Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Scouser Bangs The Big Gong

Having never been awarded an honour, or indeed a medal with the prizes of life being a few competition entries that earned a modest item or more often a discount on purchase, I can only fall prey to the sin of envy.

Sometimes it is easier to push aside that sin than others and today's news that Sir Simon Rattle now has the Order of Merit is one.  We have been at a number of concerts he has conducted and it has always been a delight.

The one time we did have contact was a summer afternoon when some of us were lolling about on the steps behind the Royal Albert Hall early in the queue for the Arena in the evening BBC Prom.  Rattle, due to conduct, came along and as some did on their way in stopped for chat.

In the course of this he told us with a big smile, "Of course, you Prommers are all mad!"  Only to be advised by one with a strong Scouser accent, "Well it takes one to know one!" referring to Rattle's own time as a Prommer when young and as someone of Liverpool birth.

He was asked if the concert was going to be good and cheerfully told us if it wasn't he would be soon back in The Arena and as mad as we were.

The concert was a performance of the Mahler 2nd Symphony, "The Resurrection" and was in a class of its own.  He has given us a few good memories.  It is good that he now joins Sir Edward Elgar as a musician who earned the Order of Merit.

There is one of those coincidences.  Rattle's mother is a Greening and so was Elgar's.  Might they both be from that part of the Cotswold and Malvern's country that was also that of the Britten's?

Monday, 30 December 2013

Thinking Caps

If you want a full testing read and discussion the 28 December post in "Energy Matters" by Euan Mearns on the coming Ice Age is just right.  The suggestion is that it may be about to start getting cooler then colder and colder rather than warmer.

Imagine, a world where nobody can afford the heating bills despite political promises, you do not need a freezer you are living in one and the wine would always be chilled if there was any which there wasn't.

It may be that rather than climate it is migration that may be the main issue in 2014.  In deep history climate and weather patterns have often been the spur to population movements especially when the growth of numbers is involved.  In our own debates this factor is often overlooked.

One serious problem is that of the collapse of the state and the internal wars in Syria.  According to the populstat dot info web site the population of Syria in 1901 was just short of a million.  By 1951 the figure was around 3.5 million and in 2010 the estimate was 23 million plus.

For Romania at the same dates, the figures run 6 million, 16 million and recently 23 million.  For Bulgaria there is a contrast, 3.8 to 7.25 and then 8 plus for 2010, but with a decline since 2005.  This suggests either attrition or previous outflows or both. 

Another contrast is Nigeria, 1901 at 15.6, then 33.4 in 1951 and estimated at 181.6 million in 2010.  That is a lot of people.  In terms or ordinary movements to be expected it is quite possible that from Nigeria the proportion leaving could have gone down some but the rate of population increase means many more in actual numbers.

As you check out other states you will see many variations.  The general story is that on our globe there are now a lot more people than in the past.  People move for all sorts of reasons.  I doubt there has ever been a time in human history when they haven't.

That history tells us that there are winners and losers. Also that what happens and where is likely to be unpredictable and with unintended consequences.  Our problem is that we all have our head stuffed with notions and attitudes from the past, one way or another.

Given the sheer numbers, the rapidity of economic change, and the stresses arising from global activity and the capability of recent transport developments the future is not going to be the same as the past.  In Syria it is possible that more than half the population now want out, so where do they go?

If it does start getting colder rather than warmer then the options for world migration may start to narrow.  But if it does get warmer the same may apply.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Buying The Dream

As we see on the TV news the frantic scramble to be first into the shops with cut price sales, often of people who have traveled far to fight the fight for bargains I am driven to post an item from "The Guardian" of all things which makes its own comment:


Eat, drink and be miserable: the true cost of our addiction to shopping - Madeleine Bunting - Monday December 3, 2007 - The Guardian.

Today it seems politically unpalatable, but soon the state will have to turn to rationing to halt hyper-frantic consumerism.

There's a pamphlet scudding around my kitchen; it has accumulated coffee rings and fingerprints, but I keep rescuing it from the recycling bin with the good intention of signing up to a green tariff on electricity again. (I can't quite understand why the deal I signed up to years ago ever ended.) A good intention that has a 50-50 chance of fulfilment.  

According to all the research, there are a lot of people like me: full of good intentions, deeply concerned about climate change and yet ineffective at translating that into their behaviour. Why? A mixture of information overload, time poverty (a much overlooked aspect of environmental sustainability is how much time it requires) and utter confusion about what "doing one's bit" entails.

Plus the killer equation: what sacrifices is one prepared to tolerate when they are pathetically insignificant compared with Chinese power stations going up at the rate of two a week?  Is it enough to have halved family meat consumption, have foregone flights for several sun-starved years and arranged a life in which habits of cycling to work and walking to school are routine? No, it's just scratching at the surface.

If the developed world is to implement the 80% cuts in carbon emissions the UN demands as part of the talks beginning in Bali today, the lives of our children will have to be dramatically different from everything we are currently bringing them up to expect.

In 2006, each person in the UK produced 9.6 tonnes of C02, and that needs to come down to less than three tonnes by 2050. That is the non-negotiable on which there is widespread consensus among environmental scientists and economists. The much more controversial issue is whether that means consuming less or just consuming differently.

In other words, does sustainability require an entire recasting of the good life, or can we continue on our way, our aspirations to comfortable homes, nice cars and fancy holidays unchecked, delivered by green techno-wizardry?  Government environmental policy is entirely built around the latter.

But the problem is that there is no evidence that techno-wizardry can deliver the cuts in carbon emissions needed. In the past increased energy efficiency has only driven up aspirations: "If my fridge is more energy efficient and thus cheaper to run, perhaps I'll now buy that air conditioning unit for these new hot summers."

Technological innovation is an important part of the solution, but it won't be enough. Wizardry it is rightly nicknamed: there is an irrational faith at the heart of government thinking.  But the alternative of lower consumption is something no politician is prepared to consider. In one policy discussion on the subject, Treasury officials responded with contempt, and referred to it as tantamount to "going back to living in caves".

We have a political system built on economic growth as measured by gross domestic product, and that is driven by ever-rising consumer spending. Economic growth is needed to service public debt and pay for the welfare state. If people stopped shopping, the economy would ultimately collapse. No wonder, then, that one of the politicians' tasks after a terrorist outrage is to reassure the public and urge them to keep shopping (as both George Bush and Ken Livingstone did).

Advertising and marketing, huge sectors of the economy, are entirely devoted to ensuring that we keep shopping and that our children follow in our footsteps. But there is a madness at the heart of this economic model with its terrible environmental costs. It's best illustrated by a graph used by the US psychologist Tim Kasser at a Whitehall seminar last week.

One line, representing personal income, has soared over the past 40 years; the other line marks those who describe themselves as "very happy", and has remained the same. The gap between the two yawns ever wider. All this consumption is not necessary to our happiness.

Kasser's graph has both hopeful and disturbing implications. On the hopeful side, this is good news: a low-consumption economy wouldn't mean misery.  But what's disturbing is how we continue to shop when it doesn't make us happier. 

He argues that our hyper-consumerism is a response to insecurity, a maladaptive type of coping mechanism. Over the past few decades, the sources of insecurity have multiplied: in addition to the manipulation long practised by advertising, there are new sources of insecurity in highly competitive market economies, ranging from identity (who am I and where do I belong?) to basics (who will look after me in my old age?).

This relationship between materialism and insecurity helps explain why countries as diverse as the US and China are deeply materialistic; they are places of endemic insecurity.  The brilliance of this economic system built on insecurity is that it is self-reinforcing. The more insecure you are, the more materialistic; the more materialistic, the more insecure.

As Kasser has shown, materialistic values (which are on the increase among teenagers on both sides of the Atlantic) make you more anxious, more vulnerable to depression and less cooperative. Studies show that people know what the real sources of lasting human fulfilment are - good relationships, self-acceptance, community feeling - but they face a formidable alliance of political and economic interests that have a vested interest in distracting them from that insight to ensure they work longer hours and spend more money.

The task of turning this around is enormous, and the transition to a low-consumption economy has to be carefully managed to ensure a soft landing. The greatest dilemma is that the shift could produce a damaging feedback loop - this is Kasser's anxiety. Lower consumption could lead to economic instability and increased insecurity; plus climate change makes people insecure.

The response might be to reinforce our current frantic hyper-consumerism: an attitude of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die"; or a lunge after as much as possible to insulate yourself against the impacts of climate change. But equally possible is a win-win scenario; a low-consumption economy oriented towards facilitating the real sources of human fulfillment.

Most of us dimly recognise that huge lifestyle changes are necessary, but we're waiting for someone else to initiate the process. It's a question of "I will if you will" - the title of a thoughtful report last year from the government's Sustainable Development Commission. Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the second world war.

This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book "Ecological Debt", demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals (and their ability to act on that coffee-stained pamphlet), but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax.

This will be the stuff of 21st-century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.


Our happy home is already a low consumption economy, many others are becoming the same as incomes are squeezed.  Could The Guardian be right about something?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Eric Joyce, Falkirk, And The Working Class

An item in The Spectator by Alex Massie on 20 December linked to a post on 18 December in his own blog by Eric Joyce MP that does a good hatchet job on ideas of what is and what isn't a Member of Parliament who can be described as "working class".

He points out in a prime effort of deconstruction that it is not at all clear how an individual might be defined as such with any accuracy and without taking account of the overall career and work done over his or her lifetime.

Eric soon will be the former Member for Falkirk as a result of happenings and unintended consequences.  He will be aware of the career of Andrew Carnegie (Wikipedia), the famous Scot who went from rags, or at least cloth making, to vast riches in the USA in the 19th Century and did much for the education of the Scottish Working Class with part of the money.

Being of the Left, he has doubts about market forces and the question of class, but this is a very large and complicated subject.  It may be that his thinking might be owed to the life and career of Keir Hardie (Wikipedia) pictured above, whose stepfather, David Hardie came from Falkirk.

Which raises the interesting question, who does the Labour Party now belong to?  The metropolitan and academic Marxist and Leninist (as in Tony Benn etc.) internationalist versions of socialism or the Evangelical, Temperance and social communal form of Keir Hardie?

Friday, 27 December 2013

Global Food Supply, The Imbalance Of Trade

While many have been over indulging in food during the last few days there have been some who have not, a few by choice but many because the food is not there; or they cannot afford it or because of the economics of food supply and demand.

In the discussion about food supply there is a great deal of opinion as well as a lot of moralising but real research is thin on the ground and is often affected by the interested parties.

However, the journal Plus One has featured an academic study into global food supply which attempts to take a balanced look into how the world has changed in the last fifty years.  It has lessons not just for the past but for the future.

It is a long academic document but the conclusions are:

"In this article, we investigated past global trends in food availability by quantifying country-level dietary energy supply and production during 1965–2005. Further, we examined how food self-sufficiency has developed globally, and analysed the role of food trade in improving food security.

We found that food availability has improved considerably while food self-sufficiency has remained relatively low during the entire study period. Trade of food products has, thus, soared in importance in securing an adequate food supply.

In many parts of the world, diets are increasingly abundant in calories and animal source foods.

Within the past 50 years, the world has thus moved from food insufficiency towards an increasing dependency on food trade. This has improved food availability, but mainly in regions with a sufficiently strong economy to be a notable player in the trade markets.

While a secure food supply has been intentionally outsourced in various parts of the globe, a large share of global population is still living with insufficient food supply. Food security is not merely a question of food availability but increasingly also a question of access to food.

At global scale food supply would be sufficient to feed the entire population but its uneven distribution leaves a notable proportion of population food insecure while others live in abundance of food.

Thus, while global food supply could be increased by e.g. novel technological solutions, reform of current agricultural practices and reduction of food waste [4], [55], any substantial improvement in food security will require real efforts for a more equal distribution of global food supply."


What happens in those territories where the food supply is not sufficient and the population still increasing rapidly?  What could happen if other territories moved suddenly from surplus to deficit?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Olympic Legacy Hocus Pocus

A couple of days ago there was a long and learned academic post on the LSE website about the 2012 Olympics Legacy a subject that seems to be exciting fewer and fewer people to the dismay of Those Who Believed.

Inevitably, there was one carping comment:

The “legacy” idea is hocus pocus. After the 1948 Olympics neither the teenagers then or those about to be teenage made much, if any, extra effort at games. Admittedly many were working.

The Games just disappeared into the blur of recent history and we all carried on doing what teenagers normally do to amuse themselves, being selfish, fixated on our personal lives and seeking easy entertainment.

It was still the Palais de Dance rather than the sports pitch.


Who on earth would say something like that?  The medal winner, above in 1948, lived just down the road from us.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Taking A Dram

The season is a time for memory.  We watched the old Ealing comedy, Whisky Galore! which held up remarkably well if you did not mind the stereotypes.  It was relaxing with some real, as opposed to forced, laughs.

One character, not mentioned in the link was the local doctor, played by James Robertson Justice a Scottish authority figure with a commanding presence.  Not only did it seem strange for a small island to have its own doctor it was clear that this was a different world.

In his visits to those quite ill he was happy to recommend the smoking of pipe tobacco and the drinking of a few shots of whisky.  Given that this was before antibiotics came into general use it was a lot more sensible than you might assume.

Despite what those times were like there were moments when it seemed to be a better world to live in.

Have a nice day.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Alternative Queen's Christmas Message

As we come to the end of a difficult and demanding year, my husband and I have begun to consider not our own future but that of all the peoples of the United Kingdom.  We have agreed that we should leave a legacy to them which should be the greatest service possible to mark the sixty years since the Coronation.

To that end I will dissolve Parliament on the first day of January and make a Declaration of British Independence.  As the existing government has chosen to use the Royal Prerogative to force through change so will I use it to reinstate and repair the essential principles of the British Constitution in a new structure of government and elections.

This will require a period of interim government of brave and devoted people to make the transition and put in place a governance which will be truly democratic, responsive to the real needs and wishes of our peoples and allow the United Kingdom to regain control and authority over its own affairs.

We have learned that there are no less than fourteen thousand treaty and agreement commitments and obligations that have been made, largely during my own reign.  I look back on this with a feeling of shame that I have been a party to the careless shedding of sovereignty and loss of responsibility that has occurred on such a scale and with so little thought as to the effects and consequences.

With the Dissolution of Parliament will be a decree to the effect that the end of this form of government equally means an end to the membership of the European Union.  For whatever arrangements would be sensible or useful in the future we will look forward with interest to any constructive proposals that might be made from Brussels.

The intention will be that any agreements made for trade or for common aspects of law or regulation neither will Brussels be binding on the United Kingdom nor vice versa.  Whether or not any legislation or regulation in Europe applies there, it will apply in the UK only on the full agreement of the new form of Parliament to be elected in the course of the coming year and can be amended or ended by the will of that Parliament.

Equally, we will take a good hard look at the range of United Nations and related organisation commitments that have been entered into in the past.  I have no doubt that some are now redundant and some damaging to our economy and polity.  We shall attempt to keep the best and rid ourselves of the worst.

Further to that it is my intention, after much heart searching and thought to abolish the Commonwealth.  I deeply regret that as a young and impressionable monarch I was inveigled by Harold Macmillan into this charade of empire and influence. 

On a personal level this has meant welcoming some rulers who have been malign dictators, some corrupt and some evil along with many others who were good men and women in their ways but whose connection to the UK has become increasingly tenuous.

I am bound to say that  the Commonwealth has become at best a salesman's convention.  To that end our Foreign and Commonwealth Office has become a dishonest and corrupt sales operation.  It will disbanded forthwith and replaced by a new department whose duties will be the analysis of real policy and the gathering of hard information to enable us to conduct foreign affairs on a sensible and peaceful basis.  The old Foreign Office Library will be restored forthwith.

The Special Relationship with the USA similarly will be declared to be at the end of its useful life.  It has decayed already to become an embarrassing and grovelling fiction that serves little purpose other than to involve us in unnecessary and dangerous wars.  Clearly we will want to continue sound diplomatic and trading contacts and relationships that are peaceful and serve our common interests but this will be done in a clear sighted manner and not masked by false pretences.

The new Parliament will be one of two chambers both elected and both involved in legislation, regulation and the examination of administration and related activity.  Retaining the former names the House of Commons will have 350 members elected from a number of multi member constituencies to be determined and from a voting system that enables a balanced representation from all the parts of the United Kingdom,

The House of Lords, the word "Lord" has long been an elastic description, will be of either 150 members elected on a different basis or made up of three representatives from each of the counties of the United Kingdom.  This will be determined by urgent discussions at an early stage.

For this purpose the ancient counties of the United Kingdom would be reinstated with the intention of a reorganisation of local government in the near future on that basis.  This I believe will enable an empowerment of the people at a far more local level than is possible at the moment.  It would be up to the individual counties to consider any joint arrangements with others for the running of services on a wider basis.

As far as possible both administration and responsibility will be devolved from many parts of our government to the local entities.  The dictatorial centralisation and micro-management that has become a deadening and destructive feature of the recent past will end and communities will be encouraged to revive their mutual support and interests in welfare.

In order to assist this the use of Private Finance Initiatives, PFI, will end and realistic and effective means of dealing with local capital investment will be introduced.  Existing PFI contracts will cease forthwith.  Those which are deemed excessive or too extractive from essential services will be replaced.  Others will be taken in to normal debt facilities.

For the National Health Service, perhaps the one that is of most interest to many the approach will be more gradual. It is my wish to avoid the expensive and costly series of reorganisations of the past and return to a more balanced and responsive service.  This will involve on the one hand a greater role for those in the medical professions to be matched by a more open and sensitive relationship with the public.

A particular field of interest is the Legal Profession and the administration of justice as well as maintaining law and order. It has been disquieting to me to see the manner in which Ministers of the Crown seek to intervene and comment on complex cases in court involving personal acquaintances.  It is of more concern that the complicated effect of foreign rulings and obligations have allowed the legal system to be brought into disrepute.

Clearly, police services need to be more local in many respects with a real presence on the ground, notably in districts where crime is now rampant and gangs are in control. Equally, I am aware that there is a need for both regional and national policing for other forms of crime.  I will not pretend that there are easy answers here but it is my intention to be rigorous in setting up arrangements which meet the crying needs of our time.

One area in which I will take a personal interest is in the pursuit of financial crime and fraud.  There will be a thorough and vigorous approach to this on the basis that much of what has occurred is akin to the vicious piracy of old and deserves to be treated as such.  Britain has been captured and colonised by those engaged in global commercial interests whose only ambition is for personal profit, control and the extraction of our wealth, both public and private.  This is entailing the enslavery of our peoples to those interests.

There are many other aspects of the Constitution and our lives  which need either restoration or a new approach to the different and fast changing world in which we live.  Our present sclerotic, corrupt and secretive system is simply too bad and flawed to work and is actively damaging every aspect of our lives.  It has to end.

Last but far from least there is the primary function of The Crown, that is the Defence of the Realm.  In the new forms of aerial war and its needs the Royal Air Force will need much new equipment and facilities.  The Senior Service, the Royal Navy will have to be given wider scope and enabled to both defend and watch our shores.

Then there is the Army.  The thoughtless and ill considered serial reorganisations since the 1960's have reduced it past the minimum necessary for it to fulfill its wider duties in many spheres.  Moreover, at one time the Army was both local and part of the heart of our communities.  To fulfill that role it is my intention to restore the structure of County and other regiments as far as possible and notably enable the Cavalry to become a truly mobile force.

In Scotland the former regiments will be restored to their communities.  Among the first decrees I will issue in January will be for the re-mustering of that fine and loyal regiment, The Scottish Rifles, The Cameronians and I shall be proud and pleased to take the salute at their first parade.

My husband and I wish you all a happy Christmas and this time our wish for a New Year that leads to progress and prosperity may become a reality.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Food For Thought

There is a problem with words.  "Poor" or "mal" nutrition can mean different things.  It is easy to both confuse issues and to misunderstand the complications and interactions of differing elements in the connected problems we have at present arising from our eating patterns and habits.

This post arises from the fact that we have just lost two of our key food supplies who have closed down.  Also, the others are under increasing stress from not just market forces but government and Euro regulations which add more to the costs of the small trader than the large.

The latest aspect has been the media story about how many of the elderly are badly nourished.  The emphasis seems to be on the question of not enough food arising from either or both of poverty and diminishing capability with age.

In parallel to this has been the question of the rise in obesity and too much weight across the age groups.  So while some do not have enough many are having too much.  This might be too much overall set against too little activity or too much of the wrong things.

For me shopping in supermarkets with their noisy crowded confusing aisles and absence of any real human interaction is one of the seven circles of hell.  Like almost all now I cannot use the local corner shop because they have all gone, swept away by regulations and local government in thrall to the big retailers.

It is not possible to avoid seeing what others have in their trolleys and therefore to form a judgement about their personal and especially eating habits.  The majority by a fair margin seem to be eating what is essentially manufactured low grade food products urged on by the media and advertising.

There is then what is thought to be an entirely different and separate issue and is dealt with as such.  It is the huge rise in children and others diagnosed as ADHD, or hyperactivity etc. who are now on serious medication, sometimes for life. 

This raises a number of questions notably if medication is used to suppress how can you train or they learn behaviour.  Popping pills is a lot easier than the messy and tiresome business of the relentless need to advise, control and discipline children and others.  Kids can be more active than adults like for reasons of nature alone.

Again activity is involved.  Walking around our local suburbs, if only to work off the surplus home made Eccles Cake intake, it is apparent that children do not run around and play out.  They are not put out to work a ten or twelve hour day at fourteen being shackled to school or college desks for many years to suffer indoctrination by our unionised teaching force.

Nor are they either expected to or take part in all the many and various household tasks now done by expensive machines as opposed to the physical labour of the past which imposed its own disciplines when cleanliness was next to godliness and did not come in a tin.

At the same time it is well known that the media and the food and drink producers inflict on the young an onslaught of promotion and advertising for products that are high in sugars, sweeteners and other stimulants.  They are chemically engineered to stimulate, produce a "high" and to be addictive.

All in all the elderly without cars or assistance and the kids do not stand a chance in the modern retail world.  The kids are being reared to be the rubbish consumers of the future.  The elderly, some already damaged by the rubbish of the past can be left to their own devices.

Meanwhile the obese are now being accepted as the norm.  In the media and across the channels there are enough cooking and food channels and programmes for all to learn what and what not to do. 

But having expert and qualified advice on this they seem uniformly superficial, far too quick and careless and almost intimidating in some of the presentation.  More worrying is that they while pretending to be nutrition make the business of good basic food preparation a high art with expert skills relating to high levels of technical equipment.

There is another difficult matter to consider and that is the effects of soil depletion and loss with the more and more intense cultivation of soils. This has meant steadily increasing applications of additives to foods, fertilisers and pesticides to crops and the industrialisation of both arable and livestock farming.

From the late 19th Century through to the middle of the 20th there was a real attempt to give the population both access to good basic ranges of food, the incomes go afford a sound basic diet and reliable sources of supply on a highly localised basis.

All that has been swept away.  Domestic Science and Institutional Management Colleges have been folded into mega multi study colleges with Food Technology departments or training for chefs and takeaways.  Small farms are going with the government capture by the big landowners and food producers. 

Local supplies are disappearing, the food supply being from large hangars needing complex logistics.  The food inside them is amost all factory made or factory treated to specifications increasing removed from reality.  

And our knowledge of food is mostly gained from sitting watching the TV and being treated to the relentless advertising of the big producers and retailers.

No wonder so many of the kids are going mad.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Spirits Of Christmas

Season or no season, this one intends to carry on blogging if only because he is one of nature's contrarians. 

What they might say may become even more erratic than usual because of nutritional factors.

At present I am thinking of doing my own version of a speech to the nation which almost certainly will not make the media for various reasons.

But in the spirit of generosity, some may have need of a very late card so feel free to use any of those below.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Defence Of The Realm

In a strange juxtaposition, General Nick Houghton has warned about the real implications of the cuts in defence and manpower and where it is leading just as the ballet "Nutcracker" opens at Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet.

In Act One there is a dream sequence where a toy town army defeats the King Rat and his followers by dint of courage, determination and Clara, the heroine, whacking the King Rat on the head with her shoe.

As someone who wore the Jerboa (Desert Rat) on his uniform when detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure (aka National Service) and who wonders if the Rat Kings of Khotan were a lost civilisation there is a necessary sympathy for the Rats.  But the ballet story line demands they have to go.

The trouble with our Defence Policy appears to be the absence of a story line that bears much connection to the actual realities of potential conflicts or the ability to field and maintain an effective force in the field for any length of time.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan we have been reliant for a great deal of support and logistics on the US forces and there have been real questions about the equipment and its design that our troops have been obliged to use.

What is not understood, certainly by modern politicians and others and worrying to a limited extent by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is the "wastage" that arises when troops are in action or in theatre for extended lengths of time.

It was said that when the 71st Foot formed their square at Waterloo in 1815 there were only 13 men present from the time the regiment landed in Portugal in 1807.  Having been through all the muster rolls for the period the figure seems near enough correct.

Indeed the turnover of men during that period in the Army as a whole in terms of the demographics of the period were at World Wars One and Two levels.

In modern Armies the proportion of men in action to men in total is often suggested at one in seven.  In my experience and looking at how an Army functions again this seems near the mark.  

To make matters worse, the Government and the MoD do not seem to understand what is the nature of the differing levels of reserve availability.

Consequently, there is a real danger that the active and potentially active part of the Army could be pushed well past the limits of their capability and effectiveness whilst the "reserve" is both insufficient or well enough organised to be used as a proper functioning force.

Just how good the much vaunted "kit" is under conditions of real extended stress and need is something of an unknown.  Even if it is better than that of the past this is not saying much.  The General has used the term "hollowed out". 

What he means is that it is neither capable, sufficiently supported nor strong enough to conduct anything beyond small scale short term operations with very limited objectives.  Even then the British Army may be reliant on other forces for kit, clobber and rations.

If we are to believer some commentators the situation is worse for the Navy and nobody seems to want to talk about the RAF.l  In short while our politicians run about talking about being at the heart of, at the top table, or a great power the reality is we may not be much more than a minor or servant element.

In the meantime we have a vast Government department, huge sums of money being spent, out sourced all sorts and a stifling and ignorant bureaucracy and government in charge.

And we will be left with a toy town army good enough for theatricals and ornamenting state events but little else.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Talking Is Good For Some

Have I missed something or have nodded off during the news bulletins?  It seems that according to Open Democracy there is a series of major trade talks going on between the EU and the USA.  On the face of it this might seem to be a good thing.

But the talks are secret; as is much if not all of the relevant documentation.  The secrecy is not total.  There are apparently 600 Corporate Advisors to hand to ensure that their interests are taken care of and to steer the discussions in their chosen direction.

What they have to say and what their particular interests are is not known because it is said that commercial confidentiality is critical to the success or failure of the talks.

A critic might claim that "success" means extensive deregulation and greater opportunities to do what they want.  "Failure" means that greater accountability, better accounting and thorough examination of environmental and health issues will take precedence.

Who are these corporations?  Are they the ones with a future and providing for those needs?  Or are they those of the past with many more anxious to protect their interests or who need more subsidy and support by the EU and subject states at the expense of the new?

The debate at present about the EU and the UK is wide ranging but one crucially important element is trade and the conditions involved.  This is not simply intra EU trade it is the global trade by the states within. 

So these discussions are being conducted without knowing what the EU might intend and what decisions and arrangements are being made with an unspecified number of vested interests.

The question is do we trust the EU and their partners in their deliberations or don't we?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Nasty Train Robbery

There has been a lot of coverage about the 1963 "Great" train robbery this week.  The death of Ronnie Biggs plus the release of a new film on the subject have coincided.

Whether the film is an honest one or represents favourably the criminals involved I do not know. 

Having worked on the railway not long before a few times and dealt with mail trains, I declare an interest.

My only comment is remember Jack Mills the driver of the train.

An honest and decent man.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Flights Of Fancy

The Commission asked to come up with a plot for UK air travel in the future with particular reference to where a hub airport might or might not be with the relevant facilities has delivered.

Only it wasn't the takeaway meal that was ordered, it was a box of pick and mix broken biscuits.  It seems almost designed to cost the Coalition as many votes as possible in 2015 in some of their choicest areas.

The South East chunk of the Atlantic Isles has any number of runways and air travel facilities from functioning airports to military airfields and a number of others left over from the past or simply providing leisure and occasional use.

My problem is the easy assumption that the key reason for major development and spending is the predicated doubling of demand.  If this is effective demand this means it has to be backed by that number of people being wealthy enough to afford to do the air travelling that we have become used to.  Will that happen?

There is almost a circular argument in the thinking. New major airport provision will increase jobs and attract economic activity.  A lot of this will be related to the airport.  In other words if you build a new airport the extra people involved will provide a lot of the increased demand you need to cover the costs.

The costs, however, may not be covered by that.  The figures given for the potential costs seem to be ludicrously low.  My figure would be at least triple.  Also, yet again this money would not yield a real return to cover capital costs in the future.  If it does not cover operating costs then it will need subsidy, direct and indirect.

This has all the makings of yet another gruesome Westminster fiasco and the prospect of yet another economy wrecking big project that not only may cause a crash on the runaways but literally goes off the rails.  The bit in the small print is a passing mention of the surface infrastructure that will be necessary for the project.

At the very same time we have the government crying tally ho!  as it gallops into the mist with its HS2 project.  Do any of them see that the two might just be connected, again literally?  Is it a hub just for London, or just for England, or for the Atlantic Isles or for the Isles plus a part of Northern Europe?

Is it quite so difficult to see that if you are going in for major transport developments then it is better to see them as a whole.  This includes roads as well.  In the South East the M25 and immediate connected motorways are now at full stretch. 

What is to be done about these?  If you are going to have a new hub with extensive connections to other transport and give economic development and expansion to somewhere that really needs it, there are other places, far less costly, to look at.

Try South Yorkshire, notably what is now Robin Hood Airport up at Finningley by Doncaster.   Then think in terms of the Atlantic Isles as a whole.  Then expand that to look at the potential for Scandinavia, The Baltic (we have a lot of East Europeans around now) and Northern Germany.

You have the space, the need and the potential to create a major new economic entity to help rebalance the economy as well as reconfiguring the patterns of air and surface traffic to ease the overcrowding in the skies and south eastern rail and road at present.

More to the point for the Coalition, they might lose fewer seats.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Light And Dark

It is possible to think that at times this blog might err on the side of pessimism. 

If this is really what you want Money Markets can be much scarier talking about 2014 being the first year of the New Dark Age.

On the other hand in Project Syndicate, Ashoka Mody is almost an incurable optimist but perhaps an impossible idealist,  He suggests:


More public investment is twice blessed. It can shake the world out of its stupor; and it can safeguard against “secular stagnation.”

The US, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and China should act together to provide that boost. Otherwise, a sustainable global recovery may remain elusive, in which case 2014 could end in low gear as well.


The snag is that there are some big players absent from this feast who could upset the table.  But those at the feast seem to number vegans, vegetarians, carnivores and some with allergy problems,

At present our leaders argue that the smart money is on optimism, so long as it allows for inflation, deflation, peace and progress.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Heating Up The Debate On Energy

A long article in Our Finite World deals with the whole question of how energy matters might underpin the whole function of our global economy and where we are going.  It is not optimistic by reason of the hard economics of energy demand and supply.

It ends:

Most authors of academic articles assume that the challenge we are facing is one that can be solved over the next, say, fifty years. They also seem to believe that the fixes required are simply small adjustments to our current economy. This assumption seems optimistic, if we are really approaching financial collapse.

If we are in fact near the crisis stage described by Turchin and Nefedov, we will need to do something much closer to “start over”. We need to build a new economy that will work, rather than just “tweak” the current one.

New (or radically changed) government and financial systems will likely be needed–ones that are much less expensive for taxpayers to fund. We are also likely to need to cut back on basic services, including maintaining paved roads and repairing long-distance electricity transmission lines.

Because of these changes, whole new ways of doing things will be needed. EROI (energy return on investment) analyses that have been to date represent analyses of how our current system operates. If major changes are needed, their indications may no longer be relevant.

We cannot simply go backward, because methods that worked in the past, such as using draft horses and buggy whips, will no longer be available without a long development period. We are truly facing an unprecedented situation–one that is very hard to prepare for.


In the meantime in the UK we are rapidly increasing demand as well as population, promising energy price freezes, putting up windmills, covering fertile land with solar panels and not only buying wood burning stoves for our homes but thinking of converting some of our largest power stations, such as Eggborough above, to wood burning as well.

In the wider world many "developing" countries will not do to but will contract unless they have direct energy of their own. Others in the middling categories will have very mixed fortunes, mostly adverse.

In the "developed" world, now almost all dependent on strong economic growth to cover debt and potential liabilities there will be varied results. 

One more common one will be a great majority of once rich nations whose middling and lower orders become impoverished but with an elite minority remaining wealthy.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Selfies For Beginners

There could be three types of "selfie". 

One is how we like to see ourselves, another is how we think others see us and the last how we would like others to see us.

Perhaps we bloggers, we happy few, could all put on our own "selfie" of one type or another.

Here is mine below, which might fit into all three categories.

Friday, 13 December 2013

IT Or Not IT That Is The Question


Distribution:  All Office of PM Staff
Copy:  Selected Permanent Secretaries & My Best Friends
Order Of The Day:  Don’t tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is with pleasure that after long negotiation that we announce a specific bespoke IT system  for the Office of The Prime Minister and the central directing unit of our Coalition.  Although some of the exciting in-your-face advertising material may seem intrusive, please be aware that the revenue they give to our fighting fund for the New Britain is integral to the success of this venture. 

Those who feel that our latest media helper to come on board; code name “Des”; has links to exciting web sites and sources of information foreign to you should remember that we live in the new millennium age for culture and that the youthful vigour to be found on those links are part of our Cool Britannia purpose oriented function. 

Should you be of an uptight disposition your file will be marked “In need of therapy”.  The NHS New Wave electrode implanted in your brain (sorry about the problems) covers this instruction.  Unauthorised leaks or the issue of personal press releases will entail being sent to the Department of Transport to work on the HS2. 

Basic Elements

The Recycle Bin is now:  “Breathtaking new opportunity.”
My Computer is called: "The engine room of the new economy.”
Broadband Networking is called:  “Our ongoing plan for action.”
Control Panel is known as:  “Crosby".
Hard Drive is referred to as:  “Toughing out the difficult decisions.” 
CD drive is:  “In depth reserves of thrusting administrative energy.”
USB connections are:  “Consultant inputs”.
Pop up instead of an error message:  “Responsibility clearly lies elsewhere.”

Changes in Terminology

OK:  “We are in fundamental agreement with the essential propositions as we understand and define them”
Cancel:  “After full and in depth consultation we are taking a new direction.”
Reset:  “The policy formulation is stepping up a gear”.
Yes:  “We are happy to say that despite all the difficulties and inherent complexities we have arrived at a formula which is agreeable to the respective parties.”
No:  “At this moment in time there are negative elements that are affecting the ongoing decision making process.”
Search: “We have to extend our understanding and knowledge on this vital matter.”
Go to:  “We are at the forefront of progress.”
Back: “There is a great deal to be done, so we are determined to get it right in the long run, and this entails an ongoing review.”
Help:  “We are in complete control of the situation, but clearly it is only right to launch an investigation seek out those responsible for obstructing our forward momentum.”
Stop:  “This is a good time to reflect on all our achievements.”
Start:  “This is a wonderful initiative which will lead to many good things.”
Settings:  “When we have the nuts and bolts right then we will be able to overcome the difficulties that are being put in our way.”
Programs:  “The full range of future policy successes.”
Documents:  “Policy formulation, administrative advice, correspondence, confidential information in type; and all other material at the pre-shredder stage.”

Technical Features

Motherboard:  European Commission.
Fatherboard:  Not known, refer to as “One Night Stand”.
Processor:  Pennsylvania Avenue 1555
Protocols:  Gateskeeper
Keyboard:  Seventies Punk.
Mouse:  Self-reversing spin wheel.
Power:  Wind.
Tower:  Shard
Disc Drive:  Treasury Slow Slow Quick Quick Slow.
Home Page:  News of the World.
Broadband Router: Big Dick (aka Beardie)
Random Memory:  NHS IT Project
Restart:  Go Abroad To Conference
ISP:  Never Never Land

Programmes exclusive to our own system

Autogarble:  An added facility for Press Statements.
Security:  Jokes and other humour.
Hangman & Solitaire:  Home Office Management.
Smart Prevaricate:  To enable ministerial personal media advisers.
Ossa/Pelion:  Government legislative programme.
Favourites:  Links to business, equity finance, private banks, and escort services.
Bentword:  Automatically corrects vague promises to convincing mode.
Fantasy Island:  Office for National Statistics.
Graphics:  Manipulates diagrams to required interpretation.
Spellchecker:  Attorney General Function, changes text to incomprehensible mode.
Crash:  NHS Computer Services.
Gruntspeak:  EU – English translator.
Twittertalk:  London – English translator.
Liar Poker:  Annual Budget Review.
Bastard:  Genealogy and Family History.
Calculator:  Auto figures fudger.
The Undertaker:  Drugs and Firearms Control.
Tillfinger:  Ministerial Salaries, Expenses, and Awards of Honours.
Goblin Teasmaid:  The Foreign Secretary.
Macho Zap:  Trident Missile Start.
Notepad:  For use when Text Phone fails.
Microsoft Explorer 666:  Device to hack into opposition computers.
Pictures & Media:  Ten thousand representations of Our Great and Dear Leader.


Should the Prime Minister ring you on the red emergency telephone advise him to find the plug at the end of the long lead, identify the nearest power point, insert the plug and then to press the small thingy by the side and insist; despite the personal doubts he will express; that this will have the effect of introducing what is known to him now as the electrical power necessary to the full functioning of his apparatus. 

If this fails under no circumstances whatsoever should you refer the matter to the Department of Technology, as this will disrupt the entire system, but call in the ILSNABCADEO (The Infused Liquids Sundry Non-Alcoholic Beverages & Comestibles Allocation and Distribution Executive Officer) with her trolley on a contracted out non-core activity basis who will know what to do.