Thursday 31 July 2014

Palestine, The Hundred Years War

In the Embankment Gardens in London, below the gaze of the statue of Robert Burns, is a small First World War memorial to the officers and men of The Camel Corps.  Inscribed on it are the familiar names of current locations of war and conflict in parts of the Middle East.

In all the attention given to WW1 it is likely that little or less will be given to the triumphs and disasters of the British Army there and how or why this followed the collapse of the ancient Ottoman Empire. Our perspective is largely derived from the film Lawrence of Arabia; colourful, if inaccurate near fiction.

Britain and France had been in contention in this part of the world for a long time before 1914, almost coming to war in 1898 with The Fashoda Incident.  But then Germany arrived on the scene making an ally of Turkey and seeking to drive a railway from Berlin to Baghdad and to establish itself as a major power in the region.

In the later part of the 19th Century Russia had sought to drive out its Jewish population leading to mass migrations to western Europe and beyond.  This in turn provoked Anti-Semitism there on the one part and Zionism on the other, the belief that the Jews should return to Palestine as a warrior race.

A result of this was the Anglo-French Sykes Picot agreement during the War with the object of assisting Jews to migrate to Palestine.  In the Versailles Peace Treaty, Lloyd George to please the Bible readers in Wales and others, was proud to emerge with the British Mandate for Palestine.

But the Empire had bitten off more than it could chew.  There was no necessary agreement in Britain to all this in that there was a strong pro-Arab school of thought and it was not long before the influx of Jews, the new Israelites began to cause first tensions and then serious problems.  Not least for Britain for whom the traditional balancing and compromise was never going to work.

It took a major military presence in Palestine and some firm and unpopular government to keep any kind of peace and there was always one problem after another.  While for the officers it might be one thing but for the other ranks it was a grim posting.  It is not too much to say that a good deal of certain ethnic prejudices among the ordinary British was learned by conscripts cooped in sweaty barracks engaged on risky policing duties.

At the end of WW2 the situation became dire and a costly impossible one to resolve so the British simply decamped and left them to it in the late 1940's.  As a result of WW2 the flow of Jewish refugees became a flood and the British authorities had to contend with active terrorism when they tried to curtail it.

In 1956 in a mad bid to reassert British authority in the area and especially over the Suez Canal, Anthony Eden provoked a conflict which added to the damage and the collapse of this project is generally taken to be the point at which it came evident that Britain was no longer a major power.

We have being playing pretend games ever since this as the conflicts have rumbled on producing harsh dictatorships, various forms of terrorism, armed conflicts and all that we see now.  In the early 1970's one result was the oil price shock which happened when the Heath government had decided to spend its way out of financial difficulties.

Inflation, that had been building up for some time, took off and wreaked havoc with both the economy and politics after Wilson had replaced Heath in the 1974 election.  After two years Wilson was a spent man and replaced by Callaghan.  His government was wrecked by the inflation and in 1979 defeated by Mrs. Thatcher.

Now we are all back, more or less, where we started.  We have learned little not least because our politicians and associates do not do much history and because the media stick to stereotypes and simple spin in a highly complex part of the world.

A hundred years ago just after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the West tried to take over.  Now our power and influence has also collapsed there is no sign of any way that the problems can be resolved short of a series of bloodbaths and disasters.

The economic and political effects of this, the consequences of history will be felt by all and whether the fall out in our own urban areas with its varied populations from among the warring groups will become violent we do not know.  Nor will we know what to do or why.

Are we at the beginning of not just a new phase but a new and different Hundred Years War?

Monday 28 July 2014

The Dream Walkers

My driver training was done by a relative, a doctor who taught me by means of taking him on his rounds.  At one time he had been officer commanding a transport unit on the North West Frontier of the then British India.  Literally, up The Khyber.

He taught me many useful techniques, such as how to drive without braking and avoidance methods little known on British roads at the time.  One of his mantra's, literally, was that you never knew where the so and so's were coming from.  Vigilance of the highest order was needed.

Once, this might mean children dashing out into the road, or people running for a 'bus and not looking and similar kinds of risk.  Adults who thought they had judged the traffic correctly, but hadn't and resented having to jump were a nuisance as well as the old people for whom motor cars were an unwanted modern invention.

In the last decade I have had to learn how to cope with people who suddenly lurch out of nowhere or the crowd , are dressed usually in dark clothing and who are oblivious to everything except a small object in their hand.

These are not pieces that demand religious veneration.  They are more than that.  They are the person's identities, family, mind and world and these objects demand full obeisance and attention at all times.

Recently, despite low mileage and careful old fashioned driving I have had too many near misses for comfort.  There is that grim feeling that soon there will be someone who literally walks under the car they do not see or hear.

This link from family from The Meta Picture sets out other effects of the Phone Syndrome in how a restaurant now does it business.  Although almost amusing in its way it is too near reality for comfort.  This is how it is.  My reaction is that there are costs and in the case of this restaurant they could be heavy by sharply reducing turnover.

Harry Mount in today's Telegraph complains that mobile phones have destroyed the joy of train travel.  I suspect he is not talking about our local trains but rather better ones.  It could once be relaxing he argues, but is now a misery because of the yelping and shrieking on the phones.

Even walking down an ordinary street can be a hazard, dodging in and out between the glass eyed zombies locked onto their phones.  What amazes me are the reports of people in high ticket seats for performances who cannot go minutes without their phone checks utterly regardless of the artistes or other members of the audience.

On the BBC there has been a series of three programmes on marketing in the last few decades and the way consumers and in particular children have been targeted in what amounts to brain washing.

Perhaps The Phone Syndrome is the last phase of this.  Because most of humanity will soon have no brains left.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Gunning For Trouble

In the past it has been argued that a long hot sticky spell can be a contributory factor when riots break out on the streets.

With some local police forces already suggesting that they cannot cope with the weekly Saturday night fever on British streets what riots may break out where, when, why, who by and what for?

Another area where indiscipline is rife is in the City of London, where it is not so much riots  as extensive rigging of the financial markets that we are told are the heart of the services to the world we give and a vital part of our new economy.

Such problems are not confined to London but are around the world.  The current Energy War going on in the Ukraine between the EU and its occasional ally, the USA and Russia is one which is turning financial with unpredictable consequences.

Russia has upped its key interest rate to 8%, at a time when those in the West are suppressed to near zero or even minus in real terms.  It is to combat gathering inflation in Russia and to seek to protect itself from any adverse effects arising from sanctions imposed by the EU and USA.  But there are other things going on which can impact on The City and Wall Street.

This could well have wider effects in the banking sector.  Frances Coppola in "Forbes" has written that "The EU Should Be Aware of Russian Interest In Balkan Banks".  This is murky money business in the bandit country part of Europe's financial sector linked to London.  Who knows what could or might happen or be triggered?

One story in the newspapers is of the discovery of a letter in the papers of part of the family of Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary 1906 to 1916, very recently.

It appears that King George V, thought to have remained apart from and neutral in the Balkan Crisis of 1914, demanded of the Foreign Secretary that if a cause to declare War on Germany could not be determined then an excuse must be found because of the German threat to Britain.

Grey's later remark when the First World War broke out in 1914 about the lights going out all over Europe never to be lit again in our lifetime is the one thing for which he is remembered.

And he wasn't talking about Energy supplies.

Friday 25 July 2014

Switching Votes And Policies

The mail today had the July Newsletter from Scotland's People, the internet service for the study of genealogy and family history.  This time, though, rather than in the Inbox it was sent to Junk with a warning.  This was "Be careful!  This sender has failed our fraud detection checks."

It is easy to understand why.  The amount of specious clatter, nonsense and wishful thinking, apart from the routine deceits over the coming Referendum may well lead to the view that all material on the subject might have the same warning.

From Westminster this morning we are told that the Coalition Five Year Plan for the economy had reached its targets for which we must thank the wisdom of Osborne firm comrade and loyal ally of our Great Leader Cameron.

All we are missing are the organised crowds of weeping joyful and happy workers, or given the real figures, non workers, parading past Conservative Central Office with our Leader and his team waving and smiling from the balcony.  Clegg and any Lib Dem's will be airbrushed out of the pictures.

Alas, we live in a globalised, networked and very interconnected world in which we are but minor entities with limited or scant influence on what does happen and even less on what will happen.  One thing is certain and that is energy is crucial and that means oil and gas.

The pricing and supply of oil is a major interest to the site Our Finite World and this long and serious article on world oil production sets out what seems to be the latest possibilities in this complex and intricate area of study.  Anyone making predictions of any sort will need to be aware that it is easier to be wrong than right.

An attempt to analyse what is the energy situation in Scotland is made by Euan Mearns in Energy Matters in another long article trying to grapple with the detail in the ebb and flow of what passes for policy.  He is not optimistic.  He concludes:


Renewable Obligation Certificates or ROCs are the consumer paid subsidies to the renewable energy producers. In 2012, Scotland had 44% of UK wind capacity. The ROCs payable were met by the whole UK population of 63 million.

With independence it seems likely that 5.3 million Scottish consumers will have to pay the subsidies on electricity generated in Scotland.

That would imply a 5.2 fold uplift in the per capita level of subsidy payments on 2012 levels of production (63/5.3*44%). Come 2020, the energy plan calls for a 5 fold uplift in wind capacity and that would hence result in a 25 fold uplift in the per capita subsidy payments in 2020 relative to 2012.

Wikipedia suggests that the cost of a ROC in 2012 was roughly 0.5p per KWh. In essence, an independent Scotland may have to service 25 times as many ROCs as today (many more KWh of renewable power) that needs to be compared with electricity price of about 17p / KWh. Scottish electricity prices could be set to double.

The SNP have said they want the single electricity market to continue along with the single currency and you can see why. I cannot think of a single reason why English consumers would want to pay subsidies to Scottish renewable electricity producers should Scotland elect to go it alone.

This seems like a recipe for disaster and the details of this certainly need to be clarified before the vote. I don’t see any way that Scottish domestic and commercial consumers could bear such a burden and one possible unintended consequence of a yes vote might therefore be the abolition of ROCs and the collapse of the energy plan.


Anyone want a windmill, or even a wind farm, going cheap?  You will need to do your fraud check first.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Finding Your Feet

A long too hot today so a brief item from the past.  This is the way it was with or without socks.


From clogs to the dignity of boots

Tuesday September 5, 1916
The Manchester Guardian

The strong prejudice shown by even the poorest Londoners against clogs - which the high price of leather is said to be weakening - would have seemed ridiculous in the eighteenth century when clogs were worn by women of all classes.

The more refined variety of clog had a thin wooden sole, which was cut transversely in two pieces, attached to each other by a hinge. Anne Bracegirdle, the most beautiful actress of her time, wore clogs. Horace Walpole notes in one of his letters that "Mrs. Bracegirdle breakfasted with me this morning.

As she went out and wanted her clogs she turned to me and said, 'I remember at the playhouse, they used to call for Mrs Oldfield's chair, Mrs. Barry's clogs, and Mrs. Bracegirdle's pattens.'"

Pattens, which clogs have entirely superseded, consisted of a wooden sole with a large iron ring attached to the bottom for the purpose of raising the wearer above the wet and mud. They were fastened round the instep, and made a greater clatter than clogs. Many churches used to exhibit notices requesting worshippers to leave their pattens in the porch so as to avoid disturbing the congregation.

Even in Lancashire the wearers of clogs are becoming more fastidious. A decade ago the youths and young men of the mills and workshops wore their clogs during the evenings, and only rose to the dignity of boots at the week-end.

Now clogs are worn in at least one Lancashire town merely for work (writes a correspondent), and as soon as that is ended the workers put on their "everyday" boots as distinguished from "Sunday" boots.

Of course there are the conservative exceptions who still retain clogs for evening use, but even they have been influenced so far as to have a change, the heavy working pair giving way to a lighter make.

These latter are often works of art. The heel is high and comparatively slender, and the sole is thin, deeply curved, and finishes with a sharply pointed, upturned toe.

A rim of highly-polished brass nails fastening the uppers to the soles stands in bold contrast to the equally highly-polished black leather, upon which various designs are traced.

Further ornamentation is sometimes achieved by numerous lace-holes edged with brass and bored in a triangular group with the base lying on the instep, one pair I have seen having no fewer than 56 lace holes.

The price of this type is about seven or eight shillings. Those who indulge in this gaudy footwear invariably keep it as bright as new, bestowing particular pains on the brasswork.


Time to put the feet up.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

All In Day's Work

Two items in two different news sources caught the eye.  One was that the Home Office has blown £350 million on computer systems that are not good enough and causing major problems in key areas of its work. 
The other is that in Wales there is a proposal to create a university specifically for software study with graduation after two years of intensive study.  This is because despite the huge increase in university education we are critically short of the relevant skills in this field.

For some time now we have had parts of the work force regarded as crucial to the whole with a central importance to not simply the economy but of the whole way of life.  Once it was coal, "at the coal face" was a popular way of describing real work for a real world.

Now we are less sure and tend to regard certain public services as having that role.  But the world and so much of what is in it now depends on the functioning and capability of computer systems one way or another that in the 21st Century we have another work category that has that role.

At one time the idea that software engineers and their allied trades might be the crucial sector in our new joined up, well some of the time, world and much of any significance that goes on in it would have risible or even mad not so long ago.

Even now how many people grasp the centrality of the work of such people in their lives and in how so much of both ordinary life and economic and other life has become dependent on the geeks and keyboard tappers in the cubicles?

Take one activity, the business of governing the country.  The functions of the Home Office bear on very many parts of our life.  If their systems are not good enough and create problems in the work of the Department and it fulfilling its duties then all its work will be unreliable and faulty.  That is bad, weak and unreliable administration. 

But what the admin' does ought to be determined by policy and management.  If that admin' and the relevant organisation is flawed then all that goes wrong becomes political.  So we have Ministers and their opposition railing on about what should be done and why when essentially they are baying at the moon.

We will have Prime Ministers and all others with ambitions claiming they will do this and that, are in control, will ensure that this or the other happens and all will be well when there is little hope of this.  They are talking nonsense because they cannot and are so ignorant of the technical side have little or no hope of making any impact on issues at all.

How many people are there among our rulers, their leading civil servants and managers, in the main media and at the head of organisations and the rest who really know how to make computer systems work as they should and what can and cannot be done?

Few part of the main media have paid much attention to the huge costs and implications of all the failures and faults in so many of the computer systems of the elements of our government over the last three or four decades.

It is getting no better.  Moreover, if we have fallen badly behind in this area of work we will be dependent on others.  One place ready and willing and with the people is Bangalore in Mysore, the Silicon Valley of India, already used by some UK companies.

Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore, see Wikipedia, will at last have his revenge.

Monday 21 July 2014

Money May Not Go Round

In the run up to the vote on Scottish Independence the respective parties are trying out bid each other in how much the money will be in the pocket and what it will buy.  Added to these are other vague notions and promises of the future, allegedly economic, but remote from the realities of political economy.

Neither seem willing to admit that the world has changed in the last decade and with it political economies, financial systems and what governments may or may not be able to do. Given the inadequate and misleading data available and wishful thinking what they are promising is to predict the unpredictable, deliver things they do not have and are unlikely to have and prosperity for all when in reality it could well be only for the select few.

One attempt to correct this is a long and closely written article by James Stafford in Open Democracy.  It deals with not what might happen so much as trying to show where we are at present.  This entails an awareness not just of the latest but the history of fiscal, financial and monetary disruptions of the past and their impact on the political structures we have inherited.

He argues that the reality of the financial economics and current basis of economic power in the world is not so much ignored but neither understood nor taken into account in the public debate.  Our leaders are naive and ignorant of how much has changed and will continue to change.

While the disaggregation of the old nation states and their merging into large quasi imperial groupings may seem to be a given, it comes with heavy costs for the lower income groups.  Also, those at the head of those large groups, such as the EU, will not be capable of dealing with the real sources of power or have a functioning political economy to deal with crises.

Saturday 19 July 2014

UK Response Over Flight MH17

As the crisis in the Ukraine has unfolded, I have been wary of too much comment.  Mindful of the complex history of Eastern Europe for over a millennia this means not only being careful about applying recent ideas to the issues but avoiding either simplistic judgements or involvement.

The Russian stance on the atrocity of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 and subsequent behaviour and attitudes has forced a change of mind.  It has been disgusting, disturbing and questions the whole approach of Russia to other peoples.   

As for Germany, it seems that Chancellor Frau Merkel's new best friend has shown the colour of his stripes and with German energy supplies dependent on Gazprom is in two minds or perhaps more.

In the meantime, not only is Moscow obstructing neutral investigation and careful treatment of wreckage but her best friends agents and followers are stripping and defiling the remains of their victims with the assent of the Kremlin.

What should we do?  Here are some options.

Withdraw diplomatic privileges from the Russian Ambassador and Embassy.

Expel the Russian oligarchs from London and confiscate their properties to pay for some of the consequences.

Freeze other Russian assets and force sales of any major holdings in British companies.

Cancel the Maryinski visit to the Royal Opera House as an affront to decency in the circumstances.  Also tell Valerie Ghergiev to go home and stand down from the Proms.

Ban all Russian flights to the UK.

Remind the Germans of what happened in Berlin in the spring and summer of 1945.

At least would show our government has a little understanding of basic morality.

Friday 18 July 2014

Just Blew In From The Windy City

A long hot day, too much to do and with little inclination to do it and interruptions, where politeness and patience is needed. So rather than make a misjudged hasty comment on present events this is restricted to something more technical.

This article today in the Telegraph by James Kirkup is not just another about the government reshuffle and the dumping of Michael Gove it's thrust is how politics have changed in the last decade or so and how the coming election might be very different from those before.

We are joining the 21st Century and it is not the same.

This is a sample:

"And this is where the next big change in political operations beckons, a change that offers the difference between trying to forecast the English weather by holding a licked finger to the wind while looking at the horizon, and American hurricane watchers using a network of GPS satellites to track anticyclonic activity patterns over the South Atlantic.

The 2012 US presidential election campaign was fought using data, almost unimaginable amounts of it, about voters: their finances, families, beliefs, even their television-watching habits and Facebook friends.

President Barack Obama’s successful re‑election campaign built a computer system, named Narwhal [after the tusked whale], that assembled more than 50 terabytes of data on voters. Printing that on paper would mean cutting down 2.5 million trees."


Quite what will happen and whether these changes do have salient effect we shall have to see.  But as a dedicated hurricane watcher since the day I took to the net, at least I understand what he is trying to say.  The picture above is of Doris Day in "Calamity Jane" explaining the rapidity of social change in Chicago to the inhabitants of Deadwood in the wildest of the West around 150 years ago.

Blow the wind southerly......

Thursday 17 July 2014

Have Portable Will Travel

The news that in the highest echelons of the Government of Germany there is the suggestion of a reversion to manual typewriters for ultra sensitive documents because of American spying caused a lurch into the memory banks near to the random frontal lobe, tell you a story......

Smiley's Hardware

It appeared to be a busy day at The Circus, all at their work stations fully engaged.  In truth most were either reading blogs or looking at pictures on screen that were more interesting but had nothing to do with their duties.

Too many were engaged in online betting and more were trying to sort out their complicated lives, either making or breaking relationships to reach some ideal never to be found.  The overriding sound was the hum of fans and clicking of mice and keyboards.

The main door opened and heads turned.  An old man, gingerly using a stick to favour a bad knee slowly moved through the room.  Dressed in a black overcoat and wearing a bowler hat, suit and tie at first many thought he was a ghost.

Then the voice of old man Guilliam, tucked away in a corner where he could be less of a nuisance and spin out time to maximum pension entitlement, piped up.  "Good god almighty, George!  What on earth are you doing here?"

The old man turned, gave a soft wry smile and replied,  "You must be the last man standing, how good to see you again.  Glad you got out of that bad scrape in '89."  "How did you know, George?"  "I saw a fleeting image of you on the box, you were only supposed to be liaising, not urging them on to knock the wall down.  Now they are running Europe and you are headed for the same knackers yard as I inhabit."

George Smiley waved a gloved hand, the arthritis was playing up, and went through the door into the Chief's office.  In there already was an assembly of the good and great.  After the data fiasco and the consequences the air was thick with plots and counter plots.

It was four hours later when the Minister, young Lacon, emerged.  He was brusque and brutal.  "There are to be radical changes, the Chief is taking early retirement to go into investment banking and his team will go with him."  All, or almost all stopped to listen apart from those on the 6.45 at Pontefract.

Lacon continued.  "A former Chief, distanced from all this, George Smiley, is to return with a handpicked team to oversee the transition and ensure the tightest security possible.  You are to go home now and have a long weekend to return on Tuesday; good evening."

On that morning, the workers of The Circus were corralled into the basement for full security checks.  Their phones and gadgets removed and then taken up to The Office.  On the desks were strange machines sitting quietly, no screens but with large ungainly keyboards and not connected to the mains and without batteries.

George was perched on a four wheeled walking frame; the knee was worse, it had been given more to do and beside him were other quite old people.  He waved a disarming hand.

"These are manual typewriters rescued from an old stores.  They are to be used for all communications in future.  Special delivery arrangements using young interns, hitherto referred to as office boys, regardless of gender, have been made to avoid the internet at all costs.  Connie here will tell you how to use them."

He paused in the way men do before giving the bad news.  "All copies will be individually numbered and carbon copies limited to no more than two per document.  There are to be photocopiers of an early electro magnetic type but use of these will be personally supervised by special staff who will record manually all communications in a ledger for that purpose."

Another pause, "All files will be manilla folders.  On an inside sheet will be recorded all items in the file.  All will have the security classification clearly marked.  All pages in all documents will be numbered.  All distribution will be clearly stated.  All will be kept in steel locked boxes called filing cabinets and checked and cross checked daily.  No files will be allowed out of the room unless there is supervision and security checks.  All outgoing and incoming items will be checked by a senior officer."  He looked at the lady.

Connie saw the shock but did not worry.  They had been careless and had to pay the price.  "So, dearies, I will teach you how to operate the typewriters, use carbon inserts for copies, lay out text and amend errors.  A basic rule is that any obvious grammatical error or more than two amendments means retyping the page.  I'm sorry but not sorry, the party is over for you and it is back to real work."

A complaining voice came from the middle of the group, "But all this will take all day, what about our usual contacts and searches which are important to us."  Connie gave a hoot and George a chuckle.  She replied, "That's the way it is and the way it was.  No social media.  No indiscriminate searching.  No easy contacts.  Now it is tradecraft, attention to detail and absolute control of everything we do."

There was an unquiet silence.  "Was that Harman?" asked George who did not wait for a reply.  "You have a best friend on Facebook, I believe, Phillipa of Weybridge?"  Harman simply stared.  George went on, "Oh, and Cooper, you also have one called Odile in Manchester and Balls, yours is Sandy in Glasgow."

The silence became more unquiet.  "Strange," said George, "They are all the same person, it is someone called Cookie who lives in a condominium in Maryland and freelances for the CIA.  They seem to know a lot we are not happy about."  He let it sink in.  "Once we liked to help our so-called friends over there but now we need to be more careful, especially where contracts and trading are concerned."

They realised that George might be old and shaky but the cold in his eyes told them that life had changed and there was nowhere for them to go.  He knew everything.  They knew he knew everything and he had wanted them to know.

George went back into the Chief's Office and left them with Connie, "Hello children," she said, "Now you are going to be taught how to work in security.  Peter Guilliam will be in charge of the lot and able to hire and fire at will, so do not annoy him.  Some of you already have in the past.  Anyone fired goes without references or help looking for other work."

The workers went to their designated seats and waited for their orders.  Connie began, "Pick up two pieces of paper and insert between them a sheet of the carbon paper in a way that allows a copy to be made.  Then I will demonstrate how to put them in between the rollers properly to enable correct typing to begin."

It was not going to be a long day, but a long month and a very long year.

Etc, etc.

I still have my old Imperial Good Companion portable and carbon paper, could there be a job in security for me?

Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Defence Of The Realm

About all the talk of the UK role in the world, influence, punching above our weight and possibly below the belt as well; here is the revised version of an old song. 

The picture is of The Wreck of the Birkenhead, marked in verse as well as art.

We don't want to fight.
But By Jingo if we do!
We've lost the ships,
We've lost the men,
We've lost the money too!

Apologies are no long necessary.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

All Change And No Change

The main thing about the Cabinet and Government "reshuffle" is that it does not really matter much in the great scheme of things.  It is thirty or so years ago now since the TV series "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" taught us that whatever we thought our governments did not govern.

In the last couple of centuries many Ministers have come and gone and quite a proportion have not done much governing.  In the days when the propertied classes dominated for the most part they were expected to preside.  There have been many exceptions but a lot of those are not thought well of.

Essentially, our "Prime" minister, David Cameron is not a chancer as some suggest, he is a gambler.  Chancers may have an even chance, or if lucky, win more often than they lost.  Gamblers normally lose and Cameron's rate of error and mischance puts him well into the category of gambler and loser.

A reason for Michael Gove during his tenure at Education being so unpopular with teachers is that he did try his hand at governing.  If there is one group of people who object to discipline and control it is the teachers.  By and large they detest being told what to do and how to do it.

Whether he was right or wrong or wise or foolish is something to argue about and this is a debate for others.  At least it tells the incomers to office not to try doing anything like that but stick with the usual business of acting as fixers for vested interests, spinners of media tales, cheerleaders for anything that seems popular or keeps the media happy and preparing the way for a lucrative career in consultancy and lobbying.

In any case if the experts are right and we are bound by no less than 14,000 absolute commitments, the EU, making laws on what are essentially policy matters and allowing the barmier element of the judicial body to dictate what they think the law is, then our ministers who may think of doing the odd bit of actual governing just to see what it is like may not have much or any scope for action.

In any case, what can be done in the few months before the next election is not much at best and it not just a holding operation it is yet another high rolling political gamble to win over the voters.  In effect governing has been given up apart from the occasional populist pretense.

Looking across the world and what is happening there is a lot going on which may produce crises or challenges that will test this new Cabinet and pose unwelcome choices.  There are too many unknowns and too few good omens.

Cameron, like too many of our recent leaders has scant regard for history or its lessons and the reshuffles and reshaping of Cabinets and Minister appointments in the past hopeful of turning things round is not a happy one.

For us, the risks are high, because if Cameron is again the loser it is us who will be the biggest losers, saddled with a government that cannot govern because it does not know how it, does not have time nor the wit to learn and is incapable of making decisions that are wise or sensible.

Sunday 13 July 2014

More On Modern Living

Usually, doing successive posts bearing on the same, or nearly the same subject is avoided, the two previous ones touched on how the world now works in the literal sense, up to a point.

But the Dilbert cartoon above, for today Sunday 13 July, fits all this so well, it was difficult to resist using it.

The particular matter is that without the web and the instant international contact doing this kind of thing within the time frame would  have been impossible even a decade or so ago.

Another feature of modern life is that when our sporting persons win and bring home the trophies our political leaders are all over them, showering honours and making promises of funding for this and that.

When they are not they seem to become "unpersons" in the Orwellian sense to be shunned and forgotten as soon as possible.  Given the margins between success and failure are so fine, perhaps our leaders could have something to learn?

Notably, pressing the "delete" button does not mean that things have been deleted, they are still there short of total destruction.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Press The Right Buttons

Human stupidity, often married to other faults, is one of themes of this blog.  There are simple examples, such as watching the House of Commons live, others more complicated.  Some can be related to the machines that are now ruling most of our lives.

An interesting example about the use of high powered computers with software based on the latest fashionable algorithms and formulae in the finance sector; notably the trading and speculating part of it, comes from Wired dot com.

A short, but closely written, article it suggests that while in the past dumb humans have caused financial upsets, errors and crashes, we may soon have dumb machines that will do the job for us.

This is because as the computer programmes coming through more and more mimic human behaviour, judgement and ways of responding they will incorporate not only the best and most intelligent, but some of the worst and most perverse.

So as we all put our pensions, investments and savings into the hands of the money people; it will not be the people, it will be the mathematical calculators driving market decisions in the software that we will entrusting with our futures.

As ever, the companies involved will assure us that all will be well and they will be able to handle the situations as they take the money.

I am inclined to say don't bet on it, but there are machines out there that might.

Friday 11 July 2014

Counter Arguments

When we look at the past to think about change in the world of work the it is likely the attention is limited to a small number of heavy industries employing largely men.  These were the ones who attracted the makers of documentaries and films about social strife and politics and the dignity of labour.

Recently, the BBC ran a short series on shop work, but mostly concerned with the human interest and relative quaintness of it all.  Also, the needs and nature of this work were not the same as our conventional view of the past.  What we have lost is how large this workforce was, how structured then and its place in the communities at the time.

This was brought home to me accidentally  when events caused me to have to go into a shop other than food supplies.  Shopping is high on my personal list of ten most hated pursuits.  It was a fairly large store, on two levels, with a great many products and items.  What was striking was how few staff there were and how they worked.

It was not only counter and floor staff that were missing.  In fact the few staff that were there were expected to multi-task dealing with queries, attending to customers, being cashiers at the tills and to make decisions.  In comparison with those of the past they were expected to have capabilities in most, if not all, areas of work.

Missing were whole layers of management and supervision, office staff of various kinds, and general "hands" to move things and do other jobs.  Some now the customer deals with.  These people were not only expected to be able to do all this but if my guess is correct they would not be paid much above minimum wages and be expected to work varied hours including all day Saturday and most of Sundays.

When youngsters left school at 14 and 15, across the country and in every community many would join all the shop workers at a low level.  For them this was a desirable form of work in many ways, albeit low paid for the most part and for some with a future if all went well.

Above all it both needed discipline and attention to detail.  Some of this was instilled as part of the job but mostly these were required of new workers, their schooling and parents were supposed to have taken care of that.  Counter staff were expected to have straight backs, to look people in the eye, talk coherently, be smart in appearance and to get on with the job of serving, mark that word, serve, the customer.

A consequence of this was that in some of the media and the arts, notably films, of the period, shop work and workers generally were a target for satire.  Their status as non-manual workers, the fact that they were there to oblige people and in the larger shops and stores the structured organisations requiring order and deference made them easy targets.

Few authors paid them much attention other than as a back drop.  But in the pecking order of shops those at the top in the cities might well require a Schools Certificate of new employees, even with Matriculation, that is equal to University entrance at a time when fewer than ten per cent went on to University or one of the elite colleges.

Today, employment in shop work is very different and is marked by the absence of school leavers in many places.  One reason it is said is that UK schools no longer turn out the people able or fit to do the job properly. So for large numbers a major area of work has gone. 

The lack of employment in many areas, notably retail, is one reason that governments have been pushing up the school leaving age taking out a whole sector of the population from what was once a key employment sector.  In what is left of local shops with small staffs, many now are recruited from migrants who still have some of the relevant skills.

This discussion could go on for many words yet, but there are other things to do.  We need a new bit of furniture, so I must check it out online.  Perhaps I will pick one up from a shop, but perhaps not if I can find one at the right price.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Down The Plughole

The Prime Minister and his Deputy poodle have told us all that more effort is needed because of problems with our security systems and the management of perceived risks.  Cameron, with his rare gift for oratory and insight talks of plugging holes to make it simple for us.

This is London now and I am told that this is real data in real time.  The purpose may only be to help promote a video game for all to play, "Watch Dogs", but it gives us all a chance to see what might be seen.  How many of the populations of many countries fully realise just how much is known and accessible to anyone with the kit and the wit to use it.

My own basic assumption is that it is possible that it is more or less all there open to view from the time when computing power became substantial enough and all that goes online became there to see and analyse.  It is not the basic information often that matters, it is the analysis and the quality of it.

Between then and now, depending on what date you think for the "then" there is a critical difference.  In the past a great deal of material depended on other people's reports, opinions and perceptions.  A good deal might be known or inferred from a person's own behaviour and words, but this gave scope for misunderstanding or deception.

Today, because of the range of sources it is possible to judge people on their own actions, words and other things.  Where they shop, what they buy, who they are in contact with and a wide range of social and working activity are all there to be looked at and examined.

For those who know how to, what to and are able to pull the information together we are all condemned, not just out of our own mouths but in much of the detail of our lives and activity.  A philosopher might have said a man is what he eats, but certainly you cannot escape the contents of your supermarket trolley or the contents of your freezer.  As for the wilder shores of social media and hasty mailing, never mind comments or casual contacts you are banged to rights from your own evidence.

In the recent long trial of newspaper people hacking around for stories "Private Eye" this week has a telling comment.  It seems that one of the innocent's claims that they were not aware of all that was going on was accepted by the jury.  But the person in question it is said regularly changed their Blackberries and other devices after only short periods of use.

It is a strange world we have where people routinely accept and use substantial amounts of data gained not only from the recent past but in real time and are subject to extensive coverage of their activities while in Parliament we are told that complex laws and the rest are needed for basic state security.

Our notions about privacy and being protected from enquiry in fact are very recent.  In the past privacy was very rarely an option for anyone.  So all our new technology is not just taking us into an unwanted future.

It could be restoring us to the past.  Now where did I put my glasses?

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Losing The Past

Those who follow the Dilbert cartoons will know that the world of software engineering is a strange and mysterious one where the precept "if something can go wrong it will go wrong" rules, as well as unintended consequences and the disasters implicit in complexity.

It is not just the engineers, too often their managers are little aware of exactly what they do, and sometimes why, and can entertain fanciful ideas of what is possible or worse what would be nice to have but does not make sense in terms of what is wanted.

One gross example of this occurred a few weeks ago on the Find My Past web site, one of the major subscription ancestry sites used by a great many searchers of family and people.  The managers ditched a serviceable old fashioned, relatively easy to use, search system for a flashy whizz bang complicated one that had one major fault.

This was that it became almost impossible to search the records in any way that made sense and a task that once took minutes or even seconds became hours and days and even then with little hope.

The complaints came from both ordinary people wanting a straightforward service and experienced genealogists who knew how to research from the days when it was necessary to go to the original documents.

A TV programme which makes use of this site, with others, is the BBC "Who Do You think You Are" taking a quick look at part of the family history of well known people.  The older episodes that have gone to the "Yesterday" channel on satellite are sponsored there by Find My Past.

There has been a distinct shift in interest from the older series to the newer.  One is that while the older ones allowed a major British interest with linked events of history, the newer ones are more concerned with the human interest angles matched with a far greater emphasis on diversity in the more immediate past.  One very curious story has emerged from this.

It is that Michael Parkinson, the veteran Yorkshire personality presenter and Cherie Blair, formerly Booth, a Scouser from Liverpool and long suffering spouse of Tony Blair were removed from the "possibles" because it was said the researchers could not find anything of interest relevant to the programme.

This is utter rubbish.  Given a name, a place and a date and some idea of family and status it is possible for any historian worth their salt to find something and a tale to tell about perhaps the family, the place or the historical situation they were in.  Been there done that and many times.

It may be that the budget for the programmes no longer allows for the degree or quality of research but means that they have to go for the easy options.  It may mean that they have preconceived ideas of what they want to find.  It could be that neither of them are "diverse" enough although we are all diverse if you track back a few generations.

Tantalising, though, is the thought that the research that was done turned up things that either the BBC or the subjects or both did not want to deal with.  Whatever could it be?  The   mind both boggles and runs free around all the routine possibilities.

There are people or groups you do not want to be connected to.  There are things that are very different from your sense of identity. Not least are events or occasions where you do not want to be on the "wrong" side; could Cherie have had a forebear who was one of the Yeomanry militia at the time of the "Peterloo" tragedy in 1819, see Wikipedia and others?

For Parkinson, the blunt working class Yorkshire man from Cudworth by Barnsley, my money is on someone who was perhaps exotic but may have been the gateway ancestor to a long pedigree among the upper classes, one way or another.

If they were to turn up in fashionable 18th Century society or even at the Court of King Charles II it is quite possible depending on the throw of the genetic dice.  The reason is a simple one.

We each have two parents, who each have two parents etc. etc.  Six generations back the potential total becomes sixty four in that generation, perhaps discounted for a marriage of cousins or two and then keeps doubling with marginal discounts each generation back.

This is a lot of people not confined to one place, one class, one faith or one extended family, anything can turn up as it does.  It is easy to see why either of them would prefer to avoid one part or other becoming public property.

At one time doing this was expensive and difficult, web services like Find My Past made it much easier.  But the software engineers or their managers suddenly made it difficult again.

Given that government these days is based on software and computing it is little wonder that the managers, that is the ministers, have reduced us to a State impossible either to govern or to  work out what on earth is really going on.