Friday 30 April 2010

Play Up And Play The Game

Who needs traditional politics when there are exciting things happening in Football politics?

This one has all the makings of being a very lively matter. It is from the Tax Justice dot blogspot dot com of Thursday 29th April and concerns FIFA claiming a penalty against Tax Justice Network for tackling harder than they like..

At least it will give us something interesting next week.


The latest newsletter from Offshore Alert states that:

"The governing body of world soccer – FIFA – has attempted to intimidate Offshore Alert ahead of our conference in Florida next week at which allegations of fraud and corruption within FIFA will be made.

In a letter to Offshore Alert on April 23, FIFA's attorney, Lawrence Cartier, of London-based law firm Cartier & Co., issued a thinly-veiled threat of a possible libel action should a session by journalist and film-maker Andrew Jennings contain any "defamatory statements."

We are pleased that Offshore Alert has pledged to "proceed unfettered by outside interference." As they note, quite rightly:

"British libel law is widely considered to be repugnant, particularly in the USA where, in fact, British libel judgments have been held unenforceable in at least two states because they were, literally, considered to be repugnant to each state’s public policy.

"It lends support to illegal activity by discouraging journalists from exposing those who deserve to be exposed, all the while enriching attorneys at the expense of society in general. It is a third-world law that has no place in a developed society."


But it won’t be as much fun as watching the basketball games in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Should you be worried about what happens in the next year or two after all the recent fuss and have been seeking guidance from the UK media and all those immensely knowing pundits I regret you will not be aware of one little problem that might well bear on all the others. is entitled “The Imminent Crash of Oil Supply: Be Afraid.” I was pointed to this by the site “Some Assembly Required” on ckm3 dot today, Thursday 29th April in the last on the daily list titled: “Quoted”.

The Counter Currents dot org item under their section on “Peak Oil” posted on Thursday 22 April by Nicholas C. Arguimbau is a long one but does have some authority and the title makes it clear what it is about. Simply, it states that there is going to be an oil supply problem which we are too late to deal with. To all intents and purposes the situation will worsen so much over the next twenty years that we will have to learn how to do without the stuff.

For those who believe that the problem can he addressed by drilling more and drilling deeper there are two issues. One is the more severe pressures and conditions that arise at depth, exemplified by the current blow out in The Gulf of Mexico. The other is EROEI or Energy Return On Energy Invested that is the energy cost of extracting energy from whatever source. This idea might explain why the Romans never really went into coal mining.

If it happens or when it happens who will be blaming who?

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Immigration - The Context

The Gordon Brown gaffe I understand arose from his conversation with a lady who was referring to the numbers of Eastern Europeans who had moved to Rochdale.

As it happens I know my DNA and my male Y chromosome is the result of a mutation that occurred around 25 to 30,000 years ago amongst early migrants from Africa. It is common over much of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the far North and appears further afield, notably in the Hindu Kush, perhaps carried there by the Macedonians.

Quite how or when mine arrived in the Atlantic Isles I cannot know, there are too many options that begin with end of the last Ice Age. What I do know is that it is found in The Malverns around four hundred years ago. Other parts of my DNA are from elsewhere in The Atlantic Isles from Caithness to Cowes and from Great Yarmouth to Sligo and from further afield in earlier generations.

It is safe to say the world is my family. The mainstream view of the geneticists is that our human species derives from a small number of survivors of the planetary volcanic crisis of about 75,000 years ago. Their descendants moved on and spread about the face of Earth. It seems that we are all cousins by one degree or another, I repeat all.

The immigration issue should be about the future, not the past. We are carrying a large amount of baggage from the 20th and 19th centuries and seem unable to rid ourselves of past fantasies about our status, influence and ability to manage life in the ordinary world. The real issue is the numbers.

Given the scattered indiscriminate movement down the eras many of us may not be what we think we are or what we would like to be. In that time there have been around three thousand generations to spread out and mutate in our DNA, bodily structure and appearance in various ways. Our breeding pattern is not seasonal or confined to particular nutritional sources and can be multi-partner. So we breed rapidly given the right circumstances and variations will occur.

So much for the baggage of race; what about the numbers? China has a population of around 1.3 billion, India of about 1.2 billion, Pakistan about 170 million, Bangladesh about 165 million and Nigeria about 155 million. If each has only a small proportion of its population migrating to the UK the number arriving here will amount to a larger proportion of the UK population.

There are many well populated bits and pieces of Empire and other places that can add to the numbers for one reason or another. We have opened our doors to all in EU. It seems that many from poorer countries with less generous social services have responded to the imperatives of comparative advantage. Also, quite a few French have had better luck in London than in Lens or Lyon.

In the second decade of the 21st Century we are in a very different world. There are more human beings on Earth now than ever before with an increasing proportion located in vast conurbations totally dependent on outside supplies of food, water and energy. The technology of transport and reductions in real prices has meant that large numbers can be carried from place to place and continent to continent at lower cost than ever before and with greater ease.

The development of media and communications has meant that many can define themselves in terms of other places and beliefs rather than according to the place they live. Many belief systems and national identities owe more to past propaganda and group myths than to any historical reality. It can be worse. Some people identify not just with real human groups but with fantasies created by the media for profit. Should I go into my Dr. Spock routine?

At present we have politicians losing sleep over their campaign promises and what cuts may or may not be made and how to persuade the electorate that all will be well. At the same time the mind baggage they carry means that they cannot admit that major increases in the population of the UK by whatever means will impose any sort of problem in respect of public expenditure or services.

Almost all the migrants and subsequent and other births will be in existing major conurbations or related urban areas and will require housing, the full range of public services, a health service free to all, and access to the benefits system, employed or not. It will require water, energy, and last but not least, food most of which will have to be imported and paid for by vastly improving the Balance of Payments despite an increasingly adverse Balance of Trade.

We are being asked to believe that these monetary imbalances can be covered by people sitting by computers in London flogging dodgy insurance deals, trading even dodgier financial instruments and screwing debt ridden residents despite the richest of the money men avoiding the most onerous tax liabilities.

The theory is that immigration necessarily allows GDP to increase to pay for all that has to be provided. This assumes that the migrants will be paying tax. Perhaps all of our richest recent migrants pay very little tax at all having their wealth in tax havens. The London Cronygarchy which employs a lot of cheap migrant labour argue the trickle down theory. Sadly, most of the trickling goes in import heavy consumption expenditure, overseas property investments and using minimum pay or zero wage labour.

Most of the poorest do not pay much tax and when their children and their relatives arrive some will add to the numbers of dependents and potential claims for benefits. Many migrants seem to be bringing in quite elderly relatives unlikely to work. A proportion do contribute more than they cost but for some it will be less because of the needs of their families. The government omits remittances from the calculations as well as incidental benefits exported.

Since 1997 the government has trashed the agricultural sector and given the big supermarkets, largely owned by big finance, almost unlimited power over the land. A consequence is that our food supply increasingly is imported from places that do not give a secure supply, largely on a just in time basis and dependent on petro-chemical based fertilisers and transport. Land is being made over not to feed us but to feed ethanol into our petrol tanks. Hunger could be less than a month away.

The energy policy badly needed has been deferred because it is difficult and does not win votes. The infrastructure of the water industry needs renewal as well as the expansion of storage, another policy area largely ignored to keep the money men happy. The NHS is in real trouble, the government tolerating casualty rates akin to a bitter military campaign and even starving the patients.

Education in a country with sixty million people means spending huge amounts, yet the cry is that we are critically short of many skills and talents. More are attending university than ever before but Tesco has claimed it cannot manage its shops without importing literate staff from abroad. Does nobody see the disconnection?

Housing policy amounts to building a new generation of urban slums. Benefits policy undermines family and community life. In terms of law and order an increasing number of patches of UK territory are now garrisoned effectively by gangs and groups not just outside the law but protected by it whatever they choose to do to others.

If the UK political system cannot cope with the issues arising from government debt and has to go begging because of past profligacy and population increase whether from existing or new population unsupported by provision for food, water and energy, then it will have to resort to some very unpopular measures.

Beggars cannot be choosers.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Maps Do Furnish A Room

The BBC has been running some interesting programmes (gasp) lately on the subject of maps and map making, parallel with items about Captain Cook and his mapping on satellite documentary channels. The reason is a major exhibition to open on 30 April at the British Library on the theme of “Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art”. It is difficult to imagine at the beginning of the 21st Century how mapping was regarded in the past and its political and intellectual significance.

A good map can indicate in what appears to be simple visual terms what is a very complicated set of facts and ideas. The one above is taken from Economic Road Map dot com of 23 April quoting an interactive feature in Forbes on the subject of China Widens Its Reach in the extent of investments by Chinese firms and arms of its government in recent years.

What is striking about this map is that if you combine the British Empire of the 19th Century with a plot of where the overseas investment was going from the City of London in that period then there would be a strong similarity. Clearly, Imperial Russia was no part of the Empire, but there was a lot of investment there and in Imperial Russian Bonds. Equally, in other parts of the world beyond British control there was a capital in their developing railway and other communication and financial systems. A good deal of growth in the USA came from British money.

In the 1870’s Disraeli, with money borrowed from Rothschild’s, snapped up the Khedive of Egypt’s shares in the Suez Canal Company when he became financially embarrassed. In borrowing on a large scale for consumption purposes, the Khedive had not looked at the small print and when by the 1880’s he defaulted Britain put in a Baring (Evelyn Baring later Lord Cromer) and the troops and took control. This led inevitably to the entanglements in the Sudan to protect British interests. Gordon of Khartoum may have thought he was dying for Christianity but in practical terms he was there to protect shareholder value of the City’s major investment banks.

There is an academic debate over the scale and natures of China’s seagoing ventures at the turn of the 14th and 15th Centuries. Was it all about astronomy and mapping? Was it the search for new lands for trade, commerce and perhaps control? What did happen is that China, on a change of regime, stopped the voyages. Given their scale it is quite possible that it became apparent that the potential returns and benefits were not going to be enough. But that was then and in a different era.

How long will it be before China and perhaps others begin to demand more say and more action in the affairs of this nation and that in which they have substantial investments? Just how long will the heavily indebted nations of the West be able to lord it over the councils of international organisations and other entities? What is the old jingo way of putting it? We have the men, we have the ships, we have the money too?

So as our politicians and others in the debt laden parts of Europe play pat a ball with their voters how can one explain simply to the electorates that in the last analysis neither we nor they are in control or really in charge? The Greeks apparently had a choice. It seems that had an offer from China and Russia which seemed to be on generous terms and without too many strings, if they could believe it. From Germany and the EU the money came an offer with a clearer price. At the moment the Greeks have opted for Europe, it seems.

If it is necessary, whose offer will our next Prime Minister choose when the bills come in?

Saturday 24 April 2010

Scotland Fair And Foul

This was posted by Euan Mearns in The Oil Drum web site on Saturday 24 August about Alastair Dawson’s book “So Fair And Foul A Day” relating to the impact of geophysical events on the Scottish economy and history. Whilst the book takes Scotland as its basis it is necessary to remember that climatic and weather conditions, never mind the consequences of geophysical events, do not take much notice of recent man made political boundaries.

All the upland districts of the Atlantic Isles were affected as well as the arable areas. It is said that during the period of the Highland Clearances more people left the Yorkshire uplands to migrate than the Scottish.

Quotes below:


With the eye of the global media now firmly trained on Iceland, this is a timely reminder of the power our restless planet has to disrupt our daily lives. With air traffic still grounded across much of northern europe, it is truly inconvenient to be a tourist stranded abroad, or to have cancelled a holiday or business trip. But in the grander scheme how serious is this really? European politicians are now awakening to the possibility of this inconvenience dragging on for days or even weeks and are now describing this inconvenience as a crisis.

Now no one knows how this eruption will develop. But historical records describe how previous eruptions on Iceland had truly catastrophic impact on Scotland's climate and on the welfare of its people during the tenth to eighteenth centuries.

Below the fold are three excerpts from Professor Alastair Dawson's excellent book, “So Fair And Foul A Day” that gives an account of the impact of earlier Icelandic eruptions.

From the book:

The Eldgja Fires

Some of the most stupendous volcanic eruptions in Iceland took place some time between 934 and 940. The eruptions happened in the district of Eldgja in southern Iceland and nearly 220 million tonnes of sulphate aerosols were injected into the northern hemisphere atmosphere, which combined with water vapor to produce around 450 million tonnes of dilute sulphuric acid that was dispersed worldwide into the troposphere.

The Eldgja volcanic vents stretch along a 75 km length of southern Iceland between Mt Katla and the Vatnajokull ice cap. The early settlers of Iceland must have been amazed by what was happening. Hundreds of square kilometers were covered by lava flows associated with 15 separate eruptions taking place over a 6-year period. Some of the columns of ash are thought to have been in the order of 14 km high. The sagas tell of the destruction of farmland, the abandonment of land.

Some families are even described in the sagas as having attempted to rake the cover of volcanic ash from fields. No one knows for sure what the effects were on the weather of northern Europe. Some information can be gained from a similar, though less extensive, eruption of Laki in Iceland during 1783-84. It is well known, for example, that the years following this eruption were associated with the lowering of air temperatures across Northern Europe, the occurrence of dry sulphurous fogs and damage to crops and vegetation.

From what we know, the Eldgja eruptions were twice as big as those of Laki. Thus we may expect that the effects on society were at least as severe as those associated with the Laki eruptions, which took place throughout the summer of 1783. Although hardly any historical accounts exist for this period, there are descriptions of drought in Ireland at this time, when the mountains of Connaught were burnt with celestial fire, and the lakes and rivers dried up. There is also an account for 941 of a great frost across Ireland and the freezing of rivers and lakes, but no information is available for Scotland.

Page 122 - Living in a Freezer

After another cold winter in 1689 to 1690 we enter the 1690s, associated by many with the lowest air temperatures throughout the period 1350-1700. Across northern Europe it was once again a time of dislocated society, population decline and abandonment of farmland. Scotland's climate was already in shock from freezing winter temperatures and wet summers when a series of volcanic eruptions took place. Mt Hekla, in Iceland erupted in 1693, depositing ash across much of Iceland and as far afield as Scotland and Norway.

It is also well known that a major southward extension of sea ice took place at this time across the Northern North Atlantic. Whenever this happened, the tracks of storms were displaced further south than normal, leading to bitter winter winds and exceptionally high rainfall across Scotland.

The year 1694 was particularly disastrous, since it was the first of seven years of famine across Scotland known as "King Williams Dear Years". The famine took place prior to widespread potato cultivation in Scotland and hence there was a great dependence on grain.

The famine is said to have begun with a cold east wind and sulphurous fog (from the Iceland volcanic eruptions) over the whole country. Hugh Miller from Cromarty, a self taught geologist and natural historian, one of Scotland's great figures from the nineteenth century, tells us in the only known written account of this remarkable event:

One night in the month of August 1694, a cold east wind, accompanied by a dense sulphurous fog, passed over the country, and half filled corn was struck with mildew. It shrank and whitened in the sun, till the fields seemed as if sprinkled with flour, and where the fog had remained longest - for in some places it stood up like a chain of hills during the greater part of the night - the more disastrous were its effects.

From the unfortunate year till 1701, the land seemed as if struck with barrenness, and such was the change on the climate, that the seasons of summer and winter were cold and gloomy in nearly the same degree. The wanted heat of the sun was withholden, the very cattle became stunted and meagre. November and December, and in some places January and February, became the months of harvest, and labouring people contracted diseases which terminated in death when employed in cutting down the corn among ice and snow.

Page 143

1783 - a disaster across northern Europe

Then things deteriorated even further. In June a major volcanic eruption started in the Laki area of Iceland. The eruptions became more extensive after late July 1783 and continued until January 1784. The effect on the weather of northern europe was immediate. Across Scotland, clear summer skies were soon replaced by a haze of dust and a sulphurous fog which obscured the sun for 3 weeks.

In her diary from Kemnay, Aberdeenshire, Janet Burnett, unaware of the volcanic eruption, described how the leaves on the plants in her garden and the crops in the fields were withering yellow. In fact, the year became known in Scotland as "the year of the yellow snow".

The magnitude of the Laki eruption can be gauged by its catastrophic effects in Iceland. approximately 53% of Iceland's cattle, 77% of the ponies and 82% of the sheep died, together with 20% of the island's population. The Icelanders seemed to be facing complete extinction.

A committee was appointed in Copenhagen to devise means of relief. There was even a plan considered to evacuate the island and remove the entire population to Denmark.


Perhaps you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Friday 23 April 2010

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

My grandma, who I knew quite well, knew her Dad who knew his grandma who knew her grandpa who knew his grandma who knew her father-in-law who knew his grandma, aunty to the lady above, whose family were adjacent to and connected by marriage to a family who knew William Shakespeare quite well. By my count The Bard wrote his own stuff albeit a great deal on a "cut and paste" basis for plots and themes.

There were just too many people around in Warwickshire and London then and later who would have been aware that he did not had that been the case and the later generations were around Lichfield at the time of Garrick and Johnson.

He would have made a great blogger. So there.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Choice Or No Choice?

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the National Health Service is the Chinese Army/Praetorian Guard/Janissaries of the General Election campaign, take your pick. Important as health matters are to all of us and admitting the large number of people it employs directly and indirectly it remains that the health provision we get is only that which we can afford.

My local constituency seems to have five candidates. Generally regarded as a “safe” Conservative seat this has coloured the stance of all of them. My previous home was in an ultra safe Labour seat, once held by a local man who had done real work who was replaced by a media shoe in from London to suit Big Tony.

Our present MP is to retire to concentrate on, errr, media work. Quite how much of the past vote was “personal” or not is an interesting question but not one that should have much effect. The person was as good at giving offence to particular interests as garnering votes by effort and publicity.

What have I got? There is a UKIP candidate, a local who does not look tidy in a suit. There is no leaflet yet, but the UKIP web site tells me that the views are “right on” with the things that UKIP is most determined about. The level of interest locally suggests that this candidate will be lucky to save the deposit. This person is the only one who apparently does not list the NHS high on the priority rating being concerned more with economics and self government for the UK.

The Labour candidate is the most remarkable. An NHS doctor, so very much of the client state, apparently in October 2008 was in Florida securing the election of Barack Obama to the American Presidency (was this paid secondment?). This was achieved by reading out at major rallies the text on the back of the Labour Party Membership Card which includes “for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many and not the few.” In your dreams, matey, in your dreams, if you do get elected, Mandy will want a quiet word.

I do not think the chances are great if only because amongst the many pretty pictures is one that really will frighten the locals. It is one alongside a man with staring eyes who carries a big banana, indeed Miliband The Merciless. Fear gripped my vital statistics. Oddly it was this bit of the leaflet that refers to the candidate’s medical career. So vote for me or else.

We do have a Green Party candidate. For disgruntled types like us this might seem to be the best option, however Green it might be but it is not without problems. The NHS features at number three behind living wages and a million new jobs with bashing the bankers to follow. It is possible to discern the Militants of the 1970’s and 1980’s behind the fog of promises. This party means state controls and spending on a much greater scale and to allegedly “community” purposes whatever that means.

For the Lib Dem’s we had the ultimate accolade, a personal appeal from St. Joanna Lumley of Sagarmatha. Her commendation of our local candidate reads like a cross between a Nobel Prize eulogy and the compulsory compliments paid by visitors to the Emperor of China. Nobody, nobody can be that perfect. A local worthy with a clean record maybe and one who knows how to present the party line.

But my dear, the policies as well as the people. Never mind the lack of realism. For the UK to be bundled into Europe in the middle of the present financial mess will mean a bigger and fuller surrender than even Heath and Wilson achieved between them. The Lib Dem sent us two things, in one the NHS was in prime spot and the other was going on about community in a town stripped of its greengrocers, most of its pubs and post offices as well as almost all the local shopkeepers.

Which leaves us with the Conservative. Alas a lawyer who is given to good causes but at least with some mention of business and the private sector. But the NHS is there at number two in this case as well as the genuflections to the altars of community. There are claims to local commitment but there is no hint of what other interests might be tucked away. What lobbyist or consultancy interests might be lurking behind the curtains? If they are not there now, the Conservative is elected and Cameron has a majority then our MP will be getting offers that may be impossible to refuse.

I keep complaining that there are things that are missing in the Election Campaign and it shows in the offerings of the various candidates. The war, the debacle of the drugs trade, the increasing divisions and tensions, the sheer incompetence of much of government, the challenges we will have in maintaining a great deal of the basic structure of our living and the loss of much of our law and ability and the degradation of the urban areas.

As for the NHS; are any of them aware of the disastrous shambles it has become? Are they aware that it might be close to meltdown and that as the largest source of employment and incomes in the UK it could become the quicksand of the economy?

If all the other candidates in the UK are like this lot it can only get worse.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Remembrance Of Times Past

After a swig of my Baggywrinkle Brown Ale from the Nelson Brewery I bit into a premium cost old fashioned crisp. The memories flooded back as I waved the remote at the TV and the Burnley team came into view as a change from Vinteuil’s Sonata. I have seen them play only a handful of times but all close to General Elections, three of times of busts past, 1945, 1959 and 1979.

The picture above is from July 1945 during the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin and shows the Headquarter Squadron of the 7th (Desert Rats) Armoured Division being inspected by Winston Churchill (his bodyguard is wearing the trilby) with Field Marshals Alan Brooke (the man who won the war) and Montgomery with Major-General Lyne, GOC of the Division. The Division was disbanded in January 1948, only to be remustered in March 1949, but finally reorganised to become the 5th Infantry Division in April 1958, later the 1st Armoured Division.

From this high point Churchill was to find out in the following week that he had lost the 1945 Election. The country faced very severe economic, financial and social conditions. The spoils of war were bitter fruits and there was a decade of hardship, shortages, worry, cold, hunger and uncertainty to come. Initially, the Americans gave us scant sympathy as many of their leading politicians believed that the British Empire was part of the problem and they wanted it dismembered in addition to the reduction of Germany to a pastoral economy.

It was when it became apparent that Communism was a serious risk across Europe and that the destabilisation of Britain could lead to its rapid spread through the rest of the World to the disadvantage of American business and power that funding and arrangements were put in place to restore the western economies and inject the right kind of political stability.

By the late 1950’s we were in real trouble again as a consequence of the Suez Crisis coupled with centralised control of investment and finance largely to maintain the pound as a world currency and The Sterling Area, more or less the old Empire. Much of the reality of this crisis was hidden by both the major parties and the media of the period.

This was the upshot of a two party system where neither party represented the progressive and modern parts of the economy, which had to carry the burden of supporting the declining parts as well as constant meddling for short term politic ends. The so called “middle way” called “Butskellism” because of the overlap of the ideas of R.A. Butler, the major economic figure of the Tories and Hugh Gaitskell, Labour Leader, about economic management.

To win the 1959 election Macmillan ignored the advice of his Treasury team in 1958 and went for a policy of increased debt driven public spending coupled with theatricals in foreign policy and retreat from Empire. Given the divisions within Labour it was enough to return him to power.

Luckily after the election of J.F. Kennedy, his relation by marriage, to be President of the USA, Macmillan was able to cut the armed forces, abandon UK nuclear independence and become the junior partner, whilst being allowed the pretence of major power status. The USA allowed the UK a good deal of latitude in its handling of the pound sterling, finance and connections. Whereas in the 1880’s Britain had played a leading role in the Scramble For Africa, now it led the way in the scramble for the exits. The costs of all this in many cases exceeded any benefit the UK had gained from those imperial ventures.

In the next seventeen years we had coming and going of centralist governments that oversaw a steady decline, devaluation, the attrition of much of British industry and ended with the 1976 crisis after inflation went out of control. In their different ways both main parties were to blame and it is too much of a tale to tell here. Very recently we have discovered that the Americans had taken fright and helped the IMF to bail us out. The sums involved were nowhere near present levels of debt.

Not long before Heath had lumbered us with an expensive European entry and a local government and other reorganisations that sent costs rocketing. So when Callaghan and Healy had to turn off the taps at the beginning of 1977 there was trouble in 1978, culminating in the Winter of Discontent. As I was involved in delivering some of the pain it was not a happy time. In 1979 the electorate had lost faith with Labour and the Conservatives returned with a unique leader. Mrs. Thatcher is the one and only scientist to have become Prime Minister.

This time around there was something in the kitty. North Sea gas and oil helped to ease the government finances and contributed to changes that had to be made. There were many mistakes and misjudgements but change did happen and the economy righted in some ways. One major strategic error was to put too much faith into finance. The UK got away with it again because of the generosity of spirit of the Reagan and the USA, mindful of the prime objective to prevail over the Soviet Union.

Amazingly, in 1997 New Labour not only went along with the blind faith in finance and but made matters far worse by raiding pensions, deregulating and allowing every crook and conman in The City to have a free run at government lending, subsidies and consultancies. By dint of simply slushing money figures around they manipulated the statistics to make it look and seem good. It was bound to go bust and it did.

Whether the Crash was due to the manias of Wall Street and Washington DC is a good question, much blame lies there. Equally, it lies with the City and the network of associated tax havens, together with the uncontrolled subsidiaries of The City in Dublin and Iceland. But the British government were as much to blame as anyone.

This time the Americans might just leave us to swing because they cannot afford to bail out themselves, let alone a criminally negligent bunch of Ponzi Scheme running shysters in London and criminally corrupt dependencies. In our troubled world there are new problems of who defends whom from what.

With London now the epicentre of world terrorism planning and financing the UK can no longer expect much sympathy or regard from elsewhere. In critical resource management and economic control, the UK has surrendered or given away its ability to manage or to influence. As some say, the UK government is now a minor subsidiary of busted banks. The beneficiaries are a range of entities who simply wish to extract and use and not to support or nurture.

The old HQ Sqn 7 Armd Div marched to “The Garryowen”, but as elections and economic busts go there is no cavalry to come over the hill and no shots in the locker with which to defend ourselves. 1945 meant a decade of hardship, for the UK this time round it could be a great deal longer.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Times That Try Men's Souls

I was mailed this story by a member of the family on Sunday, which figures. From Yahoo News it is entitled “Did you sell your soul for games?” and asks “Answer this question honestly – do you read the small print when you buy games on the internet?

High Street retailing giant GameStation decided to put this to the test and inserted a new clause into their terms and conditions earlier this month that granted them legal rights to the immortal souls of thousands of their online customers. Here, in darkest legalese, is how they got away with such a heinous act:

"By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorised minions."

GameStation’s fiendish clause specified that they might serve such notice in “six foot-high letters of fire” too, but also offered customers an option to opt out, rewarding them with a £5 money-off voucher if they did so. Alas, hardly anyone noticed the clause, let alone the substantial bonus for spotting the gag. More to the point, the fact that it passed more or less unnoticed raises an important issue – too few people actually read the small print when they make online purchases.
According to GameStation, around 7,500 customers carelessly signed their souls away on the day. Were you one of them...?”

Well, it’s a good story, but but me no buts, as they say. I ask, does buying in souls for a hypothetical return really give added value to the marketing? Moreover, is it of any real benefit to return on capital employed and shareholder return? Also, I have not seen any real market developing in either packaging soul mortgages, credit soul default swaps, or that they help with securitisation of income streams or enhanced asset value.

The market leaders in soul transference have not shown any real interest in these features. It may be that they have missed opportunities for turnover and incremental additions to revenues but given the scope they have in market penetration and share it is unlikely.

I think the best thing Game Station can do is unload them on Ebay as ephemera that might have a future value if the market picks up.

Friday 16 April 2010

Volcanoes And Other Fall Outs.

Well, I called Iceland right and for those looking for follow-up Bill McGuire in today’s “Times Online”, Friday 16th April has a good piece in the Comment section titled “A Few Grounded Planes, We Got Off Lightly”. Bill is a man for whom I have a great deal of respect.

What else has been going on? Not much really, so last night we put on a saved programme “Beautiful Minds” second out of three from BBC4 dealing with James Lovelock, the individualist scientist whose insights and Gaia Theory attract so much debate. He was telling us that we are all doomed in the nicest possible way.

For a more local type of doom Market Oracle dot co dot uk on 13th April has a long and detailed analysis by Nadeem Walayat, titled “Britain’s Accelerating Trend Towards High Inflation And Debt Default Bankruptcy”. It is a subject you do not hear a lot about although it is touched on by some people who tell us that they can increase and cut public spending at the same time without increasing taxes to inconvenient levels and let us all have all the presents we want for whatever festive season is appropriate.

There are other things we do not want to talk about in front of the children or those of a nervous disposition. There is Afgh….(shush!!!)..There is the £500 billion needed to sort out all that infrastructure and there I was thinking the Olympics were the key investment. There are other things as well. “Care In The Community” is on the verge of collapse. The NHS has abandoned and stopped bothering about anything that does not require targets to meet set by media advisers in London.

Around the web there is a good deal of mention of knob twiddling on TV. The thesis is rather than thought or analysis we should all base our political responses on the instant of time we react to the personalities involved. So what promises might have prompted me to hit the top buttons?

Free beer for the workers! Ban binge drinking! Spend more on OAP’s, Education roads and social services! Cut local government expenditure! Hang the Kaiser! Unify with Germany! Bring the troops home! Declare war on Russia! Hang the bankers! Easy credit for all! Tear down the barriers to foreign investment! Keep British firms British! End celebrity culture! Give peerages to game show and TV reality show entrants! The list could be endless.

At last the plumbing work in the bathroom has just been finished. I think will go and sit there quietly for a while, if only to avoid the fall-out.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

In The Lap Of The Gods

Poseidon has developed a couple of itches, perhaps too much of the wine and nectar, and has begun to scratch himself again. A big earthquake in Tibet/West China, a few other big ones around again, one down by the Macquarie Islands, always a worry, and Baja California has been rumbling away now for days. Also, a couple of big deep sea ones but no tsunamis of any size, yet. Don’t forget he has an ongoing rash that we call the North Anatolian Fault.

Iceland is having one of its bumps and bangs, a largish volcano may or may not be in the process of erupting. Unluckily it is under a large glacier so we do not really know but big eruptions and big glaciers make for a dangerous combination. Being Iceland if one vent goes up there are many more that could follow. Just like their banks used to be.

It is no use whatsoever asking our politicians about what their earthquake/volcano policies are in the coming election, or what they might do to prevent them, or to control them or to plan their output, frequency and effects. Quite rightly they will tell us that it is all down to the scientists and entirely unpredictable. Basically, it will all happen and then the mess will have to be cleared up, at taxpayers expense.

What we cannot accept is that as far as economics, international finance and trade, money matters and similar things they are in much the same situation. Asking them to have definitive policies or to be able to guarantee delivery of this or that or to be positive about most things is a waste of time. They know it, or at least they should, the media cannot afford to admit it because it makes them useless and the rest of us simply do not realise how little we can control our futures.

As you trawl the web we can see that there are many peaks and troughs. Amongst the peaks are food production, oil supplies, energy supply, asphalt, tin, copper, gold, lithium and a few other basic resources. There are bitter debates about all of them. If the logic is that more people plus more fiat money plus more demand then where resources are either finite or now at their limits of productivity then something has to happen to pricing and the allocation of those resources.

If the troughs include climate induced change, hot or cold, or wet or dry, transport capabilities, fiscal deficits, inadequate forces, effective law and order, and a few other things, then everything becomes even more complicated. Experts in the field of Collapse Dynamics, Catastrophe Theory and those who enjoy nothing better than a wild and woolly picture of uncertainty and confusion are having a golden period.

We are left with a choice between an obsessive bean counter who keeps losing count of his beans, a charismatic researcher whose information was always too little and too late, and a crew of other worldly types whose perceptions of reality are now defined by what next appears on their Twitter feed and the latest from the polls or this or that think tank (think septic tanks) or focus group.

They and we are all hostages now to fortune, to uncertainty, to the decisions of others in other places and to things they neither comprehend or recognise. The next few years are going to be a grim scramble for survival.

I can remember a time sixty odd years ago, when a good many people in the UK lived in what amounted to shanty towns, with little food, no water supply and no electricity. Also when money was short, taxation heavy and many if not most real transactions were in barter or mutual service. It may or may not come to that, but the risks are there and it has happened before and more than once.

In the meantime we must hope that Poseidon doesn’t develop an allergic reaction to human beings and blame them for his itching. His Trident is bigger and better than ours.

Monday 12 April 2010

What Is It All About?

At the time of the general election in 1945 everyone knew the scale of the mess and the nature of the disasters that the war had wreaked. In most places we could see it, smell it and it affected almost every aspect of our lives. The politicians then admitted most of it but even then we were not told the whole story by any of them.

Too many Conservatives retained illusions of imperial grandeur, too many Labourites wilder illusions that the centralised state could cure all and too many Liberals all the vague notions and muddled thinking left over from 19th Century theories. We were given a United Nations but what we got was the Atom Bomb and forty years of Cold War.

At least then we had a relatively coherent system of government. It might have looked like a patchwork and certainly had many variables but we did know who did what and why and where they worked from. It is striking to think that the Counties of Rutland, Radnor, Clackmannan and Fermanagh and for that matter County Boroughs such as Oldham had a greater measure of independent responsibility and scope of action than does the United Kingdom at the present time.

What do we have now? In the world of law there is a Supreme Court whose function seems to be to agree to a collection of supreme idiocies pronounced by others. We have a set of courts where most of us have lost sight of who does what or why. What we do know is that absent minded pensioners who sell a goldfish will be severely punished but serial violent burglars will be able to chalk up hundreds of offences before recognition and murdering drug dealing gangsters are protected. Libel law allows the rich and powerful to defame anyone they like, break laws, stop criticism even if they are killing people and punish and ruin the innocent, especially anyone devoted to the idea of scientific debate.

There is a House of Lords which meets and deliberates at huge expense for very little reason or rhyme. These hundreds of appointed cronies, time served politicians, party political subscribers and occasional nods to a limited number of minority interests with an effect on marginal constituencies occasionally gather to mutter into their microphones words that nobody listens to.

The House of Commons is the Deserted Village of representative government. Once a busy place on screens now it usually appears a sea of green (benches) with very little activity that is either productive or makes any sense. The administration rams through ramshackle, badly drafted, damaging laws in which the only certainty is that the unintended (expensive and damaging) consequences will outweigh by far any real benefits.

Each of these laws will impose great extra burdens on the taxpayer. Most of these laws give the administration vast uncontrolled and unchecked power to do what they will through agencies and non-government organisations that each has a life of its own, largely free from any legal or other controls.

We do not have a “government” as such at any level. We have a confusing collection of entities that rarely act either in concert or with any logic. I have not even mentioned Europe that real controller of our destinies. Despite “Freedom of Information” finding out what is going on is very difficult and the media have given up the job, now relying on interns reworking the output of all the public relations staff now employed and trawling the internet to pick up odd items.

So all these “campaigns” going on are a lot of clatter by power seekers hoping to get hold of the levers of finance and means of “added shareholder value”. What they are not telling us is how little either the House of Commons or the House of Lords do, the way in which they have lost or surrendered authority and power, the scale of the mess, the spread of corruption, the extent of the destruction, or the kind of world or future we face.

What is it all about? We are not being told and we are not going to be told. But we will have to pay.

Friday 9 April 2010

Election Fatique - A Short Story Instead


Grunge, nominally Gerry Murphy, but in full Marmaduke Llewellyn Gerald Iain Smith-Jones-Murphy-Mactavish, the 14th Earl of Gorbals, was sitting in his cubicle trying to restore the family fortunes by banging away at a computer keyboard. There was a decision to make, and he paused. He was sure that the coding he preferred was good and much better than the alternative. Grunge had created it and knew it was sound. But the management operating software development committee had decided categorically that the one invented by the Managing Director's auntie had to be used, or else. Apparently it was based it on a well-known knitting pattern that she used to solve all her problems by concentrating her empathies. The methodology had already had great success in dealing with weaknesses in the date and time setting on her personal computer.

Grunge would have liked to enjoy other ways of earning his money or living, but the family land and fortunes had been dissipated by a series of unlucky decisions by his immediate forefathers. They had been foolish enough to combine a social conscience and a reliance on Trust lawyers together with a quaint belief in the Scottish system of justice. The money had all gone and none at all knew where or how it had happened. Generations of ruthless ambition, measured violence, abuse of law, and absurd risk taking had been abandoned to seeking advice from the incompetent, small minded, and very seriously bent. In the 1990’s there was only one thing for it, software engineering, and in this Grunge had made an even bigger mistake. Grunge had chosen America because it had cheap food and big women, but the expenses were high and unpredictable. He had come to feel nostalgic for the bite of a real Scottish midge.
So, with a caution that was unknown to his forebear at the Battle of Flodden, who had ridden single handed at the English cannon and disappeared in a mess of blood and flesh, Grunge leaned over his cubicle and asked his supervisor. "OK its now the committee code to go in, will you check me." After a few minutes of enduring the sneers and threats, the routine for holders of a Green Card, Grunge managed to extract an answer. “Hey, ******* ****, you ******* greasy limey, just do as your ******* told and no ******* questions. ******* do it and ******* do it ******* now, and ******** you do ******* not ******* leave until it is ******* checked and by ******* you, ******* personal, OK ******* get me?” His supervisor, recently arrived from Ecuador on a forged American passport, was an avid believer in the study of Hollywood films for the teenage market segment as a means of cultural absorption. So Grunge nodded, proceeded to tap away, and it was done.

Night came and he was on his own, even the Chinese had left, and it was time to run the system to see if everything was as it should be. After a short while there was a loud bang as the local power station blew up. Grunge noticed a bad smell about the office. When the emergency power plant in the basement had kicked in the backup power and the lights returned he found he was looking at a middle sized square built man dressed in loose woollen shirting and skins.

At first Grunge thought he was one of the latest Balkan recruits to the maintenance department, until he noticed the horse. Grunge breathed deeply, which was a mistake, as the man smelled a lot worse than the horse. "Can I help you?" he asked. "Indeed you may, what is this place and why am I here? Am I called before my gods?" The language was a little formal, but it did show that the auto sensing verbal translation function in the operating system was in place.

Grunge told him his name and the company he worked for, but the man seemed at a loss. "I am Attila,” he said, and this is "Villumgates, my horse." "Hi Vill, Hi Attila!" Replied Grunge, "And what brings you here?" "I was standing peacefully outside my yurt thinking of a swift gallop to a well fleshed maiden I saw lifting her skirt, when a swirling purple mist came over me and here I am. Is this heaven or hell?" "More like the latter, we are short on human resource development, but really just an ordinary outfit devoted to making money and apologising for the breakdowns in our software. But where do you live?" "On my horse with my men most of the time, I own the plains beyond the Urals to China, but have recently embarked on a vigorous programme of mergers and acquisitions."

"Hey, are you Attila The Hun?" Grunge realised that Auntie’s time function had properties that were entirely unexpected. The man spat, it made a mess on the screen, Grunge clicked his tongue, it could be organic yoghurt and that was a lot of trouble to remove. "No, no, no, Attila The Fun, those Romish monks, they make a simple error in calligraphic transcription, and all over Europe they get it wrong. Every place we go to with our Great Horse Show we have to explain it all over again. That organisation needs a good takeover, delayering, and shakeout." "But I thought you rushed about fighting, murdering, raping, looting, having sex, and destroying everything in your path?"

Attila sat down on Grunge's seat, imposing on it a layer of grease; the horse gently chewed its way through the various handbooks on the desk. Grunge did not mind the horse; he was probably improving their inner meaning. Attila looked at him squarely in the eye for a few moments, Grunge tried to smile, but found it difficult. Attila asked him, "So when you go to a show what do you want to see?" Grunge thought for half a second, "Fighting, murdering, raping, looting, sex and destruction." "Good egg, look, old boy, let me put you in the picture." said Attila. Grunge felt the language function needed some more work. "It's like this, we put on a show, now the peasants." Grunge winced, he hoped the audio surveillance was now off; this was deeply politically incorrect.

In the company mission statement all were equal, except when it came to bonuses, salaries, stock options, medical insurance, and perquisites. "They like lots of bangs, noise, blood, and things that rarely happen down on the farm. Oh, and people getting their clothes off. The church doesn't like it, as our increasing takings have been impacting severely on their own marketing and expansion programme. They have tried to piggy-back our operations by creating alleged saints and martyrs where we have performed. They have a very nice line in horrible and tragic deaths, but we still have the cutting edge in the transcendental experience trade."

Grunge riposted, “Don’t forget they have a good tourist trade based on relics.” As a Free Presbyterian, Grunge felt it odd to be supporting the Church of Rome, but someone had to these days. “Holy cow,” Grunge wondered what Attila was going to come up with, but was wrong, “hocus pocus, that is exactly where we have the client. We do not expect a customer to crawl miles on his or her knees to look at a bit in a box. All spectators get their own personal relic there and then. Our shows are designed to create enough fatal casualties to enable full distribution of a certified item to the paying entry.”

"I see, but that's not the story I've heard" "Well you have heard wrong, then, I have been trying to get our marketing department to get into scrolls and books for the record, but they say that is for the nerds, a bit of polo with a head always gets the crowds in." "So you are getting the better of the Church then?" "Not all the time, we had this prime booking in Rome, but we couldn't get past all the singing nuns who they sat down in the road." "Couldn't you have ridden over them?” "Gadzooks no,” Grunge made a note. "Think of the horses’ fetlocks man, those are prime expensive animals, some bony nun could do a lot of damage." This was getting heavy so Grunge decided to try something, he tapped a few keys, and another power plant in Massachusetts vaporised. There was a momentary glitch in the power and lighting, but Attila and Villumgates had gone.

In the afternoon of the next day the Executive Director for Human Capital and Personal Identification tapped on Grunge's side panel. He was moving from leg to leg which was always a bad sign. "The surveillance tapes from last night, you had an unauthorised visitor, he seemed to be an oddball, we hope you can explain, there were one or two things which breached the guidance for verbal communications instructions, and there are gaps in the tape, so we are assuming substance abuse and all manner of other things on the advice of the legal boys. Oh, and the horse is a problem, allergy risk and liability and all that, any problem we take the money out of your company pension entitlement."

Grunge breathed in hard yet again, it was recommended by his personal trainer, and realised that the Executive Director made heavy use of male fragrances; on the whole Grunge preferred Attila. It was going to be difficult, but a logical and sensible explanation would have been regarded as a sign of guilt. Toughing it out was the sub text of any discussion. So Grunge decided to be more or less frank and open for once, "Our new project seems to have a Time Travel function, thanks entirely to your innovation, or rather the MD's Aunty. That was Attila the Hun, he wasn't totally happy with the situation so I let him go home, I'm sorry he forgot to sign in and out. His visit was entirely involuntary and unplanned, and subject to unforeseen circumstances so of course I deny liability. That rests with the designer of the knitting pattern."

The Executive Director looked very sour, "So, you want to be clever, so show me what you did. "Just the routine checking procedure on the new codes." "OK I'm going to run it, soon, I’ll be back when I’ve had my pills." "Look, are you sure? Last time it was only Attila, the circus entrepreneur, who knows what you will get next?" "Listen you, I do not like bull and baloney, and this time you are going to answer some questions." As his superior pushed his way past to the rest room, Grunge thought it was time to go for late lunch. It was over a year since he had taken time to eat out during the day, the question was where. It needed to be a place as far as possible in the shortest time. He remembered a quiet place high in the White Mountains that might be a safe distance, and he could pick up some of the ball game on TV. If the worst happened he could cross the State line, or run for Canada.

Grunge ordered a rib-eye steak with eggs benedict and fries to come at the Arnold Memorial Inn and settled down to watch the rest of the game on the giant TV screen that dominated the 18th Century style dining room. After only a short while there was a twitching of the lights and power, then a generator took over, and the TV resumed. At first there was a purple haze on the screen and then when the picture emerged there appeared to be crowd trouble at the Fenway Stadium. A mob was on the park, and strangely for demonstrators, they appeared to be mounted.

Grunge’s first reaction that it was a mounted police undercover unit sent to deal with the players who had threatened a strike over the brand name of the sponsor of their boxer shorts, but then he realised that he had seen the leader before, although it was the horse he recognised first. It was Villumgates. One of the Boston players was unwise enough to begin shaking his bat at Attila, who stood in his stirrups, waved his sword and called the play to his men. They began to put on their show with a will and with a degree of organisation and brutality that surpassed anything the crowd had seen since the World Ladies Wrestling Championships.

It wasn’t long before the coverage was cut and the advertisements began to roll. After a few minutes a man in positive mode apologised for the loss of picture and promised a screening of “Spartacus”. “What the hell?” said the barman, “It was only the second innings.” Grunge thought for a few minutes and decided a lot of beer would go well with the meal, but after he had spent a few minutes on the laptop first. “Could I book in for a couple of nights?” he asked the barman.

The TV coverage of the ball game at the Fenway was the most amazing thing the viewers had ever seen, the little they saw. The trouble was that the sponsors were unable to book a return match, which gave rise to criticism of the programming in the media sections. When Grunge returned to the office he learned that the software project had been discontinued and that a large number of lawyers seemed to have been appointed and were running around looking over the shoulders of staff that Grunge had never seen before.

None seemed to know what they were doing, which made for an air of normality, and Grunge knew he had about a very short time to act. Occupying the cubicle reserved for the Chairman’s niece, a lady not his relation, and who never appeared, but drew a Vice-President’s salary and bonuses, he set to work on a pile of knitting patterns, and scribbled bits of paper littered about by the M.D’s Aunty. He was lucky, just having completed his work, entered the copyright, and established Intellectual Property Rights when he was found.

A posse of personal assistants dragged him to the Conference Room where he was confronted by a team of lawyers. A long speech was made by the most senior, a lady, who had lived almost thirty years, and Grunge learned he was surplus to not just company requirements but potentially the human race were there to be any insuperable difficulties. Blood will out and Grunge lost his temper. He was then made an offer of an unexpected vacancy in Columbia, with immediate effect, apparently new software was need urgently by local exporters who had persistent problems with the documentation for the transport of their goods.

Grunge asked for an absurd package of pay and bonuses, to be followed by a final payoff determined on the most lunatic optimism of the company’s share price. There was a silence. Then, while the lady was telling him that he was a fool, he took out the knitting pattern and began tapping into his laptop. She froze and then agreed.

It had taken time for Grunge to rebuild the good will and popularity of the large luxury hotel in the Scottish Borders with its own fishing rights in the Tweed, extensive riding facilities and paddocks, and small distillery in the old gymnasium. He had bought it for a song at the urging of his bride, Griselda, who he discovered through her web site “Curvaceous of Clackmannan” one of the most popular on the net. An outbreak of e-coli during an Italian Gourmet weekend had ruined the previous owners. Normally, this would not have mattered but the deaths of a Premier League footballer and his television presenter partner had caused some excitement.

As a rich man Grunge could indulge his private interests, and reclaim the use of his title with pride. It all helped trade. As he was told by his advertising agency, the Gorbals title was instantly recognisable and both streetwise and credible. His New Real Nice Person approach to living with the avoidance of damage to immune systems by excessive exercise and the purification and cleansing of the body by large doses of his personalised cask strength single malt whisky, with its high level of iodine traces, drew an appreciative clientele. Additionally, its superb anti-septic properties meant he never had to worry about food poisoning. For the first time in his life he really enjoyed his work, moving smiling about the dining room and exchanging jokes and patter. Sometimes, he was asked the secret of his success. “It came straight from the horse’s mouth” was always the enigmatic reply.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

UK For Sale - Lowest Bid Wins

This election is a glorified boot sale where the remaining bits and pieces of the UK economy together with some dusty antiques and dirty old clothing are flogged off to anyone stupid enough to make an offer. Not quite everything must go but more or less anything saleable.

Let us deconstruct the Prime Minister’s ventures on Tuesday. After informing Her Majesty of matters already thoroughly leaked and handed out to friendly media days or weeks ago he turns up at St. Pancras Station to take the HST out to marginal constituencies in the Medway area. See my blog on Sunday 7 March “Trains of Thought” for more.

In short the South Eastern High Speed Trains are run by a heavily subsidised company owned by another company somewhat offshore and in turn owned by the French. The trains were made in Japan and most of the extra cost has been covered by heavy cuts to basic services for ordinary people.

Initially it runs on the tracks of the Eurotunnel company currently more or less covering revenue costs but the capital costs were substantially a loss borne by the taxpayer. Then his train veered off at Gravesend (cue joke) onto Network Rail tracks, say no more, nudge nudge.

The HST on this line then becomes a local stopping train to Faversham. On the other service after Ashford is a semi-fast to the Channel Ports and Thanet, more Labour marginals. In 1923 the Charing Cross to Dover took 115 minutes in 2010 the HST takes 71. However St Pancras for most people takes rather longer to get to and is much less convenient. Also you could have a good meal on the train in 1923 for a few shillings.

As the train left St. Pancras there would have been a view of a large building site to be used by largely public sector developments funded by offshore private equity. It then next sees the light at Stratford in a concrete bunker adjacent to the Olympic site for which the taxpayer is paying a heavy price. Darkness again, and then it passes a stretch of working Essex that has been badly hit by the recession. Not far away is the Ford works once a major industrial complex now much reduced and owned by a company bailed out by various governments.

The Dartford Bridge can be seen. This was intended to be free of charge once the capital costs etc. were covered, but no longer, prices have increased to cope with all the many other things. Darkness again and then Ebbsfleet between a football club about to be relegated from the Conference and owned on a model being adopted by the Labour party and also Bluewater, a big retail site that has suffered lately, has obliterated a lot of small traders for miles around, and is also owned by offshore private equity.

The PM alighted at Rochester by the River Medway, cue joke about mad persons in attics, and as he did the rounds was accompanied by a troupe of hand reared goons. He would be cheered to know that Cameron in Leeds had a crew even more frightful than his. All those blank faces, staring eyes and mechanical movements worry me.

The Medway Towns, once a thriving industrial area are now a run down collection of districts that are showing serious signs of decay that have worsened greatly in the last decade. It is a classic location for high benefit dependency, high drug taking, high crime figures, high public sector employment levels and low living.

When the PM and Sarah apparently returned to a station it was remarkably free from people and the train was a short old bumpy Networker of the stopping type that would take well over an hour to return to London, either Charing Cross or Victoria currently one of the nastiest and most dangerous stations in Europe. The cost of entering the toilets there is now 40p a go, cheaper at least than the once free Embankment ones that now cost 50p. Around the station the air suggests that many people do not pay.

I doubt that the PM and Sarah took the train. My guess is that they were whisked off to the Rochester air strip and choppered out to the next location. Probably it would be one of those helicopters that would be better used in Afghanistan were they not retained in the UK for air show purposes and political convenience.

As for the sale in progress, the Lib Dems want to give us away to Europe so they will take almost anything. The Labour Party having sold off so much to their collection of gruesome Cronygarchs will take almost any price for the rest. The Tories are deeply worried, there could be some tidy money to be made by racking up prices but will there be any takers? In Scotland the SNP will sell out to Big Oil and a rum collection of Americans and others based in tax havens. The “Homecoming” was an ill disguised viewing for potential buyers.

We, the electorate, are charged with the task of appointing the new team of salesmen. Do we know what we are doing? Not really, we have been fed so much spin, fiddled figures, fake prospectuses and general rubbish that it is impossible for most of us to work out where we are and what has been going on. All we do know is that we do not want to be here and we do not like where we are going. But we cannot get off this particular campaign bus and in any case there is no way back. The tunnel we came through has collapsed beyond repair.

One thing is clear, the political interest, instinct and knowledge of electorates of the past has gone and gone for good. We are now a rabble of media kneejerkers.

Monday 5 April 2010

Roads Again - A Gravel Problem

Back to the future yet again perhaps the 1950’s so favoured by pundits. Below is an item by Ugo Bardi posted in The Oil Drum on 4th April titled “Peak Asphalt – The Return of Gravel Roads”.

“Peak oil is said to be an inversion of tendency of the economy; but also of many things of everyday life that seem to have started to go back to earlier times. The last inversion of tendency comes from a series of articles in the press that describe the return of gravel roads.

For the time being, that seems to be happening mainly in rural areas of the US. In Europe, there are fewer reports on this point, although it seems that the same situation is developing in northern countries.

In places such as Finland, the cold climate places a higher stress on paved roads and forces the return to gravel roads. But the lack of press reports doesn't mean that the problem is not there: if you travel to Italy this year, you'll see that a lot of paved roads are in a pitiful state: full of potholes.

One problem is the increasing costs of maintenance. A report from the University of Minnesota shows the progressive increase in the costs of maintaining roads which are paved with what is called "hot mix asphalt", HMA, the kind of paving which we came to consider as normal for all public roads.

Asphalt comes from crude oil. It is made from bitumen which is a heavy and viscous form of petroleum; normally the residual of the distillation of crude oil. Could it be that with peak oil we don't just have a problem of availability of fuels and of energy, but also of bitumen for paving roads?

That doesn't seem to be the case. If it is bitumen that we need, there is plenty of it. Just the Canadian tar sands are made mostly of bitumen and are said to contain at least one trillion barrels of it - probably more. To this amount, we can add Venezuela's tar sands, with at least half a trillion barrels.

With tar sands, the main problem is to obtain liquid fuels, but if it is bitumen that we want, it is much easier. At present, bitumen doesn't seem to be lacking in the world market and some projections for asphalt indicate that production may be rising in the coming years.

The problem, as usual, is not one of quantity, but one of energy . With minerals, we are not running out of anything except of the energy needed for extraction. It is the principle that I called “the universal mining machine”. Bitumen doesn't seem to be an exception; we are not running out of bitumen, but we have increasing problems in being able to afford it; just as with a lot of other minerals.

For this reason, the proposal of substituting conventional bitumen with products not coming from crude oil doesn't appear to be very practical. There has been talk of "bioasphalt;" made from a bitumen that could come from such products as sugar, molasses, corn and vegetable oil.

But bioasphalt has the same problem of biofuels: there are limits to what we can get from an agriculture already heavily strained to produce enough food and which depends heavily on fossil fuels. We can pave a few roads with molasses, but we can't expect bioasphalt to substitute oil derived asphalt everywhere.

Another alternative material for paving roads is concrete, the kind used for buildings. Concrete doesn't directly depend on fossil fuels - the problem is that it takes a lot of energy to make it. So concrete turns out to be more expensive than conventional asphalt. It may last longer, but don't expect it to become as commonplace as asphalt is today.

In the end, the problem seems to be that peak oil - arriving or already arrived - is placing a tremendous strain on the world's economy. Because of this strain, the kind of money used for maintaining roads is quickly disappearing and the result is the return of unpaved roads.

It may be planned or not; the end result, in any case, is the same. So, it is likely that in the coming years we'll see more and more roads returning to gravel, as it was commonplace in the Western World up to about 50 years ago.

When most roads were not paved, cars and trucks had much softer suspension systems and lighter wheels; we may see a comeback of this kind of vehicles which, by their nature, are not made for high speeds. After all, gravel roads don't mean the end of transportation.

We'll just have to slow down considerably, and that may not be a bad thing.”

If it gets some of these maniacs in white vans and badly driven cars off my back bumper it can’t come soon enough.

Friday 2 April 2010

Water On The Brain

The plumber has been to do some necessary work and reminded us of how water is critical to our way of life because on each day he had to turn our supply off. For drinking, washing ourselves and the kitchen it was possible to store enough but had the supply been off for days it would have been difficult. If it had been off all the time and then for days and weeks life would have become very difficult. As one ages, let us say that not only does time pass quicker, but so do liquids through the body.

The politicians do not consider plumbing, drainage and water supplies as “Front Line Services”. Nowadays it is all private sector stuff that they have sold off to foreign private equity groups and regard the income streams leading to the shareholder value as a source of profit for their trusts and investments. It is only when the water streams begin to fail that they start to panic. They also panic when there is too much water and all those lovely new properties they have permitted to be built on ancient flood plains have real running water as opposed to plumbed.

At the moment due to the recession it appears that plumbers have less work to do. It meant that we were able to arrange the dates and times of ours to our diary and not his. There were hitches, but not his fault. The extensive destocking of inventories of suppliers meant that filling orders has become erratic. This has not been helped by so many well established suppliers and other firms going out of business. Again, these are all private sector and therefore of low priority in the great government scheme of things.

On April 1st our plumber told us a whole new raft of regulations and rules have come into effect that impact quite considerably on the trade. The detail is too much and too complicated for this post. The objective he tells us is to assert greater control over what goes on in the building trade and in the plumbing and gas fitting. This is drive out the “cowboys”, persons untrained, unqualified and often unpractised who do jobs on the quick and on the cheap with unlucky consequences.

Of course, as anyone familiar with “Fawlty Towers” knows, the real issue is the quick and cheap and too many people go for this without thinking ahead. In any case it is very easy to become a “cowboy”, I could be one if I chose. All I need to do is to go to the nearest superstore DIY place and load up with everything needed to ply the trade I choose. You name it I have done it in the past, albeit only in my own homes. Roofing, carpet fitting, plumbing, electrical work, car repairs, decorating and last but not least gas fitting when I was young and careless.

Our plumber is now trying to sort out the paperwork and the rest relating to all these new requirements. It is costing him time and trouble. He has to make up his mind which registrations with which body will be relevant and what the implications are. He is already trained and registered but needs to clarify what and who he is. But he is private sector and therefore will bear his own costs.

With the added cost of the registrations come other things, notably all sorts of little added extras including, guess what, yes, government sponsored training. The courses cost several hundred pounds a throw and take up a deal of the time he needs to make a living for himself and his young family. Training is education and unlike plumbers, a Front Line Service, for which the plumbers are going to have to pay heavily. As well as the other costs imposed to deter “cowboys” who will not take any notice of all this in any case.

He has told me that all the new Building Regulations will have some interesting effects, notably in relation to water supply. The idea is that in new build home the amount of water for each person should be no more than 125 litres a day. A power shower apparently uses 18 per minute. Whilst single persons or dirty old men will be able to manage it is unlikely that any family with young children will be able to.

What is more intriguing is the number of agencies and bodies involved in all this as well as the staff required by local authorities for purposes of control and management. The NHS has become notorious for the declining proportion of doctors and nurses as opposed to managers and administrators. It seems that our private sector plumbers could almost be expected to maintain roughly the equivalent of one public sector employee each to be able to do their job.

Then there are all the alleged Polish plumbers, perhaps of urban myth, but it seems that large contractors can take these on in any numbers irrespective of other matters because of EU rules. How far they are qualified is another matter. One of my great hopes is that as so many are being used on the Olympic projects that on the opening day of The Games in 2012 the Stadium will have to be shut down for health and safety reasons because all the plumbing has failed.

When I try to puzzle this out none of it seems to fit. Just like the original plumbing in my place which I learned too late was done by sub contracted “cowboys”.