Saturday 30 November 2013

Sing Something Simple

As we come closer to becoming governed by computers rather than human thought it is useful to have a look at what is going on. That is the human thinking that gives rise to the ability of computers to sort things out.

The pace in this field is advancing as rapidly, if not more, than in many others in science and technology. Quite what may come about and how it is managed and functions becomes more and more distant from real experience.

Some of us are aware that what we would like to be simple is no longer so.  The difficulty is getting the rest to see it that way and realise that little is simple and there are few right answers to all our dilemmas, especially if computers are involved.

Science Daily has a choice article about the The Efficiency Of Complex Computations which is a test of skill and judgement for the great majority of us.  But if this what they say can and will work then it is what will be built into a good many things that will affect our day to day lives.

It is not a long article, just enough to make you wonder what it is really about and conclude you may not have the faintest idea.  In the meantime I will have to stick to the paper railway timetables.

If the trains are running, that is, when I get to the station.

Friday 29 November 2013

Whether The Weather

As we stagger in to December trying to avoid Christmas as much as possible one matter that is important is the weather.  Having experienced a few bad ones the shiver goes through the mind at the thought never mind when the onset happens.  1947 is a bad memory and a repeat is not wanted.

At the moment the Daily Express is promoting the idea of a very nasty three month spell to rival the worst in memory.  Their forecast comes from Exacta Weather, a commercial entity, who say that conventional forecasters have seriously under estimated what is going to happen.

Personally, the hope is that they are wrong so the inclination is to assume that this is the Daily Express using dire predictions as another of their shock, horror tales to sell the papers.  But what is a worry is the implications of the way the jet stream has moved recently.

Of more concern is that life has moved on in the last couple of decades.  A complex system of motorway distribution allied to foreign imports through relatively centralised depots has transformed our food supply and delivery.

Additionally, just in time procedures dependent on computer ordering mean that far lower amounts of stocks are held of products including foodstuffs.  All that efficient low cost fine tuning is much more vulnerable to disruption.  It is now road dependent as rail has gone for general use.

How the general economy might fare is another matter.  We have the division between many who travel to work and over longer distances and those who work from home.  Both will depend on energy and fuel supplies which again may become uncertain.

Just how much planning, readiness or awareness of might be necessary either at central or local government levels we do not know.  At one time the experience usual together with a good deal of spare capacity as well as basic organisation could cope with a great deal.

The bodies involved now simply do not work that way at all.  The effect of modern management systems allow only limited perspectives and capability as well as powers of action and decision.  A great many now at management level will have had no experience of or idea how to tackle a fluid and high risk developing situation.

There are points along the way of a bad situation when difficulty and uncertainty begin to decline into a chaotic system and from that it is not far from a collapse.  There is not the back up now in the armed forces as there was in 1947 or 1962-3, they will not be enough, and there will certainly be few around able to sort it out.

Especially if the power fails and the computers go down as well. Let us hope the Express is wrong, as usual, but the risk is that some time it might be right.

Asda Anarchy

The reported scenes of crowd hysteria and violence at Asda Stores running "Black Friday" cut price offers raises a great many questions about the nature of our society.

They are questions about community, decency, ethics, morality, the loss of essential disciplines and greed.

My big question, however, is how do I get that bloke's blood stains off my new TV?

Thursday 28 November 2013

Thanksgiving And Feeding The Future

In the debating about the future of our own nation or any nation there are realities that are often or completely ignored.  Along with this is the unwillingness to look at history and related demographics to understand what we could be in for.

One simple proposition is that humanity needs food and water both to survive and to support activity and growth.  In much of the West the present riches of supply and choice and ease of getting food has meant most of us have forgotten hunger or the impact of food costs leaving little disposable income.

This might be about to change. If it does a lot of other things will change and not for the better.  In today's Telegraph Ambrose  Evans-Pritchard tells us that we are in danger of declining crop yields at a time when populations continue to increase steadily.

The article cites past civilisations that have collapsed where there is a case for crop failure arising not just from population pressure or climate but soil and resource degradation as well.  These three horsemen of an apocalypse inevitably are joined by a fourth of human failings and short sightedness.

In all the debates on migration we are long on theory and very short on demographics or history. If food supply reduction is uneven then some peoples will suffer more than others.  If their populations increase then this may mean migration.  If the food deficit is serious this could be substantial.  Then there are the basic figures.

One nation, a former British colony, has a population of over 80 million.  Sixty years ago it was eight million.  There has been little inward migration.  It is possible for the outward migration to have fallen in proportion but to have increased substantially in actual numbers. World wide there is the potential for major rises in population movement.  

If food scarcity and cost is a major factor then the trend will be from those with relatively worsening situations towards those nations which do have food or the economic power to buy it from their earnings.

An implication of the research is that the favoured countries may diminish sharply both in numbers and capability as the stresses spread from the badly affected areas to the others along with the movement of peoples.  If the grain producers themselves encounter problems any crisis will escalate rapidly. 

In the UK now we have had over half a century of good food availability at reduced costs.  It has been a major factor in our modern consumption economy.  In the next decade or two this could begin to change rapidly for a variety of reasons.  It could happen to the USA as well and other nations once blessed with a good surplus.

There was a time when Thanksgiving was for the fact that there was food on the plate.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Scotland The Beggared

An RBS bank man offers you a personal financial product in a thick tome of wordy print urging you to sign now while it is available, the chance of a lifetime.  He will explain the fine print later and deal with key questions, matters and problems as they arise.

On the information we have now the best action to take would be to start running and don't stop until you have put a long distance behind you, the longer the better.  The trouble is where do you run to?  The Co-op?  HSBC? Barclays?  HalifaxBoS?  Lloyds?  And so on and so on.

If you are looking for a long term sound investment or a pension you are wasting your money.  You might even be better off doing the lotteries or even buying Government Premium Bonds.  If you are in a small or growing business there is a good chance you will be bankrupted and asset stripped.  If you very lucky you might just about survive financially, but be all the poorer.

When it comes to the business of government and "business" is the operative word; down south at Westminster Her Majesty's Government has put out a 50,000 page bill to be forced into law to create the HS2 Rail project with only a couple of months for consultation.  The detail is such that it amounts to all the local planning considerations as well as the central legal aspects.

This represents a government system which is not democratic and is Authoritarianism (see Wikipedia definition) writ large.  In the UK is arises from what is known as sofa government coupled to a civil service that is not a service and a range of agencies that are not agents but authoritarian delivery systems.

If you add to that the imbroglio of all the commitments made, concessions to other states and the surrender of the basic elements of sovereignty then Westminster cannot be trusted.  Given that the UK political class is enmeshed and bound by certain major financial interests the effect is that what London wants it gets and to hell with the rest of them.  The way out in Scotland is being offered as "Independence" the media image being that of a squalid power conflict between land grabbing elites 700 years ago.

Looking at who they are and more to the point who they are linked to the Scottish National Party are not a bunch of people one would put into power in an independent state.  They are not the worst, the Scottish Labour Party beat them to that title.  The Liberal Democrats are not in sight, in any case they are neither Liberal nor Democratic.                                                   
The Scottish Conservative Party is lost in the mists of time.  It might have been an option when it was a party of the lairds and businessmen but most of them are now effectively located in tax havens and economically active anywhere but Scotland. 

Then there are the Green's.  If the SNP is basically looking for a sort of East Germany with a rich financial elite and the SLP a sort of Romania with the same, then the Greens are Bulgaria with the model of communist Plovdiv in mind.

None the less what about the Independence?  First, as a former National Serviceman,  Defence of the Realm (Scotland), means there might be a toy town army with less available for active service than on a rough Saturday night in Greenock.

With a very long coast line compared to land the Maritime part apparently will be a UK operation, perhaps because of the expense.  As for air, this will turn out to be basically transports for politicians and cronies and money launderers.

The currency will be the pound (how high risk can you get?), with of course, the Bank of England being the Lender of the Last Resort, that is in charge of the money and having the whip hand on Scottish Banking.  The BoE you will recall was created by a Scot to bail out the defaults of a Scottish monarch with London money. 

This was the same Scot that later dreamed up the Darien Scheme which ruined the upper and middle classes of Scotland making the Union of 1707 the only option other than the total collapse of both the Scottish economy and its social structure.

Another famous monetary Scot in the period was John Law, a finance man full of great wheezes and financial products.  Needing to make himself scarce from Scotland and England he went over to France where he bankrupted the French.  It is suggested that the legacy of that was one of the reasons for the French Revolution rather later.

At one stage the SNP envisaged Edinburgh as another Celtic Tiger to follow the example of Dublin.  With an RBS man still in charge there is still the hankering to make Scotland a tax haven, if in the EU another Luxembourg.  It does need to be said that this means you more or less relieve the rich and their associates from the need to pay any taxes, as in London.

There will be membership of all the usual organisations with their never ending circuses of meetings where leaders of states spend most of their time trying to defraud one another and largely succeeding.  This is one explanation of all the financial crashes. 

In particular there is the European Union.  Putting aside the issue of whether Scotland might be forced into the Euro block as the price of joining this means surrendering not just sovereignty  but handing over legislative power to Brussels.  How this squares with all the airy promises of Scots being able to mind their own business is difficult to understand.

Then there is migration.  Promises are made as to who might become citizens but I suspect they, along with many other things, will not be honoured.  But does the SNP really intend to operate what could amount to an open border system?  If it does have all those social security benefits and promises then it will soon find that Scotland will not be for the Scots any more that London any longer is for the Londoners.  If the rump UK has a different policy what then?

Given the catastrophic waste and failures of the Westminster machine, admittedly it might look better to separate from it in a detached, but not independent state.  Which then raises the question of the oil.  But who will really control that?  The oil majors?  The Gulf rulers? The Chinese? Gazprom, or are they already on site?

Lastly, the pitch that "put us into power in a separate state and then we will let you know what the Constitution is going to be", with related police and other powers is not good enough.  The draft Constitution should be in place before any vote.

The real problem now is London and what to do about it and this affects all parts of the Atlantic Isles.  There are other and better answers to that and it is a pity that instead of looking at these we are heading in entirely the wrong direction.

With or without the HS2.

Monday 25 November 2013

Co-operation, Co-ordination And Comradeship

Once it was usual to refer to decisions made or key discussions taking place on the quiet as being by men in smoke filled rooms.  Tobacco is now out but it could be said that coke filled rooms have replaced it; I do not mean a smokeless fuel form of heating.

What is amazing about the Co-Operative Group/Bank business is the sight of leading members of The Labour Party standing there waving their arms about crying, "Nuffin to do wiv me guv!"  "I wus in the seminar wiv me mates!"  "Honest to Marx, swear on Das Kapital, I knew nuffin, heard nuffin, saw nuffin."

For my entire life and that of my parents, now only a couple of years short of a century, the Co-op was Labour and Labour was the Co-op.  My father had good cause to dislike it.  By then it had already come a long way since it's origin. 

The rapid expansion of the Co-op in many urban areas between the wars opening big shops with several counters, along with other chains, wiped out a lot of small traders, including the one that employed my father.  He lost his trade.  Also he did not like the system.  It was his view that a lot of cheap low quality stuff was being peddled with the dividend being a fiddle. 

During the war years and after when rationing and supply were problematical it was believed that to be a customer with preferential treatment you needed to be a paid up and active member of the Labour Party and in Labour controlled areas pressure was put on suppliers to favour the Co-op.

Certainly during my key time during the 60's and later where I was the Labour Party and the Co-op's were not just connected they were the same people with different hats.  This was literally true when one lady was both a leader of her local Labour Party and Chairman of the local Co-op using the millinery department in their department store as her personal hat stand.

It went beyond that because there were many senior Labour party figures at national level who maintained their local Co-op connections as part of their personal base and a key network within the Labour Party's political system at the time.  It has not changed much in recent times.

Consequently, the denial that the Co-op Group/Bank issues at present have little or nothing to do with the Labour Party strains credulity a long way past breaking point.  What is even more ridiculous are the claims that much of this is "private". 

If someone is in charge of a major outfit responsible for very important matters then absolute privacy is not an option should it in any way bear on answerability.  If top jobs are being given out and by who neither is that; nor is the matter of where their money is coming from a private matter if it is accountable.

"Crony capitalism" is not capitalism as it should be, it is a debased and destructive form of corporatism.  Socialism is not as it should be if it amounts to a small and introvert elite number both engaged in cronyism and control.

What has happened is that government's have bet the house on finance and a range of agencies and controlling bodies.  But in charge have been very many persons while claiming to be "management" in fact know little about their fief and more important do not recognise key elements.

In banking this means financial risk and the relevant complexities.  In Health it means medicine, demographics and other elements of risk.  In the defence of the realm it is something else and again other forms of risk. 

At the political level there are ministers etc. who are not expert and also involved others not necessarily expert.  What has been happening is that increasingly, almost it seems across the board, the people appointed to actually run the organisations are not expert or informed and all too often are sub-politicians with all the short termism and narrowness of vision entailed.

Never mind that so many seem to be more concerned with getting out of their skulls and the sometimes squalid details of their non-working activities rather than the jobs in hand.

Friday 22 November 2013

Tell You A Story......

A busy weekend so here is a story to tell, not entirely about football, at just under 4000 words.


It was mid afternoon.  The time for remunerated work had passed so I was busy on my thesis, the Aerodynamics of Crumpled Paper Balls In the Office Situation.  I had been working on it for a few months, and was coming to the stage of testing and verification.  With a stable financial market, luck, and a soft examiner, I could soon be a PH.D. of the University of Featherstone, the academy of learning located in a redundant Adult Education Centre in the shadow of the Featherstone Rovers Rugby League ground, where I had spent so many frozen hours reviling my fellow men.  Banking was my job, Finance Director of the Universal Transit Bank of the City of Barleyville, capital of the Arable Islands, but we won’t talk about that, I want to stay sane.

A large shadow loomed through the glass, gave one knock at the door and walked in.  I was about to shout at my Senior Executive Assistant and tell her to get this lump out when I saw who he was, and gulped.  It was Jesus Mary Joseph Ackroyd III, or Big JMJ to his friends.  He had a lot of friends; indeed everyone was his friend.  Being his enemy was a serious error of judgement. Up I leapt and made strangulated noises of welcome and pleasure and rushed to shake his hand.  He was good on body language, I was jerking more than usual, so he knew he had me cold, very cold.  When Big JMJ said “Hey” to the President, or for that matter, the Prime Minister, they said “Wow” back. 

It was not just influence, he held six key jobs in parallel in the governance of the Islands.  Minister of Defence, Chief of Police, Chief Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Head of Compliance at the Central Bank, Chairman of the Arable Islands Olympic Committee, and critically, Secretary of the Carnival Committee.  It was the fourth, third, and second I was worried about, in that order.  But we won’t talk about that either, lets just say, I was deeply concerned that it was to be another bad day at the office.

I called for a couple of real lemonades spiked with lime, and lots of ice, Big JMJ was mostly a temperance campaigner, except when we was retailing his own brand of hooch through the Customs and Excise Office, a sort of mango and pineapple Islay type Malt Whisky, at 75% alcohol, and at least six weeks old.  He smiled, and I worried.  He smiled some, I worried more, then he spoke.  “Hey, we know all about you!”  I said “Wow!”  He took a long drink, smiled once too often, and then said “Good, good!” 

This was looking ugly.  He gave me the feint.  “Hey, you were a big man.  “Uh, uh,” I replied, thinking of the Bank in Milan I was once concerned with, that went down the blackest hole in European financial history.  Then he hit me right where it hurt.  “Pontefract Collieries”, he said, very quietly, and without any emphasis, and leaned back.  How the hell did he know that?  It was a bad time and long ago.  Two and three goals a game I had been getting, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur had been wrangling over a deal, and they sold me for a deferred £500 to Wharram Percy United, who promptly went bust citing excessive transfer costs.  The big clubs had moved on, so I took up golf to network better, and ended up in that cold world of lost souls and those who dream of Never Never Lands, banking, and as an accountant, Dear God.

To let him know just how I felt, and without words that could be misinterpreted or recorded on the office audio taping system, I took out a bottle of his hooch from my desk cupboard and put a large shot into my lemonade, and I did not offer him any.  In the Arable Islands, this was as strong a message as you could get.  So what was next? I expected an invitation to launder some of his hooch money.  Potentially it was a great deal, sadly, one had to earn a crust, as well as a billion dollar pension fund for retirement at forty.  But it was also an invitation to an American Gaol as over there they had taken a dislike to some Arable Islands habits for which there was not a rational explanation.  I enjoyed my visits to Disneyland with local ladies I liked to impress, and the Miami plane was the quickest way out if there was trouble.

“No, you got it wrong,” he countered.  Obviously he was thirsty.  “I just want you to play a few games of football.”  My jaw dropped, not a good thing, as he could see the dentistry was very costly, but these things happen.  OK, everyone knew I was a fitness freak, and I could still run and the rest, as well as enjoying a few kick abouts on the beach, and the odd friendly game in the National Stadium, a bare stretch of sand behind the car dump.  In the Arable Islands, it was a good policy to enjoy the local culture.  “Just that?” I asked.  “Just that,” he said, spitting on his right hand and offering it.  I shook it, reached into the cupboard again, gave him a large shot and topped mine up.  He raised his glass, and clinked it with mine.  Then I got the real shock, he offered me one of his own brand cigars.  He really wanted something.

“We want you to help us qualify for the final rounds of the World Cup,” he said, “It’s time we had some ambition in the Arable Islands.”   “This could be tricky.”  I replied, hoping it would not offend him.  It wasn’t as though it was a criticism.  The Arable Islands had never entered before, were not even listed on the International ratings, and the last International game they had played was seven years ago, that had been abandoned when it was realised by the players that the P Diddy show from LA was being screened live on cable. Not that it mattered as the opposition had been the Pastoral Islands to the West, which had similar cultural ideas, but a lot less money. 

“Speaking as a banker,” he already knew that, I hoped, “this could be a very expensive operation.  The guys have to train full time, play a lot, travel a great deal, and then there is all the medical and physiotherapy backup.  It ain’t cheap, and failure comes to most of those in the game.  And you are up against outfits that are very, very, determined.  It’s a superb ambition, but, but, it’s too long a shot, and in money terms very high risk.”  “Good,” he said easily, “straight talk, and true, no problem, but we want to take a run at it.”  This was a relief, but the nagging thought rankled round the head, was he wanting Universal Transit to pick up the bill?  If he was then I was going to have to revive my CV, and quickly. 

He gave a soft smile, “Hey! We already have a sponsor, and an open chequebook.”  Big JMJ was a very sensitive man, I smiled and opened my arms, and waited.  “He is the main man in Ostmania, has all the oil and mineral rights, owns the Boggi Desert, all those silicon reserves and has the ear, OK, the balls of the White House.  Money no problem, we need the right men, and those guys who kick around on the beach, our squad, say you can organise.”  I was dumbfounded, this wasn’t a deal, it was a high honour, and I tried to show it.  “And the Ostmanian, he is looking for a new bank, as well as a new passport, and perhaps Universal Transit is right.”  I could not help myself drooling; this could be the answer to my dreams, and most of the Universal Transit Bank’s nightmares. 

My ex girl friends all agree that my most serious fault was to ask too many questions.  I can’t help it, when I grew up my parents forced me to watch endless quiz shows to improve my mind.  It was one of their theories, they had a lot of them.  Personally, I don’t like theories, but I had to pretend to in my job.  I had to ask Big JMJ the obvious one, “Sir,” this was real greasing, “Sir, why the Arable Islands, and not an Ostmanian team?”  Big JMJ gave a small frown, answering questions did not figure in his usual conversations.   Perhaps it was time for a trip to Miami.  “Hey!  They don’t do games on feet, only on horses.”  “Horses?”  There had not been many questions in the quiz shows about Ostmania.  “Yes, man, horses.  In that place real men ride, they leave the walking to others.  Playing some game on foot is not manly.  Also, they reckon that when the oil runs out, they will get back all the lands they lost, because guys who ride will rule.” 

“Interesting theory, but how is that going to work?”  I said.  Big JMJ was still smiling, he leaned forward and whispered, “Forage, no forage, no horses, they got the horses and the forage.”  This was getting intricate, so I just nodded.  People like their theories, so who am I to make them unhappy?  “OK, sir, I’ll work out how to go long on forage.”  He seemed happy with that.  “We do OK, we make them feel good, we all get rich, everybody is happy.”  “Except, the guys who lose, I hate to say this, but if we go places, there are going to be some unhappy people.” 

Big JMJ had spent enough time.  “You do man or you don’t, now what do you say.”  He was bigger than me, in every way, it was an offer I could not refuse.  “Yes Sir, I’ll go with it,” and lifting the glass, “Here’s to success and happiness!”  The glasses clinked, “And just a little wealth to make us all very happy!”  said Big JMJ.  “Wow”, I said.  “Hey!” he said, “You could retire at forty!”  “Wow, wow,” I said, the bastard knew everything.

According to very recent discoveries in the Archives of Spain at Simancas, the Arable Islands should have been the first of the Americas to be discovered by Christopher Columbus, but he suppressed the landfalls there in order that the first recorded might be more promising. The islands that became the Pastoral group he sailed through in the night.  The Vikings in around 900 had visited, leaving a few relics from Lindisfarne, and the Chinese expedition of the 1420’s had left some recipes chiselled in stone, but no group with any sense had stayed until Drake in the late 16th Century had marooned a number of his more insubordinate seamen. 

As they were from West Bromwich they managed to get hold of women from elsewhere, one of the great unrecognised achievements of history, and bred an early population both fiercely independent, and emotionally volatile.  These characteristics remained despite other the many and various other groups drifting in with the tides, fleeing, or arriving by default from other territories in the Caribbean.  Plantations never occurred because the original horticulture was seaweed and compost based, and the guano reserves unrealised until the late 19th Century.  Moreover, the population had difficulty with the concept of being employed.  There was no word for employer in the local patois, the term “Big fish” did for all levels of management. 

The names, Arable and Pastoral, were coined by a small party of Dissenters who had fled from Ormskirk in the 17th Century, who were given to wishful thinking, and soon reverted to the local folkways.  The Arable Islands early to declare their independence from the British Empire in 1767, unnoticed, because the Senior Clerk in the Southern Department in London put the document in the wrong box.  The Grand Remonstrance, so called, was copied at the time by a visiting Massachusetts lawyer, who took it home, where it excited a great deal of interest. 

It was only during World War II that the discrepancy was realised when a small British naval party arriving to establish a radio station were promptly interned, and Churchill nearly sent the 7th Armoured Division from the Western Desert to invade Barleyville instead of chasing the Wehrmacht Afrika Corps.  Fortunately, Field Marshal Alan Brooke was working late that night, intervened, and an agreement was made quickly to the advantage of the Arable Islands, to the fury of Herbert Morrison who was determined to use the territory as a nuclear testing ground out of spite. 

The station became private property called Radio Barleyville playing wall to wall Bing Crosby until the 1970’s when the original owner died.  Tourism never occurred, because JMJ Ackroyd II, who inherited the job of Minister of Tourism prevented it as a threat to his hooch monopoly, a policy continued by his son Big JMJ for his own reasons.  In the 1960’s a refugee from the UK’s high tax Labour Government had arrived and established offices, soon filled in the early 1970’s by his associates fleeing from the legal consequences of the Secondary Banking Crash of the period.  Since then the Arable Islands had prospered for the first time, but the Pastorals stayed dirt poor, and deeply resentful.

Big JMJ called the next day, this meant that I had arrived in the community, normally people were invited to see him and waited, and then waited some more.  “Hey! We got the medic’s and physio’s, the sponsor found them in California.”  I asked the simple question, “Sports medicine specialists?”  “No, but they are sure willing to learn fast.”  “How did you manage it?”   I was trying to think why any good set of Californians would suddenly want to up sticks and come to The Arables, it was like a Brit’ moving from Bournemouth to Bootle.  “They were available, and for the fee were minded to come.”  I pondered the minded and then by word association came to brains.  

There was a major scandal in California, a medical team that had been doing brain implants to help celebrities with their acting or media presentations was under heavy fire.  Too many of the beautiful people were being seen attending recitals of Chamber Music and enjoying marital harmony.  It was bad for business and the writs were flying.  “The sponsors got brains then?” I said.  He gave me the big laugh, he was a real mean flatterer.  “Hey, you’re a good man.”  I wasn’t worried, because someone else was paying but it was interesting.  “And we’ve got all the balls we need.”  Big JMJ was working overtime on this.  “I truly hope so, Sir, we all need balls.” I responded, taking a risk.  He laughed a lot more, “I said to the sponsor you were the right man, he’s sends his regards.”  So my neck was on the block.  Still laughing he sidled out, blowing a kiss to my secretary.  This was mean, even she was starting to be polite to me.

At the first work out on the beach the squad were unusually quiet, and almost worried, but the more I looked at them the more I wondered how much was possible.  It would be too much to say that the genes that had gone into the Arable Islands population mix had produced a super race, but for a game of football they could be quite useful if they buckled down to it.  A lot were big, active, and physically very capable, the ball skills were latent, and the outdoor life had hardened them up.  The few smaller ones, the last remnants of the early settlers, were quick, fierce, and willing to get into a scrap.  They were still shy of too much exertion. 

Then I realised, they were all down from a high.  After going into my mad dog mode, they began to take things more seriously, only for another slight problem to emerge.  Differences of opinion between groups of men in the Arable’s were normally settle by a long established tradition of major affray in which the abiding principle was “They go down in one, they stay down in one” so it was likely that a typical competitive match involving them was all to likely to end in the game being abandoned for lack of players, one way or another.

It did not look good so I passed a message to Big JMJ telling him that there was an inherent cultural difficulty, and got another back telling me to see him after Church on Sunday.  This was a test of my personal skills.  It meant I had to go to his Church.  After Big JMJ had given the sermon, married several couples who had not expected it, and indeed had never met, he turned on the fire sprinklers to make sure we were all rebaptised in his particular band of faith, and then his men took the collection.  I put a handful of large ones in, and then added a few.

It got me to him fast.  “Two things, the first is the hooch, the other is the violence.”  He stared for a time, I just stared back, furtively patting the flight tickets in my pocket.  “Uh; the hooch, what?”  he said, with a hurt tone in the voice.  “You have to take out the steroids and viagra, and a couple of other things.  One or two players found positive on the testing would bust us all.  I can’t ban it, the players can’t do without it, and it would be bad for business.” 

“This is bad, it’s a matter of taste and quality” he spat out. “Sir,” I said with a bow of the head, “the taste is old turpentine, and the distillers job will be to find other, safe, legal, ways of maintaining the great and indefinable quality.”  I hoped he wasn’t too strong on irony.  “I’ll see, uh uh and the other thing?”  “Just how the hell do I stop them fighting?”  “I’ll ring the sponsor.”  With that I was dismissed, and for the next two nights lay awake thankful I had open flight tickets.

The Ostmanian Airways transports took us by surprise, especially the airport staff.  Normally an early flight arrival meant a long wait in a narrow corridor before staff could be persuaded to leave their recreational facilities to open the doors.  The Ostmanians removed them, and then mounted their small chunky horses to charge howling and cheering through passport control and the arrival lounge.  While they were settling in the Arabalians were patronising about their exercising and horseback games knocking about a round hairy object on a dusty field. 

The opinion changed after one local tried to steal a horse and disappeared.  Next morning the Ostmanians were using his head, and the population of the Islands, including the squad, began to observe the respect they deserved.  The Chief of Police, indeed, applauded them, but Big JMJ would, he had a vested interest.  “Hey, tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” he said, he really should have become a comedian.

The truly weird thing was at the two training sessions that Big JMJ suggested I skip and the Ostmanians took over, something happened.  There was now a total discipline, scary, very scary.  If badly fouled or insulted the Arable boys would simply put their hands together, bow slightly and say in the language of the opponent “Peace be upon you, brother.” Or something from Confucius.  Not only did this throw all the teams in the qualifying group, especially in Mexico, but turned the tide in the very nasty playoff against Argentina who had struggled in the South American group.

So we won the World Cup, and a handful of mad punters who had bet on us were paraded by the Bookies in the media, no mention being made of the zillions they had won from those who backed the usual favourites at ungenerous odds.  It is a long and intricate story, and perhaps the tale would be lost in the telling.  The Final against Russia, another unfancied team, was said by all to be a wonderful feast of football.  Most of the media should have said in the spirit of the Corinthians, but they didn’t know how to spell it, so they used their own boring words from their cheap processors. 

Our win over France was lucky, a couple of early goals, one a deflection, another a defensive error, and then they fell apart, and the referee soon took a dislike to the French tradition of activist philosophy after a torrid first half.  Nobody gave us a chance against Germany, including ourselves, and the sponsor, who had booked his flight home already.  But the rain came down, the pitch was heavily sanded, so our boys were back on the beach again.  It was one way traffic.  The earlier England game in the Groups was intriguing, there was a long debate about the English defensive formation and quite why they kept running into each other, but that really is another story.  In any case it’s all in the files.

So now, aged thirty nine, I am retired from Banking, have modest but comfortable properties where I want them, and follow my own interests.  Kensington is my usual home, but my other citizenships and passports from the Arable Islands and Ostmania help me around the world.  I have taken up riding, and after exercise on Rotten Row in Hyde Park, sometimes like to ride my small chunky Ostmanian mount into Claridges or the Dorchester for lunch.  They and the traffic police are always very helpful.  There is no shortage of bountiful consultancies coming my way now that Big JMJ is Secretary General of the United Nations voted by popular acclaim, and after Ostmania had annexed the Peoples Republic of China at half time during the Final when everyone was watching the game.  Recently, I have invested in organic farming.  The Newmarket trainers of horses say that my forage is the best they can find. 

A chain of football academies gives me income and prestige, as well as the ear of most of the cabinet.  But I will not enter either into politics or owning football clubs.  The first is all about fools errands, and the second is fools gold.  The one great lesson I learned from Big JMJ was that politics only really pays if you have the draw on absolutely everyone, and I had learned long ago whilst a player for Pontefract Collieries, that honour is strictly only amongst thieves.

Thursday 21 November 2013

The Export And Import Of Health

Over in the USA the long and intricate story of Obamacare is unfolding as the realities of providing mass health services impact on the funding and costing structures.  As ever in reform and reorganisation there are winners and losers.

In health matters, however, there are not supposed to be any losers, especially in complex cases.  It appears that this is happening at an early stage in paying the bills according to the linked article in the Washington Post.

What seems to have happened is that the US Government has become at one and the same time an insurance company impacting on the insurance sector adversely and a health provider injecting administrative uncertainty and unpredictability into provision.

Add to that the software issues about who got the contract, how and did they know what they were doing.  But this has happened at a time when software engineering itself is in the process of transformation. 

It seems that the software issues in many fields are now becoming too big to deal with as this Naked Capitalism piece suggests.  It is a long post and interesting but scroll down to the last two paragraphs if you do not have the time.

Here in the UK we are having our own health care problems, mainly deteriorating health and very patchy care.  There has been a stream of people going to the US of the past and coming back with this idea or that initiative.  Given the organisation of the NHS this has led to centralisation and micro control.

The fundamental of UK health services in the long past were quite different from those of other nations which would always make attempted "transplants" difficult.  The more we try it the worse it gets.  And now we have exported some of it to the USA.

Lately we have taken to appointing people to the top of the NHS who know little about medicine or health and a lot about targets and fancy accounting.  In the present grotesque fiasco over the Co-Operative Bank and its leadership it is not being mentioned that if Labour won the 2015 election the two men concerned had been in the frame to take over the NHS.

As the US looks to the NHS and our NHS looks to the US we may be exporting to each other the worst rather than the best features of our services.  At least this would be consistent with recent government performances.

But there is a real scenario in which we all lose and it may be arriving.  If it does then we are going back to the future and it will be from a past that was very different.  I remember that past and it was not a good place to be if you were ill.

Keep taking the pills, for as long as they last.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

How Not To Travel

On the Tube the advertisements are hard to miss, one said £200 rail fares, £15 Taxi, £12 coffees and 30p to spend a penny.  Then why travel?  It was for a video conferencing internet site, a sort of Skype for business.  This is the firm powwownow offering a free level, a paying medium level and then a premium service.

Already, I have mentioned a contact needing to do international video conferences and business at our place.  It took about three hours and then we enjoyed a sociable evening before they took their laptop the few blocks home.

Yet we are being told by lobbyists and interested parties that quite fantastic sums and efforts are needed for many new runways for air travel never mind special rail lines for business men.  Just how much of that business travel is going to be there?  Already it seems to be tailing off.

The claim is then being made that tourism will grow so much.  But will it?  Will the disposable incomes of the last couple of decades be there in the future?  Also, the internet has made available images etc. of so many places.  Do I really want to make all that effort to go to Machu Pichu when it is fully online? 

And what if the world becomes a more dangerous place.  Where the tourists are is too often where the crooks, pickpockets, muggers and others are.  There are signs that some favoured areas are now becoming riskier by the year.

Lastly, there are all the information exchange and research reasons for travelling about, perhaps more local than long distance.  Even so, now I spend little time even going to the local library, never mind up to London for research. 

When we do travel by train out of peak commuter hours, often it seems that a good many are travelling only for reasons of non essential consumer spending or entertainment.  How long is this sustainable?  Moreover there seems to be an age gap with the younger much less in evidence.

In the 1950's the government were still thinking of personal travel largely in terms of the patterns of the 1920's and 30's.  The Dartford Tunnel under the Thames was only single carriageway. Since then there has seemed to be the same kind of time lag in the awareness of the future realities.

There are all the signs that transport policies are being based on patterns of the past because that is what the big companies only know which means that is really all the government knows and they all think it will go on forever as it has been.

Nothing is forever.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Forelock Tugging For Beginners

Yesterday I learned that Boris Johnson, the Kleine Kaiser of London, feels strongly that instead of griping about those with wealth, how they extracted it from us and the tax they pay or mostly do not pay we should be grateful to them for living among us, ruling our lives, spending part of their loot on services to them giving jobs and be humble in our thanks.

We have been here before historically, inevitably, down the millennia it has been a feature of absolutist and elite societies for those at the top to demand not just obedience, deference, respect and taxes, but gratitude as well.  In the last century we have all those archive films of vicious and gruesome rulers being cheered by happy underlings weeping for joy at their servility.

In the UK it was not quite as bad but it was a feature of the past that the landowning lords and lairds might expect that their tenants and their labourers should be filled with gratitude for the generosity and consideration of their social superiors. At local level this could be extended to those higher up who tended to ape the attitudes of their superiors.

In some cases it went beyond documents or advertisements in the local press or related obsequious articles and took physical shape, sometimes large scale.  A choice example is the Percy Monument  in Northumberland.  It is not just bowing and scraping, Boris Johnson style you peasants, it is giving hard earned cash to prove your worth as an inferior.

The essential issue is globalisation and how it is going to impact where and how.  There is a strong case made in "Time" that it has just started (hat tip family) and despite bumps along the road has a long way to go.  The difficulty is that this seems to entail ever increasing expansion and a pace of change for the larger.

In the 21st Century something we have lost sight of is the idea of sustainability.  During the last decade of the 20th century we heard a great deal about just how much further the human race could push its demands on resources and exploit the planet.  The concerns expressed then still have their force however they might go against the grain of human greed now more evident than ever.

It is not sustainable to have an economy dependent on a large financial services sector which commands the bulk of its wealth and dictates overall activity.  For many places notably those with large urban populations it is not sustainable to maintain rapidly increasing population growth.  It is not sustainable to have increasing and unbridgeable divisions in a society associated with extremes of wealth.

So why should I, or anyone else in the Atlantic Isles, be grateful for what is happening in London and to those who are worsening the situation by the year?

Monday 18 November 2013

Dreams And Nightmares

It is a pity that there is not a Nobel Prize or an equivalent for the most blundering and unwise political programmes.  That is those that not just fail to achieve the stated objectives but inflict serial operational and financial disaster on the sectors affected.

Lately, and in the last decade there has have been no shortage of contenders in the West.  Some of the shambles have seemed surreal.  So when an article popped up in the inbox about a "Pink Dream" it seemed that an internet glitch had mixed up serious economics with other things entirely.  But the Mises article in question was all too serious.

It is one of a run of interesting articles on doomster lines recently, one about the Skyscraper indicator of economic risk taking, another on the 1923 German inflation, arguing that it was the German politicians who were ultimately responsible and another about Obamacare and how unintended consequences are all too predictable.

The "Pink Dream" in question is a precious stone, a diamond in the highest category and very desirable.  At its sale it achieved a price huge beyond expectations.  This is something occurring now in other sales, notably fine arts an example being the Francis Bacon works.  It is also a feature of some property markets one being London.

As the train rolled into Victoria Station a kindly father was telling his son about the Battersea Power Station works.  It seems that there will be flats and to lodge an interest you have to put down £20,000 and then expect to pay up to a million. 

Not far down the river are more huge buildings going up.  Soon The Thames will become a man made Grand Canyon of new blocks and in each the units will be far beyond the incomes of any ordinary people or even many of the middle classes.  My only hope is that the grotty old mid 19th blocks and clock tower opposite St. Thomas's Hospital at Westminster will be flattened and replaced by something big, shiny and occupied by Boris Johnson's big spenders instead of the current big expenses claimers funded by taxpayers.

If we were all becoming richer it might be one thing, but alas we are not.  It is clear that many in fact are becoming poorer and will stay poor.  For the last couple of decades there have been pensioners with disposable income, this will not last.  Also, there have been wage earners with money to spare.  This too is about to go into reverse.  Then there has been a debt fuelled consumer boom, again about to end.

So all our pink dreams may be about to become very grey nightmares.  Waking up afterwards will not be any better.

Sunday 17 November 2013

If Music Be The Food Of Networking

Wheeling out of Embankment Tube Station found all but one of the entrances to the Gardens locked shut.  Where there should have been a grassy area adorned with flower beds was a collection of very large white sheds.

When this happened last year, we assumed that it was to do with The Jubilee so might have been a "one off".  This is not the case because it seems that locations like this can be simply taken and used as large entertainment venues.

London is not a place short of places where that kind of fun or facilities can be had.  But they are not flash enough or designed enough for those with the loot.  They want their very special things. 

So the Mayor, Boris, and his friends give out their permissions for the open spaces to be taken over by temporary buildings that externally have all the charm of intensive chicken rearing and slaughtering plants.

For those who like to enjoy the not so rural charms of the Gardens, they are one of the few places in central London to relax in for a while and watch the world to by it is a loss.  More to the point is that they defeat one of intentions of them, which is to provide a location for memorials.

In this case it is Robert Burns who now looks wistfully at the huge shed that overpowers him.  His statue now overlooks not The Thames nor the Royal Festival Hall on its other bank, but a blank white wall a few feet from his nose.  It is not just that his sort would not be invited but hardly any of those patronising the venue will ever have heard of him or read a word of his work.

It is my view that one of the great "what if's" of history is what might have happened if the young Robert Burns had met and had the chance to work with Mozart.  Or failing him Joseph Hadyn.  It sounds unlikely, but the chances of life do happen and there were Scottish magnates with properties in London enough. Moreover the Ayrshire Bank was linked to Fordyce's London broking house and him to Arnold Nesbitt and his circle.

The shed will be providing those with the cash and the clout to demand the ultimate in modern splendid entertainment and at no expense spared.  Unluckily the link did not happen but put planitevents dot co dot uk Embankment 2013 into search to find it as Supernova Dream Adobe Acrobat Proposal A Winter's Dream 2013. 

Look down to see the grub and booze supplied and then to the list of the "satisfied clients" to see what is almost a roll of dishonour some of the financial institutions in our country and beyond.

Perhaps Robert Burns should have the last word to say.

A Man's A man For A That.

Friday 15 November 2013

Marx And A touch Of The Irish

If you laid all the material that has been written about Karl Marx from London to furthest Siberia it would make a six lane highway; further comment might seem superfluous.  It is likely that this may be known. If not then at last I am rewriting history.

In 1881 his neighbours in Maitland Park Road are to one side an organ builder and on the other a door keeper at the House of Lords.  Possibly, this was as near as Marx got to the working aristocracy.  The others on the street are a mix of largely lower middle class and some skilled trades. 

Earlier, in 1871 it is much the same and a couple of doors along is a retired Treasury Clerk, then a Civil Engineer in telegraphy with a War Office clerk next along.  A Proustian touch is that this last has a wife called Albertine.

So far so petit bourgeois and not the sort of people he might encounter at the Library of the British Museum or in all those academic meetings and discussion groups.  In 1861 I cannot find the Marx (Mark or Marks etc.) family but in the Grafton Terrace said to be their home street the inhabitants are much the same.

But 1851 is a different story altogether.  Dean Street in Soho was a mixed group of people with a number from Europe.  There were Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy with some of modest wealth but the bulk of the residents were working in a variety of trades at one level or another and it was quite a mixture.

Some intriguing names crop up.  At 49 is a publican, George Osborne with a pot boy son, also George.  Was this "The Golden Lion" and did he water the worker's beer?  To offset this is a Balls family, could he have been Temperance?  There is Mary Freshwater, a Lunacy Nurse to keep them all in order.  A couple of doors away from the Marx family was a Covent Garden ballet dancer, did Karl's eyes ever wander?

At 93 is a George Gissing, a shoe maker.  This brings to mind the author of the same name but born in Wakefield in 1857.  Checking up, though, and his father Thomas Gissing, also a shoemaker, was born in the same part of Suffolk as the Dean Street George.  I met the author's son, Alfred, at Les Marecottes in Switzerland in 1951. George and Alfred are in Wikipedia.

The name that did impact and this was in number 28 the same house as the Marx family (he was listed as Charles Mark), had rooms was Morgan Kavanagh.  By this time he was on his own, estranged from his wife, Bridget, born Fitzpatrick and their daughter Julia.  Morgan had an interesting varied life as a writer on unusual areas of study.  Julia was a respected authoress in her own right.

The Kavanagh name of his part of Ireland hit a nerve bringing to mind the famous Arthur Kavanagh MP who led a very full life and was contemporary with Morgan.  Any connection is not known but it might add another dimension.  But to have Morgan and his field of interests at the same time, in the same house and likely drinking in the same pub's as Marx in the period when Marx is moving away from Hegelian thought into others is striking to say the least.

Morgan's ideas, written up at length in a very individual style did not enjoy a good press and he was classed among the eccentrics according to the press reports of the period that are available.  They ran counter to the prevailing ideas of race, nationalism and basics of philosophy.  Nowadays his basic thesis that language, myths, belief systems and religions are essentially as one and relate to common very ancient periods of human development might have a wider audience.

When one looks at Marx's later thinking on religion and contingent matters arguably they might have some basis in the wordy tracts of Kavanagh.  Certainly Kavanagh's ideals of the primitivism of humanity and motivations have an echo in Marx and what he as to say about the division of capitalism and socialism.

Capitalism becomes the evil of the new and of exploitation.  Socialism is then a reversion to a better, more ordered and mutuality of man in his early form.  It is almost Kavanagh writ large and translated into the new industrialised and trading contemporary life.

What is also striking about Marx is not just that allegedly he never saw the inside of a factory, nor went down a pit or had a good look around a dockyard etc. but he seems oblivious to the nature of the lives and economies of his immediate surroundings. 

A good deal of his data came from Friedrich Engels, but that in turn is of its time, depends on the interpretation in an academic study an relates to an area which although economically important was far from typical.  Having worked through a great many Census returns of the districts in question it was a lot more complex and varied than Engels suggests.

What Marx did do was to have an enormous output and engage with many groups to whom he became a kind of prophet.  He was very busy and active and relentless in his pursuit of academic authority in his field.  Our trouble today is how much we view this minor group of activists as important as opposed to the reality.

Again, Engels did his work just at the beginning of the period when the Temperance Movement began to grow.  It was also the time when many clergy in the Anglican Church, the Catholic and very much among Non Conformist and other denominations began to exert influence and authority in making progress in social and welfare matters.

It was these groups that transformed society and not the sundry academics chattering away in their endless discussion groups largely in central London and pursuing rivalries for authority or pouring out theoretical texts on how work might be done and organised.  Our problem today is that it is largely this class who command attention and action.

Morgan Kavanagh was an expert in fantasy and myth and so much of our present governance seems to be based on that as do our ideas of society and the rest.

So it could be that basically, Karl Marx was away with the fairies and the leprechauns.