Monday 30 June 2014

Making Maps

Around the media a couple of maps caught the eye. One was from the Second World War, apparently taken from a German agent in South America which purported to show how the America's would be carved up in the event that the Third Reich achieved world domination.

The story was that Churchill made sure that Roosevelt was given it quickly and this played a part in the USA decision to go to war in Europe.  How far the map was real and how far it may have been a British Intelligence caper is another question.

The other map is said to be that of the ISIS Sunni groups engaged in the bitter struggles in Iraq and Syria.  This relates to the establishment of a new Caliphate of Islam and the lands to which it is entitled.  These are much the same as the lands held by Islamic forces in the early Middle Ages at the time of the greatest spread of the then Caliphate.

The great thing about a map is that it is visual, might need little explanation as to the meaning and can have a powerful effect; in the ISIS one the Balkans, a battleground of the ages, would revert to Islamic control.  Also, so would the Iberian Peninsula.  So much for the EU or Catalonian independence or for that matter all those British pensioners sunning themselves in retirement.

The idea that a fairly small number of men with extreme views could impose themselves on such a vast area in a short time seems highly unlikely in our highly globalised world, especially with all the talk of self determination, democracy, human rights and individualism.

One of the uncomfortable lessons of history is that it can, it has happened time and again and it always takes people by surprise.  But when you have weak and confused states or nations with inadequate defence arrangements or too many people willing to sell out or compromise with a dedicated enemy the there is the risk.

Just how many British did it take to establish The Raj and how big an area and with what size population did they take over?  Also, it was an area with great wealth, ancient established cultures and principalities and plenty of men at arms, albeit not united or equipped with the latest technology.

A hundred years ago, how many people would think that in Russian the Bolsheviks would be in power within four years and would go on to create The Soviet Empire?  Take The Netherlands, how big was their Empire eventually?  One could go on and one.

Then there was France.  A once major European state it had fallen into disarray and was to all intents and purposes weak.  Then came Napoleon with his armies and navies rampaging round the world.  This was short lived and soon collapsed but later French regimes went in for the Empire business in a big way.

One key factor in the overthrow of the old and the imposition or creation of the new is an elite who are detached and distant from their peoples, distrusted or even hated, weak militarily but rich in wealth yet deep in debt and who have gone soft and stupid.

Now where in the world are places like that?

Thursday 26 June 2014

Who's Sorry Now?

At Prime Minister's Apologies Time in the House of Common, Mr. Gladstone expressed his regrets for giving Mr. Jack Ripper the post of Special Adviser for Fallen Women and Morality Policy among the labouring classes.  These were subjects close to Mr. Gladstone's heart and he had learned much from his nocturnal visits to Whitechapel but now realises that this was an error of judgement.

This is not the first major apology made by the Prime Minister.  It may be recalled that he was forced to admit that sending General "Chinese" Gordon to Khartoum with an inadequate and ill prepared military force was a mistake leading to the death of the General in unhappy circumstances.  The Prime Minister admitted in failing to appreciate the differences between China and the Sudan.

The Prime Minister assured the House that the occupation of Egypt was purely temporary until Sir Evelyn Baring had restored the Khedive and nation's finances to stability and Egypt was able to pay off its debts to The City of London at a market rate of interest.  The recent crisis over the Suez Canal would be the last of its kind.  Also, Britain would have the major role in building the High Speed Cape to Cairo railway through Africa.

Similarly, in Africa after recent difficulties with the Zulu tribes the Government was on course to create a new union of the territories of southern Africa based on the principles of English law and with full adult male suffrage for all in a fully representative government of all races.

Mr. Gladstone told the House that the Married Women's Property Act giving women in marriage control over their own monies would not damage family lives or lead to marriage becoming more optional.  Press reports relating to the Prince of Wales were utterly false and not related to this matter.

Similarly, the Prime Minister was aware that the Empress of Austria would be out with The Oakley Hunt during the season  and Mr. Bay Middleton solely acted as her pilot in the field.  The Empress was purely an occasional visitor arising from her interest in rural life.  That Mr. Arthur Macan, the Joint Master and the Hunt were funded by the Whitbread Family had nothing to do with the adjustments to the beer and malt taxes.

Due to the recent financial difficulties in The City and its effects the Rupee currency of India has fallen heavily against the pound sterling.  While this is adverse for those in India paid and with pensions in rupees it has allowed more prosperity for those paid in pounds, admittedly employed by the British Government and its agencies.  The net result will be a number of adjustments allowing for much needed austerity in the Indian population at large.

Mr Auckland Colvin, who lately was most helpful to Mr. Evelyn Baring in Egypt and has now resumed duty as Treasurer of India has introduced extra taxes, including a new Income Tax to balance the books.  This has attracted criticism, especially from excitable journalists as Mr. Rudyard Kipling, but the Prime Minister was confident that all would be well soon.  Mr. Colvin is reported to be a cousin of Mr. Arthur Macan, above, but this is purely a coincidence.  As the capital and share structures of Indian Railway companies are based on sterling, the Indian Treasury will continue to draw on tax revenues to meet interest charges and guaranteed dividends in The City of London.

The attention of the Prime Minister has been drawn to reports that in his home city of Liverpool, the Everton Football Club have employed a footballer on a paid, that is professional basis.  Mr. Alex Dick was formerly with the Morton club of Scotland.  The Prime Minister asserted that both the Morton and Everton clubs were founded by persons of deep Christian faith and on Temperance principles in keeping with the true British traditions of sport.  While from time to time certain minimal expenses might be met for poorer persons this did not set a precedent.

The Prime Minister insisted that while jockeys and boxers might earn money, so far as Association Football, Rugby Football, Tennis, Athletics and other major sports key to character, honesty, fair play and integrity were concerned they would remain wholly amateur.  To assume that they would have regular pay and expenses was as ridiculous as suggesting that Members of the House of Commons would be paid or allowed large expenses.

On the subject of Ireland, the Prime Minister guaranteed the House that his personal interest would ensure that the problems would be soon resolved.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Is Your World Cup Really Necessary?

The first soccer World Cup was played in 1930, with two more before WW2 with limited numbers of entrants.  When it began again in 1950 and entrants increasing with air travel available it became bigger and more complicated.

So it began during a period of strong nationalisms and continued in the second half of the 20th Century on a national basis with the teams being substantially drawn from players in their own national leagues.

By and large the national teams were better than the individual teams in their own home leagues and the standard of football reflected this.  When watching a World Cup game you were looking at the best playing the best in general.

In the 21st Century as a result of the globalisation of football, ease of long distance travel, the impact of finance from satellite TV and major corporate sponsors, there is a very different situation.

There are particular national leagues, notably in Europe, where the clubs have substantial squads of foreign players paying top wage prices for the best players they can hire from anywhere in the world.  There has been a concentration of these players in Europe.

For the crowds and TV audiences now the best football to be seen is not an international match featuring your national team, it is a match between elite clubs from the national leagues playing either in their own league or in one of the plethora of international competitions now in existence.

It is arguable that the day of national teams playing on the basis of nationalist interests is now over and it not just secondary, but actually an intrusion on the real business and purpose of football and a costly one at that for the taxpayers. The way things are going in Brazil, if anything, seem to confirm this.

The trouble is, as ever, the politics.  There is not only FIFA and the rest installed as relics from the past there are politicians anxious to show off at prestigious international fun fests of one sort or another.  They are very happy to spend the taxpayers money on these fun bunfights.

But when a World Cup finals group match turns out to be more boring and worse football that you could see at a routine English second grade Championship match between teams with international squads it does raise the question do we need the World Cup any more?

How do we get rid of FIFA and its monopoly power?

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Life Is Becoming Complicated

Housing and property are among the main areas of concern and interest currently in politics, economics and numbers of people in all the age groups.  In the UK we are interested in our own issues and take less notice of those elsewhere.

The USA also has its problems and this article in Sober Look suggests it is not just the mortgage, sub-prime etc. private houses for sale that is the difficult issue.  This was yesterday.  Today it is the gathering problems in the rental sector.

Back in the UK a leading player in property sales, Zoopla, say that the talk of a housing "bubble" is misleading and that high prices are here to stay and could well go higher.  It cites demand and supply.

In general economic terms this means that while we are supposed to be having low inflation according to some indexes with low interest rates to match, major inflation in the property market has occurred with more to come.

Accordingly, in some western countries the cost of living is a major political issue.  If that embodies housing and connected costs this is where reality meets all the political fanciful talk aimed at winning votes, or at least not losing them.

In our present democracies housing became a major issue in keeping with the extensions to the franchises as people were promised the benefits of growing wealth and basic standards.  These have improved a great deal over time.

So for much of the 20th Century one way or another there was a strong political drive to promote and fund not just a lot more housing but much higher standards.  In the West what happened was that multiple housing became more common at the same time as individualism became a norm in lifestyle.

This needed high levels of taxation along with extensive redistribution of income.  But as the rich became less taxable avoiding it as much as possible and the richer fed on the property booms the costs became transmitted down the income levels.

As a result states became more and more dependent on the money, government and private to come up with the finance for the schemes, largely via debt induced inflation.  The money men soon had a stranglehold on policy making which will be difficult to shake off.

Given other factors in play bearing on property and the demand for it, there has to be some radical changes in some sectors of the market.  These will soon be transmitted with variable and unpredictable effects across the market as a whole.

This is not going to turn out well.  The belief that we can all profit either financially or by higher standards, promoted by both politics and finance for so long is so entrenched is untenable.  The changes entailed could be painful and difficult.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Money Talks

Howard Davies, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and Director of the London School of Economics as well as being Chairman of the old Financial Services Authority has put his head above the parapet.

The Banks That Ate The Economy is the title of the piece and he wonders if banking could become too big and too important in the economy and with what effects.

This article comes from Project Syndicate via the Tax Justice Network.  The TJN reminds us of the concept of The Resource Curse in economies in which a single area of economic activity becomes dominant.

It first put in mind the Shelley poem, "Ozymandias" in thinking of past major centres of human activity now gone.

Checking Wikipedia however on the subject saw the reference to the other poem of the same name by Horace Smith, the friend of Shelley.  His made specific reference to London, see below:

Smith's Ozymandias

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.


In London these days we sometimes wonder.  Down the decades I have seen a number of systemic collapses of one kind or another.  Only a couple of weeks ago doing what should have been routine London bookings online there was a bad crash by the provider.

A lot of people, with not so much money at stake as one of their major personal interests lost out and the provider made a humble apology that seemed to make sense.  My in house software engineer suggested that it was a little more complicated.

As every money thing these days, if you leave out some criminal elements, is done on computers and these are enmeshed with the others the scope for a "chain reaction" or "complexity failure" is immense.

This need not involve a major event, or political crisis or one of the catastrophes favoured by doomsday merchants.  As a teenager I was asked to plug a lighting cable into a power line and chose the signals cable instead creating instant radio silence adjacent to the East German border.

It might have triggered the Third World War and I was out of favour afterwards.  The Army were even happier on my demob' day than I was.

Had a couple of weeks ago the crash on the bookings site caused problems with the payments systems in the credit card company and this in turn caused that and the figures to go badly wrong, and then and then, the City of London could have collapsed.  My own imaginative ways to get round the crash could have done something.

Who knows?  Does anybody?

Friday 20 June 2014

For England Soccer Fans

According to Eleanor Roosevelt:

"Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product."

Thursday 19 June 2014

No Pain No Gain

The endless debate goes on about whether to legalise drugs presently banned or not, and if banning what to ban.

It depends on how you measure it all and the conclusions you come to.

Perhaps painkillers should be banned on the basis of this research and information gathering from around the world.

The link is not very long and easy to read.  Almost as easy as taking a couple of painkillers for that ache or pain.

The interesting implication is that the medical profession is killing more than the drug dealers.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Health Without Safety

This was written in November 2001, long before blogging.  How near it was to what happened you decide.  Seeing Andy Burnham, the Labour Health spokes person gabbling away and recalling how many people I knew who died squalid and shameful deaths during his time as Secretary of State made me look at it again.


Two years ago Local Authorities were chartering commercial freezer facilities to cope with the backlog of the deceased awaiting burial or cremation.  Part of the problem was the extra long holiday imposed for the Millennium, the more serious was the increased number of deaths arising from a widespread epidemic of influenza.

There has been a campaign this year to persuade the old and vulnerable to have their flu’ jabs in good time to reduce the risk, and this has had a measure of success.  But what if there is a particularly nasty or unexpected influenza virus about later this winter, and occurs at the same time as a longer than usual cold spell of weather?

The increase in the illness and casualty rate and the numbers needing urgent treatment may mean that in the hospitals there could be corpses in the corridors, and bed blocking on an unprecedented scale.  Along with this will be care establishments in trouble, and people dying in their beds at home waiting for the doctor or the ambulance, or a caring agency that never comes.

The spin will be probably that the casualties were old and demographics meant that an upward shift in the mortality rates was predictable statistically and only to be expected.  There may be an enquiry, but don’t bet on it.

One of the roots of the problem is the naivety of the British public in believing what they are told.  The engaging persuasiveness of the Ministry of Information propaganda films of the late 1940’s on behalf of the Attlee government on the one hand; and the bullying neurotic tantrums of Nye Bevan on the other; resulted in too many hopes being placed on a National Health Service created on the basis of a fundamental error.

A local clinic arrangement that had suited a valley in South Wales, Tredegar, which was Bevan’s own patch, was made the template of a single structure service for the whole nation, irrespective of the variety of practice, organisation, and the complex needs of the rest of the country.

As a flexible, responsive, developing service the NHS was doomed from day one.  It began as a static model from the pre-antibiotic age, when a fester could be fatal.  It was not designed to cope with the pace of research, the new drugs, new surgical techniques, methods, radical changes in the rate of survival of serious cases, and the ageing of the population.

General Practitioners in the early 1950’s complained that they were conceived of as a kind of shunter, despatching patients to what tracks were available in the local hospital.  For them the practice of medicine was organised like the railway marshalling yard, but much worse, and in ignorance of the destinations of the trains.

The rush to impose the Tredegar Model also meant the creation of unwieldy and impenetrable bureaucracies from the outset, the characteristic feature of a Labour reform or reorganisation of any kind.  It was the professionalism of the nurses and doctors, and the dedication of so many other staff and voluntary workers, that kept the show on the road.

The belief that the NHS was the best in the world, like our athletes and football teams, made us reluctant to enquire too deeply about what we were getting for our money for too long. A good deal of the governments finance available went on other things.

When you see Concorde up in the sky, tell yourself that is where the money for NHS hospitals went in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Concorde was a prestige project designed for the personal benefit of the elite; NHS hospitals were for the peasants, that telling word heard from the lips of our political and commercial masters in private so often during that age.

Governments of many hues and people came and went, only to add to the misery.  It is difficult to decide which of the many reshuffles have been the worst.  Possibly the one induced by Heath The Horrible in 1973-1974 takes the prize, inspired by the ideas on hospital organisation of John Garlick Llewellyn Poulson; but Puffer Clarke, the man who chucked it all in the air, runs him a close second.

There is awareness that all is not right in the hospitals, and the NHS is bracing itself for another upheaval.  One of the key problems is the bottlenecks in, out, and within, and this is directly related to the elimination of effective spare capacity under narrowly conceived costing procedures. 

The shambles of the Accident and Emergency arrangements and the admission systems of so many hospitals is the direct consequence of pretty paper exercises and massaging the figures to fit the sums laid down at the centre that have taken no account of the realities.

We hear about the problem of many people being sent home before their time, but there is another.  Once in, it can be extraordinarily difficult to get out.  You have to wait for the system to function, and because of the strain on the hospitals it rarely does.

How many bed-days are lost because people are sitting around waiting for a doctor to tap them on the head as they walk past to say go, or the bit of paper needed cannot be found or has not been signed by the duty wizard or whoever?  

If the basic model, and the essential constitution of the NHS has been badly flawed from the beginning how do we begin again?  Can any government inspired review ever bring round a system that cannot work?  Is it any longer possible for Britain to have health provision that matches its needs soon, and is able to keep pace with change?  Will the present NHS ever create enough operational capacity and flexibility to manage the ups and downs of demand during each day, never mind each year?

Beyond the hospitals, there is little appreciation of the disaster enfolding in the provision for the very old and sick.  New laws and regulations, uncoordinated, and brought in without thought for the long-term effects have severely reduced the provision in Residential and Nursing Homes at a time when the population in this category is rising.

This is impacting into Care in the Community now to a level when many services are at breakdown point.  A welter of restrictions arising from Health and Safety and other limitations has had all sorts of side effects.  When old Mrs. Smith falls over, wherever it is, if there is no one trained or qualified to hand to pick her up then she has to stay there until an ambulance crew arrives.

If she had a bit of a bump all too often this means that to cover themselves, the crew haul her off to the local A & E Department to help fill up the trolleys.  The assumption made in the calculations of the government that one way or another there would be enough local carers, voluntary or paid, was badly wrong, and the strains in the system are all too evident on the ground.

The extended family has long gone, the new aged had few children, and many of those are now old themselves or have been though divorce or difficulty that limit the numbers able to support their parents.  The dumping of the majority of the over fifties from the labour market has seriously impacted on the ability of most of that age group to help fund the support and provision for their parents.

It is a dreadful mess, and in one of the coming winters we will find out just how bad it is going to be.  There will be no laws or regulations, and no public authority capable of dealing with the magnitude of the crisis.  The NHS will not be able to, because it is now at the point when it cannot help itself.

So what will Mr. Blair do?  Call in the Army to build the pyres again?


Again, this was 2001, the bright dawn of our new century.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Brokering Deals For Broke Britain

It's a great deal for both of us Ma'am.  All the new apartments are already sold off plan to cash buyers.  No trouble at all; they are all prime properties, so long as neither of us mentions the drains.

Yes, we will make sure the Balmoral sale goes into your Trusts in the Caymans along with the others.  I guarantee it will not go into Mr. Salmond's Trust there.

The Pontefract Castle rebuild will be done to suit Prince Charles, although I hear he is not totally happy about being in the King Richard II suite.

Just one question, if you can help.  How much do you think Mr. Osborne will take for the National Trust?

And enjoy your retirement in Clacton.

Monday 16 June 2014

Keeping Company

There are many areas of government and its dealing with commercial and business matters that need a good hard look to see what is what as time goes on, change occurs and things are not what they used to be.

A good deal of grief and trouble in the past has occurred when a government has not been aware of, or did not recognise, or failed to address areas that needed either adjustments or significant changes.

Regulation is one of them and that it is not just a question of monitoring what is happening, it is monitoring the monitoring and continually questioning the effectiveness and reality of the legal basis and underlying assumptions or ideas.

At present on the one hand we need to encourage and not just allow entrepreneurs to be able to function and get ahead by giving them a reliable basis for work.  On the other we need to watch out for malpractice, fraud and schemes that have damaging effects.

An area which is of key interest is the matter of company registration and monitoring.  Crucially. the whole question of what the concept of Limited Liability means now in a rapidly changing structure and business world.  This is not simple and has been an area of study and debate for a long while.

Recently, doing some trawling of Companies House records was illuminating and disquieting.  There it tells me that there are now three million companies registered in the UK.  If you take out from the population those not active economically, you are left with perhaps 45 to 50 million in total.

That means one company for every fifteen or sixteen people.  Clearly Companies House can only attempt to keep up with the recording of these and on occasion take some action against the most flagrant and identified criminal few that it can catch up with.  So what are all these companies for and why?

"Private Eye" has pointed out that in the Specsavers optical group each retail outlet is a company of its own, several hundred of them.  This enables accounting and financial moves linked to off short companies that massively reduce the tax bills.

At one time the administration of this would have been impossible because of the amount of paperwork and vast numbers of clerks etc. to run.  Now with computers, off the shelf accounting and management systems and the rest it is open to even small entities to become very complex in form.

If this is done for honest and open tax avoidance or to enable an efficient separation of differing functions in a firm it is one thing.  But all too often it is now becoming something else that is less than honest and an evasion not just of taxes, but of the law and any reasonable liability or responsibility.

Translated into very large companies and organisations with multiples of companies then they can become impossible to regulate or to pursue legally or in preventing actual financial crime.

At its worst when this engages in high risk activity and speculation beyond any reasonable definition of business, investment or finance we can find the losers demanding state support and bail outs.  Limited liability means passing on the pain and the cost to the taxpayer.

So in the end those on middling or lower incomes in ordinary lives or jobs are paying to support those at the higher end who cannot be touched because of the complexity and location of their liabilities which are limited in any case.

There are other distortions as well as some activities attract finance because risk has been eliminated but other, perhaps economically better cannot raise the finance because of lower real returns.

There is no sign of the present or any future UK government going near this question because it is difficult and disrupts too many with the wrong kind of interests.  Yet sooner or later these questions will have to be faced because of the attrition of the tax base and the rising tide of malpractice.

For a future Scottish government, the question of what kind of company registration and its basis is one of the key matters that will require immediate attention, hard thinking and hard decisions.  If only because of the general tax implications and the prevention of fraud and crime.

Saturday 14 June 2014

What Price Democracy?

According to one politics commentator, who has been trying to run the figures, the UK, or what may be left of it, could be heading for a "perfect storm" in the coming election of 2015. The article is longish but readable and surveys the past.

The votes will not deliver either the government or the politics that we may really want in democratic terms.  As the article shows, this has happened all too often in the past.  This time round the implications could be worse.

In short since around 1950 the distortions between the voting and the first past the post system have sometimes delivered uncertain and even perverse results.

Additionally, after 1950 parties with substantial support, if that was widespread rather than concentrated in any area, would be left with very few seats or influence at the centre.

This has been the immediate political effect.  But there have been other effects of the imbalances in the system.  In many industrial areas dominated by Labour, their Conservative voters had little or no representation in Parliament.  In Conservative areas, their Labour voters also did not.

So in the two party "system" in the House of Commons, Labour was not in balance and nor were the Conservatives.  Worse still was the pork barrel effect in those constituencies that were marginal.  Money would be flung at them by both parties sometimes almost regardless of cost or the economic effects.

Add to this the trend to politics being dominated by limited elements of professional political agencies, media and limited access groups and you have further imbalances that remove government almost entirely from real activity or communities.

Also a political class that has dumped the old British Constitution for a set of mutually advantageous fixes to create a state where democracy does not exist in reality and government and that does not reflect the voter's wishes but those of contending corporate, agency or lobby groups.

So we have government of and by minorities, for minorities and against the wishes of any majority of the increasingly few who do vote or attempt to take an interest in politics.

Historically, this can result in a slide into disintegration, dictatorship or quasi-monarchy.

Friday 13 June 2014

1746 And All That

There are many people saying many things about the financial markets and what is in play.  The small problem is that little of it is making much sense despite the valiant efforts of all the experts to indicate that some, if only minimal, process of logic is at work.

Money And Markets today takes us back to the good times of 1746 in a post on international bond markets.  This was the time of the War of the Austrian Succession that kept Europe busy between 1740 and 1748 (see Wiki etc.).

This conflict, now rarely to be even mentioned in schools or much elsewhere, was one of the 18th Century conflicts that was a World War in effect involving action in the America's and in The East. In North America it was known as King George's War and in India it provided the impetus for the creation of the early Raj.

One of the side shows was the attempt by Prince Charles Stuart to seize the British throne in 1745 that ran out of men, money and organisation in 1746 ending in the Battle of Culloden.  The Hanoverians and their supporters held on to power with the help of Hessian troops. 

If Prince Charles had been backed by Maria Theresa of Austria instead of the shifty French he might have had more luck, or to the point, more money.  But there was still the problem that Hanover was allied to Prussia, and King Frederick The Great.

The article also mentions 1789 as another similar year.  The French Revolution is the item that usually dominates history, omitting that George Washington became the first President of the USA.  Which of these developments, if either, was a good thing is a subject for debate.

All this being so, aside from other intriguing historical avenues to follow, we could be in for some interesting times.  The Governor of the Bank of England has said that sometime soon interest rates must rise 

It has always been my view that you could not continue to depress these for too long without serious distortions arising as well as other longer term problems.

The Coalition government, in line with the USA, Europe and others do not want this to happen because it will mean that they will have to address some awkward realities that will entail unpopular decisions at unwanted times.

So what will happen when?  Might it be under way already, or will the big shifts come along in weeks, or months?  It is unlikely to be many years, the stresses building up are too strong.

Where will the markets be then?


Thursday 12 June 2014

Keeping Up Is Hard

There were two articles in parallel yesterday both bearing on the questions of Energy and the economies of the world.  They both demand concentrated reading.  The first is from Finite World that points out some of the issues involved.  The second is from Energy Matters on China.

It could be difficult to try to keep up and more so to expand the investment needed to maintain energy supplies to meet population growth and continuing economic expansion.


What the IEA has inadvertently stumbled upon is the reason why oil limits are a problem, and in fact, the reason why energy limits in general are a problem. It looks like there are plenty of resources available and plenty of ways to reduce energy use through mitigation. In fact, it becomes to impossible to finance everything that needs to be done.

An energy-providing device, or an energy-saving mitigation, requires up front payment. This payment reflects the fact that oil and other scarce resources (high priced metals, for example) need to be used in creating these devices. Oil and other scarce resources need to be used in developing new oil, gas and coal fields and power plants as well.

This puts pressure on both debt markets and on scarce resources. At some point, the use of scarce resources becomes too great, and debt needs become too high. The projects with high up-front costs are among the worst contributors.

The plan to keep adding more and more debt doesn’t work. The economy is growing too slowly. People’s salaries are not rising to match the higher costs involved. The locations where the debt is needed are not in the part of the world with adequate banking services.

It is the inability to finance all of the investment that is needed that will bring the system down. Resource scarcity will be behind the scenes, playing a role as well, but its problems will be hidden behind the problems of financing the needed energy investments.


The second full article in parallel is an intricate read about the situation in China as it is developing and is not good news.  It ends as follows:


Economic growth in China has been in lock step with coal production of roughly 10% per annum. I have for a long time been expecting coal production to lag economic growth and that this lag may subsequently become a drag.

The switch to coal imports is the first sign of this happening and when Chinese energy imports once again hit global energy prices this will create a drag on the global economy and China.


The effects will be worse and more damaging in some places rather than others.  Take your pick.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Singing For Her Supper

Harriet Harman is reported as saying that the publicly funded Arts should be inclusive etc. etc.  Her evidence for this is that at a couple of visits to venues, one the Royal Albert Hall for a BBC Prom and the other the Royal Opera House, she perceives that the audience is entirely made up of white, middle class members of the Metropolitan Elite.

Given her status and ancestry this is rich.  It is also inaccurate, removed from reality and a cheap political stunt at the easiest shots.  A decade ago some in the media made statements of this kind and wildly preaching fascism leading me to complain to both the Press Complaints Council and the BBC Trust.

It was pointed out to them that because of the ignorance, failure to examine the facts and the nature of the prejudices and discriminatory views of those media people making the remarks they had managed to be homophobic, anti semitic, racist, ageist and metropolitan media elite class biased.

A choice example of this was a TV interval item at a concert where we were and the alleged press "expert" was ranting on much as Harriet does.  Then the camera moved to the Arena of the Hall and lit on an elderly lady.  She was a Polish refugee of the Jewish faith who as a child had survived Auschwitz but lost her family there. 

The camera then moved across tourists from Asia, a group of unwilling Italian students whose tutor had them doing a culture thing and then some "horribly" white males, according to the "expert", who as it happened referred to themselves as the Pink Centre.

Of the audience, very few lived in Central London, a small number from inner suburbs, some from the outer ring but many from up to a hundred miles.  Add to that not only tourists but others down for a weekend or a few days in town and you have a very mixed bag.   

Both the RAH and the ROH are open to all.  Anyone can go online, telephone the box office or walk into the building to the box office counters and buy a ticket for whatever events are going on.  It is a matter of personal choice, no more, no less. 

In relation to these complaints I ran the figures, clearly Harriet did not bother to attempt basic arithmetic or available statistics. The BBC Proms for example are in the Royal Albert Hall which has a maximum capacity of 5272 or when restricted 3971. 

There are over 70 Proms in the two month season let alone more concerts elsewhere.  There is a considerable variety of music, sources and it is quite wide in scope.  It is world based for a world audience.  In the hall itself there is an international audience.  My calculations, based on substantial experience suggest this could come to over 250,000 different people at least with a throughput of around 25,000 in the Arena alone. 

The Royal Opera House is open around 300 times in the main house with 2268 places, with the studio Linbury theatre and other performance areas.  The productions in the main house and Linbury are almost all multiple performances meaning many different people attending.  Even allowing for those who attend on a number of occasions my informed estimate is around 400,000 a year.    

There is a degree of overlap between the RAH and the ROH, but not many because the diversity of musical interest.  So my estimate is that these two alone could have an base of at least 500,000  who attend the performances.  It could be as many as 750.000 depending on the run of the actual figures.  Beyond them are those who listen and watch.  By no stretch of the imagination is this a restricted elite given the extent of those attending and the variations in types of productions.        

Harriet also omits to mention that those who do go pay for their seats or standing positions and some are cheap and some are not. A few of the audience may be on expenses but not many.  The RAH and ROH may be subsidised but to describe them simply as "publicly funded" is remote from the truth.

What was she watching?  Why didn't she tell us?  As a politician she is far more subsidised than most of us and there was the hidden subsidy of her presence in central London.  She went once last week and so did we. 

The performances during the week were two operas and a triple ballet.  Was she there for the beheading of elitist nuns?  Or the execution of political dissidents by firing squad?  Or was it the ballet fantasy featuring Bottom, a new modern dance one based on brain function and the last a satire with a good bit of slapstick? 

Because these are works largely from the past and for what is a minority audience relative to the modern entertainment market, it does not mean that the situation is as of the past. What is more is that these are not single audiences. It is many audiences across differing types of production.  At the ROH that for "The Nutcracker" ballet is not the same as that of "The Ring" opera cycle is an example.  The matinee's bring in a range of people. 

In marketing terms it is not a simple segment, it is a complex set of groups that varies in many ways reflecting the very many and differing performance types and activities at the ROH and the RAH as well, just check out the web sites.

That persons who are considered to be or recognised as members of the political and social elites might be seen at the ROH or RAH is neither unusual nor unexpected.  Moreover they are to be found at many different events or shows, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes as a part of their duties.

There are many more of the elites to be found at football matches and live performances of popular music.  This does not make the rest of the audience an elite group any more than the presence of the Emperors of Rome and their retinues at the Circus of Rome conferred elite status on the many thousands of plebeians.

If you looking for an elite at either the ROH or the RAH then they are simple to find.  They are the performers and the supporting staff and attendants.  They are why the audiences are there and it is their quality of performance that brings them in.  They are both among the world's best venues.

There have been places were elitism is rife, in its way.  In the 1970's and 1980's the Liverpool ground at Anfield had crowds that were almost rabid in the belief of their particular elite status. This attitude has been encountered at quite a number of other sporting venues among elements of the crowds. 

At the old Cardiff Arms Park they had a very elitist view of the Welsh rugby teams.  And as for the time I played against Pontypridd, believe me, this was encountering elitism at its most physical. 

But it has not been encountered at Covent Garden or at other musical or theatrical venues.  As for  the Arena Prommers at the Royal Albert Hall having done that for a few years it is a strange form of a very temporary and floating international job lot with a high turnover.  Outside the Hall we were frankly a scruffy and plebian group.

If Harriet wants to see what an elite is really like she might try Horseguards Parade for Trooping The Colour.  As a former squaddie I would be delighted to put her through some foot drill to get the sense of it.

At least then she would know what she was talking about.

Monday 9 June 2014

Another Day Another Mess

The bankers have not gone away, they are still finding holes in their accounts and bigger holes in those of some of their customers.

Another trip to the payday lenders will be needed by those customers of Coutts who put their trust and more sadly, their money, into one of that banks wheezes.  Coutts in recent years has been one of the choicer properties of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

What my bank, the one that the government put my tax money into, I ask?  Why did it do that?  Possibly because with so many Labour members from Scotland then and in government they felt under pressure to do so.

What kind of men we might ask were running that bank in the past?  Who were the traders, the managers and the senior economists who shaped the decisions?  It is clear that they were men who offered false prospects on distorted data and perhaps were in a Celtic mist of blind optimism.

One of the fashionable areas of mathematical study allied to management and organisation is that of Game Theory.  I recall once a long time ago being acquainted with a poker school which had Game theorists pitted against neo-Keynesians all hoping for senior positions in business.  Guess who lost.

If money is all a game then according to this research, we humans might be better served in our financial needs by putting banks under the management of chimpanzees.  It is not just their skills, perhaps their morals and ethical responses may be better and more reliable.

And other things.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Life Is Full Of Surprises

This has been an astonishing week.  On Monday the doorbell rang.  Wondering whether to hide behind the settee in case it was a sales person, decided it was a little early and took a chance.

It was a man who had come to read the electric meter.  There have been visits in the past, rare, where such a man came and went away.  Afterwards nothing happened. 

The readings never made it to the supply company computer and my opinion was that they were checking to ensure that it was not covered in magnets or had some device to limit the record of use in the way recommended to me by many blokes in pubs.

After a succession of tiresome disputes in the past about direct debits, the estimates of use and the billing for a long time I have read the meter and then at one time phoned them in or recently entered them online.

Mostly this has gone well, but from time to time they have tried to slip an estimate past me, easily spotted because of the large difference, higher, in the size of the bill.

Then, only three days later in the post, came the latest bill that was due.  It was amazing, I was transfixed, to use a polite word.  It was for a figure said to be the reading and looked about right. 

Grabbing the torch I was into the meter cupboard in seconds and then staggered out in a state of deep shock.  The bill had been based on the actual reading.  It must be many years since this last happened.

Out of ordinary politeness I went online to pay the bill.  But the bank computer had thrown a hissy fit so I went back to the past, wrote a cheque and put it in the post.

I wonder if it will get there?

Saturday 7 June 2014

Durham Light Infantry

In the coverage of the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy Landings in June 1944, as well as the story of The Great Escape by one veteran from a care home denied leave to attend but who got there, this picture took my eye.

It is Ken Scott, formerly Sergeant in the Durham Light Infantry, probably the 9th Battalion. The Divisional Symbol is the Jerboa, the Desert Rat, of the 7th Armoured Division who arrived immediately after the initial landings.

It is copied above.  The other picture is of Berlin in July 1945 when the same battalion formed part of the Allied Victory Parade and were saluted by the leaders of the Allied armies.

Some of those who landed made it to Berlin.  Their long march started at El Alamein.