Monday, 31 December 2012

Next Year Will Not Be Fun

In the UK media it is a commonplace that major events elsewhere or long running issues in other countries do not get much attention.  The trouble is that there are some critical matters both in the UK and elsewhere that are long run problems that will come to head.  When they do, it will come as a surprise with all the related flapping about and ill informed comment.

What has been happening is that in the UK and other places the various crises and difficulties often have one common feature.  That is they are not just a political, financial or governance crisis but they are in part to a greater or lesser degree a constitutional crisis.

Look around Europe and the America’s, including the USA and judge what these may be in the context of those states and what might be involved.  There can be current damage, continuing difficulties, perhaps paralysis in policy making and in some the real risk of a breakdown in government. 

It is becoming arguable that some of the Western “democracies” are no longer democratic, are adrift of the rule of law and are becoming ruled by a political class that is no longer interested in the continuance of democracy and its needs but only in its own survival as long as possible.

In the UK in 2012 we moved from a situation where we have a damaged and disabled constitution and a political set up apparently unable to come to terms with the basics of administration into what is becoming a full blown collapse of the UK as an independent or self governing state.

What could happen in 2013 is that this could become dangerous.  We are now at the half way point in the period of office of the Coalition and it is going nowhere.  Yet either the coalition must continue as it is or the Liberal Democrats decide to join up with the Labour Party as a last ditch attempt to save their skins.

The recent map produced about the political division of England into a Conservative South and East and a Labour North and West was a striking example of one of the most serious weaknesses.  It means that Labour are about one part, plus elements of London and the Conservatives about another and that based largely on the London economy.

At the same time pundits point out that a Conservative weakness is its lack of appeal to some minorities.  This means some marginal constituencies are at risk.  This blog has said often before that one of the most disastrous features of our electoral system since World War 2 has been the grossly disproportionate influence that winning the marginal seats has meant.

This has meant economic policies, government spending and a whole raft of activity dictated by the needs of small minorities of voters in a minority of constituencies.  We have paid a heavy economic price for this in the serious distortions that followed.

In the House of Commons we are now in a situation where the fiddling with boundaries etc. during the Labour term of office altered the balance in their favour and this is worsening as time goes by.  The Liberal Democrats have blocked reforms out of narrow self interest.

There is a House of Lords that essentially does not represent anybody except the Westminster political elite, with a huge number of members.  They may add to the entertainment but they do not add to effective government.  Again reform is blocked and it seems impossible to have a really representative second chamber. 

The combination with devolution on one hand with greater and more pervasive administrative centralisation on the other has led to local government being neither local nor government.  The alteration of the Civil Service to an organisation geared to the modern cult of rent seeking management and doing it badly is another feature of the disaster.

Then there is the larger question of the EU of which there is more than enough comment in other places.  Just what it is, what it is supposed to do, what it actually does, who is in charge, what are the control systems and where is the money going are all among the great mysteries of the universe.

Given the way the coalition has been going, the Conservative government under Cameron should have been putting up positive policies to deal with the various problems and especially to sort out the constitutional mess.  In the past they could then have gone to the country to seek its mandate.

But in a spasm of lunacy they have denied themselves this crucial option which could be necessary to begin to be effective.  We are now stuck with “five year terms”.  In 2010 they took over a situation where the previous government had deliberately left a “scorched earth” situation and with a dire financial situation.  In this situation why on earth tie your hands in this way?

They are drifting into a situation where the Labour party who caused the disaster may come back into power on the back of a grossly unrepresentative electoral system and a second chamber made up of placemen.  On top of this could be the beginnings of the break up of any idea of a United Kingdom.

This is the potential constitutional crisis for 2013.  While some minorities would want this to happen all the preconditions are in place for a wholesale paralysis of government.  Only in 2013 there are not going to be any fun events to distract us. 

It is a long time since politics “got serious” in the UK.  It could be about to happen.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

History Is What You Make It

In The Mail there was an article about what might be taught in History and in particular those might be held up to the young as Great People and perhaps examples to us all.  The piece contrasted a politically correct selection with one that listed The Usual Suspects.

One problem is what people were “Great” for.  The Duke of Wellington, for example, for his victories against Napoleon.  What is left out of his career often is his learning curve in India, his spell as an unlucky Prime Minister and that his military successes were based on a mastery of logistics that few could emulate.

The trouble is that given the time available and the huge amount to choose from any history taught is going to be highly selective and its emphasis dependent on who drafts the curriculum to be taught and in the classroom how a teacher might interpret that.

On the channel PBS from the USA there has been a four part documentary on Queen Victoria and the British Empire.  All in all it took around four hours of screen time.  It did try to explain the era, maintain something of a balance and suggest that it was a good deal more complicated than many assume. 

Also, it was free of the usual bossy presenters we see so much of and the tiresome bang crash wallop computer game imagery whenever violence or war happens.  It did make clear that there were nasty and distressing events but spared us the gore in favour of the narrative.

Even so, despite the attempt to “cover the bases” there was a great deal left out and some simplification.  In a way it asked the intelligent viewer to fill in the gaps but it would take a lot of previous knowledge to know what was involved and understand.

One interesting feature, for example, was how Prince Albert, her Consort who became guide and principal adviser steered her from one view of Empire , that of power and glory, to another based on trade and moral imperatives exported to the world.  After his death under Disraeli’s influence she reverted to the former.

So who was advising and supporting Prince Albert and who were they connected to?  This is something I have come across recently and it had some surprises.  One is Colonel, later General, Charles Grey, his Private Secretary from 1846 to 1861, Albert’s death, who then became Victoria’s until his death in 1870.

Former the Colonel of the 71st Highlanders, mark that, he was a younger son of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, the reforming Prime Minister from 1830 to 1836.  Henry, 3rd Earl Grey, his elder brother, had been Secretary of State for the Colonies and another brother Frederick Grey rose to be head of the navy.  Look around their political circle and you can see where Prince Albert was coming from.

But you will not find any of this in any school or even university text.  They deal with other ideas and opinions and the complex realities of this period are lost to them and their students.  So what of history today?  Do we tell the same old tales of one kind or another, or do we look at our world now and deal with the relevant history?

In the UK today our lives seemed to be governed by sport, the media and our economy by the predominance of financial services.  Yet there is little or no suggestion of putting them into school history.  Also, what about the history of energy supply instead of just talking about the old coal mining industry?  Probably, there is hardly anyone around capable of teaching these.

What, for example, if Women’s History was more entertainment based rather than the usual collection of worthies?  Centred perhaps on Gracie Fields, Marie Lloyd, Lily Langtry, Maria Malibran, Sarah Siddons and Nell Gwyn it would be a lot more interesting in many ways.

The history of sport itself would overlap with politics.  Why shouldn’t John Gully be numbered amongst the Great, along with W.C. Grace, Fatty Foulkes, Prince Oblensky and Dixie Dean?  For many of our leaders politics was just another form of sport only less enjoyable.

As for finance, Oscar Wilde’s dismissal of The Fall of the Rupee may have seemed to be witty, but it had crucial implications for the whole future of British India and for some us it began the political process leading to Independence.  Who can deny the impact of some of the Great Crashes of history?

The debate has only just begun and it will never finish.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Ding Dong The Bells Are Going To Chime

One of the staple plot themes of the drama, opera and ballet of past centuries is the business of marriage.  Usually, this is centred on who might marry who and for what reasons.  Typically, there is confusion, errors, deceit and sometimes general mayhem.

What is at the centre of all this is the marriage contract or settlement with lawyers or attorneys dealing with the business.  These involve not just the individuals who might marry but also their families, or guardians or other figures who wield authority.

Sometimes a clergyman is hovering around, sometimes they might have a role in the plot more rarely are they of much importance.  There are exceptions.  Notably, in “Romeo and Juliet” a whole lot of trouble is caused by a friar who administers the religious sacrament of marriage without a contract between the families having been made.

The explanation for all this arises from the Christian idea that there is The City of God and The City of Earth.  In this case a marriage has two forms of existence.  One is that it conforms to the laws of man (Earth) and is a formal contract about property and family responsibilities.

The other is that as such a marriage is likely to result in children; that is the creation of souls, then it is a sacrament which should be blessed and recognised for the two people who will be afflicted with the burden of bringing up the children in the faith.

At least all this is theory, but in the past, as ever, practice too often was distinct from theory.  If I were to trawl through all the possible variations, interesting that they may be, this would be a very long post.  But when there is marriage, money and property then at some time there is also probate to consider.

The many and various situations that arose caused huge numbers of legal cases, often centred on probate but also about who owned which land or was entitled to this or that.  Common to these was the absence of any reliable record of a marriage or indeed who were the children of who.

So the State intervened.  In England, as the Parish was the basic unit of local administration and as there was a state Church, that became the place of record for marriage and the recording of births and deaths.  This caused immediate problems for the many who were not of the Church of England and whose records did not have legal standing, so the cases continued to pile up.

By the 1830’s in England and Wales, later followed by Scotland and Ireland, a new type of Civil Registration allowed marriages of all kinds, with births and deaths to be recorded locally, with copies held centrally.  This did tidy things up, but there were still many who did not bother. 

Again, you have to keep probate in mind in all this.  Many a problem arose because wills were not made or badly drawn up and so laws were made to determine the basis for distributing inheritances.

Broadly speaking, this basic system worked for over a century although with difficulties in some areas.  But what has happened is that as social habits have changing radically together with the introduction of complex state benefit schemes, marriage became just one form of partnership arrangement, albeit the majority one and limited to a male and female.

But as well as “gay” partnerships, or a male and female partnership outside marriage, that is relationships with a sexual component, there are other forms of partnership which have there own validity and have their own value to society as well as the individuals concerned.

What about the daughter/niece/son/nephew or other who are in a partnership situation for the care of the elderly or the severely handicapped?  What about two (or more) people who live together for a social and not a sexual purpose?

There always have been and there are many today in that situation.  Moreover, many of these are vulnerable under Probate.  If a will is not there or does not make clear the informal contractual relationship there can be some losing out in a way that is unjust.

There have been too many cases where someone turns up at deathbeds with witnesses who claimed to have had agreement from people who were comatose or had severe loss of faculties, to sign away their property.  The laws on probate can be easily bent for criminal purposes.

This is the area that has been forgotten in the row about “gay” marriage.  It is just another partnership for a personal or social purpose.  One of the jobs of government is to try to see the wider issues.  There are many other types of partnership for valid purposes that are not covered by the protection offered by the status of marriage.

If marriage is not just about a man and woman coming together to make and bring up a family in the context of other family but now means the possibility of a much wider range of partnerships why are so many of these not considered?

It is typical of UK government at the moment that the politicians simply give in to a small pressure group with media sympathy instead of looking at what else might be necessary or advisable in the much wider social context.

George Bernard Shaw had a lot to say about marriage, in “Pygmalion” that became the musical “My Fair Lady”, Alfred P. Doolittle, having come into money that made him middle class was obliged to marry after many years being perfectly happy with more informal arrangements.

A man before his time…………….

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Did You Hear The One About......

A few years ago, with time in hand, decided to take a look at the Lord Chamberlains documents, The Censor, from the 1940’s to see what there was in some of the acts I had seen live on stage in our local variety hall.

In those days the scripts for comedy sketches and acts had to be cleared with the Censor.  Also, if the local police were not too busy a plain clothes constable might be in the audience making notes to see if there had been any deviation from what had been authorised.

Max Miller, then a major celebrity and comedian with a reputation for ad-libbing and near the knuckle humour turned this to his advantage sometimes by telling the audience that he was going to disappoint them because that big bloke at the back was checking on his performance.

Then he went on to advise them of the jokes cut in such a way that little was left to the imagination, which both pleased the audience and made any prosecution liable to difficulties if the case appeared in court.  The publicity gained would mean full houses for months afterwards.

He was not alone and part of the game between the performers, their audience and The Law was to see how far it could be taken.  There was a lot of subtlety and play on words that is now lost to us.

The script of one show turned up which raised memories.  It was called “Soldiers in Skirts” and my parents went to see it having been told it was made up of females who had served either in the armed forces or in entertainment for the troops. 

In fact they had been taken in because it was a series of rabid drag acts, all male, mostly excruciating.  While verbally “clean” the extremes of dress and kind of stage business left nothing to the imagination.  Despite many complaints the Censors left it untouched.

A drag act is one thing, but over two noisy screeching hours of it without relief quite another.  My parents were not happy and nor were a lot of other people.  I have never wanted to see another drag act again. 

However, amongst the performers were the comedians Morecambe and Wise, before they took those names.  In all the many programmes about them etc. this is one show that seems to be missing.  It is not difficult to understand why.

It is always interesting to see what else is missing.  A key feature of the Censorship was a rigorous and detailed control over anything suggestive of sex of any kind.  But in scripts after 1945 despite the horrors of the death camps and The Holocaust, anti-Jewish jokes, a staple of many routines, were passed without note or comment.

How odd it seems now, careful highly educated men picking their way through pages and pages of drivel to strike this out and that and all the while when on stage whatever was said was one thing but the way it was said and the stage business was quite another.

It wasn’t as though this was anything new.  Marie Lloyd apparently thirty odd years before had demonstrated in court when up on a charge for being off script that there was more than one way to put a song over.  The normally staid “Come into the garden Maude” could be gentile or downright ripe with a few winks and gestures.

But the world has changed and while it is said that political correctness etc. has gone too far in curbing ordinary banter etc. at the same time it is becoming impossible to avoid the sex. 

It has now becoming almost compulsory irrespective of having much to do with either the plot or telling the story.  Despite all the theoretical freedom, it seems that a great deal of contemporary media entertainment is now far more restricted, narrower in scope and the real humour lost.

Tell you a story……………..

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Why Santa Claus Failed To Deliver

There has been widespread anger and disappointment because Santa Claus (aka Father Christmas) did not arrive this year.  The default in the Festive Fun market arose because recent EU regulations for public sector contracts meant that the delivery services were put out to tender.

Consequently SC Enterprises Inc. who replaced Lapland Grotto were forced to outsource deliveries to firms offering the lowest tenders in different regions of the EU.

This meant that firms using second hand cut price vehicles prone to breakdown, little or no experience of intensive delivery and distribution systems over large areas had serious difficulties.  These were compounded by adverse weather conditions that had not been factored into the service contracts.

In Rome, in the Homily at the Christmas Mass, the Pope alluded to the problems by discussing the failure of giving being attributable to a lack of faith and imagination. 

In Washington DC, the Federal Reserve responded immediately by promising that in 2013 it would be Christmas Day every day, to be funded by the savings of Chinese labourers.  However, in Congress, proposals for a radical shake up were blocked by fundamentalist disagreements over time zones.

In Brussels, the EU announced that a dedicated Europe wide agency with multi billion Euro funding would be created to use trained and micro-chipped pigs for surface deliveries taken from industrial farms unable to sell them because they are unfit for human consumption.

The UK government immediately opted out of this scheme with David Cameron, the PM, reappointing Andrew Mitchell to the Cabinet as Supremo and Secretary of State for a British airborne cycle delivery service. The Opposition leaders, Miliband and Balls announced a new benefits scheme for all based on the taxation of rain drops and snow flakes.

Experts in The City have been quick to innovate, creating Freezing Fog and Freezing Drizzle derivatives at high rates of leverage to fund private equity investment in delivery systems.  Richard Branson is proposing a new Virgin for Christmas guaranteed product.

Meanwhile SC Enterprises, whose Head Office and financial services have been relocated from Lapland to Krakatoa for tax reasons were unable to comment for legal reasons.  Santa Claus has resigned and a replacement is being sought from Goldman Sachs.

A former Senior Elf, now redundant, commented that if it was bad for customers and the elves, it was a lot worse for the reindeer.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Twelve Days Of Christmas As Amended

As of soon, other things have to be done, so posting is light over the next few days.  I am only obeying orders.

But as everyone else is doing a seasonal thing, just for a change so will this blog, see below:

Twelve Days Of Christmas.

On The Twelfth Day of Christmas my analyst sent to me.

One fiscal cliff.
Two declining dollars.
Three plunging pounds.
Four hopeless hackers.
Five media moguls.
Six bolshie bloggers.
Seven excessive editors.
Eight paltry politicians.
Nine naughty peers.
Ten useless euro’s.
Eleven looney lawyers.
Twelve bankrupt banks.

And of all the crooks that are in the world the EU bears the crown.

Lastly, a thought on charity.

Welcome a drone into your home this year at Christmas.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Firebird Dances Again

As it is the Winter Solstice tomorrow and a time for old folk traditions, this is a repeat of the Sunday 31 May 2009 post.  The Royal Ballet are putting on “The Firebird” again from Saturday (house full) as part of a Triple Ballet programme.

The post is an annotated synopsis of the plot to update it into a modern context and a reminder that while the facts and the people may change, the story remains the same.


Once upon a time a Firebird lived in the depths of a dark, dank, dismal forest ruled by The Immortal Sorcerer Kashchei, aka Kostchei, (a banker), which was once The City of the land.  The Tsar’s heir, Ivan, out hunting on his own, as heirs to the throne do in fairy tales, sees the Firebird. 

He thinks about shooting her (a hostile takeover) but ends up agreeing to a mutual trade (cartel), and she gives him a magic feather (derivative package).  She flies off into the night, and then come along a Beautiful Tsarevna Princess (a desirable property) and her train of twelve enchanted Princesses (international subsidiaries). 

Ivan makes an approach (initial offer) and gives her a token (futures option) of his intent (subject to due diligence).  She and the other Princesses disappear, and a big hedge bars Ivan’s way (hedge funds have this effect), so he tries to get into the Castle that just happens to be there. 

Out come gangs of active predators and consultants who put him under administration, followed by Kashchei, who makes it clear he has a majority holding in all this. 

Ivan spits on the Sorcerer, causing Kashchei and his minions to into a whirl of market activity each with a piece of the action in Ivan.  Then Ivan remembers the feather, and waves it in the air.

The Firebird returns, the white knights having been enslaved by the Sorcerer; puts all of  Kashchei’s subjects into a frenzied dance that results in them all falling asleep (light regulatory touch) along with the Princesses who have watched wondering what this will do their long term business plans. 

Ivan wanders back in, disbelieving and needing a new mission statement badly, so the Firebird points him to the source of Kashchei’s power in a box (offshore holdings).

Ivan opens the box, remember, this is a ballet, not a TV show, and finds a large nest egg (private pension fund) that is clearly at the bottom of the trouble.  Clearly he has to do something (financial initiatives). 

So Ivan sends the nest egg as high as it can go, and when it drops and hits the floor it is smashed to pieces and Kashchei’s rule is ended.

There is a pause and then a glorious ending, with a magnificent glissando in the orchestra.  Ivan and the Beautiful Tsarevna are brought together, and the Princesses are matched to Knights, now in Ivan’s service. 

All of Kashchei’s servants, before then oligarchs of The City are given back their former high status.  The City is restored in full splendour, and there is a great parade of public sector employees giving tribute to the happy couple. 

Joy is unbounded as Ivan has assumed control of all financial activity guaranteeing them their former wealth and more for time immemorial, or until the next performance.

If you like this story, then go to the UK No.10 gov website that is the Prime Minister’s, where you will find lots of other fairy tales to make you feel happy.

As for those who wish to see the ballet at the Westminster Comedy Warehouse, because of unforeseen circumstances the price of seats has risen rapidly, as will other costs, and will continue to do so until further notice. 

The touring company has met with a great acclaim in Washington DC


Some folk tales really do seem to be immortal.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

2013 Leslie Stuart - The Forgotten Anniversary

A media feature item that provides a regular source of material on thin days in thin times is anniversaries.  There is a relentless trawling of archives and experts to fill in the gaps.  For recent performers and entertainers it gives the opportunity to market back listings or catalogues to turn a reliable penny.

The music world is particularly fond of or almost dependent on these to retread old material and make sure the schedules have items that may get the punters interested.  Sometimes it can become a little combative.

2013 will be the 200th Anniversaries of the births of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi and there is a huge row at La Scala in Milan where the management, instead of opening in the traditional way with a big Verdi are putting on Wagner’s “Lohengrin”.

This is not a bundle of laughs and moreover lasts a lot longer than almost all of Verdi’s works.  Quite why this exercise in Wagner’s odder ideas about religion has been chosen is a mystery, but it is possible that money may have been involved.

Given Italy’s financial and economic situation perhaps a good compromise might be Puccini’s “Girl Of The Golden West” sponsored by the European Central Bank and starring Berlusconi’s belles as the saloon girls.

We have our own in the UK with the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten.  The Royal Opera will be putting on “Gloriana” to mark both Britten and the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth. 

This too is not a lot of laughs and between the grim plot and anguish in 1953 went down like a lead balloon.  It hasn’t been done much since and is amongst few people’s favourites apart from some dances.  But there will be plenty of his music around for his followers to appreciate.

There is someone who has been forgotten.  It is the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Leslie Stuart in Southport, Lancashire at the end of the short commuter line from Liverpool and one time holiday destination.  He was born Thomas Augustine Barrett but made the name change in the late 1890’s for career reasons.

Wikipedia has an article “Leslie Stuart” that sets out what is known about him and a couple of books have been produced by leading musicologist Dr. Andrew Lamb in the last decade, but other than that there is little to be found.

Yet in his time he was at the top in musical theatre, seen as one of successors to Gilbert and Sullivan with George Grossmith, one of their key performers and writers as one of his partners.  Leslie was also big on Broadway in New York.  In 1940, a film was made about him. 

His major hits became staples in popular song for decades and the basis of many of the vocalists in the music halls of the period.  They helped launch many an artiste’s career and in the case of Olive May paved the way for her to marry into the aristocracy.

In the USA he was overtaken by the later major figures in musical theatre.  In the UK the grip of the BBC and the oddities of its musical preferences together with its concentration on dance bands meant there was no room for him.  Also, Lord Reith, Director, would not have approved of Leslie’s bohemian lifestyle and bankruptcy.

Additionally, he was very much of “a man of the people” from a humble background with few connections other than in the theatre.  The BBC once rejected the marvellous Kathleen Ferrier and it was only the support of leading conductors that forced them to retract.

Leslie moved to Manchester when young and has been claimed as a Mancunian since, but his first years were in Liverpool.  By one of those coincidences, Kathleen’s father, William, was born just along the road from Leslie, also in the 1860’s.

But in forgetting anniversaries the BBC etc. have form.  In 2006 as well as Mozart it was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Linley, which barely drew any attention or attempt to commemorate his brief life, despite’s Mozart’s high opinion of his talent.

Given who Linley was and who his family were connected to and involved with there were wonderful opportunities to look and study the London of the mid 18th Century and it’s literary and artistic life.

It is a pity that our leading media and artistic establishment cannot find any time to celebrate and let us hear the work of Leslie Stuart, one of our leading musical talents of the last hundred years, who brought so much pleasure and the love of music to so many.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Shall We Dance?

Long ago an uncle taught me semaphore as it was considered then to be a basic and necessary form of communication.  He was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy so his views were to be respected, especially if he was satisfied enough to come up with chocolate as a reward.

It took many decades for the discovery of wired telegraph and photography to impact on communications and the popular media.  It took many decades after that for the wireless and other discoveries to impact on a large scale.  Even television took decades to reach out to almost everyone.

But it is taken only a couple of decades, if that, for the computer based information systems, satellite systems and internet to completely transform communications and information transmission entirely. 

It is a wonder that it is possible look around many sources and pull together information sometimes in minutes what might have taken days to do,, travel and maybe a lot of communication manually and by ordinary letter writing.

Because I often travel by train, it has been easy to watch the changes of the last decade and a little more in the products that people have used.  From simple mobile phones there have been transitions to more complicated devices. 

One consequence is information and communication overload, in that so many people are now almost frantic in the attempts to deal with it and to manage their personal and work lives.  They seem to have less and less time and often do less and less in real terms.

There is another consequence which is more worrying.  It is that the big stories of the day, or rather what the media might determine to be the big story is so extensively covered that it obliterates both other news and more seriously any full coverage or detail of many issues and occurrences.

A case in point arises from an hour’s programme on Monday on BBC2 which looked at the economic situation in Spain and how it happened.  This kind of feature is quite rare, especially if you look at the total of channels available.  You might find its like here and there in specialist business or documentary feature, but you have to look hard.

The programme, however, although at peak time, was up against a good many popular items, a lot of leading sport and a few other things.  So it will have had only a minority audience and even then the programme, mostly presented with talking heads and linking descriptive passages was limited in its scope.

Necessarily, it concentrated on the Brit’s involved, notably the expatriates but the tourists as well, with a figure of 11 million Brit’s a year visiting Spain.  It went into the issues of corruption within the localities, regions and government of Spain, but not in great detail. 

At least it did emphasise that the EU, easy credit, stupid banking regulation, insane property development and then serious debt overloads were at the heart of the problem.  Because of the limitations of time and need to make the message easy to understand and the impact on ordinary people a lot had to be left out.

Besides the Brit’s, there are a lot of other people from all around the EU and beyond who have contributed to the Spanish debacle.  They piled into property on the premise that it could never end.  Part of this was the major capital inflows coming from either criminal or laundered money. 

To add to this was tax or other evasion by the elites in other countries with the money coming not from the originating source but the many and various regimes that constitute tax havens, including London.  All the usual suspects were there as well as in Greece and we all know who matters in Italy.

A feature of the Spanish debacle has been the huge rise in unemployment especially amongst the young.  For many of them, the only alternative is to get out fast.  We are talking here about the highly qualified and capable and not just those in the lower and less skilled classes.

For those there was the problem which the BBC and others will not dare to name.  That is the inflow of migrants from North Africa and beyond into the lowest paid menial, manual and agricultural jobs. 

They came because the international companies who wanted low wage labour wanted them and now they too are among the ranks of workers without work.  Worse, often they have become forced labour with little or no pay and indeed turned into debt slaves.

A crucial problem now in both Greece and Spain with Italy and Portugal affected is the flight of capital that under pinned so much of the boom.  It is not going to come back.  So the Euro is now in peril because if Spain goes then the Euro might go.

The implications for the UK for all this was another matter not mentioned.  Where did the flight capital go?  A lot has come into London, notably in the property market.  What else is there about the UK?  A great deal if you look at the profile of Greece and Spain in terms of the key areas of financial weakness.

There may be in the UK the assumption that because we are outside the Euro then the worst that could happen is a devaluation; an option not available in Spain.  It is worse than that.  

What few understand and you will not hear it from the main media or anyone in authority is that the Euro and the Pound are engaged in a struggle.  It is a dance of death because one must go or the other.  So what happens in Spain and these other places is critical to our own future.

But we are all too busy with our personal communications and major media stories to take the slightest notice and that includes the government and opposition.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Time Does Not Tell

One of the wonders of our time is just how complicated everything has become, especially in relation to those things that are supposed to be simple.  This has been a theme of this blog so below is a post from October 2010 as a comment.  How little has changed.

“Education has not been the same since the decline and fall of the Ink Monitors.  At one time in an Elementary School (5-14 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 if ink would be 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?”

There is no answer to that.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Getting All Those Economies Going

Between the demands of the season and becoming involved deeply with a major search round the Census Returns, not 2011, but a century and more before, I have been running out of time.

However, this one from the inimitable US “The Automatic Earth” says a good deal to us about our European difficulties. 

Also, Some Assembly Required on had an item on Saturday titled “Yes We Have No Bananas” dealing with the current racket in US mortgage foreclosures which tells us that not much has changed over there.

Last night, we saw the Pasadena Roof Orchestra doing their retro acts from the 1920’s to 1940’s on TV.  Very entertaining it was and with a great performance of “Yes We Have No Bananas”

Sometimes it is good to go back to source.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Give The Lady A Break

Her Majesty visited the Bank of England this week.  Sadly it was not to lead her Household Cavalry to arrest the lot and chuck them in The Tower awaiting trial for high treason.  It was one of those endless state visits she has to endure talking to boring evasive people with a shifty look about them.

Past governments have given more than enough of that to do.  The media have dutifully told us that down there in the basement, along with the fine wines and secret expenses files, she was finally given the answer to why it all went wrong in 2008.

She has asked the question before when visiting the London School of Economics and the learned professors, pundits and experts around her gave her some garbled blather about it was all very difficult and they did not quite know but somebody must have been to blame but it wasn’t us. 

Whether they added that the nice Colonel Gaddafi and family who had been so generous to the School had been a great help to us all in our time of trial is not clear.  Sadly, one governor, a Mrs. Blair, was not around to help.  Perhaps she was giving legal advice to people with interests in Libyan oil.

This time round the Bank experts she talked to had obviously been doing a bit of searching on Google and not to check on its tax returns or patterns of capital flow.  They had concluded the crisis was one of unpredictable complexity, as in the science of seismology, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami’s and things from outer space that go bump in the night.

As with the LSE they asserted nobody predicted the crash because it was not possible to do so and everyone was taken utterly by surprise.  This may have been the case with the Labour government, The Treasury, the banks, the dealers and the economists with ever more complicated equations based on impenetrable assumptions but not everyone.

Me for a start, who dumped out of all financial and related shares early in 2007 after realising that the US property market was going into a tailspin.  Along with this the high leverages and the huge amounts of credit creation going goodness knows where had all the hallmarks of a big bust to come.

It was not me who was the clever one, there were others out there who had worked out that the pre-conditions were in place for a bad crash and it was only a matter of time before some event or hiccup blew the fuses.  They were much better qualified than me and made sense.

However, in the corridors of power, the meeting rooms in the banks etc. never mind the fantasy world of established academic economists the wildly optimistic believers in the conventional wisdom of the time regarded them as something of a freak show.  If you doubted, then bang went your political, civil service, academic, media or financial career.

The doubters had one common characteristic.  They had read their economic history back for more than a decade and had taken the much longer view.  They asked themselves what was really going on and just what might go wrong.  They looked for examples of the past but knowing that the past may always be different but the key issue was to look at the patterns.

Moreover, if the Bank of England really thinks that unpredictable seismology was the answer then they have not done their homework.  Those who check out the data on earthquakes and volcanoes and related events are aware of the history and the patterns.  They know what the risks are and where events are likely to occur.

Also, they are aware of the difficulties whilst getting a little better year by year in identifying high risk areas and giving advice.  For example, you do not urbanise with poor building standards in earthquake zones.  You should not build too close to a volcano with frequent big eruptions.  You should not put a nuclear power station with dodgy construction on the shoreline where large earthquakes and tsunamis occur.

Nevertheless, humanity continues to ignore these ideas of risk in the immediate need for power and/or profit.  Just as so many of our leaders and their attendants could not and would not see where they were heading in finance, commerce. and production.  Nor can they see what next could be coming.

But down there in the vault, I assume the picture of Her Majesty looking at piles of gold was meant to reassure us that all is well and her that the Crown Jewels were not next on the government’s sales listings.  But all that glisters is not gold. 

First question, how much of it is actually “ours” and not just in storage for some Trusts or “banks” or such that belong to past or future potentially displaced governments that have systematically raided the people’s purses.  Second, if Gordon Brown sold off gold dirt cheap have we been buying recently at much higher prices?  Is this why the national debt remains stubbornly high?

Third, just how much of it is actually gold and not just adulterated ingots or even blocks of tungsten coated with gold?  Apparently, out there in the gold markets the rights to gold being bought and sold are far greater than any estimate of the real quantity of gold available to the markets.  There is real fear that a lot of fake gold could be around.

The last time I attended the Ceremony Of The Keys at the Tower of London, it was my considered opinion that the Crown Jewels could be there for the taking if wanted by someone who knew what to do. Her Majesty should consider beefing up the security there.

If we get a Labour government and the gold goes from the Bank of England, Ed Balls will be round with our foreign creditors within the week.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Have We Been Here Before?

Back in the early 1970’s we have learned that the top civil servants at the time had reconciled themselves to a UK in a steady decline which might prove difficult or impossible to stop.  Many senior politicians agreed with them but said little or nothing publicly because of obvious electoral problems. 

Between them they came up with going into the nearest available bolthole, the Common Market in the hope of delaying the evil day and inflating their way out of debt while hoping that the common man would not really notice the erosion of his income or liberties.

At the same time there were many bits and pieces of Empire that were also a problem.  They were poor, with no natural resources and with populations wanting to have some sort of equality with the better off nations.  Some were so small that any kind of government needed underpinning to survive.

Also, they had to be kept away from communism or other extreme political conditions that might make them a nuisance.  One way was to divert money and its management in that direction.  In 1973 for example, The Bahamas, riding a tourist boom after the Bond file “Thunderball”, became an attractive place.

Britain already had links with the monied population there, from The Bay Street Boys of the 1930-1950’s, pals of the Duke of Windsor, along with City connections.  So in the late 1960’s it began to develop itself as a centre for offshore banking etc..  During that time it acquired a representative body with independence in 1973.

The newly liberated state had a clear policy that it intended to expand on finance and make this one of the lynch pins of the economy along with tourism.  The UK government, the high mandarins of the Civil Service and the leadership of both political parties very quietly and readily accepted extensive tax avoidance policies in this and other colonies.

During a decade of social disruption, conflicting economic policies and the continued decline of UK industry and failures in state planned renewal, those with access to the then almost secret private banks and advisers managed to take care of themselves.  Along with many of our elite were many leaders in the entertainment industry.

At the same time the government completely misread the potential of the space industry, failed to recognise the full implications of container shipping and “invested” in one doomed scheme after another.  At the same time the oil and gas industries were changing the basis of our energy supplies, again botched by government.

We had stumbling, blundering, ineffective governments trashing the economy and wrecking any national identity.  While all this was going on our media and entertainment industries were feeding us a limited diet of largely rubbish as either news or entertainments.  There were some notable exceptions but these were not the norm only things we pretend were.

Looking at the situation for 2013 its déjà vu all over again.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Putting A Damper On The Fun

There is so much material flying about at present, never mind the seasonal hysteria, that whilst I would like to comment, it might well just be lost in all the fog and the hurly burly.  But as it is the season George Monbiot on his blog had something to say which lists him amongst Scrooge’s media advisers.

It is about pathological consumption and the urge of humanity to strip the world of its vital resources in the pursuit of the needless acquisition of goods based on improvident spending.  A point he makes that a lot of gifts given at Christmas are then little used and cast aside after only a short time.

This coincided with the news that the balance of trade figures were bad and that at Southampton the new world’s largest container ship arrived chock full of goods for the season for us all to buy.  Well, some of us.

At one time the media and the nation hung on information such as the Balance of Trade figures and if the news was bad it was regarded as a national disaster.  A government would be faced with a bad press and real trouble and it might put the value of the pound in peril.

Now we neither care nor take much interest and if the pound varies in value the immediate concern is how much foreign holidays will cost or the effect on property values.  This month the news has been buried by a flood of other matters.

At first I wondered whether to agree with George and whilst we will not be shopping as it happens we will be doing other things.  They will involve spending even more ephemeral than pathological consumption in that we will be at a couple of performances where there is only a personal memory at the end.

Doubtless excuses could be made and justifications that this somehow is good, helps to increase both gross national product and employment, but the fact remains it is not in the last analysis necessary and certainly involves carbon emissions.  Like almost all other Western people we do more than our world share in that department.

However, George might have made more of one basic resource, water.  In the LSE Connect this week, Judith Rees reminds us that “The pace of urbanisation has outstripped connections to water infrastructure” under the heading “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.

This is about the UN International Year of Water Co-operation in 2013.  Across the world severe shortages and problems are arising as populations and demands increase.  Unsafe water, poor sanitation and other problems are increasingly common and governments seem to have little strategy or awareness of the complexity of the issues.

Inevitably, one response is to create a new academic discipline for the study of water.  The essential issue is the vast cost of addressing and dealing with both the human and environmental implications.  It bears on food production, industry, how far urban societies can continue to grow so rapidly and above all health.

Also in the last few days a number of leading UK politicians have called for the rapid fracking of oil reserves to go ahead to meet our critical energy needs.  Whatever the for and against arguments for this, one thing is certain; it needs a great deal of water.

And when rain is on the way our weather forecasters tell us relentlessly that this is bad news.  Sometimes it may be, but not always.