Monday 31 August 2009

Afghanistan And Londonistan

When the news reached Tiberius of the debacle in the wild tribal interior of Germania after Publius Quinctilius Varus led the 17th, 18th, and 19th Legions, six cohorts of auxiliaries and three squadrons of cavalry to their deaths in 9 AD you may imagine his anger at the Emperor Augustus for putting a lawyer politician in direct charge of troops in a politically unstable area with a hostile aggressive population difficult to control at the best of times.

But this is history, and nothing to do with the present. General McChrystal is understood to have advised that the present USA strategy in Afghanistan is like a bull charging at a Matador. It is a graphic analogy, but not quite right. It is more like a bull charging the banderilleros and the picadores while they wear him down for the matador to finish him off.

To put it in simpler military terms, if you cannot bring the main force of the enemy to battle, and they remain mobile, unpredictable, and difficult to locate, then you have problems that are going to be difficult to resolve in the short term. To deal with them in detail entails a long hard expensive campaign, and critically keeping the citizenry in between on your side. This will add to the expense and the problems if they do not share your mindset.

On the other hand, you could follow the example of Sir Thomas of Hoo, Lord of Hoo and Hastings, who was active in the Caux in Normandy in the 1430’s, and that is to kill as many men as you can lay your hands on and disperse the remaining population. So instead of spending two generations trying to pacify an area, it will be at least two generations before anyone there can give you any trouble.

Better still; don’t get into that situation in the first place. But this is what happens when you have lawyer politicians in charge, especially from jurisdictions that rely on adversarial procedures both in the practice of law and its making. For the lawyer, ignorant of the realities of actual combat, the structures and organisation needed, and critically the demands of logistics, sending in the troops is just another legal ploy to try to make your point more strongly than the opposition. Moreover, lawyers tend to twist any figures and rarely look at the costs, until that is, they present the bills.

Which brings me to the UK and figures. The Army total manpower is said to be at around 100,000, or whom around 15,000 are committed in Afghanistan. As anyone familiar with military history knows, those in action now, will not be those in action even in a year or two, nor later. There is a rapid turnover. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 the 71st was claimed to have only 13 of the 800+ men who began the long march in Spain in 1808, and this was typical. I suspect the figure is right, having gone through the muster rolls of the 71st and others that are available. That was seven years.

In July 1945 when the 7th Armoured Division represented the British Army in the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin, many of the men there had not been with the division when the Battle of El Alamein was fought in late 1942. There had been remanning before invading Sicily in 1943, again for the 1944 Normandy landings, and after the advance through France further substantial remanning. In order to sustain this division of around 17,000 men a through put of about 75,000 men were needed on top of the normal extra-divisional military support. This was less than three years. We have been in Afghanistan now close to eight years.

So for the 15,000 there now, there will be those in the immediate reserve, and behind those, troops in first stage, and second stage training. So to sustain 15,000, now, others are in the immediate reserve, with a greater number needed for the future. In short, perhaps a half or more of the Army as it stands is required for the Afghanistan commitment. Of the rest, despite the out sourcing of much activity, it is only a small base on which to conduct overseas military operations. Also, it has to be remembered that the deaths and severe casualties are the smaller numbers. There are many more who have served already, perhaps several times, in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, who are still in one piece but beyond active service and are serving in the Army in other necessary capacities.

Now we come to the Metropolitan Police, on active service in Londonistan. The effect the lawyer politicians have had on this group of men and their management is deeply worrying. There have been two minor events recently, don’t believe the hype in the media, they have been trivial compared to some in the past. They are the G20 business and the recent confrontation between two groups of hooligans using football as an excuse. The Met’ has not done well; this is not the place to discuss it. What seems to be a major problem is the protocols and procedures married to command systems that cannot cope with a changing situation on the ground. There have been too many other bad examples recently.

At the West Ham ground the Met’ officers did not seem to know what they were doing or why and the hooligan groups were a hapless disorganised bunch of drunks, fat, unfit, and basically useless. The G20 protestors essentially were a random sample of activists. If the Met’ cannot handle this lot, what could happen if they are faced with groups that are anywhere near capable, half decently organised, sober, and with effective communications? The shambles at Kingsnorth with the Kent Constabulary does not suggest that any of the provincial forces could do any better, and some a great deal worse.

Where the two come together is closer than you may think. It was reported a few days ago that over the channel are 1000+ Afghans determined to come to Britain. Perhaps they are eager to take part in awareness courses under initiatives promoted by Harriet Harman. Perhaps they are hoping to find jobs in the expanding public sector. Perhaps they have watched so much Premier League football on satellite TV that they are eager to become football supporters. The point that we ought to consider is how many are already here, and how many more are in the pipeline. Add to those others of the same broad belief systems from neighbouring areas, and you begin to have some serious figures. Many may have been amongst the 100,000 or so “students” a year who disappear from the figures during or at the end of their course.

If you are a determined pessimist, you may calculate that not only are there far more militant Afghans and related others in Britain than there are British troops in Afghanistan, but the numbers of their reserves and recruits in Britain are much greater than the numbers in the British Army and the disparity is growing steadily. In less than three years in London there is to be a 16 day festival of sports under the Olympic product label, sponsored by consumer and financial product companies which will have the whole of the world’s media in attendance. So there is less than two years to have the organisation fully prepared and ready.

If the Army is still committed to Afghanistan with nothing to spare for internal security, and the Met’ and provincial police forces are still a bunch of jobsworth bureaucrats with mobile phones wandering and wondering what do to and when the various committees back at control make up their minds, what might happen?

Friday 28 August 2009

Free Markets, Fake Markets, Real Markets, & The Inquisition

When is a Free Market not a Free Market? The main plea being put up by all the broke banks, the money movers, and financial fiddlers is that if they are called to account, and subject to the ordinary laws that most of us have to obey, then the economic structure that they command, and call “The Free Market” will collapse. This, they allege, would be a terrible thing, and they call up the ghosts of economists and philosophers past to support their claims. Even the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Tu ne cede malis) too often assumes that this present ungodly crew of the greedy, grabbing, and greasers constitutes a Free Market.

There has not been a free market in UK finance for many years. The recent set up in the City has been a cosy fix between bankers, high roll business and property speculators, hedge fund operators, and above all the government who have held the ring, and subsidised to the hilt most of the fancier arrangements that have been made. There have been all the manipulation of indexes and statistics, all those juicy PFI contracts off balance sheet, all those property deals with private equity, all those consultancy and accounting capers round every government department, quangos, and agencies, all those crazy computer crashes, all those defence debacles, railway rollovers, and more lately all that laughable social entrepreneurship with all the usual suspects lined up to take a chunk out of Labour’s local deals.

What is a free market like? The one above, pictured before World War One is Leicester Market, where thirty or so years later David Attenborough might be found looking for grubs at the greengrocers, or crawling after caterpillars. Perhaps Joe Orton studied dialogue there and Engelbert Humperdinck learned voice projection not long after. The famous footballer Gary Lineker when young was behind a stall. Even today, some locals still sing the traditional folk song “I bought a cabbage today from Gary Lineker” to the tune of “La Donna E Mobile”.

At the stalls you knew the prices of everything and could compare them. You had a good idea of seasonality and supply and the reasons for variations in price. You dealt in cash. You could buy or not. There was extensive choice for many basic products; you knew where they came from and who had handled them and much else. When you asked questions you were given clear answers. And the market was regulated by the local council Licensing and Marketing Committee, so everyone knew the ground rules. Also, local knowledge was substantial, the names of traders who adulterated or mispriced their goods or short changed would be exchanged freely and without hindrance by the local population without fear or favour.

So what do we have in the world of modern finance? I quote from Richard Murphy of the Tax Research UK blog allied to the Tax Justice Network:

“We may be at a rare moment when the interests of rich and poor countries are synonymous. At the heart of the current worldwide economic crisis is a lack of transparency in the global financial system. This is the end product of a half century of creating and expanding a shadow financial structure comprising tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, and fake foundations.

Also included in this system are trade mispricing mechanisms, money laundering techniques, and gaps left in national laws that facilitate movement of the proceeds of bribery and theft, criminal activity, and commercial tax evasion across borders.

The consequences of this murky structure and the money it moves are now clear:

In developed countries, credit collapsed in large part due to the difficulty of appraising the quality of assets held by financial institutions that operate partially or wholly within this opaque system.

In developing countries, an estimated US$1 trillion a year of illicitly generated money is shifted abroad through this system, constituting the most damaging economic condition hurting the poor, undermining poverty alleviation, delaying sustainable growth, and weakening democracy and the rule of law”

What it amounts to is a more or less self appointed group of international companies and organizations, with associated oligarchies and local warlords are running a set of operations that are no more a free market than was Al Capone and his Prohibition Booze Runners. What was it that President Eisenhower said about the industrial-military complex? Substitute financial for industrial for the 21st Century version. Shock horror that some operators who might have to pay the same level of ordinary local taxes might leave us. Shock horror, that the bonuses these people pay each other and decide amongst themselves might suffer a reduction in income in the same proportion that the old and disabled are already suffering. Shock horror that they might have to provide the sort of information that the economists and philosophers of the past supposed was vital to any market that was truly free.

The Tax Justice Network on 27 August covering a report in “The Guardian” on Lord Turner’s suggestion that most of the operations of the City of London were socially useless, quotes a comment that I could not beat for accuracy or brevity.:

"If you will permit me to speak frankly, the answer to the question "why does a financial exec pay himself so much?" is the same answer to the question "why does a dog lick its private parts?" Because it can."

As for Free Market Information, there has been a procession of lawyers to the London libel court representing a very rum set of coves who have been exposed to criticism. The weird judge made laws relating to the odder clauses of Human Rights legislation (protect the rich at all costs and sod the poor) have unfailingly given them the right not only to secrecy but to be protected from any form of criticism or questioning under any circumstances. So academic mathematicians who query or suggest flaws in the formulae and models used by major finance corporations are silenced and cannot publish their work because they and perhaps their universities would be ruined by even the costs of a successful defence. That is difficult given in these cases the requirement for absolute proof, the presumption of guilt, and the restrictions on evidence. If knowledge is silenced and debate forbidden, then there is no Free Market in international finance, and the City of London and its back offices in Edinburgh, Dublin, and the British Administered Authorities are havens for all those who do not want questions asked.

In an historical article on the Ludwig von Mises Institute web site “The School Of Salamanca Saw This Coming” it is said that the Theologians at that university 500 years ago came to the view that how prices were determined involved so many complexities that only God could know. Those deeply religious thinkers were members of the Dominican and Jesuit orders. It is a mind boggling idea that the Dominicans, who were key to the Inquisition in Spain, seemingly knew the truth about free markets much better than our politicians, bankers and financiers of today. But then the Dominicans of the Priory of the Holy Cross in Leicester in modern times bought their food at the Leicester Market. If a trader tried to put one across them, it would not be regulation he would have to worry about, it was spending eternity in hell fire.

Perhaps if Auto de Fe events in Smithfield and Parliament Square were held to ensure that those in the City and Westminster who were in grievous error over the Doctrine of Just Prices and the concomitant Free Markets were called to the ultimate regulator, the world might be a happier place. Certainly I would be, especially if I had a front seat.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Government By Computer



Distribution: All Office of PM Staff
Copy: Selected Permanent Secretaries & My Best Friends
Order Of The Day: Don’t tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is with pleasure that after long negotiation that we announce a specific bespoke system of Windows Vista for the Office of The Prime Minister and the central directing unit of our New Labour Ministry. Although some of the exciting in-your-face advertising material may seem intrusive, please be aware that the revenue they give to our fighting fund for the New Britain is integral to the success of this venture. Those who feel that our latest media helper to come on board; code name “Des”; has links to exciting web sites and sources of information foreign to you should remember that we live in the new millennium age for culture and that the youthful vigour to be found on those links are part of our Cool Britannia purpose oriented function. The unique “Office Relations With John And Tracey” screen opening has been devised for maximum impact. Should you be of an uptight disposition your file will be marked “In need of therapy”. The NHS New Wave electrode implanted in your brain (sorry about the problems) covers this instruction. Unauthorised leaks or the issue of personal press releases will entail being sent to the Department of Culture Media and Sport to work on the 2012 Olympics project.

Basic Elements

The Recycle Bin is now: “Breathtaking new opportunity.”
My Computer is called: "The engine room of the new economy.”
Broadband Networking is called: “Our ongoing plan for action.”
Control Panel is known as: “Mandy”.
Hard Drive is referred to as: “Toughing out the difficult decisions.”
CD drive is: “In depth reserves of thrusting administrative energy.”
USB connections are: “Consultant inputs”.
Pop up instead of an error message: “Responsibility clearly lies elsewhere.”

Changes in Terminology

OK: “We are in fundamental agreement with the essential propositions as we understand and define them”
Cancel: “After full and in depth consultation we are taking a new direction.”
Reset: “The policy formulation is stepping up a gear”.
Yes: “We are happy to say that despite all the difficulties and inherent complexities we have arrived at a formula which is agreeable to the respective parties.”
No: “At this moment in time there are negative elements that are affecting the ongoing decision making process.”
Search: “We have to extend our understanding and knowledge on this vital matter.”
Go to: “We are at the forefront of progress.”
Back: “There is a great deal to be done, so we are determined to get it right in the long run, and this entails an ongoing review.”
Help: “We are in complete control of the situation, but clearly it is only right to launch an investigation seek out those responsible for obstructing our forward momentum.”
Stop: “This is a good time to reflect on all our achievements.”
Start: “This is a wonderful initiative which will lead to many good things.”
Settings: “When we have the nuts and bolts right then we will be able to overcome the difficulties that are being put in our way.”
Programs: “The full range of future policy successes.”
Documents: “Policy formulation, administrative advice, correspondence, confidential information in type; and all other material at the pre-shredder stage.”

Technical Features

Motherboard: European Commission.
Fatherboard: Not known, refer to as “One Night Stand”.
Processor: Pennsylvania Avenue 1555
Protocols: Gateskeeper
Keyboard: Seventies Punk.
Mouse: Self-reversing spin wheel.
Power: Wind.
Tower: Brown Bakelite.
Disc Drive: Treasury Slow Slow Quick Quick Slow.
Home Page: News of the World.
Broadband Router: Big Dick (aka Beardie)
Random Memory: NHS IT Project
Restart: Go Abroad To Conference
ISP: Never Never Land

Programmes exclusive to our own system

Autogarble: An added facility for Press Statements.
Security: Jokes and other humour.
Hangman & Solitaire: Home Office Management.
Smart Prevaricate: To enable ministerial personal media advisers.
Ossa/Pelion: Government legislative programme.
Favourites: Links to business, equity finance, private banks, and escort services.
Bentword: Automatically corrects vague promises to convincing mode.
Fantasy Island: Office for National Statistics.
Graphics: Manipulates diagrams to required interpretation.
Spellchecker: Attorney General Function, changes text to incomprehensible mode.
Crash: NHS Computer Services.
Groanspeak: Scots – English translator.
Twittertalk: London – English translator.
Liar Poker: Annual Budget Review.
Bastard: Genealogy and Family History.
Calculator: Auto figures fudger.
The Undertaker: Drugs and Firearms Control.
Tillfinger: Ministerial Salaries, Expenses, and Awards of Honours.
Goblin Teasmaid: The Foreign Secretary.
Macho Zap: Trident Missile Start.
Notepad: For use when Text Phone fails.
Microsoft Explorer 666: Device to hack into opposition computers.
Pictures & Media: Ten thousand representations of Our Great and Dear Leader.


Should the Prime Minister ring you on the red emergency telephone advise him to find the plug at the end of the long lead, identify the nearest power point, insert the plug and then to press the small thingy by the side and insist; despite the personal doubts he will express; that this will have the effect of introducing what is known to him now as the electrical power necessary to the full functioning of his apparatus.

If this fails under no circumstances whatsoever should you refer the matter to the Department of Technology, as this will disrupt the entire system, but call in the ILSNABCADEO (The Infused Liquids Sundry Non-Alcoholic Beverages & Comestibles Allocation and Distribution Executive Officer) with her trolley on a contracted out non-core activity basis who will know what to do.


Monday 24 August 2009

Robert Burns, BBC Proms, Anniversaries & Organic Farming

What is it with the BBC Proms and anniversaries? They are heavy on the big names, but are reluctant to tackle some of the less known or “different” names and there are opportunities missed. This year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, an event which has been noticed north of The Tweed. But for the BBC Proms strutting its stuff as a major international festival, forward looking, and all encompassing, Burns is off limits. There is the Mendelssohn “Scottish Symphony”, some modern Scots Composers, but nothing at all about Burns, who was a lyricist as much as a poet. Moreover, Burns is celebrated across the world. In a festival lasting for weeks, with the BBC forever talking about diversity, why nothing at all?

It is easy to see why the BBC might have stayed clear. They have a large hall to fill, it is now ever necessary to have high occupation figures, and what might they have done? The substantial Scottish community in the London area of the past has gone, and those that are there are lost to sight. Also, there is a basic problem.

It is that the Burns songs have been serially murdered over the last 150 years. The introduction of iron framed large pianos in the early 19th Century, with their sound allied to popularised paper music notation meant that the songs became the stuff of drawing room sentiment, and worse in the music halls the type of exaggerated emotion of the period. Later, the crooners made their impact, and then another assault was made by the joint forces of Faux Folk and Folk Rock.

Add to them sundry forms of instrumentation from anywhere, mikes, and amplifiers, and you have what results. It is how the vast majority of people hear them today, and think that is what they are. Because of what he is alleged to represent any critique of what is claimed to be his work is unacceptable, including those who want to rescue the real talent of the man from the relentless mush of commercialisation, interpretations, and imposed agendas of almost two centuries.

In the study of the brain, and the way it hears, processes and delivers sound, most theories have had little to go on, they have been based on very limited evidence. With new equipment and technique available it is now possible to see into the brain its reactions, and to work out possibilities. Now, there is the question of which came first, language or music, how one might have developed from another, and how much either or both evolved from or caused human capability to develop.

It is clear that some humans because of some feature of neurology are special in how they hear sound, how they can retain it, and make use of it. In music they might be prodigies very young, realise the ability only later, or for some reason have almost total recall, and quite rarely can match music and voice in a very special way.

To know that, it is necessary to have a piece played in a form that is at least near to that of the composer’s intentions, and in a sound world not too far removed in terms of structure and performance. Essentially, Burns took the tunes, heard in his sound world of the time, and brought words to interplay with the music to create a lyrical and poetic experience for the listener.

We can only judge how good he was if we can do that and come close to his idea and intention. The sound world of the Ayrshire and Dumfries of his time, and the places he ventured out to at times are a world away from our own age. He did not write for the concert hall; nor any large assembly; nor the church, but for groups of listening people in small places that knew him and that he knew. So they are intensely personal, for voice, close to the tune, and in his mind of sounds perhaps with an accompaniment of such instruments that were literally to hand.

So what were the voices of that time? There have been scholars that have looked intensely at the sound of the voices of the past. The handful of early recordings we have from a century or so ago tell us that speech was different. We know that the use of the singing voice has changed. In my own recollection of voices I heard of people born in the 1860’s to 1890’s tell me a good deal about how the use of words and intonations can vary, and these include people whose family were in Ayrshire at the time of Burns and before and who I knew well.

There has been serious academic study done on the voice patterns, pronunciation, and use of language in Ayrshire in that period. We know that some of Burns’ work was very personal, some done for an immediate grouping, and some intended for the appreciation of other groups. That being so, his use of language forms vary within those of the time according to the inspiration and the intention as he responded to those around him and to his own ear.

A few years ago, I heard on the radio a performance of Burns songs by a Scots group who had tried to recreate that sound world and had tried to match an instrumentation that was of the period. Sadly, I have forgotten who they were, and have not been able to trace any recording. If it is still there it will be buried deep in the catacombs of the BBC beyond recall, classified as regional folk history, perhaps the tape was reused to record an interview with a junior minister needing to utter a soundbite or two.

What it did do was to transform Burns’ lyrics from the hack bellowing and wailing that we are told nowadays is what it should be, to works of genius where the words sit precisely on the line of the music, revealing a subtlety and understanding that few can achieve. There is a transparency and musicality that are the signs of the master. The problem for the BBC is that if they tried to rescue this to help a deeper understanding of what he was about, they would encounter bitter opposition from the many differing and often opposed interests who claim him as their own.

The tunes themselves are a varied, his choice was eclectic, taking from some he heard about him from local traditions, those that were going the rounds, to others of another kind. Some give pause for thought, the tune for “As I stood by yon roofless tower..” or “The Minstrel at Lincluden” is given as the Cumnock Psalms. If this tune is derived from the traditions of The Cameronians and The Covenanters it is a striking departure, and of interest. The reference to the Minstrel auld prefigures the “The way was long, the wind was cold, the minstrel was infirm and old…” of Scott’s “Lay Of The Last Minstrel” and the words on “lads beyond the sea in bluidy wars they fa’” have a resonance in our own time. Beyond the poetry is the Word, and The Word is the Bible, Burns does not forget it, and in his time he was never allowed to.

The major problem of our age in understanding the past, is TV and film, which rarely is remotely near any real depiction of the past, even in alleged documentaries. As well as having a modern agenda, all too often they lose sight of the wood from the trees. A Jane Austen feature where the heroine talks in a broad old Hampshire accent may be close to Jane in real life, but not to the taste and understanding of a modern TV viewer or critic.

What of Shakespeare? If you try “Now is the winter of our discontent etc.” in a West Midlands accent and a marked sneer it works remarkably well, but at the National and even the Globe they would never attempt it. As for the unceasing landslide of visual rubble that passes for the history of the Tudors, believe that and you believe anything, Lady Margaret Beaufort, where are you when we need you? But the media does not worry so long as it sells and wins the ratings battle.

It is not just Burns that the BBC has ignored. In 2006 as well as Mozart it was the anniversary of Thomas Linley, who died tragically young leaving a little music. He was a prodigy, Mozart knew him as a friend and recognised and acknowledged his genius. Linley was brother-in-law to Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his family were fully involved in the theatre and society of that period. This was the same period as Burns. The opportunities in the BBC Proms, or on any BBC channel for items both commemorating Linley, and placing him in the world of London and Bath of the time were extensive, he was connected to everyone and anyone prominent at the time. But not a thing, and he was English and in London.

A worry about the BBC is that they are all too likely to have fallen for the temptation to make use of the easy option of the Boswell and Johnson touring comedy turn in Scotland, fresh from the salons of London, although Boswell did have Ayrshire background. The pity of it is that a wonderful programme could have been devised from other local sources and records from the Ayrshire of the time. They give a rich choice of readings. They run from the wonderful “Annals of the Parish” of Galt, to other sources, Mitchell, Fullarton, Aiton, Lawrie and others on society, agriculture and the changes of the period. Within the lifetime of Burns Auld Ayr had gone. Moreover the minutes and records of the Kirk, the Corporation, and the Incorporations all have a fund of material. Why did William Burnes build the cottage where he did? Who took over the cottage in 1781 after its sale to the Incorporation of Shoemakers, what were his connections, and what was he up to?

Because of our modern preconceptions, it is likely that TV would shirk the brutal realities of farming in the Ayrshire of the period. The background of the impact of instability of climate and geophysical conditions would be difficult, let alone explaining the economics and the legal and financial hindrances such as the right of the Incorporation of Fleshers in the killing of beasts. For the work of the farm, I could explain about the question of dung and manure, and the intricacies and complexities of that market, the hedge fund and futures market of its day, but it would remind me too much of the time I spent wielding shovels and buckets in the race to fertilise unwelcoming soil. Suffice it to say, that when Robert Burns became an Excise Officer, I suspect he will have been very glad to free himself from the tyranny of the dung sledge and the fees of the Fleshers.

There is an intriguing coda to all this. In Poets Corner, the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, there is a bust of Robert Burns, high on the wall, close to those of James Thomson, an earlier renowned Scots poet, author of the words to “Rule Britannia”, and William Shakespeare. Robert’s gaze is across from one corner to the other. He looks over the grave of Richard Brinsley Sheridan seemingly at the memorial to Edward Wetenhall, 1636-1713, Bishop of Ardagh and Kilmore, and previously of Cork and Ross. The conjunctions are odd you may think. It is possible to connect them all, but that is another matter.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Do Americans Care About British Soldiers?

The heading is taken from the post of August 19th by Michael Yon about the help given to rescue and treat one of our Rifles squaddies.

Click on the “more” button for the full story. It is astonishing. As someone who has done duty at field HQ level in dealing with Army emergencies over half a century ago, I can only wonder at the effort and expertise involved.

Moreover, Angels really do exist, but they are down here and not up there, and very concerned with the practicalities, ladies in America who pull out all the stops.

There is a time when cynicism is irrelevant, and I can only state my admiration and recognition of the services and conduct of all those involved.

Yet there is nothing in the British media, nothing from our government, nothing from any of our politicians to even hint or appreciate what is being done for our injured and our families.
But thanks to Michael Yon, there are some of us that do.

Friday 21 August 2009

Lockerbie, Politics, Policy, and Prostates.

A while ago we lived in the north of England, and I wondered why at some times there would be a great many planes headed NNW overhead, but at other times none at all. Someone explained to me that the routing of transatlantic flights could vary according to weather conditions, notably relative wind speeds in the upper atmosphere. When the Pan Am flight came down in Lockerbie I realised that some 30 to 45 minutes earlier it would have been above our town.

It may be that whoever planted the bomb, assumed that it would be on the southern route, and therefore the plane would have been over open sea in the Western Approaches when the explosion occurred. Given my own flying experience, it could have been either close to or above the southern coast of Ireland. Had that been the case, it is likely that the onus would have been on the Irish, doubtless working very closely with the American’s. The UK’s role would have been one of support and co-operation.

Twenty plus miles south of Lockerbie then it would have been an English matter. That it happened within the jurisdiction of Scots Law made everything much more complicated at the time, and since. The business of whether Al Megrahi, the person convicted by an individual process of law, might be released to die on compassionate grounds has been equally complicated. The matter has become one of those deeply unpleasant and distasteful political issues that so often disfigure our public life today.

The spectacle of a man who allegedly killed so many American citizens and others at random being cheered to the echo by a crowd in Tripoli, possibly mostly hired hoods, waving the cross of St. Andrew is a deeply unhappy. As the mess over the handling of the matter deepens what is worse is the squalid and petty argument developing between Scots in London and Edinburgh as to who is really responsible for it.

One question is just how ill is Al Megrahi? There are suggestions that he looks very well in comparison to others whose condition is said to have deteriorated to the same extent. Are the Libyan doctors about to work a miracle? If he is still up and about when the next General Election is held, and Colonel Gaddafi is offering his usual advice to UK voters, what will the electors make of it all? As far as his treatment is concerned, he has certainly had a great deal more expert attention from the NHS than usual, many can die without ever seeing a consultant.

The big question, as always, is about oil supplies. Libya is an exporter, and said to have substantial untapped reserves accessible from dry land by ordinary technology, that is at relatively low cost. The UK is no longer self sufficient, and the import needs are steadily increasing. It is also a debtor and in need of someone, anyone, with available funds to take up its sovereign debt.

So the Foreign Office did a deal with the Colonel over prisoner exchanges. Perhaps much needed, because it may well be that the Colonel wanted Megrahi back, and may have been likely to arrest a number of UK citizens to hold. Given the propensities of many UK citizens to drink too much in foreign climes, never mind doing things in public that other people do not want to see, the Colonel would have found it all too easy to round up a thousand or two weeping boozers for ransom.

The question then, was how to spring Megrahi? Unluckily, as the plane came down in Lockerbie, this rested with Edinburgh. In the urge to score points off each other, the parties involved forgot the Yanks. But the Yanks had not forgotten Lockerbie.

The right answer would have been for the USA to come to a view with the Colonel, and then propose to London and Edinburgh a way of dealing with Al Megrahi. But Brown want to have the Colonel onside for any arrangements about oil quietly, and to let Edinburgh take responsibility for a questionable release, however Edinburgh wanted a huge public relations success, but only if it really smeared London. Remember, the 2010 Election Campaign is now well under way.

Both parties now to defend themselves have to disagree with Washington DC, as well as with each other, and this is not a happy situation. Insulting Secretary Mrs. Clinton is not a sensible option, whatever the SNP thinks, and President Obama is playing an honourable straight bat, whatever Labour in London might suggest.

The Yanks, more or less, are right, and in their various ways, London and Edinburgh have made a nasty mess of it; careless of the feelings of the families, careless of the long term implications, and careless of the damage being done to the last shreds of British or Scottish credibility anywhere.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Property - Foreign Edition

In today’s Telegraph there was a tearful article from Emma Soames on the subject of her travelling problems to her second home in the Vaucluse.

Ryanair is reported to have moved many flights from Manchester Airport elsewhere because of the landing fees, and cancelled others on “economic” grounds, which means that their tight operating margins have become eroded with a range of added costs.

Here is an extract:

“Whatever you have thrown at us, we have sucked it up, because as long as we stuck to the rules – as dreamt up, and frequently changed, by yourself – our houses in France were still accessible.

I bought my mousehole, an 18th-century village house in the Vaucluse, northern Provence, two years ago. Much as I adore the region, its lavender, markets, heavenly walks in flower-surrounded vineyards, and the endlessly amusing but gravely disappointing searches for furniture in a country that has been stripped of its heritage by American decorators.

I know that bucolic rural life is not for me full time. My initial plan for my maison secondaire was to spend a week there for each of the summer months. So far, I have only managed once or twice a month for three or four days at a stretch – but it’s Ryanair flights that make it a possibility. I can fly with other airlines from other airports. But Ryanair’s presence helps bring the price of all flights down.

The harsh fact is that without Mr O’Leary, I would be mostly stuck in England. The value of the house, and the possibility of renting it out to others, would be equally poleaxed.

Which is why all second home owners should be very watchful and worried about Mr O’Leary’s latest decision. He blames airport charges for his Manchester pull-out. But if declining profitability of such routes proves to be a factor, those of us with holiday homes will need a backup.”

The tears rolled down my cheeks. The cheap landing fees enjoyed by Ryanair at many of the destinations are in fact a subsidy from the local councils at the urging of local business interests. So what happened was that as well as a few extra tourists British property price inflation was imported by second and holiday home buyers, usually at the expense of low paid local people, and often sterilising and damaging rural communities.

Ryanair in turn has benefited from the UK government approach to alleviating the costs of air travel, again at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer.

There is little doubt that if the cost of aviation fuel were to remain high or increase and other financial pressures were to force other added costs onto the aviation industry, many more low margin routes would be affected.

So how long will it be before the Telegraph starts calling for Government assistance and extra help for all the owners of second and holiday homes elsewhere?

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Property - Investing And Retaining

Listed below are the people that the Labour government have helped to buy their own homes, and second, and third, and other peoples, freeholds of just about all the leaseholds, the property management services of leaseholds, and lots and lots of repossessions. Despite recent difficulties they have been able to rely on the unqualified backing of nationalised and state supported banks

To these should be added their ocean going accommodation, and interests in commercial property, such as hotels, pubs, and indirect holdings in social housing.

Added information on their overall tax commitments is also given.

Drug Barons – zero tax.

Housing benefit fraudsters – zero tax.

Money launderers – near zero tax.

Identity and passport fraudsters – zero tax.

Human traffickers in prostitution – zero tax.

Human traffickers in other forms of slave labour – zero tax.

Financiers in the UK but based in tax havens – near zero tax.

Terrorist support groups – zero tax.

Private Equity operators – near zero tax, with those buying government property paying zero tax.

Private Finance Initiative providers for government– near zero tax.

Prestige project consultants, advisers, and providers – near zero tax.

Agents and others dealing in one legged, broken winded footballers – zero tax.

Various persons dealing in three legged, broken winded horses – zero tax.

Public sector top executives and chairpersons- near zero tax.

Global company, banking, and Quango bosses – near zero tax.

Global arms dealers – zero tax.

Ministers Parliamentarians and associates – tax paid on declared incomes and expenses, of some other sources of income many will pay zero, and others near zero, apart from a small minority with unaccountable moral attitudes.

Sunday 16 August 2009

DNA, Genes, And All That


Essentially there are three types of DNA assessment available to the public. These are:

Y Chromosome tests, which define the male line from father to son. These are used for ancestral problem solving and paternity issues; for surname studies; and for a variety of kinship groupings, tribe (clan), caste, extended families, broad ancestry etc.

Mitochondrial DNA, that defines the female line from mother to daughter. These have been used to try to estimate population movements, in that the child-bearing females are critical in population expansion. At the earlier stage of DNA testing attempts were made to identify human groupings on this basis. When Y Chromosome testing became available it was found the patterns were not the same. The debate continues.

Autosomal DNA, that is a depth examination in the 22 chromosomes other than the Y to seek the pattern of overall sources of ancestry. At 12 generations back there is a total potential of 4096 ancestors at that point for any individual. Whilst the actual figure in each case may be lower, it may well still exceed 3000. Beyond twelve generations the increase continues, probably at a lower rate. For the great majority of people beyond the very limited numbers in enclosed or highly restricted groups this implies that the total of an individuals ancestry cannot be limited to one social class, geographical area, or kinship group. For those groups or people who know that their ancestry is widely based this can help them define the major elements. But the definitions are broad in scope, entail continental groupings, and cannot distinguish between the nation states and other political entities that historically are very recently contrived.

Phases of Interest

The classification of periods and the drawing of lines at different points of time is an intellectual minefield with several dangers. One is the risk of losing sight of the woods for the trees, and another that the scheme adopted may not follow the evidence but lead to a form of analytical rigidity with the effect that findings and evidence are forced into a set mould irrespective of what the reality may be, because for particular groups and structures it is necessary to have that theoretical basis for their status, work, or to retain the integrity of their belief systems.

So a key problem in this field is that too many people can jump to conclusions, suppose grand theories on findings that are really very limited in scope, or have fixed agendas to follow from the recent past in the interpretation of data. There are also the dangers of misunderstandings leading to more serious problems. In the UK we have had major legal fiascos arising from the manipulation, gross mishandling and misinterpretation of DNA and statistical data, and this in courts where one might expect the sharpest minds to be at work on the most expert and informed evidence available.

The phases I suggest are crude lines drawn to be able to distinguish potential areas of interest and nothing more, they are not a grand historical scheme, simply marks in the sands of time. The first phase is the period from around 1700 or 1800 to the present. This is to find lost branches of known families, or lost cousins in the movement of populations around the world. For some it will as a result of the many diaspora and flights from the land, and for others to identify from whence their families came. The second is broadly the period 1100-1800 the pre-modern economy, the time of surname formation, and of the recorded history of much of Europe. The third is the Post Roman to 1100 period where the recorded history is very limited, there is a great deal of myth and legend, all too often taken literally, and a story that is becoming more complicated and indefinite as archaeology reveals more of the past.

The fourth is the period of Roman Britain and the Ice Age where the written sources are very sketchy and of doubtful reliability, but again the archaeology is becoming more complex. The fifth is the Bronze Age where there are substantial settlements, but we rely heavily on what comes out of the ground. For much of this and the earlier times the same applies to a much greater degree. We then depend on archaeology, dendrochronology, the ice cores and the many and various means of scientific analysis. The sixth, seventh and eighth phases represent the Neolithic, the Mesolithic, and the Palaeolithic, where the size of settlements is reduced as we go further back in time, and farming gives way to hunting and gathering. Again we are leaning to be less dogmatic about these matters, it seems that later hunter gathers may have had means of cultivation, and the farmers did more hunting than we have assumed.

Phase One – 1700/1800 to Now

Who on Earth am I related to? A great many people may wish to know that, although human emotions being as they are, the answer may not be welcome. A fairly near cousin who is unknown may have left his DNA at the scene of the crime, and you may be obliged to answer questions about family history about which you are sadly unclear, but if a respected and famous person is found to be one of the family that might be a happy result. Also, where did all those cousins go, and who are they? Re-uniting families can be attempted. Historically, the collation of evidence on a larger scale may lead to clarification and re-assessments of what is believed to have happened in recent history. Some of the assumptions that are made about class, social, and personal mobility have to be questioned. One thing is certain, our DNA is not our own, nor is it our private possession, we share it with others, indeed all others.

Phase Two - 1100-1800

A number of similar considerations will apply to this period of history, although broader in the scope of enquiry, and taking account of greater complexities of movement, structure, and the patterns of relationships. This will go beyond families and considerations of existing national boundaries, many of which are historically quite recent in inception. One area is surnames.

If anyone wishes to have a surname group study it is possible, but does rely on enough people to be willing to give samples. Sometimes it suggests common close ancestry, and sometimes not. We have to be aware that surnames have come into use in Europe only in the last thirty or fewer generations, and that the fixing of those names and spelling can be recent, for example Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Battenberg’s becoming Windsor’s in 1917, despite the protests of the holder of that ancient title. If the findings suggest a common pattern amongst a large enough proportion of the sample, this could point to a degree of relationship, and perhaps nature of distant origin in broad terms.

What it might be in detail is another matter. If many Macdonald’s seem to have common male origins, this does not mean that the “Somerled” gene has been found. We do not have his DNA, and too many questions arise. One is that we cannot be sure where the early males who left most surviving progeny came from, and the exact pattern of relationships at the time. In the millennium 1000 to 2000 AD, there are still a great many uncertainties and complications concerning human demographic growth and movement.

So who my ancestor in the male line may have been in the last thousand years is arguable. He may have been a trader who never went back. Perhaps he was one of the many foreign mercenaries recruited by one or other of the Warlords down the millennia, or even a travelling friar prone to human temptations. He may even have been in the Atlantic Isles immediately after the last Ice Age. What the DNA will begin to suggest if enough samples are found for analysis is who some of my distant cousins might be, and this will narrow the number of possibilities. In any event by this stage the potential number of the ancestors is very large indeed. If a person has found one or more members of the elite groups by the 16th or 17th Century, the chances are that by 1100 almost all the then elite will appear in the family tree, as one commentator has put it, half the population or more will have King William I, The Conqueror of 1066, in their ancestry.

Phase Three – Post Roman to 1100

In this period, roughly taking in “The Dark Ages” we have very few documents, and while some of these may refer to other peoples and groups they have to be approached with a great deal of care as their information is often distant in sources, loose in description, generalised, and far from being impartial. Yet a great deal of historical writing and theorising has imposed perceived structures of population and the analysis of archaeological research since the Renaissance on these shaky foundations. Because little is available, and is written by men of religion, it does not mean that we can place greater reliance on it.

Whilst we have learned to change our minds about much in science, astronomy, and medicine, in terms of the demographic issues in History there still exists a substantial vested interest in past theoretical structures and the classification of information. Giraldus Cambriensis (Gerald of Wales), of Norman Welsh immediate descent, may be an attractive writer and persuasive in his prose, but this does not make him a reliable commentator. That another cousin of the same family, Maurice Fitz Gerald, was the progenitor of the large Irish Clan of Fitzgerald, does not make his ancestry Irish.

In the third phase my father’s forefather could be an Icelander, the Sagas etc, a Pict, one of the Irish based Viking raiders that rowed up the Severn in the 890’s, a Norseman, a Gotlander, a Frieslander, a Dane, or a Saxon or any one of quite a few other things. The Haplogroup of my male DNA is found across Europe, into the Balkans, with scatterings further beyond. There were some settled in Transylvania and the Balkans, and a few of them arrived in the Scottish Borders and the West Midlands as Dacians and others recruited by The Roman Empire. It is found in Afghanistan, albeit a minority and beyond.

The idea of my forebear being some kind of Siegfried waving his sword about, or a bold Viking doing the usual things has attractions for many. The majority of my personal ancestry by 1600 probably is Scots, and they have their own ideas, some conditioned by the terms of the Scots Declaration of Arbroath of 1320. This claims “expulsis primo Britonibus et Pictis omnio deletis,” which, however translated, gives a survivor of the 20th Century a very queasy feeling. The references to Norwegians, Danes, and Angles suggest that they were not welcome economic migrants. Also, it is addressed as submission to a Pope in Avignon then currently engaged on a major Crusade against his local Jews in southern France, eliminating any who he considered to be dissidents, conniving at the sale of heretics as slaves in Islam, and burning and pursuing the fleeing Franciscan Scholar followers of John Duns Scotus, who may well have come from Dunwich in Suffolk, where an East Anglian Scott family was prominent. So what I might like to have as an ancestor, who I did have, and their personal habits and actions may be different things.

Phase Four - Roman Britain & The Iron Age

But what were Vikings, Saxons and others before these labels were applied? The few writings of the period we have inherited are anything but clear, and modern archaeology is suggesting that what went on in the settlements was quite complicated. Similarly the story of the Roman and the immediate earlier period is becoming much more complex, there is scanty written information, and the naming and characterisation of the peoples and tribes encountered beyond the Imperial fief is vague and loose. A real problem is that this information from the Classical Period has had a major impact since the Renaissance, with again too much trust placed on too few sources. Before then in Northern and Western Europe we have only the findings of archaeology and the application of science. This has developed so rapidly in the last three decades, that much of the theorising and the ideology of historians, antiquarians, and eugenists made in the period 1700-1970, that is still imposed in many academic circles and in groups myths of origin has to be discarded. But the imposition of old theories and systems are difficult to shake off. My preference is to use the simple term “early peoples” until a great deal more is known.

Just who were the Germanii, the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals and others? How do these earlier groupings fit in to the pattern? Then, there are the Celts, an alleged all conquering Master Race eliminating native populations, presumably by the usual methods. If they were not this, and there are grounds for thinking that matters were much more complicated, are we using this term as a catch-all that has been assumed as a racial theory? Given the movement question then it begs the question of whether many of the later Saxons, Franks and Gauls were just another type of “Celt”. If there are serious difficulties in the analysis of the Iron Age and the later Bronze Age then in the times before it is necessary to be come even more careful and less dogmatic or wedded to an 18th Century and 19th Century methodology. The belief in Britain and Ireland by many that the “Celts” wiped out the previous populations to become the only Pre-Roman race in these territories is a sub-set of the early theories of an Aryan master race, and consequently has to be approached with a very critical eye.

We may have begun to learn a great deal from the benefits of the applications of science in terms of the food they ate, the metals they used, the way they built their houses and farmed, and other things. But we can only speculate about the languages they spoke, the gods they worshipped, their belief systems, how they saw themselves, or how they regarded their history. We can be surer that they knew mathematics and the way of the stars in the sky, but less so about the purpose. For myself, my ancestry is likely to be amongst all or any of them.

The Early Four Phases – The Bronze, Neolithic, Mesolithic and Palaeolithic Periods

In the early, called pre-historic times, the early Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Neolithic, the Mesolithic and the long Palaeolithic there is no documentation for much of Europe, as well as other parts of the world. There are remains in the Mediterranean Basin, the Near and the Far East that give us an insight into language, society, and the economy of a number of peoples. In Britain and Europe in the mid 19th Century the rediscovery of the ancient world of the Near East beyond the time of the Greeks and Romans, and the decipherment of their languages with the accompanying information from these earlier societies took a long time to find acceptance. This was because whole systems of belief, theology, and the myths of peoples rested on only what had been known, and for many solely in the history recorded in The Bible. So there was denial, and the attempt to insist on fitting every finding into an existing theoretical structure.

But elsewhere only what is found and reclaimed from the soil and the scientific analysis and classification of those findings is available to us. In the last thirty years, new developments, new methods, and new science have transformed much of the dating and analysis of discoveries, and of past findings. The DNA research is attempting to provide, if not an answer, at least a means of addressing some of the issues of human occupation.

Inevitably, in the analysis of human DNA from existing populations there is a debate, with a divide between those who want to prove the continuing validity of the early theories of race and descent, and those who feel that these are inadequate or plain wrong as an explanation of the development of modern humanity.

For the lands beyond the Atlantic, now the Americas, the “New World” seems to be becoming much older than anticipated, and more complex, and illustrative of some of the problems. As the Ice Sheet covered much of North America the initial theories that became established were that the settlement of The America’s originated only after the Last Ice Age with migrants from North East Asia across a previous land bridge and later the Bering Strait who made their way south over many generations. In the USA now there are groups who have claimed the description of Indigenous People and who bitterly oppose any findings or attempt to research or reconsider any further past. Alongside them is an academic establishment alarmed that matters might be more complicated, and that there were both earlier and other peoples. So there are moves to suppress work that could challenge these beliefs. Also, little attempt was made to find anything from earlier periods because it was assumed that there was nothing to find, or to look for other peoples because the theory said they did not exist, much in the way that the concept of the circulation of the blood was once disregarded by the most learned physicians, and of course, we all know that theoretically it is impossible for bees to fly.


Given that the Ice Sheet came down to what is now the English Midlands, my male ancestor may have just stayed where he was and changed with the times or have come from one of many places. Where he may have been and what form of life he adopted, can only be guessed at. There was one of my name transported to America for theft in the early 18th Century. He would have felt that he had been sent to the ends of the Earth. But when he arrived there he would have found a local tribe in the vicinity, and he would have recognised the name.

Friday 14 August 2009

The Great Question - Politicians, Financiers, And Tax Havens

One of the Human Rights is privacy, up to a point. Our tax affairs are private. As I am unable to find any rational explanation for the level of tax I pay from the Inland Revenue, this might be taking privacy too far, but this should reassure me that nobody else will know. My bank account is supposed to be private, but a dedicated hacker can find out. Whether this might given them cause for complaint about disturbing images when they see the figures I cannot say.

Tax Havens are keen on privacy as well. Indeed secrecy, discretion, and absolute trust are what it is all about. Ask Mr. Madoff and Mr. Stanford, where would they be now if it wasn’t for these priceless advantages? At one time these facilities were for the few and rich, a limited number in the know. Nowadays they are a major part of our financial sector that compete to gather in as many people with assets or decent income as possible into the networks of accounts and trusts that are such a large part of their trade and profits. One of our local jobbing builders now operates his affairs from a tax haven, even his vehicles are registered in one.

This gives such people a priceless advantage, because they are then much better informed about their tax affairs. In short, not how much they pay, but how little and it seems that a large part of the UK potentially higher tax bracket has gone off-shore. So the government prides itself on the wonders of our finance sector one minute, and then complains bitterly about the increasing fiscal deficit the next.

During this year there has been the hullaballoo over the expenses of Members of the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, which has spilled over into the incomes and expenses of many in the public sector. This is small change in comparison to the real scandal because like the fabled gorilla, elephant, or mad bull in the room The Great Question is not being asked.

Only in one or two parts of the media is there a trace of any suggestion, and then by very guarded inference. Otherwise you get slapped with a libel suit by some of the costliest lawyers in the universe and in the UK in a libel case you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence. The trick here is that the Judge will not allow you to submit the documents or evidence that would do this. Privacy, you understand, is paramount, especially for rampant financial extortionists. These days judges are integral members of The Political Class.

You will not hear anything from the BBC nor Sky, the media in general; nothing from the press, nor from those brave bloggers now in their holiday villas abroad, they will all maintain a discreet silence either because they are all such quiet and deferential people, or their bosses are involved, or other peoples bosses will put the hoods onto them. In Russia people might get shot, in other places they just get turned over a few times.

The Great Question in the UK is this, how many Parliamentarians, their associates, their families and connections, have offshore accounts and trusts, who are they, and what is the extent of their holdings? Subsidiary questions involve what payments are going in and from what sources, and what are going out and where? Further to this is how much tax would they have paid had all these funds been held in the UK and there been fully liable for ordinary levies?

Then there are the really nasty questions, who are all the financial and property side kicks who are amongst their allies and associates, and have enabled them to build up their portfolios? Bear in mind the FTSE these days is just a money temperature measure where the big boys lights matches under the mercury bulb.

It is my belief that the Iceland crash was London made, much as the AIG crash and others were also London made. Those involved will be in sectors of the property and finance markets where tax is an optional side dish. Very recently there have been leaks of certain documents relating to Iceland and amongst the companies listed with huge debt levels there are names that raise the eyebrows. It would take time and trouble work out the who’s and what’s and the joins are hardly seamless, but it is likely that there are a series of networks that are interlinked tightly enough to make a whole.

So that is where the bailout money is really going, channelled through the banks, what ever all the spin and speeches. It is going to the chancers that drove up the figures and caused the crash. Because if they go down, then they will take a lot of people with them. In fact they might bankrupt the bulk of the Political Class that as well as the judges includes the media.

Just like in 1772 when some high rollers in Ayrshire borrowed too much from the local bank and broke it, took down Fordyce’s discount house and then most of the City with them, including Arnold Nesbitt, friend and financial adviser of the famous and the fabled. Nesbitt stayed out of gaol and managed to leave his estates to his family. Well his best friend was secretary to the Prime Minister and came out smiling with an estate in Hampshire. The Austen’s knew him, but not closely.

So this explains why the FSA is delicate in its approach to bonuses, why the UK deal with Lichtenstein has more get out clauses than there are exits from Wembley Stadium, why there are no UK cases of fraud, why the OECD’s initiatives are becoming a bedroom farce, why the proposed UK regulation is as light as ever, why there is no real interest at all in either sorting out mess or sorting out those who created it. It is because just about everyone who might do much has their own offshore arrangements and trusts to worry about, and why those who haven’t but are stuck with the UK government are going to pay.

And it is why The Great Question is not going to be asked, at least in the UK. While our troops are in Afghanistan helping out the Americans, it is hoped this will shut them up, at least for a while, but the price is losing the last vestiges of the Special Relationship. We shall be the embarrassing relative who got nicked for stealing handbags from pensioners outside post offices. In Europe, if we are lucky, they might summon up the courage to close down the various rackets in the UK financial sector. In Araby and the East they might think it safer, cheaper and quicker to cut out London altogether in the future.

In the meantime we must all pretend that things will get better, which they won’t for most of us. But they certainly will for the lucky few who are being bailed out with our money.


It is reported that a government minister and his wife, Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, left a Muslim wedding to which they had been invited because men and women were segregated. During the 1940's in Liverpool I recall, this kind of thing was not unknown on any family occasion. After the necessary had been done, the men used to go off to the local pub where they would exchange fundamentalist views on football, beer, jobs, and the trials of nagging women. The ladies would tour the kitchen and living room supping gin etc. and exchange fundamentalist views on rents, rationing, repairing clothes, and the uselessness of men. The children did what they liked. It seemed to work very well, so long as the happy couple remembered to catch the train to go on their honeymoon.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

The Shape Of Things To Come

The picture above from 1956 shows a computer memory device being loaded onto an aircraft. It is very large, very heavy, and very expensive. It stored 5mb of memory. In those days there were few computers, they were little known, and managed by a mysterious cult of boffins. The first real container shipping service began that year, although there had been a handful of specialist ships in the previous decade.

Imagine, food cost a quarter of the ordinary family incomes, and supermarkets did not exist. Manual adding machines and ball point pens represented heights of technology. A fridge was a serious luxury item for the ordinary family. A TV was a new experience where you watched what you were told to watch, and newspapers had real news. Most people rented their homes, few could obtain much if any credit, and a car was still a distant ambition. The dockyards were filled with men, as were the workshops of industry and mines and railway facilities and farms employed many labourers. The City of London was a place where people knew what they were doing. I could go on.

In the past when I was young and callow, I did try to make forecasts. Early in 1967 in a discussion at the local Chamber of Commerce, I suggested that the UK position was weak, we were facing difficult choices, and one of the basic problems in coming to terms with our present, let alone the immediate future was our hang-ups about world power and prestige, especially the latter. For this I was roundly denounced at work by my boss for disloyalty to Queen and Country, lack of patriotism, and inability to recognise the greatness and might of Britain. A few weeks later the pound was devalued and the Wilson government announced the withdrawal from East of Suez. He never forgave me.

Now we are all broke, yet again, perhaps it is time to reflect on just what might be in store for us in the next fifty years. I can do so confident in the knowledge that the vast majority of the futurologists of 1956 to 1959 had it hopelessly wrong. A more delicate issue and maybe an advantage is that I will be unlikely to be around unless something really remarkable happens to the expectation of life figures. However, if I manage to get some things right then I might become an object of veneration, a new Nostradamus for the 21st Century. The trouble arises immediately I begin.

A major challenge is the wealth of information, sources, and debate now the web has opened up the minds and thoughts of the world to any who cares to debate or inform. Whilst properly this should lead to uncertainty and questioning, people have been brain washed into expecting positive and firm predictions, even when they know those who give them are lying through their teeth or have a personal agenda and something to sell. In any case, the figures probably will be manipulated, vital evidence be suppressed, and “research” done to order.

My personal problem is that if I set out predictions in which I honestly believe, using the LBO methods of analysis (Laws of the Bxyzabcg Obvious) some will be deeply uncomfortable, very difficult to accept, and will attract similar complaints to those made in genuine anger in 1967. But does anyone really think that life in 2010 will be anything like that we expected in 1980, never mind 1960? As for fifty years hence what will 2060 have to offer?

At least amongst all the advice and information nowadays there are online sites which advise you how to learn the basic skills of hunter gathering, but I am keeping this information to myself. But then I really am very old fashioned, and still think that 5mb is a lot of memory to have. Well, Bill Gates did once say that 256kb of memory was as much as any ordinary computer user needed, and who knew any better in those heady days of 1980?

Monday 10 August 2009

Ainsworth, Army, Kingsmen, Liverpool, Lenin

Mr. Robert William (“Bob”) Ainsworth is the present Secretary of State for Defence, and has encountered a certain amount of criticism since taking up post, relating to his personal experience and background. The name brings up memory, and the way all things connect.

22598 Private Charles Howard Ainsworth of the 20th (4th Pals Service) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment was killed in action on 30th July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. His loss is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, there is no grave, nor will one ever be found. On that day the 30th Division, with the 17th, 19th, and 20th Battalions launched an attack on Guillemont and encountered heavy shelling. Charlie was remembered as a good and brave man, and a steadfast friend.

From these three battalions alone almost 500 were killed, and an unknown number died later in the dressing stations and hospitals. To that should be added many more who were severely or otherwise injured. Most men were from Liverpool and of ordinary working background. Inevitably, because of the high rate of migration into the City from other parts of Britain and Ireland, many had other connections. In The King’s there were battalions of Scottish and Irish, there ought to have been a Welsh, the numbers were enough to support one. However, Ainsworth is a Lancashire name, taken it is said, from the old Township that lies between Bolton and Bury. I quote from the Ainsworth family web site:

“There are few famous people, but one of that name, Robert Ainsworth, 1660-1743, was a lexicographer who compiled a famous dictionary of Latin (Ainsworth’s Latin Dictionary, 1736) that was the standard work for at least 150 years and saw 24 authorized editions in England and two in Boston. He was a friend of Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who mentioned their meeting in 1738 in his diary: “I was much moved at the sight of Mr. Ainsworth, a man of great learning, above seventy, who, like old Simeon, was waiting to see the Lord’s salvation; that he might depart in peace. His tears and vehemence and childlike simplicity showed him upon the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The tragedy of the 30th July 1916 is made greater in that on 1st July, the first day of the Battle, the 30th Division, and the Pals, took all their objectives by an early stage of the day with limited casualties, and then waited, looking at open fields, for their orders. They had made a breakthrough that was never followed up because they were not expected to, and the Army staff was reluctant to change their plans. There was also a difficulty, in that to the right of the 30th Division were the French, and this was intended to be a British success, and not a French one.

The picture above is of a platoon of the 20th Battalion at Belton House, by Grantham after their battle training. They look ready for action, and they were. A photograph of the same men shortly after enlistment shows a group distinctly unready. Charlie, I have good reason to believe, is the on the front row, lying down, and on the far left. Had he survived The Somme, his chances were not good. In October 1916 there was the Battle of the Transloy Ridges. In February 1917 they were in the line outside Arras, and in April were involved in storming the Hindenburg Line.

Then it was up to Ypres for the Battle of Messines, followed by the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele on the Menin Road. Then the Pals returned to the grind of the trenches at Arras. In February 1918 an Army reorganisation disbanded the 20th and its men were sent to other battalions in the Arras area, where they felt the full weight of the German onslaught of March and April, the Huns last attempt to wring victory from impending defeat. If Charlie had been still alive and been really unlucky and transferred to the 17th then after the Armistice of 11th November 1918 he would have found himself being sent to Russia to deal with the Bolsheviks.

Belton House is a popular National Trust venue, with a great many visitors. A classic 1930’s country house with all the opulence and comfort of that era, it is particularly well known as the place where Edward, Prince of Wales, and his lady friend, Mrs. Wallis Simpson, used to enjoy periods of private pleasure with their friends away from the prying media. It is this which brings in the punters. In the house there is one small memento of the Machine Gun Corps, which occupied the estate in the later part of the First World War. Of the Liverpool Brigades of the Kings and the Liverpool Pals there is not a mention nor any hint of their time there. Outside where some of the men, many of whom died, scratched their names and initials onto the walls of the stables, they have been sandblasted back to the brick, and cleansed from the memory of the National Trust.

In his younger days “Bob” Ainsworth was said to be a fervent Marxist and a believer in communist ways of running economies and government systems. Whether he was related to Charlie or not, I do not know; but there were other Ainsworths about in Liverpool. I wonder if any of them fought against Lenin?

Saturday 8 August 2009

Mervyn King - An Open Letter To The Governor

Dear Merv,

Picking up my morning newspaper, a “Metro” free sheet, from the waste bin outside the local station, (who pays for print these days?), I learned that the Bank of England, which is yours and mine, intends to scatter munificence to the order of £50 billion more smackers to your nearest and dearest in The City, Westminster, and Mayfair. Perhaps it is time for me to make a bid for small non-business, in fact small non much at all, these days. We may be able to help the recovery you want far better than the dodgy geezers in those parts.

On a works outing to the Royal Opera, perhaps it was “Gotterdammerung” that gave you the idea for Quantitative Easing (QE). At her immolation, when the heavens collapsed with the doom of the ancient Gods, Brunnhilde hurled The Ring back into the Rhine to restore the Rhine Maidens guardianship of the Rhine Gold. The ordinary people then emerge blinking into the dawn of a new era where they now have the power to decide. Obviously you can’t have any of that, but as chucking good money about is the dish of the day for mainline economists, I see your reasoning.

But what neither Wagner nor Marx ever understood about capitalism, the basic issue is compound interest. It is not much in fashion these days, in fact one of the things that people want to ignore, as one of those “difficult” subjects. Indeed you may not be aware of it yourself. Once upon a time no home was without its little handbook of tables that set out costs and figures of different rates of interest, but perhaps these were too tricky for the typical software engineer to programme. Certainly, they do not fit all those marvellous mathematical formulae and structures on which all our lives, and your systems are now based. I know politicians never could understand them. They can only work in days, although those of higher intellect might manage weeks, but when it comes to months or years, oh dear, and they could never accept that interest is the price of money and has to be paid.

The people to whom you hand all this loot, don’t keep it at home, or even spend it. It is sent by High Priority Mail to off shore banks, trusts, investment funds and the rest to help them make their figures more convincing, especially when they are sent on a merry-go-round of computer servers around the world. This way it is secret, so when they tell you and us that all is now well, you have to believe it, or they will just come back and ask for more, again, and maybe again.

I know some may find its way into the odd pension fund, or lending to big business, who are all then persuaded to buy Treasury Stocks to support government spending, which then enables you to do some more QE, and this will, OK, I give up. What worries me is the interest payable. You see the rate of interest you publicise, and the rates of interest I have to pay, and all the local people I have to deal with pay, are wildly different. As a three card trick, it is wonderful, what I don’t like is what is happening to my budget.

Those who benefit, and earn mega money, do not pay much, if any, UK tax, and have no intention of doing. But when the Treasury borrows, it will then pay interest and this will be compound. As there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance of any of these debts being repaid soon, the interest liabilities will increase and will rocket after a few years, and I, and others like me will have to pay the lot. Unlike all those with offshore outlets, who will be liable for nothing at all, in fact, if they owe the Bank or the government any significant amount they will be allowed to write it off or paid off with a profitable nationalisation deal.

I know Keynes said that to spend might be wise, and I know exactly what he meant. Whenever someone goes on about QE and all that the first thing I do is to reach for the “General Theory of Money And Employment” and the wall sized diagram I have that sets it out in visual terms. Keynes did not mean throwing huge sums at casino bankers and Heath Robinson financial engineers to salt away abroad for free and without safeguards. He meant real investment yielding real long term benefit for the national community. He assumed that the whole of the community would pay their taxes, indeed the poor would pay as few as possible. He did not mean that the rich would be able to evade or avoid the lot, leaving the whole liability on the ordinary working people or the poor. He did not mean slushing money into the hands of foreign oligarchs and high rolling speculators or bingeing on prestige sports events, nor did he mean indulging in fantasy colonial wars.

If I may give you an example. Closely involved with many of the more hopelessly bust banks are some property men. They now control many of the freeholds and much of the property management services in the private rented sector, including the bulk of the retirement housing sector. Very few of those who live in these flats have much in the way of income or wealth, many of them are at the margins and on tight budgets. The service charges of the great majority of the old and vulnerable in these flats has been racked up nearly 10% compound for a few years now by the private property conglomerates controlled by private offshore Trusts concerned. The consequence is that their real disposable incomes have been cut by up to a third. The Office of National Statistics does not factor this into any indexes, and service charges do not count in calculations of many benefits or the claims for disablement or care, so the leaseholders are triple losers.

Do I need to spell out what this means? The income streams extorted from these people, entirely legally, have been used to leverage property speculation and take on debt from casino banks. So when you bail out these banks you are bailing out the property magnates, and supporting their lavish and wonderful lifestyles directly at the expense of the old and disabled. The Treasury knows this, you know this, others know this and certainly many politicians, but the magnates are their best friends. There is one downside, however, and that is you may have just about wrecked the market in flats, now an overbuilt and over priced sector, where the service charges now cost more than any mortgages, putting them beyond the bounds of affordability.

So if you must spend on consumption, then why not direct it to the old and poor one way or another who are being and have been screwed blind and whose incomes are deteriorating by the day? In parallel, why not do something to protect the unlucky victims of the mad scramble for loot that has caused all the trouble? In that way QE might actually mean what it says.

More important Keynes believed in certain moral imperatives. Alas, Merv, neither your Bank nor anyone it deals with these days believes in that kind of thing. But Keynes was a fan of the ballet. Perhaps Merv, you might try ballet for a works outing instead of all the Wagner and opera stuff. Like President Bill Clinton when he saw the Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Arts Centre in Washington DC in a performance of “The Sleeping Beauty”, you might realise the need for your very own Lilac Fairy.

If you have a look at the plot it is the Lilac Fairy who overcomes evil and deceit in the name of good and the truth.

Friday 7 August 2009

We're All Going On A Summer Holiday

With apologies to Alan Sherman:

Hello Gordon, hello Obama, here we are, on Grand Bahama.
Our stock is slipping, our hedge funds dipping,
And our frozen assets have turned to filthy dripping.

We went to Lichtenstein, with all that loot of mine,
All we get there now, the attorneys line,
Is heaps of bills and letters that are full of bitch and whine.

Down in Monaco, we were all ago,
Now every day, it’s all so very slow,
And Casino bouncers say that we are strictly NO!

On the bourses, we lost our horses,
Betting shops, and all race courses,
And the restaurant, we endorses, charges extra, for all the fancy sauces.

All our moveables are owned by China,
Carried there, by ocean liner,
The Dow Jones tells us there is nothing any finer.

We’ve sold our pots, our art in lots,
The villas grand are left to rots,
To make it worse, and send us dots, we have even lost our fleet of ocean yachts.

Away in old Frankfurt, our dollars rank as dirt,
Our motor interests have lost their fancy shirt,
We bought big hotels, now just cheap motels, and all the takings anecdotals.

Hello Mandy, hello Summers, it is all, a lot of bummers,
The company has grabbed my Hummers,
We drive taxis, for a pittance, and all the brokers now a pack of crazy dumbers.

Hello Gordon, hello Obama, it has all, been quite a drama,
Can you be, our financial Lama?
A few more trillions, and bonus billions, would make us all a very great deal calmer.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Afghanistan - A Scrimmage In A Border Station

There are those saying that we are likely to be in Afghanistan for decades yet in order to stabilise the country and to establish a more democratic society. We will not be satisfied until the financial quarter of Kandahar has a fully fledged Hedge Fund industry, or something. There are a number of other reasons, which has led to the complaints about “Mission Creep”, that is added extra duties. The trouble with these is if you are neither able to impose them nor to carry them out. It was exactly this kind of political activity that gave us most of the Empire and caused us so much trouble in getting out of it when the profit margins had evaporated.

I had vowed to abjure military matters in this blog, but having seen that Michael Yon was with the British troops again, changed my mind. It was his dispatches from Iraq when he spent a great deal of time with them that told us so much more about the realities than all the MoD press releases and British media put together. is his latest posting and tells us all a great deal more about what is going on than we normally see. I had thought to cherry pick his piece, but it is much better for others to take a good look. The picture at the head is of the encampment at Kabul during the Afghan War of 1839 to 1842, and is from James Rattray’s “Costumes and Scenery of Afghanistan” of 1848. Few of those in the tents would have survived, Kabul was later a scene of disaster.

What is astonishing is that there is so much known from this encounter, and from the later war of 1878-1880, let alone all the activity on the North West Frontier in the time of Empire. Then there is the Russian experience of the 1980’s. There is no chance of the UK being there for decades, because it will break us first.