Sunday 31 July 2011

Oh! President Obama!

The current Debt Ceiling business in the USA reminds me of the old “Oh Mr. Porter” song from long ago.

Oh Pres’ Obama!

What shall I do?

I want a bigger deficit,

But now I’m overdue.

Get me back to credit,

As quickly as you can,

So I can make my payments,

To all Afghanistan.

With no apologies to anyone, but my thanks to Marie Lloyd and Will Hay.

The Youtube clip below gives as good a comment on the situation in Washington DC as any other I have seen.

Friday 29 July 2011

Swanning Around

Cyprus is also needing assistance and bail out, although not to the same extent as its larger fellow members of the EU. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s theory of “Black Swan” events has had a great deal of attention in recent years.

Automatic Earth has an intriguing item on this which suggests that the problems in Cyprus arise from just such an event. It is worth reading for the full explanation of what can happen when you least want or expect it.

In the meantime closer to home, this blog has suggested already that there are a set of pre-conditions in the leasehold property sector that have the potential to go bad if some unlucky circumstances arises. Naked Capitalism has sounded a warning.

Few seem to be aware that serious issues with one of the major UK operators in this sector have led to the Bank of America owning a number of companies. This has happened because they were security for debts owed to the Bank which could not be met.

Amongst the companies are not only major property management services but a number who own the Freeholds of very many properties. It is interesting to see how the Bank of America deals with property financial issues on its home territory.

So should you see new blocks of flats suddenly being razed to the ground there is a rational explanation. At least, that is, according to the Bank of America and its associated financial agencies. Those stuck with the mortgages, other debts and liabilities that have lost their investment in their home may not see it that way.

Buy shares in demolition firms?

Thursday 28 July 2011

Falling In The Water

In the South East we have had a long dry spell, the water companies are putting in meters as fast as they can and there is talk of water stress. These are in the very districts where Lord Prescott and his friends wanted to double the number of housing units.

Being a contrarian, this is the time to discuss flood risks, notably in London. There have been programmes in the past that have raised this question. Unluckily, they have been hyped up with raging torrents, tsunami type waves, life rafts on the High Street in Hampstead and huddled masses starving on Shooters Hill.

The reality is likely to be not more than a few inches (sorry, centimetres) gently overflowing the walls and going into all the underground and low level facilities. The overall level might not even be enough to flood The Strand. Even so the damage and disruption would be huge and very costly. It would take months, even years to sort out.

Whenever there is a heavy rainfall at present there are already overflows of the drains into The Thames sending Marylebone’s sewage down to Margate and beyond. There is a project to install a new Big Sewer to deal with it, but this will take some time to complete. Down river where walls and defences end there will be larger problems.

We know what it would take. A season of high tides, a stiff Nor’ Easter and a period of steady, sometimes heavy rain that goes on a lot longer than anticipated. We have seen some bad floods in recent years; it takes only an unlucky combination. The experts tell us that these events only happen statistically at rare intervals. Earth, sadly takes little notice of the long range forecasts.

We are not yet rushing to the Outdoor Activity shop to buy our Sou’ Westers or rehearsing our Tribute Fisherman’s Friends routine, but only guessing what could happen when. If anything, it is more difficult than forecasting the Atlantic Hurricanes. There is enough debate on this year’s Hurricane season to put any shaman off his entrails.

Just out of interest and looking at the tables and patterns, clearly there are several options of “windows” in the next decade and it is possible that none of them will see anything like this. But it is intriguing to play the guessing games. There are dates that are all too possible if one applies the law that if things can go wrong then they will go wrong.

My first date on the list is Spring 2012.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Who Am I? What Am I?

At first I thought I knew what I was, a simple honest Scouser. When we removed to another city with different ideas about social cohesion and this form of being was not regarded as desirable so it was time to come up with another identity.

Because of the period and requirements of the military this changed again. My teen thing was cut brutally short, or else. Then there were other places and other lives which have meant some shifts of presentation.

More recently, genes have been discovered. My period as an alien who strayed onto Earth as the result of a galactic error of judgment did not last. I was all too human and the history of the earth tells me that my origins are a lot more complicated than first supposed.

Within the last couple of years I have had to become reconciled to the possibility that long ago there were Neanderthals in the family, never mind what other hominids got into the mix.

Apparently, our government sponsored scientists are playing about with parts of humans and other life forms principally mammals of one sort or another. The worry is that if they are doing it, who else and where else might others with different objectives?

It is now a little late to become something else. But I wonder if I offered my stem cells or other bits to the relevant government sponsored scientists there could be longer term options in another existence?

Some of me, some of a gorilla and some dinosaur DNA mixed in with essence of panther would make an interesting mix.

What would your choice be?

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Once A Jolly Swagman

The Channel 4 programme on Murdoch’s control over the British polity was an interesting watch, although there were opportunities missed. Perhaps the thumping deep bass doom backing could have been enlivened. The obvious one would have been the 1967 Sandie Shaw hit “Puppet On A String” whenever one or other Prime Ministers came into sight.

Rupert’s performance in the House of Commons reminded me of the contrite apologies of the many Australian barmen who have short changed me in London pubs in the past. Deep sincerity backed with a determination to whack the next punter with a bigger deduction.
What I did not buy in this case was the “Rupe The Dupe” line, an old stager with very many interests who was let down by his trusted relations and assistants. He might have 174 or what journals plus manifold other media interests but some politically and personally were much more critical than others.

Clearly, in the UK and the USA there are a small number of interests that are the key to political influence and with it effective control or veto over policies and proposals. These were exploited to the full and used mercilessly to maintain and extend the Murdoch empire.

In my own experience I have been in organisations with a wide variety of entities in which either to know or to be able to find out fast the detail was critical to function. Given the money he was paying these people and given their work it just does not wash that he could not have known or could not have been told.

It may be that he was too busy shafting the stuck up British, conning the bean counting Americans and avoiding being clobbered by the clever Chinese to keep in touch with those who worked for him. It may be that essentially his organisation is bad, ramshackle and mostly out of control. It may he that he just did not care.

What we are left with is a wrecked constitution that is unworkable, an economy in very bad shape, an energy crisis looming, a celebrity and drug culture that dominates the media and the centralisation of all decisions and influence into a very small location and group of people.

As any Oz miner can tell you, however, in every heap of rubble there might just be a lump of something valuable. In Murdoch’s case it might be that he restrained Blair’s mad dash into Europe and perhaps even allowed Brown to stay out of the Euro. If so, then history might judge him not so much as a villain but as a deeply flawed hero.

John Churchill and Arthur Wellesley both saved us from European domination and both had many faults. But they gained Dukedoms. By the 20th Century such leaders had to settle for Earldoms or in the case of my hero, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, a Viscountcy like Horatio Nelson. Rupert Murdoch currently has a knighthood but there are many who want to strip of that honour.

Perhaps we might settle for a good big statue. Whitehall would be tactless, as would the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Clearly, it could not be along that of President Reagan, despite Rupert’s current American citizenship.

My location would be somewhere on the banks of the Thames, a large statue that could be seen for miles looking over the reach from which many of the early convict transports cast off for Australia and his arm would be raised to point in the compass direction to the East. The dedication on the plinth would be very simple “Keith Rupert Murdoch” with underneath “Once A Jolly Swagman”.

Look at the Wikipedia entry for “Waltzing Matilda” and read the lyrics, there is a distinct poignancy about them.

Monday 25 July 2011

Coppers In The Change

Around the media and web today there is discussion about whether it would improve the Police to have former senior Army officers brought in for higher ranks because of the nature of their training and experience.

The Army these days has had a large role in providing what amounts to armed policing in various areas of the world as well as combat action. Also, amongst the reasons are that the Army has become expert in modern management techniques.

I regard modern management theory and the way it has been taken from industry and high finance and applied across the board to human activities and services as the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.

A good deal of the debate assumes that for the most part the Army and Police are distinct services with differing ethos, characteristics and functions.

How we forget. Once there were quite opposite ideas and former senior Army officers were often to be found being recruited to the posts of Chief or Deputy in many police services. Or in larger forces at third or fourth tier level.

In the past a lot of police forces were in much smaller local authorities and of limited size. Few of their policemen had much experience other than on the beat and on a basic level. However many of them did have service experience and it was seen as an advantage for them to have a good service record in the Army.

The photograph above is from 1948 and look at the medal ribbons. Some of them had served in the First World War and others in the Second. They knew what they were about and their immediate community. In fact they knew everyone.

I know because I knew them. The community in question was virtually crime free apart from the odd drunks who were shown little mercy. Also, there were no stray dogs.

Quite why I leave for you to work out.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Goodbye To All That

Because of events, principally the dreadful tragedy in Norway as well as our own issues and the Euro other matters have had less attention in the UK.

One that has been sidelined has been the seemingly interminable cat fights in Congress in Washington DC over the debt ceiling and expenditure commitments.

It would take a very long post to describe how the government of the USA has arrived at this stage and what is involved. It has been developing now for some time as the US House of Representatives and Senate has lurched from one muddled set of compromises to another.

They have given away control of the US Government to the money men. Once we had three powers, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Administration. Now we have a fourth, the Financial and this has taken control.

The taxes, the revenues, the shape of the economy and the laws and regulation that govern it all will be determined by the Financial. War and Peace will be subject to whatever the Financial will determine.

Goodbye The Constitution, goodbye Democracy, goodbye America.

Saturday 23 July 2011

The Return Of Spitting And TB

How many can still remember the real fear of families and others of some of the diseases that occurred and were common before the age of antibiotics and modern pharmaceuticals transformed treatments and survival rates?

One was Tuberculosis, a killer and I can recall people who “disappeared”, suddenly taken to spend months or years in an isolation hospital without the option because of the danger they represented to the wider community.

Their families might become social pariahs, jobs might be lost and landlords turning them out of their homes.

It was why across the country there were regulations, bye-laws and an intolerance of people who spat out of either habit or provocation. It was not a matter of being “elitist” or “judgmental” or forcing standards on others. It was seen as a matter of life and death.

The Inspector Gadget blog on word press dot com tells us that today the Police service is told to ignore it. The quote below apparently from official and top down training of officers regards it as a purely social issue. The small matter of public health must give way to being nice to people.


“Spitting is a cultural issue. Young, jobless working-class men spit on the ground as a way of expressing frustration and powerlessness. It is also a way for young men from poor communities to mark territory, a kind of warning to other men in the street that they are present.

For successful men, spitting on the ground is a way of demonstrating victory against the harsh realities of modern life, a challenge to others who may wish to rob them of their success.

It is judgmental for a police officer to challenge this behaviour. It shows an ethnocentric approach; why are the cultural norms of the young jobless community less acceptable than those of their more fortunate peers?

To achieve the Public Confidence aspirations required by the National Policing Plan, police officers must begin to embed themselves in these cultures. This way, we can achieve our ultimate aim of policing our diverse communities with fairness and understanding.”


There is not just TB to consider. There are a number of other diseases which might need an avoidance of spitting and other habits. Whether the police are now urged to ignore people or drunks from relieving themselves in public places is not clear but the evidence of late night activity seems to suggest it.

Another disease is Typhoid, now mercifully rare. But in one instance I know a single case had the whole family in isolation, their business shut down for weeks and a major health emergency in the Borough concerned.

When local Councillors complained that the Chief Medical Officer was being heavy handed he told them that if the disease spread into double figures he would shut down all the workplaces and shops. He had official backing and that of the local doctors and hospitals.

When it came to diseases of this kind the old pre 1974 CMO’s could be ruthless and a Chief Constable could be given stern warnings if his officers did not pay enough attention to the health issues arising from anti-social behaviour. Imagine, a world where a Chief Constable could be put on the mat and given a good dressing down.

One of the dirty secrets of government is that not only is TB back but there are hot spots from which a rapid spread could develop. What does not help is that when TB was brought under control all the checks and routine testing were dropped. The consequence is that the numbers identified may be much less than the real figures.

Because of the nature of the disease it can be slow to develop and missed by ordinary medicine both in Family Doctor surgeries and hospitals. There are many other chest conditions that have apparently similar first symptoms and it is these that are usually assumed to be the ones causing the illness.

To add to this are the claims that there are now some strains of TB that are resistant to drugs and it could take some time to find new ones that might contain the disease. So how has it come about that our government now tells us that spitting is good and might be encouraged?

So who exactly was responsible for this? If TB does become a major issue again we will be in for “blame games” even nastier than those of the present.

Friday 22 July 2011

Calamity Cameron

While Westminster descends into bad farce, Europe is busy establishing The Fourth Reich (and not the EUSSR however interesting that concept might be) and just about all the major policy areas in UK government are turning into dross where was Cameron?

He was doing a Blair Brown Tribute act. Off he goes for a quick photo-opportunity in Afghanistan promising the lads they will be home before Christmas, although which one is open to debate. Then we are visiting other top people in other places who no doubt would be happier watching the beach volley ball on TV.

In his company are the same sort of friends and helpers that have been with other Prime Ministers recently. I understand there was Vodaphone, lately beneficiaries of a “sweetheart” off the cuff tax deal with HMRC. Also there is the Diamond geezer from Barclaycapital.

This is an organisation which specialises in interesting tax arrangements for the wealthy and other things. What ii does do is to take all the income it gets and fiddles with it to enable some very complicated trading and the rest which make all the very many books of its untold number of subsidiaries look good.

In South Africa this means ensuring that those with lots of money will pay little tax. As this is a country which needs major resources for public services this leads to tax short falls and problems of provision. So Cameron commits us to sending dollops of our tax money to help them.

In the meantime the very same firm is arranging for many of our rich also to avoid tax. As we have a problem with our debts and taxes this means that the poorer people of the UK have to pay more.

The logic of this may be clear to Cameron and Diamond, it means they and their friends all do very nicely but it is bad news for all those in either the UK or South Africa who are feeling not just the pinch but the punch.

Unluckily, the horrors of the Euro crisis could put a stop to all and every little scheme all these politicians are dreaming up. We really do not know what is happening next. But where are Cameron and Clegg. We know where Clegg is, it is on his own little Libdem Fantasy European Island.

This is a crisis that cannot be covered with clever words or carefully staged posing. It is where it all gets real and desperately serious and Cameron needs to display the courage and intellect of a real leader and statesman. I fear the boy is not up to it and never will be. So what is he?

Shakespeare, as ever, has the right words, Coriolanus, Act v Scene VI, “Thou boy of tears.”



Ay, Marcius, Caius Marcius: dost thou think
I'll grace thee with that robbery, thy stol'n name
Coriolanus in Corioli?
You lords and heads o' the state, perfidiously
He has betray'd your business, and given up,
For certain drops of salt, your city Rome,
I say 'your city,' to his wife and mother;
Breaking his oath and resolution like
A twist of rotten silk, never admitting
Counsel o' the war, but at his nurse's tears
He whined and roar'd away your victory,
That pages blush'd at him and men of heart
Look'd wondering each at other.


Hear’st thou Mars?


Name not the god, thou boy of tears!


If Cameron gets it wrong Mars the God of War could be back again.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Could It All Get Worse - The Coming Energy Crisis?

My own comment here is very short because the link to the article from The Oil Drum, “The Coming UK Energy Meltdown” is very long at 4375 words with diagrams.

If you think our troubles are only the current media crisis, the Euro business and sundry bail outs and financial issues, this is not the half of it.

It is even more important than Premiership football or what Wayne did next.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Vroom Vroom Or Not That Is The Question

Today is when our machine, The Flying Shed, is undergoing its annual service and MOT. It is when a man has to do what a man has to do.

This means getting up early and going off to the garage to face up to the man with the frown who sucks his teeth loudly saying, “Is it that old?”

At one time this would have meant a 1930’s car still running in the 1950 or 60’s. Now it means something over five years old with hopelessly outdated locking and microchip control systems.
Then, later in the day there is the dreaded call, very polite and in counselling mode. “We’ve found one or two things that need doing”. He gives me the figures.

In my mind a number of hoped for outings are promptly cancelled.

There is a deep irony in this. We have the car so we can get out more. But the cost of the car means that we cannot go out so much.

The garage has let me have a courtesy car for the day, one of their new models.

It is a lovely, easy and comfortable car to be in and to drive.

The problem is that the cash cost would be more than my first ten years income.

And if we bought it we could not afford to go out in it.

I understand that over a million people have given up their cars in the last year.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Spare A Copper, Guv'?

“Tell me the old old story, of unseen things above…”, there is nothing to beat an old hymn in times of trouble. For something less celestial you could try the Gracie Fields hit “Wish Me Luck As You Wish Me Goodbye”. The business is bad, but we have seen it all before and the performances put on by the protagonists are less than convincing.

This time however, heads have rolled at the top unlike in the past. They have been brought down by a few disgruntled backbenchers in league with a handful of journo’s who scented blood probably on the basis of some searching and asking by interns and researchers who knew where to look.

Yet in the valedictory speeches made by Ministers above the police officers who have gone to live off the meagre pensions, consultancies and media contracts make them out to be the presiding geniuses who have guaranteed our national security and ensured our abidance of the laws. Theresa May’s was perhaps more redolent of the Mark Anthony speech “Brutus was an honourable man…” but omitted far more than it said.

If this short sighted, disorganised, witless and bungling group have been in charge of all our security then we should cancel the 2012 London Olympics now. The enemy are not outside the gate they are inside the bailey and the London Met’ has probably handed them the keys to the keep.

Possibly, notably under Blair and Brown, the Met’ could be seen as the Last Redoubt of the Scottish Raj and the resignations as a sort of latter day Masada. If during the days of Empire we had the British Raj, then the influence of key Scots and Scots-Irish over much of London meshed with those running the colonies and possessions.

In the 1890’s, Charles Booth in his London surveys noted the number of Scots at all levels in the police. The explanation is a simple one. In the latter part of the 19th Century the standards expected were made higher and in general the Scots and Scots-Irish had a much better basic education to offer.

For the senior ranks, many were recruited from the military and the colonies. One source was India, especially after the fall of the rupee seriously affected salaries and pensions there and income tax was imposed by Auckland Colvin despite the protest of the Rudyard Kipling factions. London became the better option.

So the TV George Dixon of Dock Green, above, and his TV son Andy will have had counterparts in reality who were from a family of Scots. The TV programme which began in 1955 displayed the Met’ as a beacon of hope, honesty and justice. The reality was rather different.

Probably, as a result of the dislocations of World War 2 and after during rationing and the widespread criminality that occurred in the supply of food and ordinary goods, the Met’ had a number of officers who were on the take and this occurred high up on the ranks as well.

Sir Robert Mark was appointed in 1972 with a brief to sort it out after the Kray and a number of other scandals had resulted in public and media protest. After an active career he retired and took part in TV Commercials for Goodyear Tyres. So what will our departing police chiefs be advertising?

Personal fragrances?

Monday 18 July 2011

London - The Great Wen Revisited

Last Friday, John Redwood in his blog under “Central London Is Booming” wrote that escaping from the Westminster Oflag IV-C and looking around its hinterland of Central London he noticed how many people were there and evidently spending money. He contrasted this with the situation on many UK High Streets and how London seemed to be booming whereas beyond it is not the same.

All that glisters is not gold as The Bard said, who knew both London and the country. Many commentators visiting London during the 18th and 19th Century had a lot to say about its riches, style, spending and splendour. But we know that the reality for the majority of people in London, including those who serviced and supported all this, was very different.

On Saturday as we made our way from Charing Cross, avoiding the plump rats by the rubbish bins on the platforms, past the hordes of blank faced tourists, many of whom are there on the cheap and on their credit cards, we considered all those low and minimum wage employees who were required to keep it going.

Skirting past some noisy Hen Parties, a recent feature of the streets, we thought about the high rate of unemployment, the “swamp” and gang run estates and that the money involved in propping up the activity was from unreliable sources and highly vulnerable to serious disruption for reasons beyond any UK control.

As for the shoppers, the bulk of the consumables they are buying are imported. The energy they consume and that is needed to transport them etc. is also largely imported. The places they stay in may well be foreign owned or financed.

Where most of the profits end up from all the spending is not in the UK, it goes elsewhere and there are slim pickings from the relevant company taxation. VAT may be payable on some of this spending, but only so long as people can and will spend.

Just how much is supported by effective subsidy from other parts of the UK is a matter of continuing debate. This largely depends on whether you look at the more obvious and direct movements of money or whether you factor in the indirect.

Given the centralized nature of so much of government, finance and other activity, this must be pulling a great deal of money in to a greater extent than it is going out.

All this is partly an explanation of the divergence between The Great Wen and the rest of the UK. The centralized government and its agencies and hangers on have so far distorted the structure of the UK economy to the financial advantage of London that necessarily this is the only place that as yet is riding the storm.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on “Potemkin Villages”, the original story may be something of a myth but as the term is applied to Stalinist propaganda gains a great deal of truth about his regime.

So much of The Great Wen is now a shopping, party playground and entertainment attractions all designed to extract money and give little in return.

Rather like Redwood’s Westminster.

Sunday 17 July 2011

A Lesson From History

Sometimes the coincidences of History and events are very strange. According to reports in the press during the weekend of 2/3 July 2011 before Thor went to work on News International there was an event in Burford.

This was at the Old Priory where Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud hosted a huge party for their friends, family and key contacts. It is said to have been a spectacular event at which little expense and opulence was spared and wealth and power ruled OK.

Meanwhile at the Parish Church along the road antiquarians might study the small memorial to the three Levellers in the picture above who were shot by Cromwell’s dragoons for political dissent in 1649 having been held in the church with over 300 of their followers.

The story can be found in the link below:

The history of the Levellers is a complicated one; a summary that is not definitive is given below:

As the first link suggests there are still many who believe in the Leveller’s principles out there and who paraded recently through Burford. They have received scant attention in coverage in the media.

Who would you chose to believe?

Friday 15 July 2011

The First Botch Of The Proms

Last year, 2010, in July I commented on the BBC Prom’s TV programming. Tonight the new season begins yet the botching of the TV work continues. The BBC now has six channels available, four in digital, 1, 2, 3 and 4 together with two HD channels. The HD are still random common screenings or repeats of those on the other four.

Tonight is The First Night, supposedly a Big Start. BBC1 is out, it does not fit the required market segments and nor does BBC3. So we have 2 or 4. But the Open Golf is on 2 and could possibly over run. Consequently, the Prom TV start is delayed from that in the Albert Hall and if the golf goes on will have to wait.

Meanwhile on BBC4, beginning at 7.30 we have the “Life of Peter Maxwell Davies”, a leading British composer. That this might constitute some kind of clash has escaped the programmers. To clash with the opposition may be a misfortune but to clash with yourself is carelessness.

It does not end there, because the TV running is short of the timing in the Hall by half an hour. Clearly the interval with the chat and comment is being dumped, but so is one of the pieces in first half.

Last year I did a full scale workout of all the barmy clashes and errors made in the TV programming and it was a very long list. Trust me; it is just as bad this year.

Yes the BBC have all these “managers”, layer upon layer going back to The Cretaceous. They have all the focus groups and the full battery of modern management and digital facilities.

Yet year after year they botch the basic TV programming and presentation of their major music festival that has a world market and a strong following in the UK. Last year this was the comment:


The 2010 Proms have begun. It took the BBC forty years after it took over this festival of music to begin broadcasting it in a regular and reliable fashion on the radio. It has taken even longer for the BBC to come to terms with this new fangled TV thing that has so upset their ordered universe.

At first the only TV item was the Last Night second part that was put on to feature Sir Malcolm Sargent, a celebrity conductor. One disastrous effect of this was to fasten a completely false image on a complicated and broad based music festival.

It was something that the BBC resolutely refused to shake off until very recently despite the evidence under their eyes. Yet another case of BBC image being totally at variance with the facts.

At present and in recent years with the BBC Proms team in tandem with R3 it has been possible to know what was happening and why on radio. Unluckily, when it comes to TV this falls into other hands. Too many of them with too many distinct organisational and internal political interests to be able to sort out what they are supposed to be doing and why.

The TV programming has become a hit and miss business that both ignores its audience and the real purpose of the festival. This year it is a Mahler anniversary and there is a big Mahler audience out there, not only in the UK but internationally. When you see the grotesque mess they have made of this it is astonishing.

Tonight we will skip the TV and stick to the steam radio.

Thursday 14 July 2011

What A Wapper!

The Wapping Three are to appear at the House of Commons to discuss ways and means. Will they be as convincing as Wilson, Keppel and Betty?

In line with the techniques claimed to be employed by their journalists and others perhaps the House should consider used hi-tech interrogation techniques as above.

When can we look forward to the TV docu-drama’s?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Waffle And Whiffle

In the world of mirrors, spin, telling less than half the story leaving out the difficult or nasty bits and where it is all about presentation the BBC has lost little of its skill set in these respects.

It is running a series on Luxury and spent three hours with leading figures in the world of fragrances allowing them full rein without a hint of criticism and no questions asked. Doubtless this will go to a hundred repeats.

As well as amounting to an extended commercial for the British Fragrance Association it failed to mention that some of the stuff on the market at the moment is little better than Agent Orange with added overtones of jasmine and musk.

Essentially, there were two interwoven parts to the tale. One was the high price of the luxury market with all that this entailed and the other was the way in which perfumes and fragrances were created for mass markets.

But the emphasis was on the top end with history, tradition, rare and hugely expensive natural substances being brought together to make products at very high prices intended for and to be used by the richest of the elites. It suggested that the mass markets somehow were a junior version of this.

This involved inevitably a trip to the Gulf to meet the ruling classes where the Brit’s grovelled to flog a few hand made bottles with gold leaf lettering of stuff whose contents had been culled from the pages of a family notebook from the 19th Century.

My grannie-in-law left such a Home Book which had recipes, basic home medicine and ways of dealing with rats and mice by tempting them to consume food laced with something from the chemist. Perhaps I ought to add a synthetic fragrance, call it Jerboa and try to flog that to the sons of the desert.

At the other end of the scale, the British “Chav” Class were notable for their absence so that the Vox Populi had to be sought elsewhere. Brazil seemed to be suitable and Sao Paulo sufficiently deprived to allow social community to be claimed.

A lady took time out from frantically flying between New York, London and Paris to visit another strange lady who spent virtually all her spare disposable income on scents and scented products and groups of male teenagers to give guidance on how the markets might move.

These were spotty geeks who were prepared to go without food to pay for the latest stuff to hit the market. If they had been told that the consequences of this passion could be to reduce their sperm count to less than their age they might have had second thoughts.

As it seems that over 2,000 fragrance products go to market each year almost all with a short shelf life so it seems as good a way of backing losers as any. But the big boys and girls do not lose because a small number of companies are making most of the new products and a big winner can more than cover all the losses.

The big names and the names made to be big are fiercely marketed. It is difficult to find a TV commercial without slots for one or other form of these products. You are treated to the full blast of high life, style, sex and suggestion to make you want and buy. There is no hint of any reality either of what they are or where they come from.

What is more the products that are chosen are but a small minority from a much larger number created by the perfumiers dedicated to this work. The great majority were discarded which was called “killing the babies”. The programmes spent a lot of time with some of them who worked hard in largely luxury and very posh locations. The style was very very high.

Why the programme did not visit some of the computer based Chinese laboratories up the Yang Tse in grim industrial areas I do not know. These can produce endless variants of one thing or another, maybe new synthetics for fragrances or maybe new addictive substances to add to the armouries of the drug dealers.

Perhaps there is a substantial overlap between the two, but the BBC did not mention anything about that or the neurological implications of shoving unlimited amounts of high powered stuff up your nose. In New York, London and Paris the ecstatic reactions of some of the people putting together the mixes reminded me of a train journey made in the company of a number of glue sniffers.

There were lots of filming in pretty places and beautiful locations but not one shot of the typical environment from where just about all the stuff in the bottles for the masses comes from. The one above is St. Helen’s in Lancashire, the aromatics factory there has some interesting guidelines about protective clothing and what must be done if there is leakage into the drains.

The BBC were coy about all this. When natural substances were implied or involved there was often mention by name. When the perfumiers and others were taking drops from little bottles there was no mention of what they were or their provenance, it was impossible to read the labels. Anyone for cyanide?

The latest surge is the use of fine particles in the fragrance products and ways of making them stick and last indefinitely. You cannot wash them out nor will dry cleaning do the job. With asthma on the rise along with chronic pulmonary disorders together with issues arising from toxicity one wonders what the Health stance is.

The answer is none at all. The Health Protection Agency has run away from the problem, doubtless told to so by its Porton Down bosses who are now largely working for the fragrance makers. Similarly, the Committee on Toxicity get away from it by claiming at it is all Pavlovian.

The British Lung Foundation say that there is no research in the UK on the issue but as research in the UK almost all depends on government money and this has to show a commercial return anything that might hit the governments business backers to any degree will never happen.

So what has the BBC to say about this? Nothing, it is too busy sniffing the synthetic chemical copies of the scrapings of animal parts to bother.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Is Anybody There?

As followers of the US National Hurricane Centre know, storms are not predictable in incidence, nature, direction and effects. If the pre-conditions are right then one storm may follow another quite quickly.

Quite where the present media storm will take us is not clear. The level of public disgust at some of the stories is apparent. Gordon and Sarah Brown have every reason for anger and dismay.

But as some are pointing out, this is very bad indeed but there are a number of other very worrying developments happening which are going to need a lot of work and attention and about which the public should be properly informed.

This is at a time of year when for two months or more Parliament will not be sitting and its members, including Ministers will be dispersed and taking some holiday although all are likely to be catching up or doing other business.

Meanwhile in the senior ranks of the government departments and all the agencies and other non-government but official organisations desks will not be occupied, calls will not be taken and mail and other communications will wait for replies. Work in progress will be slowed or stalled.

An effect of all the improvements in the conditions of employment both in the Civil Service and other bodies means that longer vacations can be taken as well as other time taken out. Posts are taking longer to fill now and if there are a good many early retirements leaving, many will have “saved” entitlement to have a “free” summer.

It is my view that the situation in the second half of the 21st Century is quite different from that of a generation ago and that was different from the generation before that. We may be looking at almost two months when in effect the Civil Service and others are not functioning to level that is needed for ordinary business.

So what happens if other major political or financial storms come rolling in that are highly complex, very dangerous and require extraordinary inputs of work and activity? It is likely that there simply may not be enough people there to cope.

It can happen and it has. During a severe heat wave in the period of Les Vacances in France several years ago, thousands died, notably amongst the aged because the services needed to deal with crisis were severely undermanned because so many people were away.

Perhaps we will get away with a couple of clear months before more trouble arrives. But we may not and given the fragility of international finances let alone the situations in many countries at present anything could happen. In the present day can we really afford to have so many in the offices of state off work?

Both the First and Second World Wars began at this time of the year and both arose from crises that went out control. I have not forgotten the blundering about in 1956 of the Suez Crisis which critically went wrong during August. I was there.

This is only the short term matters, we are still going nowhere on the longer term key problems and we can no longer afford the start stop management of public affairs to suit the lifestyle requirements of those who govern.

It is not just the unemployed who need to get back to work; it is the higher ranks of government and the Civil Service.

Monday 11 July 2011

The Crisis Of Capitalism

The problem with a single word covering a very wide range of activity and belief, for example “religion” is that if you are not careful it is implied that all its variants are somehow the same. This applies to “capitalism”.

In my own family there are those who have been self employed, some running small firms and others employed by a variety of companies whose work and financial structures have been very different.

Clearly, a way of functioning, financing and managing all this also varies and it is sensible to assume that ways of doing things that are appropriate in one part may differ, perhaps greatly, from another.

The crisis of capitalism of the present to a great extent arises because a limited single set of ideas is being applied regardless of its effect on the actual work to be done or what is being provided in terms of either production or services.

The debacle of Southern Cross is a good example. What kind of capitalism makes sense in the provision and running of care homes? Essentially, a relatively localised provision with limited layers and management, with strong moral and care elements and a responsiveness to the changing needs and clients.

What is not appropriate is that a huge combine be created which although providing care is essentially a mechanism for delivering reliable income streams into a highly financially engineered conglomerate which uses this as security for highly leveraged speculative trading and related operations.

As has been demonstrated, nor is this model right to be the dominating force in the leasehold housing and rentals sector management which is now having serious problems. Nor, I believe is it right for running essentially public utilities, water, drains, refuse etc. etc.

When one looks are areas of physical production and other service activity which are having problems it is often the case that this limited financial model is at the heart of many of the issues and damaging consequences of decisions that are almost inexplicable in any sensible sense in terms of what the firms are really for.

A more difficult area is in banking. Our bankers largely tell us that their work would be compromised if retail banking were to be detached from all the rest. Well, they would wouldn’t they? They need the income streams and deposits for the security for the leverage etc. etc.

So in the last generation we have virtually wiped out the mutual sector and a range of many other types of organisation and provision in favour of the financial model. Capitalism has lost its personal, local and even regional forms and come to be seen as a purely financial exercise to be conducted on a global basis.

And, like the Care Homes and many other things it will not work. Ask the engineers at Derby Railway Works.

News of the World Happy Families

One of the grimmer ironies in the closure of the News of the World is that the person responsible for doing the firing, Rebekah Brooks, formerly Wade. has a mother whose maiden name was Muskett.

There are critics who say she was not the right person to lead the newspaper, but in the 1911 Census it is written that her great grandfather, Clement Muskett, was a “Body Maker”, apt given much of its content.

Perhaps, he went in for some panel beating at the same time. He was working at a Coach Builders.

History has some intriguing lessons.

Sunday 10 July 2011

The Cotwold Morris Dance To The Music Of Time

Apparently, there is something that in the recent past that has not been mentioned for fear of upsetting the neighbours and others. It is the existence of the Chipping Norton Set, a group of close like minded people who have had great influence over the affairs of state or something.

Amongst them is David Cameron, the local MP, It seems rather like the Cliveden Sets of old, only without the class. That of the 1930’s (The Astors) so deeply impressed the then German Ambassador, Von Ribbentrop that he assured The Fuhrer that Britain would not fight but come to terms.

This set was both a liability to the nation and a continuing embarrassment to the Conservative Party. Amongst the many reasons why so many voted Labour in 1945 was that they had no wish to be controlled by such cabals in future.

The Cliveden Set of the early 1960’s (Profumo with Astors) was more of a louche collection of funsters. The problem there was that associated with those seeking relaxation away from the public eye were sundry Soviet and other intelligence operators. This business seriously damaged the Conservative Party and led to the election defeat of 1964.

Buckinghamshire has become rather suburban and down market, the good properties there may be all very well for arrivistes such as the Blair’s and the more demonstrative celebrities but it lacks the je ne sais quois of a true clique of state.

Quite why poor old Chipping Norton, once a perfectly decent working market town should be home to the mega rich media and political meddlers and shovers intent on destroying the United Kingdom for the benefit of the bottom line is one of those accidents of history.

The district is one I knew from back in the 1950’s. I once lost a wheel there driving a recently serviced mini-bus back from Twickenham with my rugby club gently relaxing amongst the beer crates. The wheel came off as I came round a tight bend and luckily the bus stayed up.

The Gods were kind to us. When the passengers had disentangled themselves there was a village pub across the road with a supply of Hook Norton sedatives. When the authorities arrived, after some time, I was told cheerfully that Chipping Norton was a bad place to have a car crash because being close to boundaries meant that it was on the fringe of everywhere.

Fans of Gillie Potter, the mid 20th Century comedian will know of his “News From Hogsnorton”. He had a dry deadpan academic style of patter that exposed the frailties and idiocies of people, notably figures of authority and the BBC. His work has not worn well, despite it being very popular in this time. It was widely believed that the fictional “Hogsnorton” was really Chipping Norton.

His world was one of chaotic stupidity, disorganisation and selfishness with people whose arrogance was exceeded only by their short sightedness and bone headed attitude to life and others. Of course, it has all changed, see the link below for the names. One splendid irony here is the presence of Astor’s nearby, family of Mrs. Samantha Cameron.

There is nothing quite like tradition in politics, is there?

Saturday 9 July 2011

David, Rupert, Beccy, Lizzie Borden & Ogden Nash

Rupert Murdoch with an axe,

Hit Beccy Brooks with forty whacks,

When he saw what he had done,

He did for David Cameron.

Friday 8 July 2011

Higher And Lower Education

There is a report today that five schools, four of which are fee paying dominate the numbers of youngsters entering the elite universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The fifth is a state school in Cambridge with a somewhat academic parent base.

Does nobody consider that the problem of social mobility in this respect can be at the other end in the graduate recruitment policies and practices of certain leading companies and institutions?

News International, for example, is a major recruiter from those universities as are all our major political parties.

Thursday 7 July 2011

The Sun Also Rises

Sunday Pictorial? Sunday Graphic? Sunday Dispatch? News of the World?

Will it never end?

The Sun on Sunday will be with you shortly.

Remember to change your passwords.

My Black Hole Is Your Event Horizon

One of the most overworked phrases used to describe disastrous situations and how they occur is “Black Hole”. It has certainly been used a great deal in relation to recent economic and financial affairs and how they have unwound.

The term originated in Astronomy and Astrophysics to describe how massive galaxies and star systems could be made to disappear from the Universe and reduced to a singularity that is invisible and with an incredible mass compressed into a small space.

The Automatic Earth web site has applied the concept in the form of the nature of the astrophysical events to describe what is happening to global capitalism. Their article is intended to explain some of the puzzling aspects of the way things are in the world at present. It is a middling length but more demanding item.

I would not call it easy reading but then trying to understand what is going on out there is not easy as well. Fans of Chaos Theory, Collapse Dynamics, Black Swan events and our own humble Earth geophysics will see that the business of uncertainty and complexity is part of the whole.

Those who know the Corryveckran Whirlpool should have little difficulty. For a more direct observation I can quote only a Grand Uncle who had railway shares in the early 1930’s and was bitter about them going down the plughole.

Meanwhile, I hear the stirring of tea leaves in the pot…………..

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Losing Direction

Was it last Friday when I dared to suggest The Next Scandal was due? What took so long? But it is not so much a new scandal as a bigger eruption along the fault line in the geophysics of politics and media that constitute our government.

In the language of volcano watchers will this one generate a pyroclastic flow that will obliterate everything in its path or will it simply dump damaging dust and filth over a wide area to the harm of all within its reach?

Given the way this one is likely to run and run and command the media what is a real concern is that all involved will take their eyes off all the other serious issues that need urgent action and may require effective measures or decisions sooner and not later.

Most of these areas of concern are highly complex ones where there is no right decision left to be made only what might or might not turn out to be the least worst. The Coalition has barely begun to clear up the mess that they inherited. It is not improving and they are faced with a population unused to difficult decisions or the notion of real economies.

These are being forced on many by the simple effect of increasing inflation bearing on tightened or more insecure incomes. Added taxes will make matters worse and so will all the hidden charges and the extra here and there demanded by service providers and others.

The last thing we need at the moment is a weakened government engaged in minding its back more than minding the shop. Two parties in Coalition both with a lot to lose and the weaker with everything at risk is not a good situation. An opposition made up of media movers and tremblers is no real alternative.

My attention at present is distracted by a more regular drama, The Tour De France, currently in Brittany and visiting places I once knew. This one has its daily beginning and ending with interesting subplots as it proceeds. It is difficult to guess what the result will be but at least you can understand what is going on and why.

Also, you have to admire the protagonists, a bunch of real hard men knocking bells out of each other as the race proceeds. Today they finished at Cap Frehel not far from St. Malo and for a while the camera’s picked up Fort la Latte, a medieval castle on the very edge of the sea.

This was used as one of the locations in the 1958 film “The Vikings” starring Kirk Douglas as the baddie and Tony Curtis has the hero with Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine to fill out the story line. Janet Leigh was the blonde beauty heiress princess who was fought over by Douglas and Curtis.

It was long on blood and thunder and men did what men had to do. In comparison our leaders give us thud and blunder and are a bunch of useless wimps. Historically, the film made an interesting counterpoint to all the national based guff that is the basis of much screen productions.

Not only were the Vikings what they more or less were at the time but the Kingdom of Northumbria was called back into life. For many seeing the film it was a revelation to know that this was once a great Kingdom.

In the last few months Buckton Castle by Stalybridge close to Manchester has been the subject of reports after archaeological work there. It is argued that it was one of a number of fortifications thrown up by the 11th Century Normans as a boundary against the Scots along the line of the Humber to the Mersey. By this time Northumbria had been fought over by many warlords and was no longer a Kingdom but a major Earldom.

Eventually, it was divided in 1328 by a marriage deal between the Normans in England and their rebel sidekicks to the north when a border was set between them. This was done largely to head off the Mowbray’s on both sides of the border and their ambitions for a revived Northumbria which was partitioned without much regard for the views of the inhabitants.

When you see all the antics now in London and the unfolding disaster of Europe you wonder when it might occur to those in the North of England that other options might be pursued one way or another.

In London in latter years our political leaders of the left and right have disputed with each other for the favours of the flame haired princess of the Murdoch media empire who runs the News of the World. It is not clear who might have won, now it might turn out that all of them have lost.

We often used to visit Bamburgh in Northumberland and look out to sea wondering about the ancient Kingdom that was based there. Perhaps Murdoch should think about moving his UK media operations to the area as a new and more reliable base.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Off Shore On Shore

In Colchester today, home to the military prison that so many of my comrades attended for their intensive group therapy sessions, the Tax Justice Network members are conferring on how nations can retain their taxable incomes in the face of the flight of the rich and the corporations to tax havens.

In the meantime the Cobden Centre, link below, has an article taking the view that as Greece, Ireland and Portugal are facing such hopeless situations the only real answer is to default and start all over again.

Amongst the other candidates for defaults of one kind or another are the USA and the UK. In the USA we had the interesting sight of an international football match where the home side at Los Angeles were roundly booed and jeered by the great majority of the crowd who supported the visiting team.

They were Mexico who had very large numbers of Mexican migrants at the game because the population of California is increasingly Latin or Hispanic. Given the problems of California how long might it be that those of Latin origin take the view that the current financial problems had little to do with them and they decide to secede from the Union?

Would they join with Mexico, with all its issues? Perhaps it is time for a revival of a Monarchist party in Spain who want out of the Euro and Europe, to reorder their national finances and to embrace in a world union with those of their former colonies who are also troubled financially.

In the UK it is difficult to know what is really going on. Could those meeting in Colchester perhaps rouse the descendants of the ancient Iceni to rebel as their ancestors did against the might of Rome and march on London? Or form an Eastern Association on Cromwell’s lines to deal with a corrupt elite?

Many of those in Colchester Military Prison years ago were from Quartermaster’s stores, indeed a surprising proportion.

They knew a lot about off shoring in their time.

Monday 4 July 2011

4th Of July - Dependence Day

There was a sighting of an increasing rare species in Central London yesterday. It was American’s of working age who were on vacation. Apparently all those out of work in the USA cannot afford to travel whereas those who do work cannot afford to take a vacation.

Today, in London in Grosvenor Square, once one of the demonstration grounds, now a sealed off security zone and before both a green place where the most expensive of London’s old street walkers were to be found, a large statue of President Ronald Reagan was unveiled. Now he really does stand ten foot tall.

Over on Stateside on Independence Day my family there are catching up on their rapidly rising bills, mending an ageing car and doing overtime at home on their paid employment.

Perhaps it is time to amend the name of this day given the situation faced by the Federal Government and almost all the States of the Union, their counties and local councils.

Today, 4th July 2011 should be Dependence Day when thought is given to how the government of America threw away the progress and prosperity created by the fifteen generations before the present one.
Skipping a long and gruesome explanation of all the troubles that now afflict the Union, who does America now depend on?

The Chinese are one group, between their holdings of American debt and being key suppliers of many consumer goods as well as controlling much of the present supply of rare earths, when China sneezes, America catches flu’.

The suppliers of oil whether other states or the large companies who drill for it, refine it and carry it to the American consumer for whom cheap fuel is an absolute necessity for survival and lifestyle.

The holders of American dollars in cash world wide which is the currency of much incidental trade and most of the illegal drugs, drink and counterfeit trading. The sums are vast and amount to huge free loans to the American government.

It is one reason why America has intervened in Columbia and Afghanistan to protect the dealers they can depend on from the others. It is why money laundering has become a key source of financial income in both London and New York.

At one time America used to support certain ruling elites from its own sources of wealth. But the number of these has increased and so have their expectations. America is trying to hang on but now has to borrow large sums to manage it.

Once the Federal Government regulated the banks and finance houses who depended on it for security, status and directions in policy. Then “The Gipper” let them off the leash. He had already come to depend on the industrial and military complex that President Eisenhower had feared.

The Bush family ran with them and the Clinton’s bought the banks and funds idea that the way to equality and diversity was lending large scale in property and consumer goods to the poor who were never going to be able to pay off the debts and therefore provided a major income stream of interest, charges and penalties to the finance houses who lent the money and backed the Clinton’s, the Bush family and later Obama.

This gets more and more complicated but the upshot is now the banks and finance houses provide personal financial security to the Senators and Congressmen who take their advice about policy, decisions and the rest from them.

President Obama is still wondering about what to do but with a Presidential and other elections impending he needs to have good advice and feels fortunate to be able to depend on the banks and finance houses to provide it.

The remaining major American companies were once proud to be American with much of their ownership in the hands of American shareholders and they all depended on the government. These days the “shareholders” are largely funds who are so big and powerful that the American system of government has come to depend on them as well as all the others.

The funds etc. concerned are now “globalised” which means that nobody knows what they do, how they do it, what money they are dealing in and where it is. The world economy now depends on these funds and America is central to the world economy. If the funds have problems then American taxpayer has problems.

Hope you all enjoy the hominy and grits.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Monetary Matters - The Sequel

From the latest reports it appears that the arrest, remand and bailing of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York may not result in a court appearance due to information that has come to light recently. This has yet to be confirmed.

There was a lot of fuss at the time and this has continued. Amongst this was a strong presumption by many people about DSK’s potential fate.

Those who coughed, sniffed and wondered were a small minority. On Wednesday, 18th May I posted the following:


The business of the Head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK is keeping many people busy, not least Gordon Brown’s sidekicks.

Given the track record of Gordon’s little friends it is no surprise that all sorts of stories are circulating around the media about DSK.

DSK is currently held on remand at Rikers Island in New York, its main penitentiary which has a lurid reputation. Remand does not presume guilt.

He is there because the court in which he first appeared took the view that he might do a bunk and was held to ensure his appearance to answer any allegations.

Nor does doing a bunk presume guilt either. The UK welcomes many people who have done a bunk from the home countries because they might face arrest for something we disagree with or have to spend a long time awaiting trial or indeed be faced by a court that is hostile to them.

In the meantime DSK has exercised his right to be represented by lawyers. If the reports are correct these are experts for whom many in their trade have a great deal of respect for their abilities in defending people on trial.

How things will go in court is not known nor can we estimate what the jury might make of it nor what guidance or views the judge may hold as the case proceeds.

As someone who was one of the very few who backed Featherstone Rovers to beat Hull in 1983 I am aware that a majority general received opinion may not be the best guide.

What happens, I ask, if DSK is found not guilty?


Just what has been going on?

Friday 1 July 2011

The Next Scandal

One of the most reliable features of political life is who is the next big casualty of British politics? In the past there was a steady and more predictable series of personal disasters, misjudgements or major human frailties that hit the headlines. In recent decades the pace has quickened.

Why that might be so is a puzzle and could be argued as simply the consequence of a more frenetic way of life in the modern world. Or it could be that keeping things quiet and out of sight is much more difficult. One reason for this is a larger and hungrier world media trading in the rise and fall of personalities.

There is the web, but this simply makes the whole business quicker and easier. Instead of taking weeks or months to unfold it can now take hours or even minutes. One feature about the web is that it enables damage to be self inflicted to a much greater degree.

Certainly, UK politicians have often got themselves into a mess with greater ease these days due to the fatal combination of cupidity with stupidity. Make your own guesses as to who I might mean. Possibly, you will all be right, one way or another.

What we are short of these days is the great scandals of corruption and gross malpractice and it really is time to have more of them. It may be that we have come to accept persistent and extensive corruption as one of the norms of our political life.

But it is possible that as the major media are so close to the politicians that they are far more reluctant to chase stories of this kind or to do the work needed to bring out the scale and nature of what is going on.

This is strange because the scale of the leakages and horrific costs of much of the work of our government is now far more than even in the past. It seems to be almost impossible for the State to do anything without expenses that cannot be fully explained or any clear indication as to where and to whom the money is going.

We are left with grubby fiddles, messy personal lives and kiss and tell, or rather kiss and sell stories to keep us going instead of the really big ones of the past. Will we never again see the like of the big scandals of finance, treachery, corruption and foul conduct that gripped earlier generations?

Probably not, but soon, perhaps very soon the next scandal will be up.

Tally ho!