Sunday 30 September 2012

Is It Really Getting Worse?

Around the media and to some extent the web one of the big science stories is about Monsanto, GM grains and the Roundup weed killer.  This involves French rats and scientists and is about a disturbing scientific study that is being questioned.

But it not just this that is around, there is a good deal of other items in the same sort of category.  It all stems from the rapid development and use of powerful science and chemistry and its relentless application to everyday life.

One set of events that triggered a great deal of study in this and related fields goes back to the use of Agent Orange by US Forces in Vietnam in the 1960’s.  The effects of this defoliant on local populations and inevitably US troops in the field has been a source of contention and debate ever since.

Another scientific study arising from this is one to do with Dioxins, as in Agent Orange.  Only this one rather than just looking at the immediate effects with recent techniques can look at longer term intergenerational effects.  These are serious.

It is claimed that the effects worsen down the generations.

A while ago I read of one theory about the decline of Rome which suggested that extensive use of lead in many aspects of their lives impacted adversely on health in many ways.

So what else could be damaging our reproductive systems?

Friday 28 September 2012

Grannies In The Wainscot

With all the Euro trouble, endless political strife around Europe and with Germany holding the money bag you would imagine there are a great many pressing problems for Germany to work on.

Austerity and economic disciplines not known for a generation and more are being visited on populations who have become unused to them.  The Germans are the key to all this and will expect reductions and sacrifices.

But it appears that something is more important than all this and might have a priority, notably with elections pending.

Bear in mind what Germany does today, Europe does tomorrow and the UK will have to follow.  Although in the UK we can safely assume we will make it much more complicated and expensive than the others.

It is that the German government is thinking of improving the terms of maternity leave for the parents (however defined) but adding to that to create the rights of grandparents for time off and assistance.

The title is taken from the Laurie Lee book, “Cider With Rosie”, see Wikipedia for an explanation.  Our ideas about grannies and their like seem to have changed.

But these extra rights and benefits are being proposed by a governing class who tend to have breeding patterns of their own.  Largely, these mean delaying breeding until a later age than many, limiting the numbers and being in public sector or related employment.

There could be some unintended consequences here, never mind one of those all too familiar “time bombs” that go off under a later generation or financial situation.

There is the obvious arithmetic that for one mewling infant, it can be is up to six people including the grandparents, all taking time off and the rest.  Has anyone worked out the costs and the implications? 

The other is that in our divergent communities there are a good many groups where breeding begins early, the numbers born are greater and people can be grandparents in their thirties.  Indeed some may be great grandparents even during their theoretical “working age”.

A child will have eight great grandparents, assuming that incest or closely interwoven families are not involved.  Why shouldn’t great grandparents, who are employed not have the same rights as grandparents?

So if maternity leave and the rest no longer apply solely to the mother, but has been extended to fathers, if it goes up a generation or two, doubling the potential liabilities in many of each generation where will it all lead to.

How do you manage a work place or efficient organisation where the staff of every age group has become entitled to significant periods of time off, job protection and benefits that are unpredictable? 

How does a nation who hands out these benefits compete with those that do not?

Thursday 27 September 2012

Prime Minister's Question Time

With our Prime Minister, Dave Cameron, failing his British entry test in the USA in the David Letterman programme, notably on the question of Magna Carta, there is only one possible comment to make.

This is the man who got the question right, or nearly as all history is relative these days.

Pity Anthony Hancock never went into politics, he made more sense than any of the politicians of his period.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Queuing Theory

There has been some chatter on the web about the sort of people queuing for the latest Apple device the iPhone 5, allegedly a desirable commodity.  It is certainly a lot more convenient than the three ton signals truck with a  company of men that I recall from the past.  Also it has more features, but alas no Sergeant Major to advise on the relevant procedures.

One location was Hanover Square, where St. George’s church is and the other Covent Garden.  It is possible that those at the first were hoping to catch sight of the guests and happy couple at one of the many society weddings that have taken place there.  At the second there were more possibilities.

There are some high class estate agents around Covent Garden.  Perhaps they were people flown in on a “George Osborne Property Scheme” as part of our international aid.  Having been taken to The City, say HBOS to get mortgages set up, then the Bank of England to have HBOS backed by QE, then to RBS to have this taken on a new Collateral Transformation Scheme to be securitised for trading at high leverage levels of credit routed through the Caymans or British Virgin Isles, so what could go wrong?

Then back to Covent Garden to join the queue to pick a central London property out of the hat for luck. It is win win for everyone and a huge 0.1% boost to UK Growth as well.  But there could be another reason for waiting.

Perhaps they are all “freshers” from central London universities seeking tickets for the coming season for the Royal Opera on their Student’s Scheme of cheap tickets.  Certainly, one would expect a great many from the London Metropolitan University Media Studies Department to be there, if only to rub shoulders with leading figures from the media.

I once saw Jeremy Paxman in the Floral Hall looking like a smitten teenager close to Angela Georghieu, at a presentation of a recent new season.  There have been many others, although if asked about musical taste they invariably claim affinity to Coldplay as do Labour Party prominente. 

One opera that might excite their interest is Harrison Birtwhistle’s “The Minotaur” which is striking, although not a lot of laughs.  I quote “a deadly arena seething with bloodied victims and onlookers” and “bestial force”.  It is about the Labyrinth at Minos and the legends of the past.  Well, we know what happened to Minos.  As for bulls there is a theory that the real beasts may have been some of the last of the Aurochs that are now extinct.

Another is a revival of Meyerbeer’s near five hour five act “Robert Le Diable” which is a rare event, not just because of its length but for reason of its complexity and improbability.  It is not just the works of the devil but there is a crew of I quote “all singing and all dancing ghostly nuns”.  Given that these are naughty ladies and it is a modern production we can safely assume that the costumes will be Duchess of Cambridge Provencal Informal style, if you know what I mean.

On the other hand there is plenty of religion to go at.  There is Verdi’s “Nabucco” with Placido Domingo, all about the Biblical King Nebuchadnezzar and the rest.  There is “Tosca” more or less Holy Roman Empire versus Napoleonic rationalism and then “La Boheme” with some free thinking atheism coming to a sad end.

I suspect that those wanting the iPhones will have their reasons not to bother, although in the cheap seats or the cheaper standing places all these could be taken in and a lot more besides for rather less than the price of the iPhone 5.  By the time the season has finished the iPhone 5 will be out of date in any case and they will all be in the queue again for the next model.

I once had that George Osborne just in front of me.  He nodded off half way through the performance.  Well, it was “The Sleeping Beauty”.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

1000 Years Later

In the year 1013, the King of England, Aethelred The Unready, left above, was overthrown by an invasion led by King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark after years of conflict and paying tribute.  

It began the process of the submission of England to continental rule fifty three years later in 1066 when other Northmen invaded from France.

Will the same happen to David Cameron, right above, a thousand years later, when it becomes clear we can neither shake off our European masters and mistresses nor other international obligations and become again a fully vassal state?

This process began fifty years ago when Harold Macmillan, another Conservative Prime Minister in trouble, set out to do penance in Paris and join Europe but was vetoed by General de Gaulle. 

The bookies are not taking bets on this one but the City men are.

Are Cameron and Aethelred related?  It is all too possible if you know the family history and what may be in the genes.

Monday 24 September 2012

Where Are We Going? I Don't Know.

This post is one that I wondered about.  Not because it would have been full of the kind of rude words that normally stud my lipreading when watching TV football, nor because of views on highly sensitive matters, for example on Muggletonianism (see Wikipedia) which may have caused some angst.

It is because it is a long and hefty piece that appeared on the Naked Capitalism web site that takes time to read.  It is not difficult, but complicated and is a survey of the development of what we call “capitalism” from the past to the present.

Essentially, it takes us from a world when finance was more restricted and limited in ambitions to the present day when democracy is dying, if not dead, and individuals, communities and governments are faced with insupportable debt.

The title of this post is taken from “Paint Your Wagon” with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood (see Youtube); a parable for our times.

It is drawn from Michael Hudson’s recent book “The Bubble And Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation And Global Crisis” that attempts to describe how we got where we all are today, like it or not.

The question that he does not answer and may not be able to because nobody can is where we will all finish and what will or can happen in the next five years, let along the next fifty. 

The most risible thought is that either Obama or Romney can handle any of this or indeed begin to understand it. 

We can safely assume that Merkel and Hollande do not.  Nor can any of the leaders of the BRIC countries, notably India which has surrendered to the Walmart and Tesco Raj.

And as for Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband etc. do stop laughing.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Brunel, The Good The The Bad And The Ugly

In the pantheon of great men of the 19th Century there are few engineers.  Most of the men who built the Britain of that age are forgotten.  A few names are remembered, but mostly in specialist histories rather than the general history.

There is one notable exception and that is Isambard Kingdom Brunel who today dominates the documentaries and other media genre almost to the exclusion of others. 

Another known name is Bazalgette, possibly because a descendant is prominent in the media and of his close association with London’s sewerage system.  Then there are the Stephensons and occasional others.

Joseph Locke (Wikipedia) is rarely mentioned.  He is commemorated in Barnsley by a named park, a school and a block of new offices inhabited by HMRC, the taxman, an ironic comment on his career.  In his listing in the 1851 Census, which I came across typically when looking for someone else, he gives as his occupation “Engineer and Member of Parliament”.  I like the “engineer” being first. 

He is living in Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge, London, about as good as it gets and the presence there of people associated with the High Raj of India, City men and others has made me wonder about his role in the promotion of Indian railways.

But Locke was a man who delivered value for money, tried to stay inside the budget and who avoid expensive engineering works on the railways if possible.  If not, he usually tried for the most economic solution.  He was not the only engineer with this approach to the work in hand.

It is this context that the obituary for Brunel should be read, if you are interested.  It is found on the link below.  Essentially, it is an 1859 “warts and all” look at his career and achievements. 

Apparently, the man who wrote it was a friend.  It is clear that Brunel was certainly a man of immense energy and ideas, but like all of us stood on the shoulders of others.  Also, he had a crop of failures and was a high cost man to employ.

The writing of history is often, of necessity, on the basis of major figures.  The consequence can be if care is not taken is that some become virtually “stars” or “celebrities” of the past.  There is a great deal about King Henry VIII and not much at all about King Henry VII and even less about his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

But in dealing with the history of the economy and especially the structures and infrastructure we have inherited this can lead to a warped view of the reality of the time.  Also it has the danger of limited perspectives and this may have a lot to do with our modern penchant for the big, the flashy and the expensive way of dealing with new projects. 

Because of the way governments and finance developed over the 20th Century what we see as a “free market” would have been alien to the world of Brunel.  Major projects are no longer simply in the hands of entrepreneurs and based on the savings of small investors or prudent financial establishments.  All too often now such projects are in the hands of government and the finance men.

So when the bills start coming in and the figures mount it is the assumed bottomless pit of the taxpayers’ money that has to pay and to carry the debt and the defaults.  It is also assumed that almost nothing can be done without direct government intervention and political supervision.

This may explain why so little gets done properly at so much expense; a lot of which cannot be fully accounted for.

Friday 21 September 2012

Guv'nor, Can You Spare A Copper?

It appears that Andrew Mitchell, Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Commons and formerly of Rugby School, the Royal Tank Regiment and Jesus College, Cambridge is alleged to have been rather rude to a police officer who impeded his political progress.  Had he not been trying to earn brownie points by biking instead of using the comfort of an official limousine it would never have happened.

By coincidence, I have played rugger at Rugby, against a battalion of the RTR and also Jesus College, Cambridge.  One of the odder experiences of the three was calling for the traditional end of game gesture of sportsmanship shouting the words “Three cheers for Jesus!”

All this was before Andrew pedalled into the world.  But at the time one of the conventions of students in bars, notably rugger chaps, was to sing songs of doubtful taste and lacking in poetic meaning.  One was “I’ll sing you a song and it won’t take me long.  All coppers are bastards!”

Whether this practice continued long enough for Andrew to be a part of it, rugger or no rugger, I do not know.  Just as in Cameron’s, Osborne’s and Johnson’s Oxford there were some rackety dining clubs at Cambridge, but again what may have been on their song sheets is an open question.  Perhaps they were all keen on Queen.

There has been a long undertow of snobbery relating to the police, nowhere better seen in the Jeeves and Wooster series, where there is a hapless P.C. Oates bullied by the people up at The Hall as well as others. 

A tradition of crime novel writing in England has been the well educated intelligent person of the patrician classes solving crimes whilst the dim detectives and distinctly plebeian officers thrashed about in error and confusion.

To some extent television has corrected this with typical officers clearly being ordinary people trying to do a difficult job with some of them being of the rougher sort with hearts of gold.  But most, I suspect, would not have been the sort of persons any of the TV hierarchies would invite to dinner.

The last few days, however, have provided us with a stark contrast to test our attitudes.  On the one hand there are the findings of the Hillsborough Disaster enquiry.  On the other there have been the tragic deaths of two officers in a part of Manchester where gun gangs and crime have been rampant. 

As many say but government and too many at Westminster do not seem to hear there is a lot going bad that the police are struggling to contain.  They are not helped by easy going judges and magistrates and a system that rather than upset the social engineers lets loose too many evil and dangerous people onto the streets.

In this context, the Andrew Mitchell episode has all the elements of farce.  Either you have high security or you do not.  If you do it is often very inconvenient and tiresome and there is no way round it.  If you do not then the risks are high.  He really ought to know this.

Mitchell should mend his fences by taking himself to support the Metropolitan Police Rugby XV, another lot of former opponents.  Should they invite him into the bar he could try to win them round by reciting The Ballad Of Eskimo Nell and then promising to restore their pension rights.

And remembering to say “please”.

Thursday 20 September 2012

The Next Government How Will It Be Elected?

As we go into 2013, it is likely that there will be a long drawn out period when it will be the coming elections that will dominate the thinking, if you can call it that, of the government and all those connected with it.

One serious problem, to which scant publicity or attention has been given at any level is the growing shambles and unreliable mess of our electoral system and it seems to be getting worse. 

Work has been done recently but will the effort to address the issues be made in time?

Typically, there is now in the UK a raft of laws, regulations and guidance which has gone past the point of understanding of those who are in charge of the administration of elections. 

This can impact both on the possible results and the danger of an electorate that distrusts and begins to avoid voting.  If this happens then any democracy we have left becomes deformed and even more limited in influence.

One very worrying feature is that many of those who have run elections in the past and have a body of experience and knowledge are leaving in numbers.  Those who take over are faced with a system that is almost incomprehensible.

Yet we are all talking about “localism” and referenda and direct electing of key officials and the rest.  It might be better if we concentrated first on making sure the electoral system is functioning properly, reliable and understandable by the mass of the electorate.

The longer, but quite short, article on the subject is:

Why is it that so much is descending into chaos?  What can happen if a population loses confidence both in the system and those at the top?  See the picture above.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Riding Along On The Trough Of A Wave

Another day another ride along our local motorway in search of fish, fresh air and a relaxing walk with the chatter of automatic rifle fire from the ranges to sooth the nerves.  But there was something to scare us.

The electric sign boards warned us of an Orkforce engaged on road repairs.  Those familiar with the computer game Warhammer know that the Orks are square built, green coloured humanoids given to violent reactions, unstable emotions and who have had problems during their adolescence.

We are told that outsourcing projects and work is the best and most economic way of obtaining value for money in public services but to recruit it from a fictional universe out there somewhere in a different time warp raises questions.  The travel expenses will be enormous, were they factored into the estimates and contracts?

One consequence of their presence was that coast bound nobody was going anywhere fast so all we could do was chug along with the crowd until our junction came up.  But returning was different, a clear road and a fast ride.

Which meant I could do something of a truck count; my most reliable method of judging our current economic performance.  As we take turn and turn about in driving to keep our skills up, I was in the passenger seat which made it easy.  I did not like what I saw.

There were about fifty vehicles passed which could fairly be described as “trucks”, there are some problems of definition at the margin but that number is barely a handful.  Of those eight were British and there were no Irish.  Of the others there was a clear majority from Eastern Europe, notably Poland and the Czech Republic.

Of the remainder, unusually there were very few from Spain, France or Italy, but from a scattering of other places, a handful of which were Netherlands.  The pattern seems to have changed from that of several years ago.

The eight British included a breakdown truck, a refuse truck and one flat without a load.  Of the five other trucks around three looked to be elderly and in need of replacement, leaving two newish ones. 

One, an Eddie Stobart, proclaimed that its business was “Delivering Sustainable Distribution” whatever that is.  Is there anyone who could say what that might mean?  Did it come from a recent Government Initiative?  All in all these eight I think fairly indicate the current comparative state of health of the UK economy.

One way to stimulate growth might be to put every truck in the UK onto the motorway system, laden or unladen, to simply drive around regardless of Distribution, sustainable or not with delivering being unnecessary. 

There could be government subsidies given for this paid for by the issue of government stock bought in by Bank of England easing and forced on public sector pension funds.

Or should we put out consultative contracts to seek advice from the Orks?

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Are You Sitting Examinations Comfortably?

The real trouble with secondary school examinations is teenagers.  I am certain about this because I was once a teenager and forced to sit examinations.  When I consider my schoolmates and what they were then and have become since it is problematical how far the examinations we sat were of much use.

The complaints about the new proposals tabled by Michael Gove often refer to “putting back the clock 30 years”.  But he cannot do this because the teenagers of today, while similar in some respects seem to live different lives from those of the early 1980’s and 1970’s.  Also, what is proposed is not the same as the old GCE’s taken by my youngsters in that period.

Also, the structure of the economy has changed, the pattern and nature of higher education, the employment prospects and a lot of other things.  If the existing system represents a situation related to the 1980’s, now almost olden times for some, and that was a reformed and developed pattern from one devised in the 1950’s and 1960’s to meet the needs of the immediate post war society then perhaps it is time to review matters.

The real danger is that the Government may be putting in place a system designed for the ethos and systems of the first decade of the 21st Century which are now giving way to another major upheaval in the economy and society.  If so we may be going forward but in the wrong direction.

To deal with teenagers, if that is possible, one feature of these examinations is that they occur at a critical stage in the physical, mental, emotional and intellectual development of the individual.  Given varying rates of these at any particular age and given the personal experience any judgement made on performance will be provisional and perhaps a poor long term guide.

Then there is the question of given the variety and differences whether a single examination structure is appropriate in a complex world even although the attempt is made to allow some stratification and quality control in terms of the needs or interests of both the examinee and whoever is making decisions on their futures.

Because of the requirement to be egalitarian and non-judgemental and all that we may be creating the reverse effect.  This is to push the decision making on the individuals into other areas of activity.  There is also the demand that allowances be made for those whose social position is alleged to work against them.

In the picture above, from 1933 of a grammar school staff, a number of them will have studied in different ways before university and may well have taken a range of examinations to make their academic progress.  They then began to teach for a Schools Certificate which was demanding and highly selective

For some of them later in their careers there came the rationalisation and adjustment of the GCE system, designed to allow greater flexibility and opportunity.  Because it seemed to exclude too many other examinations were created and both them pushed into the single structure existing system.

What if the answer for the future might be to have a rather greater variety of forms of examination, some of which are designed to select and stratify and others to allow general qualifications with perhaps some clearer direction of purpose.

Or we could go back even further and have a school leaving age of fourteen with multiple examination types on offer and ample provision for part time study and self improvement.

But that would be much too difficult for a highly centralised government system.

Monday 17 September 2012

High Frequency Trading For Dummies

This is a short post with a big item.

Today the Bureau of Investigative Journalism ran a major “set” on High Frequency Trading.  Given that so much of the global wealth is locked into this and the activity forms an important part of many finance companies operations it is something to be aware of.

There is a lot here and it does take a good deal of time but if you want to know there is much to learn.

What is a major worry is how few of our “experts” or “authorities” do know and how little our government or political leaders know or understand.

I think I will have trouble getting to sleep tonight.

Sunday 16 September 2012

A Ramble Round The Shire

Long ago there were a couple of times when a visit to the Leicestershire County Council offices were required.  Going round the back to park, it was no more than an ordinary building in an ordinary street of a drab midlands town. 

The name “Greyfriars” should have meant something but it did not apart from wondering why the County Education Department should call itself after Billy Bunter’s comic school.  It was much later that I realised the history.

If the local archaeologists are right it is possible that I, along with thousands of others, have walked over the grave of King Richard III, who died at the Battle of Bosworth, known to me as a cycle ride to a town with a couple of decent pubs.

In the press coverage of the discovery of human remains which are consistent with what is known about Richard there have been some to say that he should be remembered as “the last English King”.  Which has me puzzled. 

The genealogy of the royal and associated families of the 15th Century and earlier is far too complex for a shortish post but it depends on what you mean by “English”.  English by residence, maybe, and by territorial possessions and title, also; but by descent and caste of mind, perhaps not?

A great deal of it and the Wars of the Roses, turn on the fact that Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence (not the one who finished in the wine tub), the second son of King Edward III left an only daughter as heiress, whose claim so the throne was simply ignored when King Richard II was overthrown and died.

If you track back from the King Richard III of a century later you find his ancestry on both paternal and maternal sides in the royal and high magnate families in England.  They were clearly part of and intermarried amongst the elite of Europe and could be regarded as a Norman Plantagenet caste that had held power since 1066.

Apart from King Richard II the norm was for the royal arms to have the Fleurs de Lys of France in the first quarter suggesting not just affiliation but a latent claim to that thrown.  The three lions in the second quarter derive from the Arms of Anjou and this is in France.  King Richard II made the mistake of putting the arms of King Edward the Confessor into his which provided his rivals with useful propaganda.

This elite spoke as much French or more than English, it courts and houses had decorations, music and literature from France and indeed many of its notions about manners and chivalry came from that source. 

The religion was that of Rome and centred on the Pope and for much of the 14th Century the Pope was at Avignon, theoretically independent but in effect relying on the King of France for guidance and protection. 

The spiritual home of faith was Jerusalem, at least in the mind.  Moreover, The Church in that period in its power, land holdings, economic and financial influence was very much the public sector of the period.

To return to family, when the Tudor (Welsh) King Henry VII assumed power after the death of King Richard III his wife was in theory English as well has his Beaufort mother, albeit both being members of the same group of families.  All of King Henry VIII’s six wives were descended from King Edward I, including Ann Boleyn.

Of any of them, probably Ann had more English based ancestors than most.  These were notably from the families of Welles, Bullen, Hoo and further back the Waterton’s.  So when Queen Elizabeth I was claiming to be “English”, certainly in her female line she had a better case that any of her predecessors.

If you are looking for one of the Stuart most notable ancestors, you could try the very English St. Margaret of Scotland.  Alas you can no longer find her remains, the Scots wrecked her shrine at Dunfermline and scattered them to be lost forever.

Things are not always what they appear to be in families.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Life Is Full Of Surprises

A couple of times this blog has referred to the occasion when Her Majesty The Queen visited The London School of Economics and asked the question about The Crash, “Why did nobody see it coming?”  To which there came no answer only excuses about things being very complicated.

The truth was that there were a modest number of critics, doubters and doomsters who had been deeply concerned about trends but who were either ignored or characterised as eccentrics or trouble makers.

There were some at LSE indeed or with connections.  In respect of the Euro end of it the Financial Times has pointed to one LSE professor and a Belgian, who was very close to the mark in 1998, I repeat, in 1998.

He was Professor Paul de Grauwe and there is an item about this which is not too long with a section in italics which says a great deal:

In other sources beyond this article it is argued that after the Exchange Rate Monetary scheme crisis in 1992 it should have been clear to politicians that they had lost control of the banks and the global markets when it came to complex finance and the exchanges.

But they did not learn the lessons and assumed that it was the right political moves and structures which would solve the problems.  The Euro was devised on this basis.  Yet they are still going on and on attempting to come up with political notions and structures which would give them control.

These now go beyond any democratic safeguards or institutions.  This is not control by technocrats it is the attempt to control by the dictatorship of a political caste.  This is done by even more complicated and dictatorial with very expensive structures and turning up the money taps.

And it is not going to work.

Thursday 13 September 2012

Tulips From Amsterdam

Just a few days ago the singer and entertainer, Max Bygraves, died aged 89.  Amongst his many hits was “Tulips From Amsterdam” in 1958 taken from a 1953 German song based on the Flower Waltz in the ballet “The Nutcracker”.  It was one of those very annoying simple sentimental tunes that stick in the head.

Holland has been a place I have visited a few times in the last seventy years.  The low point was breaking camp at the end of a family holiday to go for the Hook to Harwich ferry during heavy rain and in a stiff wind.  The high point was a rugby match against Holland in the old Ajax stadium.

In the UK we take little interest in Holland or its affairs regarding the Dutch as a decent but quirky people who are independent minded.  We forget that once they built a mighty empire to rival our own and were not too fussy about how they did it.

Above all they were merchants and not always wise ones.  The Tulip Mania of the 1630’s (picture above and Wikipedia) is well known to economists at least as one of the major and nastiest financial crashes in history characterized as a collective madness.

There has been an election there in the last week and the Dutch will have a new but not so new government, yet another coalition to somehow cobble together some scheme or other to get them over their economic problems. 

However, it seems that their financial situation is something of a horror story and worse still the Dutch are amongst those expected to help bail out Greece, Italy, Spain Portugal and the French banking system.  Automatic Earth has a longish but perceptive article about it:

It this article is anywhere near the mark then the Dutch are in deep trouble and like too many others reluctant to admit because it means giving up the goodies they have been used to; notably; a property bubble bankrolled by their government.

With all the doomsters suggesting that something in the Euro mess has to break soon, the question is where?  So while all the eyes are fixed on the southern countries what we may be missing is that Holland could be a place where a crash could be triggered. 

The Dutch have done it before with tulips but they could have all our financial nuts in the cracker if their unstable financial and political systems fail.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Bring Me The Balls Of Kelvin MacKenzie

At last we have had something like the real story behind the 1989 disaster at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, at the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and the shoddiness of the handling and cover-up of what occurred.

It was during the 1970’s when there were about three or four times when I went to the Sheffield Wednesday Hillsborough ground.  One was the semi-final in 1974 when Newcastle United beat Burnley 2-0 in what was a tight technical game.  Malcolm McDonald got loose a couple of times and that was it.  In the Cup Final at Wembley that year Liverpool made sure he did not get loose and won 3-0.

Like very many soccer grounds it had a lot of unsatisfactory features arising from locations in built up older parts of the cities and occasional extensions that were not planned for comfort, for convenience of admission or leaving or for safety.  It was certainly buyer beware when you paid for your entrance.

Which is why, when I took any of the young ones it was seats that were chosen.  This arose from long experience of many grounds from the early 1940’s onwards.  There were quite a few with standing areas that were a horror and with casual policing.  The Shed at Molyneux was a bad one but typical of too many.

One ground I had been to was the old Burnden Park at Bolton, the Wanderers ground where a disaster had occurred on 9 March 1946 at a cup tie against Stoke City.  The steep bank behind one of the goals was bad at any time with a large crowd, but when the number of fans well exceeded any reasonable limit it took only a minor accident to trigger a major disaster.

There was a report into this, the Moelwyn Hughes Report which recommended that clear crowd limits should be established and adhered to with better policing.  In the next forty years this was honoured far more in the breach than the observance.  Even if a sensible figure for crowd limits was established it was common for a combination of bad management and limited policing to allow more in.

In fact in some cases where the number of those wanting to see the match was far higher than the ground could take the restricted areas outside the ground were just as much of a danger.  In cases of this kind it was not unknown for many to be let in because it was thought safer than leaving them outside with no control.

The Leppings Lane entrance to Hillsborough had always been difficult under pressure either to get in or to get out.  Which was why after a game many fans simply hopped over the low wall to use other exits at the end of a game as was often the case in other places. 

The trouble was that when pitch invasions by hooligan elements became fashionable many grounds put up strong fencing to keep the fans off the pitch at all costs, which meant that it became impossible to get to any less used exits.  Hillsborough was one such ground having had problems with local “skinheads”.

Skipping all the fancy theory of risk and the rest many grounds were big accidents waiting to happen.  The trouble was that neither the football authorities, the clubs nor some local police forces recognised this and in any case did not regard themselves as having much, if any, responsibility for real crowd control.

All this was well known and essentially just part of the football furniture.  It was common at many full grounds for the St. John’s Ambulance men to be busy and for people to be carted off to hospital or passed down to the pitch edge over the heads of fans.  All this was one reason why in maturity I avoided the standing areas.

Also, it was why when I saw the footage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 it was crystal clear to me that it was not the fans that were at fault.  The Leppings Lane end was difficult whenever it was full.  So there had to be a gross failure of control both inside and outside the ground.

But that was the whole point of organising grounds, controlling and managing the areas outside to ensure that the flows and movement of people were satisfactory and inside to ensure limits were kept and the “bunching” that could occur did not.  At Hillsborough none of this happened.

That much of the media at that time, notably the Murdoch press, could neither admit what was a well known and long standing problem nor that very serious questions arose from the whole nature of the disaster was disgusting.  In particular that of the “Sun” was filth journalism at its worst.

Murdoch and MacKenzie went on to many more profitable things and they and their friends ensured that the memory of those lost was smeared and their families robbed of any justice.  They, at the time, were probably those placed to seek and tell the truth and they did not.

So what does this tell us about our media and their friends?

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Back To The Future

The policy that dare not speak its name is the question of debt cancellation.  That is when all the debts have become too much for the political structure to defend itself, the economy and for the structure of society then the radical but effective solution is to cancel debts wholesale.

Inevitably, there are winners and losers in this, but the winners are the great majority and often the poorer classes.  The losers are generally rich and bent on extraction of wealth and power, so it might just work.

This is not exactly a novel idea.  It is very old.  With a hat tip to Archaeologica and its links this ancient tale is one to consider:

Our problem is that the political class and its financial friends would be amongst the losers but they are the ones who determine the policy.  Perhaps there might be a role for an effective monarchy to put things to rights.

Or a more radical solution.

Monday 10 September 2012

Water Water Not Quite Everywhere

Amongst the many and various doom scenarios now pending, you name it we are all in for it, one that is less mentioned or considered in the West is water.  To be writing this when the Daily Express today warned us of a “perfect storm” about to hit the UK in a few days when either Tropical Storms Leslie or Michael or both arrive seems to be bad timing.

But it was a shift of the Jetstream recently that saved parts of the South East of the UK from real difficulties.

Hat tip to Some Assembly Reguired for the link.  In his expert survey of US and world affairs he picked up on this one to remind us in “Sleep On It” to remind us that in many parts of the world water supply is not simply a sensitive political matter but is crucial to both the present and future.

In the West not only has our consumption hugely increased but so have our expectations.  We have become so used to having an unlimited supply that we resent the cost and any minimal disruption when work is required on the mains.  We hate the utilities which persistently dig up roads and hold us up because of some problem or other.

Yet I can remember villages that were still without mains water or more often mains drainage into the 1950’s.  My father-in-law’s anxiety about the capability of his cess pit when we came to stay with our young ones is a world away from the present. 

Also, I still have vivid memories of my grandfather who was assiduous in clearing his cess pit and the ditch that bordered his property.  But he had spent four years in the trenches.

For even those with mains water it was not until the arrival of water heating systems and plumbing that meant far more water could be used.  A bath without a hot water system was skimpy on the water, but when one was installed the amount of water used was much greater.

Out there is most of the real world water is more costly even when available.  When it is limited or difficult to access then the real and economic cost of it is far greater.  In the West the chances are that soon we could become more acquainted with real world conditions as opposed to our blissful ignorance and greed of the present.

In the UK and in many parts of the USA the carefree (almost) extensive building of new properties has been done with scant regard for future water demands and supply.  Yet in both the infrastructure is aging, become inadequate and now has too little margin of error.

And downloading a Wet Wet Wet album will not be enough, even if the band is a Scottish one which might one of the few places on earth where there is water to be had at the levels we now enjoy.

Saturday 8 September 2012

The Parade Is Over Now The Clean Up

Now the parades, the performances, the holidays and all the noise is over, what next?  In the West we have all our politicians delivering a deluge of promises.  If they were money we would all be rich.  But that is what they are trying to tell us, you have been rich and you will be rich again.  Trust me I’m a politician, banker, economic expert or an academic with a thousand published items to my name.

Yet around the web and in the world around me there seems to be a distinct sourness in attitudes and comment on what people are experiencing.  Sometimes it is strident but in most it is becoming the norm.  We do not believe them but we do not know what to believe.

In 1945 we knew that the war had been bad.  At least there was less fighting going on but here and there conflicts were still raging that involved us.  One thing was clear and most of our ordinary lives were not going to improve soon.  In fact it was going to take a long time and there were horrors in Europe and many parts of the world.

Despite all this there was a functioning government system run by people who had a wide experience in many fields and were broadly representative although not wholly.  There were still many disparities and difficulties.  Nevertheless there was still an undertow of disenchantment and dismay.

Now it is all too clear in the West that our governments are not functioning but simply stagger from one crisis to the next.  Our leaders have little experience the world in many respects and are largely professional politicians that have achieved power by default and the ability or resources to achieve entry into that class. 

This has not happened suddenly but is the culmination of several faults that have come together.  To take one example; that of the debate over tax havens.  The Bahamas is about to celebrate its forty years of independence. 

This means that in the early 1970’s the major UK Departments of State under both Wilson of the Labour Party and Heath of the Conservatives in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were willing to see former colonies establish finance and banking systems that enabled the then select clients of some private banks to avoid taxes. 

Considering the fiscal and economic state of the UK in this period it seems now to be almost insane.  This was going on in the same period as the secondary banking crisis and extensive corruption scandals in both national and local politics.

In an echo of this today governments are still allowing tax breaks and facilities for the top end of the income brackets to be paid for by those with middle and lower incomes who cannot avoid tax.  This time round, however, we know more about it so the disenchantment may become stronger and the consequences more serious.

It is being argued that all that has happened in the last decade means that in the West to have free markets together with democratic socialism has become impossible.  Forty years ago there were socialists who believed that the capitalists would always deliver the wealth and taxes needed to buy off the voters in democracies with high levels of social welfare.

The State has become too involved with the markets whose freedom has now been lost to the major companies and players in various sectors and it is these who now are in control of the State.  There is no going back from this only waiting to see what happens next and then not being able to do much about that makes sense.

In the meantime the majority of us will be poorer, our children’s children will have lost their futures and control will have gone to small numbers of corporate entities based in locations of their own choosing where their activities will not be questioned.

Welcome to the mid 21st Century.  If the global warming theory is correct you may be able to save on the heating bills.  If the cooling advocates are right you will not be able to afford heating.