Thursday, 31 January 2013

Meetings Of Minds And Bodies

Someone we know has the job of attending meetings of senior members of an international organisation with a global presence.  Minutes have to be kept, records of the meeting also and all the complex business of agenda’s, notices of meetings, circulation of documents, drafts and the rest are necessary.

It is critical that they should be done properly because the organisation is transparent in its discussions and dealings and fully engaged with the media.  Also, it has a very tight budget and is dependent on voluntary support.  Add to that all the key members and others have to earn their living by other means.

This is done from that person’s flat on a laptop and the whole lot is done on the web, conferences, discussions, communications and all, the whole bang shoot.  That person may trot out to the shops nearby for food and the necessities of life, but travel is not the first of the worries or requirements.

Repeat, the organisation is on a very tight budget for its administration, management and other top managerial work.  Many of our companies and especially government and the rest are not.  They can charge it to others and do. 

So it is arguable that given technically what is now available and the likely developments in the next couple of decades could make business and political travel as we know it and as it has developed over the last decades of the 20th Century into the first decade of the 21st both much less needed and perhaps even a liability to effective and proper communication.

Groups of tired people with travel lag and disrupted schedules who are forced into all the carting about nations or continents to then make decisions in an air of panic or urgency and with the worries of physical movement to contend with is not the best or the most sensible way to do this.

Such events or meetings could be rare and with a clear purpose and timetable.  That they occur simply for grandstanding, photo-opportunities or on the pretence of “doing something” or “being at the heart of” or to attempt to add weight to some specious set of words to please the media fashions of the moment is still a major risk. 

There is also the other, more important risk of such meetings, especially with the elements not recorded or made public may demand secrecy for purposes that could be questionable or known to be damaging to others.  There might be instances that do need a limited amount of personal contact but it could be reducing by the day.

At present there seem to be rather too many of these grand exercises for my liking amongst the present generation of leaders around the world.  This could be one of the major reasons for the world’s troubles.  Too many tired men (mostly) making hasty, ill informed decisions in secret for short term advantage and to hell with the rest.

In the UK at present we have all the gaming over what is laughingly called “transport policy”, largely exercises in political showmanship and designed to benefit the financial sector, the one that does most of the travelling these days at our expense.  The Big Ideas of very big projects have all the usual claims for GDP and jobs.

But as so many of the companies and agencies involved are not UK and so much of the procurement, work and finance also comes from elsewhere then there may well be little real benefit domestically. 

What is likely is that as none of the projects are ever likely to make a return on the investment and when revenues do arise some two decades from now they will fall far short of running costs.  The “growth” which will not be growth will bequeath huge liabilities to those who follow us.

At present our government has botched two major rail franchises, the West Coast and the Great Western and others have run into serious trouble in the recent past.  It could be argued that HST2 is needed because we are unable to sort out the arrangements for the existing lines.

There is a long history of government inspired error, interference and blundering that helped to both worsen ongoing problems and cause key operational change and investment in existing facilities to be disregarded.

As for new airports and related facilities if the government cannot be trusted to make decisions about local roads and railways can it be trusted with its ideas and figures for international or major airports?

In a country littered with the existing and the remains of former air facilities together with a dense former network of railways there seems to be little or no idea of how to bring them together or engage in rational thinking.   It all seems to be on the hoof reactions to old issues that have resurfaced.

Inevitably, we have the bleating that all the big ideas are necessary for big business.  But with much real business now changing its shape and location, no reliable forecasts for either the cost of energy for travel or the numbers of people who might be able to afford to travel in two decades time it is all guesswork.

A recent headline that suggests we need a new major London airport so that more Chinese can come to buy consumer goods made largely in the Far East which are fashion brands owned by overseas based companies just about sums all the thinking up.

Must go, there is a lot of key information arising from discussions promised to relations in several continents to send off before I have my afternoon cup of tea.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Fight The Good Fight

For a long while now I have found that one regular source for many stories in the main media is the Science Daily web site.  For any hapless intern or late running journo’ it can be a treasure house of potential items which with a bit of summary and reworking can be made into a printable or viewable story.

Quite often indeed there is a “hot story” claimed to be from determined work that is given a slant or edge to make a point to the punters.  “The Mail” is one newspaper that makes free and sometimes imaginative use of this web site.

The trouble is the hacks that work for the main media often do not quite understand what the article they borrow is really driving at.  Sometimes they make a mess of it.  Usually there are subtleties missed or caveats ignored.

On advantage of this web site is that it can be possible to go back to source and see the fuller item in the shape of its original publication.  This can be very instructive if compared against what the main media might make of it.

The story below about ransom practice in medieval warfare was intriguing because it puts the fighting in this era into an altogether different perspective. 

Many of the key fighting men, the Captains and Sergeants who did the business, were mercenaries, paid men who did not necessarily act from personal loyalties or any of our modern notions of nationalism

It might explain why down the years the rulers and elites were anxious to gain and keep control over the way men actually functioned in the battles they were asked to fight.

In later centuries when the cannon and the musket and later rifles put the killing and contact at a distance and changed all this, as did the later murderous industrialisation of the battlefields.

Given the way that Chivalry was supposed to work for the horsed elite, if indeed lower down the ranks in some sphere of the battlefields or indeed the way a battle was conducted was less about killing and more about winning and taking prisoners then it makes the typical film or blood and thunder productions very wrong.

Of course, this introduces elements of uncertainty into the warfare.  Certainly, there were times when a bloodbath was intended or happened if the combat went out of control.  All too often these were members of one family were seeking to wrest power from their siblings or cousins.

In our modern age in the conflicts we get into the West seems to have the idea that to inflict a defeat or two should be enough and then we might negotiate.  But what if our enemies neither want to end the fight nor to talk?

We could be in the process of finding out.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

It's More Than Filling Up

With petrol (gas) prices due to go up in the UK shortly and a lot of confusing debate on fuels of the present and future, there is a lot to wonder about.

Today on The Oil Drum saw this one, to the effect that prices are and will be high which will do for today’s post.  It is intended to be a corrective to many of the assertions and assumptions in the media.

It is entitled “Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices Are A Problem”.

Time to fill up the tank, but am I near my credit limit?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

GDP - Grim, Damaging and Painful

The argument about “economic growth” has been inflamed again by the latest GDP figures suggesting a marginal recessionary trend.  It has given a chance for some grandstanding by politicians.

The measure of growth is figures based on money flows that can be calculated.  There are two problems with this.  One is that a great deal of the supposed “growth” for some years now is simply increased money movements.

Another is that what is calculated can only be what is seen and accounted for.  Given our recent awareness of the scale of fraud, duplicity and general mayhem in the financial sectors in recent years, not only is some of it fictitious but there is also a lot simply not accounted for.

Roughly, it is the modern equipment of the medieval debates about the numbers of angels that might be found on the head of a pin.  Just as medieval thinkers were inclined either to invent ancient sources for their claims or at least attribute sayings to more ancient fathers of the church who did not say them, GDP is what you say it is.

Whether it bears much relationship to what is actually happening in either the real world or the real economy that provides the crucial goods and services is another matter.  Given that all our recent “democratic” governments have been long on policies but very short on truth it is unlikely.

For an item which is not too long and offers an opinion on the current state of the UK economy and its prospects see the link from Zero Hedge below.  It does not make happy reading.

Essentially, our present government took over a wreck but is giving up on salvage.  Telling the world that “Britain is open for business” what it means is that they are selling off what cargo remains and what valuables might be retrieved.

Blogging may be light for a day or two; there is a pile up of things to be done.  Unluckily, I cannot spin, quantitative ease or introduce new rules to get out of them.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Well I'll Be Burgered

When it emerged that the theme that the great political minds at Davos were supposed to be on about was “Dynamic Resilience” the first thought that this sounded like something for sale at the naughty shop on our local High Street.

This street has changed a great deal in recent years.  The naughty shop was once a gentleman’s outfitters, how things change, but there is perhaps a continuity here that reflects our changing society.

The great sensation this week was the “ball boy” who tried to help his home team, Swansea City overcome Chelsea in their League Cup semi-final by hanging on to the ball in the last minutes to waste time and was kicked for his pains.

At first all the sympathy was for the ball boy, if only because the Chelsea player who tried to get the ball was a Belgian.  Later it emerged that the ball boy was a stroppy teenager who had previously announced his intentions on the internet. 

Also, his father is a wealthy man who volunteered his son and heir for the job because others had more sense than to hang around soccer grounds in the freezing cold and they were short of ball boys.  He was a sort of media intern in his way.

There were other opinions about the matter.  It was reported that Joey Barton, a footballer famous for upsetting people and direct physical methods, felt the boy should have been kicked a lot harder.  In a way it was Dynamic Resilience in a different form.

The other great reflection of our times is the business about the burgers.  It seems that in our great supermarkets you get what you pay for, rather than what you are being told you are getting. 

Felicity Lawrence of “The Guardian” is an expert in what we eat and how it is produced and gives her views in today’s article:

The picture above is the donkey “Pollyanne” who made several appearances at the Royal Opera House in the chorus of “Carmen”.  This opera concerns employment issues in Spain a couple of centuries ago.  If Pollyanne has entered the food chain there really should have been a premium price for those burgers.

Today is also “Burn’s Night” when all true Scots and quite a lot who aren’t but like and appreciate his works will celebrate his life, songs and poetry.  It is the norm for haggis to be consumed as well as whisky. 

Inevitably, there is some disagreement about the exact recipe for a haggis.  But as in the past it was essentially a kind of meat pudding plus cereals it may well have been variable according to what was available at the time, also the breeds farmed will have changed down the centuries.

The difficulty these days is finding a shop haggis that isn’t packed with the kind of items that Felicity does not like whatever meat and other items may be thought to be appropriate to the mix.

What Burn’s might have made of Glasgow being given £24 millions of taxpayers’ money to become a “smart city” can only be guessed.  It is fair to say that he might have been cynical about something called a Technology Strategy Board based in Swindon, Wiltshire telling Glaswegians how to be intelligent.

The board is based in a building called “North Star House”.  If you put into search images on your browser “Great Western Railway locomotive North Star” with luck you will see some fine pictures of the famous 1837 locomotive.

The idea of a state agency striving to be at the forefront of a new technical world relating to an 1837 steam locomotive is interesting.  But perhaps you need to go to Davos to listen to the great and good and the not so great and not so good trying to sort out their ideas on economics, finance and society 

They are trying to come to terms with a world that is changing more rapidly than their governments, statisticians and economists can cope with.

The reality is that they are about as much use as a ball boy fed on cheap burgers.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Something Nasty In The Gums Head

Having just finished a course of antibiotics prescribed by the dentist for something nasty in the mouth the current story about the impending apocalypse that could occur if “something isn’t done” about antibiotic resistance was of interest.

Because I remember a time before antibiotics and recall those who died too soon, others with damaged lives and many who suffered from a wide variety of causes and infections the thought that this form of medication might soon be either no longer available or effective is frightening.

This time round the blame seems to lie squarely with humanity rather than any geophysical, extra terrestrial or metaphysical cause.  The difficulty is what kind of blame, where, on whom and what can be done about it.

As ever, it is very complicated with several strands of argument and not easy to be absolute.  The trouble is that we humans are wedded to a model of single effect from a single cause with single action needed to put things right.

One case is that because it has always been understood by scientists that the battle against infections is part of a never ending war of attrition then substantial research, investment and effective action need to be continuing.  If ground is conceded to the bugs they soon might gain the upper hand.

However, the structure and organisation of the relevant pharmaceuticals industries of the world have changed down the decades.  It is argued that we have fewer big companies with more complicated organisations operating to essentially financial targets.

As antibiotics are no longer the big profit items but much more lower level products with relatively limited earnings on investment they are no longer a priority.  Firms are now more content to jog along with old products and formulae for the foreseeable future. 

So neither the research is being done nor the long term investment being made.  Also, governments have not been forthcoming to encourage them.  In the UK science research is now heavily dependent on either a small number of companies or funding from government targeted at the high profit and prestige items.

Antibiotics are so yesterday in our go go world of money and politics.  But this is not the whole story.  It is argued that because of our own misuse of existing antibiotics for a range of reasons we have significantly increased the risk of accelerating the resistance to antibiotics in humans.

Family doctors and ordinary health workers have been much too free handing them out in quantity when neither needed nor appropriate.  For personal hygiene we have become careless of basics, even in hospitals, relying on drugs and other heavy duty chemicals to do the job instead.

The result is that the antibiotics which are used can be disrupted by a lot of the other stuff and again used wrongly.  This is the way resistance to the old basic antibiotics builds up and increases the need for extra research and work for new formulae.

Also, we have been shovelling antibiotics large scale into the production of basic foods in livestock and poultry.  These are part of our food chain that means that when we go to the supermarket looking for cheap food offers were are giving ourselves another dose of antibiotics into the bargain.  Horsemeat in the burgers may be the least of our problems.

It might have been possible to explain what it was like growing up in a world without antibiotics to deal with infections and the rest but this blog does not go in for horror stories.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Europe The Debate Goes On And Snowballs In Hell

There are times when certain people might be taken aside by some wise person familiar with the ways of the wider world and have things said quietly to them.  Preferably, the person concerned will have a command of language and ability to reduce things to brutal simplicities so there can be no misunderstanding.

David Cameron, increasingly our Boy of Tears (see Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”) ought to be told to lay off the history and concentrate on the future.  One good reason is that so much of history is fiercely debated and open to differing interpretations.  Another is that he invariably gets it badly wrong.

Cranmer in his blog talks of the speech yesterday on Europe as nailing 95 theses to the doors of Brussels when it might be more like leaving what is left of a bakers dozen of humbugs behind the settee. 

By 2017 we may not have Cameron as a Prime Minister but at say HSBC, Clegg might have become a senior figure at Goldman Sachs, unless Tony Blair finds him a place at JP Morgan, but then Ed Miliband might have a word with Barclays on his behalf. 

But by then Ed Balls and Harriet Harman may have fixed it for David Miliband to be Prime Minister.  Also, there might not be a United Kingdom in which to hold a referendum but other entities in a monster muddle with whoever then will be in charge of Europe, a Graeco-Hispanic alliance perhaps?

Another is Prince Harry, officer in The Royals of the Household Cavalry.  Someone might explain to him how the media works and the wonders that crafty editing can achieve in putting together features.  Any camera following anyone for a few days can finish up with the choice of hero or villain, savant or idiot.

In the last couple of weeks, the elegant and intelligent Lucy Worsley has been telling us about the period of The Regency, 1811 to 1820 when King George III was finally allowed to have a quiet life because of his illness, but his eldest son, another bad advertisement for male succession, became Regent to fulfil the role of monarch.

Her coverage of Europe was very limited but to her credit did spell out the dire effects of the 1815 Mount Tambora eruption across the world and Europe.  In the last episode it dealt with the political instability and problems of the period that ensued after this and the wars. 

This was one where Britain did have a part in dealing with Europe with less than happy results.  Restoring the monarchy in France turned out badly, Spain went into major decline, Russia into manic autocracy and Austria thought the Holy Roman Empire had been restored.  So there was nothing but trouble afterwards.

In the UK the revolting masses wanted substantial change challenging the control and ideologies of the ruling elite.  A key demand was manhood suffrage, one man (not women alas) one vote and equal representation.  Another was annual Parliaments to make sure the rulers were held to continuing account.

Also fair taxation, freedom of speech and information and a number of other things were on the agenda.  They were reviled as liberals and democrats, terms of insult then.  This might be why our present Liberal Democrats are against the notion of equal representation, want an elite of a long serving House of Lords, do not want freedom of speech and have given up any idea of fair taxation.

Where was Cameron’s speech made?  It was not the House of Commons; that once might be the obvious place.  Nor was it somewhere like the Manchester Free Trade Hall, Liverpool St. Georges Hall or Glasgow or even Deacon Brodie’s in Edinburgh

Nor was it at a Conservative Party moot at the Blackpool Winter Gardens or Scarborough Spa or even Westminster Central Hall.

It was at Bloomberg, the media financial outfit who broadcast to satellite, 502 on Sky.  This really says it all about his vision of government and Europe.

He was very lucky to avoid having a mid speech break of several minutes for advertisements for gambling firms, washing powders and male perfumes.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles

A few days ago my mail from the Equalities Commission told me about its latest tranche of guidance.  This related to employment in the public sector.  It brought together the many and various aspects of the 2010 Equalities legislation to ensure that the relevant information and advice had been given.

There were 130 pages of it, which may not sound a problem.  But most of this was quite generalised and discursive material indicating the areas to be considered and some of the principles that were essential to the legislation.  It was short on detail and specifics apart from a few obvious examples.

The rest is not left to the imagination or discretion.  Some of it is left to the Human Resources people and others to put into effect.  However, a very great deal is left to the lawyers and all the panoply of the legal and tribunal systems to spell out as all the many and differing cases come to light.

The document is available on Word download from the Equalities Commission and is readable enough.  It takes no longer to get through than one of those short novelettes of high literature that are popular with the chattering classes. 

Encountering this, the thought was what stance might be taken?  There is all the ideology, ethics, philosophy and the rest attached to Equality and Human Rights.  Then there is the politics of it and allied to that the implications for education and a lot of other things.

Avoiding all that, what might be the reaction of your average person in some sort of management function in the public sector who was going to be lumbered with administering this, explaining it to both the subordinates and those at higher decision making levels, whether staff or politicians?

Given the extent and complexity of other employment legislation and provisions that have come into being, it is not just trying to make the best of a very difficult job.  It is almost impossible to estimate or guess at what could happen, why and with what consequences.

Near forty years ago, experience of the then Health and Safety Act bad enough.  Our politicians were reluctant to accept the advice of our Legal people to put in place the relevant structures.  There was no hurry they said.

My boss did not want to upset them.  He then found himself in court charged with a breach of the Act where the Chairman of the Magistrates was one the politicians insisting on deferring any decisions or making arrangements.  He had the privilege of being among the first to be charged.

Inevitably, they were all anxious to find someone else to blame.  It was not clearly explained to them was the excuse.  But it was, our legal people were good and had explained things with brutal simplicity. 

In the meantime we were scrambling around trying to sort out the employees on the subject, precious few of whom liked the implications.  We were not helped by the trade unions which were thoroughly obstructive, despite being the ones responsible for demanding the Act in the first place.

That was then and it was comparatively simple and with much clearer legislation and guidance.  Looking at the all the recent material that has poured out and adding both what is following on and some of the decisions arising trying to manage and operate a public service is now a legal and administrative minefield.

What is worse is that then a lot of people around had been in the military and were used to getting on with things and sorting it out as you went where necessary.  Today, all are infected by the modern management virus and too many are unable either to decide or to organise without going round all the houses.

What is alarming is the sheer burden of work and complexity embedded in all this and more to the point the related costs.  Quite seriously it looks as though the public sector will be spending so much time on dealing with its own problems and looking after its own staff that there will be little or no time to actually run the services.

It is all too possible that running the public sector on this basis is impossible.

Monday, 21 January 2013

It Might Never Have Happened Like This

On Sunday in Germany the Lower Saxony Regional elections resulted in a complicated situation.  The ruling Christian Democratic Union lost votes, a good many to the more right wing Free Democrats. 

However, the Social Democrats did not do as well as hoped but with the support of the Green party have a very narrow majority.  In short Angela Merkel’s lot have taken some flak but none of them hit their targets.

As this electoral outing was hoped to give some positive indications of what might happen come the German general election in September, it is now all still to play for with a wide range of uncertainty as to who will govern in October.

All I can predict with certainty is that little notice will be taken of the implications for Europe or the UK in our media until after the event unless there is something spectacular that happens. 

The risk is that the complications arising and the moves Germany makes to deal with unfolding situations in Europe, at home may induce something spectacular.  There are also “black swan” events to worry about. 

If Russia gets much more snow and things there, including effects on their oil and gas supplies, go badly this could have unforeseen effects across Europe as well.  Europe as we have known it may suddenly change involuntarily.

In Project Syndicate, Professor Nouriel Roubini, who famously or infamously, called the 2008 Crash, Dr. Doom in person, thinks that 2013 is going to be sticky all round.  There are serious risks to stability but no obvious contender for a trigger event.

It could have been so different.  In 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended the throne the opportunity was not taken by Parliament then to abandon male primogeniture in the succession.  It might have made a difference.

Her first child was a daughter, also Victoria, who married a Prussian Prince Frederick, becoming Crown Princess and Empress when he succeeded in 1888.  Sadly, he lasted only 99 days, already suffering from cancer.  Their first child, Wilhelm succeeded him as Kaiser.

When Queen Victoria died in January 1901, her daughter, Victoria, was still alive, but died in August of the same year.  If she had succeeded as the first child, she would have been Queen-Empress of the British Empire for a few months.

Then in 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II would also have become King William V of the British Empire and Emperor of India.  Not only would Britain and Hannover become united again, but there could have been a British-German political and perhaps trading union.

What kind of world might we have had now?  Think of a world where neither the USA nor Russia might achieve the predominance they did later; and there would have been no need for a European Union.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Something To Do While It Snows

For those condemned to stay indoors gloomily looking at the weather and watching the week’s diary descend into chaos you might need cheering up.

Alas, this is the wrong place to do so today.  Here are four items designed to do exactly the opposite. 

The only good thing is that they are all long and will fill up the time instead of doing those household jobs you are supposed to be doing.

We are being told that we must rebuild, or renew or something like that the economies we have had to maintain or increase prosperity.  In the 1970’s there was much the same attitude. 

But this was impossible then to return to the previous economies, the issue was how to deal with the new ones.  Having made too many mistakes and blunders in this we are now in a crisis.

So in the second decade of the 21st Century we are going into a different world which has economies quite different in structure and function.  We cannot admit this and continue to blunder on regardless.

This explains the critical nature of the following items.

Rowan does not like Barclays Bank and in an earlier century would have been demanding its executives finish their days at Execution Dock.

Naked Capitalism does not like HBOS much either and says why.

In the USA a major web site has decided to go long on pessimism about the bond markets.  This means rates of interest as well. 

Closer to home The Slog in his usual robust style says we are all doomed, at least in terms of our personal finances.

So back to the Disused Railway Stations web site to remind me that things can change.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Moving Finger Writes And Having Writ Moves On

As we put the cover over the car yesterday a neighbour commented on us being ready for the snow.  My reply was that we were seeking to prevent the snow.  Experience and previous data suggested that putting the cover over the car would almost certainly prevent bad weather affecting our patch.

Now it is snowing.  There has to be an in-house inquest into why our forecast and predicted outcomes failed to achieve our targets.  The blame game will certainly be played and I am onto a loser.

The above may be abstract, to put it politely, but it does have more logic, reliable data and relevance to the immediate situation than a lot of the latest key debate on the issue about migration.  Because EU rules on movement now allow greater freedom of scope for people in Romania and Bulgaria the question is how many, what sort and where they will go?

Were is not for the ability of our species of hominid to move around and to assert our authority and genes over those of other species the human race would not be as we know it, Captain.  Inevitably, we have congratulated ourselves as being the best and brightest of the bunch as the reason for our supremacy.

Personally, I am becoming less and less sure about this the more we discover about the very ancient past.  Capable certainly, but also aggressive, caring little about our impact on our surroundings, merciless in victory, normally, and with a destructive streak that we have never managed to control.

Also, we are prone to strange notions and become fixated about them to the point of happily and systematically slaughtering not just other species but many of our own.  Often cousins who are much more distant have differences that have been enough for them to deny any ideas of toleration or checks on their ambitions.

The trouble is that when a group becomes the victor and dominant it has been the case in a great deal of history that they have made themselves vulnerable to collapse either for internal reasons or because they do not understand that they are now on the receiving end from a lot of other peoples who do not like them.

This is just matters that occur within the species.  One difficulty we have never quite understood or grasped is that we live on a planet which has allowed us to exist because of very special and benign conditions.  The downside is that these change over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly.

One day Pompeii is a wealthy, active advanced town with desirable property and what passes for a good lifestyle for the period.  The next day it is a heap of dust and what remained of the population has fled.  Once, we are told, the Sahara Desert was a green and well watered land.  So what happened when all that changed?

One feature of recent millennia in human trading was the Silk Road between East and West.  It did not remain fixed but changed over time due both to climatic population shift and the effect of wars and economic changes.  We have little idea of just how many people went in one direction or another.

What has changed in recent decades is that the development of modern transit systems and networks allows movement far more rapid, relatively much less costly and in far greater numbers than ever before.  The economics of this may change adversely if movement costs do rise but if these are countered by the financial and personal advantages to be gained by the individuals at present who do move then movement will occur. 

The problem, as with so many others, is that we are relying on immediate past data and experience to guide us for a very different and challenging future.  We have not yet begun to try to understand the real world we are living in.  It is not enough to pretend we are all nice people and singing each others songs will do.

The history, even of the recent past, does not make comfortable reading.  For those who add to genetics, archaeology, climatology, world history and demography the theories of chaos and complexity it is at least worrying.

What we in the UK are said to know is that there are around four thousand known terrorists who the Home Office would like to deport but cannot because of current legislation.  To this could be added an estimate for those unknown.  Given the number of untraceable illegal migrants this is arguable.

Given the overall world situation they could easily be joined by many others.  As things stand the terrorists active now in Algeria and other places, should they make it to the UK will be welcomed and supported if they could find a family.  They will have in support many who will assist them in the logistics of it all.

It is possible that we could shortly have a greater number of terrorists here than the actual active and combat element of the British Army with supporting groups etc. also rather larger and with access to more reliable funding.  Unlike our troops they would not be thrown on the scrap heap if no longer needed.

What, history or chaos tells us, could happen next?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Oiling The Wheels Of Power

According to what is in the newspapers, this is a sequence that is due to happen in the coming years.


The Referendum on Scotland is due to take place.  Who votes is not clear.  At the moment it seems that those on the electoral roll in Scotland will, whether or not they are Scottish together with the sixteen plus with British citizenship (or not).  But Scottish people whose work has taken them to elsewhere in the UK will not vote.


According to Alex Salmond if the vote is in favour of whatever question may be asked to remove Scotland from the UK this transfer of sovereignty will begin.

But in 2015 there is to be a General Election for the UK.  What will be the position in the Scottish constituencies if the transfer has not by then occurred but may do so later that year?

While this is going on, it is assumed that the question of Scotland and the EU will be resolved.  The latest story is that Scotland will remain in/join the EU but not be part of the Euro Zone.  A theory is that Scotland may continue with the pound sterling.

The assumption is that this will be accomplished easily because Europe will be entranced by having better access to all those Scottish wind farms, fisheries (what’s left of them) and oil supplies.


Scottish elections will take place.  It is not clear at present how “independent” or what spheres of government Scotland might have in Europe because Europe is in the throes of major political changes bearing on the sovereignty of each of the member nations.

2017 And Beyond

This is unknown territory, if only because the complexities outlined above leave a great deal to be determined  What can be said is that the oil is likely to remain in the hands of the oil companies, determined by the grant of oil rights.

The oil rights will be arrived at by negotiation between the major companies and the government which has those rights.  These may depend on the what is happening with oil supplies, prices and production costs, there is uncertainty in this field.

At present nobody, least of all Europe itself, knows what governance and what powers the EU, more fully united, will have and what will be left to the member states.

What, I wonder may happen if the EU determines that all the maritime territorial rights, especially oil, will be a function of the EU and not of the member states?

What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Counting The Votes And The Costs

When Cameron and the Coalition decided to fix Parliamentary terms at five years, did they have any regard at all for the longer sweep of history in the UK?  Since the beginning of the 18th Century through to the present there have been many times in the past when politics went into spasm and governments into paralysis.

The way out of this was to call a general election.  This was not always successful if the political breakdown was deep seated and persistent.  But there were times when the politicians, faced with a possible election, came to some sort of agreement or compromise.

In the deeper past coalitions, sometimes of unlikely partners, might occur and there were often movements of interest and support to contend with.  The 1920’s and 1930’s was a time of shifting ground and uncertainty.  This had the effect then of giving authority to the relatively recent professional civil service and Bank of England. 

After 1945 this changed and until 2010 there was no formal coalition of parties.  There was a period between 1974 and 1979 when not only did the Labour government go full term, but it relied on Liberal votes to keep it going before going down to defeat.  The problems in the Liberal Party in that period did not allow them to claim much power.

The conventional thought was that a system that delivered majority governments was necessarily good because it meant more stability and enabled politicians to exert some sort of democratic control. 

This was not necessarily the case in that both the majority parties had elements within them that occasioned strife and uncertainty.  Also, in the 1950 to 2010 period a surprising number of governments did not go full term between elections for a variety of reasons. 

One was that to go full term allowed too much scope for rebels or awkward squads in the parties.  Another was that it left too much to chance and untoward events.  Also, governments might begin to run out of steam.  Whatever the particular reasons it was reckoned that to decide the election date gave advantage to the ruling party.

What has been forgotten is that coalitions and fixed terms of office do not go together.  The ability to go to the electorate at any time has always been a useful corrective and safeguard for a government faced with a chaotic or impossible situation. 

In the USA and other places the endless squabbling, brinkmanship and wheeler dealing arising from the electoral systems may be a useful exercise in democracy at some times, but in crises or periods of real difficulty can be a handicap and an invitation to flawed decisions.  At least the USA system with rolling elections offers more opportunities for choice.

At present we are told that we have a Coalition government now beginning to disagree and dispute about more issues than it is in agreement with.  There is a Liberal Democrat Party that is neither Liberal nor democratic, actively blocking changes needed to readjust the electoral system to be more representative.

We are told by a former insider that the Government only deals with thirty per cent of its business the rest being left to rubber stamping European legislation etc. and to “updating” by a civil service that is not professional but interlocked with the lobby groups and other outside spheres of management.

There are all the signs that the Cameron government could soon go into a phase of stasis with no way out.  That the campaign for the next election has begun is not in doubt.  Only instead of perhaps the electorate making its choices within months we are stuck to 2015.  Worse, if that election does not resolve issues we are then still stuck until 2020.

So with a government that controls only thirty per cent of its current business and unable to make effective decisions in that sphere, it is an open invitation for all the either irresponsible or worse dogmatic destructive elements to make mischief.  Given the vulnerability of the UK at present this is very dangerous.

Another worry is that apparently the Labour Party is targeting one hundred seats in the House of Commons for priority attention.  A report suggests that the Conservative Party has a list of forty key seats.  So what about the other five hundred plus and their interests?

For either party to assume that in these the existing incumbents or their ordinary replacements are safe may not be wise in the event of further falls in the number of voters with perhaps a drift to activist extremes. 

Even so, the implication is that neither of the two major parties will attend to the actual full basis of their traditional support or their wishes.  This could mean that the next election will be fought to buy the votes of select minority interests who could swing the key seats.

Given the likely economic and political problems developing in the next couple of years we may then have both before and after the next elections governments that are in no way democratic, that do not really govern, simply applying political cosmetics to the flow of events, are locked into systems beyond their control and rely on a management cult civil service and agencies that simply go their own way.

And it all depends on being able to recycle the growing debt.  Tony Blair, it is said, has opened a market trading desk in his Mayfair offices.  Does he, I wonder, see the UK as a major sell option to boost his fortunes?

Monday, 14 January 2013

Myths And Realities Losses And Gains

The “Golden Globes” presentations in Los Angeles have me breaking out in the first symptoms of Chronic Awards Fatigue of the year.  There is no doubt about the amount of thought, energy, effort and the rest the performers put into their productions  Nor is there doubt about the importance of crucial favourable publicity to their status and incomes.

It is that there are many awards ceremonies to come and a great deal of media time and effort to be expended in speculations about outcomes, gossip, news, the events themselves and the publicity follow ups.  We are supposed to lap this up and allow it the importance that the media outlets insist that it should have.

Not only does it distract us and more to the point deflect us from attention on other matters but it means that there is a lot out there we should know more about which gets little or no mention.  There is nothing new about this.  Myths have long been more important than realities.

In the histories of the Second World War there is sometimes reference to the equipment our troops were given to do their fighting but often not critical enough and without making the point that some of the inadequacies had the effect of lengthening the war.

On BBC2 in the last couple of weeks there have been two programmes following the 5th Royal Tank Regiment, “The Filthy Fifth”, 5RTR, a unit which went from Egypt and El Alamein in The Desert War, into Italy and then to be amongst the first to land in Normandy in June 1944. 

It was part of the 7th Armoured Division, whose tac sign was the Jerboa, better known as The Desert Rat.  It was said that only fifty men of the originals were still there at the end.

At least the presenter, Mark Urban, had served in the Army and knew the inside of a tank and with the few veterans left managed to put across both the reality of war with a critique of the situations that the men were faced with and how they were equipped to do so.

A key part of the story was the various tanks 5RTR were given.  What was clear was that throughout the war the British designed and built tanks were inadequate for the task, vulnerable in battle and cost many lives.  At the stages when the tanks were either American built or formed the basis, it was better.

When in 1943 5RTR were brought back to East Anglia to prepare for the Normandy Landings they were dismayed to be issued with the new Cromwell tank which was still not capable of taking on the German Tigers and moreover a death trap.  When in France heavy losses were sustained.

Also, the German anti-tank artillery was superior enabling them to have tactical advantages.  The reason why the Allies progressed was that they could replace both the equipment and the men quickly whereas the Germans could not.  But the progress was a lot slower than it might have been.

Had the UK Armoured Divisions been equipped with both tanks and related artillery that at least matched the Germans what might have happened?  The Desert War might have been a lot shorter for one.  More important the British may have been able to break out from the Normandy Landings much earlier than they did and to cross the Rhine before the winter of 1944 to 1945 set in.

Eventually, the UK government did come up with a decent tank, the Centurion, but that first appeared just after the War ended.  Had a tank like this been coming out of the factories three or so years earlier the war might have been different. 

Why were the British tanks so poor?  Why did it take so long for the British to design and produce something better?  The reality was that many brave men were left to make the best of second rate weaponry and winning depended not on what they had to fight with but the ability to replace the losses.

At the end of the war there were many ceremonies and many awards given and hard earned ones.  There was all the publicity of victory and the myths of our supremacy.  The men were good enough but the way they were equipped and treated by the government was another matter.

Not much changes.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I Did Not See It Coming

Driving around normally, there are times when for all the care and awareness there are things you just miss or do not see until late.  Experience tells you when this is more likely, the half light of early morning or evening, rain, patchy mist, busy conditions, dark clothed pedestrians, cyclists, motor cycles in the blind spot, trucks with far away number plates and those too close (the bumper stickers I call them) among others.

On another level, experience and history tells me that there are governments and many in public affairs, who may be educated, knowledgeable about many things, in the most senior positions and the rest who simply neither see nor understand what is coming and the effects it might have.

This may happen because the mindset they have, the job they are in and the ideas current at the time make them either blind to or unwilling to accept either events or information that are in conflict.  This is especially if there are notable unwelcome downsides.

As for those in any senior or professional position, if they discern something coming along that is bad news for others, especially those senior to them or on whom they depend, it can be very difficult.  If they warn, they can finish up being blamed for anything adverse or be shunned, sacked or singled out for some rough treatment.

In the world of politics, economics and government there are certainly a few things down the decades which I missed, did not fully understand or failed to recognise certain features that should have indicated that things were not going to plan or as they were supposed to be.

What can be especially difficult is that if it dawns on you that the people in charge and who are calling the shots simply do not know what they are talking about or do not have the relevant expertise to make an informed judgement.  I have met rather too many of these in the past. 

All too often they have blagged or blustered their way upwards and are determined both to be the deciders and will brook no questioning or opposition.  So they are just as likely to take us all down a lot faster than they took themselves up.  One feature is that they make promises impossible to fulfil but ensure others will take the blame.

Is all of this sounding very familiar and are names and current issues of one sort or another coming to mind?  One horror that comes to mind is whether any of our current crop of political leaders are competent to run any form of government or are even half aware of what is really going on or what might or must happen.

Another is given the nature of the media and its’ interests is whether the people that elect them are any better placed.  Worse is that many of the people who are elected and who they appoint to crucial offices are neither expert and too often with their own agendas, usually related to immediate financial interests.

So politically and internationally what is round the next corner, why apparently did nobody see it coming and was it the fault of those who predicted it?