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Pattens, which clogs have entirely superseded, consisted of a wooden sole with a large iron ring attached to the bottom for the purpose of raising the wearer above the wet and mud.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.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Just Blew In From The Windy City

A long hot day, too much to do and with little inclination to do it and interruptions, where politeness and patience is needed. So rather than make a misjudged hasty comment on present events this is restricted to something more technical.

This article today in the Telegraph by James Kirkup is not just another about the government reshuffle and the dumping of Michael Gove it's thrust is how politics have changed in the last decade or so and how the coming election might be very different from those before.

We are joining the 21st Century and it is not the same.

This is a sample:

"And this is where the next big change in political operations beckons, a change that offers the difference between trying to forecast the English weather by holding a licked finger to the wind while looking at the horizon, and American hurricane watchers using a network of GPS satellites to track anticyclonic activity patterns over the South Atlantic.

The 2012 US presidential election campaign was fought using data, almost unimaginable amounts of it, about voters: their finances, families, beliefs, even their television-watching habits and Facebook friends.

President Barack Obama’s successful re‑election campaign built a computer system, named Narwhal [after the tusked whale], that assembled more than 50 terabytes of data on voters. Printing that on paper would mean cutting down 2.5 million trees."


Quite what will happen and whether these changes do have salient effect we shall have to see.  But as a dedicated hurricane watcher since the day I took to the net, at least I understand what he is trying to say.  The picture above is of Doris Day in "Calamity Jane" explaining the rapidity of social change in Chicago to the inhabitants of Deadwood in the wildest of the West around 150 years ago.

Blow the wind southerly......

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Have Portable Will Travel

The news that in the highest echelons of the Government of Germany there is the suggestion of a reversion to manual typewriters for ultra sensitive documents because of American spying caused a lurch into the memory banks near to the random frontal lobe, tell you a story......

Smiley's Hardware

It appeared to be a busy day at The Circus, all at their work stations fully engaged.  In truth most were either reading blogs or looking at pictures on screen that were more interesting but had nothing to do with their duties.

Too many were engaged in online betting and more were trying to sort out their complicated lives, either making or breaking relationships to reach some ideal never to be found.  The overriding sound was the hum of fans and clicking of mice and keyboards.

The main door opened and heads turned.  An old man, gingerly using a stick to favour a bad knee slowly moved through the room.  Dressed in a black overcoat and wearing a bowler hat, suit and tie at first many thought he was a ghost.

Then the voice of old man Guilliam, tucked away in a corner where he could be less of a nuisance and spin out time to maximum pension entitlement, piped up.  "Good god almighty, George!  What on earth are you doing here?"

The old man turned, gave a soft wry smile and replied,  "You must be the last man standing, how good to see you again.  Glad you got out of that bad scrape in '89."  "How did you know, George?"  "I saw a fleeting image of you on the box, you were only supposed to be liaising, not urging them on to knock the wall down.  Now they are running Europe and you are headed for the same knackers yard as I inhabit."

George Smiley waved a gloved hand, the arthritis was playing up, and went through the door into the Chief's office.  In there already was an assembly of the good and great.  After the data fiasco and the consequences the air was thick with plots and counter plots.

It was four hours later when the Minister, young Lacon, emerged.  He was brusque and brutal.  "There are to be radical changes, the Chief is taking early retirement to go into investment banking and his team will go with him."  All, or almost all stopped to listen apart from those on the 6.45 at Pontefract.

Lacon continued.  "A former Chief, distanced from all this, George Smiley, is to return with a handpicked team to oversee the transition and ensure the tightest security possible.  You are to go home now and have a long weekend to return on Tuesday; good evening."

On that morning, the workers of The Circus were corralled into the basement for full security checks.  Their phones and gadgets removed and then taken up to The Office.  On the desks were strange machines sitting quietly, no screens but with large ungainly keyboards and not connected to the mains and without batteries.

George was perched on a four wheeled walking frame; the knee was worse, it had been given more to do and beside him were other quite old people.  He waved a disarming hand.

"These are manual typewriters rescued from an old stores.  They are to be used for all communications in future.  Special delivery arrangements using young interns, hitherto referred to as office boys, regardless of gender, have been made to avoid the internet at all costs.  Connie here will tell you how to use them."

He paused in the way men do before giving the bad news.  "All copies will be individually numbered and carbon copies limited to no more than two per document.  There are to be photocopiers of an early electro magnetic type but use of these will be personally supervised by special staff who will record manually all communications in a ledger for that purpose."

Another pause, "All files will be manilla folders.  On an inside sheet will be recorded all items in the file.  All will have the security classification clearly marked.  All pages in all documents will be numbered.  All distribution will be clearly stated.  All will be kept in steel locked boxes called filing cabinets and checked and cross checked daily.  No files will be allowed out of the room unless there is supervision and security checks.  All outgoing and incoming items will be checked by a senior officer."  He looked at the lady.

Connie saw the shock but did not worry.  They had been careless and had to pay the price.  "So, dearies, I will teach you how to operate the typewriters, use carbon inserts for copies, lay out text and amend errors.  A basic rule is that any obvious grammatical error or more than two amendments means retyping the page.  I'm sorry but not sorry, the party is over for you and it is back to real work."

A complaining voice came from the middle of the group, "But all this will take all day, what about our usual contacts and searches which are important to us."  Connie gave a hoot and George a chuckle.  She replied, "That's the way it is and the way it was.  No social media.  No indiscriminate searching.  No easy contacts.  Now it is tradecraft, attention to detail and absolute control of everything we do."

There was an unquiet silence.  "Was that Harman?" asked George who did not wait for a reply.  "You have a best friend on Facebook, I believe, Phillipa of Weybridge?"  Harman simply stared.  George went on, "Oh, and Cooper, you also have one called Odile in Manchester and Balls, yours is Sandy in Glasgow."

The silence became more unquiet.  "Strange," said George, "They are all the same person, it is someone called Cookie who lives in a condominium in Maryland and freelances for the CIA.  They seem to know a lot we are not happy about."  He let it sink in.  "Once we liked to help our so-called friends over there but now we need to be more careful, especially where contracts and trading are concerned."

They realised that George might be old and shaky but the cold in his eyes told them that life had changed and there was nowhere for them to go.  He knew everything.  They knew he knew everything and he had wanted them to know.

George went back into the Chief's Office and left them with Connie, "Hello children," she said, "Now you are going to be taught how to work in security.  Peter Guilliam will be in charge of the lot and able to hire and fire at will, so do not annoy him.  Some of you already have in the past.  Anyone fired goes without references or help looking for other work."

The workers went to their designated seats and waited for their orders.  Connie began, "Pick up two pieces of paper and insert between them a sheet of the carbon paper in a way that allows a copy to be made.  Then I will demonstrate how to put them in between the rollers properly to enable correct typing to begin."

It was not going to be a long day, but a long month and a very long year.

Etc, etc.

I still have my old Imperial Good Companion portable and carbon paper, could there be a job in security for me?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Defence Of The Realm

About all the talk of the UK role in the world, influence, punching above our weight and possibly below the belt as well; here is the revised version of an old song. 

The picture is of The Wreck of the Birkenhead, marked in verse as well as art.

We don't want to fight.
But By Jingo if we do!
We've lost the ships,
We've lost the men,
We've lost the money too!

Apologies are no long necessary.