.

The car tax itself is due to change in April when the new VED system from the time of George Osborne, who has since made his escape, will come into force. Instead of a flat rate tax system we now have one based on your emissions, or rather those of your car. This is a long story involving the EU and others that I will skip.

There is guidance available, but it is clear that some drivers will be hit hard. Among those will be many using automatic gearboxes, that includes inevitably, many people with problems for whom manual gear systems are difficult. The recent VW scandal suggests that some car makers have been imaginative in declaring their emissions, but we shall see.

The signs are that a lot of people will be paying much more and unhappy whilst others will be paying little or nothing because their car has low emissions. They may drive more miles, use the roads a great deal, consume lots of petrol, which is taxed, etc. but this is no matter. What will happen, again, is many people being peeved and possibly a disruption in the car markets.

Given that so many people need cars today this all could be an exercise in how to lose votes. Also, it could involve losing tax income as a great many more decide to take their chance and skip paying car tax at all.

Then there is the economics of car owning at present and the sales practices of so many agents. For many the move to cheap old cars taken off the radar of the records that can be dumped at will at little loss is very tempting.

There are other motorists on the roads besides the UK citizens. Many EU "working visitors" have brought their own cars (or I suspect in a number of cases somebody else's cars) with them. There is guidance about taxing etc. for incomers if you can work it out. Very many of the visitors do not seem to have bothered.

But it suggests that the authorities do not inquire much as to what is going on in reality. Locally, the number with EU plates is remarkable, again tempting to have one going cheap in a quick cash deal. These "visitor" cars may not be insured, or taxed and the drivers may even not have licenses, who knows? Why bother?

So driving becomes ever more dodgy and the good citizen who does his duty and pays his dues is the loser, especially if an accident occurs. All it needs is cowboy lawyers willing to act for untaxed, unlicensed etc. drivers who bump into you.

Oh, it seems that there are already a lot of them out there.

Muttley, do something? Scrap car tax and increase fuel tax?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Now What?

There has been coverage in the media about the School of Oriental and African Studies; the University of London and the choice of philosophers in their courses on philosophy. Persons there want the "Europeans" out and others in because in the last handful or so of generations Europe had its Empires etc.

Down the centuries with philosophers there have been a lot of them about, wittering on about the meaning of life and all that. Opinions vary strongly and the debates can be bitter.

My theories that Karl Marx was simply retreading the ideas of Morgan Kavanagh to get the cash to pay the rent and Lenin was influenced by the views of Henry Hook VC, attendant at the British Museum and late of Rorke's Drift have not had much support.

Had I been in Eastern Europe a while back and uttered these ideas it would have been off to the Gulag sharpish to be taught the official versions. In my travels I have encountered senior members of the Order of the Dominicans, men of Rome and you had better believe it.

One I knew was clear in his mind that something like philosophy should not be taught either in schools or indeed universities. He felt strongly that it only gave people ideas that they were better off without and it was the good of their souls, as defined by The Dominicans, was the only thing that mattered.

The younger generations today might be influenced more by Marvin the depressed computer from "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" than others and it is arguable that the mobile robot was more right than wrong, Artificial Intelligence in practice perhaps. I wonder if the only true philosophers of our age are the software engineers.

Of course, it is poor Plato who gets it in the neck again. I have a soft spot for the old boy. When a few days after leaving the Army I was asked to think about Plato by Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990 see Wikipedia) it was much nicer than dealing with senior NCO's and Brigadiers who disagreed with my opinions, they were not Platonic in their view of the world.

The oddity in complaining about Plato is the idea that he is a Euro geek bent on the supremacy of Europe and its race or races. The archaeologists and paleontologists today with the aid of science and extensive research are discovering that the human story is a great deal more complicated than we have believed. In what we thought were primitive societies things are turning up which mean extensive contact over wide areas in trade.

So ancient Greece, notably Athens, was not just a centre for trade but one of many meeting places for people from far and wide and they in turn would have had other connections. In short, someone like Plato at the time may have simply been trying to make sense out of a flood of ideas and opinions from far afield. Ultima Thule, (Glasgow?) at one end and perhaps China etc. at the other?

One source would have been Ancient Egypt and going back  many centuries before Plato. Imhotep was as far from Plato as Plato is from the present day. The trading and meeting places of southern Egypt would have extended far and wide and into deepest Africa from a time when we have no written records of so much of the world.

Greece may now be seen as "Europe", but this is a modern entity. Long ago it was literally in another world of its time and place. It was a one time a major centre and before then a part of extensive complexes of human interaction, trade and thought, much of which is lost and forgotten apart from the few remains that we are busy wrecking.

Is it possible that if we knew a lot more than we think we know at the moment that Plato might be a thinker of his time who was toying with and suggesting ideas that came to the agora from many places which we are not aware of. It is possible that if some were from Egypt and its vicinity then these might derive from the further south.

That is, what we now refer to as Africa. I wonder what Confucius would make of all this?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Age Shall Wither

An article in "The Spectator" by Jeff Prestridge, the Personal Finance Editor of "The Mail On Sunday" is a confession on his part for his lack of pension planning personally, and a simple article setting out the mess that private pensions are today.

We no longer have the systems we once had and they have not been replaced by anything sensible, coherent or able to fund all those people wanting to retire. What will happen is in the future, what may happen is that suddenly instead of the elderly retiring at predictable ages a great many will have to soldier on.

The blame is fairly laid at the door of the Treasury and by default the many and various politicians dipping into pensions policy for money for other reasons.  This is an impending disaster. The wealthy are able to make deals, often off shore, that will keep them in yachts.

One interesting feature is that for the mandarins etc. at the head of the Civil Service and at the Treasury they are on what we call "gold plated", inflation proofed and generous schemes which are to be envied.

They are public sector, in theory funded in some cases but in all cases relying on the taxpayer one way or another. They are rivalled only by those for the politicians who instruct them. In the last two decades this has been very convenient, or rather too convenient, it has been like grandmother's purse, ever open for special pleading.

At the moment to some extent in certain parts of the country the problem is shrouded by the long running property boom. If that ends at the same time as the pensions crisis begins to kick in the government of the day will be in trouble.

They will be in the position of enforcing policies and taxes etc. with "no right decisions" and ones which will very unpopular with the majority of the electorate.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Time To Start Worrying?

The Great Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un has been saying that he intends to make use of intercontinental ballistic missiles to make war.

Given the complications of the internal politics of that state it is not clear what may happen. It may not be something that can be settled by last minute frantic efforts by those who want to avoid the worst.

The present issue of North Korea has a long history, beginning in 1950 with the outbreak of the Korean War which lasted until 1954, one of the nastiest conflicts of the modern era.

In April 2013 I put on a post about this, below.


Long ago, when a teenager, it was that long ago, the question of Korea came up.  At the end of the introductory training for National Service in the Army the issue of where you might be posted to arose.  In those not so happy days it could be anywhere.  A lot of those places had disadvantages.

These included wars, places with terrorists (or freedom fighters if you insist), places that were very hot and dry, others hot and steamy, others cold and wet; there was plenty of choice.  Even London was possible, if you wanted to risk your lungs and liver.

Except that there was not a choice.  Someone in the deepest recesses of the War Office would rush out into the street, find a passing beggar and pay him a quid or two to pick the names of the sack blindfolded.

At least that was the theory and was regarded as the only rational explanation at the time for the way people were selected for the vacancies on offer.  When the time came for our time for this particular lottery of life the nerves were twitching.

In the squad a couple of keen types had volunteered for Korea on the grounds that they would have rapid promotion and it would be good for their CV’s, if that is, they returned in one piece if at all.  We were all deeply grateful to them as the rest of us skiving louts were desperate for a cushy number close to the bright lights.

In the event, most of us were packed off to Germany where the forces were being strengthened because of uncertainties.  The rest were scattered about largely in the UK.  Of the two Korea volunteers one finished up at Nuneaton and the other on the staff at a military prison out in the wilds.

But there were stories about Korea and it is difficult to convey the views of us at the time without breaching all the present requirements to avoid being judgemental or unkind on ethnic grounds on those from the North.

These arose not just from people who had been in the Korean War, but others from elsewhere in the Pacific where those of the North had some notoriety.  Those who had been in Japanese Prison Camps during WW2 asserted that the worst places to be were those with North Korean guards who had volunteered for this duty.

The views today would seem extreme but to us at the time were regarded as well founded.  One certainty was that mentally they were in another Universe and it was one to be avoided at all costs.

Sixty odd years ago the Korean War broke out because China was backing the North in their immediate post revolutionary period.  Russia was bidding for their friendship in the struggles of the Cold War.  Remember that Russia is a Far Eastern power and not just a Western one.

Japan at that time was not independent and only in a supporting role to the USA.  The USA was determined to stop Communism wherever it emerged.  Between the contests of all these powers it became impossible to agree either a peace or a way forward that avoided conflict.

If we have another muddle of ambitions and failures to come to terms among the great Pacific powers in how the North Korean problem can be addressed then it could turn bad but this time round with far wider economic consequences than in the late 1940’s.

South Korea is now a small but important part in an industrial and financial globalised world.  We cannot afford to see it wrecked out of the mixture of spite and stupidity that motivates the regime in the North.

Essentially, Moscow and Beijing need to cooperate quickly and effectively and to work with the USA and Japan to defuse the whole situation.  Any idea of relying on normal human or political thinking in North Korea can be forgotten.  They do not work like that and never have done.

Our media, government and others do not seem to realise the risks they are taking in just hoping it is just another passing row.  At some time that simply may not be the case.


This time round the USA may no longer be able to do what is necessary or to afford any major campaign. Also, it is difficult to see who else could except China. So who is there to check this "dictator" and the generals who are doing the dictating?

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Answer Please

Please help a poor blogger in need of fish and chips.

Where is this statue?

I have tried, and tried and no luck at all.