Thursday 31 October 2013

Politics And Playing Games

It appears from Guido Fawkes that Ed Miliband, our Leader of the Opposition for some strange reason is a fan of the Boston Red Sox baseball team.  They have won the World Series again and now have had a decade of success after a century of just failing.

Having once visited the Fenway Stadium in company with one of their fans I am glad he is happy.  It was a pleasant enough way of spending the time.  It reminded of when Americans played the game on our local park, until 1944 that is.

The publication that the link is to has another story, less populist, which Ed ought to give rather more attention to.  It is by Bruce Schneier and is a long and serious article arguing that there is a battle for power on the internet.

For those of who think that many things in the world have changed with the coming of all the new communications and ways and means of dealing with information and discussion it is a central issue in going into the new world of the 21st Century.

If you do not have the time to read or study it closely at least try a fast skip read to get the sense of it.  Because all our current debates and the fuss about what data should be, who should manage it, how decisions should be made relating to that data and the rest are involved.

From the keyboard here my view is that our existing political class are almost in a vacuum when it comes to the realities of what is happening.  They are detached from, unaware, ignorant of and incapable of dealing with the rate of change.

This situation is not new in human history, it happens all too often.  But it is certain that it is happening now and the reason for the consequences being destructive are not because it is happening but because those who rule cannot and will not understand.  They are too busy doing other things.

Such as persuading the voters they are just ordinary guys because they follow this team or that.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Ruling The World Again


We have a family visitation, or should that be visitor, which limits time over this week.  But there seems to be a lot going on, so all that is possible is a look round to see what might be.

Along long post by Rowan Bosworth-Davies today.longish but readable comes up with the concept that London property has become the world's new reserve currency with serious implications for what is left of the UK and for that matter the rest of the world.

It is a robust post that does not pull the punches.  What he points out is that one feature is the vast amount of building being done which is not and not intended to be occupied.

Elsewhere Capitalists at Work ponders on the other issues of London becoming the centre not just for dealing in Chinese monies but critically for Sharia financial systems which entail different arrangements which will mean good business for those in the relevant financial and law sectors.

Veering Left at the roundabout of politics and blogging Richard Murphy wonders if the Bank of England is intent on turning London into the Hong Kong of the 21st Century with a figure for the financial sector going from being worth four times GDP to nine times in the next few decades.

None of all this makes comfortable reading.  The picture above is one of the master mariners, Scott by name, who got Britain into Hong Kong long ago, one of the family.  I wonder what he would make of it all?

Tuesday 29 October 2013

The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease

According to the New York Times inflation is thought by the Federal Reserve Bank to be not rising fast enough with many people thinking that a dose or two of it would help cure the economic patient of the headaches, IBS and voices off that afflict it at present.

Personally, we seem to be experiencing increasing inflation no matter what the official figures allege. The bills and the payments out are going up a lot faster that the money coming in, but the official figures are arranged to deal with that.

Much of the inflation is hidden or disguised one way or another.  Check just what is in the pack at the supermarket and how much it might weigh compared with the past.  A little less here and a little more cost there on many things will add up.

In the 1960's we had a lot of expert economists jogging around claiming that "moderate" and/or "managed" inflation would get the economy going in the right direction and all would take care of itself.  Our all wise and omnipotent money masters would see to that.

What they did not understand that the money was moving faster than they thought.  Also, they could only manage what they knew and on past data.  It turned out that they did not know half enough and what happened next did not relate much to the past data.

Inflation might stimulate some things but not most.  The real trouble will be the political fall out when it hits too many people and damages too much of the economy.

One thing will be sudden and sharp rises in rates of interest.  As the West seems to be bent on stimulating personal debt as part of the package along with other forms of debt the result may be to impoverish us all on a permanent basis.

Monday 28 October 2013

Private Passions

Whenever I boot up the machine and start using it my belief is that I have entered a public arena and that anything or everything I do or say is out there for someone to see or to record.  This applies as well to mails or even visual or other contact facilities.

If someone wants to know and knows how to they will be able to check in and find out.  So hey NSA, how's the weather in Washington and there is heavy traffic on the Baltimore freeway.  A while back the family had fun with Google putting words into the text to see what advertisements they would trigger.

But we got bored with that, it became too easy to predict. If there is some poor soul who has to check out all the documents I fling about the world my heart bleeds for them.  Wading through all that family history and turgid tracts about historical and ancient times, never mind volcanoes, earthquakes, magnetic fields, outer and inner space must be a bad way to earn a living.

Absorbing and significant it may be to some, but hardly the stuff of international relations or the key issues that confront governments.  But it is out there on the net for all to see

As a child there was precious little privacy.  Given that all our purchasing was done from a limited number of retailers in shops close by, that we had to walk or go on the local bus or tram everywhere and that there were people delivering milk, papers and doing other routine work it was impossible.

Going back in history with living being more crowded even in the wealthiest families it was difficult to hide much.  Being private was very relative and often only achieved by living in urban areas and moving on quickly from one place to another.  It seems that the further back you go the less likely privacy is to be found.

Which is why strangers were so often suspect and the cause of special interest.  Looking back indeed where those in authority wanted to know and sought information they did so and there was  plenty of activity in that direction.  Spying and interference is nothing new it has been done for all history.

When might it be justified?  There was an interesting example in a recent TV item about WW2.  Apparently, captured German senior officers were put in a large country house with ample space etc. and a fair degree of comfort.  But the whole house was bugged with a basement full of operatives listening to every word.  This was said to be vital to our success in the war.

It is arguable that for WW1 one reason for the chaotic descent into War was that the powers did not know enough, especially about the network of secret agreements that dragged states into the war.  During the Cold War the powers knew a lot more about each other, so did effective spying help to keep the peace?

Looking around the world at present it may be that a reason for all the current troubles is the extent of ignorance we have about those who involved in the nastier aspects of what is going on.  A lot of things have been happening not predicted and there is the feeling of governments chasing their tails in playing catch up on events.

As for history, the revelation that the Foreign Office has kept 1.2 million old files out of the public record offices is of interest.  There could be much to learn from them.  To use the tag we so often hear in documentaries about history much of it might have to be rewritten if they are made available and even more if they go online.

In the meantime why does my 'phone beep so much these days?  Why does Sky TV keep reminding me to connect to the broadband as well as insisting in a fixed link to the telephone?  Why do the net providers want particular bits of information?  Just where do my bank and credit card details go to?

And is there someone down in the basement recording how many times I pull the flush?

Sunday 27 October 2013

Addendum On Storm

Looking at the Washington Post and a story about Hurricane Sandy of last year and the aftermath a thought about What Next relating to our coming storm.

If the storm is bad, it could get worse.

The Eye Of The Storm

A few years ago on rising put on the TV to pick up Fox News to see what the latest hurricane was doing over the water.  In between the chatter and garbled commentary suddenly the realisation dawned that it had changed track.

It was why those telling the story were so excited.  "Yer what?" I yelped and headed for the machine to boot up.  The US National Hurricane Centre had not long put up its latest update and there had been an unexpected major shift to the north.

"Oh Crikey!" was what I might have said except it was a more military expression. Looking at the detail on the NHC site it was clear that there was a change.  The phone was grabbed, For Child Number One it may have been very early but was in a secure place waiting for the Eye to hit.

Child was the only one with a satellite phone so despite all the local lines in Nassau being down and out and the TV off there was contact.  A tired voice answered, the storm had being going on for a couple of days and they were waiting for worse to come.

I gave the latest information, the Eye had gone north, was already past and headed for Freeport.  Nassau would have a few more rough hours but that was all.  There was disbelief at first, the local radio station relaying the official news had just said the Eye was imminent at Nassau.

Anyhow, when Child tried to tell people they would not accept that some old guy in England knew more that their local radio station or administration.  Talk of knowing what the NHC latest had said was hocus pocus. Freeport took a very bad hit without warning.

Quite why Nassau and The Bahamas were so far behind the game is a question.  Perhaps they were disorganised, not ready or dilatory, but maybe having officially said this they were unwilling to say that was different, however vital.  They would then blame somebody else.

What was disturbing was that when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana near to New Orleans there was something of the same pattern.  The information was there, the expert advice was there, but somehow the authorities etc. messed about and would not accept that the situation was rapidly changing with very serious risks.

We in England are now due for a heavy storm and some damage. The information we are getting in general terms is something but too often sketchy.  What exactly will happen in the aftermath is another issue.  Just how good and ready are the authorities and do they have the facilities?

Will the hospitals already be full of weekend drunks and visitors?  We could get lucky.  It could be quite nasty.  Nobody really knows but look out for who starts blaming who and who starts telling lies if there is a fall out.

At least when it is weather it is still a whole lot better than in the government of our finances and other critical matters.  My worry is that the worst could come just where Boris Johnson wants to build his new prize hub airport.

This prediction is the application of Murphy's Law of Climate for which I claim no credit whatsoever.

Friday 25 October 2013

The Movers And Shakers Of Money

This is a short post flagging an article which is readable both in terms of content and length.  It asks us to like Hedge Fund traders for their work in clearing up the mess that has resulted from many of our recent financial fiasco's.

It is by Frances Coppola and centred on the Co-operative Bank imbroglio that has many of the unlovable features of some of the current difficulties across the banking sector.

Back in the 19th Century before the modern way of dealing with rubbish came about it was up to householders etc. to be responsible for their own waste disposal.  Most were bad or very bad at it.  Consequently, there came to be profit made from dealing and disposing of rubbish.

So there were Flying Dustmen whose business it was to get hold of what they could and whenever possible recycle it for profit.  Although in social class terms they ranked among the low, some of them could make a tidy living and then go on to more respectable trades, such as grocery or beyond.

Much like Hedge Fund traders might be from any class but when they have made money they can go upmarket fast and be one of the most socially mobile groups in our economy.

As Grannie used to say, where there's muck there's money.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Hello Angela, Is It You?

Here is the transcript of a telephone call from the German side only:


Hello, Vladimir, good to talk to you again, how is the revolution going?


Yes, I look forward to the Conference, we ought to do good business.

That is good. You know what I mean.


You are saucy Vlad, but I am not going bare chested if you do.

No and not just into the woods to hunt wolves.

Strangle them bare handed?

They may be secretly sedated but it would lose me a lot of votes.

Not the chest, but killing wolves.  They are many Germans who like wolves and want to have more of them.

The EU may not be told, the French like wolves and so do others.  They eat people.


What was that?  He is not that way.

No he just likes to look friendly for the media.

In America they are very hands on, their Presidents maul people as a way of getting media attention.


Well, the Brit's are just silly.  Have you read any of their documents?

Pretending to be sick is not funny.  You should try they really are that bad.


Yes I have heard the one about the Yank, the Brit and the Chinese Space Station.  That is funny.


No, I will not pass it on encrypted.  Hollande does not have a sense of humour, nor does Draghi or Rompey and not that Italian man.

In France Existential is not a dirty word it is the way they think.


We are all Hegelians now.

No I do not want to hear the one about the Italian, the Pole and the lap dancer.

Yes I realise there would be a double meaning about poles, remember I was in the Communist Youth.

Yes perhaps we will share memories of the Youth.  I bet my Schnapps is a lot better than your vodka.

Last one standing gets Scandinavia, the loser gets Scotland.


Prost, see you, where is it next?

Yes it is better than Washington, it is nearer to home.

Where shall we have our secret pre conference meeting?

Ah, that is good, see you in Potsdam.



Must go, the last train from Cheltenham leaves early.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

There Are No Jobs For Life

So days, or was it minutes, after Westminster is boasting about the Hinckley Point nuclear plant deal, we learn that the petrochemical plant Grangemouth is to close and Edinburgh is scrambling to deal with the fall out.

"Private Eye" would wonder if it was "surely, some coincidence" but perhaps not.  All major industry and its finance and funding is now more or less global and this means that changes and the making of decisions are not easy to explain to the voting masses and more difficult to justify.

In the meantime the relevant political parties are engaged in the first priority activity, that is trying to pin the blame and the cost on someone else.  This could be very ugly.  My questions are firstly where is Gazprom and secondly where are the Germans, never mind the Chinese?

There are bigger and broader questions behind all this.  In the next decade or two some sectors of the economy will contract and perhaps, or maybe not, some will expand.  If those which depend on the public sector are those that might expand there is the problem of how and with whose money?

This too, could be very ugly.  What hardly anyone is facing up to or answering is the first question, what is on the way down and worse what is going to go under? 

To deal with this both Westminster and Edinburgh are prone to look for a small number of very big projects to back for media approval and to catch voters eyes with easy headlines.

But these concentrate the money and jobs when the urgent need is to spread them around a lot more in activities that are as sustainable as possible and need work forces with varied and different levels of skills.  This does not seem either to be happening or part of the thinking.

The infographic above comes from The Enlightened Economist a blog for those who study economics and is concerned with the business of publishing and the relevant technology.  This is done by having the two aspects side by side.  What is clear is the gathering speed of change and impact.

In other areas of economic activity the story would be more complicated in some respects but still the same basic principle is involved.  It has all become faster changing, more global and more unpredictable.

In the past we have had a lot of five year plans.  What of a world where even a five month plan is rarely possible?

Tuesday 22 October 2013

When The Romans Did For Us

A busy day today, so an item from the FT in 2009 about what happened in a rather larger recession some time ago.


"Call this a recession? It isn’t the Dark Ages." By Bryan Ward-Perkins December 22 2009
As we face an uncertain and worrying New Year, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that we are not living 1,600 years ago, and about to begin the year 410. In this year Rome was sacked, and the empire gave up trying to defend Britain. While this marks the glorious beginnings of “English history”, as Anglo-Saxon barbarians began their inexorable conquest of lowland Britain, it was also the start of a recession that puts all recent crises in the shade.

The economic indicators for fifth-century Britain are scanty, and derive exclusively from archaeology, but they are consistent and extremely bleak. Under the Roman empire, the province had benefited from the use of a sophisticated coinage in three metals – gold, silver and copper – lubricating the economy with a guaranteed and abundant medium of exchange.

In the first decade of the fifth century new coins ceased to reach Britain from the imperial mints on the continent, and while some attempts were made to produce local substitutes, these efforts were soon abandoned. For about 300 years, from around AD 420, Britain’s economy functioned without coin.

Core manufacturing declined in a similar way. There was some continuity of production of the high-class metalwork needed by a warrior aristocracy to mark its wealth and status; but at the level of purely functional products there was startling change, all of it for the worse.

Roman Britain had enjoyed an abundance of simple iron goods, documented by the many hob-nail boots and coffin-nails found in Roman cemeteries. These, like the coinage, disappeared early in the fifth century, as too did the industries that had produced abundant attractive and functional wheel-turned pottery.

From the early fifth century, and for about 250 years, the potter’s wheel – that most basic tool, which enables thin-walled and smoothly finished vessels to be made in bulk – disappeared altogether from Britain. The only pots remaining were shaped by hand, and fired, not in kilns as in Roman times, but in open ‘clamps’ (a smart word for a pile of pots in a bonfire).

We do not know for certain what all this meant for population numbers in the countryside, because from the fifth to the eighth century people had so few goods that they are remarkably difficult to find in the archaeological record; but we do know its effect on urban populations. Roman Britain had a dense network of towns, ranging from larger settlements, like London and Cirencester, which also served an administrative function, to small commercial centres that had grown up along the roads and waterways.

By 450 all of these had disappeared, or were well on the way to extinction. Canterbury, the only town in Britain that has established a good claim to continuous settlement from Roman times to the present, impresses us much more for the ephemeral nature of its fifth to seventh-century huts than for their truly urban character.

Again it was only in the eighth century, with the (re)emergence of trading towns such as London and Saxon Southampton, that urban life returned to Britain.

For two or three hundred years, beginning at the start of the fifth century, the economy of Britain reverted to levels not experienced since well before the Roman invasion of AD 43. The most startling features of the fifth-century crash are its suddenness and its scale. We might not be surprised if, on leaving the empire, Britain had reverted to an economy similar to that which it had enjoyed in the immediately pre-Roman Iron Age.

But southern Britain just before the Roman invasion was a considerably more sophisticated place economically than Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries: it had a native silver coinage; pottery industries that produced wheel-turned vessels and sold them widely; and even the beginnings of settlements recognisable as towns. 

Nothing of the kind existed in the fifth and sixth centuries; and it was only really in the eighth century that the British economy crawled back to the levels it had already reached before Emperor Claudius’s invasion.

It is impossible to say with any confidence when Britain finally returned to levels of economic complexity comparable to those of the highest point of Roman times, but it might be as late as around the year 1000 or 1100. If so, the post-Roman recession lasted for 600-700 years.  We can take some cheer from this sad story – so far our own problems pale into insignificance.

But Schadenfreude is never a very satisfying emotion, and in this case it would be decidedly misplaced. The reason the Romano-British economy collapsed so dramatically should give us pause for thought. Almost certainly the suddenness and the catastrophic scale of the crash were caused by the levels of sophistication and specialisation reached by the economy in Roman times.

The Romano-British population had grown used to buying their pottery, nails, and other basic goods from specialist producers, based often many miles away, and these producers in their turn relied on widespread markets to sustain their specialised production. When insecurity came in the fifth century, this impressive house of cards collapsed, leaving a population without the goods they wanted and without the skills and infrastructure needed to produce them locally. It took centuries to reconstruct networks of specialisation and exchange comparable to those of the Roman period.

The more complex an economy is, the more fragile it is, and the more cataclysmic its disintegration can be. Our economy is, of course, in a different league of complexity to that of Roman Britain. Our pottery and metal goods are likely to have been made, not many miles away, but on the other side of the globe, while our main medium of exchange is electronic, and sometimes based on smoke and mirrors.

If our economy ever truly collapses, the consequences will make fifth-century Britain seem like a picnic.

The writer teaches history at Trinity College, Oxford and is the author of ‘The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization’


Now I can relax.

Monday 21 October 2013

Tales Of Old Times Past

Around fifty years ago, the village postman would deliver the plain brown envelopes marked "Do Not Bend".  A few days later at the village post office the contents would be returned in other brown envelopes, with the same words and sent by registered mail because they were confidential.

People in the know would mutter as we passed and be guarded when they talked to us and sometimes we would be pointed out as people who were different.  Yes, I was the only computer person in the village, and district, dealing with punch cards for the type of computer above, the ICT 1301.

This was state of the art work.  When talking about it people assumed that I was a fantasist and the idea that computers might become normal parts of ordinary life something strictly for the century after next unless aliens took over the planet.

A dozen years later the local authority had a computer system, to the anguish of the local government unions.  It was in a large separate building staffed with a number of high paid persons and admission was only by special permission.

The council had taken the step at the urging of the Treasurer who was having trouble getting reliable accounts clerks, the local Grammar School having been closed. 

After high level meetings with a company in London, which involved hotel stays, a great deal of wining and dining plus entertainments, councillors opted for an "established", that is out of date system with a huge annual maintenance bill.  They proudly claimed it would last for a generation or two.

Five years later visiting an organisation on the continent they were happy to show me how their office systems worked.  It was a shock to see how few people were needed compared to numbers dealing with basic office work where I lived.  More to the point they were interacting with local schools.

In our own area, the Labour majority were arguing that all local computer facilities should be licensed and controlled from the Town Hall.  Also, that anything to do with learning about them should be confined to the local Technical Colleges or places of higher education, including keyboard skills.

They were urged on by members of the Labour Party who happened to be staff at the local Tech' together with their Principal, out to be the local IT Gauleiter.  They were joined by many Heads of schools and the teachers unions wanted no truck with computers as alternative forms of information.

While this was going on at home we had one of the first BBC Micros, linked to BT Prestel, with a printer and telephone connections.  Absurdly primitive by today's standards but working with many uses.  A breakthrough was when a contact passed me one of the first word processor programmes.

Any attempt to explain the potential implications had little effect.  But whether all these public sector boss types liked it or not elsewhere things were picking up speed.  The revolution was on the way only it wasn't political, it was digital.

Little seems to have changed  in some respects.  The public sector is still largely a disaster area in IT.  Huge ill conceived schemes botched at vast expense.  There is an utter lack of awareness for much of what is actual let alone potential.

So as an ultimate old fogey what is happening here?  In the last few days there has been a great deal of "business" dealt with quickly and effectively.  A live performance of a play in Coventry was watched free of charge streamed online.  There is a host of choice of first class cultural material to watch, never mind films of choice for small costs.

There have been video events with the family, no long journeys and at minimal cost.  On top of that a contact who had connection problems brought in their laptop and was part of international high level meetings on a world wide basis while I watched a saved 1964 film on TV in the next room.

There has been a lot of research in varied matters resulting in documents, extensive pictures and backup material that has been widely circulated with little worry about how long it might take to get there, if it did.  Additionally, it is possible to watch events available on video of all sorts.  And so on and so on.

All done on tiny devices and occupying a corner of a small room without added overheads or all the other "office" costs, never mind travel.  It is all a lot easier that the office methods and procedures etc. of the olden times with all that typing, paper, filing and endless trailing distances to meetings etc.

This seems to be the way that much of the private and related sector is beginning to do business.  Inevitably, our politicians and other public sector people who do not have to worry about cost are still engaging in the same way as in the past. 

Add to that they are telling us that the "big projects" are the only way forward.  It might be that these, by the time they were built, would really be used only by the public sector.  We seem to be governed and have allowed ourselves to be governed by the technically ignorant and those determined to avoid the present never mind the future.

In 1834 the Houses of Parliament caught fire and were burned out because of what was in the basements.  One heap of combustible material were the old tally sticks that had been used by the Exchequer from Medieval times to just a few years before.

Apparently, our government IT systems are so bad that some at the new, well 1850's, buildings are making their own Wi Fi arrangements.  This time the problem may be that whole of central government IT crashes or is crashed.

So I look forward to hosting one Secretary of State or another to do their work from the spare room while I catch up with the rugger results and saved games on screen.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Harold Wilson, The Busted Flush

Last night, on the box there was a kind of political Antiques Roadshow on BBC Parliament with Jon Snow the elder hosting Bernard Donoughue, Shirley Williams and Douglas Hurd talking about Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister and his era in the government of the UK.

There are substantial Wikipedia's and other articles on all these past stalwarts of politics and on Harold Wilson himself.  What interests me is certain aspects of all this which are small but interesting parts of the whole.

One relates to the effect of his childhood illness.  It was Typhoid which then was a killer which did not leave many survivors.  Those who did were lucky enough to be diagnosed early were then put into total isolation for weeks, not even the parents were allowed into the treatment room.

The other was his stratospheric rise at a young age in the world of Oxford Academia.  It may have been because his field was then a new one with only limited numbers active or it may have been his ability to grasp complicated matters.

A key to this is his abilities as a statistician.  These meant that his War was one in the back rooms grinding and examining the figures.  So that when he went into politics he was a very rare bird indeed.  Even in the Civil Service he would have been unusual, very few had much grasp of this science.

When he left power in 1976 there were not many more. I recall in the 1970's and even into the '80's coming across senior civil servants whose handling and understanding of figures was almost laughable were it not so serious.

So as a very bright chap, with the ability to communicate and argue his case, with a formidable memory, the will to study and absorb the details and being able to run and analyse the figures well beyond that of others he was a hard man to beat around the tables where issues and decisions were discussed.

Additionally, his personal background gave him the knowledge to argue almost as well when it appeared that moral or ethical issues were involved.  Politically, he may have been a very slippery customer and something of a shape changer but he could master and argue a brief against the best and win.

One TV clip from the past was interesting it was Robin Day, the BBC at its worst, interviewing him on becoming Prime Minister in 1964.  It like a very arrogant just commissioned subaltern questioning an old Sergeant of the Guard as to his duties.

In the interview he set out his stall.  The trouble was that despite his abilities he was wrong and could not see that he was wrong.  He talked about restoring the UK to being a great power and not pushed around by others.  Like so many of his generation in politics he could not accept the decline of the UK.

So it had to be put right, this would be done by state indicative planning coupled with elements of direction. The social agenda would be paid for by high taxation enabled by the growth that would be achieved by state planning especially in areas of key new technology.

This together with other social reforms would lead us to the bright new world with Britain as a born again great power heading up the Common Market, yet with a population where equality and cradle to grave state care and education would be available to all.

If you got the figures and the directives right and Wilson thought he was just the man to do it while he ran the other Labour grandees ragged around the Cabinet table the figures would come round and everything could be achieved.  While cutting back the forces at the same time he was committing them here and there.

But it was the devaluation of the pound and other things that came unstuck.  While politically as well as going forward, unluckily most of the major unions wanted to stay backward keeping all the old industries and infrastructure as they were in spite of it being evident that radical economic changes were in progress.

He lost the election of 1970 to Heath the Horrible who managed to botch almost everything he touched.  So Wilson who had taken over an economy in deep trouble in 1964 found himself doing the same in 1974, but this time with many of his own mistakes being part of the heart of the problem.

As for his resignation in 1976, it is likely that his health was a consideration.  But my view is that he was still good and expert enough to know in April 1976 that the game was up and lost.  It was in September under Callaghan that the IMF came in to sort out the mess of the UK finances.

This truly was the end of Empire, the real welfare state and the beginning of the end for many and much of the old industrial structure.  But his successors could still not let go.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Where Is All The Money Going?

Ever since money was invented and so the ability to move wealth readily from one place to another in various forms of acceptable goods, tokens or titles to goods or tokens the question of who should control this and how has been central to rulers and the ruled.

Some forms are more movable than others.  They might be precious metals or stones or they might be edible domestic animals which have other by-products.  In primitive societies much conflict arises from raiding between groups as well as title to grazing lands.

For someone who grew up during the great age of the cowboy film much of the global financial system is explicable in terms of the Wild West of the USA. These bear a strong similarity to activity of earlier centuries.

Many of the riders and herders were the direct descendants from the medieval cattle thieves and raiders of the Atlantic Isles.  We might recall that in the USA indigenous arable peoples lost out but later the ranchers lost out to the farmers.

As for our modern "capital" expressed in terms of modern  currencies and financial products they have become not just portable but moveable in vast amounts in a digital instant.  A trader who has lunched too well can cause a financial hiccup or crisis at the tap of a key or a touch on the screen.

There are many reasons for capital to move.  Some are the basic ones of investing in projects or activity in other states in an open and fully legal way. Others might be between or involving governments with a political purpose embedded.

Increasingly, there are very large sums moving arising from criminal sources, tax evasion and avoidance.  More worrying are the surges of capital movement arising from the instability or collapse of either political systems or financial systems in one state to another reckoned to be more stable or at least friendly to those moving the money.

An article on this contemporary capital flight uses the term Lethal Liabilities about the human cost of debt and capital flight.  It is concise and its main reference is to The Third World contending that the ability to move wealth easily and at will has allowed extractive and predatory elites to grow very rich at the expense of leaving debts to the very poor.

What the various debates in the USA, Europe and the UK are about in relation to internal financial troubles have at their heart is that the same is happening in their own countries.  It is not just one state preying on another, it is the financial sectors extracting capital internally to move elsewhere.

That this is now intermingled with high leverages and substantial speculation creates huge risks.  Only it is not the movers and holders of the digital money who will lose it is the ordinary people doing ordinary work.  This is happening and it is getting worse by the year.

The picture above is of locusts.  This is not just a comment; it is a warning that too many locusts in some places could trigger a "Black Swan" event that may just be a tipping point for another serious financial crash.

Friday 18 October 2013

Wronging The Right

After yesterdays terse and trivial post, a lurch into something a lot more serious and with a very long link from The Economist about the issue just how good is science and coming up with the answer that it may not be in many cases.

The extract below is the conclusion of the piece which indicates it's thrust and coverage. Essentially what it is about is that there has been work done to replicate the research and findings of a number of key scientific subjects.

The findings are very worrying is that too often the new work does not come up with the same findings or results of the earlier and worse in many cases there are serious weaknesses in data, statistics and analysis which compromise or even deny the findings.

As elements of this early research forms the bed rock of thinking in a number of areas and has led to extensive research assuming its reliability this is very bad news in some areas of study.

But this is in the areas that have been looked at and these are a very small amount of earlier research.  If this pattern were to be found in the event of across the board work in critical areas then who knows what might need revision and revisiting?

The trouble with much of our science is the limitations of what can be and who can do it.  This is tied up with funding, the existing academic bodies, the infrastructure of "expert" committees, too often ruled by vested interests and inevitably government decisions made on grounds well removed from Science.

In the UK it is my contention that the Health Protection Agency does not do much for health, is engaged in protecting the major commercial interests and is an agency of restrictive government and not of public interest.

The article concludes, quote:

Making the paymasters care

Conscious that it and other journals “fail to exert sufficient scrutiny over the results that they publish” in the life sciences, Nature and its sister publications introduced an 18-point checklist for authors this May. The aim is to ensure that all technical and statistical information that is crucial to an experiment’s reproducibility or that might introduce bias is published.

The methods sections of papers are being expanded online to cope with the extra detail; and whereas previously only some classes of data had to be deposited online, now all must be.

Things appear to be moving fastest in psychology. In March Dr Nosek unveiled the Centre for Open Science, a new independent laboratory, endowed with $5.3m from the Arnold Foundation, which aims to make replication respectable.

Thanks to Alan Kraut, the director of the Association for Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, one of the association’s flagship publications, will soon have a section devoted to replications.

It might be a venue for papers from a project, spearheaded by Dr Nosek, to replicate 100 studies across the whole of psychology that were published in the first three months of 2008 in three leading psychology journals.

People who pay for science, though, do not seem seized by a desire for improvement in this area. Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, says proposals for replication studies “in all likelihood would be turned down” because of the agency’s focus on pioneering work.

James Ulvestad, who heads the division of astronomical sciences at America’s National Science Foundation, says the independent “merit panels” that make grant decisions “tend not to put research that seeks to reproduce previous results at or near the top of their priority lists”.

Douglas Kell of Research Councils UK, which oversees Britain’s publicly funded research argues that current procedures do at least tackle the problem of bias towards positive results: “If you do the experiment and find nothing, the grant will nonetheless be judged more highly if you publish.”

In testimony before Congress on March 5th Bruce Alberts, then the editor of Science, outlined what needs to be done to bolster the credibility of the scientific enterprise. Journals must do more to enforce standards. Checklists such as the one introduced by Nature should be adopted widely, to help guard against the most common research errors.

Budding scientists must be taught technical skills, including statistics, and must be imbued with scepticism towards their own results and those of others. Researchers ought to be judged on the basis of the quality, not the quantity, of their work.

Funding agencies should encourage replications and lower the barriers to reporting serious efforts which failed to reproduce a published result. Information about such failures ought to be attached to the original publications.

And scientists themselves, Dr Alberts insisted, “need to develop a value system where simply moving on from one’s mistakes without publicly acknowledging them severely damages, rather than protects, a scientific reputation.”

This will not be easy. But if science is to stay on its tracks, and be worthy of the trust so widely invested in it, it may be necessary.


When we consider how few in government dealing with policy know much about Science at all and blithely make crucial decisions about our lives and the billions that might be spent on summaries of summaries of such research, no wonder so much goes badly wrong.

But what worries me is those things that are not being researched because they are inconvenient or would upset an existing order.

Thursday 17 October 2013

The Ayes Have It

As the lead story of the day seems to be about the Labour front bencher, Gloria de Piero, and the issue of photographs taken during her teenage years that are more revealing than her current expenses claims, this blog likes to keep up with trends.

There have been a number of comments around the web about this.  Without doubt the least kind are to be found on the Army Rumour Service. This might reflect the military mind.

My contribution to the debate is to publish the photograph of two topless strippers, above, in my determination to keep at the forefront of political observation.

It all makes more sense than either government energy policy or The Royal Charter on media control.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Posh Unposh Power And Position

There has been muttering within the chattering class about Non Government Organisations (NGO's) and the people at the top.  An article in the Grauniad has drawn a response from one who knows in Open Democracy as a view from lower down to add another perspective.

It is a longish item about the proportion of Posh White Blokes at the top, why there are so many of them, what are the obstacles to those of other descriptions and what to do about it.  This is a tricky area fraught with complications.

As you may imagine the words equality and diversity figure in all this relating to the need to redress the balance and to make these upper ranks more responsive and representative of the wider world as a whole.

One of the features of the last two or three decades has been not only the grip that the PWB's have on these heights of authority but the almost complete absence of representation from the Unposh White blokes and blokesses.

Even where females have risen to some positions they are rarely, if ever, to be found from the ranks of the lower orders.  If there is a glass ceiling for females even of the upper orders then it is a reinforced concrete block for those from the lower levels of the pecking order.

It is not entirely different from among the communities of recent migrants.  Some of these have rigorous caste or other distinctive classifications that go beyond the sometimes messy and uncertain ways of the British and Irish. 

In these cases diversity may work according to some definitions but within those groups the nature of mutual exclusivity rather than inclusivity will be just as relentless and telling.  One man's diversity may be another's divisiveness.

What does count beyond education is family, connections, the ability to ride the early years of lower income or capital access and the more subtle ways in which within groups stratification occurs.

There is still scope for mobility but it needs a lot of luck as well as either particular skill or hard work.  Also, critically, it depends on making the right contacts at the right time.  Even within the superior orders there are many who do not make it to the top.

If the race is to the few unless the rules of the track are made otherwise then the winners will be from those best placed at the start, or who are given a position on the inside bend or who are in a position to work the rules to their own advantage.

If you are not careful then your attempts at equality and diversity could end up with an even more exclusive grouping in terms of class or wealth than you have at present.

One way round it would be to scrap as many NGO's, Agencies and all the rest as soon as possible and return power to  the more basic representative elements.

In the UK this means a local government system that resembles that of the 1930's.  In world terms it means to free others to run their own affairs as much as possible at more decentralised levels.

But this might mean some real democracy and that would never do for all the different ruling elements of the present.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

London Calling

Life is full of surprises.  Stumbling around Direct Gov I learned that it was possible to get an unexpected telephone call about my not so private affairs.

Despite being signed up for unwanted calls to be blocked it does happen from time to time that some get through.  A recent run of calls came from the USA claiming to be about medical research and would I mind telling them this and that.

Luckily, they mentioned to add veracity a medical school that I was all too familiar with so it took only half a second to realise that the calls were certainly a fake.

My usual response to these is a polite terse comment to the effect that we are not interested.  What I think is not said because I do not want to cause the operatives of the NSA or GCHQ etc. who have the misfortune to monitor my calls to swoon at the use of barrack square verbiage.

But when I saw that there is an outfit called the Benefits Integrity Centre my reaction is that any call saying they were from such a place and asking for the name of my bank account would certainly cause an adverse reaction.

The full text is below, the bit I really like is at the very end, it says "is there anything wrong with this page".

One could have a lot of fun with that.

Benefits Integrity Centre Information:

A Benefits Integrity Centre (BIC) may contact you to review your benefits claim - this is called a claim review.
A BIC may contact you if you’re claiming:
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Incapacity Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
If you’re contacted by a BIC they will ask for information similar to the information you gave when claiming benefit. The BIC will tell you when you need to provide them with the information.

If you don’t tell them in time, your benefit payments may be stopped.

You should check that any letter, text or phone call from a BIC is genuine.

Letters and forms

Any letters and forms will have the Jobcentre Plus logo.
Contact Jobcentre Plus to find out if a letter you’ve received from a BIC is genuine. Use the number on the letter Jobcentre Plus sent you about your benefit. They’ll be able to tell you if a BIC is checking your claim

Phone calls

When a BIC phones you, they’ll ask some security questions to check your identity.

You’ll never be asked for your bank account number or sort code to check your identity. You will be asked for the name of your bank as part of the review.

Text messages

The BIC sends text messages as reminders to:
  • return forms
  • tell them about changes in your circumstances
Text messages from a BIC will show the phone number as “Jobcentre Plus” or “Jobcentre +”.

The message will be for information only - you’ll never be asked to reply by text message.

Appeal a BIC decision

You have the right to appeal if you disagree with a decision made by a BIC. You will be told how to appeal in the letter the BIC sends you.

Is there anything wrong with this page?


Whatever next?