Monday, 28 July 2014

The Dream Walkers

My driver training was done by a relative, a doctor who taught me by means of taking him on his rounds.  At one time he had been officer commanding a transport unit on the North West Frontier of the then British India.  Literally, up The Khyber.

He taught me many useful techniques, such as how to drive without braking and avoidance methods little known on British roads at the time.  One of his mantra's, literally, was that you never knew where the so and so's were coming from.  Vigilance of the highest order was needed.

Once, this might mean children dashing out into the road, or people running for a 'bus and not looking and similar kinds of risk.  Adults who thought they had judged the traffic correctly, but hadn't and resented having to jump were a nuisance as well as the old people for whom motor cars were an unwanted modern invention.

In the last decade I have had to learn how to cope with people who suddenly lurch out of nowhere or the crowd , are dressed usually in dark clothing and who are oblivious to everything except a small object in their hand.

These are not pieces that demand religious veneration.  They are more than that.  They are the person's identities, family, mind and world and these objects demand full obeisance and attention at all times.

Recently, despite low mileage and careful old fashioned driving I have had too many near misses for comfort.  There is that grim feeling that soon there will be someone who literally walks under the car they do not see or hear.

This link from family from The Meta Picture sets out other effects of the Phone Syndrome in how a restaurant now does it business.  Although almost amusing in its way it is too near reality for comfort.  This is how it is.  My reaction is that there are costs and in the case of this restaurant they could be heavy by sharply reducing turnover.

Harry Mount in today's Telegraph complains that mobile phones have destroyed the joy of train travel.  I suspect he is not talking about our local trains but rather better ones.  It could once be relaxing he argues, but is now a misery because of the yelping and shrieking on the phones.

Even walking down an ordinary street can be a hazard, dodging in and out between the glass eyed zombies locked onto their phones.  What amazes me are the reports of people in high ticket seats for performances who cannot go minutes without their phone checks utterly regardless of the artistes or other members of the audience.

On the BBC there has been a series of three programmes on marketing in the last few decades and the way consumers and in particular children have been targeted in what amounts to brain washing.

Perhaps The Phone Syndrome is the last phase of this.  Because most of humanity will soon have no brains left.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Gunning For Trouble

In the past it has been argued that a long hot sticky spell can be a contributory factor when riots break out on the streets.

With some local police forces already suggesting that they cannot cope with the weekly Saturday night fever on British streets what riots may break out where, when, why, who by and what for?

Another area where indiscipline is rife is in the City of London, where it is not so much riots  as extensive rigging of the financial markets that we are told are the heart of the services to the world we give and a vital part of our new economy.

Such problems are not confined to London but are around the world.  The current Energy War going on in the Ukraine between the EU and its occasional ally, the USA and Russia is one which is turning financial with unpredictable consequences.

Russia has upped its key interest rate to 8%, at a time when those in the West are suppressed to near zero or even minus in real terms.  It is to combat gathering inflation in Russia and to seek to protect itself from any adverse effects arising from sanctions imposed by the EU and USA.  But there are other things going on which can impact on The City and Wall Street.

This could well have wider effects in the banking sector.  Frances Coppola in "Forbes" has written that "The EU Should Be Aware of Russian Interest In Balkan Banks".  This is murky money business in the bandit country part of Europe's financial sector linked to London.  Who knows what could or might happen or be triggered?

One story in the newspapers is of the discovery of a letter in the papers of part of the family of Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary 1906 to 1916, very recently.

It appears that King George V, thought to have remained apart from and neutral in the Balkan Crisis of 1914, demanded of the Foreign Secretary that if a cause to declare War on Germany could not be determined then an excuse must be found because of the German threat to Britain.

Grey's later remark when the First World War broke out in 1914 about the lights going out all over Europe never to be lit again in our lifetime is the one thing for which he is remembered.

And he wasn't talking about Energy supplies.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Switching Votes And Policies

The mail today had the July Newsletter from Scotland's People, the internet service for the study of genealogy and family history.  This time, though, rather than in the Inbox it was sent to Junk with a warning.  This was "Be careful!  This sender has failed our fraud detection checks."

It is easy to understand why.  The amount of specious clatter, nonsense and wishful thinking, apart from the routine deceits over the coming Referendum may well lead to the view that all material on the subject might have the same warning.

From Westminster this morning we are told that the Coalition Five Year Plan for the economy had reached its targets for which we must thank the wisdom of Osborne firm comrade and loyal ally of our Great Leader Cameron.

All we are missing are the organised crowds of weeping joyful and happy workers, or given the real figures, non workers, parading past Conservative Central Office with our Leader and his team waving and smiling from the balcony.  Clegg and any Lib Dem's will be airbrushed out of the pictures.

Alas, we live in a globalised, networked and very interconnected world in which we are but minor entities with limited or scant influence on what does happen and even less on what will happen.  One thing is certain and that is energy is crucial and that means oil and gas.

The pricing and supply of oil is a major interest to the site Our Finite World and this long and serious article on world oil production sets out what seems to be the latest possibilities in this complex and intricate area of study.  Anyone making predictions of any sort will need to be aware that it is easier to be wrong than right.

An attempt to analyse what is the energy situation in Scotland is made by Euan Mearns in Energy Matters in another long article trying to grapple with the detail in the ebb and flow of what passes for policy.  He is not optimistic.  He concludes:


Renewable Obligation Certificates or ROCs are the consumer paid subsidies to the renewable energy producers. In 2012, Scotland had 44% of UK wind capacity. The ROCs payable were met by the whole UK population of 63 million.

With independence it seems likely that 5.3 million Scottish consumers will have to pay the subsidies on electricity generated in Scotland.

That would imply a 5.2 fold uplift in the per capita level of subsidy payments on 2012 levels of production (63/5.3*44%). Come 2020, the energy plan calls for a 5 fold uplift in wind capacity and that would hence result in a 25 fold uplift in the per capita subsidy payments in 2020 relative to 2012.

Wikipedia suggests that the cost of a ROC in 2012 was roughly 0.5p per KWh. In essence, an independent Scotland may have to service 25 times as many ROCs as today (many more KWh of renewable power) that needs to be compared with electricity price of about 17p / KWh. Scottish electricity prices could be set to double.

The SNP have said they want the single electricity market to continue along with the single currency and you can see why. I cannot think of a single reason why English consumers would want to pay subsidies to Scottish renewable electricity producers should Scotland elect to go it alone.

This seems like a recipe for disaster and the details of this certainly need to be clarified before the vote. I don’t see any way that Scottish domestic and commercial consumers could bear such a burden and one possible unintended consequence of a yes vote might therefore be the abolition of ROCs and the collapse of the energy plan.


Anyone want a windmill, or even a wind farm, going cheap?  You will need to do your fraud check first.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Finding Your Feet

A long too hot today so a brief item from the past.  This is the way it was with or without socks.


From clogs to the dignity of boots

Tuesday September 5, 1916
The Manchester Guardian

The strong prejudice shown by even the poorest Londoners against clogs - which the high price of leather is said to be weakening - would have seemed ridiculous in the eighteenth century when clogs were worn by women of all classes.

The more refined variety of clog had a thin wooden sole, which was cut transversely in two pieces, attached to each other by a hinge. Anne Bracegirdle, the most beautiful actress of her time, wore clogs. Horace Walpole notes in one of his letters that "Mrs. Bracegirdle breakfasted with me this morning.

As she went out and wanted her clogs she turned to me and said, 'I remember at the playhouse, they used to call for Mrs Oldfield's chair, Mrs. Barry's clogs, and Mrs. Bracegirdle's pattens.'"

Pattens, which clogs have entirely superseded, consisted of a wooden sole with a large iron ring attached to the bottom for the purpose of raising the wearer above the wet and mud. They were fastened round the instep, and made a greater clatter than clogs. Many churches used to exhibit notices requesting worshippers to leave their pattens in the porch so as to avoid disturbing the congregation.

Even in Lancashire the wearers of clogs are becoming more fastidious. A decade ago the youths and young men of the mills and workshops wore their clogs during the evenings, and only rose to the dignity of boots at the week-end.

Now clogs are worn in at least one Lancashire town merely for work (writes a correspondent), and as soon as that is ended the workers put on their "everyday" boots as distinguished from "Sunday" boots.

Of course there are the conservative exceptions who still retain clogs for evening use, but even they have been influenced so far as to have a change, the heavy working pair giving way to a lighter make.

These latter are often works of art. The heel is high and comparatively slender, and the sole is thin, deeply curved, and finishes with a sharply pointed, upturned toe.

A rim of highly-polished brass nails fastening the uppers to the soles stands in bold contrast to the equally highly-polished black leather, upon which various designs are traced.

Further ornamentation is sometimes achieved by numerous lace-holes edged with brass and bored in a triangular group with the base lying on the instep, one pair I have seen having no fewer than 56 lace holes.

The price of this type is about seven or eight shillings. Those who indulge in this gaudy footwear invariably keep it as bright as new, bestowing particular pains on the brasswork.


Time to put the feet up.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

All In Day's Work

Two items in two different news sources caught the eye.  One was that the Home Office has blown £350 million on computer systems that are not good enough and causing major problems in key areas of its work. 
The other is that in Wales there is a proposal to create a university specifically for software study with graduation after two years of intensive study.  This is because despite the huge increase in university education we are critically short of the relevant skills in this field.

For some time now we have had parts of the work force regarded as crucial to the whole with a central importance to not simply the economy but of the whole way of life.  Once it was coal, "at the coal face" was a popular way of describing real work for a real world.

Now we are less sure and tend to regard certain public services as having that role.  But the world and so much of what is in it now depends on the functioning and capability of computer systems one way or another that in the 21st Century we have another work category that has that role.

At one time the idea that software engineers and their allied trades might be the crucial sector in our new joined up, well some of the time, world and much of any significance that goes on in it would have risible or even mad not so long ago.

Even now how many people grasp the centrality of the work of such people in their lives and in how so much of both ordinary life and economic and other life has become dependent on the geeks and keyboard tappers in the cubicles?

Take one activity, the business of governing the country.  The functions of the Home Office bear on very many parts of our life.  If their systems are not good enough and create problems in the work of the Department and it fulfilling its duties then all its work will be unreliable and faulty.  That is bad, weak and unreliable administration. 

But what the admin' does ought to be determined by policy and management.  If that admin' and the relevant organisation is flawed then all that goes wrong becomes political.  So we have Ministers and their opposition railing on about what should be done and why when essentially they are baying at the moon.

We will have Prime Ministers and all others with ambitions claiming they will do this and that, are in control, will ensure that this or the other happens and all will be well when there is little hope of this.  They are talking nonsense because they cannot and are so ignorant of the technical side have little or no hope of making any impact on issues at all.

How many people are there among our rulers, their leading civil servants and managers, in the main media and at the head of organisations and the rest who really know how to make computer systems work as they should and what can and cannot be done?

Few part of the main media have paid much attention to the huge costs and implications of all the failures and faults in so many of the computer systems of the elements of our government over the last three or four decades.

It is getting no better.  Moreover, if we have fallen badly behind in this area of work we will be dependent on others.  One place ready and willing and with the people is Bangalore in Mysore, the Silicon Valley of India, already used by some UK companies.

Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore, see Wikipedia, will at last have his revenge.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Money May Not Go Round

In the run up to the vote on Scottish Independence the respective parties are trying out bid each other in how much the money will be in the pocket and what it will buy.  Added to these are other vague notions and promises of the future, allegedly economic, but remote from the realities of political economy.

Neither seem willing to admit that the world has changed in the last decade and with it political economies, financial systems and what governments may or may not be able to do. Given the inadequate and misleading data available and wishful thinking what they are promising is to predict the unpredictable, deliver things they do not have and are unlikely to have and prosperity for all when in reality it could well be only for the select few.

One attempt to correct this is a long and closely written article by James Stafford in Open Democracy.  It deals with not what might happen so much as trying to show where we are at present.  This entails an awareness not just of the latest but the history of fiscal, financial and monetary disruptions of the past and their impact on the political structures we have inherited.

He argues that the reality of the financial economics and current basis of economic power in the world is not so much ignored but neither understood nor taken into account in the public debate.  Our leaders are naive and ignorant of how much has changed and will continue to change.

While the disaggregation of the old nation states and their merging into large quasi imperial groupings may seem to be a given, it comes with heavy costs for the lower income groups.  Also, those at the head of those large groups, such as the EU, will not be capable of dealing with the real sources of power or have a functioning political economy to deal with crises.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

UK Response Over Flight MH17

As the crisis in the Ukraine has unfolded, I have been wary of too much comment.  Mindful of the complex history of Eastern Europe for over a millennia this means not only being careful about applying recent ideas to the issues but avoiding either simplistic judgements or involvement.

The Russian stance on the atrocity of Malaysian Airways Flight MH17 and subsequent behaviour and attitudes has forced a change of mind.  It has been disgusting, disturbing and questions the whole approach of Russia to other peoples.   

As for Germany, it seems that Chancellor Frau Merkel's new best friend has shown the colour of his stripes and with German energy supplies dependent on Gazprom is in two minds or perhaps more.

In the meantime, not only is Moscow obstructing neutral investigation and careful treatment of wreckage but her best friends agents and followers are stripping and defiling the remains of their victims with the assent of the Kremlin.

What should we do?  Here are some options.

Withdraw diplomatic privileges from the Russian Ambassador and Embassy.

Expel the Russian oligarchs from London and confiscate their properties to pay for some of the consequences.

Freeze other Russian assets and force sales of any major holdings in British companies.

Cancel the Maryinski visit to the Royal Opera House as an affront to decency in the circumstances.  Also tell Valerie Ghergiev to go home and stand down from the Proms.

Ban all Russian flights to the UK.

Remind the Germans of what happened in Berlin in the spring and summer of 1945.

At least would show our government has a little understanding of basic morality.