Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Economic Growth - Leave No Tern Unstoned

Yesterday, Thursday, two old men of the past resurfaced in the media.  One was a comedian, known for his volatile approach to matters, high acting style and complete belief in his own talents.  The other was a man who devoted himself to his trade, working hard and making his way by his own talents to prosperity, fame, deserved honours and a respected standing in the community.

The first was Lord Heseltine, masquerading in politics, is all over the screens who was presenting a report on economic growth in the world as he knew it.  One of Heseltine’s given names is Dibdin, from a forebear Charles Dibdin (see Wikipedia), who certainly was a man of the stage and who was well known for his mono-dramatic entertainments and patriotic songs penned in a time of war. 

Heseltine became a man of wealth, largely in publishing, after a sticky start that left some questions unanswered.  He claimed to have military experience on the basis of the eight months he did on National Service, before leaving to stand for Parliament.  He has been in politics and the media ever since.

The second was Ken Dodd on Radio 3, in discussion to a small audience and telling them about the world as it is.  Heseltine was born to wealth, Dodd to a local coal delivery man who was formerly a newspaper delivery boy.  Ken had two aunts who had been music hall artistes which led him into entertainment.

Heseltine was on about how bad it is that London has become so central to our economy to the detriment of other parts.  So he was talking about making Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle centres of economic renewal.  We recall how his venture into Liverpool Toxteth after the riots led not so much to economic growth as to very dodgy property deals like John Prescott’s Pathfinder disaster of recent years.

That the BBC is now in Manchester (well Salford), Leeds, another media centre is central to a major BBC scandal and Newcastle is the place that Tories went in the 1960’s and 1970’s to prove that they were economic hard men to the media is purely coincidental. 

Dodd, if he were minded might remind Heseltine that Liverpool was once a great trading and industrial city, the Birmingham area almost the heartland of the engineering industries and Sheffield a once great diverse industrial city all in their own right and without much help from London.

But Heseltine, like any old man who cannot forget was going on about National this and National that.  What he does seem to have forgotten that the over mighty prominence of London is largely down to his own party when he was a minister and in his early manhood as a businessman based in London and promoting its centrism.

What made me want to throw a brick at the screen was when he started out talking of the challenges and National needs of World War II.  This was seventy years ago, when we still had an Empire and when the world was a very different place.  Whether they liked it or not, sacrifice and community ideology was forced on people

It occurs to the majority of people, old and young, with even half their wits still in place that today is almost literally another planet in human terms.  There may be some remote spots where relatively little has changed, but they are remnants and cannot escape the intrusion of a wider world.

In the UK we have a different population in terms of demographics, origin, religion, education, media facilities and a lot more and an industry and economy that is radically different in structure and employment patterns as well as income distribution.  It is not just “diverse”, it is divergent.

Also, ownership of property has radically changed and the effects it has on the economy, finance and expectations.  Equally the ownership of a great deal of the economy, private and public is either owned by foreign organisation or by others who have financial arrangements that mean they pay little UK tax.

The cult of modern management and figures driven extractive finance forced on us by the likes of Heseltine and his friends in all parties has led us to our present state. 

That all he and apparently Cameron his Diddyman (see Dodd’s act) can come up with National plans, National initiatives, State money and control and dear Zeus the exhumation of the remains of Regional bodies of the past that messed up just about everything they touched is a pathetic reminder of the past.

Heseltine was talking about leaving no stone unturned.  One anecdote of Ken Dodd’s was that he loved birds and sometimes would go down to the beach at Dingle (in joke that) to throw stones at them.  The punch line was that he left no Tern unstoned.

If we are to recruit pensioner power to manage the economy we would be a lot safer listening to Ken Dodd than the likes of Michael Heseltine.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What Can Happen Next?

On Tuesday 23rd October on the end of a ramble round the shire post I wondered in which direction Tropical Storm, potential hurricane, Sandy might take after going over The Bahamas.  The track of very many storms in the last three years or so has been for most to turn East and diminish to wet and windy weather in Europe.

But I did speculate that it might go West and be a bad one, although Florida and The Carolinas seemed the most likely victims in that case.  In the event it became the Super Storm, a reality as opposed to an unlikely scenario in a disaster documentary and hit in the place where it would be hardest, New York City.

This could be the kind of “Black Swan Event”, the description owed to Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book, something unpredicted with extensive and unpredictable adverse effects. 

When the scale of Sandy became clear, what worried me was not that the USA central and local government agencies were unprepared, but that it might be too big and too complex for any government to deal with successfully. 

Clearly there is now a very big job, or series of jobs, to be done which will be exceptionally difficult and very costly.

Personally, this weekend we originally had some family matters in hand involving travel between the USA and the UK.  The arrangements were complicated, but then six weeks ago I got The Twitch and scrapped the plans to some disappointment.  Just as well, we might have had a very costly and stressful shambles on our hands.

The trouble is that The Twitch has not gone away.  Although what the next “bad one” might be is unknown and possibly also difficult; maybe it is impossible to predict.  The only rationale I have is that bad news seldom comes along as single items. 

Historically, there is ample evidence for this in all sorts of fields so the thought is hardly original.  In terms of geophysics alone there is enough to look at.  There was a very big earthquake in the last few days that could have had some serious effects.  Also, Sandy has moved attention away from many other matters.

So this is why the picture above is of two Black Swans.  It was taken at Leeds Castle in Kent.  In 1321 there was a kind of “Black Swan” event when Queen Isabella, consort to King Edward II arrived outside the Castle seeking shelter.  

Lady Badlesmere, born Margaret de Clare (see Wikipedia), left in charge by her warring husband greeted her and her entourage with a shower of arrows.  This led to a siege of the Castle and it being taken over by Queen Isabella, with Margaret sent to The Tower of London.

The upshot of this was the Despenser Wars in the Welsh Marches and North of England and the later putsch by Queen Isabella and the Earl of Mortimer to dethrone King Edward II. 

One effect in 1328 was the fixing of an intended temporary border between the Norman French elites in Scotland and England.  We are still trying, without much success, to sort out the consequences.

After Sandy, therefore, what happens next and what future may it bring?

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Coming Soon - Intergenerational Warfare

This item on Naked Capitalism today raises the interesting question of how in the USA the nature of student debt embroils the older generation as well as the younger students.  Given the willingness of the UK to import the battier ideas from the USA this one should be coming to us soon.

When people become involved in credit and debt and it goes wrong then almost inevitably trouble occurs, family or no family.  The fact that is might be family and therefore some sort of higher obligation could be assumed may only make it worse.

The potential complications of all this could be hideous.  Imagine a family where the parents have assumed debt liability for one child only eventually when probate occurs any other children or family losing any possible inheritance.  If this includes family who are carers this will add to the flames.

We are already stumbling into a situation where a lot of younger people are looking at an older generation who have done well out of the rampant inflation of the late 20th Century and the easy lending on property, never mind those who have gained decent pensions. 

They are looking at the level of the debts they incurred for study and perhaps being gulled into taking on extra consumer debt as part of the bad boom created by the older generation for their own benefit.  On top of that many now have little financial future as the post boom squeeze continues and the jobs market goes sour.

John Mortimer, the late writer, began his career as a barrister specializing in probate and related cases.  It was his view that when it came to wills and inheritance and family money this was the boundary where civilization ended and the survival of the fittest began.

This weekend we are to due to see family.  The traditional game of “snap” we play could begin to get very rough, especially if they realise I am playing with a pack of marked cards inherited from a thoughtful uncle.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A Blast From The Past Third - Organisation And Methods

This one, also published, is from the time of the 1979 General Election:


During one those meetings the Personnel Officer let a paper slip.  Here is an extract:


The officer found a production in progress by a company called “Hamlet” and on investigation the outlays were substantial.  The officer’s comments in strict adherence to the terms of reference are:

First:  The setting is a Court which seems to demand an excessive input of actors relative to the output as well as decorations. 

Recommended the setting be a small shop during a holiday closure with the canteen to arrange staging.

Second:  A lot of words were required most of which were extraneous to the output. 

Recommended that the Committee Clerks take over the servicing of actors.

Third:  A large number of characters were superfluous.  In view of the Corporate Strategy Plan, Polonius might become the leading part. 

Recommended that the Establishment Officer review the structure.

Fourth:  The plot has features which are in conflict with current employment and health and safety legislation.  There is uneven use of personnel. 

Recommended that the plot be reorganised with re-utilisation of acting capacity and the trade unions be consulted.

Fifth:  The performance did not allow sufficient periods for the supply of refreshments to the audience.  To maximise the selling potential of the bar facilities retiming the operation is necessary. 

Recommended that refreshment sales take priority with acting as intervals and bells rung before and after refreshments.


In follow-up to Check 23 the officer was surprised to find a different performance.  This involved even more substantial outlays and greatly extended use of personnel with the same time period of investigation.

A band played continuously causing the actors to sing loudly all the time.  The officer was unable to determine why because the language was foreign.  The time given over to applause seemed unnecessary. 

Further recommendations are that extra O&M officers are needed for the Civic Theatre and that the lead person, a Carmen, seemed to have an unjustifiable number of male supporting actors.


Of course, this kind of thing could never happen.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Oak And The Ash And The Bonny Ivy Tree

Up in our local galaxy, the Milky Way, there is a debate about how many “black holes” exist, where they are and what effect they are having.  Given the billions of years before our sun swallows us up and then perhaps goes down one, perhaps those of us here at present have little to worry about.

The thought, however, that eventually my body chemistry might reassemble itself some time in an alternative universe is an attractive one.  Not least because our present government seems to be a conjunction of several “black holes” about to merge into one big one.

The latest one is the belated news in our media about the Chalara fraxinea fungus.  It is something that has already attacked Ash trees in Denmark doing extensive damage and has been going East.  It has now arrived in the UK with a serious risk of doing the same in the Atlantic Isles.

Despite our government having been aware of it and despite the fact that importing ash saplings were a known significant risk nothing was done, other than the usual business of “consultation” and passing the files around while waiting for this sub committee or that to come to a conclusion that was always going to be unpopular with some.

The panic is now on to try and stave off the worst.  The Ash is one of our treasured species and its loss would be an utter disaster, perhaps greater than that of the Elm tree losses of many years ago.

We have had our politicians railing on about education for a long time now.  Despite corralling half the young into full time higher education which has taken five to seven years off their effective working lives there is little to show for it; except for the huge black hole in the financing of student debt.  This one is going to take some sorting out with myriad unintended consequences.

On the railways the London Midland has had their services hugely reduced because so many of the drivers it trained at great expense have been poached by other companies that do not do much training.  This teaches companies not to train their drivers simply to have a merry go round so travellers will be buying tickets in a form of travel lottery.

In the maternity wards all those “economic” migrants have done what younger people do and that is have children.  They will now be added to the demands for health provision, schooling and the rest.  This wipes out the economic benefit for long term liabilities.  That these closely knit extended families are also bringing in their aged parents has not yet been noticed, but the costs soon will be.

The badgers are still waiting to see what might happen to them.  As the government has more or less removed the threat of their natural predators they have greatly grown in numbers.  Also, the disease they carry, TB, is increasing in cattle.  The cattle can be vaccinated but there are administrative problems. 

While the government sorts it out it is possible that our milk supply industry will fold because TB will become rampant in the dairy herds.  So for a critical part of our food supply we will become dependent on imports from places where the production and its methods are far from safe and much poorer in quality.

Also, not mentioned in the media because it might worry people, notably a number of large corporations with financial targets to meet, is the increasing concern over the effect of the extensive reliance of intensive chemical based monoculture in growing crops. 

It is both the long term effect on soils and on the chemistry impairing both human and animal life that need some clear policy decisions.  These will not be forthcoming because no movement will occur until some extensive disaster might occur. 

One might be if the forecasts of long term droughts in some places and disruption to weather patterns elsewhere occur.  This kind of thing happens, warming or no warming because word weather patterns have never been static and never will be.

This could go on and on and any reader will be able to think of other, perhaps better things than I can in a hurried post.

In any case it is time for tea, so long as we don’t have a power cut.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bring Back National Service For Pensioners

Lord Bichard, now 65, who retired at 53 as a top civil servant on a mega pension and lately Quangocrat Extraordinary is reported to have said that for the plebian classes pensions should come only with conditions attached, such as work or identified community service or some such. 

This is because of the big hole that the government is currently digging in the pension’s garden where the nature of it forbids stopping.  So My Lord wants something else to fill it up.  He thinks that we are all idle, prone to causing disruption as we chase around the globe and consuming more than we are entitled to.

Those of us who have already been required in the past to undertake a form of forced labour, military, for a pittance will not like the idea at all.  Once bitten and some were badly bitten, twice shy as the saying goes.  See the photograph above, this is one from the web, my lot were less smart and more trouble.

Below is a link to John Ward’s “Slog Blog”, a retired journalist who does a full take down of the noble lord which I cannot improve on.  John during his working life made great efforts to provide for his private sector pension which has been blown to smithereens by government policy in recent years. 

His experience is shared by very many, probably running into the high seven figures in total.  This has impacted directly on consumption spending, who needs Austerity when it has already happened? 

Also, savings are far lower than they should be so the investment has to come from somewhere else, notably funny money.  My Lord is one of those responsible for this disaster.

In the public sector divides have opened up.  One is between those who retired some years ago before the last Labour government started making major concessions in pension schemes and throwing money at certain public sector areas. 

Another is between those once in the public sector whose work has been out sourced with an effect on pensions.  A key one is between those on agreed scales and the big boys and girls at the top or in certain areas who are on fancy contracts with all sorts of extra goodies packed in. 

There have been quite a lot like that around the country and these must impact on the sustainability of any scheme.  These are all people with occupational or private pensions but there are many others without who rely on the state pension.  There again there is ripe cause for resentment.

During my working life a large chunk was removed from the salary monthly as national insurance and pension contributions.  Necessarily, I and others like me felt we have already worked for our pension.  Doubly so for those in a scheme but also those who were not but did work to make their national insurance payments will feel that they have already “paid”.

But the schemes we were in, devised by the likes of Lord Bichard were in essence not like that at all, they were almost “Ponzi” schemes.  For him to come along and say, sorry you, it doesn’t work like that, here’s a broom now go sweep that crossing if you want to eat, simply will not do.  We want to know how this happened and why and who was responsible for it all going so badly wrong.

One ancillary point that will certainly not have occurred to him, nor to any of those advisers, experts or others in the Westminster cocoon is that for very many the actual business of having a job incurs real costs from earnings. 

Lord Bichard and his associates will have had a lifetime on generous expenses and incomes which can withstand any real costs of travel, clothing and having to eat, cook, clean and deal with life.  In short they have little or no idea of the real financial costs imposed on low paid, no expenses, labour.

Perhaps he has not realized yet that time is an ever rolling stream and that before being carried away a great many spend a long time sliding helplessly down the bank before struggling in shallow water before the inevitable.

So rather than being available for “caring” or “community” a good many retired are already experiencing difficulties, if not themselves then in relation to others.   As I look around the real world very many pensioners are already going a great deal for others, whether family or not.

Also, and this relates to the picture above, has Lord Bichard and others like him have any idea of the scale of the management, organization and costs involved in corralling the unwilling into service and then finding real work for them to do?  It is very substantial and much greater than he imagines.

This applies to any notion of “national service” for the young as well.  It is not simple.  It is very complicated and difficult indeed.  There are unfortunate unintended consequences and it is very easy to alienate those involved; even more so when it is operated on a state run basis.

The Army was glad to get rid of National Service at the end, notably after the mutinies at the time of the Suez campaign.  By then it was rough and getting rougher to deal with a mob of unwilling teenagers.  The Generals had become aware that service for the sake of it was no way to run an effective Army.

Here is The Slog on Lord Bichard:

If Lord Bichard and his associates could spend a few months in challenging manual work it might concentrate their minds.  Especially on the minimum wage and with no expenses and being required to eat and house themselves solely on earnings.

Now that would be what I would call “National Service”.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Nasty? You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!

What we have now learned is that in the contest for Presidential power in the USA neither candidate can be relied on to have a real grip on Foreign Policy or decision making.  The likely result is that whoever wins the serial mishandling of international affairs is likely to continue.

In Europe the contest for authority is reaching levels where soon there will be bitterness and real trouble.  If Galicia and Catalunya press forward with plans for a break with Madrid then the future is unpredictable and dangerous in both Spain and the European Union.

In Italy seismologists have been gaoled for failing to accurately predict the precise location, strength and effect of earthquakes.  That the area was a known zone of risk and that detailed prediction is impossible, according to geologists and others was not regarded as evidence. 

Also, that the damage and deaths might have been due to the failure of local authorities, politicians and contractors to observe building codes due to corruption and fiddling with the contracts was not an issue at the trial.

It was the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1st November 1755 (Wikipedia) that was said to have given birth to the science of seismology.  Unluckily in the immediate blame game of the aftermath the usual minorities suffered punishment in the name of god.  Italy it seems has yet to catch up.

As for the UK, a saying from a long while ago; source forgotten, was to the effect that when a wounded wolf smells blood it is at its most dangerous.  The Murdoch response to the events relating to the BBC could be seen in this light in the scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile.

The consequence is that the fall out from this will affect a great many people in ways that are as unpredictable as an earthquake.  One certainty is that it will add to the loss of confidence in the UK in government and other major institutions.  An item by Charlie Beckett in Polis, below, is one take on this.

As we look around us in the UK there are far too many areas of government, finance and the media where the same problem exists.  It infects almost every major policy area where the future is at risk and where sensible decisions and action are needed.

What might happen is that almost by default in the next election there might be a Labour majority.  Yet it is commented (see the Raedwald blog) that amongst the Labour leadership are two persons who were closely involved with the National Council of Civil Liberties when they were connected with organisations promoting unlimited sex for all, including children.

But the closed eyes and closed minds problem is international.  In the for an insight into this see  the web site The Burning Platform has had a series of anguished posts that are long, detailed but worth reading for these insights to what the situation is on the ground.

We have recently had an earthquake swarm in a notoriously twitchy part of Iceland.  They are playing it cool and careful at the moment but are on watch.  Nothing much more may happen, but in Iceland there is always the next big one due.

One real storm we can be more certain of is now in the Caribbean heading for Jamaica, Tropical Storm Sandy that could become a hurricane.  After Jamaica the next en route is The Bahamas.  Then which way it might go to can only be estimated.

It might veer East and head in our direction to deliver some wind and rain but it might edge West and cause havoc along the East Coast of the USA just in the immediate run up to the elections.

But what else in the world will there be?  Perhaps trouble in the currency markets?

Monday, 22 October 2012

Laura Norder Comes To Town

When the government decides to go big on doing something about crime, then it is time to put five bolts on the door, shutter the windows, make sure the shillelagh is to hand and to wind up into berserker mode.

With all the other news going on, it is difficult to make any sensible comment in the unfolding shambles of world affairs.

So here is a cartoon.  If you do not “get it” then put “Frankie Fraser” into Wikipedia and you will see that he was once a prominent member of a sixties gang with interesting ideas on enforcement.

Fifty years on and it does not get any better.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Working Class Can Let Me Pass

Social mobility works two ways.  One is up, the other is down.  In life’s journey it can be difficult to tell how it will go.  For some it will go up and then down, others down and then up and for some up and up, for others down and down. 

If that is applied to many members of a family it is more complicated.  If it is a large family it can be very complicated.  At an early stage in the 19th Century the statisticians began to examine this and gave us a putative class structure in a form that suggested that class was a fixed entity and passed on this assumption to later generations and thinkers. 

But it was all a great deal messier than that in reality.  One complication was how people saw themselves and the lifestyles they adopted.  Another was the size of families.  Anyone who has trawled enough of the census returns over a long period will be aware of this.

As the then rich and upper class knew full well, if they all bred numbers of children that were much greater in succeeding generations it was apparent that a good many would be heading for the down escalator and it would take effort and expense to ensure at least a respectable position in society.

If the family estates were dissipated by an attempt to keep large broods in the upper reaches then there was a serious risk that they could all go down, unless some individuals did well for themselves or daughters made marriages that turned out to be lucky in that the right choice was made or fortune smiled on them.

Then down all the generations there were the new men of wealth claiming a place at the top and further down the ladders a lot more clawing their way up whilst treading numbers of others down as they went.  We have forgotten the terrifying fear of decline, ruin or disgrace that held the upper and middling orders in thrall at one time.

This was very real, because if there were only so many top jobs with many more of the upper class progeny than vacancies the others were relegated to the middle classes, also with problems of maintaining their young at the appropriate status.  Darwin’s survival of the fittest was for real.  The decline in birth rates at the top and middle ends together with increasing wealth have eased the situation. 

In the middle of the 20th Century we began to have other ideas.  As “equality” became more feasible, up to a point and more opportunities created by the expansion both of wealth in the private sector and senior jobs in the public, governments began to propagate the notion that the only way was up.

Education is meant to do the trick.  If by mischance or misjudgement there is a failure to progress then the State will ensure that they will enjoy a least a basic prosperity and care.  In the UK recently we have sought to manage this by education and benefits while the dirty and difficult ends of the work and relative poverty go to new immigrants.

But what happens if the private sector no long expands enough and also the public sector has to contract at the same time?  Also, what happens if the private sector changes its basis and its new form means much larger migration into the top ends?  Add to that if cost structures entail advantage to cheap migrant or outsourced labour then again with what consequences

As a Plebocrat as opposed to aristocrat, no money, no job, no future, anyone who comes across with the snobbery or arrogance is a fair target.  They are to be found not just amongst the Tories, many of the Labour lot are as bad in their own way.  Our Faux Democracy has leaders who actively dislike and distrust the Demos.

A choice example is Alex Salmond, a member of the elite of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which you may recall is largely reliant on the public purse controlled by our present elite.  He had a rant about Tory Toffs at the SNP Conference. 

Given that RBS has Coutts Bank as one of its crown jewels, in more ways than one and that the Earl of Home is the present Chairman this is rich in the fullest sense of the word. 

When it comes to Toffs, it takes one to know one.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Cameron Does The Europe Neverendum Hokey Cokey

If there is one thing seared on the memory it is the jig “Do The Hokey Cokey”, where a line of linked people, usually alternate male and female, snake around the hall or room or wherever bellowing out the lyric and doing the moves. 

During my youth it usually marked the point where those attending were either seriously sloshed or felt that the “do” needed livening up with a bit of noisy jollity.  As a stroppy youngster, inevitably, I felt that it was undignified for people as old as 30 or even more to be doing this kind of thing.

The lyric, it still makes me wince, is on the Wikipedia entry along with other versions internationally.  It begins, “You put your right leg in, you put your right leg out, in, out, in out, shake it all about….” and goes on, and on, and on.  In the days before amplified sound it was one thing, heaven knows what it is like with amplification.

Nevertheless, such a basic simplification of basic human movements can be applied in other contexts.  One appears to be the current Prime Ministerial view of the nature of question to be asked in any referendum we may have on the issue of Europe.

We are told that it might be an “In in” question, that is do we go with the flow as it is happening in Europe at present, or do we engage in one of those diplomatic dances where the idea is that some sort of deal may result to the satisfaction of both parties,

The trouble is we have done this before, a great many times.  Those brilliant minds at the Foreign Office and the highest reaches of the Civil Service allied to the wayward attention of our politicians have almost always ensured that we were well and truly sold down the river.

That is why so many of us feel that not only must there be a better way, but the only way is out to enable us to attend to our own affairs in our own interest.  So the question should be “In or out”, and if the vote is for in then the question on what basis can be addressed.

One matter that does complicate the issue is that we are now at a point where fewer and fewer trust anything that emerges from government and our first instinct is not to identify the key issues for but to ask who is getting the loot and has most to gain? 

In the past this was often hard to work out and we were bedevilled by lack of access to information or debate or to any thorough critical analysis.  In the age of the internet this is not the case, there is a lot more to go at and some very good material for debate if you know where to look or are interested.

But the difficult part is how to transmit any of this to the mass of the voters, or rather those who will actually vote.  This should be a function of the media, but this today is either bought or bound up with sensation or trivia. 

So if the trend is against what our elite want, we will be offered the media equivalent of the Hokey Cokey to amuse, engage or distract us.  If then we are only offered an “In in” choice we will finish up with an “In” dictated to us by Europe.

Who was it who said “First, get rid of the pianist”?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Health And Safety

In our new all 21st Century National Health Service we must expect to have the full range of marketing skills applied to the business of treatments.

Also, we may well be buying more over the counter instead of relying on prescriptions.

But this, from a Boots branch in Coventry, hat tip a young one, is ridiculous.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Trading Places

Reading some archaeology on human settlement in Iceland in Science Daily, linked from the Archaeologica web site, as one does, I saw that it suggested that a major volcanic eruption close to the Equator in 1258 had a major effect on climate.  The volcano in question has yet to be identified. 

But along with three other substantial eruptions in 1268, 1275 and 1285 it meant the end of the High Medieval Warm period and a lurch downwards in temperatures that culminated in the Little Ice Age.  In Europe, this together with the working out of the silver mines in Saxony, hit everyone hard.

In the 21st Century humanity does not need the help of Gaia or the gods or twitches in tectonic plates to do the damage, we are now equipped and able to cause our own man made catastrophes out of simple greed and stupidity.  Cause and effect are very different but human suffering remains a constant.

On Monday 17the September, I posted on “High Frequency Trading For Dummies” which linked to a major The Bureau of Investigative Journalism” feature on the subject of HFT.  This might have been enough but another post elsewhere caught my eye on Naked Capitalism.

This roundly calls for governments and financial authorities to get a handle on what is going on, notably by imposing taxes that will slow things down and discourage the high alpha male activity in this field.  It might be thought that with fiscal cliffs and huge budget deficits around this might attract governments in trouble.

Unluckily, the trading is done by the big money boys and their friends in New York, London and related locations.  As we know, when engaged in an activity that few understand fully, especially central bankers, politicians, the main media and the vast majority of the general public, when confronted with restraint they scream and fall down on the floor threatening The End Of The World As We Know It.

But when, in effect, the whole global financial system now has a key element of trading done by computers on auto function, traders high on Columbia’s finest and managers interested only in the biggest bonus bounties, one blown fuse could cause an almighty crash.

It is not just the computers that will crash, so will the companies involved, so will all the linked financial systems, so will the governments and most of trade and commerce.  We have been here before and many times.  But there have been some times in history when you do not restore what has been.

It is a little like dropping H Bombs into volcanic craters to see how big they need to be to trigger a major eruption.  If you keep on doing it, then it might happen.  HFT is just such a gamble and there are no signs it can be stopped or restrained.

So if the world economy really does go down the fissures of finance we won’t need volcanoes to cool things down for us.  We will have done it ourselves.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Who's On First?

With Obama and Romney doing their Abbott and Costello (see Wikipedia and Youtube) tribute act, and not very well, the Polish Football Authorities failing to close the stadium roof during torrential rain causing a crucial match with England to be postponed, the British Government refusing to extradite a wanted man to the USA, and yet more fiddling with the price indexes and benefits to rob the pensioners the newsrooms are busy.

Add to that figures suggesting that there are now more employed in the UK than ever before, thousands of job vacancies in home caring going begging despite other figures of high unemployment amongst the young and many other matters rich with confusion, there were other things to think about.

One was renewing the home insurance.  Once it was so simple, a cheerful helpful chap would knock on the front door, be greeted by the lady of the house holding her purse, a few bob would change hands, books marked up to date and all would be well.

Now I am looking at more documentation than it took to move an armoured division, they are filled with options and complexities that need a Ph.D in something obscure, like linguistics, to decipher and the sum involved for the annual fee would have bought me a decent terraced house in a prosperous town sixty years ago.

Luckily, the insurance company I deal with is relatively user friendly, it can be negotiated with by telephone and one is not committed to the horrors of doing business on the internet.  There anything can happen and does.

I kid you not, as Costello might have said.  Going through the papers I came across the rent book for 1946.  For a terrace house in a respectable location, two beds, bathroom, hot and cold running water, electricity and gas, close to trams and buses and work, it was just less than £1 a week, or £49 a year. 

Using the web to search for a 2012 equivalent, same sort of terrace house, it is £6000 a year and far less than London prices.  Were I to look there, I would find that to buy such a house in a central location today would cost as much as taking over a major company in 1946. 

The world has gone mad and our rulers madder than any Abbott and Costello extreme verbal slapstick.  Our retired generals, instead of simply doing good and running their home localities as well as occasionally writing to “The Times” are now hired hands for arms companies wanting the government to buy bigger but not necessarily better weaponry.

The police forces and their representative bodies having become politicised have now become political in turn and are beginning to want a say in who may or may not be in the government depending on whether they tick the right responsiveness boxes.  They are in company with the Trade Unions who want to go back to the good old days of who runs the Labour Party and why.

The big story is the cat fight, for real, between the cat, called Freya, belonging to George Osborne, our Chancellor of The Exchequer and the one, called Larry, belonging to David Cameron our Prime Minister.  Freya is named after the Nordic goddess whose golden apples sustained the Gods, no Freya, no Gods. 

But Osborne, as we know is a fan of Richard Wagner and The Ring Cycle, so is he hoping for some sort of intervention from the ancient gods of The North to bring the economy around or for them to find more fracking fields, preferably in Labour or Liberal Democrat held constituencies?.

However, Larry, more ominously, is the name of one of The Three Stooges (see Wikipedia and Youtube) the wonderful comedy trio o the mid 20th Century.  He is a rather scatter brained, impulsive and unreliable character who you would not put in charge of anything.  But who are Curly and Mo?  Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch?

It is time for my coffee break, but not Starbucks.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Life Is Full Of Surprises

By one of those freaks of chance came upon a reference to a popular entertainer who was famous in his day but now forgotten.  Known as Leslie Stuart, he was born Thomas Augustine Barrett, and looks to be the brother of a granny of one of my grannies.

He has a Wikipedia article under his professional name, adopted as his regular name, Leslie Stuart and had a fascinating career.  It also answers some questions about why and what my previous known family were doing.

Apparently, there are a couple of expert biographies to go at as well.  So I have been busy.  This find is one of the upsides of tracking family.  On the other hand there are downsides.  The lady in question married a Rooney. 

Well you win a few and you lose a few.

Monday, 15 October 2012

And The Best Of British Luck

One of the regular comments about the Scottish Referendum is to the effect that it represents the break up of Britain.  Up to a point, there is still a land border across which a good deal of the food and other goods Scotland consumes will be carried.  More important is that Britain is already broken, so the Scottish thing is just part of the flotsam and jetsam.

The UK has come to be a highly centralised state with its politics, media, finance and other things concentrated in London.  But for all the flag waving and fun of The Olympics London is no longer British.  It is now an international city with a major European element amongst its population.

As such it has become remarkably inward looking and self contained.  It does not care or interest itself much in the provinces or its peoples.  What is does do is to demand and get a hugely disproportionate amount of both public and private investment projects to sustain a way of life that is foreign, in the fullest sense of the word, to the rest of England.

The London I knew in the past certainly had its Imperial and other World connections and links.  Whilst there were many migrants from different parts the population consisted of mostly either people from around the South East with migrants from all parts of the Atlantic Isles.  The Scots seem to have commanded many of the senior management jobs.

This is no longer the case, there are still incomers from around the Atlantic Isles but there are now much larger numbers from wherever you care to think about and since 1997 the door was opened to almost anyone from anywhere.  With free health treatment on offer, guaranteed housing and benefits from UK taxes, inevitably they came and keep coming.

What has become clear with the fall out from the last Labour government’s “scorched earth” policy, drive to change radically all our key institutions and the infliction of the cult of modern management and computer driven financing is that the economy is now said to depend on the property market and this means crucially London.

Moreover, we now have occurring a series of gross failures, blunders and failures of government that not only impose huge costs and rising debts but make effective government and administration of the UK an unlikely event in the foreseeable future.

The first consideration for any government is the defence of the realm.  We have an air force, a navy and an army that are too small and too badly equipped to deal with any serious matters.  Worse, we have expended their capital on campaigns in small wars that cannot be won.

We have an energy policy which will deliver high costs and uncertainly but not enough energy, a national health service slowly heading for collapse, any major health problem will see to that, social services that are anti-social in the treatment of children and an education system that has become a business that does not educate.

But with London attached to the EU by an umbilical cord of jobs for the boys and girls, corruption, criminality and crazy economics this is not going to change.  It is still not clear that we will have an EU Referendum or on what basis.  Putting the Scottish one before the EU one is very much the cart before the horse.

The other question is why should any border depend on a grubby marriage settlement brokered in 1328 between members of related elites?  Had not William The Marshal saved King John and King Henry III in the early 13th Century, a border might have been well to the south with the Scots taking all of Northumbria.

In 1320 one of the signatories to the Declaration of Arbroath was a Mowbray.  Again if events had been otherwise the Mowbray magnates of The North may have opted for the King of Scots.  Had Edward The Bruce not gone to Ireland to lose his head but campaigned South it might have been a very different story.

That Queen Isabella and the Earl of Mortimer not staged a coup on behalf of King Edward III then again the border could well have been to the south, King Robert The Bruce had a claim to the Earldom of Northumbria, as well as several others.

So should different parts of England at present not be given the option to join Scotland should they wish to?  It could be quite interesting.  Perhaps Kent could join with Clackmannan if Scotland devolved local government, as it should.  If The Shetlands might look to Edinburgh to be the capital city then why not Canterbury?

There are all the signs of yet another Great British botch in the whole business.  What worries me about Scottish independence is a former RBS employee getting his hands on the loot on behalf of his friends. 

All change but no change.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Blast From The Past on Quangos

For those who have spent up to five minutes watching the news it has emerged that the BBC has a problem concerning a former employee.  If true then not only did it fail in applying various statutory requirements, it raises questions about the way the whole show has been run now for the last decades.

On top of that are a number of other serious issues affecting other bodies and parts of government, notably all those agencies of one sort or another.  It is apparent that conspicuous failures of management and operation are the norm in UK governance and no longer exceptional and inexplicable failures.

But when we look at who runs these bodies and how they are connected we see a web of familiar names who are all interconnected.  One striking feature is that while we are told how experienced they are and why they are chosen, it seems that very many, or the majority, of these “Quangocrats” are not just on one body but numbers of them.

That raises the question of “how do they do it?”  To which the answer is they don’t.  They flit around their meetings and conferences without actually being involved much in the real business. This is done by a crew of footloose management people whose key ambition is to rise to be a Quangocrat. 

This is the way the armed services are run, the police and almost the whole lot.  No wonder we cannot control either our debt or out of control organisations.  In October of 1979, I published the following. 

It was a response to the new Thatcher Government’s declaration of a major cull of the quango’s and a return of the business of government to the government and to the civil service.


O’Cartess was taking a turn around his desk when Cugloan put his head round the door.  “What….” began Cugloan.  “It takes two to quango,” carolled O’Cartess.  “More like Last Quango in Bognor” riposted Cugloan.

“I say, said O’Cartess, “in this place the example is The Ball before Waterloo.”  Cugloan wanted to know more.  “You are really celebrating the demise of all these bodies.”

“Not at all, replied O’Cartess, “what on earth can I say in Committee without being able to quote all the sets of initials that make it imperative to do this or that.  I’m bereft, left with only my professional responsibility to go on and at the going rate that’s not worth much.”

Cugloan was doubtful.  “Did anyone really take much notice?”  O’Cartess replied, “when they wanted to, these were the crutches they leant on.  It was never I or me, always Thingummy or Whatsit.  It is really going to be difficult persuading Committee to actually make a decision of their own, they’ve quite forgotten how to.  And as for taking an officer’s advice, the thought will terrify them.”

Cugloan mustered a little sarcasm to curb O’Cartess’s eccentricity.  “And where will it all end?”  “Oh it hasn’t ended, it’s just begun” said O’Cartess.  Cugloan looked quizzical, “what precisely?”

“The development of the Quango, “ said O’Cartess.  “Its obvious to any classicist or gardener.  Cut a few heads off and then stand back to see what happens.”  “What,” asked Cugloan.

“A whole new lot of bigger and better heads,” said O’Cartess.  “All this heavy pruning will bring forth a rich and varied crop in the next summer of growth.  The great age of the Quango is round the next economic corner, the many headed monster will….”

“All right,” said Cugloan.  “I get the point, but what happens in the meantime?”  “You and I will till and hoe and prepare the soil, nothing will show and then the ground will be full of growth.”  “Ah, the fruits of the earth,” said Cugloan.  “Maybe,” said O’Cartess, “or, perhaps, a lot of rank and nasty weeds.  Then where shall we be?”

“Wallflowers“, said Cugloan, “or would you care for a Marche Militaire?”.