Saturday, 19 August 2017

A Bright Golden Haze





At the centre of the debate about the meaning of the Presidency of Donald Trump are the questions of what is America and who are the Americans.

If nothing else his individual style of governance and off the cuff ideologies have brought out the realisation that the USA is not what it was and it is unclear what it will be.

It would be interesting to know what Jane Austen might have thought about America, but her ideas will have gone into the fire that her sister, Cassandra, made of most of her papers and letters. What is little known is that Jane can be connected to the Battle Hymn Of The Republic.

When Francis Scott Keys wrote it during the Siege of Baltimore, the Brit' in command outside was known to and probably acquainted with her through their mutual clergy and extended family contacts. His wife was a Marianne and the centre of scandals.

Time has moved on since then. A few days ago the BBC Proms did a double bill of the musical "Oklahoma", the original stage version is from 1943 and the film 1955 the show being centred on the Territory becoming a State Of The Union in 1907.

A big show stopper is the chorus celebrating this about farmers and cowhands being friends and should now stick together. The USA at that time was driving to the West with migrants both from America and Europe taking the land. What we call First Nation now was not mentioned.

The Trump's however stayed in New York and went into money and property and did very well. The erstwhile farmers and cowboys found their new paradise turned into a dust bowl in the 1930's. The poverty stricken went west to California and were derided as "Okies" migrants, see John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath".

Two and three generations later in turn they are now coming to terms with other migrants from many places. Only California has a large population and in terms of size and wealth outstrips many independent nations of the world.

It is not surprising that many Californians now wonder why they need Washington DC to have final control of their affairs and soon there may be a real push for independence.

Perhaps the farmers and the cowhands are going to start falling out again. Perhaps the Supreme Court may decide that the "First Nation" remaining people are the ones who matter and really own the land, it could happen.

But the diggers and sifters of the past, the archaeologists and geneticists are coming round to a different view, that the real First Nation people may have been from the East.

With China now buying up so many of the assets of the West with it seems unlimited funds, however created, this is back to a past we can only imagine.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Drilling Bits Bite Back




There you are driving along with all the family and the presents when you realise you are low on fuel. Then you remember that by taking the scenic route you have avoided all the petrol stations. A nice day out has just gone badly wrong.

There is a problem with our hopes that fracking will fill up the tanks, not only in vehicles but in the economy when the other supplies of oil are reduced and increased in price.

Moreover, it is a UK problem that is tectonic, meaning allegedly the wrong kind of rocks in the wrong place for us to take advantage of what may be down there. It seems that other places are not the same and we may have been taking our geology for granted.

The upshot is that a lot of drilling will have to be done to determine whether or not fracking drilling can work. Our politicians may find it challenging when explaining this to their constituents.

So how long have we got?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

What's In A Name?





We in Europe might wonder about the Charlottesville troubles. In the USA other places have similar problems. It may be a small town for us but in the USA it is a place with major sensitivities.

To quote Wikipedia:

Charlottesville is a city in Virginia. It’s home to the University of Virginia, with its core campus designed by Thomas Jefferson. On the outskirts, Jefferson’s mountain-top plantation, Monticello, includes a mansion and rebuilt slave quarters. Highland, President James Monroe’s home, retains many original furnishings. The city is a gateway to Shenandoah National Park, along a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Unquote.

Jefferson, one of the key men of the early history of the USA and James Monroe of the Monroe Doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the drive west and the creation of a new major world power. Then there is the name.

The Charlotte was the Queen of King George III, a lady forgotten in our history or written off as a figure of little consequence. But she could be rated as one of the more interesting and able monarchs in British history. George's spells of severe illness put her into the position of being key to the politics of the time.

One feature of those politics was the rise and influence of the Anti-Slavery movement that in Britain culminated in the Act of 1833 for the Abolition of Slavery. It paralleled another Act of that year, the Factory Act that attempted to deal with the horrors of child labour in the industrial areas.

The Abolition of Slavery Act, however, resulted in compensation being paid to estate owners largely in the Caribbean for the loss of value entailed. This has long been held to be something that should not have happened, the idea of paying off slave owners understandably provoking opposition on moral grounds.

But there was more to this at the time than is understood and I only came across a possible explanation by accident, as ever, looking for something entirely different. Seeking information on wills and probate for certain people to work out how and why they could afford to stand for Parliament the figures I was looking at were odd.

The value of property of an estate had to be declared and where a slave owner had died, this meant the valuation of the slaves. But looking at the values given for slaves of various ages etc. they did not make sense, especially given that the owner had to house and feed them. All too often at very low level, but still added costs.

If the values were over stated, it attracted more tax; so why did the figures seem so high? One obvious reason after the 1808 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves is demand and supply. But there was another side to this. A clue was in the rise of the Lascelles family to become major estate owners.

They were bankers and many of their customer estate owners failed because of the ups and downs of the trade and years of bad harvests as well as too much consumer spending. So the Lascelles found it financially better to run the estates rather than having to sell them at a knock down price.

What was characteristic about the Caribbean estates was that they were often mortgaged to provide capital and also borrowed to cover running costs, a bad combination. One result was that The City and the bankers charged relatively high interest rates.

As the slaves were often bought with borrowed money then The City had a major role in the funding. In short the 1833 Act was less about helping out the estate owners than making sure The City did not suffer major losses or difficulties.

Without compensation there might have been a run on the banks. There was still a run a few years later, but that happened later and was just one of a series during a period of instability, when often the government simply made matters worse.

But what was striking about the slave valuations was that the annual cost of all this for the estate owners was actually rather higher per head than that of factory owners in England paying their workers.

So when the "free" workers, who could be hired and fired at will complained about being worse off than slaves this may not have been an exaggeration. It is one reason for the riots and political demonstrations of the period and the violence, fear, hunger and uncertainty.

In Ireland one answer for most of the rural population was to plant potatoes.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Spot The Error





The internet is not always entirely reliable. The quote below is copied from Wikipedia.

Use your skill and judgement to detect what might be on the whole and taking everything into consideration, a little misleading.

Quote:

180 Ebury Street
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
180 Ebury Street in the Belgravia district of London was the home of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his family from August 5th 1974 to September 24th 1974 during the Mozart family's grand tour of Europe.[1]

Unquote.

We were in Pont Aven in August 1974, painting the town red.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Back To The Past In Korea





The Korean crisis gives a jolt to the memory. In the last few days of Army basic training it was time for postings to be made known. In the Corps they could be anywhere in the world or in the UK. Some badly wanted to be in the UK for personal reasons, others to be somewhere abroad that was interesting and peaceful.

The place that nobody wanted to be was Korea, anywhere but anywhere whatever the troubles was better than Korea. Not only was it grim, it was the most difficult to get back from at the end. So your National Service could last a lot longer in reality than the two years.

We were lucky, by our time few were going out. But if the rather random choice of who went where had picked on me I might have lived a different life and it would not have been a better one. Now seeing another crisis unfold in Korea is something I could do without.

Especially, as it seems to be yet again a puppet dictator with a big military and wanting to "do something" meets a US demagogue authoritarian President of the "do something, do anything" policy mode. Since the early 1950's and for that matter before how many of these have come and gone?

Then we had a new United Nations that was the means of organising a joint force to go to Korea. But we do not need them any more. We have the generals and political leaders in the bunkers controlling airborne weaponry that will always obey orders and in a time frame, not of weeks or months, but seconds and hours.

What is far worse is that we have two states where at the top the rule and decision making has become chaotic. We can only guess at the power struggles and bitterness at the Court of Kim in Korea and who controls the inputs to him. As for Washington DC the White House has become less of a ruling House than a transit camp for third grade media men.

Our world however is another world and far removed from that of the early 1950's. The networks of globalisation, the prominence of fragile and unpredictable financial systems now central to governments and the dependence on trade, foreign capital and interchange of so many states make any military crisis a world crisis.

History tells us that a combination of a power seeking military controlling a puppet ruler in one place and a confused and ignorant leader who just wants to be admired in another means a high risk of conflict and crisis across a world.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Busy Going Nowhere




Recently, after links from time to time from one of the family, I have put theengineer.co.uk on the list of sites to look at. It can tell me a lot. The latest makes me want a new Aston Martin, sadly the credit rating doesn't run to it.

This brief article whose text demands above average literacy, deals with the question of which countries are in the fast and slow lanes for future development; the UK seems to be in the slow one. This is bad for the long term future.

It is not surprising, our government has been pumping up the adrenalin for the financial sector as the big boy of the future. The last time the politicians went into a dizzy fit about this was shortly before the crash of 2007/8.

But what if the crash was not simply an old fashioned crash like all those we knew from the past? What if in a changing future it was just one more major readjustment that are now a key feature of global finance and trade and which occur more rapidly and with greater immediate effect?

Systems can be gamed of course as well as hacked or put to other uses. This short one from schneier.com tells us that taxi drivers can do this to impact on pricing in their favour. As well as this the one before on hacking slot machines, and after on vulnerable equities tell us what the techie's can and will do.

It is possible that given the mind set of our leaders of today and the key people they go to for advice and policy guidance, they are more interested in gaming old and declining systems than they are in what is actually happening and how we are likely to finish up.




Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Facts And Figurines





"Let us have the facts" is a familiar request in many fields. The trouble is what one person may see as fact another does not and some facts are elusive. They can be difficult to believe if true and when used in debate become slippery and difficult.

Egyptology is an academic field that has been around for over two centuries owing its origin to Napoleon and his French invasion of Egypt. Their successors have been digging away, classifying etc. now for a long time and are a major school of archaeology, with all that is entailed.

Science has now become a greater instrument for discovery and analysis of what has been, rather than the painstaking work of digging, identifying on the basis of previous findings and then theorising on what might have been what.

The rapid and nature of 21st Century Science in particular is not only making discoveries but could cause revision or new thinking in many areas, to the discomfort of the established schools of thought if not entailing radical changes in some respects.

The report concludes:

But Egyptologists say that science cannot replace archaeologists and their work on the ground. "It is important to have science in archaeology," said Hawass.

"But it is very important not to let scientists announce any details about what they found unless it has been seen by Egyptologists."

Unquote.

This could get interesting and very difficult.