Wednesday 31 December 2014

Fixing The Canvas

Among the many talents I have failed to obtain, art is one of them.  Also, it was a field foreign to me for many years, but later in life wandering around old buildings and tourist locations an interest began to form, born out of an interest in history and human progress, or lack of it.

A result is an interest in the TV programmes on the subject and some reading and visiting.  It was impossible not to wander around France and some other places without picking up a good deal of information.

When TV Sky Arts One put on the programmes "Portrait Artist of the Year", it was something to watch, easy to follow and better than the options.  One can have enough of mid week lower division soccer or crash bang drama or the endless repeat of documentaries.

Broadly, the world of British art today is extensive, complicated and with many schools of activity.  There are many and various deep divisions of thinking and belief on the all the forms and variations in this field.  Necessarily any TV programme has to cut to the chase whatever the chosen area might be.

By concentrating on a limited field, portraiture and with a clear structure it was intended for a more popular audience.  Personally, I could have managed without the knockout levels and the blather that went on with it, but it was meant to catch an audience for whom this would add interest.

There are three, not distinct, groups in this field as whole.  One is those who are at the top, exhibiting in major galleries and moving their works in the market.  Second, there are those engaged in the art world as practitioners at lower levels, teachers or such as well as working on their own account.

Thirdly, there are many with talent and interest for whom art is a major part of their lives, but who need to work to live and provide the money for their interest.  In the earlier series it was my impression that it was aimed at finding major talent in the second and third groupings.

This year, 2014, however, it emerged that the winner was already represented by a major London gallery and said to have works that could be moved and for whom there was a market able to pay the price.  In other words he had "made it" and was already in favour.

Sadly, life's experience has not only given me cynicism but a habit of thought to look behind the noise for things which do not quite seem to fit and the inexplicable.  In the various rounds  I had wondered about some of the reasoning.

In the final programme where the winner then painted a famous actor as a commission for a national gallery I had the distinct impression that the presenters and judges all had been given a script to stick to.

The result of the 2014 series, in my view and purely personal opinion, was pre-determined.

If Sky want to promote the work of selected artists and send a message out to all of us would they just do programmes that do that.

Monday 29 December 2014

How We Are Governed

There is so much going on it is difficult to pick a topic that might be of general interest and add much to the amount of discussion.  Sometimes, however, there are items that tell you a great deal despite being well outside the usual arenas of debate.

What goes on and why in local government is one of them.  This is another area of government which is very different from the past.

This book review from the LSE is about local government today and what it means.  Indeed it urges that everyone should read it.   At 950 words the review is longish given that the prose is, let us say, challenging.  For example, you are invited to consider a comparative gauge on an imagined urban Richter Scale of Community Dissonance in local governmentality.

As we walk around our town, the refuse bins are overflowing with litter all over the place, the drains are blocked, the pavements where there are trees now have two or more years layers of leaves and indeed they are rarely repaired making walking a high risk activity.

The lights are going out and the rats are celebrating freedom. There are many potholes in the roads with their dangers and many trunk road foundations are collapsing.  Child welfare services seem to be about anything but welfare.  Education has become one of life's eternal mysteries.

On the larger scale it is claimed that there is a serious lack of social housing, the town centre regularly goes into traffic gridlock, public spaces unkempt and uncared and public services as whole being less accessible and more expensive.

In the A&E Ward at the local hospital at weekends there is often ugly mayhem arising from all the drunks and their associates.  The police feel unable to deal with them, irrespective of the risks.  It appears that the night time clubbing and drinking economy might be hindered according to the local council.

In the municipal buildings, however, there are teams of highly qualified staff rather than administrative departments, many on salaries exceeding the Prime Minister's.  There are paid groups of councillors in never ending meetings.

They are advised not only by appointed officers but by a horde of special advisers and outside consultants, the latter from major financial operators at great cost.  There was a time when the officers were supposed to know that they were doing.

These  are mostly considering the implications of the thousands of new regulations and directives "outputted" each year by central government, often at on the instructions of the EU and any one of the large number of international agencies.  It is probable that all this is essentially centrally directed with only local application.

A great deal of this is done not by committees with agenda's listing items for decision or action but in the many groups designated in one form or another who talk about policy, strategy, concept determination, structures, organisational meaning and imperatives and this is all centred on community cohesion.

This is what it is about and not the day to day business of providing, managing and upkeep of basic services.

Now it is neither local nor government.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Start All Over Again

For some little time now I have wondered about how far quantum physics and theoretical economics are apart or intermingled.  One reason was that the "uncertainty principle" certainly applied to economics and therefore financial markets.

It did seem to explain all the ups and downs, booms and busts, inexplicable successes and failures and all that if you were able to work out just how.

Now it is time to start again because it is claimed that quantum physics is a lot easier than it was thought to be.  So if wave particle duality is at the heart of one can it be at the heart of the other?  And how does it work in fields that appear to be splintered and in opposition?

This could take a long time to work out, first there is what entropic uncertainty relations are in this new set up.  So when political canvassers call ask them what their party position is on this subject in terms of policy on financial regulation.

You might just start something.

Thursday 25 December 2014

A Story For The Season

Noises off in the night, so perhaps it was time to check the fridge to see if anything urgently needed consuming.  In the lounge nearly fell over a large, obese man in brown overalls and working boots flat out on the floor.  "Just doing the yoga to relax" he told me.  "What...." I began.

"Seasonal deliveries" he waved a hand to a stack of well wrapped items by the window, "EU personal distribution regulations say that after a certain number of items a work break is compulsory, it just happened to be here."

"But who are you, this time of year it is Santa Claus alias Father Christmas?"  He rubbed the fashionable stubble on the chin where the beard should have been".  "Ah, as I've been caught napping, so to say, I had better tell you."

"The Santa Claus and all that is now simply a brand image retained by the conglomerate that it was merged into following a general  shake out in world distribution services.  Publicity was out because of potential adverse media coverage."

"So who are you?"  He coughed, "TDS Delivery Services".  "Who are they?"  He coughed twice, "Trident, but I am not employed, I am a self employed contractor on zero hour contract working under stipulated conditions."  "Trident?"

"When defence missile management systems were out sourced the commercial potential for subsidiary profit return activity was realised.  Financial consultants and advisers created a network by taking over various online retail and delivery systems."

"I see, what about the reindeer?"  "Most of them are in packets on cheap offer at Lidl".  "Including Rudolph?"  He hesitated, "Ah, bad business that."  I stared, "What?"  "Shot down over Stornoway by nationalist Free Presbyterians.  They thought he was canvassing for the Liberal Democrats.  The nose is now on a harbour warning buoy".

"OK", it was not going well.  "Just how did you get in?"  He hitched up his jeans, "Our associate affiliates, commercial offshoots from the CIA and GCHQ sell us the enabling technology."  "And how do you know what to give?"  "Easy, simple profiling and info searching, then goods are ordered, priced and you pay for them."

This annoyed me, "I don't shop online, I don't use credit, I don't order anything except from shops.  I keep accounts."  He smiled as though I was stupid.  "There is a shadow you, we operate the shadow.  Nobody knows but that all have shadow personages out there."

"Well, I am not going to pay a penny."  "Suit yourself, most people don't know what they are doing so we just merge the shadow into the actual.  In the awkward cases they are treated as bad debt, no problem."  "So who really pays?"

"The shadow purchasers are on shadow credit.  These are accounts with controlled banks who carry the bad debt.  This is covered by government or related financing of the banks with other credit.  This comes from Central Banks in the form of quantatitive easing or bond purchases.  Some of goes into other forms of credit and just keeps going round the system."

"This can't work."  "Yes it does, what do you think economic growth really is, or rising consumer confidence or the rest?"  I shook my head.  "Look, Santa Claus economics can't work."  He sniffed, "Well, it's my job along with others to see that it does."

"But what about all the elves and others up at the North Pole, what is happening to them?"  "Global warming, squire, they are signed up for a bottled water franchise and an experimental new floating city.  They are quite happy, EU conditions of service apply and all that."

"Must go," he said, "when this lot is done we have a contract for moving footballers around during the transfer window.  When we have worked out where to send them and who pays."

He climbed out of the window and into a large whirring drone.  There was a bright flash and a puff of smoke and he was gone.  Out of curiosity, I began to open the parcels.  Then is all became clear.

There was nothing in them.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Welcome To The Party

There is always someone at the party or table who likes to have a debate or argue about something serious.  Very often, it is a subject that everyone else prefers to avoid.

There have been one or two articles in the last few days saying that contrary to received opinion, Ebenezer Scrooge was an informed person with insights superior to others in financial matters.

Having Ebenezer's in the family history, a good old Scottish name that was once common in Ayrshire, I might be inclined to agree but then I might not.

So just to spoil the party here is an article from the Mises Institute by Ryan McMaken titled "Correcting Scrooge's Economics" that while recognising  Ebenezer's talents points out the weaknesses in his ideas on economic theory.


Tuesday 23 December 2014

Brains For Hire

We humans are becoming largely redundant and it may be that the pace of replacement is becoming faster.

This example from (e)Science News is one.  How well it works is an interesting question.

But it does not take long lunch hours in the pub and then go on to forget what needs to be done.

Monday 22 December 2014

Building Bridges

Amid talk of austerity, belt tightening, reduction, economies and the rest the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, having cried "Phwoar" at the idea of Joanna Lumley, now proposes to spend £170 million on a Garden Bridge linking the lawyers of The Temple to the leading actors of the National Theatre, a marriage that reflects our present governance.

Inevitably, that is just the starting bid.  If it is built you can be sure it will cost a great deal more.  There are one or two other minor passing issues.  For example who will pay the maintenance and upkeep and what added charges may accrue in the overall financing.

The lawyers of The Temple do not want it.  They are fussing about matters such as wrecking one of the ancient sites of London.  The National Theatre may like the idea but as its finances are being squeezed they might prefer the money to go on culture rather than horticulture.

Joanna is an attractive lady of great charm and positive ideas.  She had a lot to do with the charities for providing for the Gurkhas and their Nepalese families and the politicians buckled.  But for some who sold up their ancestral patch in Nepal for social housing in Aldershot it has not been so happy.

Quite why the Garden Bridge is her latest pet project does not matter.  What does matter is this kind of effort on the part of celebrities usually ends up with others paying a large bill to create an open ended major financial commitment.

The cable car installation, Emirates Air Line, down at Greenwich by the Millennium Dome, which came in at £60 million, courtesy of The Emirates, is not used anything like as much as was claimed likely.  Certainly, it looks nice but these days we can do without large loss makers however pretty they are.

If we are looking for bridges across the Thames that might be more useful it might be better to look at other locations away from the centre which badly need traffic relief.  There are several stretches where an ordinary new bridge could make a real difference and the traffic flows would justify it.

Perhaps, Boris should pull up his trousers and pull down the curtains on this particular performance.                                                             

Sunday 21 December 2014

Water Water Not Everywhere

A happy solstice to all and may all your troubles be able to be delegated to others, dumped, delayed indefinitely or distanced by virtue of an unforeseen computer glitch.  This may not be the case in one part of the globe.

This grim tale which is bad enough to satisfy any real Scrooge has had some attention but little coverage as a whole and without much in the way of analysis as to the potential.  But the basic story has been coming a long while and it was always the case of where it might happen and who would suffer.

This matters not only to those immediately concerned but all those who either trade or are economically involved with them.  The Wikipedia article on Sao Paulo, in particular the introductory section tells the story of the city.

It is calculated to be the 12th largest City on the planet and so a full  scale example of the urbanisation that has occurred in the last century.  It is the kind of human and economic entity that many of the world and EU leaders and in UK politics and government see as the model for all our futures.

The worst may be avoided in this case, if the rains come and/or the authorities work together to put in place the systems, reforms and investment needed to ensure water supplies.  Their basic problem is how much increase will be needed and its costs.

For many the obvious answer might be the apparently easy one of desalination.  But this is costly and while possible in some cases may not be either enough or affordable for mega cities such as Sao Paulo.  Given the rate of expansion it would command a high proportion of social investment.

Sao Paulo cannot stand still and have a pause for recovery.  If it continues to grow it is going to take major efforts to enable it to do so and beyond the experience of other places.

If it does not grow and contracts, then it depends on what sort of contraction and how it is managed.  A slow, gentle decline would be one thing, but it means decanting expansion to other places.  A fast one would be difficult to control with serious problems.

So the risk could be a major collapse.  It would be bigger, nastier and more unstable than the recent Detroit and other experiences and its influence could be greater in that it would have global effects because an urbanised entity of this extent has a world "footprint".

Whether it would trigger other such collapses is an interesting question.  There was a time when England went from being Roman, with an essentially urban structure at the centre of its economy and governance, to being a warring tribal set of local fiefs.  We call it the Dark Ages.

Certainly, there were communities with their skills and cultures that developed over the centuries following so it was not quite as dark as we once thought.  But it could be nasty, brutish and short.

Historically, there have been other collapses down the millennia in many places and for many reasons.  In some cases there was a recovery, greater or lesser but often in another form, in others it did not happen.  Prediction is not possible.

Here we go again?

Friday 19 December 2014

Power To The People

As this blog is near to being six years old and with an election coming up in May 2015, perhaps some retrospective looks at past items might be of interest.

This one comes from May 2009 under the title of Cameron And Power To The People.  The picture of John Lennon, above left was used then, but added, right,  is one of the character Wolfie in the TV Series "Citizen Smith" that ran from 1977 to 1980 that was very popular.


In 1980 David Cameron was a callow teenager hanging around with the guys at Eton, softly singing to himself “The Winner Takes It All”, the Abba hit of the year.  Doubtless, as teenagers fixated on celebrities are, he would have been affected by the tragic death of John Lennon.

John, a lower middle class and grammar school boy grew up in a nice home on Menlove Avenue in Liverpool, a large comfortable semi-detached property.  At least it was in comparison with the accommodation available to the great majority of working class people at the time.

Its inhabitants were said to be a snobby lot who had special toilet paper and not the ripped up Daily Mirrors and Sunday Pictorials we used. Life in Menlove Avenue was both warmer and better equipped than at Eton I suspect.  Inevitably, marketing considerations required The Beatles to create the myth of worker solidarity to help them become very rich and buy properties in tax havens.

John famously said that “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg”, referring to his life changing experiences in the Red Light district of that town, where so many British Soldiers had surrendered to one or other Reeperbahn Rash in the years after the war.

Hamburg originally had surrendered to a water truck driven by a Lance Corporal in 1945, but the next day repeated it to a coterie of more camera friendly troops with tanks and stuff.  But Hamburg had its revenge, because in the next decade or so the ladies of the Reeperbahn inflicted an over ninety percent casualty rate on the British troops. This information probably is still classified, so you read it here first.

When both David and John were born, a generation apart, there was still a structure and form of government system in the United Kingdom which could be understood by the general population, and a legal system that had relative clarity and purpose.  There was also coverage in national and the then extensive local press.

It began to go bad in the early 1970’s with the badly botched Heath reforms of local government and the health service.  The disruption to management and the finance of services played a part in the severe inflation of the period and inevitably led to the decades of tinkering, shuffling, and fiddle.

The commitment to the EU added to the mess, as did the creation of a raft of extra government bodies, and the never ending reorganisation of central government departments in the search for media coverage and to keep John Prescott out of mischief.

Mrs. Thatcher made an attempt to prune the Quango’s, but like vines and roses only to create the extensive growth of the last fifteen years.  We all know what Blair and Brown have done.  So we have a huge mess.

After sixty years of interest and study on government and politics, I now have no working knowledge of either the law or just who administers what to what effect, or why.

The documents I read are verbal sludge, and the intellectual structures on which law is based and decisions are made are roughly at the level of the playground of the old All Age Elementary Schools.

So David, my advice is, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.  The trouble is that if you do wish to give power to the people, they must have information, a media that is balanced, and an immediacy of access.  This is not the way the media works at present and restoring local control will be harder to achieve than you imagine.

The organisational challenge is immense, and you are not going to have either spare cash, or real growth to provide it.  Worse still, you might have a rate of inflation that has to be firmly controlled to avoid a 1970’s problem or greater.  As for the public relations, as things get difficult it may be nasty.

The pop and celebrity culture might suddenly see a market in pretending to be just very ordinary, especially if the tax man catches up with some of them and the screens will be filled with middle and lower middle class media poseurs waving their arms about demanding the return of Harriet, Jacqui, Hazel, Yvette and Caroline.

The men will not be available.  They will all be in Brussels, or Moscow, or with any luck in Walton Gaol.


Brussels it was and for Cameron read Wolfie.

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Fire Next Time

Just what money is floating around is a good question at this time of year when many people are spending money they do not have to pretend to a lifestyle that is beyond their means.

But the problem may be bigger according to this article in Zero Hedge claiming that around a couple of hundred trillion, yes trillion, dollars are knocking around the system in terms of outstanding debts of one sort or another.

The information comes from Phoenix Capital and there is a free link claiming to offer a way of avoiding it all.  Perhaps more in hope than anything.

The Phoenix is a creature in Greek Mythology who dies by fire and is then reborn out of the ashes.  There are a number of variations of the myth.  One aspect is that the time between demise and rebirth can be quite long.

So do not bet on it.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Dictum Meum Pactum

Will the Tsarist Bonds, repudiated in 1918 by the Bolshevik Soviet Government, now turn out to be a better investment than the bonds and securities issued by the present Russian government?

Anything could happen and probably will.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

The Paras Return To Iraq

Around sixty years ago, at the ungodly hour of 5.00 a.m. I was requested to get out of my stinking pit to go the Parade Ground as a matter of urgency, along with my colleagues.

We attempted to persuade the Sergeant to have a meaningful discussion about this change to our normal arrangements and to take account of our need to be treated as individuals each with his own human rights.

We were not successful, it seemed that the Duty Officer had been roused from his slumbers by an irate Commanding Officer of the battalion next door to us and our Adjutant wanted to have a not so quiet word.

A public house had been damaged in a dispute over differences of opinion between some of us and some of them.  The local police were not happy and asked them what they were up to as the most likely candidates.

However, as some of us were involved they were making the case that we had started by our insults and offensiveness.  Although I had left and signed in at the gate shortly before it all became physical there were suggestions that the origin lay in my views on logistics.

Briefly, I had advised some of them that contrary to their belief that they were superior soldiers they were actually pretty useless.  We were able to make our way about under our own steam, knew where we were going and could read a map.

They, on the other hand, had to be put into lorries with their kit, taken to an airfield and then thrown out in the air at the destination to ensure their safe arrival.  They could not be relied on to do it on foot or driving a vehicle.

They were the 2nd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment, chaps of a sensitive disposition and easily offended.  Since then I have always had an interest in what they were up to.  They seem to have a talent for being there in hot spots.

Now they are off again, back to Iraq, to do what soldiers have to do, although it is not exactly clear what that is to be, for what purpose and why we are putting men in numbers back in places that we should be avoiding, notably if cuts in Defence spending are intended never mind limiting our commitments to what we can do and can afford.

This news I picked up from the Army Rumour Service, one of the more reliable sources of information about government policy and the direction of action and intention.  Some of the more perceptive comments are as follows:

Fred Frog asks "What can possibly go wrong?"

Postman Twit commented "I thought we'd moved beyond the 'send in the Paras' default setting???"

MotorBoat says" Good old mission creep, how come this does not have to be voted on in Parliament?  I thought Dave said no boots on the ground?"

CAARPS says "All the 'experts' that keep telling us that the British Army will be barracks bound for the next 3 decades are remarkably quiet."

With David Cameron in his quest for votes becoming more like Tony Blair than Tony Blair perhaps it was only to be expected.

It can only get worse.

Monday 15 December 2014

Whiskey Or Whisky In the Jar

You may or may not have noticed that it will be Christmas soon.  It explains a lot of the marketing going on.

One that appeared  in my inbox was from the Laphroaig Distillery on Islay, an ancestral acre, and its products are effective decontaminants.

At least the clip it is different and lasts less than two minutes.

But the contents will not make it into "Carols From Kings".

On the other hand if you like an "e" in the glass, The Dubliner's have their own song to sing at three minutes.


Saturday 13 December 2014

Now Try The Torturers

The squalid, inhuman and vile business of the CIA torture activity was one I preferred to stay away from because anyone who touches it is in effect defiled.

What astonished  me was not simply the degradation of the whole but the incredible incompetence and stupidity of those who were allegedly attempting to extract reliable information.

My reason for this was that what was being done to men could only have the effect, literally, of scrambling their brains.  Such methods could never succeed and only yield material which in effect was useless as real intelligence.

But this item in Zero Hedge by "George Washington" has brought me up short.  If it is correct then what was being done was never intended to be for intelligence that was active and credible.

It was something else entirely and which did rely on destroying the mind and thinking power of those who were tortured.  This does not make it any better, if anything it makes it even worse.

Given that both our present and previous governments are parties to this, if only as knowing spectators then can anyone of the electorate with any sort of human sensibility vote for people like this?

Friday 12 December 2014

Prizes For Pirates

Lost in the surfeit of stories in the last few days was a choice item about the European Court of Human Rights awarding damages to Somali pirates who attacked French vessels.

In case you think this is an invention by deranged Kippers and other Eurosceptics it is not.

Quote from France 24:

The EU's top human rights court on Thursday ordered France to pay thousands of euros to Somali pirates who attacked French ships for "violating their rights" by holding them an additional 48 hours before taking them before a judge.

The Somali pirate were apprehended on the high seas by the French army on two separate occasions in 2008 and taken back to France for trial.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said that French authorities should have brought the pirates before a judge "without delay" when they arrived on French territory after being held at sea.

The EU’s top human rights court said French authorities were wrong to keep the pirates in custody for an additional 48 hours before bringing them before a judge.

"Nothing justifies such an additional delay," the court said in its verdict, adding that it constituted a "violation of their rights to freedom and security".

France was ordered to pay between €5,000 and €2,000 ($6,100 and $2,500) to each pirate for "moral damages", plus amounts varying from €3,000 to €9,000 ($3,700 and $11,200) to cover legal costs.

In the ruling, published in French, the court nevertheless acknowledged that there were "completely exceptional circumstances" to justify a lengthy detention before seeing a judge, noting that the original arrests took place "more than 6,000 kilometres (4,000 miles) from French territory".

Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have declined sharply in recent years, with international fleets now patrolling the Gulf of Aden – previously a hotbed of maritime piracy – and the Indian Ocean, as well as armed guards now being posted aboard many at-risk vessels.

At their peak in January 2011 Somali pirates held 736 hostages, some onshore and others aboard their vessels, as well as 32 seized boats.
The court also noted that the Somali authorities remain "incapable of fighting" the pirates without international help.


One wonders what will happen next.  Will the ECHR order the British Government to pay compensation to all the descendants of those who hanged at Execution Dock?

Given what the Somali pirates were given for a minor delay, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may find a big rise in the deficit.

Teams of lawyers should be trawling the case studies of all those done under the Game Laws of the past looking for potential claims as well.  If they are successful, I will be one of the big winners.

As for all the distant cousins whose forebears were transported to Australia and America what might be their claim?

They are suffering cruel and unusual punishment?

Thursday 11 December 2014

Doing Porridge

When I heard the news about Lady Jenkin's comments on food banks relating to the inability of many  of the poor to cook, it was breakfast time, and I nearly choked on my porridge.  These days one simply does not offer critical advice on lifestyle choices.

That she, a scion of political classes, should be critical of the way many of our current poor live and eat was utterly shocking.  Was it because of the strong element of directing Scots blood in her veins?  Was it because a descent from the Raj of India made her less inclined to tact?

Do the poor live to eat or eat to live?  This has been an issue for a very long time.  In the late 19th Century and for two thirds of the 20th the feeding of the working class and the poor was a central issue for both social reformers and concerned persons across the board.

Imperialists of the Right and Socialists of the Left were united in wanting the people to be fed properly.  The one to provide the men and women for Empire and to improve the breeding stock.  The latter for social justice, morality and to have healthy children.

Teacher training colleges commonly had a Domestic Science or Economics wing and at the top end were specialist colleges operating to high standards in the science of nutrition and diatetics, cooking, home accounting and social welfare.

It was the schools that were going to do the job, teaching girls and in some cases boys how to manage the home and how to cook nourishing and tasty meals using the common and basic foods that were available.

Beginning probably in the 1970's with all the extensive changes in higher education, schools, food production and retailing and changing ideas about marriage, the home and the way lives were lived a lot of this went by the board.

Despite the excess of cooking programmes on TV, most of them doing fancy things on the basis of make your kitchen your own restaurant and the surfeit of goods in the supermarkets we now have burgeoning health problems with bad diets and worse meals being a major cause.

Here at Scoffing Towers we are willing to pay for quality so cannot claim to be at the lower end for spending on food.  But we spend little on much else , rarely eating out and never sending for fast food delivery for various reasons.

But from our large free range chicken at around a tenner, it is possible to get eight to ten portions with then an added stock for other dishes.  One half the price in a supermarket might allow if not the same then quite a number of portions.

So the price per portion could be quite modest compared with eating in a different way, but the way many people do eat at present.  That is if you are willing to take the time and trouble and know how to go about it.

But knowing how to cook is only a part.  You have to give the time to doing it.  I suspect that the problems arise for many of the poor is that they are not poor by historical standards having access to and use of things that are not just distracting but take up a lot of time.

If they have grown up in homes were little cooking has been done, have been taught little or nothing at school or later and the whole culture of their lives involves eating easy access products then to go back to basics, to coin a phrase, is very difficult, if not impossible.

So should the State be allowing higher benefits to allow the poor to eat to live or should it require them by lower benefits to live to eat and to pay the price of that in redirecting their lives and efforts to that effect?

Tuesday 9 December 2014

The Eldorado Effect

The human population has greatly increased in most parts of the planet.  Inevitably there has been movement.  Looking at much of this and the longer past at the thinking and hopes of those on the move, one idea comes to mind and that is in all the discussion we do not take full account of what I call "The Eldorado Effect".

The story of this has a long article in Wikipedia.  Essentially, it means the legend and search for gold and riches in faraway places that have inspired or motivated chiefly men to go and seek it out to transform their lives and either their families or groupings.

Great Great Grandfather was affected in 1848 when sailing into New Orleans with his ordinary commercial cargo and finding the harbour full.  It was because the ships could not get out, their crews having deserted to go to the gold fields.

Most of his own crew did and it was only because he had the cash to recruit the few wanting to return to Britain that he made it home.  It was his last voyage.  Having survived thirty years at sea since the age of 12  he had a small property portfolio in public houses.

He was able to retire and leave the rest of them to it.  It meant that he was a lot better off than the vast majority who went to seek the gold and silver.  He lived another thirty years to enjoy it.  Most of prospectors died young and hungry.

The El Dorado that is Europe to many parts of the world offers the reverse incentives.  There may not be any gold or silver but there is the prospect of being fed, housed and cared for in a way and on a scale that is beyond their expectations in their place of origin.

But the effect can exist within Europe.  There has been comment on the numbers given for British now living in Europe.  Yet it is not an even spread, nearly half of them being in Spain.

They were drawn there in the past mostly by ideas that the property boom would make them rich or the cost of living make their money go a lot further or that the sun would make living more easy.

Similarly, the same ideas apply to some of those who went to France in particular the areas more to the South.  As in Spain a great many have been disappointed and others in the UK, in the same way as Great Great Grandfather did a lot better at home.

Quite how many people a year cross national boundaries is a matter of hot debate.  There are many variables, the exact data is hard to find and many are not recorded.  But if it is one per cent of world population, this could be around seventy million and half that thirty five.  Even one tenth of one per cent amounts to seven million.

It is very unlikely that the distribution will be even or that in general inflows and outflows will be matching.  There will be plus ones and minus ones and at either end extremes of inflow and outflow in terms of numbers.  Given the rise in world population as a whole this was predictable in terms of past migration across the globe.

During much of the 19th Century and into the 20th in the UK there was real concern about over population.  In the 1860's, with a total for the Atlantic Isles of 26 million plus, given the poverty, disease and overcrowding in the urban centres there were national emigration societies to assist emigrants to the colonies.

There was the real fear that increasing numbers would mean The Atlantic Isles being unable to feed itself and then food import costs causing the Balance of Trade to go into permanent deficit, if the food was available.  If it was not then starvation beckoned.

For those in the slums or condemned to harsh poverty the simple life of a small farmer in a colony or similar would seem to be almost an El Dorado compared to a short life in the rookeries of London, Liverpool or Manchester.

Given the gold strikes and such like and other opportunities many places in the world did seem to be almost if not El Dorado's and many did not need much encouragement to go, only the cost of a steerage berth.  So they went and in large numbers.

The USA is largely the product of The Eldorado Effect of the past.  The American Dream was an extension of this and it is still a powerful force for many in the world to try their luck either as legal or illegal migrants.  The reality, however, is becoming very different and for very many will be a harsher experience.

The world has changed and now we have the notion that inward migration is necessarily good.  Some of it might well be.  Stripping the undeveloped world of its doctors and nurses has been keeping the NHS in the UK afloat for a little time now.  But there are doubts about just how many is good.

Clearly, The Atlantic Isles can no longer feed itself, so equally clearly the cost of imports has to be covered.  Sadly this is now probably impossible in terms of the Balance of Trade and we are now reliant on financial profiteering and borrowing.  This might not last despite our leaders saying it must.

There is no doubt about the relative attractions of the UK for many people elsewhere.  Many were already on the move here by the early 1990's.   So when the Labour Party went around the world to welcome all they were adding an El Dorado effect for movement to the UK.

We have been here before as this wonderful lyric, "Mountains of Mourne" by Percy French in 1896 suggests.  Scroll down for the words.  Great Great Grandfather, above, had an eldest son, my Great Grandfather who married a girl from a Kilkeel family in the shadow of the Mournes.

As a small child, I remember meeting her youngest brother.  He gave me a sip of his port.  Thirty years later driving down the valley of the Douro with my camping trailer it was tempting to stay for good.