Sunday, 20 April 2014

What's In The Papers?

In the past, even recent, the trade of history writing was done by people who accessed old records and writings and then presented their findings in varying ways.

There were those who stuck to what was there in the documents some trying to allow for faults and any unreliability.  There were those who used this information for analysis on a limited scale.  The there were those who had grand theories and ideas about the sweep of history.

One reason we had to rely on them was the sheer time, effort and trouble that goes into the research.  This could be immense if trying to disentangle scattered papers or if it meant long and worrying trawls through piles of it.

With increasing digitisation of records it is now possible to do some things very quickly and at the touch of a keyboard.  One area that I find fascinating is in the digitised newspapers where with a little skill you can call up vast amounts of reports very easily.

Chasing events and names not just through a limited number of London based national papers but around what comes up from local sources is proving fascinating.  The perspective of major events seen through local eyes is one aspect but the coverage of local interests takes us into the detail of a world that has gone.

Looking for a name from the past revealed surprises.  The assumption was that he was someone of minor interest.  To find him alongside the great and the good and part of his local elite, aristocrats and all.  But one way to look at what was going on is to go down the lists of names to see who was where doing what.

A choice example was the Salisbury Infirmary or Hospital.  Established and based on entirely voluntary contributions its local board attempted to provide medical services in a district that was thought to be of too small a population to support such a facility.  The board and associated committees were not simply local businessmen or such.  Those involved included British aristocrats, gentry, local businessmen and the branches of many mutual organisations for the working class.  

In the late 1930's it was clear that the need to expand was there but against this was an increasing and worrying deficit.  So in came one of the Royal Family, Princess Alice of Gloucester, wife of Prince Henry, third son of King George V, for a state visit in 1937.

There was a huge turnout of everybody who was anything with public and major ceremonial, crowds lining the streets, troops on parade and the whole bang shoot.   A nice touch was when posies where given to the Princess on behalf of the mutual societies they were presented all by girls named Alice.

Following through into 1939 what was striking were the many reports of activity and preparation for war at local level in several ways early in the year.  Whatever was going on at national level the local authorities were doing a great deal to be ready and on their own initiative.

Near 80 years on this kind of melding of national figures, local figures and the people across the country is not just unthinkable today but impossible.  The dead hand of centralisation and big government allied to big media has crushed the life and meaning of local affairs and government.

It is only by seeing directly into the past that we understand how much has been lost never to be regained.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Wandering Thoughts

There are a number of blogs that often do a set of links either as a main feature or as an adjunct.

Today is a day when the old mental faculties want a rest, so this device is being used.  Do not seek to find a common meaning or message.

I once impressed a group of politicians by telling them I had been selected as a random sample for my opinion.

Another bubble another bust is what Zero Hedge is telling us about the US housing market and there are the signs of slippage there that resemble the 2005 situation.

An issue forgotten at peril from the LSE is about the complexity involved in being a member of key international organisations now vital to the function of a modern state.  It may not be enough for Scotland to send blue stained serial killers wielding claymores to murder those in the way.  The one I liked was having to set up a Patents Office from scratch.

My brain hurts is a medical one suggesting that in another complex system, the human body, gut problems may be very much involved in what goes on in the mind.

The Class War is not over from a fellow blogger puts me in my place but the Monty Python clip is worth the time.

Something to sleep on tells us we are not alone in our basic wants and desires.

There is a cup of tea issue which needs resolving.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is It Going To Rain?

Last winter it was fair to say that here in the UK we had an inundation.  We were assured that it was due to a curvy jet stream and this did not happen very often. 

Also, there are other stories of how it could happen, one being pollution in the Pacific doing things to temperatures and air flows.

Curvy Jet Steams are nothing new in an article in Science Daily and have happened before.  The article is longish and covers a good deal of research ground but tells us that weather shifts and associated climatic fluctuations are the norm.

The one dealt with around four thousand years ago is from a time before mankind really went into carbon making, we think.   

It may be if this was a time of population growth needing more land to cultivate more forests were burned but that may well have not been enough.

Which raises the awkward question that if indeed there are real changes on the way it may not be mankind it could be whatever else Earth has to throw at us.  What if the idea of change is right but the cause different to what we think?

Population depends on crops.  Crops depend on weather.  Weather depends on air flows and sea temperatures.  So are the air and sea affected by population or not?


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Picking Up The Bills

It was the duty day of the week today, the one where we have to do the shopping.  Looking at the bill my personal financial adviser aka fund manager aka forensic accountant concluded that it was a bad day at the office.

Inflation is said to be reduced and experts are going into panic at the perils of low inflation for the future of the economy but on the car park we were wondering why the cost of our routine purchasing is now so high and rising rapidly.

Looking at the media there are a raft of stories about sharp rises in property values, how rents are rocketing and all the things people claim they can no longer afford.  For those with cars to repair or care for costs are also well up.

The short answer is that the indexes are now restricted in scope and no longer reflect the broad sweep of expenditures.  As soon as the full reality of the obligations and needs of life are looked at then we do have inflation and it is not checked and it is doing the usual damage to the economy.

A reason why so many complain or have real concerns is that so many are living at the margins.  Effects of this are less voluntary "saving" and when straying across the margins the accumulation of increasing debt and interest liabilities.

Savings is a word with many meanings.  It might be long term aimed at a future pension.  It might be intended for future consumption.  But it might be needed either for essential replacements or future bills.  Sooner or later this or that will need repairs, new parts or stop working.

Low interest rates may do wonders for some people notably those in the businesses of borrowing big but for the kind of savings that are in effect future required expenditure many people are fighting a losing battle as prices rise inexorably and these days often more than income.

Because of the intensity of present consumption allied to the rapidity and uncertainty of money flows it is not balanced but delicately poised for many possible shifts and in directions we do not expect or plan for.

So don't believe a word of what they say.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Capten, Art Tha' Sleepin' There Below?

As someone increasingly detached from the world and indeed reality it is a strange place to live in.  It could be the other way round, reality is mine and it is the world that is becoming detached.

At the sight of this picture there was a small point of detail which made me think that global warming and the rise of sea levels had gone much further than I thought.

If you look at the rear of the vessel you will see the name Luxembourg.  The Principality is on the River Moselle, a big river, but nowhere near that big. 

So how was it that a formerly land locked state had suddenly become a port for huge sea going vessels?  Reading the item on the Tax Justice blog explained all.  Luxembourg has become a place for choice for the registration of ships.

Apparently, it occurred to Luxembourg that if they offered a cheap deal on this shipping lines would, if not sail, flock to them to get the legal bit done.  It would be a nice little earner for the state in these difficult times.

Once it was a matter of pride for ship owners to register in the ports and countries of their origin.  No longer, it is one of those bureaucratic formalities where cheapest is best, especially if some inconvenient matters can be avoided, like tax and legal liabilities.

It is a pity that ploys of this kind cannot be dealt with by the relevant governing authorities.  For example, if English football clubs could play only in the leagues in the state where the actual ownership of ultimate financial control was lodged it could transform world football.

The issue, however, it becoming serious.  In the developed west two blades of the economic scissors are at work.  One is that more and more assets are owned by others. 

The other is that many of those assets together with those owned theoretically by nationals of western states have ultimate ownership listed in the "off shore" entities we call tax havens, albeit that some, like Luxembourg, Andorra, Switzerland etc. are very much on shore.

In an era when predatory extractive finance has become paramount with increasing returns demanded from both working elements and the gaming sectors of operations the economic stresses require states to keep sloshing funny money into the system to keep it all afloat.

If it does not work then we will all sink together and the ships will have nowhere to go to.  Keep your eye on the Baltic Dry Index, one of the interesting economic markers.  

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wherefore Art Thou Bootle?

I was brought up to believe that my family were Liverpool born and bred down the generations.  Taken by the sad urge to find the family history, the reality was different. The terrible torturing truth was that Bootle appeared in the records. Others have been prey to this deception in many ways.

One is to give the place name of Waterloo, a posh place on the Southport line and in the past thought to be respectable people of a status in society able to tell the difference between British Sweet Sherry and British Ruby Port.

To understand the nuances and subtle meaning of all this is not easy.  The Land of Scouse has many tribes and distinctions (and deceits) of class, faith, football, and fancy cakes.  I have no doubt that Cherie Booth, later Blair, said to be of the Waterloo petite bourgeoisie, was brought up on Samples cakes and not plain Co-op. 

One of the sayings about family history is "rags to rags in three generations".  In the case of Euan Blair, son and scion of Cherie and Tony The Traveller, it is Bootle to Bootle. 

His hat is in the ring, or gauntlet thrown down as one of Celebocracy, to have right of ownership of the title to be the Member of Parliament and Lobby Lord of the Manor of Bootle.

Once in a more romantic past there were proud people of Bootle who claimed that while Liverpool was working class it was Bootle men who did the work and referred to the border at Breeze Hill as the Khyber Pass of Merseyside.  But less us move on from all this to the present.

After a long working life of several years sweating at the computer face at the investment bank Morgan (give us your money to lose) Stanley and later the Sarino Russo work agency helping the losers to claim benefits, Euan deserves a well earned retirement at the taxpayers' expense.

Where better than at the Westminster Home For Poor Progeny of Politicians?  There he will have subsidised drinks, cut price cuisine, many home comforts and free interns to do any work.

So long as he keeps his hands to himself and makes sure his personal forensic accountant keeps the books straight he can look forward to a long profitable life.

He will have been prepared for this.  Silvio Berlusconi, the man himself, will have taught him how to distinguish between a decent Tuscan Montepulciano and a Chateauneuf du Pape at Waitrose as well as the difference between a lap dancer and a Labour Party activist.

I do hope that someone will take him to one side first and explain in a kindly way what the "Gladstone" in Gladstone Dock stands for and what goes on in such a place.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Bone Idle

We have this vision of our species being much the same as it has always been, give or take habits of personal hygiene, fashion and personal eccentricities, either single or mutual.

This is not the case it seems.  A longish item in Popular Archaeology tells us that what we were is not what we are.  It depends on what we do.  It related to the bones and they depend on the nature and demands of our activity as well as diet.

When we look at archive film of people of the past they do seem at times to be of a different breed from that which sways and stumbles round shopping malls.  But most people did other forms of work and life was much more physical for almost all people 

A key factor as Michael Pollan reminds us, is diet and not just the content but the cooking, see his RSA talk on Youtube, "How Cooking Can Change Your Life", which is sobering, in more than one way and will put you off Big Mac chips forever.

It is not the only correction to our ideas.  Science Daily tells us that Neanderthals, far from being the kind of parents who would have had Social Services hurrying to remove their children; they were models for that other more feckless breed who were new in the valley and ruining the habitat, to follow.

All this could take up time at the weekend.  Especially if after reading it your shopping and cooking habits have changed.