Friday, 30 May 2014

Who Calls The Chilcot Tune?

The stately minuet being danced to the tune of the Chilcot Report goes on.  The band has yet to agree on the notes to be played and some of the orchestration.  The report written after the Lord Chilcot inquiry is supposed to tell us about the war in Iraq.

In particular there are the questions about the exchanges between Blair, then PM of the UK and Bush, then President of the USA in relation to why, what, how was involved in the 2003 assault on Iraq.  It seems we are not going to be told.

It would be too easy the let the mind run on in a satire of two Alpha Males with serious The Bloke Syndromes trying to outdo each other in gung ho fashion or worse jokey big mates running the block style as the invasion occurred and progressed.

But too many people died terrible deaths and too much damage has been done in a great many ways to make much light of this disastrous enterprise.  The memory will not fade and among those who now detest and oppose us it has given them too much of an incentive to let us live comfortably with it.

I had my own very small item in print at the time.  The 7th Armoured were involved and wearing the Jerboa on their sleeves.  This was my lot a long time ago.  Inevitably, I ran the figures and thought through the logistics. 

They did not add up and my view was that not only was the whole business lunatic in terms of any awareness of history but there were aspects of the nature and organisation of the military campaign that were very disquieting.  

So what exactly is the content of those mails and messages?  It will not be some things.  Careful, thoughtful, informed extended analysis will not be there.  Attempts at a questioning balance of issues and implications, I doubt were present.  Literate think pieces searching for what is right and what is wrong  also will be missing.

The chances are that they will be lightweight, superficial, perhaps even matey exchanges.  They might be far worse, joking comments made as the tragedy unfolded and women and children began to die in numbers.

Given the attitude and nature of what was being done at the time and then assumed in secrecy for generations perhaps forever they might go beyond the boundary and be not just tasteless and brutal, they could be disgusting.

As the evidence is not available it is up to me, and others, to make our own assumptions according to our feelings.  Some might think the best of Blair but I do not. 

My view is that the excisions from the report are not just bad but would inflict the worst possible damage to the reputation and interests of the UK.

Which is what many already believe.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Looking To The Future

Had to give back word to the Bilderberg Group bash in Copenhagen this week.  It would have been a pleasant trip and amusing in its way.  Spending a few days with Great Persons all of whom are representatives of a past era would have been nostalgic but not very useful.

Historically, it would have been reminiscent of the aristocrats, grandees and magnates who gathered together at Versailles in the last years before The Revolution of 1789 swept them away.  They were convinced of their permanence and greatness and right to rule.  They were wrong.

Then like now the first signs are small ones, usually disregarded or not given much attention.  What follows are events, disruptions, unexpected movements and unintended consequences creating a mix of chaos and calamity.

One apparently small sign could be the return of the Dead End Job to be the major employment and economic future of the large majority of the population. 

Just about old enough to remember this as a fact for most school leavers and to have known many people whose lives had been in such jobs and whose parents lives more so, this sends a shiver through the memory.

This item was triggered by a phone call and incidental to it was mention of job changes at work.  A feature of this was that his company had removed a whole swathe of management.  The basic workers were less affected and most of the big bosses stayed.  It was the ones in between that took the hit.

Allied to this has been a good many reports of restructuring and fundamental reorganisations in many types of activity and these are beginning to gather pace.  The reasons are complicated but not entirely financial, despite its critical role.

It has to do with what we consume or need, how we get it and how the relevant businesses are organised, controlled and in communication with each other.  And at the bottom, mostly the dead end jobs are the people who do the basic work.

The combination of globalisation, a variety of technologies with major economies of scale coupled with the huge increase in the power, capability, extent and artificial intelligence functions of computers etc. are causing a rapid transformation.

So all the easy and blithe assumptions and predictions made even less than a decade ago about work, employment, structures, managing and deciding are now being overtaken by a new world and not just of business but a lot else.

With it are going huge numbers of middle and higher range management jobs and those to which not just people have aspired, but major areas of higher education have been devoted to supplying with labour.

This is going to have some nasty consequences.  One is that you cannot have extensive free movement of labour and fluid markets for it with at the same time rigorous employment legislation and regulation.

Because you will be trying to protect past jobs and if you do not free up the new jobs will go somewhere else and that can be anywhere in the world open to unprotected dead end jobs and with the spare labour to do them.

And very few in any of our governments and especially in Europe and critically among people like the Bilderberg group have a clue about what is happening, why, or when or where it will hit.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Balloon Is Going Up

The unreformed Lords is now a bloated balloon.  This is the opinion of Lord Michael Oakeshott who was sent there in the year 2000 to stiffen up the rambling Liberal Democrat element and to reform the place.

He has had very limited success and in the last century and more the House of Lords has gone from a hundred or two of the greatest magnates in the land who believed in their sort of divine right to rule to a seething mob of placemen (and women), surrogate lobbyists and expenses claimers of the first rank.

It now outnumbers the just about elected House of Commons by many hundreds and does not begin to get near the job it is supposed to do.  It frustrates and complicates any sane attempt at government, on the rare occasions it is attempted.  The place is a political and administrative quagmire.

Now the infighting among the Liberal Democrats has begun to the entertainment of us all he has felt obliged to resign and give up the ghost as well as attending the Lords.  There is investment banking to be done and even that would be better.  He has made a statement.

The Statement in full is here, scroll down a little.  It does not tell us a lot but does remind us of the ignorance of most of our political class as well as their personal malevolence.  If this is the way the country is run then its present state can be little surprise.

It was a couple of weeks ago, we were taking our daily stroll when we were waylaid by two local Lib' Dem' fanatics out on a jihad against potential UKIP voters.  An obviously aged couple tottering along trying to track the local foxes we were not evidently a threat to society, if only because our walking sticks were not up to it.

After some insufferably arrogant and condescending interrogation, the Lady noticing the back straightening and the gleam decided enough was enough, I was shape changing into drill corporal mode. 

What was alarming was that in their arrogance they had made wild assumptions and were simply not reading the signals.  She made her excuses and we left, what worried her was that I was smiling, always a bad sign.

It was too late.  They had asked for our address so I had given them one.  It was a small house not far away with a large number of big men from by the Baltic who have a profound dislike of people asking questions.

I wonder if they voted Lib' Dem'?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How To Beat The Markets

This blog does not normally do tips or advice on playing the share and stock markets. 

But as it is nearly June and the shops will soon be having the Christmas seasons, perhaps it is time to try to help.

The information above in the diagram is supposed to be infallible.  So if you try it let me know if is not.

If you can afford the stamp.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Malthus Rules OK?

Out there are some who are still trying to make academic sense of what is happening in the demographics both now and in the past. 

In 1798 Thomas Malthus published "An Essay On The Principle Of Population", the debate on which, see Wikipedia "Malthusian Catastrophe", has rumbled on since.

Things can happen and it is argued, can happen relatively fast.  It is not easy to calculate or predict and a major difficulty seems to be that societies fail because of inherent problems in perception and action.

The link from PLOS One, an article by researchers titled "The Invisible Cliff: Abrupt Imposition Of Malthusian Equilibrium In A Natural-Fertility Agrarian Society" is long and closely written

Perhaps the Abstract and the last sections on Discussion and Conclusions are enough for most; at the end it says:


Many models that place population at the heart of social upheaval envision linked resource degradation as the ultimate cause. Overexploitation provokes deteriorating yields or, in the Maya case “a population collapse precipitated by agricultural failure”. This combination of causes may well have been the case historically.

But it is important to acknowledge that population can act abruptly and with severity even in the absence of an environmental crisis. In our analyses the environmental capacity to yield resources is not declining; our plunge to Malthusian constraints does not invoke factors like reduced yield, forest clearance or soil erosion.

Rather, the fate of the population resides primarily in the responses of fertility and mortality in the face of calorie shortages. Population stress and collapse might arise from punctuated demographic failure quite apart from environmental manifestation of resource overexploitation.

Abrupt imposition of Malthusian constraints and insufficient MTI may well be a stand-alone culprit in social evolution.


At the moment we are counting bees.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Have A Nice Day

As today is a public holiday perhaps it is time for something fun and cheery.  But then, my jokes are either obscure or not very funny.  So we will stick to the usual.

During the next few months the National Health Service is going to be one of the major political battle grounds of the election campaign. 

The provision, who it is for, how it is organised, who are intended to benefit and its role in the economy provide plenty of opportunity and our politics are nothing if not opportunist.

There is one small issue that is likely to be ignored.  This is because it is embarrassing and software matters are already an expensive shambles in health provision.  

The other is that the politicians and almost all the management are deeply ignorant of it and the implications.

Also, the media does not understand it and it does not make for easy news retailing, short clips and quick answers.  It is not something that is wanted high up or even on the agenda.

It is security and software and those of us who tap away do know that they are connected.

Read the link and worry, it might be you that the kit is wired up to.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Losing Energy

The signs are that the next few years could be ones of political confusion, dissent and divergence that could be at least unpleasant and at times downright nasty.  In past periods like this the effect is to push back decisions needed and to avoid difficult decisions.

One crucial area of action is that of energy and the mess that successive governments have made of policy in the last couple of decades or more.  This longer, technical analysis from Euan Mearns argues that UK policy not simply flawed but self defeating in a way that will cause serious economic damage.

The essential feature is the administration and government is imprisoned by the past.  This does not just means policies, what is being done and how.  It means that government spending and action have created a structure, supporting and involved network of companies and commitments that would have to be scrapped.

Given that these are now through lobbying and financial support for parties and politicians integral to the government it would take almost a revolution or more likely increasing problems to change.  Yet if we do not change there is the potential for disaster.

Looking back at the whole period since World War 2 time after time we have seen "imprisonment in the past" to be a feature of British government in the way it addresses change and industrial and commercial challenges.  Almost always too little too late and in tackling what has to be done.

It is not just in government.  One of the features of our major banks at present is the ramshackle ageing software systems in use that are becoming increasingly vulnerable.  Across much of the economy in fact our software is behind the game.

In the alleged "earthquake" that is supposed to have happened, it is more like a little subsidence among the politicians.  Unless our governments and economic leadership begin to direct real effort and thought to the future the big ones are yet to come.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Ringing The Changes

In 1906 the Liberal Party, led by a Scot, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, won a landslide election after the Conservatives had run into a number of difficulties.  Even Arthur Balfour, their Leader and another Scot, had lost his seat.

There was a new party in contention, The Labour Party, led by a Scot, Keir Hardie, had won around thirty seats in a scattering of industrial areas.  In an age of two member constituencies, in some cases they were "junior" members allowed in by local deals.

By 1935, the once great and ruling Liberal Party had fragmented and were down to 20 seats.  Led by Sir Archibald Sinclair, of a leading Scottish family, albeit born in Chelsea, they went into the 1945 election and a worse debacle in the year of Labour's landslide win.

The Labour members of 1906 were not seen as a coming party and their members on the whole seemed very ordinary men with a handful of exceptions and they were underrated.  Limited by money, M.P.'s then were not paid with the poorer depending on others. 

It seemed then to most experts and the journals that they might be a "nuisance" group essentially to be perhaps ignored, sometimes given concessions and when necessary bought off.  Yet they saw off the Liberal Party and at a critical time in history inflicted a heavy and humiliating defeat on the Conservatives.

During the 1980's we had the emergence of the Liberal Democrat's in an attempt to marry centrist Labour people with what was left of the Liberal Party, then the last refuge of the eccentrics. 

Their hopes of power were not shared by the electorate at large and it took one of the major financial disasters of history to put them into a coalition with any sort of influence.  They have not handled the situation wisely, largely adding to the confusion and being too imprisoned by their past.

Do we now have a new situation developing?  If so the chances are with modern media and more transient loyalties as well as a society with divergences the pace of change could be a great deal more rapid.

We could be about to have a very bumpy ride and a very unhappy one.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Reminders Of A Europe Past

There have been two items in the news from the Europe of the past as a backdrop to elections in which many less than half are expected to vote.  One reason for the disinterest is that the people we send there will have little or no influence and even less standing.

This item of news in today's Mail is about the finding of what may be a Cromwell tank at Stade near Hamburg, perhaps with crew from the last days of World War 2. 

It is believed to from the 7th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats, and if so it might well be possible to identify the unit and perhaps even the men. The possible tank units in that area at the time are limited in number.

It was this Division that provided the British Army element in the Victory Parade in Berlin on 21 July 1945, picture above with Churchill, Montgomery, Alanbrooke and others taking the salute.  Had the crew of this tank survived they might have been there.

Another from 18 May in The Telegraph is the obituary of a young man close to Field Marshal Montgomery at the surrender of the Germans forces a few days later.  Derek Knee was translator during the negotiations.

He would not have been far away from events.  The HQ's in this war were mobile and not as removed from the action as those of past wars.  They had to be ready to go and did within an hour or two.  As someone who rather later was involved in move orders believe me, I was a squaddie.

What is difficult for me to accept that almost everything these men fought for we have given away and will never get it back.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Taking The Low Road

In the last couple of weeks there has been the thought to say something about the Euro elections but a lack of enthusiasm or much interest has induced not so much writer's block as there are better things in life.

Why has been made clear on reading an extended essay in depth by Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books.  Titled "The Italian Disaster", this is in the context of a corrupt and disorganised Europe. 

Others, notably, Raedwald and Capitalists at Work have pointed to this as well.

This link takes you to it and before going into a thorough analysis of the ills of Italy and how it could break the EU it does a grand tour of all the corruption and destruction of democracy elsewhere. 

It is depressing and simply makes the Euro election look like a Joe Orton farce.

Already, it seems that in the UK the police now need to guard polling stations in a number of areas.  Perhaps to prevent UKIP voters being banged on the head by placard wielding Europhiles or vice versa.

Meanwhile the doomsters out there are surfacing again using more figures to tell us that the sharks are back and hungry.  Also our heir to the throne makes one wise crack too many, comparing Putin to Hitler, and stirs up more trouble.

If he isn't careful, he could find the Royal family being asked to leave Balmoral on being made unwelcome in Scotland and it being offered to President Putin as a holiday home on the back of a good deal with Gazprom.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Blow The Wind Southerly

There is a lot of stuff flying about and the instinct is to duck and dive.  A good many people are letting fly and perhaps it is better not to get in the way.

They may be missing a story that could turn out to be big, if not recognised as such.  France Coppola, an able and interesting economist warns us that the bid to raise fresh capital by Deutsche Bank may not be enough.  It is not a long piece and is clear but does require close reading.

Yes, I hear the sighs, just another bank, just another mess, so what's new?  Well, Deutsche are a major operator in The City and they are embroiled extensively in our property market along with credit derivative trading. 

One involvement was with Kaupthing and their difficulties, one of which is currently a major legal case between our government and the financiers concerned.  The last thing we need at present is a Zombie bank emerging from the grave.

Then there are the links, little known or understood with Russia and some its interests.  Is Moscow holding the bag on this one, if so where is that going?  Little of this will emerge in the media and few people know or understand enough to comment.

Another interesting idea today is from Craig Murray concerning the Blair and Bush letters and The Chilcot Report.  His "Yes" vote for Scottish Independence case is enhanced by the view that Scotland could have Blair up before the War Crimes Tribunal and hopefully banged up inside.  My criticism is that he is too kind.

Also saying Yes is, of all people, George Monbiot, whose hope is for the New Scots to finally dish the Lairds and take the land back to proper uses, not least in The Highlands.  It is a piece of idealism but whether Edinburgh will be less corrupt and under the heel of the money men is open to question.

The matter that is common to these three items is that none of them enjoy much attention or interest in our media.

I wonder why?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Keys Are For Keeps

The media suggest there are people in a lather again about property prices, building and all the rest.  It is not surprising that there seem to be problems. 

This below is based on a comment put on a blog today.

Over a number of decades we have awarded ourselves much greater amounts of living space per head, believing that the costs will be met essentially by future real economic growth. 

We have changed our social arrangements for personal partnerships in favour of forms of individualism that add to housing demand.

We have gone for rapid population growth unevenly distributed.  The money transactions resulting may give apparent growth but does not guarantee increased real wealth per head. 

We have created financial means to allow multiple personal property ownership well beyond actual living requirements.  This has led to under occupation in a number of areas. 

We have channelled vast credit facilities into the housing market to boost prices and activity.  Mortgages have changed from being a long term requirement to forms of credit used for short term gaming the market. "Trading up" is an example.

We have assumed that building houses is necessarily investment when much of it amounts to consumption.  Also, the figures for housing rarely if ever allow for maintenance, repair and other related costs.

We have allowed large building firms, many of which have complex tax avoiding structures and aim for maximising returns, to enjoy hidden subsidies and support.

We have not taken into account the demographics which has led to a property rich number of the old growing richer at the expense of the young generation, many of whom either cannot afford or struggle to meet housing costs.  At the same time the aged, including those in social housing have benefits paid for by taxing the young in work.

We have allowed the social housing sector to become discriminatory.  In particular this arises from allowing present  residents and family members to enjoy quasi-ownership rights.  Again these are heavily subsidised in many cases.

We have made promises arising from the above to all and sundry that cannot possibly be fulfilled.  Also, for property owning on mortgages these are now largely securitised and used to fund speculation in financial products. 

We have in the rental sector changed Housing Associations to  become financial operators as opposed to housing providers.  The private market is now largely speculative as opposed to being providers.     

Then we wonder why things are going wrong, notably the economy, social relationships, family life, the benefit system, taxation policies and any sense of community or purpose in saving or taking personal financial responsibility.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Smoking Gun?

In the arena of the debate on climate change there is often bitterness added to the dispute. It is because of our modern awareness of risks and the history in the past of various shifts and turns in weather on top of the usual academic or political punch up's.

This item from deep history from Cornell University, hat tip to Archaeologica, is an intriguing one.  Using samples taken from long ago, they have identified a change that had radical effects and ended a phase of Egyptian history.

The implication of this, it is suggested, is that the change might only be little more that a short term significant fluctuation rather than a long term catastrophic shift to undo a complex society dependent on intensive agriculture.

I do wish our weather forecasters would stop going on about how severe long lasting heat is always "good" and "happy" and how occasional rainfall and showers are "bad news" and "spoils" things.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Wheeling The Oils

You pays your money and you place your bets.  On the one hand the Global Sustainability Institute suggests that Britain is close to running out of oil, gas and coal.  The government Department of Energy and Climate Change promptly rubbished their views.

The BBC Report of the row briefly indicates the battle lines.  It is not a subject for me to discuss in detail.  A modest search of the web will reveal umpteen learned papers, policy documents, expert discussion and the rest.  My own view is that what we want we will not get and what we would like is not on offer.

In the mid 20th Century while in gross terms there was still coal in the ground, because not all coal is the same it appeared that some types were becoming shorter in supply so costing rather more and others had disadvantages that included costs of treatment to make useful.

Because of the central role coal had played in industry, trade and much of life its mining had become highly political.  Also, because coal extraction was located in particular communities the electoral system delivered many Members of Parliament who were there to defend the existing coal industry literally at all costs as were the relevant trade unions.

That there was an emotional side to this is significant.  The picture above is of the memorial to those who died at the Hickleton Main Colliery.  There are names there which are known.  The effects in this one source of fuel resource alone took decades to resolve and injected serial bitterness, disputes and economic consequences that are still with us today.

Because politically the issues were simplified to political sound bites and forced into ideological dogmas for analysis it prevented both real understanding or any serious vision of the scale and nature of the changes that were under way in both the provision and technology and a lot else of fuel and energy supplies.

So in the present debate both sides are right and both sides are wrong.  It is right that because of our greed and wasteful use of resources they might diminish sharply in supply and at a high cost.  What happens when is an interesting question. 

We are wrong if we think we can manage or deal with rapid and radical change easily given our existing political frameworks, lobbying systems and arcane backward looking governments.  Relentless short termism and promises to be paid for in an improbable future were all part of the routines.

As in the mid 20th Century the old and existing jobs, plant, working systems, technology, management, control, financial and political effects will change whether we like it or not.

Given  past experience we are very likely to make matters worse rather than better.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Losing The Picture

When you are in a hurry and skipping over material it is very easy to make a mistake or a wrong assumption.  From this other things may follow and down the line the mess might become difficult to disentangle.

The picture above was flicking across the screen, one of a series, and my immediate reaction was to wonder what Nick Clegg, our Deputy Prime Minister, was doing kicking someone who was being held down by a couple of Royal Marines.

That the clip said he was an adviser to the PM made me wonder for about three seconds but then assumed that the Deputy PM had been elevated to a more important and influential role in government. 

Perhaps one that allowed him to clog either a dissident minister or member of Parliament, or at least a stray pleb' who had been riding his bicycle for laughs.  That he might be unlikely to do this should have been a reaction, but as Nick is a sensitive person given to instant emoting again I assumed it was he.

Luckily before doing anything or tweeting to the million or so followers on my zeusknowsall address to alert the nation it was cup of tea time.  Returning to the machine and slowed down when the picture came up it appeared that it was not Nick Clegg it was from Turkey and concerning reactions to the tragedy there.

The Coalition has now been in post for four years and is showing all the signs of wear and tear.  Cameron is looking tired and out of sorts and all the glitching and bitching now is not due to the run up to the immediate or later elections.  It is too many people who have been chasing their tails for too long. 

There is no shortage of information on the web about the effects of lack or sleep, or of stress, or of tired people making hasty decisions or statements or pursuing wrong choices when they should not be. 

Given the challenges that could arise in the next two or three years the idea that our leaders are not just ill equipped to deal with them or are working with faulty systems or poor data but may not have either the minds or the bodies to cope is worrying.

Equally, the modern demands of many of the jobs at crucial points in our organisations and services place, if not equal, but severe pressures in a lifestyle that denies decent rest and sleep.

We may all be going mad and more and more quickly.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Marching By Numbers

When doing the drill corporal thing movement was always strictly by numbers.  When in academic mode later and questions of historical demographics arose, the statisticians were always trying to get a fix on the actual numbers rather than other matters that tended to clutter minds.

Now as we totter past all the cars with BG, LT, LV and PL markers around our streets and the municipal car park that overnight last weekend became a Romanian Travellers Camp, the issue of numbers again comes to mind.

The latest fuss is that in January this year, instead of having large numbers from Romania and Bulgaria there were fewer than predicted by some.  Those who did not come made entirely rational and sensible decisions.  The weather was filthy, the roads were a mess and on the farms little or nothing was being done.

Others point out that despite this dip in the figures we still have a lot of people from those places and more are coming.  That some predictions were excessive is par for the course in this kind of debate.  Actual analysis is not, this is forbidden territory because of modern sensitivities.

However, the crisis in the Ukraine has at least reminded us that a nation state does not mean a coherent and single group.  In the Baltic states there are minorities and some of those are Russians.  It is likely that a number of our recently arrived "Lithuanians" are in fact from their Russian minority, once rulers, now very much ruled.

Movement can occur for many reasons.  There is ordinary economic or personal movement, there is induced movement, either push or pull or both and there is forced movement which can take various forms.  In the present migration into the UK we see elements of all these.

At the moment the excitements are about that from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.  But the ones to watch if only because of the numbers are those from a number of places in Africa and from locations further East.

Nigeria is in the headlines at present and the figures there are instructive.  The figures given in one source suggest that it's population at present is around 170 million.  A hundred years ago, when the British fully established their ruthless and oppressive colonial rule (stopping internal wars etc.) in 1914, it was 17 million.

By the time independence was gained it had increased to 48 million.  So when there is debate about GDP, poverty etc. in order to have a population that is more prosperous it would entail huge real growth, distributed widely and with little outward capital flows arising from criminality and corruption.

Looking around Africa it is clear that this has not really happened in parts where there have been other major population increases.  A corollary is that there will be population outflows wherever it is possible and they will go where they can.

Even if these outflows are only a small percentage of the population of the countries of origin if they go to places with much smaller populations they will have a greater impact.  If some of these places have multiple inflows from many sources the aggregate effect is going to be large.

The consequences possible include a progressive transfer of poverty levels to locations with inward movement as the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of economic growth, notably in economies more dependent on service sector activity.  

If along with ordinary movement there is also a transfer of criminal or other divergent elements unwanted and stressing politically in their home locations this again will have consequences.

Who knows what could happen?  At present there are a limited number of major grain growing areas in the world.  One is the Ukraine, one is the Mid West of the USA at risk of major drought and there are others that are vulnerable.

It is quite possible that suddenly severe grain shortages could induce high levels of movement that are entirely unexpected.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Return Of The Wombles

Today's post is short because the link, while not being long, is intriguing.  If you think the Ukraine business is a one off for Europe you could be wrong.

Another return to history is on the cards if Der Spiegel is correct in the thinking about Bulgaria.  On our patch there are a few from there, our new Europeans with their own Bulgarian food shop.

If you thought that they were only confined to Wimbledon then you were wrong.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Opening Doors

Walking around local streets built something over a hundred years ago was an exercise not just of the legs but the history of property.  The houses were terraced and packed in close to put as many per acre as was compatible with the times.

But they were then sold as leasehold with the local estate owner taking ground rents at say five pounds a year.  So a street of a hundred houses would yield an income of five hundred a year guaranteed, a goodly sum.  The freehold was retained by the estate so when the leases expired they could determine what happened next.

Then Lloyd George and the Liberals came along upping taxes and introducing inheritance tax.  As for the houses many leases were bought by people who put their savings into property and rented them out.  But after the First World War and a housing shortage the idea of Rent Controls took hold.

This had relatively limited effect until the 1940's when penal taxes were imposed on "unearned incomes".  At the same time the gradual and then more rapid inflation of prices was ahead of rent increases allowed under the controls.  Also estates came under a variety of pressures.

So by the 1950's changes arose.  The estate owners sold off their freeholds, no long worth much because of taxation and many of the them being under financial pressure.  Those who were renting out faced demands for major improvement costs to put in electricity, hot and cold water and bathrooms etc.

The result was that many of them sold the properties for what they could get and the freeholds often went with them.  By this stage in any event it was increasingly common for builders to sell new houses freehold both for marketing and profit.

After the Second World War there was again a serious housing shortage and the State had to intervene to allow local authorities to expand the building programmes they had been providing since the 1920's and housing was a major election issue.

There was relatively little private investment in new rental housing because of the effect of rent controls and the demand for better equipped and more spacious housing promoted again by the state.  Ordinary savings went elsewhere and it was a sector that people with disposable wealth were advised to shun.

It came to be assumed that only the state and local authorities could build and manage social housing and it was central to much of the business of local and central politics with all the disadvantages of this, notably corruption and malpractice.

To add to this the recent history of property law is a very complicated area and there has been no shortage of change or legislation, both in 1993 and 2002.  It is not just the weight of history that hangs heavy it is that of the recent burdens put upon the market.

Also what is going on does not match up with what is assumed.  Land Registry figures are quoted as reliable, but for some time there have been numbers of property transactions not registered.  Also, some that are registered may not be owned by whoever is named, particularly in many leasehold properties.

In the USA it is known what happened when the security for mortgages was taken and used in various ways as financial products for a variety of purposes. The situation in the UK is much less clear due to the bailing out of so many banks etc.

The need to keep the property market active and the prices rising may be driven by the potentially catastrophic potential of the consequences of securitisation of mortgage assets by major banks who may not know who now has title to the securities.

In leasehold developments the complexities have meant that who is supposed to be the freeholder is not the person who controls the money or has title.  These too may have been bundled and used as financial products in a chain of activity.  After the recent crash it is possible that many titles might have been lost.

The property market is not a simple whole, it is many sided with many margins and pressures and activity on those margins.  But these can interact.  For example in one minor part we are no longer exporting so many pensioners to foreign markets, in fact we are re-importing many of those from the past.  Add to that the imports of the elderly joining recently arrived incomers from extended families and you have a reversal in this sector.   

There have been other significant shifts at other margins in the market with the effect that it has become tighter and more difficult both to understand and manage.  This is not going to work out well.  There are too many pressures on the too many pressure points at the same time.

Inevitably, there are calls for more state action.  This is all too likely to add to the burdens, costs and problems we already have.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

What Do You Mean By That?

In that thing between the ears one of the driving forces of our actions is the ideas we have and what we believe.  In the last couple of days time and effort has been spent on a search for knowledge, or rather new furniture.

Then, suddenly, the realisation came that the idea was not the right one and the answer was different, if only marginally.  But that margin made a difference both to costs and the layout of the room in question.

Luckily, this is what was going on in my own head.  Also, others were not troubled or dragged into futile and damaging disputes which enmeshed others, groups or nations.  Had I still been fixed with that idea and another had tried to explain to me that I was wrong it might have been a different matter.

Long ago it is possible that my ancestors took it into their heads that young mammoths were easier to catch, deal with and cook.  The old way of relying on the old, weak and tough ones for protein was discarded. 

The result was that the attrition on the young ones killed and eaten before reproduction meant that the mammoths died out and humans were forced to look for other reliable and easy to maintain foods.  Later the human groups and their extended families began to collide over food sources.

And look at what happened.  Perhaps human development has just been one chapter of accidents after another as we tried to cope with getting the wrong ideas, going after wrong solutions to problems and changing our minds only after disastrous events and conflicts.

A worrying aspect of the human conditions is the reluctance, even the determination, to admit that some idea or notion is wrong and we have to change.  When we do we then tend to lurch into extreme reversals with all the trouble that ensues. 

Human history has too many examples of groups or nations hanging on to the wrong idea to the last, refusing to admit that the chaos and destruction that is occurring around them is the consequence of the failure to adjust, change, or even reverse previous decisions.

Look around you to select something that might be an example and consider it along with others that might be.  Of course if you let me know, very likely I will take the view that you are wrong.

And if you want to make an issue of it I'll see you outside.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

My Freedom Your Servitude

As the pressures on our various budgets increase and as more demands are made with apparently reducing means of paying for them some intriguing stories popped up.  In places where major concessions were made in the past those who make decisions now have some awkward choices.

This tale of woe and misery comes from the People's Republic of South Yorkshire namely Barnsley where in the Age of Blunkett and Scargill back in the 1980's the locals were showered with gifts if not exactly from the gods then from those on local authorities who believed that Stalin was the Almighty.

The article is just a little one sided and omits some things that might be said.  There had been free rail passes for pensioners to travel at all times.  This has been taken back to parallels with the national scheme.  But the Senior Railcard option, at a modest fee, is not mentioned.

One thing that raised both eyebrows was referring to the Library cuts where it is said that retired teachers and lawyers had suffered.  Teachers have had a national pension scheme, a quite reasonable final salary one with early retirement options. 

So anyone with long enough service could well have one of around the average national weekly earnings with provision for widows as well.  As for lawyers to be numbered among the poverty stricken one can only wonder.  Is the local population really so law abiding and free of legal disputes?

If you look at the numbers closely enough it is not quite a mass movement, more of a collection of local Left wing interests in a district noted for hard left Labour sympathies.  It would take a long blog to deconstruct what this is all about, just use your critical faculties.

It does encapsulate on a small scale the problems facing any government coming into power.  For decades the goodies were given out believing that boom after boom would pay for it all and the rich could be taxed to the hilt. 

Now the costs of all this are rising and rising and most of the rich have made other arrangements.  So the people who have to pay are more and more not just the middling orders as the media suggests but the ordinary people who do work in basic jobs and who are caught in the tax net.

If you are in the lower ranges of income and find yourself trying to travel to work, it must be difficult if you find the train is full of "Freedom Riders" who do not pay, occupy the seats, and have the spare to "boost consumer spending" while you are paying for them and finding it hard, very hard, to cover your living costs.

Is it any wonder that so many of the younger generations, notably those who have to work have given up on government and voting?

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Russians Are Coming

It is quite like old times.  Big parades in Red Square for Moscow Victory Day with cheering crowds bringing a smile to their President's normally stern face and ships of the Russian Navy heading down the North Sea and English Channel.

Luckily it was not like in October 1904 when the Russian Baltic Fleet attacked and sank some Hull fishing trawlers at the Dogger Bank believing they were Japanese motor torpedo boats.  Britain then had a treaty with Japan but Russia had gone to war against them which they lost disastrously.

The Royal Navy were sent out from Chatham, Portsmouth and Devonport to remind the Russian's of our might and their errors.  This month we could manage only a single destroyer wandering around their rear tracking their signals.

The Russians are heading for the Med'.  At one time the Brit's regarded this as their waters but no longer. Now it is the fief of none except the boats carrying migrants fleeing the hardships of Africa for the security of Europe.

The Russian's might find their way into the Black Sea in case anybody wants to interfere with the takeover of The Crimea.  Unlike in the 1850's France and Britain are unlikely to go to war in the Crimea to turf the Russians out.

We haven't the ships, we haven't the men and we haven't the money too, to parody the old jingo song I learned at Grannie's knee.  Britain now does not rule the waves or anything.  We might win the Nobel prize for useless whingeing if there was one.

All we can do is to tamely follow the loons of Brussels and the lame of Washington DC in making matters worse for the peoples in troubled places in an attempt to gain contracts for either the few British firms left British, or at least the ones that fund our political parties.

Is it around sixty years ago since I stood on the banks of The Elbe along with a few riflemen of The Cameronians and troopers of The Royals chucking empty beer bottles in the general direction of the Soviet patrols on the other side telling them we would be in Moscow by Friday?

When I was back at the signals truck the traffic was crazy.  At least then they took us seriously.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

News From Nowhere

Science marches on, or staggers swaying from side to side depending on how you look at it.  Having already done an item about how unwelcome bad news is, perhaps there should be more effort into promoting it as good news.

One such finding from the bones of the past was that after the Great Plague of the 14th Century, the surviving generations lived longer, better fed and healthier lives.  The reasons could be complicated but at the simplest level fewer people may have more on their platter.  Bring back the plague?

Another item was about the nature of resistance to antibiotics a matter of concern to science, health and all of us.  A new angle on this is that as the cows pumped up with the drug do the natural thing, the manure then used as fertiliser transmits the genes for resistance into the plant food chain.

For those who think the human race is gradually, or rapidly, going mad there is a case being made for a problem with the body's ability to deliver sulphate to the brain to nourish it being damaged by the extensive use of metal toxins in a wide range of things, notably vaccines.  Also Glysophate, a pesticide in extensive and often excessive use, is in the frame.

Where do I come from is a question that DNA science is more able to answer.  The linked article in Science Daily says that now it is possible to narrow down a location to village level at around a thousand years ago.  If this was made compulsory some people may be heartened but I fear that a lot more would have a nasty surprise.

Last but not least is the news that on opening a bottle of wine, it is the fruity flavours that fade first and quite quickly.  The idea of necking a bottle of Chateau Latour to avoid this does not really appeal.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Keep Taking The Pills

Keeping track of all the elements in the human comedy is becoming more and more difficult.  One reason is that it is now very easy to find out more and look for a variety of comment.  Another is the immediacy and extent of media operations deliver more to worry about.

This cheery prediction dropped in the Inbox from one of the more optimistic members of my family.  We may be all doomed but at least there are a few years fun left; for those who can afford it.

Another opinion entirely came from the pessimistic side giving the chance of signing up to a project designed to run for ten thousand years, give or take a millennia or two.  It would have been of interest to see the predicated profit and loss figures and perhaps the rate of return on investment.

In the meantime war has broken out between the USA and the UK.  Luckily, just a war of words at present.  Pfizer of USA, big Pharma' incarnate of the alternative universe is trying to  swallow gallant little AstraZenica of the UK.

The intention is digest the patent rights, current profitable research and financial assets and to spit out anything where they do not like the taste of the figures or possible damage to the structure of their own product base from other new ones.

At one time our political leaders would have been rushing about bawling about the wonders of foreign investment and confidence in Britain.  Now Pfizer are characterised as thieves in the night.

Why might this be?  Could it involve plants and facilities located in key marginal constituencies or major UK lobby men with a lot to lose and a scientific establishment with much more at stake?

Some commentators point to the scale and extent of sell outs of the recent and further past and suggest it is down to the shareholders whose votes are critical.  Others seem to be born again economic nationalists anxious to preserve British firms for British workers.

There is more going on here than is apparent and it may be a case of who has interests in what.  More to the point, who are the shareholders?  They are hardly widows, orphans and ageing clergy in rural decay. 

They are trusts, pension funds and many financial entities who are either obliged to or committed to maximising their return on the value of their investments.  Which way they will jump has yet to be seen.  Much of what is being said politically is posturing.

The concerning aspect about so much of the financial services activity that bulks so large in our economy is that so very few of the population and indeed of the elite really know or understand how it operates.

In the old days we could understand how mines and factories functioned and how ships were built and the rest.  But what goes on around the computers and calculators of high finance and complex company structures is beyond almost all of us.

And usually we do not find out much until it is too late and those who try to tell us know little more.