Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ouch I've Been Digitised

The torrent of archive and other material appearing on the web can be a help and a hindrance. The EU's data and privacy laws are now impacting in many ways, unintended consequences running riot. One in the press is apparently that Universities can no longer publish the class lists for their graduates.

At the same time my old place has put its student newspaper on the web. It was a very different world. So what was I doing in October 1958? The edition for the 23rd of that month tells if not all then some of it. I am on the sports page, although my team were losers, could I plead privacy?

But it is who else is in that edition that reminds me that my memory is right and I do not fantasise when I claim to have been at meetings etc. that seem at least improbable and to many impossible. On page 2 there is a report on Lord Beveridge giving a talk about his work and life. Page 3 has a piece on Ralph Miliband and what a fine tutor he was.

There is a large item on Harold Laski adjacent to a forecast promising a Labour win in the coming years election, 1959, by 25 seats, perhaps as Hugh Gaitskell was about to pay a visit. Labour lost in 1959, but these things happen.

A very interesting one is V.H. Vassev, First Secretary to the Russian Embassy, promising that shortly the USSR would surpass the USA in productivity. The future was to be Russia's for a number of reasons. One was the age balance of population. Mr. Vassev omitted to mention that a major reason for this were the holocausts of Stalin in the 1930's.

Oddly, he admitted that among the workers in Britain the average differential in wages between the highest and lowest paid was only 10% whereas in Russia it was 30%, but Russia would soon surpass Britain. Is it any surprise that it never did?

All of them take second place to the man on the front page, the Honorary President Elect, Gerard Hoffnung, the famed wit, writer, cartoonist and man of many talents. He died young in 1959 but will be remembered forever for "The Bricklayers Lament", see Youtube. When he told it at LSE I was there.

In this and other editions there are a great many names. It was supposed then that among the leading lights of our student politics and press would be the masters of our futures. The picture above, The Phillips Machine, was hoped to be the way they could manage the economy.

But none of them did. One I recall, then said to be destined for the highest ranks of government, eventually made it to be transport manager of a chain of sports shops.

But his name was never in the sports pages.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Flying Sorcerer

What was I doing in 1972 apart from wondering if it was possible to book a weekend on The Moon sometime? Essentially work, family and a very limited range of other things although a holiday by Biarritz was managed. Many people thought that this was an extreme of travel but with men on the moon it did not seem so much.

Now President Trump has signed a document telling the US agencies involved that it is time to go back there with humans and then on to the planet Mars. These trips are unlikely to tell us much more than we already know, in recent years AI plus advanced technology have done wonders.

His action may related to the big cigar shaped thing up there very far away which is causing speculation as to what it is, why and where is it heading for. Will it be crewed by aliens looking for the space equivalent of motorway services? Or will it be run by robots who will emerge crying "exterminate"?

The bean counters and cost mongers of Earth will try to point out that all the expense and trouble of launching man into space are likely to be in vain and can have no economic benefit at all. Nor is there any hope of packing off all our surplus humans off to do something useful.

Transportation may have worked up to a point in the past on Earth for the various empires that existed but to do so into outer space is one of those nice ideas which are just not going to work. In any case the omens are not good.

Germany for long has had the reputation of being a supreme example of how to do railway systems. The Bundesbahn was the envy of the world. But the new Berlin to Munich railway is having real problems. The Stuttgart station project has gone from seven to eight billion euros and will go a lot further.

Us humans seem to have lost the plot. Going out there means not only will we lose the money but what is meant to be a national triumph will all too likely be a major disaster.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Presents In The Past

While the family gather round the TV on Christmas Day evening to watch "Carry On Up The Jungle" on ITV3, the channel that day being devoted to the "Carry On" films; on the other hand you might like to read a book instead that might be less challenging.

If someone near and dear to you has been thoughtful enough in buying gifts you might have been given a book that would be of real interest. The National Archive Shop always has some treasures in the books it has on offer and have mailed me with the latest list.

Here are some I have picked out as potential "musts" for you to enjoy that evening. As it is possible that "Carry On Up The Khyber" in the afternoon might be a family choice as well, so you will need something special.

There is "Lady Fanshawe's Receipt Book" down to £16-99 from £20. On the food front there is "The Greedy Queen. Eating With Queen Victoria" one pound off from £16-99 to £15-99.

Perhaps the tastiest literature could be "Bitten By Witchfever. Wallpaper And Arsenic In The Victorian Home" down to £20 from £28.

It could be the Christmas you will never forget.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Bitcoins For Bankers

Followers of finance will know about the Bitcoin bubble unfolding on the world's markets. Here we go again, and the recent crash was said to be the last one of its kind.

The picture above is one of tulips, a lovely flower, but in the 17th Century Tulip Mania (put that into search for Wiki' and many more items) was the maker and breaker of markets and economies.

The first item on this blog back in 2009 was on the question of how things can go wrong, and so they did.


Digging For Victory

The day the bank bailouts broke out, the missus said to me, “So what are you going to do to save the economy?”  “It isn’t up to me!” I said, “What can I do about it in any case?”  “Well,” she said “you can make a start, and my hair needs cutting.”

So after we cut each other’s hair, normally free, gratis, and for nothing, this time we exchanged cheques for £1000 each.  “There,” she said, “that’s a nice boost for the GDP”  “But what do we do next?” I asked, and she had an answer for that, well she always does have an answer.

So we go down to at Thresher and Porbeagle Financial Services, Cookiecutter House and meet a gent’ called Fred Sands.  Nice chap, the sort of Scottish burr in the voice you like to hear on the customer services help lines telling you there is nothing they can do to help, who makes us an offer we could not refuse.  They had only just set up after he had left his old firm to improve his prospects.

Grabbing the cheques from our hands, he told us he could immediately lend us up to £100,000 to spend as we wanted, or to take part in a wonderful investment deal that had only turned up on his laptop that very morning, limited offer, closing in half an hour, so we had to make up our minds quick.

He wrote us a cheque on the spot for the £100,000, gave to us, and then snatched it back, saying it was now an asset and collateral for buying £5 million pounds worth of rented garages in Arizona, Beijing, and Moscow, and these would become the assets for investing in a lot of Hedge Funds, who would do a lot of other lending.

Because all the loans were assets, and not what my father told me, income was guaranteed at fifteen per cent, and the whole value would grow at least thirty per cent a year, so we could soon have our villa, yachts and all the rest, and even get invited to a Paris fashion show.

I tried to tell the missus that I was happy with our caravan at Bognor, but she would not listen, all it would cost us she said was trivial money, small change, for all the administrative fees and bonuses, and I should be grateful for everything.

Then she went into the back room with Fred and came out smiling in a way I hadn’t seen since she was a part time barmaid at “The Dragon’s Head”.

So we have now “kick started” the economy and Fred says with luck I could get a knighthood and the missus will then become a lady, at last.  “It will all be worth it,” she said, “and Fred even gave me a tenner, for the service economy he called it.”

When I told my neighbour, Jim, he gave me a funny look, asked for his lawnmower back, and told me not to bother with Christmas Cards this year as he was a bit short.

Apologies to Rob Wilton and Michael Williams.


We will not be sending Christmas Cards.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Who Were You With Last Night?

Roaming the channels for something, anything, of interest, came across a programme on Sky Arts which was two hours of David Cornwell, otherwise the author, John le Carre.

He was giving a talk about his life and times and writings to an audience at the Royal Festival Hall following the publication of his latest book, "A Legacy Of Spies".

After an hour of his talk, clips of actors talking about their roles in TV and film work of his books was then followed by an interview with John Snow. He has given interviews in the past and there is a good deal of material about on his life and career there were few surprises.

What interested me was the working conditions of the relevant security HQ's, how they were more or less organised and in particular what went down to the archives, all those reports and comments on reports made up and down the layers of management.

Much of the archive is already history, but not one perhaps that anyone living now will have any access to. It is for any future if there are then any historians or any archive left. It is a feature of the past that there has often been intended or accidental destruction of materials of value from their history.

But what history? When le Carre was doing his own scribbling and note taking at work, he was not the only one writing fiction. But he admits that often in his reports he was imaginative rather than factual and sometimes his analysis or opinion was off the cuff rather than thoroughly researched.

The picture above is of the actor, Alec Guinness, who played the fictional George Smiley created by le Carre. But was he "created"? The other man is John Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris, 1908-1988, who worked with le Carre who also wrote fiction, thrillers, detective novels and spy novels alongside his reports and is alleged to be the model for Smiley.

Even where his reports were honest, they might contain material from others which was uncertain, theoretical or guesswork. So how much of it is "real" history and how much just a pile of documents from the last which tell us little more? Yet this was a part of government that was supposed to be critical, albeit small, but with substantial importance for policy and action.

If around the desks of the higher echelons of the civil service there were others writing fiction or making it up as they went along and if the evidence is thin or unconvincing soup it up to get the decision you would like or some friends would want?

From Westminster move around The City of London  and the major corporations where you would expect perhaps tighter control and detailed study, if only because big money is involved. In recent years it seems to be no better. They are not interested in future history. They have very different priorities.

It was Henry Ford, 1863-1947, who said "History is bunk" and now we have John le Carre, or rather David Cornwell, to prove it.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Powering Up Or Down

Among the many things our government is supposed to be doing to provide for our futures and needs, nuclear means of providing electricity is one that slips in and out of the media.

In when something goes wrong, out when it is going right and relatively quietly gives us the energy we need for our modern and demanding lifestyles.

It is an expensive business and the complex engineering etc. of any major work means that what your first estimate and what you then have to pay out can be very different. What starts as an economic dream can become a financial nightmare.

"The Engineer" at theengineer dot co dot uk deals with the Iter project and the progress it is making. It is located in Provence, France, to the north east of Aix en Provence at St. Paul les Durance. It is up country and for the workers there short of the amenities usually associated with that region.

The Iter web site gives a full article on the history and purpose of the project. 35 nations are involved and probably it is the biggest and intended to be the best. If so, then it is possible it provides one of the models for the power generation of the future.

If there is a future, that is. Given all the forecasts of dire doom and destruction of the planet, the soils, the seas and the impact of too many humans contending for too little supplies it is an open question. Or shut according to what you believe.

The Iter project is in a part of the world where we have evidence of the first humans making fire and working together to feed and protect themselves.

Where it began it ends?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Return Of The Native

Football fans everywhere, especially those crowded into smoky beery bars staring at the TV soccer will know that the ultimate waver of the whistle arm has returned.

Yes, Clattenburg of Arabia is back, boots polished, whistle washed clean of sand, having master minded the refereeing of Saudi Arabia to allow them to create theatre out of the sweat and toil of two footed strife with added fisticuffs.

There was a time when the heroes of the British Empire returning from the lands afar were military men, explorers, scientists, traders or just those who acquired land on a large scale or persuaded local potentates to swear allegiance to the crown.

All long gone both in memory, person and successors, or perhaps not. What is the pre-eminent football league in world soccer? It is our very own Premiership that enriches those that have and is ruthless to those who do not.

As Mark Clattenburg, in Saudi Arabia governing the refereeing there, strides out on the plastic greens of England and marks where the TV cameras are we can now look forward to all those interesting decisions that made us wonder at the workings of the human brain.

If TV and the media rule the masses and football rules TV and radio then who could be the arbiters of our politics if they turned their minds to it? In the USA their system allows them to have a President who is very like a referee in his work. The trouble is that Trump is sending off so many that few will be left to do the job.

But if we had the same, would say Mike Reed or Mark Clattenburg make a good president for the UK? Well, they might well be better than May or Corbyn. If not a referee, perhaps a manager/head coach. Would Sam Allardyce stir the masses to ensure English football ruled OK?

In the good old days, the monarch could have ennobled a person, put them into the House of Lords, appoint them Prime Minister and let them get on with it. Why not now if the electoral system is so far adrift from real democracy?

Back to the future, this time with a whistle?