Friday 30 November 2012

Sense And Nonsense

Scratching round the web and the rest today came to the conclusion that it was impossible to come to any conclusions at all.

In these circumstances the following link, kindly provided by one of my family, probably made more sense than anything:

On the subject of family, on reading in the media the “private” mail sent by a retired naval officer to his young ones, expressing his feelings, I was asked for an opinion.

All I could comment was just imagine what one would be like written by a former Army Drill Corporal.

As for The Leveson Report, my money says that Rupert Murdoch has something on hold or maybe more than one thing.

Thursday 29 November 2012

A Waste Of Energy

While the main media goes into overdrive about The Leveson Report into the UK Press; you have all been bad boys and girls; it has to stop and we have ways of making you behave yourselves.  Spanking is out unless privacy can be pleaded.

The EU Referendum blog points out the strange business of The Energy Bill being published on the same day that Leveson lent us his thoughts.  Richard North asserts that as the Press is declining fast and few people trust TV in any case, many of us look for our news and comment from elsewhere.

Freedom of speech and comment is very important indeed, with some safeguards open to all and not just the rich few.  Energy, however, could be argued as being more important because the whole structure of our economies and hence current society are now dependent on the supplies of energy immediately on call.

Our need for reliable energy is phenomenal compared to the relatively recent past.  I can recall a home with a handful of low power light bulbs sparingly used, no separate power sockets, no heating appliance that used electricity, a radio listened to only when necessary and a flat iron that needed to plugged into a light socket.

There was a gas cooker and heating was by coal fires, when you could get or afford the coal.  In contrast at this moment, a computer system is in operation, the storage heaters are all fully charged, at least five bright lights are on, the water heater is probably active, a radio is going and later another radio and TV in use. 

There is a fridge, a freezer, an electric kettle, the kitchen hob is being used, but not the oven at present and probably one or two other things in use.  The washer/dryer is resting but will soon be needed.

We have been to shops today whose functioning and distribution systems use huge amounts of electrical power, stopped at garages to refill ditto and on and on and on.  Any real disruption or loss of supply would see us in real trouble,

The story of the last two decades have been persistent dither, doubt and evasion of the issues being created by the need for new supplies of electricity, the upkeep of the national grid and the monitoring and payment for use.  Inevitably, into this vacuum of government thinking and policy all sorts of opportunists have intruded.

There is enough discussion on the web about the disastrous intervention by too many vested interests with a lot of money to play for in a field where government is determined to substitute subsidy for policy and go for media friendly schemes where the media have been bought and only the taxpayer or consumer loses.

What we are offered is big schemes and big ideas all costing big money.  Once the idea of a national grid was that it linked a distributed network of local power suppliers, each geared with plenty of spare capacity. 

The grid was available to deal with variations and any local breakdowns.  Now we all depend on the grid and supplies that are limited to major operations with local ones giving relatively limited inputs which are not reliable. 

To base a future on this kind of operation is asking for trouble, let alone hope an extension to the Russo-German gas pipeline will save our skins from cold.

My grandfather, born at a time before electrical power became widely available and who was over thirty before he made much use of it, often said when told of all the wonders to come, “Where will it all end?”

We may be about to find out soon and on the evidence of The Energy Bill sooner than we think.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The Bank Of England, Marriages Are Made In Heaven

There has been a good deal of interest in the wife of Mark Carney, Diana Fox, herself an economist of standing and with clear interests.  They met, it seems, at Oxford.  Also, they seem to have married in the County in 1994; in fact in the Registration District of Bullingdon.  Consequently for those with a fevered imagination, the name Bullingdon will allow it to run riot.

Who from the fabled Bullingdon Club might have been present at the nuptials and the reception afterwards?  Was there an ingratiating chap called Dave who was offering advice on tax avoidance schemes, claiming to be well in with some people in the know at Coutts Bank? 

When Mark told him he worked for Goldman Sachs Dave then proved difficult to shake off, offering to exchange all sorts of unlikely contact details and promises of great futures to come, if only John Major would listen to what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were telling chaps he knew in The City.

One of Dave’s friends, who called himself variously Gideon and George (not Brown) made himself something of a bore.  He insisted on clearing the table he sat at and then tried to explain the Endogenous Growth Theory with a box of matches.  When Diana asked him about the Gini Coefficient he claimed to have run out of matches.

The real nuisance and there is always one at a wedding, was a plump chap with messy hair which looked suspiciously like a dyed blonde.  He called himself Boris, but that might have been an affectation.  He had to be prised off the bridesmaids but then went round telling people about his mad schemes.

One was to build the world’s greatest super-hub airport based on the Kidlington airfield just north of Oxford by the A34 to Stratford upon Avon.  Convenient for links to major motorways it had excellent rail possibilities. 

One, the Oxford to Banbury line enabled routing to both Birmingham International Airport and Manchester to the north.  To the South from Reading there were links possible both to Heathrow and Gatwick with relatively minor works as well as the direct line to Paddington in London.

There was also the old Oxford to Cambridge line which could be reinstated at relatively little cost to link to Stansted.  If track works were to be done on all then some high speed running would give quick links across the country by rail.

A couple of other interesting people arrived, claiming to have been invited, a Peter Mandelson, a Labour Party back room boy and someone called Rothschild.  Apparently they knew well placed Russians rich in energy investments.  Oxfordshire, it seemed had not only major coal reserves but also vast oil potential in the rocks below.

This might make all the oil tar sands of Mark’s native Alberta look like a puddle on a petrol (gas) station forecourt.  Of course, it was neither the time nor the place for this kind of discussion, despites Peter’s apparent obsession with the idea.

What was touching was that when the happy couple left the reception, the three Bullingdon Boys did a skit on their old school song “Jolly Good Wedding Weather” to see them off to their Austerity and Debt Free honeymoon at Butlins at Bognor. 

Diana insisted on taking the handlebars of the vintage motor-cycle while Mark found the side car quite comfortable; so long as he remembered to lean out when Diana did some nifty overtaking on an inside bend.

Now they are all back together again, remembering happy times.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

A Prayer For Europe

The appointment of Mark Carney to be the new Director of the Bank of England allows us to benefit from the wisdom and work of his former employers Goldman Sachs more directly.

The company has been intimately involved in all the latest crises and it is possible to argue that without them they may never have happened and with them they will never be ended.

The company has gone short on the whole shebang and will not lose.  Governments cannot afford them to lose otherwise the whole banking system goes down and this means most of the politicians as well.

Zero Hedge again has a take on this displaying in diagrammatic form lower down this short piece of who from Goldman Sachs is where.  Look at it and wonder.

In a way, they seem to resemble a College of Cardinals for the new cult of financial management in which we are expected to have unquestioning belief.  But they are a lot richer and more powerful than any of the real Cardinals, and less diverse.

However, my view is that our New Europe needs its own Credo to help us in our troubles, so at the risk of being accused on blasphemy, I have provided one.

A Prayer For Europe

I believe in one Europe,
Brussels and the Euro almighty,
Maker of policy and strategy,
Of all things spun and secret.

I believe in one President,
The only one empowered by all,
Created by Goldman Sachs,
From who knows where,

High on higher, laws from laws,
True President from True President,
Invented not made, from an unknown father.

Through him all things are made,
For all persons and all our futures.
He came down from up there,
And by influence was bred by Goldman Sachs,
And got the job.

For our sake he was criticized under Rupert Murdoch,
He suffered sensations and was weakened,
But rose again after a bit,
In accordance with the press releases.

He was given greater powers,
And is seated at the right hand of Goldman Sachs.
He will be reappointed,
With all his salary and expenses,
To get his own back,
And Europe will go on and on and on.

I believe in the cult of financial management, the giver of riches,
Who proceeds from Goldman Sachs and friends,
And all are adored and glorified by all in the name of The President,
Who has spoken through his media advisers.

I believe in one Goldman Sachs,
I confess my liabilities and the forgiveness of debts,
And look forward to unlimited bail outs,
And huge profits for the world we rule.


That’s about it.

The big question is who gets sacrificed?

Monday 26 November 2012

The USA And Europe, The Twinkie Economies

We were having trouble with our flushes, no not those, the lavatory cistern in the bathroom.  Removing the lid, I saw not a basic system that I could fix but a complicated mechanism.  This was a new cistern, just over two years old.  So the plumber who fitted it had to be consulted.

Because it was so recent the cistern system had to conform to new EU regulations on the use and control of water.  This was designed to ensure that only 6 litres of water would be used at most and with a short flush option of 3.  As old cisterns did a 9 litre flush this was environmentally superior.

One snag we have found that very often the 6 litre flush does not do the job so a second is needed, that is 12 litres a time.  The plumber told us this was quite usual with the new cisterns.  The logic of this escapes me. 

It is not possible to adjust it so the whole mechanism has to be replaced from the manufacturer in some distant part of the world.  The plumber and I had an interesting talk on the impact of the various EU regulations on households aimed at helping the environment and achieving greater “efficiency”.

Recently, Hostess Foods a large US foods manufacturer had gone into liquidation and one of its lead products, very popular indeed, is one called “Twinkies”.  There is real fear out there amongst the consumers of sweet and high calorie items that it might not be available in the future. 

Dr. Paul Price has done a short item on what has happened which has been put onto Zero Hedge and deserves reading in full.  Essentially, Hostess Foods has gone to the wall because of the nature of the liabilities of employment, the rulings attached and the unwillingness of the trade unions to compromise on changing work conditions.  The link is here:

Looking at the complexities and organisational implications for the company, it is clear that the heavy added costs on top of ordinary ones have had a crippling effect once the company experienced financially tight and challenging conditions.

They bear a remarkable similarity to the huge raft of regulations and impositions made by the EU on employers and manufacturers.  It is little wonder that with these to contend with so many companies flee to tax shelters and try to find ways of evading all these rules, notably in their labour recruitment.

All will not be lost for the devotees of “Twinkies”.  The product has a large following and therefore the brand name is a major asset that should easily be sold for a good price to reduce the losses of Hostess Foods.  The chances are that a foreign buyer will soon be to hand or a private equity firm will take it over and then out source it to another firm in an another country.

The low paid labour working in rather worse conditions together with a cheaper mix flavoured to taste the same and coming from animals and poultry reared without much regard for welfare, hygiene or health will enable the price to be competitive.

This will cover the cost of the trucking and chilled containers shipped in from where the production will be based.  Global trade these days has many benefits to those able to take advantage of them. 

We gave the plumber a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits.  Although where the cup was made and for that matter the biscuits is anyone’s guess.

The USA and Europe are going the way of the “Twinkies” and our economies going down the flush, so to say.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Race, Rotherham, Foster Parents And Politics

In the sorry and strange business of the foster parents who had children removed from their care by Rotherham Council on account of their membership of the United Kingdom Independence Party there is something missing.

Aside from the old Yorkshire saying, “What Rotherham does today, everybody should avoid tomorrow”, there is the whole question of how you define “racism”.  As I understand the reports the couple are “British” and the children of Eastern European origin. 

Further to that the foster parents have ensured the children’s adherence to the religion and language of their natural parents.

The issue that is missing is the DNA.  We have had ours done as part of genetic research projects and as far as I am concerned this is just something shared with the whole of the present human race and perhaps the lost Neanderthals and Denisovan as well in the deeper past.

What did come as a surprise was the extent of our closer genetic connections both across Europe and to a lesser extent the wider world.  In my case the male Y chromosome, passed only down the direct male line is found extensively in Eastern Europe, indeed the largest proportion in some territories.

In short if I bump into someone from there it is quite possible that we have the same male Y chromosome.  This arose from a mutation some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago in the area of the Balkans.

Recent findings of human remains by palaeontologists in the Balkans, albeit very scarce and very ancient suggest that in the period when humans had emerged from Africa at that stage they still had African characteristics.  So, at least a long while ago, I am of African origins.

Between then and now, though, given the extent of known ancestry there is already quite a mix in the 16th Century across both the Atlantic Isles and into Europe and further places.  Despite this I am restricted to the crude and unreal definitions of race laid down by politicians with an agenda.

So my 3 x great grandfather in the direct male line, listed as “Swarthy” in the military records does not count nor any of the extended shores of my family as I travel back in time. 

What in my ancestry might define the actual person I am is another question. The ability to head butt might suggest my recent Glaswegian family origins are paramount.

So it is quite possible if “in depth” DNA were taken from the foster parents and the children the problem might not be that they are of different races but that they are of different definitions of race to that of science.

What then?

Saturday 24 November 2012

The BBC And The Wreck Of The Birkenhead

The mail inbox yesterday told me that Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House has been put out to grass at the BBC as the new Director General.  There has been criticism that at 61 he is much too old and out of touch although slightly younger than Winston Churchill was when he became Prime Minister in 1940.

Being Prime Minister during World War II from 1940 to 1945 was a doddle compared to running the BBC in this graceless year of 2012.  The previous DG, George Entwhistle, a good old Lancashire name, hailed is the inside man for the job, lasted 54 days before being forced into a comfortable retirement. 

He followed Mark Thompson who had to get out in the unfolding crisis, but on much more lucrative terms.  If I was young enough to pay the license fee, I would be complaining loudly.  The BBC is not a happy place to be these days.  It was said that as George was a team player he might change things.

For those of us interested in football of one kind or another there is something called the “hospital pass”, that is the ball being moved on to a player who is either already well marked or who has the opposition waiting for him. 

There are two kinds.  One a hasty ball moved on by a player already in trouble who does not care who gets the hit.  The other is a knowing pass deliberately given to another of your team who you are glad to see turned over.  George may have been the victim of both in the balls he has dropped in his short term of office.

Tony Hall, as he is known in that comradely way among those of the Left is also Baron Hall of Birkenhead and so a Lord.  The Birkenhead title was first given to the leading lawyer F.E. Smith as an Earldom, but became extinct in 1985 with the early death of the 3rd Earl.  He became a Life Peer as one of the last creations of the George Brown era of government.

Tony Hall, Lord Birkenhead is listed in Wikipedia for the detail but the key is that he was born in the Wirral; that spit of old Cheshire over the Mersey from Liverpool.  Those of discernment on The Wirral often prefer not to be associated too closely with the people over the river; even if they are of much the same stock.

Tony was at the BBC from 1973 to 2001.  As the then Head of News he missed out on the DG job in 1999 taking over the Royal Opera House in 2001.  The ROH was then in a bad mess, both financially and artistically. 

Financially, there had been a major renewal and refurbishment before 1999 which inevitably had cost a lot more than estimated.  It was 40% dependent on Arts Council money which was getting uppity about what was going on there.

As it happens, late in 1999 the first audience into the new setup was a BBC In Tune Radio 3 broadcast from the now splendidly fitted out old Floral Hall flower market with a few invited listeners there, including us. 

My reason was that back in the 1950’s I had done some barrowing around the old Covent Garden Market as a casual labourer to help me through college and in and around the Hall.  I like to tell people we meet that socially it has gone down a lot since then.  The only ones who really laughed were some Russian security goons who turned up one night who we struck up a conversation with.

Fair enough, Tony has done good at the Old House, as my friends from the 1950’s might have said.  Financially, it is much more soundly based.  He has ticked all the right boxes for the government and the Quango’s and the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet have achieved a high status in world Arts. 

The BBC now is not as it was in 1999 when he did not get the job.  The arrival of satellite television which does a much better job in News, Sports, documentaries and The Arts is a challenge they have not met.  The internet has posed other challenges.  The inability of the BBC to use its incredible archive is one thing that makes me despair.

Also the 1997 to 2010 Blair and Brown years of government have left it highly politicised, encumbered with a huge management overload with targets of impenetrable meaning and purpose and a self serving culture and now wide open to informed criticism and questioning. Most of their problems are self inflicted.

So with the best will in the world it may be that Tony Hall is at best on a rescue job and the odds are stacked against him.  Quite what the future of the BBC might be is anyone’s guess.  The chances are it will be a chaotic collapse.  Tony may find himself going down with the ship.

Inevitably, this brings me to History, another thing the BBC now tailors to its own image, and this is the sinking of the ship the HMS “Birkenhead” off Danger Point at Algoa Bay off the coast of South Africa in 1852.  It is said that a troopship with 643 men, women and children on board only 193 survived, including many of the women and children.

Unlike most ship disasters at the time the men of the ten regiments represented on board stood firm in line with the Captain and crew as the ship went down to allow as many of the women and children as possible onto the few lifeboats.  This became known as “The Birkenhead Drill” and an example of ultimate heroism.

The Captain incidentally, was a Capt. Robert Salmond RN, whose navigation appeared to be at fault and paid the price.  Interesting that, what other Salmond is in my mind is on course for a disaster with the loss of most of crew and passengers?  Although this might be the Inchcape Rock.

The disaster was one of the major stories of the Victorian Age and recalled in art and in poetry.  Rudyard Kipling had something to say, here is an extract:


“To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
 But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies -- soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too.”


The HMS “Birkenhead”, was built at John Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead on The Wirral and one of the early iron hulled vessels.  Tony, the present Lord Birkenhead is going to need to have ironclad qualities to deal with the BBC in its present form.

The question is will he persuade the men to stand firm and more to the point stop the politicians rushing to the boats and overturning them?  Even then, the wreckers will be waiting on the beach to welcome the survivors.

Sauve qui peut?

Thursday 22 November 2012

Losing Focus On The Future

One of the “gaffes” allegedly made by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip RN is to an overseas dignitary who said that in his country’s representative chamber, or Parliament, they had 200 members.  The Duke is reported to have quipped, “It sounds like the right number, we have over 600 and most of them are useless.”

Some of us would see that as not so much a “gaffe” as an honest and intellectually perceptive comment on a complex issue.  Given what is going on in the House of Commons these days, let alone The Lords, some of us might be hard put to find as many as 200 being useful.

As well as the serially corrupt and less than honest arrangements relating to their property investments many of our MP’s want to be within walking distance of the
Palace of Westminster.  While my “walking distance” might amount to three miles or so, I suspect theirs is more in the region of 3 furlongs at most or 660 yards.

Which, purely coincidentally, is where some of the most expensive and desirable property in the world, currently, is located.  It is not surprising that so many of us are of the opinion that they are remote if not detached and live in a different world from the rest of us.

That world seems to have been self made.  George Bridges confessing on 20th November, in the “Telegraph” under the heading “The Tories have gone astray and I helped” says that the key to the problem of Parliament, Westminster and why we are so badly governed is that now political “strategy” is put well ahead of principles.

I would deny that “strategy is the right word.  It is more a succession of short term tactical moves dressed up as organized thought and given the name “strategy” to lend a veneer of respectability.  The crucial quote from the article is this:


“Before I go any further, let me be clear. The men and women with whom I worked were – are – Conservative to the core. Conservatism courses through their veins.

Yet during the Nineties all of us, and the entire political class, became hooked on a new drug, a new line in “retail politics”: to treat voters as a retailer treats consumers, constantly tweaking what was offered to meet changing trends, minutely analysing opinion polls and focus groups to pick off the voter in the marginal constituency.

As political parties became “brands”, their principles were reduced to “attributes”. Just as Heinz may change the level of salt, the label or the price of a can of baked beans, political parties began to ditch or adopt policies to suit the public taste, day by day, week by week.”


As today most of the “brands” in our shops are foreign owned, many of them are either junk products or junk food and “value for money” almost possible to find and we would be better off without them, this does summarise our politics very well.

More to the point however, is that in many western “democracies” today, allowing that the UK is a particularly bad form of it, power rests in the hands of the few who direct their attention to minority elements in the community whose votes are the key to whether a party gains power or loses.

This situation has been at the centre of many of the evils of British politics for a long while now and yet because we have a political class bound up with it and have been told repeatedly that British is best, the baleful effect on both policy formulation and decision making has been with us for a long time.

The recent BBC documentary, on at a late hour, which dealt with the 1966 to 1974 years of the Harold Wilson against Edward Heath elections reminded us that the real fight was to win “marginal constituencies” which represented a small proportion of the total and in which particular groups of voters were changeable in their views.

Given that the two parties were in thrall to certain groups in their own “fiefs”, it meant that whatever a majority of people might have thought, this is not what they were going to get.  That would be what either one set of lobbyists wanted measured against what would sell to the critical voters.

Much the same appears to have happened in the recent US Presidential and elections to Congress.  For the Presidential the Democrats seem to have technically outwitted the Republicans in delivering the swing votes in the marginal States.  This was done by money and airy fairy speechmaking.

The French election was also close to call in some respects and we have a German one up soon where the going could get a lot rougher than the international media are bargaining for.  A lot of voters are increasingly annoyed and this could begin to show as personalities overcome politeness.

The French constitution is always bust.  It is an established feature of their history.  The British Constitution is in advanced decay.  The American one is urgently in need of repairs and spare parts.  The German one, lovingly created by the USA and UK soon may begin to separate at the seams.

And all the focus groups in the world will be totally useless.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Playing Games With Our Futures

Think of the EU as a football team, do stop groaning, this part is very short.  Brussels is the goalkeeper and normally it has a 4-4-2 formation.  France and Germany are the two up front, with the UK among the mid field four but a stopper rather than a playmaker.  There is also a substitute’s bench for those small states who may or may not be involved.

From time to time there may be a tactical switch to 1-5-4, with Germany as the one.  More rarely there might be a 3-3-4 but it would be wrong to assume that the UK was one of the three strikers.  This may have happened now and again but for tactical reasons only and not as a reliable team strategy.

In the 1970’s and ever since our leaders have banged on about the UK being “At the heart of Europe” but as Europe has viewed the UK as some kind of blood clot we have been more in the bowels than the brain or the heart.  The only way that status might have been achieved was in the 1950’s when the Common Market was created.

The ideology and politics at the beginning revolved around the need for some coherence in the European Coal and Steel industries if regeneration and progress were to be made.  It was clear that given American supremacy and UK interests they either worked together or risked failing.

There were also the risks entailed with the Communist parties in Italy and France being large enough to pose a significant threat to their establishments.  What we do not understand now because it is more distant history is that the histories of Germany, France, Italy and Spain were ones of constant turbulence and uncertainty from the end of the 18th Century to the mid 20th.

President De Gaulle blocked the UK applications of the 1960’s because he saw the UK as a potentially disruptive entity that was too likely to upset the fine balance that had been achieved.  It was only in the 1970’s when the UK was clearly politically weak and had lost direction that the Common Market could dictate its terms.

Both the UK leadership and the media tended to think that we would be central to what went on because both France and Germany had reason to be grateful to us.  The problem was they did not think so. 

The French thought that British blundering was just as responsible for the war as German aggression and the Germans wanted to take advantage of their newly gained prosperity and authority.  Our essential problem is that our politicians and civil service has consistently misled and misinformed us as to the truth of our membership.

With cheap oil, cheap money, careless deregulation, personality politics and the belief that the masses could always be paid off with better benefits and easy living the show was kept on the road with easy credit, compounded in most of the EU by the creation of the Euro and low interest rates in the German and French interest.

What they did not understand was that the outside world had moved on as well.  Globalisation had made Europe into more of a suburb rather than a centre.  When in the early 1970’s I passed through the container ports of Felixstowe and Europort I blithely assumed that this was the European way.  It turned out to be the way of the world which was going to change both Europe and the UK.

The upshot of the recent financial crisis is that Europe and the UK with their radically changed demographics, the end of old industries and severe competition in the new, and their loss of will or understanding are now in trouble. 

Before 1914 the Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man of Europe.  Europe is now the Sick Man of the World, the USA has pneumonia, Russia a bad dose of diarrhoea and sundry other countries a serious cough in the currencies.

And the UK is the badly off form player who is being sent to the substitutes bench and it will be no good sulking.

Monday 19 November 2012

Another Crash In Dublin

After I posted this turned up in the mail, a crash between a tram and a bus in Dublin.

It did cheer me up.

Getting Your Teeth Into It

Today was dentist day.  Luckily not much needed to be done.  This pleased the dentist for whom I am the patient from hell.  But at least we both finished in one piece each.

So just to find something encouraging a look round the web sites was taken.  This one from Zero Hedge looked very interesting:

This was essentially about the USA but the message might as well apply to the UK.  In our case however we are obliged to follow the EU line.

But it did not cheer me up.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Sing A Song Of Sunday

Other bloggers like to put up their favourite tunes for others to enjoy if they choose.  So it is time to be a copy cat. 

Also, there has been a lot of excitement about a chap who was done wrong but it wasn’t him.

As ever The Dubliners have a wry comment to make, there is an introduction of close to a minute before they swing into it:

My problem is resisting the temptation to put on a lot more of their songs.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Allez La France, Allez

It is reported that this week “The Economist” came up with a big one to the effect that while the media were looking at some countries in the Euro area as being in deep trouble, it could be France that is the big problem.

The President of France and other political leaders there have taken exception to this decrying “The Economist” and muttering dire threats about it destablising what is an essentially sound economy for reasons of copy.

This would be convincing if France in the past had a record of impeccable economic management, but this is far from being the case.  Their tendency to boom and bust with the emphasis on the bust is one of features of European economic history.

Perhaps it was the picture in “The Economist” of some baguettes being wrapped in a tricolour apparently about to be exploded as a bomb that may have been a little tactless.  They are nothing if not proud of their symbols.

If you would like to read the leader in question it is linked below and beyond this is a fuller Special Report linked in the article:

The French Revolution at the end of the 18th Century is usually characterized as essentially a political matter. But it also arose out of what was essentially an economic breakdown in a society where hunger and poverty were extreme.

It was also a Kingdom where the elite paid few taxes but the ordinary people were subject to the whims and predatory conduct of tax farmers who then bought themselves into the aristocracy.

I could go on down the years to one revolution and breakdown of government after another but it is too long for a weekend post when there are other things to do.  There is plenty out there on the web if you want to seek it.

Personally, I think “The Economist” could be right, the laxity and self centred attitude to public finances in France has often led Europe into trouble in the past.  It would be nothing new.

So, off with their heads of expenditure.

Friday 16 November 2012

San Fairy Ann Means No Can Do

It is said that the Prime Minister has met with the senior Generals in the Army to discuss how we may contribute positively to a peacekeeping (some hope) mission to Syria.  The answer was another question. “With what?”

In short The Great Game is now finished and the final whistle has been blown.  The British Army can barely meet its existing obligations and is unable, and maybe many of the squaddies unwilling, to sustain the persistent levels of engagement that have been asked of them in recent years.

It was the Labour Government, whose remnants are today talking about a March on Downing Street after the Corby Bye Election, who got us into the current mess, not only committing us to Afghanistan, but taking on Iraq as well as other efforts here and there.

In West Africa, events in Mali are taking a turn with the government there may not be able to control the revolt in the North and there is talk of assistance from the Western Powers.  This could be as big, nasty and as long as Afghanistan.

Part of the problem is the innocence of making wars and the almost total ignorance of recent governments about the realities of deploying troops in hostile or very sensitive expeditions.  If the Army appears to number 100,000 then they think it is simply a matter of sending all 100,000 off to engage in continuing action.

A lot of the Army is support and transport services.  Again, there has been the blithe assumption that somehow this can be “out sourced” or done by civilians.  Or that if enough civilians can be persuaded to be in “reserve”, this will magically enable savings to be made and numbers to be cut without difficulties when it comes to the hard bit.

Back in the 1960’s, Harold Wilson when Labour Prime Minister, proclaimed that Britain was retreating from East of Suez because it could no longer either afford or be able to take on military engagements on the scale of the past.  Then the Army was a lot larger and the men younger than the Army of today.

One of the features of Armies who are engaged in frequent combat is the rate of turnover of the troops.  Take the 71st Highlanders during the Napoleonic Wars (who included many Lowlanders, a large contingent from Surrey and a lot of Irish), it was said that of those who stood in the Line at Waterloo only 13 remained from when they had landed in Portugal under Wellington.

Having gone through the muster rolls for the whole of that period for both the 1st and the short lived 2nd Battalions, it is possible that the real figure may not be far wrong. 

Nearer to the present, when the 7th Armoured Division paraded in Berlin in July 1945, a minority had been with them since El Alamein in 1942.  That was three years, now how long have we been in Afghanistan and how long were we in Iraq

To have 10,000 troops active in the field you need a lot more on the ground wherever it is, because they can be in action for only limited periods at a time and those periods will be less, sometimes a lot less depending on the conditions, than the overall period when they are being rested, remanned and resupplied.

Then you need far more in support for a whole raft of good reasons of supply, provision and care.  At one time it was reckoned that one man in action needed another seven on overall strength for all the various reasons. 

So if the Prime Minister is thinking that British troops can be deployed here or there wherever there are calls for intervention and it comes to a total of going on 30,000 at any time who are effectively in action, then he needs an Army of 200,000.

Also, this Army has to have reliable supplies of all the equipment, backup, communications and the rest to function effectively.  The kind of management speak bodging, fiddling and doing political and commercial deals we have become used to will not work either.

The picture above is the Last Stand of the 44th at Gundamuck in Afghanistan on the Retreat from Kabul in 1842, one of the great British military disasters when Elphinstone’s Army was massacred by the locals. 

But there are other campaigns in the Regiments history.  It was the 44th who took the French Eagle at Salamanca in July 1812 and routed the Yankees at Battle of Bladensburg before torching Washington in 1814.

What a great pity that the Prime Minister did not celebrate the 200th Anniversary of The Battle of Salamanca last July, he might have learned something.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Oh No! It's Not Christmas Again!

It was early July when the first signs went up urging people to book early for Christmas.  This was at the sort of eating place where you could look forward to a meal largely frozen in March and then trucked out down the distribution network in bulk when needed to be sold at roughly ten times either costs or home cooking.

Our concession to the season is a reduced price offer Hogmanay bottle of 46.3% juice called Bunnahabhain from one of my ancestral patches to blot out any memory of 2012 and to start 2013 in a state of merciful oblivion. 

It is my contention that any purchaser of either this or the other Islay juices should be awarded a vote in the coming Scottish referendum, on condition that enough should have been consumed to render the business of putting in the cross to be totally random.

But apart from geo-political issues of this kind Christmas is a serious economic matter.  With many high streets struggling and the figures not looking as good as our masters want them to be, despite all the fiddling, they will be wanting us to go out and spend, hopefully mostly on debt to the advantage of the financial sector.

Our eyes and ears are going to take a real battering from all the marketing whenever we switch on the TV and with product placement now a norm there will barely be a minute or to before the camera rests on one identified consumable or another.

One way or another hired pundits will talk up prospects, we will be endlessly turning corners, interest rates will be forced down regardless of the economics, sales will be never ending and new gizmos abound and pushed harder and harder.  The kids will take the full force of this and parents will take the full force of the kids’ desires.

It is possible that this year it may go beyond simple hyperactivity into manic warp drive of persuasion and almost bullying to make us buy.  Governments will need the figures to look “good” that is in a way that suggests that they can buy a little more time before making difficult decisions.  Business and banking need our spending as never before.

So whether you adopt my approach to the season or theirs there could be an almighty hangover come mid January, mine for the obvious reason, most peoples when the bills come in and they realised that their squeezed incomes were not able to stand the strain.

One of the unrecognised features of modern economies is that the knock on effects of undue divergence of spending and borrowing seem to be increasing.  The damage inflicted by sharp swings of spending and contraction becomes a progressive stress to the system.

In time, as more stresses accumulate the system will fail again and after each failure be more difficult to restore to any normal or expected function.  In any case, our ideas of “normal” are not matched either in history or in the experience of many others around the world.

No wonder Santa looks fed up.  He is being asked to do too much.  Keeping kids happy with a few toys is one thing.  Propping up decaying western economies is quite another.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Travelling In Time

In the summer of 1914 when the crisis began following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Imperial Throne on 28th June in Sarajevo the handling of this and therefore the future of Europe lay with a handful of major powers. 

They failed to resolve it and the diplomatic crisis quickly began to escalate into military threats and then the mobilisation of armies.  The consequence of a number of secret treaty obligations and the timetables demanded for the movement of troops meant that once begun, stopping it needed urgent effective action and leadership.

It was not forthcoming.  Emperor Nicholas II of Russia had been supreme Head of State since 1894 and although he had conceded some political authority Russia was still a mix of firmly authoritarian ways, older advisers and a leadership of the representative body that was confused and uncertain.

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II had been on the throne since 1888 and was determined to exercise personal authority particularly in military and diplomatic matters.  He was supported by a proud and fierce military caste of advisers.  That is when they were not dancing around in ballet tutu’s to please their Kaiser.

Servia or Serbia as we know it; was the epicentre of the crisis and governed by King Peter I since 1903, a turbulent and difficult period in which he struggled to maintain any sort of effective control.

The Empire of Austria-Hungary was governed by the Emperor Franz Joseph who had reigned since 1848 and lived through decades of strife, personal tragedies and constant political threats and confusion.  He was an old and tired man with old advisers and an overflowing in tray with little going out.

In France, due to the party divisions and an electoral system that led to government by constantly shifting coalitions, chaos was normal, order improbable and decisions were forced by events.  But in military matters it still had an officer elite that operated on its own terms.

Then there was Britain, trying to muddle through as ever with Herbert Asquith and a cabinet that had been in place since 1908, a period of serious political conflict and uncertainly with constant trouble at home and the Empire.

What was common to all them is that they were all very tired men.  They all had too much on their plate and had been faced with not just awkward but impossible situations.  In each of the countries the strains of growing population allied to rapid industrialisation meant that the political systems and its leaders could not cope.

Looking around the world today, there are some strong similarities.  Cameron is looked whacked out and the chaos unfolding around him and the coalition mean that a lot of issues and problems that need to be addressed are not.  All we are getting is short term easy to spin handling of matters that is getting us nowhere.

President Obama has just gone through a bruising campaign.  Evidently, he too is tired and he is faced with myriad intractable problems that neither he nor his advisers seem to be able to manage.  Also, he has a military and financial elite that intends to go its own way, President or no President.

Chancellor Merkel is facing elections soon and also has Balkan problems in the mix.  She is faced with a Europe in the middle of a major monetary and economic crisis whose leadership and her advisers seem to be taking nowhere.  She is looking tired and seems increasingly to be on autopilot in a plane running out of fuel.

In Russia Putin has been around for a long time, possibly too long, in that he is playing the same tune when the orchestra around him has moved on to the next item.  Because of Russia it is not clear what could happen but something will and Putin may not be able to control it.

In France, Hollande at the moment seems both secure and relatively fresh.  He is trying to exercise some leadership but it may be in the wrong direction.  There are still too many real problems in France for comfort.  It is delicately balanced there but with too many potential serious issues.

In the situation of 1914 the end result was a major world war that destroyed some powers and severely damaged the others.  In 2013 there may not be a war, we cannot afford one and these days would not really know what to do. 

Our political leaderships are weak and strongly influenced by local elites.  What there could be is either a major crash or more likely the beginning of a series of system failures that will bring an end to past prosperity, economic strength and any sort of financial security.

And all we have is a bunch of tired people, desperately short of time who are struggling to keep up with the travel schedules.