Thursday 30 June 2011

Trouble On The Trains

There is a nasty accident waiting to happen. It is on the railways and it has been only a matter of luck that it has not already occurred. It is nothing to do with tracks or signals or normal running.

It is in the design and equipment of many trains now in use and what might happen. One reason why it has been avoided is that there have already been cases of passengers smashing their way out of carriages. The stories have been slanted to suggest that they have been foolish or impatient.

The new stock with its air conditioning systems, fully enclosed carriages with windows that cannot be opened and doors that lock shut all depend on the power available. What has happened recently is that trains have come to a halt and the power is shut off or has failed.

At most times of the year this would be a nuisance which may give rise to discomfort of one sort or another. In the London Underground even at cool times of the year a train stuck in a tunnel can became very uncomfortable.

At times when it is very hot and the train is either in a confined space which heats rapidly or out in open hot sun then the conditions in the carriages can deteriorate quickly. The carriages can literally become ovens.

The latest occurrence was on South Eastern Railways Dartford line. A train breakdown and South Eastern’s typical lack of ability to sort out the traffic or deal with it resulted in trains being held for hours without power or ventilation. Passengers then smashed the doors open and detrained.

Because of the media’s obsession that heat is good there is no mention of the risk that had the passengers not done so then there could have been a real threat to life. How many in the train were vulnerable to excessive heat? How many could have suffered real damage had the situation continued?

One trouble is that the RAIB which deals with safety etc. rather than the HSE are strong on the technical side but not so keen on messy passenger affairs. Having people on the trains interferes with their smooth running and the meeting of targets.

So South Eastern can get away with sending ambulances to wrong locations, not having first aid kits available and not bothering with tiresome accident reporting procedures.

There have been other reports of passengers elsewhere having to take their own action here and there but the prevailing attitude is unsympathetic, the authorities more or less claiming that they should sit and suffer until all the blunders and errors have been dealt with.

One problem is that there are cases of passenger foolishness that has had serious and sometimes fatal consequences so it is easy for the authorities to suggest that all the incidents are for these reasons.

But they are not, just how long will it be before a disaster occurs in a train that has been left without aid in overheated conditions?

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Flogging Dead Horses

Perhaps, I am not best placed to say much about teacher’s strikes or what happens in schools. It is now twenty five years since I was in one for matters to do with education and only twice since and then over twenty years ago as part of music audiences which had nothing to do with the schools.

There are rumours that changes have taken place. But in my time there were also changes. There was the notion that Elementary Education was no longer enough. It was argued that many, the radicals asserted all, of youngsters should have some form of basic secondary education, lasting even as long as the age of 15.

It was a few years after my time that this came about and there are some ancients who once felt it would not do much good who now claim to be vindicated. Also, there is in my memory the indirect experience of people whose education began in the 1860’s and 1870’s. In the extended family some began teaching in the 1880’s.

In all that time we have a plethora of reports, commission, campaigns and all the rest that have produced the situation we have now. I do not use the words “service” or “system” or “sector” because it is not clear at all what it is for. Also, this emanated from government, interested bodies and vested interests, notably the trade unions representing the teachers.

What rarely appears in the discussions, or in the economic equations, is what we are dealing with. No, I am not going down the pupil as “client” or “customer” road, I am talking about what goes on in the heads of young people as they are going through the education years. In my experience this has changed and neither government nor teachers take on board the implications.

Imagine a world with no radio, TV, film and where coloured visual imagery was limited to a small number of options. Imagine growing up in a crowded house with several siblings and maybe three generations with perhaps other family or lodgers as well.

Imagine that for almost all of your class work would begin at 11 or 12 and that might be for sixty or so hours a week. That work normally would be very physical and that capability was critical. Very often you would be just one of a team and as a child you would have spent so much time on the streets such a group would be the norm.

If you were a little more prosperous with higher status then some form of shop or clerical job might be had, the group would be that of the church you attended, on the whole stricter conditions might be applied, but otherwise unless you have access to the most expensive books it would be much the same.
From this we can move on down the generations in stages as the world has changed. Print material became much more available with more in colour. Then came film and then recorded music. With this came the tidal wave of American influence on popular culture. By the 1930’s it became clear that Britain may have had the biggest empire but America was winning the war of the film and music media.

So what was in the heads of the pupils by the 1940’s was radically different from that of the 1880’s. Since then the pace has quickened. Firstly there has been TV and bigger film and magazine output with a strengthened media and marketing force targeting the teenager and then moving on to the younger child and then the youngest.

In the most recent decades we have had the early computer years running parallel with the media and marketing forces of the time. Now the coming of the internet and the whole raft of satellite and other communications systems has transformed the young into almost a different animal.

In short what the pupil groups are that now face the teacher are almost another form of life from what the teacher was at their age. They must certainly be very different from my own youngsters of the sixties and seventies. Quite how they compare with my mine and those I knew from long before is astonishing.

The expectations of the length of education, the nature of the work they might aspire to, how that work is governed and what they might encounter and what future there may or may not be has gone beyond any sensible comprehension.

What might or might not be considered “punishment” has changed a great deal since my Headteacher pursued difficult parents down the street waving the policeman’s truncheon used in lieu of inadequate canes.

In the item “Punk Banking” a few days ago, I pointed out that the punk years were those of many of our political and financial superiors and I think it shows. This applies also in the education world.

That they have to manage youngsters whose world and home experience is so radically different from theirs is possibly something they cannot cope with.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Back To The Future

The maps of the world are ever changing and have been down the ages. The map of Europe in 1920 was very different from that of 1910. Today the map is different from that of 1980 in some respects. It is very different from that agreed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Before then the dynastic wars of major family groupings had led to persistent alterations in who ruled which territory in Europe and by what means. After 1815 as the British and other Europeans went on an imperial spree the maps of much of the world as they are now were created often with scant regard for either geography or local population.

One area where British officials rode roughshod over the wishes and hopes of the locals was in the Near East in what is now Iraq and the Gulf States. For a long while Britain was the “protecting” nation with ships and men on the ground to enforce the new political entities. More recently this has been done by the US Navy.

One consequence of all this is that there are a lot of groups now who feel that they have a claim either from recent history or from much longer ago to this or that patch. Argentina who disputed The Falklands with Britain not long after it became independent still claim that the 1833 declaration of British rule is wrong and they should have the islands on the grounds of geographical proximity.

The Spanish still cannot accept that Britain’s interest in Gibraltar since the early 18th Century should be maintained, again despite the wishes of the locals. In many parts of the world one claim or another can go back a long way. In the Near East Iran or Persia maintains its claims from the ancient past and the situation there is very complicated, see this 1700 word article from The Oil Drum which is a bare summary.

To come to more homely matters, if the elite in Brussels do not see Europe in quite the same way as the elites within the “nation” states this should be no surprise. It is all about power, money and control in any order you prefer. The picture above is one that appeared in the Mail to much howling at the moon by Richard Littlejohn.

Sorry, but you pay a lot of geezers a lot of money to sit in offices to dream up ideas that take their fancy and then push them at the suckers who might buy the deal and this is what happens. It is very like buying promotional offers from newspapers.

The Arc Manche Partnership Zone pictured above is not new. For those of us who think that the 12th Century at the height of the Medieval Warm Period might have been fun, all that good cheap English wine, it reminds me vividly of the central core of the Angevin Empire. Add more territories around to the north and to the south, Anjou, Poitou, The Vexin and Aquitaine and you have it all.

Unluckily, the elite who were running it were too embroiled in other matters to concentrate on keeping what they had, Crusades, the throne of France and other adventures to control what were really unprofitable waste lands inhabited by pastoral tribes as well their internal family disputes. So the Angevin Empire did not last.

The problem with this is that the Angevin Empire pattern does not sit well with the Empire of Charlemagne, nor with any other of Europe’s passing imperial structures, the original Roman Empire, the later Spanish/Austrian based Holy Roman Empire, the Napoleonic, The Third Reich or others.

With the EU turning into yet another passing ramshackle imperial structure that might collapse because of its own internal contradictions and inability to make either policy or decisions that are effective or make sense we cannot know what the future may bring.

One thing is certain is that if you leave making the maps to detached and power crazed elites who do what the hirelings of their then court suggest it will all end in tears and trouble.

Monday 27 June 2011

Turandot Saves The Euro

It is quite simple, honoured sir, you answer three riddles successfully and you get the girl with all the wealth of China behind you to live more (or less) happily ever after or until the next big earthquake.

If you fail to answer any of them correctly then we chop off your head and dispose of the remains accordingly.

The first riddle is how much do you think we think you have got and are good for?

The second riddle is that if you answer the first how long do you think we will give you to pay it back and what security will we demand in the meantime?

The third riddle is………………

Sunday 26 June 2011

Mr. Fixit

The video of Tony Blair expressing his faith in the Eventual Euro, put down by many as a bid to be President of the EU, was a rum do. If one followed, or tried to follow it, the going was very soft, he was talking about a set up in which a President was not so much what you and I would understand as one, but more of either an Imperator Rex or Holy Roman Emperor.

I suspect that reality in this event would be while we were thinking it was more Holy Roman Emperor what we would be getting was Imperator Rex. Having got us into Iraq and Afghanistan and helped to create the pre-conditions for the Libyan debacle what might he do with Europe?

Operation Barbarossa II perhaps started by an incident at Radio Gleiwitz? Or another venture? As a non-historian he may not be aware of the 1812 business, but with Blair in charge that would be all too likely.

What really spooked me was when talking about the Euro and the Five Conditions he says airily, like you know what this is what it is all about if you know what I mean, it is essentially a political decision but we have to get the economics right. This more or less reflects the level of thinking.

The man really does believe that economics is something that can be “fixed” and “got right” by a small group of politicians and once fixed remains fixed for political purposes. Oh dear, well Conan Doyle did believe in fairies and was said to be a very clever man.

The trouble is that our Tony is not alone in this fantastic whimsy, when you look at that lot in Parliament (both chambers) they all seem to share this mad and bad idea.

The notion of global economics as some kind of potentially static system that can be “fixed” by politicians talking to their favourite bankers and celebrity media and financial friends is widely shared. The assumption is that if you can “fix” these things you can engage in whatever enterprise or creative destruction that takes your fancy.

The best any politicians trying to run a political entity can do is to attempt dealing with managing their end of it with the very limited means and knowledge that they have. If a week is a long time in politics it can be a lot longer than some matters that bear on the world economy and economics.

The idea of a world which is ever changing, difficult to predict and where the immediate past is more often uncertain and confused in reality than either those involved or any of the figures would have you believe is alien to Tony and his like.

They just do not understand any of it. This may be because most of them are lawyers with the quaint idea that if you make a law people will obey it.

Here are three links below for taste. One is a full story from the New York Times on shale gas matters; I did use the word confusion. Another is a very short one that people who do not share our master’s visions are making their own arrangements in Switzerland. Lastly for balance is a short view from the Left about who will be paying and who will be paid.

Apparently the sale of UK tickets for the much touted Olympics has descended into a major fiasco. Meanwhile the party at the brewery has been cancelled for Health and Safety reasons.

Thank you Tony.

Friday 24 June 2011

The Games Afoot

In a sense this is a retrospective looking at old themes. I have posted before on the subject of Nassim Taleb and his “Black Swan” thesis. Briefly, this says there are unexpected happenings out there waiting to happen and will despite the fact that we cannot accept that they exist. My view has been that there are potentially many of them.

The Market Oracle has a long article by someone who shares that view. It is about the USA and says, as I have done, that there are a whole flock of them out there.

As for Europe we have governments and central bankers frantically telling is not to panic, not to panic and hoping to persuade the media to go along with them. If the same people had realized the potential problems much earlier on we might not be faced with bleak possibilities or probabilities.

As our tax revenues remain in serious shortfall and are likely to do despite all the attempts made to bridge the gap we are going to be faced with some ugly and unwelcome choices. As our wealth becomes concentrated into fewer hands and is exported to free it from taxation increasingly we can only tax what cannot be moved abroad.

As my preferences is for low taxes the loss of this potential means that I and all the others who are stuck with the UK system are paying heavier and heavier rates with a disproportionate burden falling on the poorer.

So around Whitehall there have been quite mutterings in some corners about taxing property in one form or another. The threat of a Mansion Tax is raised again. As our elite has gone a bundle on property and has imported all sorts of others to prop up the market on a basis of relatively low taxes and obligations the notion frightens them out of our wits.

But some sort of radical revision may become necessary. The trouble is that it will take another major crisis, as above, to make them face up to the inevitable. Also, it will be far from popular, rather like a Poll Tax with all the trimmings, even if the levels and take is geared to hurt the poorest least.

On Thursday 24 September 2009 I had a good deal to say about this:

This was a long post following a much briefer comment two days before on the 22nd about Vince Cable and his “Mansion Tax”.

The subject was revisited on Wednesday 31 March 2010 in “Death, Taxes and Deceits”, but this article was related to the sticky question of how to pay for all the services etc. needed for the aged. Essentially, the only way to pay was going to be taking the cost from the properties one way or another:

To put it into rugger terms, Cameron is the scrum half playing behind a badly beaten pack with a butter fingered fly half and a line of three’s that are too flat and persistently getting offside, too often right in front of their own posts. The full back does not know how to tackle and is averse to physical contact.

The referee, supplied by the EU, seems to working to another rule book and the opposition knows every trick in the book. Is Cameron up to the job? Can he save the team by his inspiration and dogged fighting spirit? Or will he feign injury, take an early bath and head for the bar?

There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight………..

Thursday 23 June 2011

RBS, A Shot In The Dark

The idea of giving us RBS shares is very much back to the ‘80’s and all those lovely privatisation deals where the ordinary citizen is given the chance to join in the action.

Given what has happened since then (who owns British Gas?) one might have thought that wheezes like these needed more careful thought.

The idea that some of us, quite who is not certain, will have the chance to own our own little bit of RBS is being touted as the answer to the very difficult problem of what to do with it in a way that will not upset people.

I was gifted a square metre of some Highland wasteland to enable me to call myself a Laird. More recently, my attachment to Islay Whisky gave me a couple of square feet of that island where rainwater becomes a gift of the gods.

These were welcome, but the idea of being lumbered with a piece of RBS is worrying. It is too much like putting a shot of turpentine into the whisky. It may be an idea to see if it all works but instinct and a sense of smell tells me other wise.

As for more serious and informed comment, it is my opinion that it is impossible to follow this contribution to the debate:


Wednesday 22 June 2011

Twin Peaks

When the question arises that the world supply of something has “peaked” almost always there are major disagreements between those involved. This is because something has to be in demand for a supply to peak.

When synthetic chemical fertilizers were discovered, the supplies of guano may have begun to run out but even if ample reserves were available, given the cost of obtaining, transporting and using it then the synthetics may have soon captured the market.

For some George Monbiot’s material is an acquired taste but at least it is his own voice, right, wrong, or way off the pitch. He might or might not come up with something that works but is worth reading. If he is wrong it is interesting to work out why.

A few days ago, I have only just picked up on it; he did have something interesting on the subject of peak oil in terms of what has been going on in Whitehall. It is very worrying in that this is a subject we all should have a deep interest in for the sake of ourselves and all our futures.

This blog often refers to The Oil Drum web site where there is a good deal of expert material on Oil and related energy sources that reflects the debate and the uncertainty in this issue. There is a serious debate and many differences of view.  Yet this is something that is at the heart of so much basic policy as well as energy.

Amongst the certainties are that finding and extracting oil is more expensive and those costs may rise further and if extraction of oil shales on a large scale is needed then the costs are likely to be higher still.

This might curtail demand and put something of a cap on what can be afforded. There are experts who point to the potential of natural gas from shales and other sources which may help to bridge the gap and enable humanity to continue using these energy sources for some time to come.

Again, this is all at a price and the location of those shales and sources will change the pattern of world power as they become more important. Geopolitics in the 20th Century was heavily dependent on geophysics and with our current economic systems is likely to remain so.

An aspect of all this is that the calculations of oil reserves are one thing and highly unreliable at present but how much of that assumed oil is either recoverable or usable economically is another matter. There are strong differences of opinion over this.

Then there is demand. If supply estimates and prediction are difficult then trying to work out the pattern and nature of the several features of demand is much harder. There are many theories and assumptions and rather less evidence. Some of that is embodied in mathematical calculations that might owe more to hope than reality.

What George Monbiot suggests is that the UK government, both former and possibly present, has tried to look at the issues. But this has not been an open debate and there are questions about the content. Moreover, the public were not told that this was going on and when told something it was at variance with the evidence and the facts. Typically, our machinery of government does not seem to be doing much about nor has it plans to sort things out except the usual broad vision type statements.

My question is that what happens if we have both peak supply and peak demand? That is that in the future there is not going to be more supplies of the necessary energy resources from oil or gas and in any case the world demand, because of price and maybe persistent economic and political problems has peaked as well.

The global implications of this are not nice.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Im Gott Vertrauen Wir

Having more or less lost the picture on the Greek bailout and the issues involving the Euro and the ECB which centre on Germany, the last thing I needed was to see a headline saying that fifty per cent of English (more or less) males were of German descent.

Moreover, the calculations were said to suggest that in the 5th and 6th Centuries around two hundred thousand of the blighters came swanning over to take our land, our women and displace our ancient beers. Inevitably, I suspected some of the more sensationalised aspects of this brutal and ruthless invasion.

Working back to the original academic document I tried to find my way through the thickets of prose much as the ancient Saxons cut through the entangled forests and discovered that the research centred on a small number of key micro-satellites in the DNA which identified this “Frisian” type of ancestry.

They looked familiar, so I checked my own Y Chromosome DNA information and sure enough there they were. Staggered by this revelation I cried “Gott und himmel” and reached for the schnapps and took a slice of cold pork sausage as comfort food. Having spent a good deal of time on holidays ensuring my family towels were down at the swimming pool before theirs what did it all mean?

Not much in reality. Given that the article was talking about 1500 years ago a lot of wasser has flowed down Der Rhein in that time and we are looking at about sixty to seventy generations for the Saxon genes to get into a lot of female and male persons still around in the UK. They may not be the key genes in either the male or female lines of descent, but like the Normans and sundry others they are there.

The media played the news as “invasion” without doing the sums. If it was about 200,000 over a period of two centuries then this is 1,000 a year. Given the size of boats at the time this means about 30 to 40 boats a year down the entire eastern seaboard roughly from the Tay to the Thames and south.

Moreover, the Romans before they left imported many Germans and there was extensive trade with the various tribes along Der Rhein and to the north. After that we know little about trading patterns until the Middle Ages but the findings in the soil indicate considerable activity across the North Sea connected to far distances to the East.

In short there is likely to be a good deal of “natural” movement apart from groups of fighting men and going both ways. As for the Frisians and those on the coasts the rising sea levels may well have affected some along with those displaced from other population movements to the East. Like most human activity it was likely to be messy, variable and unpredictable.

Inevitably, there were groups of adventurers seeking land and power so there would be frequent outbreaks of violence, eventually become more formalised as larger power groupings established themselves over wider areas. But what exactly was happening is unlikely to have been a simple business and we shall never know.

What we should be worried about is will the ECB and the EU break the British Bank?


Monday 20 June 2011

Meet The Family

Yesterday was Father’s Day, so it seems appropriate to wonder who our long past Mum’s and Dad’s were.

As the geneticists delve deeper and deeper into the DNA of modern humans this is becoming less and less clear by the year.

These are some very recent research findings and doubtless with more to come.

It adds an interesting dimension to the debates on diversity and ethnicity. As for how I got here, all I can say is “no comment”.

And of course, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

Sunday 19 June 2011

The NHS - Breaking Records

The ongoing shambles over the NHS computer schemes has many large sums attached to it. £12 billion seems to be the cheapest but it could be more. Nobody really knows, including the Department of Health and The Treasury. In the past decade figures of more than double have been suggested.

Also, any cancellation is alleged to cost potentially more than carrying on regardless. If it is cancelled then it will start all over again. In the meantime people who go to the doctors and the hospital spend much of their time explaining to the people what they are supposed to be doing and what has gone on in the past.

A near friend of mine is in the unlucky position of having to do this for critical reasons. He has told me, and many others, the gruesome tale. Time after time he turns up at the desk, waits while the assistant checks out the details and then asks if they are aware of his issue. He takes care to inform them of this well in advance and his records are supposed to be full of it.

Invariably, the staff at the desk do not know, so they tell him to tell the nurse. When he sees the nurse, then he has to go through again the business of who he is and what and it is clear they do not know there is a major problem. This needs sorting out and complicates matters. Eventually, the time for him to see the doctor arrives.

Also the doctor does not know and when told sometimes panics, sometimes just goes white. The last one he saw told him it would be better if he stayed away from any medical facilities because of the risks. My friend says the doctor was very right, despite the fact that he supplies at all times an updated and full record of his medical history.

He tells me that his experience is that the nurse has made notes for the doctor who makes notes and puts them on the file. He does not see the notes. Then he goes home and weeks later a letter may or may not come telling him what the hospital has told his family doctor. Sometimes things are not quite right.

His doctor cannot revise them, because it is the hospital. The nurse at the hospital cannot revise their records because it is a matter for the doctor. The doctor he will see next is always different from the last one and cannot correct the records they have because it was made by another doctor.

So we have a situation where he has accurate records but his family doctor, the hospital, the nurses and the system as a whole has no method of maintaining records that are readable, up to date or even correct.

Over the Atlantic a bunch of guys got together, hired a few people and looked at what was what. Because of the USA medical insurance system it is just as vital to have accurate up to date records that enable care and the relevant finance to pay for it. Yes it is money driven but given the USA legal system it is accuracy driven.

For a tiny fraction of the cost of our NHS efforts they have come up with a system, put together in four or so years, that meets many, if not all, of the requirements and allows a much more reliable way of dealing with patients. Critically, it involves the patient in the process and can be updated continually.

I made the mistake of telling my friend about this. He started banging his head against the wall and I was scared stiff he might need to see a doctor.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Thursday 16 June 2011

Punk Banking

In the last few days Naked Capitalism has suggested a new form of aberrant behaviour that causes difficulties in the general community. It is Banker Derangement Syndrome which needs little explanation. It is one of those things we can all be sure about.

On Wednesday, Tax Justice Network dealt with the banks hysteria over the needs for more active tax compliance. They are claiming that it will add billions to their costs, essentially given present conditions this means yours and mine.

But the writer of the article claims to be a person who has actually worked in bank offices and dealt with customer accounts and the movements of funds. They assert that much if not all of the relevant information is already sitting there in the bank data systems and it would be no great matter to pass it on, if required.

The article is accompanied by a picture of the old Sex Pistols album “Never Mind The Bollocks” and states that this best describes the claims that the banks are making. But it is possible that the billions of expenses the bankers say will occur may be the fees for all the lawyers, consultants and the political donations necessary to defeat or avoid any such obligations.

As at present banks are run by people with good political connections who do not  know or understand much about what goes on in their organisations so it is quite possible that anything to do with the real work involved is beyond their competence.

But this allows us a key insight now into what modern banks are in terms of the intellectual history of the late 20th Century as applied to this sector of the economy.

We are now in the age of Punk Banking and many of the characteristics of that body of thinking and action are now embedding in bank policy and function. It is no surprise since so many of those now at the top in banks and politics were punk fans and rockers in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s.

There is certainly anarchy, with no other word to describe the way the banks interact amongst themselves and in relation to society or community. Let it all happen, or hang out or whatever all that matters is what we do when we do and nobody has the right to question or regulate us.

As for being anti-authoritarian, this is more complicated. They certainly do not want anyone to exercise authority over them, especially elected governments with a nasty habit of listening to the little people. However, as this leads to zeal to control and to manage governments their stance is no clearer than their accounts.

The characteristics of vandalism and destruction as a means to progress, that is increasing their short term rates of return are self evident. The scale of what they have achieved in these activities over the last two decades is incredible.

Nihilism goes without saying, all that matters is the figures should look right and allow the corporations in question to award increasing proportions of the levels of wealth and capital amongst their crony elements. This is along with counter-culture in that any other form of human action or communication must be eliminated.

At present I am looking for a new mattress, one with a built in safe.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Just Whistle A Happy Tune

We have heard a good deal about how the essential human impulses may be only greed and fear. This is debatable but when people are taking high risks in a world where certainty is uncommon then if the figures go bad the mood can switch very quickly.

This applies particularly to all those people, mostly alpha males, who spend their days gazing at figures on computer screens and trying to beat both the system and everyone else. As they cannot all beat the system and in any case it changes its shape often without warning then there is scope for fear to become the ruling passion.

Also, markets as we know them are not efficient and economists are even less efficient.

A lot of debt, on the whole, is a very bad idea and can induce fear.

There is a lot that might go wrong and probably means we should all be afraid.

Remember, Prince Vlad Dracula, known as The Impaler, was a ruler of Wallachia who adopted vigorous policies to control trade and traders. In particular the Saxon traders of Transylvania were made to suffer.

In today’s world he would be regarded as a leading business guru.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Aid For Africa

If you click on the picture above it tells quite a complicated story.  Just who are we helping when we are sending major funds off to other places?  Is the money going to the people who need it or is it just going off on a mystery trip to rich places and people via the poorest and at their expense?  I do not doubt that in many places a good deal of help and support is needed and I do not object to helping.  But the evidence is at present that nowhere enough of what is given is effective where it is wanted.

Monday 13 June 2011

The Brothers Grimm

Apparently there is a book about the brothers Miliband and their life and times. It is suggested that at present the old family bonds are under strain and there is mutual discord in the clan. At one time the elder would have had most of the loot and the younger gone off to the colonies to fend for himself but modern life is a little more complicated.

Certainly there was an Imperial vision in the family. Once I found myself going down a long set of stairs in a hurry to make the bar opening time and was delayed by a group of important people being escorted by Ralph Miliband. He was praising the work and ambitions of his School. I quote, “We call it the Empire on which the concrete never sets.”

However, I think his idea was more a close connection to the Soviet Empire and its satraps than that of the collapsing British Empire or other derelict European ventures of the immediate past. From then through the sixties and seventies and into the eighties his and his associates saw the Eastern Bloc as their exemplar. I recall many times on the BBC Sports programmes how East Germany was held up as a shining example to us all.

The question was how it was to be done and the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland brought into the greater system of Socialism as defined by the works of Marx and Lenin. It was all to be done by numbers. The “science” of statistics fully applied was to enable State planning of all the key areas of activity. This would enable control of all forms of consumption and credit.

The Keynesian and connected schools were in many ways at that time the “Useful Idiots” whose work on mathematical economics and formulae for setting rates of interest and investment schedules and the rest would enable Socialism to gain absolute control over both the key financial and structural elements of the economy.

In the meantime over in New Jersey an American entrepreneur worked out a way of packing goods in big boxes for easy transport both internally and by sea and air. In China a differing vision of communism was emerging. In other places corporations began the age of cheap oil and other governments began to help their industries to compete and overtake their European competitors.

One UK problem was that to help former small colonies survive they were allowed to become tax havens and in the last decades of the 20th Century, with other locations, they became major drains on UK funds. The elite of the left with wealth were as active as any of the right in pursuing their personal interests.

Elsewhere, other academics and interests began to take an interest in the wider applications of mathematics to both war and the creation of money and the needs of logistics. Suddenly, all the old planning assumptions and their related inadequate data streams meant that both old style socialism and Keynesian thinking could not work as it was intended to.

The result is that we now have structures of government and control that are almost wholly detached from the realities of the world and not simply incompetent but incapable of exercising the essential functions of government. The debate about which one of the Miliband brothers will run a collapsing UK is purely academic and personal.

Perhaps Ralph Miliband should have spent more time looking at the ideas of Welfare Economics and indeed in the Anthropology section of the Library. He may have found that human behaviour can be quite variable and unpredictable. There was even a copy of the full works of the Brothers Grimm there, which should have been East German enough for his taste.

The stories they put together were owed almost entirely to myth, legend and fantasy. Their skill in telling the tales put them into the folklore of much of Europe and the later media of the USA who returned them with interest to the cinemas and TV.

In many ways the policies of the major political parties of the UK and Ireland now are just as much fantasy, myth and legend as any reality. Ralph Miliband and his ilk were simply tellers of tall tales to elites that were gullible enough to believe that they were real.

But which of his son’s is The Frog Prince? One thing for certain is that neither of them are “Snow White”.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Thick, Thicker, Thickest

Having trawled the web for the latest collection of human error and frailty I can wonder only at the scale of it and just how daft many of us seem to be. How did this lot manage to survive a more challenging past and still have much of a future?

We may think we are clever at present; indeed we are all too confident in what we think we can do. This could be a bad sign. The link to the longish article in the Discover Magazine below suggests that as we created new forms of society we did not have to be smart to stay alive.

In the last century we seemed to have moved on a stage further in the Descent of Man to have formed the habit of electing idiots to govern us, to allow cheats to control our finances and thugs to run public services.

The Daily Mail does cover some science matters although with limited reliability and often less understanding. But at least it can start you looking for more.

It did not take took long to find this one which says more and evidently the Emory University gives a lot of attention to the issues.

It may be the lack of critical micro-nutrients in the modern diets. There is one comforting thought, if you can call it that, it may be just a primitive response.

It is that when I complain about the young today at least I can cite some science.

Friday 10 June 2011

Labour's Rites Of Passage

Serendipity is at it again. As the media laps up the leak of the Great Plot of 2005 when the idea of displacing Blair as Prime Minister gripped the Brownite faction in government the Royal Ballet have “The Rite of Spring” in performance this week.

This 1913 work, set to a thumping score by Igor Stravinsky, was said by Leonard Bernstein “it’s never been topped for the sophisticated handling of primitive rhythms”. It deals with a sacrificial rite of human sacrifice amongst an ancient tribal group seeking to appease their gods. Stravinsky drew on Russian folk music and Nijinsky choreographed a ballet on the basis of tribal dances as opposed to the traditional ballet form.

The plot is how The Chosen One is picked out and meets his or her end. But the Brownite Plot was not sophisticated and while it was clear who was chosen for sacrifice they failed to achieve their purpose. Consequently, the gods who rule the financial markets duly punished them. Like the first performance of the ballet in Paris in 1913, it ended in chaos and riots.

At Covent Garden the role is being shared by Edward Watson and Steven Mcrae, this time round male rather than female being the Chosen One. Both of them are at the peak of their careers, athletic, strong and wonderfully sure on their feet. They remind me of the sort of half backs in a Scottish Borders Rugby XV in former days before the pumping up of muscle became required for the first class game.

Brown played rugby of course, but I believe he was a front row forward, which tells us a great deal. Many times I had issues with front row forwards and I was very grateful for both my grandfathers training from the trenches and my father’s ability to throw a left or right hook from nowhere. But they are often a little slow off the mark and this was always a characteristic of Brown.

In some ways, it is a pity that Brown did not succeed. The stasis at the heart of government in the period 2005-2007 and the lack of control over both policy and action led to the shambles of that period. Given that in the run up to the 2005 election Labour had embarked on a high spend and high risk course this meant that a bad crash became inevitable.

This may well be the period in which the high persons in and around the Labour government began to take advantage of the situation to ensure their personal financial futures and to establish themselves in positions that would last long into the period when a new government might rule. Labour’s tribalism dies hard.

Unless the Coalition manages to assert its authority and work together then another dance might begin to find a new Chosen One to sacrifice. There are all the signs that this will just as primitive but rather less attractive than the ballet. It will also last a great deal longer and the Whitehall version will cost each of us a lot more than a Box Seat at Covent Garden.

But there you can get in for the ballet at less than a tenner if you choose.

Care Homes - Addition

Yesterday under “The Ed’s Southern Cross Secret” Guido Fawkes blog, order-order dot com, pointed out that Fat Ed’ and Thin Ed’ have both got form in the matter.


Red Ed saw another bandwagon he could jump on at his press conference on Monday. He lashed out at “financiers who creamed off millions”, blaming them for the near collapse of the UK’s largest care-home provider Southern Cross, which is laying of thee thousand staff as it cannot afford its £250 million rent bill.

American investors Blackstone made a £134.5m profit from their sale of the company in 2007. As they held their shares for two years after floating the business, they only had to pay Capital Gains Tax on 25% of this profit, which worked out at £33.6m.

If they had paid CGT at the usual 40% rate on 100% of the gain, they would have had a tax bill of £53.8m, £40.4m higher than they paid. But who was it that enabled them to “cream off millions”?

In April 1998, the government introduced taper relief for business assets, whereby the CGT rate was charged on only a proportion of the gain made from the disposal of an asset. In 2002, the Treasury increased this taper.

Rather than a taper of 50% for a business asset held for two complete years, it was reduced to 25%. And who was running the show while these changes were thought up and implemented?

Please step forward Treasury Special Advisers Edward Miliband (1997 -2002) and Edward Balls (1997 – 2004).


Also, somewhere it is mentioned that RBS turn up yet again amongst the people involved. One of Blair’s buddies not so long ago was Sir Fred Goodwin, the oil tanker who leaked so much crude. Is it too much to wonder where a lot of it has gone?

Who, what, where, how and when? Of course thanks to the wonders of our judicial system those in the care homes, or their families, or their local councils now looking at up to £250,000 each on the bills are not allowed to know, to comment or to criticize in any way.

Nor will those who mourn the people who died in these homes from inadequate care and sometimes outright maltreatment ever be able to ask questions or know who took the money and ran. Nobody will end up in the courts except those who complain or who go into print.

In the meantime the Master of the Rolls has been seen to raise his hands, close his eyes for a few seconds and cough politely. Thin Ed’ has been attending to his personal affairs and Fat Ed’ has enough in the kitty to mount a challenge for the leadership of the Labour Party should the opportunity arise.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Careless Care And Caring

This week “Private Eye” along with a good deal of the press is all over the matter of the care home crisis that has arisen. This one has been coming for some time and the pre-conditions have been in place for those to see who wanted to. This blog has had a lot to say but cannot claim to be doing any more than retailing what was already known.

There is going to be some serious fall out from all this. On Thursday 17 March I posted “Cameron’s Marconi Scandal” suggesting that the Conservative Party needs to get its act together very quickly because, like in too many care homes, there is a nasty smell.

Inevitably, we find with Southern Cross some of Blair’s chums being deeply involved. But they are very busy people with many jobs and roles so perhaps it is too much to expect them to know what is going on here and there. Also, there is someone who has been making major contributions to the Conservative Party.

What again, one might cry with astonishment. It is very simple, those who want to benefit from political decisions and the politicians who make them must not be too choosy about which part of the system they currently inhabit. What is amazing to me is just how cheap they are in relation to the scale of the financial debacles they are responsible for.

We must expect some of the interest groups and others now to be more strident. It is a pity there were not doing more shouting before. But that would have meant Unison and the GMB, amongst others, handing out some stick to their favourite politicians. That would have meant few favours for them and juicy jobs in quango’s etc. for all their associates.

It is interesting to see the financial and operational parallels in the actual care sector with that of the leasehold retirement sector. Similar structures, similar financial engineering, similar people doing similar things and as the money is slushed around the various accounts and banks before being exported this is deemed economic growth because the figures all look bigger.

If I spent my time driving round the M25 using borrowed money to pay for the petrol on which I incurred heavy interest charges this would promote “growth”, but I am not sure just how much benefit it would do for anyone. It would not do much for my temper.

Does any person with a remote connection with reality or sanity believe that running care homes, care services and related activities on this basis for the old and vulnerable mean “efficiency” or sensible use of resources?

Do we need mega financial organisations operating globally with high gearing and leverage to make sure that Person A in a small town in England who has mild dementia and is now disabled is fed, watered and washed properly?

Or that the building they are accommodated in is able to summon up electricians, plumbers and site maintenance people to keep things ticking over? Or to make sure the insurance is in place and routines are dealt with? Or to handle the basic systems for accounting and employment?

Two things have been going on here. One is the ripping off of the incomes and remaining wealth of the people in these categories. The other is the amount of government money that goes into supporting those without income or wealth.

This is what these organisations have been designed for, to extract from others on the largest scale possible. This is what Cameron & Co. has to address. The task is now to get some simplicity, sanity and reliability into this sector and very quickly. It needs to be taken back to a local scale and run as a real service.

Is it too much to expect for the Conservatives to put back the care into caring or is Cameron afraid of annoying some of his more uncaring friends and sponsors?

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Birthday Boy

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is 90 today, the boy done good as we used to say on the terraces. A happy birthday to him and may he have many more of them.

I have come across him only twice. Once he was the keynote speaker at a conference I attended urging us on to greater things and higher productivity in the national interest. I recall we skipped the evening session and went to the pub.

The other time was when I was on a fast night run down to Dover along the then two lane A1 with my half ton camping trailer swinging behind me and was overtaken by a group of limousines and a police escort. There was a lot of light flashing, horns and sirens going which I ignored.

As the main car passed I saw the Duke looking out of the window. I think he was saying something distinctly naval. It may have been my driving but it may have been someone in the back seat with a thumb to the nose waggling fingers.

However, as a lad he did his time and with distinction. Given the challenges of his role since he has done remarkably well in the various circumstances.

He served on HMS Valiant (above) and I am sure those of the crew in the other picture still with us would give him a cheer.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Comparisons Are Odious

The first problem in making comparisons is can the things you are comparing be judged in terms of one another? This brings in the basis for comparisons as well as a lot of other considerations. At the moment there is a debate about which groups have lost out in the last decades and who have done well.

The trouble is how far can you compare, say, how the average office functions in 2011 with that of 1981 or for that matter 1951? Whilst the office of 1951 was recognisable in many ways in that of 1981 there have been major changes. Nowadays 1951 would seem almost closer to the Medieval than to that of 2011.

Says he bashing away at a computer with in house printer and instant mailing facilities linked internationally. But lurking away is a 1950’s Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter next to a filing cabinet with hard copy in abundance just for the record. Old habits die hard.

Given the substantial changes in the structure of the economy as a whole as well as the other changes within the industry, the commerce and the public sector the result has been an economy with different people doing different tasks in different ways. The computer may be a gift but carries its own curse.

Moreover, the moral basis of much of the economic activity has changed. Modern management theory scorns many of the preconceptions of 1981 or 1951. This has led to some of the recent debacles and will lead to more. What is striking now is the absence of much moral context to our present machinery of government.

Also the age structure of the population has changed and within that the age at which many start work is now older than it was in the past. Whilst they spend more time in education the downside is that many are bereft of experience of many of the practical aspects of life. Urbanisation of the population has increased the scope of the disconnections.

In the high street there are very few shops left now from 1951 that are remotely the same and this is almost true of 1981. One recent development is the major expansion in the number of employment agencies. There are now more of them in my town centre than there are banks. The windows tell their own story.

The jobs are all private sector. In one window with thirty jobs, presumably the more attractive ones on offer all the jobs were in the service sector and only one paid more than £20,000 p.a., most rather less. There were no labouring jobs and it seems that manual work of this kind and in much of construction has gone off the radar of the ordinary jobs market.

That one paid a salary which might rate a mortgage on the cheapest properties in town at a squeeze. The majority would be hard put to rent a small local flat. Running a car would make a major hole in the budget.

None carried pension plans and it was clear that there was no question of a “job for life” or indeed much employment protection given the likely nature of the contracts. How you compare this with say in 1951 a reliable factory job with an established firm I do not know and it is still very different from 1981.

What I do not like is the prevailing fear and defensive attitudes of people in the workplace, the uncertainty and the need to compete personally, to deceive and to betray. We may not have earned much at the bottom end of the ladder in the 1950’s but often we managed to laugh and “teamwork” was real and not a formula for controlling dissent or a box to be ticked for the CV for the next job move.

Rather than casting our minds back to a distant and alien past the question should be how should incomes be distributed in a society that is very new and within which we expect a good deal of public provision paid for by taxation.

The answer at present is that nobody has the answers.

Monday 6 June 2011

Just Blew In From The Media City

With all the fuss from the BBC about its Media City in Salford and its many wonders from the obscure recesses of the memory came Doris Day in “Calamity Jane” singing about The Windy City.

This was in 1953 when they used to do real work in Salford.

“Oh calamity!”, to quote Robertson Hare (see Wikipedia) who was acquainted with the BBC in his later years.

Habeas Corpus

Sunday 5 June 2011

Good Cop Bad Cop

The link below is a long item but deals very fully with the financial issues at present concerning the functions of the ECB and IMF.

Basically, the thesis is that they have made a serious mess of the situation and the prospects are not good.

The opinion seems to be shared by an increasing number of people.

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

Today’s main headline is that Mr. Wayne Rooney, currently employed at the Old Trafford Hedge Fund as a public relations consultant, has had a hair transplant.

When I saw this item late last night, for some reason, possibly the high humidity, I misinterpreted the news as “head” which explains the picture above.

We all make mistakes.

Friday 3 June 2011

Rare, Medium Or Well Done?

In the long past many, probably most of your ancestors and mine shared their smoky hovels with the livestock, a good deal of insect life and an extensive sample of the bugs available at the time. Often health issues arose, but if a new strain of bug occurred as a result of these conditions it might not travel far.

In our global world transport of people, food and products a new bug can travel far and fast and out run any health inspectors or medic’s who give chase. Because of the scale and nature of industrial farming and well as processing the antibiotics and other things given to livestock, poultry, fish and the rest will find their way into water systems and a variety of common foods.

It is part of our modern life’s excitements.

Today the “Washington Post” has as a lead story:

“The bacterium that has killed more than a dozen Europeans, sickened nearly 2,000 more and raised international alarms would be legal if it were found on meat or poultry in the United States.

If the bacterium were to contaminate fruits or vegetables grown here, there would be no way to prevent an outbreak, because farmers and processors are not required to test for the pathogen before the food heads to supermarkets.

If somehow this strain got into that same environment and spread rapidly, it would represent a major disaster in terms of the U.S. food industry and risk to humans,” said J. Glenn Morris, a former official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who directs the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. “The regulatory framework is a couple of steps behind.”

So if in Florida for a holiday, avoid the Germans around the pool like the plague.

In the meantime from the University of Cambridge there is a story about a new strain of MRSA found in cattle that may have dangers. The Eco lot have been quick to remind us that the use of antibiotics in routine feedstuffs for livestock may have serious consequences if resistant strains of one thing or another emerge.

Used with care, sensitivity and managed properly within clear limits both antibiotics and antibacterials have their uses in medical treatments and such. But when they are stuffed into all sorts of things; used without discrimination and on the largest possible scale for production and marketing purposes there will be consequences.

The same can be said of many other substances in the past and present. It is a matter of human experience that misuse and overuse will have adverse effects. Some of these will be quite nasty. The mad hatters of Luton and the phossy jaws of the match girls are but two examples as well as the 18th Century belles with white leaded faces.

Recently, but not much in the UK, typically, there has been attention paid to these issues. It is often difficult to understand because of the science and the complexity. But the sooner we accept that we could be doing more damage than good then we might begin to control ourselves.

The Health Protection Agency is almost worse than useless tending to turn up at the party long after it has finished. Also, it is under the thumb of Porton Down. Senior Army medic’s I once knew held the opinion that Porton Down was a lunatic asylum for mad scientists. I sometimes wonder if the HPA in reality may be engaged in a large scale series of experiments on the entire UK population.

The web site Science Daily is the major source for many UK media stories about health and scientific matters. The errors made by the interns who knock out the stuff for the press can be amusing. But the site does lead you to the original research which can often be accessed.

The link below gives some very recent research on antibiotics.

The page on the link has other articles on the same subject.

Have a good weekend, will you be eating out?

Thursday 2 June 2011

Devalued, Silver Threads Amongst The Gold

In leading stories this week have been items on the financial debacle of the Southern Cross Care Homes, mentioned in this blog a while ago, the AgeUK forecasts of serious problems for the very old needing care, the protests at cuts in mental health spending and support, the treatment of people in other care homes who have serious mental conditions, the hospitals where the aged are dying of dehydration and the local authority tightening of care in the community care provision.

For Southern Cross the size of their deficit appears to be about £100,000 for each person in its care. There is an interesting symmetry here to the same rough figure for the other financial debacle in the retirement leasehold sector. When Peter Bottomley appeared on TV to explain matters he mumbled something about “financial engineering that I do not understand”.

Leaving aside the issue that he is paid either to understand or to find out in any debacle of this kind my own view is that if many people I know can understand the basic questions either he is being economical with the truth or is as thick as two short planks.

Nor is it much use calling it “capitalism” or “free market”. It is not capitalism as we know it, Jim, from the past and the markets that are relevant to the problems we are looking at are anything but free.

Quite what words might be used I am not sure but we have a very new structure of finance and money control in which the professional politicians at the heart of central governments, an oligarchy of financial operators and a global network based not on nation states but on tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions function to extract as much as possible the benefit of a few.

The problems of care for the old and vulnerable on our own patch are going to worsen on present trends. There has been enough on this blog to point to many problems. Some of those of the present and past were due to inflation and if this does return will add to the severity of the situation.

If the expectation of life continues to rise there will be more people of greater age with all the difficulties arising. Also, as they become older so will their children be older and often pensioners themselves. With both present and future pensions being squeezed as well as the middle income ranges they will have less income.

It is said that at present savings are historically low and for the majority of people nowhere near enough to provide for old age. That is, if you work. Increasingly, however the over 50’s are being dumped out of employment to make way for low wage younger people on different contractual arrangements.

These younger people at present are not saving much, are not accruing assets and many are not in pension schemes. The running joke “the bank of Mum and Dad” is amusing but the implications are far from funny.

It may not be long before the size of the aged population totally far outruns the ability of the younger generations to cope either personally or financially. At present the State seems to be running far behind the game and if anything all its regulation and intervention is counter productive.

This month’s edition of CAMRA’s “What’s Brewing” has the headline “New Campaign To Protect The Nations’s Crisis Hit Pubs”. The bloke who runs one of the last local’s left in this area tells me it is all down to recent government taxes and regulation coupled with something called “financial engineering” by companies who see pubs as property assets for the purpose of leverage (not on the pumps) and borrowing.

So for the old there isn’t even a local to go to for an hour or two any more.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Blackpool Rocking

The story about the Blackpool earthquakes has attracted attention. The main reason is that nearby drilling into rocks that have oil shale and then shattering them to source the oil are claimed to cause tremors that mimic earthquakes.

This is called “fracking” and there is a lot of serious discussion about how the world may need to source these oils to meet its energy needs. It seems to be a classic environment versus economy debate but it is more complicated than that.

This is because the distribution of the oil shales could impact hugely on the status and well being of the countries concerned.

As for Blackpool those of us who check out the earthquakes will know that a number of small ones often occur at various points in the Atlantic Isles which never make it into the news.

Recently there has been a run of them down the west coast of the mainland part. Two have been in the Highlands and there have been a few in the region of the Irish Sea.

It may be that if there are vulnerable faults then any drilling or fracking will have an effect but as yet there is no general agreement on all this.

There is going to be a lot more debate on the whole business of oil shales in the near future because it involves natural gas supplies as well.