Sunday, 31 October 2010

Buddy! CanYou Spare An Aircraft Carrier?

According to a report in the Mail on Sunday, do stop laughing, this is serious, the USA has signalled its intentions about its military presence in the vicinity of London during the July-August Olympics of 2012.

How good to see that the Americans seem to have taken my remarks on Tuesday 12 May 2009 on Olympics Security to heart and are taking steps to take care of themselves.

It seems that an aircraft carrier is to be in place to help with security, I suspect primarily of American citizens fleeing the rage of the British Media as they walk off with most of the medals. This is an offer the UK government may well not be able to refuse.

The more charitable of us, and perhaps some PR people might suggest, is that the denuding of local police forces in many areas to provide cover in London might lead to civil breakdown in rural areas of East Anglia and Kent. So, the hospital and other services provided by these vessels in emergencies such at Haiti will be on hand.

These could be needed because on present plans the NHS is unable to deal with any major emergency anywhere. Also, it is likely that Fire Brigades may be on work to rule to allow them to spend more time moonlighting and the UK Armed Forces will all be in therapy.

I suspect that purely for internal French reasons they will have an aircraft carrier to hand at the same time along with a large proportion of the rest of the their fleet. If you want a quiet holiday then, perhaps Toulon might be a good place.

If the government’s media operations were fleet of foot enough they could decide to hold an international Navy Month in the Thames and adjacent waters as a prestige event purely as an added attraction. Let ‘em all come.

In the meantime, the “Ark Royal” has been instantly decommissioned, not only for the running costs, but the extensive needs of repair and upgrading now needed. We are in the process of building two new aircraft carriers but this will take some years.

We cannot afford to do this, nor can we afford to run them when completed but we cannot afford not to build them either because of the way the contracts were drawn up by Gordon Brown.

One of these vessels is listed to be named “Prince of Wales”. At the moment the living one is being castigated for allowing precious antique furniture he saved for the nation to go to rack and ruin at Dumfries House in Ayrshire. However, this name sends a cold shiver down the spine.

It was in 1941 that Roosevelt and Churchill met on the battleship “Prince of Wales” to create the “Special Relationship” (see my blog of Monday 25 January 2010). On 10 December 1941 together with HMS “Repulse” it was sunk off Malaya by Japanese naval forces using aircraft carriers. Churchill had sent these battleships without the usual support and paid a terrible price.

This signalled the end of the age of the big battleship and the era of aircraft carriers. These in turn need major support vessels. In the second decade of the 21st Century it can be argued that militarily the age of the carriers is now over with all the missile technology and capability around. We need a fundamental review of just what sea borne defences we need and can afford.

Perhaps if the American carrier does arrive in The Thames in 2012 it can adopt a “hearts and minds” approach to pacify the locals.

What about organising a few tea parties?

Friday, 29 October 2010

2001 And All That

Again, looking through the personal archive there is this one from 2001 about the election that year. It is long at 2200 words and before blogging I was unable to find an outlet.

Reading it is a little spooky as so much could almost relate to the present as much as the past. So how much have we really moved on in the last decade?

Perhaps we are the prisoners of the past which will not go away.



The Blair Bounce Election of 2001 has been a strange experience. All along it has had the whiff of 1959, when McMillan’s Conservatives should have been punished for the grotesque adventure of the Suez Affair, their dissembling arrogance, and the cavalier treatment of the public purse.

Again, an electorate befuddled by style, unsure of the future, and lurching to the apparent safety of the certain have given authority back to an undeserving and creepy bunch of hoods. So what happened this time, and where were the Tories?


Who are these Tories? Apart from Hague and a handful of others they were strangers to us all. It is possible for a party to be elected as a more or less clean slate of unknowns, Blair managed it in 1997 against the Tory misfits, but it is much better for a team to have made an impact on the minds of the electorate. This is something that had not happened, and it is worrying.

Was it simply a failure of strategy on the part of the Conservative Party, or has the media drifted away so much from routine and day to day politics and issues that we no longer know who is in the frame?

During the election most of the tabloids were rarely deflected from their style and celebrity sensations, and even the broadsheet newspapers gave cursory attention to any but the leaders. If the media cannot be bothered with the second tier politicians then why should the voter?

A part of the problem now is that few members of the House of Commons have ever done much of a real job. As one pensioner put it, they don’t know one end of a shovel from the other. This means that in dealing with the world of work, the getting and spending, and realities of the ordinary jobs, they really have no idea of what goes on and how things are organised or done, and it shows.

At one time the typical Tory could claim that by and large most of them had more experience in actually running real things than their Socialist equivalent, the sons of toil, but that is no longer true.

The generation who had some idea of how to react when things got rough quickly and things had to be done fast and firmly have gone. Blair and Major both, as well as their advisers, have been flustered and floundering in these situations.

Also, the Tories do not lie convincingly, when they have needed to temporise there has been the tell tale slack in the mouth. Their inexperience has meant that many have retained the habits of childhood, the wide-eyed frankness and the excuses that just get you into more trouble.

New Labour with its essential qualification of a total lack of any concept of truth has been able to lie with impunity. If anything there has been the smack of admiration amongst those voters in commercial life and especially in the public services for whom toughing it out is an article of faith.

Hugh Gaitskell had much the same problem in 1959 in trying to sell his new team and direction to the public. The public did not like many of the ones they knew, and were suspicious of those they did not know, especially the Bevanites. Then, as now, the Government had managed to dominate media attention, and gloss over its own troubles.

Amongst those the voters did not like, Gaitkskell had too many of the living ghosts of the past, notably Herbert Morrison, his rival and a man notorious for spite and malice. Another problem he had was the annual Easter Parade of the Left, the clergy, and the KGB-GRU remittance men on the road to Aldermaston.

William Hague has been worse off in having Sir Edward Heath, the Beast of Bexley, to contend with. In addition there has been Boyo Heseltine The Dome, the very sundry fans of Europe (Prodi and Kinnock Rule OK) led by Napoleon Howe, and as an occasional comedy turn, Baroness Thatcher, to distract people from his message.


Can anyone remember what the policies were, and did anyone really know in the first place? Oliver Poole, one of the great Chairmen of the Conservative Party averred that it was necessary to have your ideas firmly planted in the public mind a good six months before an election. Then you convinced the voters that you had a grasp of the essentials.

It is more difficult today, when there are no longer the great issues of war and peace, and we have accepted some of our limitations. Additionally, the media driven need to go after what is defined as a story about human interest or the latest gruesome sensation, remains a formidable obstacle to putting over a closely argued case on the needs of the future.

Moreover, the voter has become convinced that matters like health, education, and race are the only real items and are not secondary to the critical concerns.

Is it possible actually to have a set of policies as a means of guidance for the voter? The movement in the Nineties to legislation on the hoof, running sloppy regulations and directives past Parliament in a hurry, and taking on board as policy the latest utterance of the more influential pressure groups and public relations outfits, means that government increasingly is a game of hopscotch.

So when an opposition leader attempts to say that policy is important then the counter argument is simply “Trust me when it happens”. In a world of real and media uncertainty and incompetence it is very difficult to counter this claim. The next Conservative Leader can hope only that something comes up which causes Blair to blow a fuse big enough to lose the faith of the masses

One of the paradoxes of history is that in 1959 there was an electorate, most of whom had left school at fourteen or earlier having had only an Elementary School education, but possibly were better informed with less media facilities. The much longer educated voter of today with a multiplicity of news sources and providers of information, arguably knows little, and cares less.

So who needs policy?


Gaitskell observed that he would fight, fight, and fight again, for the principles he believed in, which may have been a factor in his losing the 1959 election. The British seem to be averse to this sort of open pugnacity in their politics.

They prefer to be lied to with honeyed words and told things are easily accomplished and at much less cost than anyone expects. This is the basic reason for so many of our financial fiascos in central and local government.

Corelli Barnett has observed that Tony Blair is not a man he would care to be with in a slit trench with when the bullets start flying. He has missed the point. Blair is well aware that he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. William Hague has given the appearance of being a bit of a bouncer who wants to get on with it. Politically this is not the British way.

One more comment is that we have to return to the question of style and the media. It is curious that the film “Kes” made several appearances in the election period. One of the leads was the late Brian Glover, an intelligent and able actor, often unfairly typecast as a dim, blundering, bruiser of a Yorkshireman.

In the dark, with the light behind him, William Hague has a passing resemblance to Brian. But worse, much, much, worse, is the voice. Close your eyes and wonder, and the intonations of Geoffrey Boycott come to mind. The cricketer arouses strong emotions amongst people, but I doubt if you would find many who would care to leave him in charge of the shop for a day.


In the late 1940’s Bevan took the local arrangements for health care in Tredegar, which worked well in the context of a Welsh Valley, and made them the template of the National Health Service of the future for the whole of the UK. At the same time the Government imprinted on the public mind that there was a finite end in sight.

As I heard Attlee say in 1950, “It will take a long time and we will have to work very hard, but we will get there.” The trouble was that there wasn’t any “there” to arrive at; the destination was always going to be changing, as well as the roads to be followed.

The combination of Bevan’s single model with mid 20th Century administrative systems was fatal to the idea. The NHS was badly flawed at the outset, and all the reorganisations, initiatives and the rest, have simply added to the confusion. At least in 1959 you could reckon on a clean floor and a tidy bathroom and food in the mouth.

The indescribable filth of so many hospitals and the sight of the incapable old starving in their beds for lack of staff to feed them is a testament to the capabilities of our civil service and political system.

Similarly in Education, called a national service locally administered, but known to insiders as a random collection of local services nationally confused, the sluggish development of the 1950’s gave way to the conspicuous failures of management in the 1960’s and 1970’s, which all the paperwork of the last twenty years has nothing to cure. Even in 1959 it was known that things were going badly, and the same problems are still with us.

It would be possible to go through a litany of failures and incredible stupidities, and one wonders how the government of the day got away with it all. But they did so there should be little surprise that despite its manifest weaknesses and failures the government of Blair and his associates have survived, trading on the weakness of the electorate when faced with the need for change.

When the results began to come through in 1959, we were disbelieving of what we were seeing. Surely they were untypical? How could the shyster, Supermac, as they called Harold Macmillan, be going back to Downing Street? The historians have pored over the subject, but have not come up with convincing answers. Was it really the fear of radical change?

There is one possibility, though, a remark made at the time by a senior lady Labour councillor who knew her ward and city better than any. “They thought we were going to close ITV down, and didn’t want to lose Take Your Pick.” she said, talking of the virulent reaction of many Labour leaders to the introduction of the commercial television channel and the new world of game shows.

So what did the electorate of 2001 think they were going to lose? I am at a loss here and can think only that the price of houses may have something to do with it, but that is a weak and tentative gut reaction, and probably wrong.

The worry is that in 1963 the electorate lost Gaitskell as an option and in 1964 finished up with Wilson after Macmillan finally blew his fuse and left Home with insufficient time to make up lost ground. This gave us the dreadful combination of Heath and Wilson and the abandonment of any future for Britain.

Surely, we can do better than that? But it all may be academic.

In the eighties, there were commentators who predicted that the Conservative government of the day could rule forever. In the nineties, they self destructed, but can New labour be trusted to do the same?

In the House of Commons in May we had the innovation of the Government majority deeming that in law things had happened when they had not in order to push something through. Will Blair go further in 2005 or 2006 in declaring that the next election will be deemed as held when it wasn’t?


What I did not guess was that a few weeks after this was written 9/11 happened. But just how much has it changed?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Slumming It In Belgravia

It is a long time since I was getting by in Central London on less than £400 a year. The accommodation was limited but clean and warm. I ate (and drank) as well as most and was out and about enjoying myself. Later when a family man in the labour market the idea of paying about £5,000 for a modest family house in one of the outer suburbs seemed a large amount of money.

So to see a rental of £400 a week quoted, amounting to £20,800 a year seems an immense figure to pay. Yet this is the “cap” and it is clear that much larger amounts are being paid to many people to allow them to live in Central London whether or not they work or indeed make any contribution to the economy.

Why and how has this come about? To those outside London it is astonishing. It is clear, if nothing else, that there has been rampant inflation in housing costs. But this is not counted as “inflation” by the Government, because they have decreed that such costs are not included in the calculations.

More to the point the funding for all this in terms of “Housing Benefit” is being paid by the taxpayer. These are now increasingly the middling and poorer classes and decreasingly the upper and richer as their tax liability is exported by them to tax havens or defrayed by their political associates because of their supreme importance to whatever it is they are supposed to be important at.

Just as Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodies who benefits from the Housing Benefit other than the people to whom it is paid out to? They benefit from having living space but do not retain the money because it is paid out to someone else. In the case of local councils or social housing associations at least we have some idea of who and what.

In the case of the private sector of one sort or another it is far from clear. What is clear is the howls of rage in certain political quarters and crossing political boundaries about the application of a “cap”. Dare I suggest that only a minority of these, if any, do not have some kind of direct or indirect interest in property holdings, valuations and rentals?

Dare I suggest that some of the rental markets in London and other urban areas are closely associated with various forms of criminal activity, money laundering and other dodgy and tax avoiding/evading rackets that prey on the taxpayer and those in need of accommodation?

Dare I suggest that some of those who howl the most and the loudest are also most aware of all these and in some cases much more closely connected than they really ought to be? Dare I suggest that a loud howler who also howls loudly about the poor underprivileged banks and bankers may have more to their personal finances that meets the eye or for that matter a keen tax accountant?

Why should the rest of the UK be funding the huge amounts of ramped up profits engendered by the mindless application of a fault ridden and fraud liable scheme that has gone badly wrong in so many places? Why should the lawful population also be subsidising some of the most criminal elements in society?

On the Left is it possible to wonder about the gerrymandering of votes recently as well. This was an accusation once made of the Right. The trouble is that the Left and Right seemed to have merged. So who is Napoleon and who is Squealer?

The poor old taxpayer hasn’t a Snowball’s chance in hell. See Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Popping The Pills

The UK Government White Paper on Health is a centre of attention at the moment. Perhaps we ought to be looking equally hard at other aspects of health provision.

The 1300 word item (it can be skip read) from the New York Times below is about major defaults by a UK company, Glaxo Smith Kline. This is an industry that is supposed to be tightly controlled and regulated.

How strange that this story is little covered the UK media, perhaps advertising revenues are a consideration. Even stranger is what could be happening with other companies peddling untested and unregulated common chemical products for daily use, also providing advertising revenue.


New York Times
Glaxo to Pay $750 Million for Sale of Bad Products
By Gardiner Harris and Duff Wilson - Published: October 26, 2010

GlaxoSmithKline, the British drug giant, has agreed to pay $750 million to settle criminal and civil complaints that the company for years knowingly sold contaminated baby ointment and an ineffective antidepressant, the latest in a growing number of whistle-blower lawsuits that drug makers have settled with multimillion-dollar fines.

Altogether, GlaxoSmithKline sold 20 drugs with questionable safety that were made at a huge plant in Puerto Rico that for years was rife with contamination.

Cheryl D. Eckard, the company’s quality manager, asserted in her whistle-blower suit that she had warned Glaxo of the problems but the company fired her instead of addressing them.

Among the drugs affected were Paxil, an antidepressant; Bactroban, an ointment; Avandia, a troubled diabetes drug; Coreg, a heart drug; and Tagamet, an acid reflux drug. No patients were known to have been sickened, although such cases would be difficult to trace.

In a rising wave, recent lawsuits have asserted that drug makers misled patients and defrauded federal and state governments that, through Medicare and Medicaid, pay for much of health care.

Using claims from industry insiders, federal prosecutors are not only demanding record fines but are hinting at more severe actions.

Suffering a research drought, drug makers have laid off thousands of employees. Some of those dispatched have in turn filed whistle-blower lawsuits that can lead to criminal investigations.

Justice Department officials announced the settlement in a news conference Tuesday afternoon in Boston, saying a $150 million payment to settle criminal charges was the largest such payment ever by a manufacturer of adulterated drugs. The outcome also provides $600 million in civil penalties.

The share to the whistle-blower will be $96 million, one of the highest such awards in a health care fraud case. When asked whether any individual could be charged in addition to the corporation charges, Carmen M. Ortiz, the United States attorney for Massachusetts, would say only that the investigation was not yet complete.

GlaxoSmithKline released a statement saying that it regretted operating the Puerto Rico plant in violation of good manufacturing practices. The company said the problem had involved only one plant that was closed in 2009. American shares in the company fell 0.35 percent on Tuesday.

Tony West, the assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil division, said hundreds of such lawsuits were awaiting federal review.

“We’ve opened more investigations, we’ve recovered more taxpayer dollars lost to fraud, we’ve had more convictions, higher penalties and fines in the last two years than we’ve had in any other two-year period,” Mr. West said in an interview.

Whistle-blowers who win earn a cut of the eventual fine. Ms. Eckard will collect $96 million from the federal government, and she will collect additional millions from states.

The suits, all filed under seal, have for years been rising in size and scope, but the collective threat to the industry has been largely unnoticed because the growing mountain is obscured by a wall of judicial secrecy. Each successful claim begets more suits, with more being filed almost every week.

The suits are filed under a federal law originally intended to stop Civil War hucksters from selling rancid meat to the Union Army by paying bounties to tipsters. The pharmaceutical industry has become the law’s most successful target because the government now buys far more pills than bullets, and because fraud in health care is common.

Health care cases accounted for some 80 percent of the $3.1 billion recovered by the Justice Department under the false claims act last year, the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund, a nonprofit whistle-blower advocacy group in Washington, reported on Monday. Most of the money is typically returned to the programs in which false claims were filed, like Medicaid and Medicare.

The Food and Drug Administration and the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department both announced recently that they would pursue charges against executives personally under a strict liability provision of the law, something that has not been done since 2007 when the three top executives of Purdue Pharma were convicted, sentenced to probation and personally fined $34 million while Purdue paid $600 million.

The rule allows executives to be prosecuted and barred from government sales even if they were not aware of specific violations.

Legislation could make such claims easier to win. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill that permits executives to be barred even if they have left the company where the fraud occurred and that permits the inspector general to prosecute parent companies for the sins of subsidiaries.

Pfizer alone has settled four whistle-blower cases since 2002, and it paid a $2.3 billion fine last year, the largest in history. Whistle-blower cases have become so routine that Wall Street no longer takes much notice of individual suits, while the growing trend remains hidden.

When GlaxoSmithKline announced in July that it was setting aside $2.4 billion for legal costs, including enough to pay for the investigation into its Puerto Rico problems, the announcement was greeted with a yawn.

Still, the case may lead to a collective industry shiver because it opens a new frontier for whistle-blower suits. Nearly all previous cases against the industry involved illegal marketing. This is the first successful case ever to assert that a drug maker knowingly sold contaminated products.

“This case will change the way drug makers run their factories,” Ms. Eckard’s lawyer, Neil Getnick, said.

Some of the antidepressant Paxil CR produced at the plant was ineffective because a layer of active ingredient split from a layer of a barrier chemical during manufacturing, the government said, and some lots contained only the barrier chemical.

“The harm is really in the public’s confidence in the health care industry,” Ms. Ortiz said. “When you go to a pharmacy and you buy a drug, you expect that drug is what it purports to be and you don’t expect it to have any micro-organisms or not be sterile or not have the power or have too much power.”

Ms. Eckard’s role in the case began in August 2002 when GlaxoSmithKline sent her to Cidra, south of San Juan, to lead a team of 100 quality experts to fix problems cited by an F.D.A. warning letter a month earlier. This was GlaxoSmithKline’s premier manufacturing facility, producing $5.5 billion of product each year.

But Ms. Eckard soon discovered that quality control was a mess: the water system was contaminated; the air system allowed for cross-contamination between products; the warehouse was so overcrowded that rented vans were used for storage; the plant could not ensure the sterility of intravenous drugs for cancer; and pills of differing strengths were sometimes mixed in the same bottles.

Although F.D.A. inspectors had spotted some problems, most were missed. And the company abandoned even the limited fixes it promised to conduct, the unsealed lawsuit says.

Ms. Eckard complained repeatedly to senior managers; little was done. She recommended recalls of defective products; recalls were not authorized. In May 2003, she was terminated as a “redundancy.”

She complained to top company executives, but she was ignored even after warning that she would call the F.D.A. So she called the F.D.A. and sued. The agency began a criminal investigation and used armed federal marshals in 2005 to seize nearly $2 billion worth of products, the largest such seizure in history.

Unable to fix the plant, GlaxoSmithKline closed it in 2009.


Keep taking the pills?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

All Shuffle There; All Cough In Ink

Education has not been the same since the decline and fall of the Ink Monitors. At one time in an Elementary School (11-14 then leave school) each class might have one. Mostly “he’s”, they would be a trusted pupil and if they proved reliable, polite and diligent they might earn a reference to be a shop assistant or even a clerk.

They learned to check the inkpot at each desk, judge the quantity necessary and pour in the right amount of ink from a jar. To do this they would have to be entrusted with access to the classroom cupboard and would both obtain and return the jar properly and without supervision.

This was integral to a whole culture of steel pen nibs and scarce paper when writing was a form of calligraphy and care needed in the shaping of each letter, the accuracy of each word and the whole structure of a sentence and paragraph. It is a world long since lost.

But think of what might have happened in our modern age had ink still been in use. It is certain that persons of 15-17 or any younger age could never be allowed to undertake such onerous duties. Nor could teachers or cleaning staff, it would be outside their conditions of service. There would have to be Writing Materials Replenishment Assistants with negotiated salaries and comparable conditions of service.

This would take management and to avoid the post code lottery of differences a staff at local authority level to co-ordinate, manage and supply the needed staff and materials. Clearly high level consultancy would need to be brought in to satisfy the auditors and others that it was all to be done as it should be.

But could local authorities actually be entirely trusted with matters of this kind? It would cry out for central direction and thinking. Possibly, it would begin as part of one government department or another.

Then in recent years an Ink Procurement and Inspection Agency would have been established with fully staffed at salary levels to compete with senior management in the financial sector to ensure that all the angles were covered, the targets set and statistics and supervision ensured.

There would be research budgets. A new department would be funded at the University of East Dunwich or somewhere to ensure only inks of the highest quality, specifications and safety standards were in use and to develop new inks.

The standardisation of ink procurement would mean major contracts with all that this entailed. No doubt agreements would be reached in some foreign place for out sourcing all the production for transport by container ships. This would help the UK carbon footprint and rid the nation of all the nasty inky manufacturing pollutants.

By some miracle of accounting and with all the consultancy, financing and layers of management and control the filling of inkpots would become critical to keeping up the GDP and stimulation of the velocity of circulation of public sector funding.

The big question is given the need to increase the consumption of ink during a time of economic difficulty whether the use of ink pellets (wodges of paper dripping with ink used as a missile fired by the skilled use of rubber bands) by alienated victims of oppression in the classroom should be subject to reduced or no regulation.

I keep rubber bands in my desk and can still hit a moving target at fifteen paces. Will my time come again to cop the teacher or the Ink Monitor one behind the ear?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bed Blocking For Dummies

Another from the personal archive; from 2005 and this is reflected in some parts of the text. It is 1500 words I’m afraid but it does cover the issue. Bed Blocking is now exciting the BBC and other media because of the spending review. We have been here before but then the issue attracted less attention and tears.

In the last dozen years the pre-conditions for serious problems have been in place but have gone critical only a couple of times, mercifully avoiding the worst. Whatever planning may have been done in the past there have been some significant developments quite recently so the figures have been going the wrong way. This means that critical phases will occur more often. Just when the tipping point might occur into chaos/collapse/catastrophe is an open question.



The ambulance arrived in the early hours of the morning, a routine event; recently there were four visits by paramedics and ambulances in one day. The reason is not mobs of drunken yobs beating out each other’s brains or local addicts overdosing, it is a quiet, well behaved, ordinary and indeed gentle group of neighbours who fall or have a medical crisis.

The problem is their longevity and its consequences. When the block of retirement flats in which they live was first occupied a decade ago, it was different. It was designed for the active retired, pensioners who were mobile, needing little care, who preferred to avoid the costs and problems of running a too large a house and garden.

They wanted to cash in on their former home to keep more of their pension for their own pleasures or protection, and to enjoy a bit of quiet easy comfort, as well as cheap warmth.

It is not just that the original occupants have grown old; there has been a substantial turnover, as in other sectors of the housing market. It is that the most of the new people are older, frailer and more dependent on personal support.

The carers come and go from 6 a.m. to midnight, and so do the medical and emergency services. Once, none had the call pendants provided for those at high risk, now there is a dedicated communications aerial to cope with the number needing this precaution.

Nationally, the number of call-outs for the ambulance services has increased sharply in the last decade; this is one reason for the added demands. Perhaps the number of man hours and the real costs involved for the 50 or so occupants of the flats is now roughly the same as for a 100 Bed Residential Home.

The wider problems in the NHS have compounded the problems. Ladies who once rivalled each other in their fashion sense and men in competitive sports now try to cap each other’s trolley horror and medical disaster stories.

They are many and various, one who visited her Family Doctor for a routine prescription discovered that the local hospital had declared her to be deceased and all her medical records had been deleted from the relevant NHS systems; so the undead stalk the land.

A desperately sick man died quietly on his trolley after a 72 hour wait. Treatment that is nearly too late, or long delayed, complicates long-term recovery, and when attention is given for the immediate issue they are packed off back to their flats as quickly as possible to manage and recover as best they can.

The local hospital has enough trouble with bed-blockers. Some soon return to the hospital, often as an emergency case. Where have all the convalescent facilities of former decades gone?

The granny-stacking flats put up by developers are rarely equipped for the disabled, nor are they staffed to deal with anything other than buildings and site management. The bungled attempt to regulate residential homes more closely by New Labour, that caused so much personal damage and distress, wiped out a huge number of temporary and permanent beds and accommodation for the elderly infirm when the owners decided to take the money and run as property prices rocketed.

In the meantime the major erosion of the income of the old by stealth taxes through the machinery of local government and national finance means they are less able to care for themselves. The effects of other regulations, Health and Safety and Euro inspired instructions and admonitions have added to costs and prices.

The petite elderly lady who lay on the floor for hours had several full grown healthy young people in attendance who were forbidden by their conditions of service to lift her onto her bed.

She had a lot to say on the subject later. Apparently, the one ambulance in the area of the Trust that was equipped with the relevant lifting gear was busy with a long list of potential clients. The cost of that little business was estimated at £900, and she does fall over quite often while waiting for her wonky knee to be looked at.

In all the planning for new housing demanded by the government, intended to be in the hands of the forthcoming Regional Governors and their development directorates, the bit that is missing is what to do about the old.

The provision of half-way house accommodation, developments of self contained units, but with built-in support services and meals provision, and the further stage of residential facilities for those requiring rather less than full nursing home needs is absent from any visible state thinking.

Those in the retirement flats are often the lucky ones, where there is at least some company and administrative support, because for every one of them there may be twenty or more living alone and in virtual social isolation in houses that few can manage or maintain. Some will succumb to hypothermia because of the heating costs; others will suffer from malnutrition or dehydration.

The vagaries of the housing market add to the complexity of the problem, as do the serious dangers of boom and bust. In boom, there is a tendency to hang on for the best possible price, and that is always a little too long. In bust, the old who cannot cope also cannot sell their homes in the new situation.

Because of what has happened already it is possible that one way or another over the last few years the number of ordinary houses and properties effectively removed from the market and occupied by single old people needing daily care is more than the numbers of new properties demanded by New Labour as vital for “new needs”.

A lot of these “new needs” arise from the expansion of the holdings of second and third homes and the buy-to-let sector fuelled by cheap credit. The people who benefit from this surge in property buying are subsidised, probably, through the tax and benefits system far more than the struggling pensioners, and the ones who benefit from the ramp include almost all of the current political and media elite.

It is not surprising that New Labour seem to care so little for the old. One of the prime industrial dispute tactics of some of them during the 1978-79 Winter of Discontent when they were young militants promoting the Workers Revolution was to have lightning strikes of care workers in local authority nursing and residential homes and in special schools, where the deaths could be written off as “necessary casualties”.

We know that the slow disintegration of the pensions system since 1997, part of the assault by Brown and New Labour on the Lower Middle Class, the “peasants” as they engagingly call them, will create intricate problems in the decades to come.

More pressing for the immediate future is a disaster about to happen; one serious pandemic of influenza could be enough. Although the government may well put it down to a necessary conjunction of statistical trends relating to demographic factors inherent in the age structure of the population, the electorate may take the view that the state has a responsibility.

Given the state of the A&E and geriatric facilities in most hospitals, the serious and growing problems in community medicine and general practice, the tipping points from pressure to crisis and from crisis to disaster are perilously close to daily experience.

To add a stomach churning thought the limited provision of mortuary, pathological, coroners, and burial and cremation services could resurrect in the present the nastier effects of the great plagues and geophysical disruptions of the past.

There may be worse, for the increasing numbers of the criminal elements that prey on the old already with no fear of arrest, or of being troubled by Police Forces who have other targets to meet, will be very active, stripping the bodies and ransacking their homes while the dead lie and decompose for days or weeks in their isolation.

This would not be new, during the Second World War Blitzes the looters often arrived at the scene first. In the summer of 2003 in France, that paragon of social welfare provision and human rights, a long hot spell during the holiday season did for thousands of the old who were living alone. In the USA, Hurricane Katrina taught a few sharp lessons in complacency.

The only considerations that will worry the government, of course, are the poll ratings amongst those able to vote, the question of how the young voter will react, and the serious worry that the sudden availability of up to a hundred thousand houses could crash the property market in the run up to the next general election. In the meantime we give almost all our attention and thoughts to the media excitements of the day.

In the night, the ambulances come and go, and the carers wake long before the dawn.


Christmas is coming.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Thoughts Of Chairman Demetrius

In January 2007 I did an entry for the “Ecologist” essay competition. Below are selected extracts from a near 3000 word document. The question is was I right or was I wrong?


To have a future, it is necessary to have a past. But a past does not guarantee a future. My past has offered many futures, and none of them have worked. In the decade of my birth a number of luminaries went to Moscow and claimed that here was the future, give or take the odd purge, pogrom, ethnic cleansing, or holocaust of the disagreeable elements.

In the next decade Lord Beveridge promised a freedom from want, and other things. That did not happen, and nor did the later “Butskell” ideas of a Keynsian Society, or Socialist Planned Keynsianism, according to taste. I realised that both were non-starters when I drew up a monstrous flow chart of how the system was supposed to function, and when it was finished, realised that it couldn’t.

Of the other futures around at the time and later, the Gosplan-Stasi variety was a hallucination doomed to self destruct as we will soon find out when the Blair-Brown version collapses in time for the London Olympics.

The happy clappy love-in of the hippies dissolved in a welter of pox, disease, and dysfunction in sexual relations. As for what philosophers and economists have assumed to be capitalism; that has long disappeared into debt leverage, with Globalisation and Private Equity never to be seen again; creating a footloose world of cheap transport operating on a basis of rapid resource depletion, and quasi-slave labour.

So now, in creaking old age, I daily hope for a sign in the web sites of the US Geological Service and Volcano World. Many of the Sky documentaries tell me that the end is nigh, but it seems a long time coming, and not even the Hedge Funds are taking bets. At least in HDTV it looks a lot prettier, and to hell with the carbon footprint if a super massive black hole beckons.

The end has been promised since the first Christian Millennia at least in one form or another. More recently it has been the threat of nuclear annihilation that has concentrated the minds, but now there is serious competition for what happening is about to see the human race off the planet.

Which brings us back to the money, and it is only relatively recently that a handful of daring historians have suggested that this is often the problem, rather than the scribbling of either philosophers or dogmatic theologians.

Our world in now becoming one of illusions, more and more produced and promoted by limited numbers of media operators. In the past the number of visual images seen by humans was relatively small, and limited to a narrower variety of sources.

Many communities experienced very few images at all in their lives, the vision of their minds being created by only the world around them, or the occasional hallucinatory substances, intended or accidental.

Today, there are few people or groups who manage to escape the pervading flashing of images on screens or other forms of presentation. Within a generation or two these have altered our past, and have given us a present that is a world of mirrors and falsity.

Media and marketing are now the dominate elements in the creation of the human experience and psyche. As humanity has engaged in several destructions, and seems intent on destroying its own habitat, as well as its own capability for survival, it seems to have developed the arrogance that it can determine its own future.

At least that is the message of governments, their agencies, and the marketing departments of the predatory commercial entities whether state or privately owned, and the whole shebang assumes that the financial wheels will stay on the wagon.

Our world is urbanised and more and more dependent on complicated means of distribution based on monetary systems and means of finance that are a chimera. This is the Grand Illusion, that all is financially the best in the best of all the monetary worlds.

It is just as vulnerable as any tectonic plate, sun burst, or weather system, and is different in that it can collapse in the short period rather than the long. What could happen might be a reversion to a previous world, perhaps a nasty form of tribal warfare in an unwelcoming planet, or back to a few hunter gatherers striving in one or other environment.

The one certainty is Chaos and in that event Catastrophe may be the saving hope. If geophysics fails to get us first, and we are left to our own devices, one major systemic financial failure might be enough to do it.

The consequences will not be pretty, will not smell nice, and almost certainly will be contaminated. So our future will be a past, only one that is more dangerous and more difficult, because we have expended already all the alternative futures save that of nothingness.


I did not win, the item that did was a thoughtful piece about making better use of open spaces in places like Bristol to be brought about by substantial increases in government funding under the care of a new agency.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Selling The Family Silver

On the web site “The Big Picture” (ritholtz dot com blog) today was this item on a sour note about the way things are going in the USA. It is an instructive piece if you recall that compared to the US economy we are just part of the world chorus. The EU makes up a lot of the rest of the chorus, but alas does not sing in tune.


Matt Taibbi’s new book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, comes out next month. There is an excerpt at that is well worth your time to read:

“America is quite literally for sale, at rock-bottom prices, and the buyers increasingly are the very people who scored big in the oil bubble.

Thanks to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and the other investment banks that artificially jacked up the price of gasoline over the course of the last decade, Americans delivered a lot of their excess cash into the coffers of sovereign wealth funds like the Qatar Investment Authority, the Libyan Investment Authority, Saudi Arabia’s SAMA Foreign Holdings, and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

Here’s yet another diabolic cycle for ordinary Americans, engineered by the grifter class. A Pennsylvanian like Robert Lukens sees his business decline thanks to soaring oil prices that have been jacked up by a handful of banks that paid off a few politicians to hand them the right to manipulate the market.

Lukens has no say in this; he pays what he has to pay. Some of that money of his goes into the pockets of the banks that disenfranchise him politically, and the rest of it goes increasingly into the pockets of Middle Eastern oil companies. And since he’s making less money now,

Lukens is paying less in taxes to the state of Pennsylvania, leaving the state in a budget shortfall. Next thing you know, Governor Ed Rendell is traveling to the Middle East, trying to sell the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the same oil states who’ve been pocketing Bob Lukens’s gas dollars.

It’s an almost frictionless machine for stripping wealth out of the heart of the country, one that perfectly encapsulates where we are as a nation.

When you’re trying to sell a highway that was once considered one of your nation’s great engineering marvels, 532 miles of hard-built road that required tons of dynamite, wood, and steel and the labor of thousands to bore seven mighty tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains, when you’re offering that up to petro-despots just so you can fight off a single-year budget shortfall, just so you can keep the lights on in the state house into the next fiscal year, you’ve entered a new stage in your societal development.

You know how you used to have a job, and a house, and a car, and a wife and a family, and there was food in the fridge — and now you’re six months into a drug habit and you’re carrying toasters and TVs out the front door every morning just to raise the cash to make it through that day?

That’s where we are. While a lot of this book is about how American banks used bubble schemes to strip the last meat off the bones of America’s postwar golden years, the cruelest joke is that American banks now don’t even have the buying power needed to finish the job of stripping the country completely clean.

For that last stage we have to look overseas, to more cash-rich countries we now literally have to beg to take our national monuments off our hands at huge discounts, just so that our states don’t fall one by one in a domino rush of defaults and bankruptcies.

In other words, we’re being colonized, of course it’s happening in a clever way, with very careful paperwork, so we have the option of pretending that it’s not actually happening, right up until the bitter end.”


There are no prizes of thinking of another country which has had much the same problems and which has sold off so many of its national assets to fund revenue expenditures.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Blocking Highs

As the political debate reaches new “lows” perhaps we should think of some “highs”.

Before the Clean Air Acts of 1955 and later, given the air pollution then in urban areas the weather conditions could have a critical effect on health. A long “blocking high” which meant light or little wind, fog and often persistent low cloud would give air that was literally filthy in the age of coal.

Everything was covered in soot and other particles. Keeping clean was difficult, the smell was pervasive and the fatigue induced debilitating to the many people who had lung or other problems. As the days wore on it simply became worse and worse.

It was in December 1952 that for a few days “The Great Smog” reduced Central London to a standstill when the air was thick with filth. I was there a couple of weeks afterwards and it still stank and many people were almost shell shocked.

The authorities moved quickly to fiddle the figures, reducing the period when deaths could be attributed to the illness contracted at that time. Had it been left as before then the figures of deaths given would have been a great deal higher.

What is not known is how many people were seriously damaged but survived for some years or how many people had their lives shortened in later life by the long term effects.

It is my view that we are coming closer to something like this with the air pollution now evident. Visiting London nowadays means encountering air quality that is often quite bad. The problem is that the measures for this are related to a limited number of particles, notably traffic and industrial.

Traffic is certainly a major factor, but what is being missed is the gathering amount of other substances from persons and the use of many devices in most buildings outputting forms of gas and particles.

The many air conditioning systems pump out heat and bad air. Also the huge increase in the number of food outlets add to the problem, a street full of them can really test the sense of smell, brain and body.

Yet much of this pollution is more dangerous nowadays because it cannot be washed out. The chemical content of personal products and air fresheners is made to be far longer lasting and designed to carry distances. It is claimed to withstand both dry cleaning and frequent washing. Worse still it adheres and transfers easily from one surface to another.

In global terms it does not take much of a change in weather patterns to move systems about from year to year or over periods of several years. In the South East corner of England, possibly with many of the most polluted urban areas we have had a number of blocking highs this summer.

This may have delighted the manic heat seeking weather forecasters but it has been bad news for those who prefer the clean fresh wind and wet air from the lows.

I wonder if we are due for a winter with a number of periods of blocking highs? It is a few years since the last one and longer still to a worse. If so what will be their consequences? Not only will there be bad air pollution but more heat and other output will worsen the problems in urban areas.

There is a potential health disaster in the making, and Boris Bikes are not the answer.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Chancellor Merkel & Migration

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany has made some observations on issues arising out of recent migration and its consequences in her country. This has sections of the press and political parties working up a lather. Many of them have rather missed the point.

She has been indicating that the migration of the immediate past has created issues but the sub-text is that the level of recent movement might be creating the pre-conditions for larger scale movement if the situations in several parts of the world continue to deteriorate.

What we forget, or more often do not bother to find out, is that the experience of other places may be different from our own and they might have long memories.

Chancellor Merkel is from Mecklenburg Vorpommen, that is the northern part of the former East Germany. It is within my memory that this Lander (Region) had very substantial migration experiences in the 1940’s as a result of World War II. These spilled over into Western Germany as well in that period and were still a feature of much of the 1950’s.

The Germans are well aware of the legacy of such migrations. The stresses of that time still have a lingering effect in German politics. I recall in the mid 1950’s there were a good many refugees and migrants still in one camp or another or living in poor accommodation on very low wages.

This was European migration and to this has been other waves more recently. But none of this is new. In Spiegel this week has been reference to a rather earlier pattern of migration, several thousand years ago, in a long article:,1518,723310,00.html

The map above is from the article in question.

There has been a long debate as to whether the spread of farming after the last Ice Age was one of peoples or of lifestyle and the learning of new techniques. The Germans pay rather more attention to real history than we do for various reasons so this debate matters. The article suggests that it was not a peaceful process.

Since the Neolithic Period there have been many movements across Europe and The Atlantic Isles provoked by variations in climate, the increase and decrease of populations and endemic wars. The ones we cannot legislate for are those related to the collapse of communities and political structures in other places.

It could be all there in the history books but we mustn’t mention the War and what did the Romans ever do for us, apart from bringing in a lot of Germans in their Legions and Auxiliaries?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Olympics Update

There are reports that Swamp Fever, or Equine Infectious Anaemia has returned to the UK for the first time since 1976. This is a dangerous disease amongst horses and travels by means of the movement of horses about the world, largely for sporting events. It may be contained or it may not. If it isn’t then it will disrupt or even prevent the 2012 Olympic events planned.

Also, The Glastonbury Festival for 2012 is under threat according to the Sunday Mail because most of the police officers in the South West will be needed in London. Normally this would be a good selling point, but it is the fact that all the Portaloo’s of the nation also will be in London as well that is the real problem.

The rumour on the street is that a Flash Festival is to be held in retaliation but not at Glastonbury. The story goes that it will be in London adjacent to Westminster Bridge where there is a good deal of open space and large buildings little used during the summer to move into if it rains.

This might be an improvement on the real event which is not a good place to be in very wet weather. Perhaps it could become permanent for the sake of improving tourism figures.

There are protests from Local Councils in East London about the loss of the route for the Marathon Race to Westminster for reasons of scenic appeal and after lobbying from tourist interests. That the race will paralyse London traffic for a few days should be interesting. People from the Flash Festival could join in the race to add to the media interest.

My forecast long ago that the “Zil” lanes for designated official vehicles will be in place and will seriously affect traffic and trade in the East End is now causing concern. This will be happening long before the Games as road works etc. are needed long in advance.

The Olympic organisers are saying, on ecological grounds, that this will encourage more people to use public transport. A Mr. R. Crow, a union official of the RMT was reported to have had a fit of hysteria and only calmed down after being given a large slug of medication supplied by a distillery in Islay.

People of England may now sleep peacefully in their beds. It has been announced that eight sniffer dogs and their handlers will be available to deal with all the drugs problems that might arise. Also a few thousand nice, jolly, helpful people have been persuaded to do a lot of the dirty work and control the crowds for little or no salary.

Mad bloggers have been rabbiting on about solar flares. Do they mean that 1970’s fashions will be “In” for the Games? My old Kipper Ties will be getting an airing.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Climate Change - Back To Basics

A current row in the general debate on Climate Change has arisen over the research and data and whether the costly proposals over carbon emission make sense. However, in Science Daily today I saw what may be a much more reliable way of seeking information.

The little chap above, it seems has all the answers. In the meantime I will stick to volcano watching.


ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2010) — Scientists at the University of Leicester are using an unusual resource to investigate ancient climates, prehistoric animal urine.

The animal in question is the rock hyrax, a common species in countries such as Namibia and Botswana. They look like large guinea pigs but are actually related to the elephant. Hyraxes use specific locations as communal toilets, some of which have been used by generations of animals for thousands of years.

The urine crystallises and builds up in stratified accumulations known as 'middens', providing a previously untapped resource for studying long-term climate change.

Funding from the Leverhulme Trust and, more recently, the European Research Council has allowed the Leicester group to join an international team led by Dr Brian Chase, from the Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier, to study these unique deposits.

With Dr Chase, Drs Andrew Carr and Arnoud Boom from the University of Leicester's Department of Geography are engaged in exploring novel records of past environmental change preserved within the middens.

Their work has recently been published in the journals Quaternary Research, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology and Geology.

"In order to study past environmental changes scientists typically acquire samples from deposits laid down in bogs or lakes, within which organic matter, which can be dated is preserved," explains Dr Carr.

"But in dryland environments such as southern Africa this isn't possible. Fortunately it seems that hyrax urine preserves organic matter over timescales of tens of thousands of years, which provides remarkable insights into past environmental changes within the hyrax habitat."

Obtaining the material is not easy and Dr Chase is an experienced rock-climber, which allows him to reach middens that are often otherwise inaccessible. The middens form extremely tough deposits, which have to then be cut from the rocks with an angle grinder.

Using forensic techniques the Leicester group has been able to identify the individual organic molecules preserved in the middens; these include compounds produced by the hyraxes' metabolism and plant-derived molecules which passed through the animals' digestive system.

These 'biomarkers' provide clues as to the kind of plants the animals were eating and therefore the sort of environment they were living in. The biomarkers thus reveal insights into how the climate of the region has changed during the last 30,000 years, with a potential accuracy of a few decades to centuries.

"Palaeoenvironmental records in this area were fragmentary," says Dr Carr. "The middens are providing unique terrestrial records to compare against nearby deep ocean-core records, allowing us to think in much more detail about what drives African climate change.

"This is a very dynamic environment, and it appears that that the region's climate changed in a complex manner during and after the last global Ice Age (around 20,000 years ago).

The next step, which is part of Dr Chase's new research project, will be to compare the midden data against simulations of past climates generated by GCMs [computer-based general circulation models that are used to simulate both past and future climates] to evaluate their performance and explore why climates have changed the way they have."

Although the rock hyrax middens have been previously used to study pollen, this is the first time that their full potential to document the region's climate has been explored. Drs Chase, Carr, Boom and their colleagues have already a number of scientific papers on hyrax urine, with more in production.

The research has been announced in the month when the University celebrates its Big Green Week (October 25-31) signalling the University's commitment to carbon reduction and highlighting research that has an environmental impact.


The answer lies in the soil.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

It Takes Two To Quango

At the turn of 1979 and 1980 I did occasional items for a journal and one was about Quango’s at the time that Mrs. Thatcher applied her scientific disciplines to their existence and function. Like any experimental scientist she sought to dump the items that seemed to have little real purpose or sense.

There were a lot fewer of them at the time and they were much less costly on the whole. Also as computer matters were much less extensive there was far less to be lost on IT and all the complex and interwoven management systems required. There were many comments at the time based on gardening comparisons.

Nevertheless, cynical as ever I suggested that we ought to remember what was often the case in gardens. One purpose of extensive pruning and cutting back is to promote a more substantial crop and stronger growth later. I wondered if this might be the long term consequence of the Tory cuts.

Then as now people had forgotten the number and kind of Quango’s that had existed in the longer past, never mind the more recent period. King Henry VII had been ruthless in financial control only for his successor King Henry VIII to blow the lot inside a decade and trigger the Reformation in England to make up for the deficit.

Queen Elizabeth I of England had also tried economies only for her successor King James VI and I also to blow the lot within a decade and look at what happened then. Only the Quango’s of that time were often termed “Monopolies” or “Companies”.

Why was it that all these organisations of one sort or another come into being in the third quarter of the 20th Century to be cut back only to flourish again from the 1990’s onward? Like most matters it is very complicated and arises from a number of causes, some of which are not obvious. This is a long item on its own.

I was talking to someone recently who was telling me about one such body and how they spent their time. Essentially, they did a lot of meetings to determine the agenda and attendance of other meetings and to discuss any documents that might or might not be put to such a meeting.

Then there was the business of the meeting that was supposed to be related to whatever function the body had. The proceedings of the meeting then had to be fully recorded and circulated with a further raft of meetings to discuss and refine them and to consider what reports might follow or what might or might not be made public.

This then led to meetings to discuss what future meetings should be held, where and why and who and what conferences needed to be called.

In addition there had to be extensive discussions, interactions, and yes meetings with other interested bodies and persons, who in turn would have their own ones to fit into this complex pattern. It all took a lot of time.

Now with IT the inboxes would fill up every morning and have to be dealt with, all sorts of documents would be attached and need study and meetings for analysis. The hours of work were insane, people spent their lives either in meetings or crouched over computer screens, sometimes running about hither and thither.

At the end of all San Fairy Ann was achieved and nothing ever seemed to happen. Except that all too often emerged the need for yet more bodies to deal with all the issues that could not be agreed or managed or appeared to be peripheral to what that body was supposed to be dealing with.

In the meantime management consultants stalked the land looking for more bodies and more politicians to persuade of the need for more work to be done on this and that and more spending vital and critical to whatever it was that they were peddling.

Government departments shed functions that they were glad to see the back of. Interest groups were give space, money time and playgrounds for all their wants and obsessions.

Areas where decisions were difficult or unpopular were hived off often with the result that no real decisions were made and the process of avoiding them turned out to be wildly unpopular. Just look at all the bodies relating to farming, country life and rural matters.

So what will we have? A Peasant’s Revolt such as that which began the end of feudal tenures? An Eastern Association turning the world upside down? A Captain Swing triggering more changes? Or something a whole lot nastier?

Going back to gardening, the worry is that the excess and nature of growth has left the soil in no fit condition to grow much, if anything at all.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oh For A Muse Of Fire

Andrew Marr dislikes us. He suggests that some of us are seriously biased in our opinions, careless with sources, misunderstand things, economical with the truth, sometimes misleading and often make free with the work of others.

Of course this is something that never happens with TV, press and respectable journals. Has any journalist ever, including Andrew Marr done such a thing?

We bloggers, we happy bloggers, we band of wired siblings; for he today that shares his blog with me shall be my sibling, be they ne’er so vile, this blog shall gentle their condition.

Yes, well, it’s a cut and paste job with minor amendments courtesy of William Shakespeare, late of Holborn, Southwark and Stratford upon Avon, but thanks to the net the research and use takes minutes and not weeks.

William was a cut and paste merchant of the highest class, however, raiding sources with discrimination and wit. Clearly he was writing for his immediate market and did not have to bother about media critics or any of our modern limitations.

His background and time spent here and there had equipped him with a range of language and understanding utterly beyond modern comprehension. Also the range of people he would have known, done business with and talked to again would be outside our experience.

I can imagine him at the house in Holborn of another William, surnamed Aylesbury and his wife Anne he from Warwickshire, she a Poole from Sapperton in Gloucestershire, both county gentry stock, entertaining a few friends, family members and both personal and business connections.

Anne might have been with one group talking about how to deal with the sicknesses and fevers so common. She told them that from her garden she might take peaseblossom, mustard seed, cobweb and moth. Asked what wild herbs she might use in her broad Cotswold voice she says “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grow…”.

From this couple it is possible to track through a complicated network of families and connections to the Lichfield society of Johnson, Garrick, Edgeworth and others. Moreover this William Aylesbury and Anne were great great grandparents of Queen Mary II and Queen Anne, along with Queen Elizabeth I the only monarchs since the Conquest to have much in the way of English ancestry.

So when Henry Purcell was composing based on Shakespeare his patron Queen Mary II is very likely to have been aware of any deeper meaning in the words and music.

Andrew Marr in company with others in his trade does not like us and chucks in a few insulting remarks in the hope of a free bevvy at the Champagne Bar in the Floral Hall at Covent Garden courtesy of a corporate sponsor. He ought to beware. Bloggers may start picking on him and there is a lot to pick at.

On the other hand when I was doing my bat out of hell run to the cloakroom, not looking where he was going he once crossed my path. I just managed the side step, next time I might not bother.

There has been a more serious take on blogging from the other side of the Atlantic, Nate Hagens in “The Oil Drum” web site on 26 September did a long think piece, around 1500 words on the whole issue, link below, it does take some reading:

Basically, we are all just another group of scribblers using the techniques of our time as Shakespeare used those of his. He was a marvel and a genius. There may be the ultimate blogger out there who is but we shall never know if any posterity will remember him.

In the last few weeks some well known bloggers have taken to the hills and have gone quiet. The immediate future looks very challenging but onward ever onward.

Monday, 11 October 2010

What Middle Class?

Whilst the debate goes on in the UK about what or what not to do about the benefits system in relation to the Middle Classes we should remember that we are not alone.

The Market Oracle has a piece about the USA Middle Class which has its moments although there are a number of things the average UK type might find unnerving.

The difference though is that over here it might be possible for the Coalition to stumble on until 2014 or 2015, assuming The End Of The World will not occur in July 2012 as suggested.

In the USA however shortly there are to be the Mid Term Elections to Congress that might put the nation into a state of political gridlock. As President Obama has not come up to the mark in sorting out the mess, if any man could, then there could be at least two years for the USA to go into continuing crisis.

My feeling is to watch what happens in the corn belt. The small farmers are on their way out. Vast tracts have been given over to producing crops for heavily subsidised ethanol to keep gas (petrol) prices down.

Also, for making into corn syrup to keep the obesity figures going up and for feeding beef, an expensive way of making poor quality antibiotic stuffed protein.

Given the twitchy weather conditions in the USA recently there is the possibility that while crop levels have held up a bad year or two may be due.

If the Russian harvest takes another hit next year, the locusts in Australia have a good time, and all those rains and devastation in Pakistan and India mean major crop shortages, watch out for commodity prices and what could follow.

And be careful where you book your holidays, if you can afford one.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

More On The Weather

Hurricane Otto is forecast today to veer in the direction of Spain and Portugal robbing of me my dream of boating on The Strand. There are other weather matters to think about in the meantime.

“Nobody thinks of winter when the grass is green” is a quote by Rudyard Kipling via the net. During the spells of warm weather at the present and with all the debates over other matters, some serious, not many people are thinking ahead.

But, one report in the newspapers is about councils issuing spades to house owners who in the event of snow or ice should clear their own streets and footpaths.

There has been a claim, not much noticed, that we could be in for a hard winter this year. This is from an independent weather organisation, our taxpayer’s Met Office having given up long term public forecasts because of the public’s unwillingness to accept complexity or variability in weather systems.

Personally, it is anybody’s guess as far as I am concerned just how good, bad, wet, windy, cold, mild, icy, foggy, it might be. What I am more concerned about is heating and power supplies if the temperature does drop down to give a period of chill and frost.

I am not talking about anything as bad as some of the winters I have seen in the past, just one with a longish and inconvenient cold spell perhaps with snow but at least with ice and frost around for a while..

Because the UK is importing a good deal of Natural Gas and consumption is exceeding our own production more and more year on year there is a growing deficit. The result is that last winter, it is said, warnings were given by suppliers to commercial users to curtail use to preserve domestic and other power supplies.

This tightness of supply was little reported and for some reason the government departments of energy and the environment did not register any public reactions.

In other words the UK is closer to the margins where either locally or generally the supplies may not be adequate enough to keep the power on. If there is a longer and/or harder spell of cold weather, and again I am not suggesting anything really severe, then we are talking about potential disruption that will be protracted and more damaging.

Power outages of this kind may have been one thing in an age when it was routine to carry larger stocks, especially in winter and when systems were far more localised, flexible and resilient. What could happen now in our highly interdependent, computer driven systems mostly on a just in time basis?

In the USA apparently some pessimist has been pointing out that in their major urban areas there are only five days supply of food in stock or immediate transit. They too like the UK have had a major deficit in energy policy and the renewal of supply sources and infrastructure.

My problem now is where to put all the sacks of potatoes.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Blow The Wind Southerly

October, time for a bit of wind and fresh air. Perhaps we may get more than we really want. The diagram above comes from today’s (Saturday) US Geological Service web site and shows the estimated track of Hurricane Otto that has not long formed in the Atlantic.

The USGS is always careful in its estimates, as we know the media and public can be very impatient of variations and do not accept uncertainty as a necessary condition of being.

So whether this one becomes weaker, or stronger, or disperses, or shifts direction we will have to see during the course of the week. I shall be watching.

What would be interesting is that if it does come into the English Channel as the same time as seasonal high tides with perhaps a strong northerly on the fringe then it could be very exciting. At 150 feet above sea level I am alright.

It could be fun though to see people rowing in Parliament Square.

All together now:

Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees.

Friday, 8 October 2010

How To Save Public Service Pensions

This blog has said a lot about pensions in the past, so I will not repeat it now that public service pensions are out in the open. The present crisis has been coming for a long while and it did not take actuaries, accountants or mathematical economists to work it out. There is a way of salvaging the final salary schemes but it means taking them back to their beginnings and preventing the abuses.

These proposals should be put in place as soon as possible.

First, cap all public service pensions at £40,000 p.a. with retrospective effect and for the future subject to indexing as below.

All current pensions and any in the future above £20.000 for the sake of simplicity and immediacy the excess over that figure up to £100,000 should all be reduced to one of 20 bands by a reduction of three quarters of that excess. Any that are above £100,000 should count at that figure. Employee contributions will need to rise between 2 and 5%.

For the future the practice of “adding years” to actual service should end immediately. And service should mean service. All those public sector workers on the payroll who are rarely there but allowed to wander as they will, political interests or what, should have that time deducted from recognised service.

Pensions for ill health should be more closely monitored and the stringent requirements in place in the original schemes be restored. Essentially, this means people so ill and whose prognosis is so bad that they cannot work at all will be the only ones entitled to ill health provisions.

When my generation were looking for jobs and wanted a public service one with a reliable pension the age at which pension was due was 65, sometimes 60 for women. So the “shock horror” of bringing back that figure is nonsense. If the government was being serious about taking into account demographics and expectation of life it might be 70.

What the government might do for all pensioners is to introduce a specific Index Of The Aged based on the critical expenses of that group. Food, heating, housing, service charges etc. in sheltered or retirement complexes, care costs, fuel etc. should be the bedrock and all the fancy consumer clobber left out. Such an index would be the basis of future revaluations of all pensions and benefits for the old.

The first slippages in the pension schemes began with the crisis of the late 1970’s when it was necessary to rebalance public service labour when many of the men were ex-service who had lost years in the War.

By 1990, instead of these concessions being a short term fix or an occasional management tool for short term needs they were becoming embodied in the conditions of service. Even then some were saying that this was putting the pre-conditions in place for future deficits.

The Major government ducked this one as it did so many decisions so by 2000 not only had more concessions been made but some were beginning to say deficits were going to happen and could be big. All they got was promises that the Goldilocks Economy would take care of it all.

By 2005 the Labour Government were actively bribing the public service unions with more concessions and had removed the brakes and controls over high level salaries with exceptionally generous pension deals.

The train has hit the buffers and looking at the wreckage Hutton and the government want to close the station as a hopeless case. As always it is because the alternative way of reopening the tracks will be a lot harder to achieve.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Picking Up The Pieces

As the Coalition perform their Major Media Events (aka Conferences) the extent of the difficulty they have in picking their way through the rubble of The Labour Blitz looking for survivors or usable items is becoming clear.

As well as all the shrapnel as in 1940-43 there are quite a number of unexploded incendiaries and some large bombs with unpredictable effects if an attempt is made to disarm them. Unlike seventy years ago anything they do is resented and opposed by most people who still think that 1938, sorry 2006, would last forever.

What is coming into sharper relief are not only the extent to which people fail to realise that the world has changed forever but the weaknesses and liabilities which the Coalition has amongst it own troops and supporters. Some recent spats are an indication of one or two of the continuing difficulties.

“Private Eye” is running a series on the new intake to the House of Commons in its usual critical and merciless style. The most recent is a Tory lady with her own lifestyle and background. This drew some fierce reactions about comments on this kind of thing and how she was to be judged on performance only.

The lady is no doubt able and intelligent. However, she is also wealthy, very well connected to some of the usual suspects and it is alleged that from 1990 when she resigned from the Tories in protest against the Defenestration of Thatcher to 2003 she was not in membership of the party. In the meantime she was pursuing her trade in Public Relations and did very well.

Then, all of a sudden, she was back in the Party running for Parliamentary seats and more or less an “A” listed person. I confess that some of major contributors to the Tory Party worry me for a number of reasons, notably my pocket in that too many of them are amongst the Plundercrats of our time.

The lady did well to win the seat for which she was selected. Alas, she reminds me too much of those heirs in waiting to a Peerage or Ducal younger sons that the local Tories were obliged to select when I was young. She is just another member of the functioning elite of our time who have created the mess.

Meanwhile, away from Westminster, Inspector Gadget in his blog on 3 October painted a graphic picture of life in The Swamp as apparently our law enforcers regard those districts of social housing which supply so many of their clients. He is talking about a nasty breakdown in both society and law where it is everyone for themselves and the violent and criminal reign almost unchallenged.

At one time The Magistrates would have sent in the Militia, but nowadays only demand small fines, rarely paid, and promises to behave. Nevertheless many critics complained that this was just police whinging and they ought to be very grateful for their pay and conditions, especially pensions.

There seemed to be a disconnect here in that the blogger is relentless in his complaints about the way his force is managed, largely the consequence of over a decade of meddle and muddle and much worse modern management notions. It seems that many people have yet to realise the scale of the challenge now in many urban areas.

Not only do we seem to be closing our eyes to what is going to happen and what will be done, whether by people we elect or more likely others we do not want to know about any changes. Additionally, we seem to have forgotten how to either do things or run things effectively in organisations where nobody is taking decisions.

As for Health, we are getting all the usual clatter, but the gathering problems of the epidemics of diabetes, obesity, severe reactions to pharmaceuticals, alcohol abuse and narcotics are getting worse.

Moreover, there is another big one out there on its way and when it hits it will dwarf the others. As ever, those who can see it and have some idea of the complexity are ignored.

As for the picture, I was there. Thank goodness Shaun The Sheep is back on to take my mind off other things.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Forgotten Migration

In all the clatter about immigration and migration and all the rest the potential for a substantial inflow of either recently removed British and Irish or their more distant cousins from places that have become poor, unsafe or unwelcoming has not been factored into the estimates. Places that still welcome skilled British and Irish may change their policies quite suddenly.

Around a dozen of my cousins moved abroad and there are now a number of their children and grandchildren, call it a total of around forty. That is just me, in other cases of individuals the figures could be more or less. I have not counted the potential of great grandchildren.

Going back a bit, say four generations to the point where I have 32 forebears none of them were born in the town that I and my parents were born, although two were from the same county. Beyond that people appear from many places.

So I am the child of many migrations in the Atlantic Isles, from Sutherland to Shanklin and from Sligo to Great Yarmouth with a wide scatter of places in between. Beyond these generations are others from further afield and wide and wider as the centuries go back.

Amongst the many others from these 32 families who have moved abroad the figures of descendants, more distant cousins, must be substantial, certainly into three figures, possibly more. Again, that is just my extended family.

In recent years I understand there has been a large outflow of British and Irish to other places. A good many retirees have gone to Spain, some to France and others in Florida and various sunny locations. Many who are younger have taken their skills to other places at their own volition or the behest of their employers.

Call it instinct or what, but I sense that an increasing number of these are beginning to return, climate or no climate. They are encouraged by the fact that as their finances collapse and the once thriving economies that welcomed them also collapse or suddenly close their doors there is the default option.

This is going to where medical treatment, badly needed by some, is free and other benefits may be had. The UK here we come.

When the weather turns very wet a trickle can become a stream, that can become a river and a river can become a flood. Historically, it has happened many times before in terms of the movement of peoples and tribes. It is nothing new.

Call it the forgotten immigration if you like but if what can happen does happen what are the implications? What provision is there for half a million sick, broke and homeless pensioners fleeing from a Spain in turmoil and poverty? Or any other large group from somewhere or other? Where will they stand in the priority ratings?

What do I do if someone wearing a slouch hat festooned with corks, with shorts a deep tan and carrying a crocodile suitcase surrounded by their family, who are also mine, asks for shelter and sustenance? Remind them of the reasons why their ancestors were transported or offer them my meagre hospitality?

It could happen to you.