Wednesday 31 July 2013

Republic Of The UK 1951 To 2014

Imagine, during the 1940's the then Royal Family were very different and during the War years and immediately after had clearly failed in their duties and the need to be at one with the people and the troubles of the times.

Also, let us imagine, a Labour Government more left wing that that elected in 1945 and very determined for far more extensive and radical change, a revolution rather than reform. 

What might have happened in the later years of the Attlee government?  Could it have disestablished the Monarchy in favour of a Presidential system, only with the President nominated and elected by Parliament alone and for say a seven year term?

So in 1950, someone would be elected as a President Head of State with limited powers, a much reduced version of the Royal Prerogative, to take office on 1st January 1951 for one term only and the successors at seven year intervals.

Here below is a guess list of who we might well have had as Presidents.  You may be able to think of many others, but this will do for starters.  One side effect may have been that the UK could have developed a Monarchist Party.

1951 Kingsley Martin
1958 Lord Boothby
1965 T. Dan Smith

1972 Reginald Maudling
1979 Michael Foot
1986 Jimmy Savile

1993 Edwina Currie
2000 Peter Mandelson
2007 John Prescott

2014 Out sourced to the highest bidder?

Honest, I'm not joking.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Currency Is More Than Cash

Three foot up on the wall from my nose is an original "Punch" cartoon from the early 1960's. It was the prize in a Toby Competition, then an item of not more than I think, 400 words.  It was a literary exercise set in the style of a well known author.  Despite having read little of her work and knowing less about her, I took a pot at Jane Austen.

At present there is a debate about the rights and wrongs of using an alleged image of her on the latest issues of £10 notes.  In her day this would have been an annual income to many.  It was also the cost of an expensive dressmaker frock, which explains why she and her sister, Cassandra, had to spend so much time on making and mending their clothes.

Down the decades since there has been a great deal of attention to her, notably all the TV series and films.  There has also been the literary debate about the essence of her work, her standing in the pantheon of authors and a good deal of other matters.  For some she is a member of a class and social world that they dislike intensely. For others she a part of a golden age of literature and for many a great story teller that somehow strikes a chord in the minds.

There are two things that interest me.  One is all the things that are not plainly there in the works, some barely hinted at.  The other is that I have not been able to avoid her.  Was my choice of competition entry perhaps a twitch in the Jungian folk memory?  It is not just that we found ourselves in and around Hampshire for ordinary reasons but in both our cases we are all too close in parts of our family history.

It is clear that she was a child of her time, albeit that many argue that her insights and critical faculty have a meaning for later ages.  She lived between 1775 and 1817, certainly a period of history that was full of turmoil, wars, drastic changes, uncertainty, tragedy and where fear and greed were all too evident.  1816 was The Year Without Summer, of which she may have been an incidental casualty.

She grew up as a child of a clergyman who had a weakness for books.  There were hundreds of them,  Assuming she read a few, possibly many, there was not a lot else to do apart from household routines, which ones were they and with what influence?  In short what works provided her moral compass along with the preaching of her Church?

Back calculating this from her own writing against which works might have been on the shelves and  is an intricate task at best.  Especially, if you do not know the exact books.  But given that her writing evidently impacted on a good many people then despite the negligible reference to Church theology and the rest there may have been something there that was common to them but not to later generations.

I have a theory but am shutting up about it because that kind of argument is not wanted.  Another was assessing the real background of the society in which she lived.  Who were the broader range of families in and around Hampshire that provided the wider setting and maybe the characterisations?  Some families are mentioned who can be fingered but they are rare.

They were also highly risky.  Because if you trawl around the area in that period and look at who was around and more to the point connected to who then loud bells start ringing.  But the devil is in the detail and knowing who was who is complicated.  Her work was allusive and not direct and the hints are subtle.  Clearly very many of the leading characters in her works are fiction, but at times the fiction connects to fact.

One thing in Bath made me think.  It was that at one point when the Austen's were there the directory has a Mrs. Piozzi just along the street. She was married to Gabriel Mario Piozzi who died in 1809.  They had married in 1784 three years after her first husband's death.  She is known to history as Hester Thrale (see Wikipedia) who had been at the centre of literary London.  It is possible to connect that literary London directly to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in Jane's time as an adult.

One key matter is how and what could Jane write that would be published and command an audience given the number of subjects that would be closed to her as a female author?  Whatever it was that she wanted to say had a only a limited framework available to say it in.  Within its immediate context it did represent a truncated and limited social realism, however much we may not understand or like and dislike it.

One thing we do not understand because of the violence of the period and life as it was that there was not just the monied greed that she points to in marital arrangements but ever present fear.  This is not just medical or the expectation of life.  There was social mobility and a great deal of it for many people, especially in the Austen's class, was downward.

It did not take much to trigger the slide of a family into social oblivion, one bad mistake in money affairs, one bad marriage or the freak of one bad misfortune and it was all gone.  Reading Jane, for all the lightness it is possible at times to smell the fear of loss of standing and income.

And there were no prizes for failures.

Monday 29 July 2013

Will Ye No Come Back Again?

There has been a good deal of chatter in the media in the last few days that now the UK has three Kings in Waiting, Charles, Prince of Wales, William Duke of Cambridge and now Prince George, his new born son. You have to go back to the 1890's for the last example, Tum Tum Bertie of the Boulevards, his rather more prudent son, George, and his son Edward The Abdicator.

By then there were enough sundry members of the Royal Family around born of Saxe Coburg Gotha for us not to bother with other potential lines.  There were many and various around the aristocracy with one sort or claim or another and by this time a good many with Plantagenet descent.  At the time someone calculated that there were over 300 descendants known from the son of King Charles II and Nell Gwynn, so the numbers of others, more or less legitimate will be very large.
Those whose claim was Jacobite, that is from King James II by his second marriage to Mary of Modena and their son, James Francis Edward were regarded as an historical curiosity by most.  They still had a small following, principally in Scotland with a remnant groups largely among Catholic families in England and Ireland, attracted by institutions such as the Inquisition.

With the 2014 Referendum to come and the debate going on as to wording and content, many of the actual complexities are not being considered.  It is arguable that as well as voting or not for independence the electorate should be given a voice on other matters.  One is affiliation to the EU, the currency and if Scotland had a monarchy whether the Jacobite line should be reinstated in place of the London lot.

Because the Jacobites are still with us.  It has taken the German media to remind us, perhaps in retaliation for the determination of the present Government and Royals to ditch the memory of their Germanic inheritance in the respective male lines.  If the memories of WW2 are too much alive we might remember that some of the aristocracy in Germany had problems with the Nazi's, the National Socialist Workers Party.

This link gives the story of one of our other, Jacobite, Kings in Waiting:

This is Bavarian, which has a lot of lakes and mountains but unlike Scotland, no coastline. But the Duke in question does not have children to succeed him so the succession will go to his brother, Max, which takes us to Lichtenstein as well.  This tiny state tucked in between Austria and Switzerland is a tax haven through which a lot of world's wealth flows through the post box trusts, companies and quasi-banks.

There could be a tidy little package here.  An independent Scotland, in Europe with a Jacobite King of Scots close to both the ECB and the German Bundesbank, backstopping the Euro with the oil revenues and working closely with the global network of tax havens. There must be some people in Edinburgh rubbing their hands at the thought.

Even David Cameron might think of returning to his ancestral croft, after all it was a Cameron of Locheil who greeted Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 on his arrival to attempt a coup d'etat.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Sticking To The Point

The news that Theresa May, our Home Secretary, has been diagnosed with Type One Diabetes and will now have to live the rest of her life accordingly has made all the headlines. It has been given a good deal of coverage in the media.  In recent years there has been a lot of news about the increase in cases of Type Two Diabetes as well as Type One.

There is a great deal of information about these medical conditions and the problems they present around the web and this is not the place to discuss them.  The Home Secretary has the advantage that having enhanced security arrangements there is always someone in close attention.  None the less it is likely that she will always have to carry an injector with her.

If so, she will join the very many people at present who have conditions that are of high risk of sudden and severe reactions who may lose consciousness with little or no warning.  Many of these are equipped with bracelets, or dogtags with 24/7 medical contacts or both, sometimes supporting information.  Critically, there are those who carry injectors necessary to saving life.

One of the greatest dangers for people in this category is that a police officer will be on the scene.  If so they will simply assume that the person is either a junkie or a drunk or both and behave accordingly.  They are not trained to look for any other cause of collapse and even if it is clear that there is an Alert tag are unlikely to do anything because of a lack of understanding.

They will stick to the premise that someone who does down in the street or shop must be either drunk or junked.  There are been a couple of cases reported that even when someone with the ill person does know and protests they are then threatened with arrest for threatening behaviour.  Worse, the presence of an injector is automatically assumed to indicate a substance abuser even although it is clear that it is an emergency item.
Inevitably, there have been cases of mortality in instances of this kind.  Sometimes even, medic's who do make it to the scene make the same mistake if they do not look for the evidence or information.  The worst case scenario is when the police officers insist on the drunk thesis in spite of other information and evidence if they are present.

We may now assume that the Home Secretary has a better insight into issues of this kind.  One initiative she can certainly take, if only for selfish reasons, is to ensure that police training, "awareness" and dare one say it being mindful of diversity and disability in medical terms is vastly improved. 

With luck we get fewer of these cases of people dying in the street for lack of care and attention as a result of police failures with the subsequent shifty evidence given in Coroner's Courts and blank denials of any error or liability.

Could the Home Secretary please do something about this?

Some of the dead were diabetics.

Friday 26 July 2013

Where's The Smelling Salts?

Around the web the conflict goes on between optimists and pessimists about the economic and financial future.  There are a lot of people in between, those who naturally prefer compromise and those who veer from greed to fear and back again.  There are more omens and portents to be found than at your average ancient Roman Bacchanalia.

The difficulty that all of them have and notably those who by the accidents of family, fortune or politics in charge of things is that that they do not want to have anything uncomfortable to happen.  What they want is for things to be kept steady and as well as that to have continuing improvements that do not cause any inconvenience.

The critical problem is that a state might have either a controlled economy, one way or another, or a market economy where the sum of individual decisions directs the flow and the future.  The serious issue in the controlled one is who makes the decisions and how good they are.  In our highly complicated and fast moving global world virtually all such decisions will be based on past and likely flawed data and political pressure that make significant errors almost certain.

In the market model, then the sum of decisions will depend on a variety of changing circumstance, too often unpredictable and then subject to interventions either of fate, geophysics or the actions of either greedy men or gormless politicians or both in tandem.  In any case as markets are intended to reflect reality and the essential nature of the present, they will vary, often greatly over time.

In the controlling case you will get change up and down and in various ways that people do not like and they will expect this to be prevented or cured at all costs.  It is the costs that are the trouble because these are rarely calculated accurately and usually badly underestimated.  It is a world where nobody loses or can lose and where promises to that effect are made by people wholly unable to deliver them.

In the market case this will go whither it will and that has to be up and down according to the flows of money, goods, incomes, savings, investments and the rest. The market has to be volatile to do its job properly of responding to changes and new developments.  This will mean that there will be losers as well as winners.  There will be those who get it right and those who get it wrong.  Worse in popular estimation and mass politics are those who are just plain unlucky.

Once there were no supermarkets.  One of the first in the UK to bring this change about was Wilfred Proudfoot of Scarborough, whose obituary has appeared in the Press this week.  When elected to Parliament in 1959 as a Conservative, in his maiden speech he forecast a revolution in shopping that would close 50,000 grocers shops in a decade.

Now we rely on supermarkets to feed the nation and are critically dependent on their supply chains and pricing policies.  The markets have became controllers and the controllers have become the markets.  So now we have a great many markets that do not function properly.  Among them are the financial markets, the stock markets, the property market, the food markets, the commodity markets, the energy markets to name but a few.

Thinking of the potential consequences of our wish to avoid volatility, change and ups and downs it make one come over quite faint.  The old fashioned way of dealing with this was to send for the smelling salts, or as it was known in the age before supermarkets, Sal Volatile.

Thursday 25 July 2013

How Many Ways To Kill A Cat Again?

This is a slightly revised version of a post from the end of 2010.  How much progress has been made?

In the 1950’s when motoring became possible for all buying new cars in the face of o the contemporary credit restrictions was very difficult.  Consequently many bought cars that were old.  Often an ancient heap was the only choice a student of the period might be able to afford.

Mine, a 1934 Austin 7, had a worn clutch, shiny tyre treads, brakes that might or might not work, unreliable steering and gears that were not synchromesh.  This meant as well as all the other operations you had to “double declutch” on every gear change. 

The lights also were prone to fail so I kept a couple of cycle lamps and wire to fix them to the front whenever needed.  The MOT tests introduced in the 1960’s brought this age of the freedom of the road to an end with a clamour of complaint.

There were a number of similar vehicles in the area, some better, some worse but in our innocence we called them “accidents waiting to happen”.  For many we did not have to wait long.  I sold mine when reliable transport was needed and I “invested” in a Vespa 125 Scooter.  It was much more restricted but at least functional.

Looking around our public services, systems of government, legislation and all the procedures and guidelines, I see again a great many accidents waiting to happen and it seems that most of them are happening at once. 

Whatever you may think about The Coalition or the policies or personalities of those at the head and their performance it is difficult not to believe that they are on a loser.  Given the nature of the political class we are afflicted with it is possible that their personal interests and ambitions will ensure that we are all the losers

There are too many major problems and unpleasant consequences in train for them, or anyone, to cope with.  In many areas of government the mess is so bad that possibly it can never be fixed short of revolution or total disaster. 

It has been coming a long while largely because key decisions that should have been made in the last fifty years never were.  There are too many to list here, make your own, but if on the back of an envelope make it an A3 one. The reality has been that when a hullaballoo starts over financing or expansion governments have thrown money in the direction of the loudest noises.

I have argued before that it is possible to have situations where “There is no right decision” only a choice between inconvenient or unpleasant alternatives.  It would be possible to go into a long and intricate debate about the history of the present crisis.and how one generation has benefited at the cost of another.

It will not be any use and in fact would simply obscure what the problems of the immediate present are never mind those of the several possible futures that we might or perhaps not enjoy.  The latter seems the more likely.

During the financial troubles at the turn of the 1830’s in 1831 Benjamin Fitt of the Priory Farm, Selborne, Hampshire (see Gilbert White “The Natural History of Selborne) issued summons against the President and Fellows of Magdalen College of Oxford to have them gaoled at Winchester over issues concerning leases and rents. 

This was a period of serious disturbances and in some places a breakdown of law and order for a time. The year before Fitt's family connections and their friends had burned down their local workhouse.  Some were hanged but the larger number, including a Warne, were transported to Australia. 

So will Captain Swing ride again?

Three years now into the Coalition it is not getting any better.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Chasing Ambulances

I t was inevitable that the Royal birth would lead to a media frenzy exceeding that even of  the debate over footballer Wayne Rooney's wish to move to London.  Almost all of it has been crass, craven or crabby instead of the simple concern for the dangers and risks and ordinary human good will and sympathy for those involved.

As soon as Her Grace went into labour the wild thunder of the charge of the hobby horses began.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, led crying Equality for all and promising that if a girl he would press for the completion of the change in the Act of Succession to allow her to become heir to the throne.  This seems to have more to do with marginal electoral arithmetic for the Election of 2015 than any common decency.  This was clearly conduct unbecoming of a gentleman.

One feature of the news coverage will be all those things that do not make the news.  From past experience this will be a golden opportunity for government departments and agencies and others to put out the bad news at a time when nobody will notice and the stories ignored.  In the case of the story about the situation in the Accident and Emergency Wards of NHS hospitals this has not quite happened but coverage lacks the depth and extent it really should have.

My reason for this is that on Tuesday on the news stand while the national press was covering the Royal story in the local newspaper the lead story from the weekend was that of the death of a young woman well gone in pregnancy.  She had gone into the local A&E Ward complaining of severe pain and after a long wait and a few minutes cursory attention sent home with pain killers.  She died not long after from an ectopic pregnancy.

The many and various scandals now emerging over the nature and level of the services given in many hospitals include quite a number to do both with A&E Wards, Maternity Wards, and high risk terminal cases with numbers of children among those who have suffered. 

While our current crop of politicians indulge in the usual blame games, this one has been coming for some time and has only been quiet because of the culture of secrecy, the weakness of our political leaders and the laziness and bias of the media bent on chasing easy celebrity stories.

It is a very complicated story about how developments, decisions and actions have come together to create a crisis.  This is compounded by the search for "efficiency" in narrow management terms.  These involve committees imposing procedures and monitoring that are limited in concept in terms of simplistic definitions and understanding.

These simply do not work because in too many cases the patient is not a single category item.  At its crudest the dying, demented and dangerously ill with other complaints are vulnerable and too likely to have either inappropriate or misguided treatment.  Then there are the drunks. 

The wonders of the night time economy at weekends in many towns delivers hordes of drunks for treatment.  What has never entered the calculations is the knock on effects in the days following and for the incoming patients.

The financial and management mess, let alone the hostile culture in too many places and all that has gone wrong cannot be corrected in the short term.  It is going to take a very long time to create an NHS which is fully effective, responsive to need and able to cater for  all the medical challenges it is going to face.

And our political class and corrupt civil service are the worst people to be in charge.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Have You Seen This Man?


Barney O'Blimey, head of the notorious DC Dinosaurs gang, is still at large and active.  This gang is linked to a number of major mobs who are robbing the American and foreign citizens of as much as possible.  Prominent are the Goldie Sucks gang, the Jay Piz Morgan mortgage fraudsters, the Shizzygroup Mob and the bungster bangsters from New York, including Bankam Hard and linked crooks on Wall St.

All these have connections across the world especially in Europe.  In Germany they are closely linked to the Murky Scheisendreck mob based in Berlin, the Belgian Rumpy Pumpy gang devoted to a Robin Hood scam where wealth is taken from the poor to give to the rich.  In France their subordinate gang, the Franky Hole In The Hand groups are engaged in money laundering on a large scale.

Worst are the Camborne City mob based in London, the world's major centre for moving and holding criminal money.  Other international gangs are the Gee Gee Twenties, engaged in race fixing among other deal making and similar name contact group gangs, one secretive one with influence being the Builder Burgers which specialises in making money disappear from sight.

If allowed to go free Barney and his confederates will strip people of their cash and all their savings and pensions, leave them with mortgages or other debts they will never be able to pay off, conduct gang wars for territory and commodity rights, and sluice all money and resources into the hands of the very few.

They have already bought their way into positions of power in their communities and unless arrested and removed from the streets they will ruin the lives of many, perhaps almost all.   If seen on the streets avoid at all costs, lock your car doors and hide your cash.

Experts have profiled the means of identifying him and his associates. 

It is called "Follow The Money".

Monday 22 July 2013

Le Tour De Frantic

It's the same with bus's, you wait ninety nine years then two come along together.  Another win in the Tour de France for a Brit' and the delight of hearing our national anthem blaring across Paris and because of the occasion whoever was watching having to listen.  That this was to be a celebratory one hundredth event just added to the fun.  The fact that "our" Brit' was born in Nairobi was little mentioned.

The French managed only one stage win but Riblon won the prize for being the most combative rider, that is the one who made a fair number of the stages more interesting to the media and the public than they might have been.  Otherwise it was thin pickings for the French who are having to accept that the Tour is now an international event with a lot of foreign money "invested".  They are reaping the benefits of globalisation and their event is now a world marketing exercise.

So it is almost natural that the Sky team featured prominently amongst the contenders generally although their effort became concentrated on the Yellow Jersey of the leader and winner. The coming of digitised satellite TV with all the technical advances have made it very different in many ways from the past.

One of the less attractive features is that along the route at key points and especially on crucial mountain stages all the nutters, mad exhibitionists and escaped loonies of Europe are gathered together for the crowd scenes.  Perhaps quiet arrangements could be made for the 2014 Tour to start rounding them up for deportation to one of France's more unpleasant penal settlements.

They could be put to useful work growing biofuels.  Along with them, I wonder about all those motorised caravans very evident along the route with some ordinary ones.  One question is the size of the total investments in these beasts of the road that is made by people following the Tour.  There must be many who are spending their children's inheritance living semi-rough to follow a bunch of bikers around.

The put down answer to this is that helps to promote economic growth.  It may not be long before the government decides to put one third of us on bikes and make the other two thirds run around following them.  But this leads to another little mentioned matter.  It was in the time of John Major the Muddler that more sports funding was put into cycling.  Whilst the Sky name as sponsors was all over the place no mention was given to the State or Major.

Nor was there any mention of all those in the past gave freely of their time and resources to keeping cycling going as a sport without much recognition or help, even when the occasional medal or win happened.  It was always not just a lesser sport, but worse a plebian one without any relieving celebrity interest. The BBC were always very sniffy about reporting it.  If only Lennon and McCartney had ridden tandem now and again.

The picture above if of the two greats of French cycling of fifty or so years ago, Jacques Anquetil on the left and Raymond Poulidor (with cap) on the right.  Jacques had robust ideas on drugs, such as what the hell and it's up to the rider if he needs a boost.  This was an age when pep pills were in common use.  After his time was the age of the Baby Boomer when anything went, especially down the throat.

After this it gradually became realised that this stuff had a number of problems.  One was that international competition was not just between the participants but between the backup squads of biochemists and experts in chemical synthetics.  You were not just what you ate, but drank, sipped, had injected or implanted.  As testing and analysis was way behind discovery and delivery for many years there was a hopeless quest for control and preventing it.

Now it seems to be catch up time with the virtues of stringent regulation, monitoring, careful analysis and control of all medications as a feature of administering these events.  It is odd to see the politicians being strongly in favour of all this for sports events and competition whilst denying its efficacy or use elsewhere either in the economy or in government.

The Tour now ends with one of those whizz bang flashy productions that all seem so similar despite the vast effort and expense put in to making them an individual entertainment.  Perhaps it may not be long before the techie who devises the best feature is named the winner of the Tour.

It is all very different from even the recent past.  One can understand why so many in France would like it to be even more French.  The organisation is now not just coupled to world media but the Tour becoming less French in many ways.  We are promised a start in Yorkshire.  Perhaps another year the finish might start to go international, say removed to Pontefract Racecourse.

Allez les bleues.

Saturday 20 July 2013

And Is There Honey Still For Tea?

Five years ago on 6 March 2008, Magnus Linklater in The Times wrote on The Coming Food Crisis.  Below is what he had to say.

So what progress have we made?  In the meantime we have started to lose all the bees we need for pollination.

The early signals are there, but the world seems to be sleepwalking towards disaster
To explain the exact connection between a newly opened hamburger joint in Beijing, Sir Richard Branson's biofuelled planes and the strip of wild flowers running round my farmer friend's field in Cambridgeshire would take more than the 970 words allotted to me here but, believe me, they will be on the front page of this and every other newspaper before long, because they spell the beginnings of a full-blown food crisis.
You can see the early signals already - the doubling of wheat prices, the mounting cost of bread, the steepest increases at the supermarkets for 14 years, demonstrations on the streets by pig farmers threatened with bankruptcy, “tortilla riots” in Mexico, the drying up of aid to the Third World.
And this is only the start of it. In the words of Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at the University of Leeds: “We are sleep-walking into a crisis.” At the very least he predicts the end of the era of cheap food, which will of itself amount to a big shift in our eating habits. But if the process of rising costs and diminishing supplies of grain accelerates, as it may well do, we could witness actual shortages of basic foodstuffs. One report last month said that the world is only ten weeks away from running out of wheat supplies after stocks fell to their lowest level for 50 years.
The causes are many and various, but at their heart is a change in global consumer habits that has crept up on us almost without our noticing. In China and the Far East, growing wealth has been accompanied by a taste for Western diets, including, principally, beef, which is now being imported in increasing quantities.
There was a time when the idea of an American-style hamburger would have turned the stomach of the average Chinese; not any more. McDonald's is rolling out a chain of drive-through fast-food outlets in China's 30,000 petrol stations, and opening restaurants across that vast country to cater for a new appetite for Western meat.
The world market for beef, and the resulting need for cattle feed has coincided with a decline in the production of grain, as the maize farmers of America switch from producing their standard crops to growing biofuels as an alternative source of energy.
 Worried by the instability of oil and gas-supplying states throughout the world - from Russia to the Middle East - the US Government has encouraged farmers to turn their fields over to producing ethanol. Production of this alternative fuel is predicted to rise by 30 per cent by 2010. As one farmer put it: “Once I grew food for a bullock, now I grow fuel for a Buick.”
Enter Sir Richard, heralding a new era of carbon-free aviation travel by sending one of his passenger jets across the North Sea, its tanks brimming with biofuels. His feat is, of course, widely applauded, with giants of the global-warming era such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore congratulating him on a pledge to spend $3 billion on developing his alternative Virgin fuels. So, just at a time when we should be considering how best to increase our production of grain, we in Britain are switching off one main source of it.
Here then, one might imagine, would be an opportunity for Britain, with its long tradition of highly efficient farming, to begin filling the gap. As Professor Lang, in a lecture this week at City University, London, pointed out, Britain has turned round its farming industry to become one of the most productive in the world. Too productive, perhaps. By the 1970s Britain and Europe, aided by massive subsidies, were contributing to grain, beef and butter mountains that had become a source of international scandal.
The Common Agricultural Policy began switching its grant system away from production towards more environmentally friendly schemes. Farmers were encouraged to grow verges round their fields, where wild life could flourish. Hedges, ripped out to increase the size of fields, were carefully replanted. Ponds, small copses, water verges and species-rich grassland were actively encouraged.
It did wonders for biodiversity, and made a great deal of money for some. My East Anglian farmer friend reported happily on the marked improvement the new grants had made to his bottom line.
He is less happy now. With wheat at £180 a ton, he would dearly like to rip out the thickets and meadows where birds and bees so happily congregate, and go back to doing what he is best at - producing grain. But he is locked into a ten-year scheme and, for the time being at any rate, he is unable to make the switch.
Elsewhere, there are some signs of flexibility: in Scotland a new scheme is being introduced, aimed at encouraging farmers to co-operate, and become more competitive and more market-orientated. But overall there is little sign that policy-makers have grasped the enormity of what has happened. The UK is now barely 60 per cent self-sufficient in food.
It is clear that the Government has yet to react to the dimensions of the looming world food crisis. It needs to begin a debate with the EU on the whole direction of Europe's agricultural strategy and rethink it from scratch, devising a strategy for sustainable production, then begin to educate the public about the realities ahead. It will mean a change in culture that is a million miles from the Tesco-driven consumerism we have grown lazily used to over the past 20 years.
Professor Lang suggests we may need to go back to the ground-breaking reports of the 1940s, which led to a wholesale shift in Britain's approach to food production. If that means a revolutionary change in the national diet, then so be it. Maybe that would be no bad thing.

Recently, food prices have been increasing rather more than inflation.

Friday 19 July 2013

Oh Ye Of Little Faith

According to sources in the web, the denominations of faith we have had in the past are now being replaced.  These may seem to be satirical but there may be more truth in them than many a holy book.

The first comes from a link in Nicholas Shaxson's "Treasure Islands" blog and relates to finance.  For many of us it is not too difficult to see the present world of money, the economics of money and the mantras on its management as being more like faith than reason especially when the penance becomes due.

The second relates to the National Health Service and its rapid fall from grace.  This is about the general scope of the NHS.  There is one aspect rarely touched on and that is the malign influence of recent employment law and the associated effect of compensation lawyers out for a killing, in this case almost literally.

In the NHS it is almost impossible to get rid of a wrong 'un fast.  Then when they kill or maim people, even without the help of the The Liverpool Pathway because of the legal implications the reaction is one of denial, cover up and lies. 

One friend of mine in special measures in hospital encountered a nurse who decided to clear the ward so she could have an easy night.  That she could almost certainly have killed him was of no concern.  Quite how many she has killed we shall never know.

Perhaps in reality they are all Muggletonians (see Wikipedia).

Thursday 18 July 2013

The Return Of The Habsburgs

This one is a retread of one of 20 November 2009, about Europe.  It is very hot, there have been things to do and time is short.  At least the MOT test is in the bag and in this district I can claim to be one of a minority, being both taxed and insured, with a proper DVLA license and a car fit for the road.  It is about Europe and how things change, or rather do not change much.  To begin.......

Well, after all that, we are now agreed that basically, taking everything into consideration, and looking at all the options the Habsburgs were right.  It is now admitted by our leaders in Europe, not all of them elected, that after about six hundred years, all those wars of ideologies, wealth and empire seeking, dynastic disputes, and sundry fighting between other groups with particular agendas were a waste of time, men and money.

If only those misguided people our forebears trusted with power in the past had just let the Habsburgs, their Emperors, Princes, Dukes and the rest get on with running the show, religion, trade, and everything we could all have lived happily ever after.  Perhaps Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton do not much resemble King Philip II of Spain, and Queen Mary Tudor of England who married at Winchester in July 1554 (above), but they are the best Europe can do for the time being.  Tony and Cherie would have been a little too Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

I will skip the slightly complicated history of the Habsburgs, it is all there on the web and Wikipedia serves for starters.  Nor do I suggest that the various descendants of Habsburg’s line scattered about the world should be elevated to high positions in Europe.  They seem to be a sociable lot, but their heritage has meant exclusion from politics.  They could almost claim to be an ethnic group who have suffered social and political isolation and could apply for the relevant grants and privileges from Brussels.

The Habsburgs, Holy Roman Emperors and all that, not only ruled much of Europe and beyond, but in the parts they did not have direct rule, exercised a profound influence over what went on.  Moreover, many went in for micro management to an astonishing degree, complaining that they were slaves to their peoples. 

We can also ignore their foibles and eccentricities, difficulties in personal relationships, and the consequences of genetic inbreeding.  They are minor compared to those of many of the current European and UK leaders, and as for the UK we can substitute “political” for “genetic”.  The effects of that are infinitely more serious and damaging to the business of ruling than the odd twitching of the DNA.

The Europe of the Habsburgs was a sprawling regime with its many parts rarely functioning in connection with the others.  It was a massive tax and wealth gathering entity which spent vast sums on prestige projects, personal palaces, and in enforcing the doctrines of which they and only they determined and defined.  

It was multi layered to a bewildering and complicated degree.  Most of the time of its functionaries was spend in working out who they were and what they were supposed to be doing.  If they found that out, then someone higher up would confound it, and it will all start again.

Public decrees would be made, laws and regulations issued, but how they came to be or why would be shrouded in deep secrecy, and only the powerful or the proximate would be party to any of it.  This meant that as you went down through the levels of administration, matters became slower and slower, and more uncertain.  Nobody quite knew what decisions might be made and when, unless, of course, they paid good money to find out and obtain the right result.

There was a proliferation of senior, high paying, posts to satisfy the many clients of the state, and as many of the highest gathered so many of them to themselves, then there was extensive delegation to much cheaper and junior officials whose only hope of survival was to extract as much income and as quickly as possible.   

The Empire had a monopoly of policing and military matters that were closely combined and under the instruction of the doctrinal and legal administrative classes, so that rebellion was prevented, and any reformers or opposition would be classed as rebellion or heresy and dealt with accordingly.

At the highest levels it was necessary to have connections and background that were absolutely correct.  Without the sixteen quarterings of the right families you could neither be admitted to nor held worthy of rule.  Then it was ancestral because that was held to the test of rightness or wrongness.  Today there are other tests of political correctness that amount to the same thing.  The are boxes that contain the right configurations of display, beliefs, and membership.

Nobody really knew where the money went, and accounting was simply an exercise in writing fiction.  Who was supposed to getting the money was one thing.  Who really benefited was quite another, sometimes completely random in effect, and at others going to people who had abused every office they held. 

There were some political jurisdictions which held out against the Habsburg system, but in the 21st Century by the more effective methods of modern communications and means of propaganda they have been suborned and defeated. 

For almost a century Europe has been free of the last of the Habsburg heritage.  But it has been too difficult to shake them off.  They may not be back in person, but their political tradition has triumphed.  Their system is back, bigger and better than ever and we are all now subject.

At least we will not have dynastic wars.

Now in 2013, there is the potential in Syria and if as some suggest, Italy, only recently a nation state, does implode financially, it might be go back to start.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Pouring Oil On Trouble

The link below appeared recently in Naked Capitalism on 2nd July.  It suggests that all the cheery information we have been getting on all that fuel for the future may not be as soundly based as many would like to think.  As ever there are some technical problems which the optimists feel are not major issues.

It is a longish piece but worth reading if you are interested in these matters.

The proposition is that to move these tar sands requires them to be turned into a chemical slurry, heated to a high level and then pumped long distances under high pressure.

If this type of movement is proposed for the UK it will be only days before either the government or Boris Johnson come up with the idea to put such pipelines along the HST2 to beef up the economic case for the project.

Perhaps the main storage areas, if the stuff makes it through the pipelines, might be included in the proposed new hub airport to be used as aviation fuel for updated versions of the Airbus and the Dreamliner.

It should all go with a bang.

Monday 15 July 2013

The Summer of '76

We are being threatened with a continuing heat wave comparable to the summer of 1976.  This is something we could do without.  It was bad enough then, it could be even worse now.  The Minister for Sport, Denis Howell, how we laughed at such a thing then, was hastily given extra duties as Minister for Drought and warned us that water rationing would soon be with us as well as other unpleasant arrangements.

We now have a Department of Culture, Media and Sport mingled with Equalities, supported by 44 agencies and public bodies.  If a drought could occur now then the probable expansion of the government along those lines should soon mop up any current unemployment among the chattering classes.

As soon as Howell took up office the first rain drops appeared.  My worry is that if Cameron makes either Maria Miller or Hugh Robertson, two of the current DCMS and Equalities team responsible for drought we shall all expire of thirst while they wait for the deliberations of all the focus groups, consultative bodies and the rest before deciding that we need more water.

In 1976 James Callaghan took over as Prime Minister earlier in the year.  Faced with economic problems he became unpopular in trying to tell us that we could not have the double digit income rises and continuing expansion of expenditure, debt and the rest that we had become used to under Heath and Wilson because inflation with all its evils was destroying the basic economy.

There were extensive riots in South Africa and the question of Apartheid was a key political issue at home.  But here there were race riots notably in Notting Hill, then a decrepit inner London low income suburb.  Now the violence is largely toffs throwing bread rolls at each other at table in their multi-million pound homes in a gentrified district as they debate how to take advantage of Quantatitive Easing in the property market.

This issue affected the Montreal Olympics where many African countries withdrew because the IOC refused to exclude New Zealand because their All Blacks rugby team had toured South Africa despite the embargo desired.  A major feature of The Games was the medals tally by the German Democratic Republic, communist East Germany.  For years afterwards our leading sports and media Left wingers and others took this to be why East Germany should become the template for the UK of the future.

It was also the year that Carter became President, to pave the way for the Reagan reaction four years later.  Little realised at the time were the rumblings of theory in economics departments and financial circles in the USA that would lead to the surge of de-regulation and open season finance that would change all our lives.

In China the Leader, Mao Tse Tung, as the West spelled it at the time, went to the Great Central Committee in the sky and became a Prophet rather than a politician.  Chou En Lai, his Deputy had died in January.  This had the effect of making his hard line adherents in the West and elsewhere even harder. Their extremes made it much easier for those on the Right to label any on the Left as Maoist and therefore beyond reason.

In many ways it was a year of turning points which would need a thesis or major work to set out in full, rather than a brief item knocked out by an idle blogger.  One for the UK was that in September, after the rains returned the economy went down the drain.  The IMF were called in and Austerity, Cuts and Controls introduced impacting on the very people who disliked them most.

Margaret Thatcher had become Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and was slowly but surely building up her position as Leader of The Opposition.  It seemed unlikely that a woman who had very defined views on the Right was ever likely to command a majority at a General Election.  How far her success in 1979 was owed to her own efforts and how far to the splintering of the Labour Party into various factions is a debate for another place.

That was a year when after three very busy ones, I was able to take some overdue leave and had a longer holiday.  While most other people were roasting my youngsters were being taught how to build an igloo in between making snowmen and snow ball fights.  The camping gear had been put into the car and we had headed for the Alps, fresh air, cool  nights and above all as much water as we wanted.

As I thumb through the reference book of that year there were many things I remember.  What did bring joy to most of the nation and the happy home was Southampton beating Manchester United 1-0 in the Cup Final.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Faslane Flodden Flannel And Fiddling Votes

The Ministry of Defence, whether by accident or design, has let slip a think piece on what to do about Faslane, the key base for our Trident missile nuclear strike force.  It is in Scotland, up the Firth of Clyde and turn left not long before Glasgow.  If Scotland becomes independent it could be left with the Scots as a peace offering but they may not want it.  The picture above is of The Isle of Arran in The Firth, home to many of my forebears.

One reason is cost, the more significant one is that a lot of Scots feel that not only is nuclear war wrong but engaging with it could be more of a liability than an asset for them.  Canny chaps, they realise that any nuclear facility is not just a strike force to hit others but in fact a prime target for the others if it all becomes two or more sided.

If the others are not over fastidious in their selection of targets and have spare capacity in their own nuclear capability as well as computers capable of multi targeting then it may not be just Faslane that gets hit.  Glasgow might as well.  This may suit some in Edinburgh and other places but the possibility exists that their coordinates also may be in the targeting systems.

There is a real risk therefore that all that kit might have to be moved south.  The question is where?  If Wales is ruled out because they might not like it at all then that leaves England.  The trouble here is that there are not many places around the English coast where the waters are both deep enough and with choices of passage to allow relatively secure movement as and when necessary.

The Ministry of Defence, perhaps after a hard day on the hospitality at a procurement session are said to have suggested that the little bit of Scotland on the low road to Loch Lomond could remain as UK territory, a mini Gibraltar, only without the sun and fun.  This could almost be guaranteed to be a cause of dissent and endless trouble.  One way of avoiding this is thought to be offering the Scots a chunk of England as a swap. 

There are dafter ideas but I am struggling to think of one.  They could have Hull, or Westminster or what is left of Dunwich, once home to a prominent family of Scott's but it is not likely that this will be popular, at least in Scotland.

Perhaps it could be included as an extra question, with a few others in the Referendum to come in 1314.  The logic for this date is apparently because 700 years ago, the King of Scots, with sundry lords of largely Norman, Norse and other descent won a battle against the King of England with other Norman lords, both using companies of foreign jobbing mercenaries along with a few servile locals required as field fodder.

This anniversary it is hoped will procure a number of marginal votes to help the SNP win, regardless of anything that has happened in the centuries since.  The Referendum might and indeed with advantage have been held a sooner.  But there was a slight snag with the autumn of 2013.  The 9th September is the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden when King James IV of Scots got it badly wrong and died in a major defeat with heavy casualties for the Scots, see Wikipedia.

As it happens there seem to be more of families of my ancestors there on the Scots side who also died for their King and Country.  For some reason there is very little in the media about this coming date and its significance.  There will be a few interested who will take part in events to mark the date, but I suspect they will not be widely reported.

There are all the signs that the various Referendum campaigns will be a series of cheap stunts, wild claims, fake figures and on the SNP side "Brigadoon" like fantasies and a reversion to the early 14th Century notion of the Scots as a wandering tribe who finally made it to a promised land. 

What is becoming clear is that all the complicated and difficult issues are being almost entirely ignored.  Like it or not the Faslane question is just one element in the highly complex area of defence, border controls and security.

More worrying for the Scots there are indications that while the Westminster government is clearly corrupt, incompetent, bungling and misguided and in hock to bent bankers, the madder end of the green factions and oil oligarchs the only lot worse than them in Europe could turn out to be those who take power in Edinburgh.
Which takes us back to why the Union happened in 1707 despite the probable wishes of the majorities north and south of the Border and the result of the Battle of Flodden.  Earlier in 1314 at Bannockburn among the defeated southern Norman and mercenary force were a number of early Albanian Stradioti light horse.  Where did they get to afterwards? 

Did they scatter into The Borders to become later Borderers?