Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Discussion on the Today programme this morning about the role of the banks and whether they should be split up.

If the banks are no longer truly independent organisations but are guaranteed by the government surely the lending risks are being taken by the taxpayers, therefore the rewards for risk-taking (the interest) should ultimately go to the taxpayers and not to the banks? (go directly to the tax-payers I mean, and not funnelled through the government). 

Can't make head or tail of this website:  http://www.dmo.gov.uk/

In my view there is a big problem with the way the banks are manipulating the availability of credit (which represents purchasing power).  Is there enough money in the economic system to ensure that the products and services of United Kingdom companies can be purchased?  Who is keeping on top of this?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Confused editorial about al-Megrahi in today's Independent

There is a confused editorial about al-Megrahi in today's Independent.

Perhaps I am cynical, but is it really possible to diagnose al-Megrahi's medical condition on the basis of television pictures filmed some distance from his bed and viewed one and a half thousand miles away?  Why doesn't Alex Salmond send a doctor out there, since the man is under the jurisdiction of Scottish law?  Not that I particularly care about Megrahi, but I do care about being fobbed off with a very feeble excuse.

Also are we now saying that mass murderers should be let off when they become old and ill?  Where does that leave the mass murderers who committed crimes during the Second World War - are they to be let off?  And the mass murderers of Bosnis, Rwanda, Kordofan etc - are they all going to be let off?

Also in the confused jumble of sentiments that formed the Independent's editorial was the suggestion that Megrahi may not have been guilty after all.  The implications of this are that the Scottish justice system is corrupt (or at best incompetent) in which case we urgently need the case to be reopened, and the truth discovered (and the corrupt lawyers severely punished).  What we cannot have is the whole thing brushed under the carpet.

Monday, August 29, 2011

It would be very convenient for Alex Salmond if al-Megrahi were to just disappear














Above:  screenprint.

Alex Salmond on BBC News 24 talking about how al-Megrahi was not going to be recalled to Scotland to explain why he has not died yet.  Alex Salmond also said the convicted mass murderer should "now" be allowed to die in peace.  I am sure it would be very convenient for Alex Salmond if al-Megrahi were to just disappear without any awkward questions being asked.

Interestingly, in the interview Alex Salmond sort of admitted to deals being made with the former Libyan regime, but implied it was all done by Tony Blair.

Alex Salmond also said that he had no doubt that Megrahi was guilty.



















Above:  article in yesterday's Observer said that the mainstream media is uninterested in Scottish affairs and the Scottish media is too weak.  Presumably this is why Alex Salmond gets such an easy ride.  Not sure what the article meant by "current relations between our dirst minister, the supreme court and the lord advocate" - what is going on there?












Above:  article in last week's Independent revealed (almost as an aside) that there has been a steep rise in racist attacks in Scotland - coinciding with the rise to power of a Scottish Nationalist administration.  This is unsurprising.  The SNP do not (yet) have an agenda of overt racism, but they do continually tell the Scottish people they are special (which obviously implies other people are not special - it's not hard to see how this is going to work in the minds of impressionable people). 

Despite their protests of pan-European solidarity the SNP administration has also implemented a discriminatory policy in higher education, imposing higher charges on the basis of national origin (one of the first acts of the German administration 1933-45 was to force non-German people out of higher education). 

But somehow Alex Salmond gets away with this.

Hugh Muir seems entirely uninterested in what happens north of the border.

David Hare's Page Eight on BBC2

Fine television drama last night with David Hare's Page Eight on BBC2.

Everything about it was perfect.  My only complaint was that it should have been longer.  Perhaps the first of a 5-part series.

Especially I liked the understated nature of the drama.  No gun battles or car chases.  Just the corrosive panic created by a phrase on page 8 of a secret report.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Everywhere were the signs of the approach of autumn















Above:  village in the mid-north east of the county, near the coast.  A crafts fair was being held, and people walked from village hall to church to tithe barn inbetween the heavy showers of rain.  The church was so filled up with crafts that I could hardly see the architecture.

Aldous Huxley wrote:  "a society of craftsmen is a society of satisfied individuals; and a society of satisfied individuals tends to be a stable society... Craftsmanship has a further social utility, inasmuch as an economy based upon handwork is less alarmingly liable to fluctuation than one whose foundation is mass production."
 














Above:  further crafts were in the tithe barn.  To get there you had to go through the yard of this 17th century cottage.  Pevsner much admired the brickwork.















Above:  although August is still summer, everywhere were the signs of the approach of autumn.  The rowan trees were laden with berries.  The rowan mountain ash is also known as the whispering tree (perhaps because of the sound of the wind through its leaves).

















Above:  white convolvulus arvensis or bindweed flowers invasively twined through the hedgerows.
















Above:  a speckled wood butterfly or Pararge aegeria fluttered down in front of me.  Likes dappled shade.  You rarely see it feeding as it prefers the tops of trees.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lots of little scraps of paper - the past week at work

Monday

All that seemed to happen today was that new training officer Vikki was brought round (rather over-weight, hair in a bubble perm, talked in lots of cliches).

Tuesday

I waded through all the paper on my desk, sifting out a number of key projects that need attention.

At lunchtime I walked to the shops with Yasmin S the HR manager.  Ostensibly we were discussing the recruitment of a new member of the marketing team.  Actually she talked at length about her father and how dissatisfied she was with his behaviour.

Later I had a meeting with Preston, the Innovation director.  He finished by saying "I like talking to you, you get things done."  This statement is so at variance with the truth (I hardly ever seem to get anything done) that I wondered if he meant this sarcastically.

I went back to my desk which was covered with lots of little scraps of paper reminding me to do things.

Wednesday

The only thing I did this morning was talk to a consultant.

In a moment of weakness I had agreed to play golf this afternoon with my boss Tom D and Operations director Ryan M.  Golf is a game I am not very good at, and I was behind at every hole.  When it rained I got soaked, but soon dried off in the wind. 

At the 9th hole Tom D left us.  Ryan M talked non-stop, running around finding balls, lifting flags, providing tees when I needed them.  It was as if we were old friends (although I am very wary of him).

In the empty bar (it was still only 5pm) we drank beer.  He talked of when he had been a football player (at seventeen played for Peterborough until his leg was broken, then moved to a German team until his leg was broken again).  We didn't mention Josie S once (she is PR officer and having an affair with Ryan M who seems to be increasingly bored with her).

Thursday

The decision was made today to give a disabled applicant the marketing assistant's post (replacing office junior Leo who is going to university).  Ron has multiple sclerosis and has struggled to find work recently.  He is extremely over-qualified for the marketing assistant's job.

Friday

Rain poured down all day.

On the eve of the bank holiday weekend it was excessively quiet in the office.

In the afternoon everyone who was in the building (not all that many) gathered around Leo's desk to see CEO Alec Pressberg give him a succession of gift-wrapped silly leaving presents.  Leo gave a mumbled embarrassed speech.  A few people, including myself, went with him to The Boot pub.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The riots as they happened in Manchester

Newsnight yesterday looked at the riots as they happened in Manchester.

It was a mixed sort of feature.  An interviewer went into Manchester social housing estates and asked the "gang" people there why they rioted.  This is a good first step, but people will very rarely tell you the real reason they did something on the first question.  You have to ask the same question several times, in slightly different formats, and eventually when you analyse the replies you will discover clues as to the real motivation.  And often the real reasons have nothing to do with the answers they first gave.  For instance, at one stage one of the rioters blurted out "it was better than sex" - was this just a cliche, or was he unintentionally revealing to us why he became violent? (sex and violence are linked).

In the studio discussion that followed there was a self-important "friend" of the rioters who seemed entirely bogus.  Diane Abbott said a few intelligent things but mostly blathered (medieval riots in London indeed - does she think she is Professor Caroline Barron!).  A shopkeeper wanted exemplary sentences (which are being doled out, so he should be satisfied). 

I wonder if we are missing an opportunity with these riots.  So far there have been about two thousand arrests.  It must be possible to interview each of these people and collect data in a systematic way - we know who they are, where they are (they are in prison), and they are hardly likely to be too busy to talk to an interviewer.  It would be a valuable research project and needs to be done now before rioters post-rationalise their behaviour too much.  But I would favour it being done by a market research company rather than social scientists (who will take years over it).  If done the right way, and a book produced, it might be a best-seller.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mario Negromonte is about to go

The Brazilian government seems to be in turmoil at the moment with ministerial resignations and tensions in the coalition.

According to the Buenos Aires Herald the Cities Minister Mario Negromonte is about to go http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/76867/brazil-minister-lashes-out-crisis-continues

His enemies say he is corrupt, but Mr Negromonte says it is a reaction to his austerity cuts ($30 billion slashed from the budget).

Brazil's unemployment rate is 6%.

World Number One



















Readers' Offer in the Guardian with a (possibly ironic) slogan proclaiming England as World Number One - I wonder if we will see Hugh Muir in one?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Go First Class















Lovely little brochure promoting First Class on the East Coast main line. 

I am not entirely sure that the offering is matched by the reality (but I don't travel First Class myself except on Eurostar so I am not really qualified to say). 

I like the way in which they have subtly portrayed the main USP of travelling first class ("lack of other people") by putting on the front cover a beautiful landscape entirely empty of people.  This is so clever I am full of admiration.

Inside they list "little extras" that hint at luxury - for instance National Trust cake recipes from the country houses on the East Coast rail line.  On one level this is absurd, as a fruit cake served in miniscule portions is not likely to taste of much, whatever the recipes.  But it is also magnificent in marketing terms, associating railway catering (which does not have a good image) with the historic country house traditions of the rural shires. 

Pages of menus follow, and the photography could have been a little more creative.  The feel of the paper is stock is lovely; there is a handy map on the back; the whole booklet says "Go First Class".

This is a brochure for my collection!

Events in Libya

The citadel has been stormed, the compound has been trashed, the enemy are running for their lives.

Events in Libya change with every news broadcast.

Some confusion over the whereabouts of Saif Gaddafi.

















Above - listing in the Radio Times.

I noticed that the Afternoon Play yesterday featured a university's "dealings with a discredited African dictator".

Is this a cultural reference to the Libyan revolution?  The Gaddafi regime had close dealings with the London School of Economics.  Following the popular uprising in Libya this connection blew up in the collective face of the LSE's governing board (which numbers Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty - although she has claimed that she opposed the links with Libya and has refused to resign from the board).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sarfraz Manzoor on Newsnight yesterday












Above:  cricket is as English as fish and chips (?).

Very muted coverage in the Guardian today of the England victory over India at the Oval, with an enigmatic announcement in the top left of the front page (will mean nothing to someone who does not follow cricket) and then almost buried coverage on pages 6 and 7 of the Sports section - I suspect had India beaten England they would have put a main article and picture on the front page.

Annoying item by Sarfraz Manzoor on Newsnight yesterday complaining that asians (by which he seemed to mean Muslims) were under-represented in English cricket.  No doubt his thirst for representative equality is very laudable.  But when investigating the "hundreds" of asian cricket teams in the Birmingham area did he ask other pertinent questions about equality, for instance how many gay players were welcomed into these asian teams?

If it is allowable to imply that English cricket is institutionally racist, surely it is also reasonable to ask whether asian cricket is institutionally homophobic.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tony Blair's article in yesterday's Observer


















Above:  Tony Blair's article in yesterday's Observer.

I was unconvinced by Tony Blair's article yesterday in which he tried to explain away the creation of the "chav demographic" under New Labour's period of office.  The article was debated on the Today programme this morning, but the discussion involved ex-ministers Jack Straw and Tony McNulty so was effectively a conclave of the dead.  Ironically this was one occasion when Owen Jones (author of Chavs) would have been able to make a valuable contribution.

Listen to the programme:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9569000/9569900.stm


In my view what happened in the post-1997 period was that the Labour government took a cynical decision to abandon some of the most vulnerable groups in society, assuming that electorally they had nowhere else to go (although some sections of socio-economic groups D and E did in fact move to extremist parties).

It is outrageous that Tony Blair should talk of this "underclass" as if they are some kind of world wide phenomenon, common to all industrialised nations.  The "chav demographic" was created as a result of government policies and it can be solved by government policies (and it should not take ten years as one commentator said in the Guardian on Saturday http://gangsinlondon.blogspot.com/2011/08/tackling-violence-will-take-10-years.html ).  Especially there needs to be a national policy of integration for all social groups.



















Above:  interesting article in the Business section of the Observer that suggests part of what gangs are looking for is publicity (or to be noticed - it is common for humans to behave badly when they have been starved of attention).

For a national policy of integration to work it is essential to understand what the "chav demographic" wants from society (sorry to keep using such an ugly description, but I think it is wider than just gang members - the gangs are a distilled element of the demographic).  Commentators assume that the demographic wants material goods and services, but although these may be important they are not the whole story.  The Sun on Saturday had a crude list of six elements that gang members value: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/3761393/Six-steps-to-gang-survival.html.  Therefore assuming The Sun's list is correct (and we can only know this by research) to refocus the attention of gang members there needs to be a sequence of ersatz substitutes that mimics each of these six attributes and promotes them as alternatives.  As a marketing campaign it should not be too difficult. The numbers are so small that the individuals can be targeted very closely (Scotland Yard say there are 169 gangs in London with an estimated membership of 5,000).
The Libyan rebel forces have entered Tripoli, and at this moment are searching for the dictator.

I am imagining scenes similar to the end of the 1951 film Quo Vadis, when the tyrant Nero is abandoned by his guards and servants.

Vincent Magombe (Africa Inform International) said on Dateline London that if Gaddafi falls the dictators of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to soon follow (perhaps even the monster in Zimbabwe will finally go).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Elder
















Above:  the elder trees are now heavy with fruit.  The berries stain the ground where they fall.  Birds often appear inebriated after consuming the berries.



















Above:  earlier in the week I was given a bottle of elderberry wine, which I drank this lunchtime (all of it).  Being honest, it did not compare with a Bordeaux or Gigondas.  It sent me to sleep for an hour an a half.















Above:  there is a large amount of place-name evidence in the county that demonstrates the importance of the elder tree to the pre-industrial economy.  As well as wine, the berries would be used for a medicinal syrup.  This pub (vaguely Arts & Crafts in style, but perhaps a rebuild of a far older edifice) may have been a meeting place for foragers who would sell their elder products at roadside stalls nearby.
I am currently watching Turn of the Screw live from Glyndebourne (I have it open in a corner of the screen).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Arriving in the office so early has its drawback - the past week at work

Monday

Getting ready for work this morning it seemed as if my three weeks' holiday had never been.

Carrying my bulging files (taken home to work on, but hardly looked at!) I went into the office and was surprised at the warmth of the welcome I got from everyone.  Carol (Information Team) gave me a birthday card signed by everyone.  Even my deputy Meryl seemed in a good mood.

Marketing junior Leo back from holiday in Corfu looking paler than when he went away.

Most of the morning spent deleting e-mails (hundreds of them) and going through correspondence (kept by Carol in a box file).

One of the first meetings I had was with Operations Director Ryan M, also back today from his holiday.  I went up to his office where he was alone, surrounded by work which was even heaped on the floor.  We were supposed to be talking about the PR schedule, but instead he showed me Flickr photographs of his holiday in the West Country, and then photographs of his house and wife, describing how a heron had raided his fish pond. 

Later I spoke to PR Officer Josie S, who is having an affair with Ryan M.  I mentioned seeing the Flickr photos and told her where to find them (he obviously hadn't told her).  I wanted her to see him with his wife, so she would realise how unlikely it is that he would ever leave her.

Tuesday

Working at home.

Wednesday

An e-mail circulated saying that two members of the Operations Team are leaving (taking the voluntary redundancy that has been offered to everyone).

A meeting with the Marketing manager of an NGO we work closely with.  He was full of praise for the directory we have just produced, and later spoke very highly about it to my boss Tom D.  We discussed putting on a joint seminar.

Tom has arranged for a temporary person to join the Marketing team to work on the Membership Scheme (which no-one else wants to touch).  Rod is in his early sixties and has multiple sclerosis - I was appalled that disability should strike so randomly.

Lots of deadlines are suddenly very close (they seemed so far off when I left for my holiday).

Thursday

To try and catch up with  my backlog I got up at 5am so that I would be at the office by 6.30 - only Jan (PA to the CEO) was also in the building.

Then when everyone arrived I carried out some mini-appraisals with various members of my team. 

Annoyed that Tom has ordered an expensive tranche of advertising, which I know will be a waste of money.

Friday

Once again I got up at 5 - the roads are empty early in the morning.  I am gradually getting on top of things, and the pressure is beginning to ease slightly.  But arriving in the office so early has its drawback - everyone else who comes in stops to talk.

A meeting at County Hall - usual local government stuff.

Later in the day Innovation manager Preston brought his family into the office.  He is obviously very proud of them.  Preston is to be promoted to the senior management team of the NGO ("I'll be able to help you" he said mysteriously - what help does he think I need?).

A meeting with Ryan M, but most of the time he talked about football.  He plays for an amateur league, and talked about Kenilworth Road.  He wanted to get an NGO team going, but I declined to get involved.

Then the working week came to an end, and I thought how I would spend most of the weekend sleeping.
The way the rebel forces are moving in on Tripoli is exciting.  Perhaps the Libyans will finally throw off their tyrant.  And what must life be like in the besieged city?  I imagine it like the last days of Abdul Hamid II in 1909.

When the monster is finally gone, I hope we will get to see the documents of the Libyan state.  Especially the ones relating to the release of Abdulbasit al Megrahi.  No-one believes the Scottish government when they say that Megrahi was released on "compassionate grounds".

It was obviously a secret deal.
Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, has entered Celebrity Big Brother (as announced on Newsnight yesterday).  Unless she is ejected quickly she is almost certain to make a fool of herself (controlling personalities do not tend to do well on the show).  This in turn will make her husband a figure of fun. 

The implications for "Speaker" Bercow are considerable.  As someone who enforces obedience through fear rather than affection, he may struggle to be taken seriously.  He may experience the same fate as Angus Deayton (obliged to resign when his private life became a laughing stock).
Maxine Mawhinny chaired Dateline London earlier today.  They seemed to agree that Barak Obama has lost the will to be re-elected.  Vincent Magombe (Africa Inform International) was the most interesting contributor.

http://www.spanglefish.com/AfricaInformInternational/index.asp?pageid=81922

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interesting discussion on the Today programme this morning in which Lindsay Johns suggested that linguistics might have contributed to the riots.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9568000/9568228.stm

This is an area that interests me a lot.

There has long been a view that language influences thought.  If the words do not exist to describe a thing (the colour yellow for instance) how are you able to conceptualise and express the thoughts you have about that thing?  As languages become more subtle, the ability to manipulate them becomes more multifarious.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Confused thinking by Naomi Klein in The Guardian


















An example of slightly confused thinking by Naomi Klein in The Guardian today.

The cuts in police were not the reason the riots were allowed to get out of control.  Mainly because the cuts have not happened yet.  Also because on Tuesday the police demonstrated they could "surge" numbers if they wanted to.

The cuts might result in riots getting out of control in the future, but even this is not proven.  And in any case the rioters were not on the whole targetting rich people but small shopkeepers in their own communities.  In all the articles I have read, no-one has yet convincingly explained who was rioting and why they were doing it, but I find the neo-Marxist interpretation idiotic.

I know one person who is a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police and one person who works for Surrey Police - they both demonstrate there is a lot of waste.

PS on the back page of today's Guardian there is a full page advertisement offering "30%" off the cost of the newspaper, but without saying what the costs are, just "save £140 a year".  So if 30% = £140 then 100% must equal £466.  Therefore they are offering a monthly subscription of about £27 (£466 - £140 = £325 then divide by 12).  I have received a letter (from Anna Roberts) saying my subscription is going up to £30.36 (from £23 for the 7 day subscription).  Therefore it would pay me to cancel my subscription and resubscribe (or maybe just try another newspaper).  This sort of slight of hand is what the banks and energy companies do.  Sky also did this trick, putting the price up after we had gone to the bother of taking out a subscription. 

Leif Jerram's new book Streetlife














Above:  have finally got round to reading last week's TLS which included an in-depth review by Anson Rabinbach of Leif Jerram's new book Streetlife, a survey of urban life in Europe during the twentieth century.














Above:  I think Streetlife is a book to get out of the library rather than actually buy.  But Rabinbach's review is worth reading in itself, lots of condensed information in an elegant style.  Obviously the recent inner city riots have already made some conclusions in the book out of date.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For two nights running John Cooper QC has appeared on Newsnight professing, in an InjuryLawyers4U tone of voice (obviously false concern), that he was outraged that the courts were imposing long sentences and talking about sentencing policy as if that were an area entirely the responsibility of the legal system.

This seems to be a usurpation by a small elite of an area that should be brought under more democratic control, perhaps through directly-elected judges.
Talking to someone from Surrey Police, he said that during the riots there were lots of incidents in central London that were not reported, including a restaurant in Notting Hill where the diners were held up and robbed.

He said it was this sort of activity that was driving the mood for tough sentences.

Manufacturing

Very interesting item on the Today programme this morning that the new Enterprise zones announced today are to be linked to manufacturing activities.

It is also obvious that the United Kingdom is not producing enough engineers (and supporting them to create new companies).  In part this is because the universities are run by academics (obviously) who have little sympathy with anything to do with "trade".  In a back-to-the-future move perhaps we need a network of industry-focussed polytechnics that can concentrate on this area.

On the subject of manufacturing, this American report was very interesting: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-advanced-manufacturing-june2011.pdf

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wonderful lecture by Sir Peter Tapsell MP on FE Smith, repeated on the Parliamentary Channel as part of the 1911 lectures.

He was an champion opponent of disestablishmentarianism:


Are they clinging to their crosses,
F. E. Smith,
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?
Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
Wait the news from this our city?
Groaning "That's the Second Reading!"
Hissing "There is still Committee!"
If the voice of Cecil falters,
If McKenna's point has pith,
Do they tremble for their altars?
Do they, Smith?

Have deleted two verses - it was a bit long.
Re the last post, per month I meant, and the percentage increase is 30%.

Joey Barton is a victim of very subtle, but insidious, chav-hate

Recent reports in the media make me wonder whether footballer Joey Barton is a victim of very subtle, but insidious, chav-hate.



















Above:  small piece (part of a larger spread in The Observer last Sunday) that sneers at the idea of Joey Barton quoting Nietzsche, Darwin and Orwell.  Tom Lamont, who wrote the piece, scoffs at the idea of Joey Barton as a "reader".  Ironically this is the sort of bullying Graeme le Saux received when he was outed as a Guardian-reader.

A list of Tom Lamont's work is http://journalisted.com/tom-lamont?allarticles=yes













Above:  a nastier piece that appeared in the Guardian yesterday and also on-line http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2011/aug/14/newcastle-united-joey-barton-twitter

Martin Kelner who wrote the piece, compares Joey Barton to Hitler, implies he is mad ("communicates with planet Earth"), and jeers at him for trying to be "posh".  Funny and ironic article on the world of sport, no doubt.  But it also appears to be chav-hate against working-class people getting above themselves.

I am sure that both Tom Lamont and Martin Kelner would deny any charge of chav-hate.  They would tell us some of their best friends are chavs, and perhaps wheel out Owen Jones as proof.  But it makes you wonder if the Guardian / Observer Group is institutionally chavist.

And while I am talking about the Guardian / Observer Group, why have they put their subscription rate up from £23 to £30?  Is inflation running at 25% ?  Where is the considerable saving they promised me when I first took out the subscription (at £30 per annum there is hardly any saving, since the newspaper costs £1 per day)?
My holiday is over and I went back to work yesterday.

However I am at home today as the porch is being repainted (takes three days) and the workmen need access etc.

Annoying that the parliamentary enquiry into the riots is not being shown live on the Parliament Channel.  There are bits of the live coverage on Sky and BBC News 24 but it is patchy and I have to keep switching from one to another.  Just as the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner was explaining who exactly took the decision to change the policing tactics Sky had an advertising break!

The mood "on the street"














Above:  interesting article by John Bird in yesterday's Independent about a possible contributory factor to the riots http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-bird-fashion-has-become-a-weapon-on-the-streets-of-london-2337838.html

John Bird probably knows more than anyone about the mood "on the street".

The government has declared war on the gangs.  Stupid comments on Newsnight yesterday by young people in Hackney saying the government would "get war" in return.  These people need to be advised (and quickly) that when the state declares war against an internal group there can only be one possible outcome (as the miners found out).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The riots couldn't happen in Scottish cities

Unusual comments on the Today programme this morning (BBC Radio 4).  Scottish people interviewed in Glasgow were saying that the riots couldn't happen in Scottish cities because "we're better than that".  Presumably this sense of national superiority has been created by Alex Salmond's recent discriminatory comments about the riots.

However roughly a million people born in Scotland are currently living in England, and I would guess most of those will be located in the major cities.  I have not seen any breakdown of arrests by ethnic origin, but is Alex Salmond trying to tell us that none of the rioters were born in Scotland?  Presumably the Scottish government is a public body governed by United Kingdom law and Alex Salmond has a statutory duty under the 2010 Equality Act to refrain from making discriminatory comments on the basis of national origin?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Coincidence?



















Above:  further to the previous post, every time I look at the carvings I see something new.  For instance I have just realised that this hand with a heart is very similar to the traditional "hamsa" designs widespread in the Middle East.  Coincidence?



















Above (screenprint):  modern hamsa design.  Hamsa are amulets used in the Jewish kebbalah tradition.  They are also used as Islamic amulets known as the Hand of Fatima.

Coincidentally Fatima is a location in Portugal where three children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Heart.

Enough iconography to make me think

Still on holiday - as well as annual leave I also have TOIL (Time Off In Lieu) to use up.  I have calculated that I get one month off for every five months worked.  Therefore my contract with the NGO will come to an end in November, not December (and then I will be free!).















Above:  during the week I drove to Hertfordshire to look at an underground cave cut into the chalk.  The walls of this cave are covered with hundreds of mysterious carvings.  In this post-Dan Brown period anything medieval and mysterious is immediately accredited to "the Knights Templars" so I was prepared to be unimpressed.

But actually there was enough iconography to make me think there may well be a crusader connection.

Entry is down steep steps and then a narrow passageway.















Above:  the narrow passageway (which is relatively modern) leads into a bell-shaped chamber with a conical roof - the hole you can see was the original entrance, so it was not an easy place to get into.  Only about twenty people are allowed in the cave at any one time, and even with this restriction the place was packed so that we were shuffling around each other.  Pevsner was unable to date the carvings accurately.
 













Above:  the carvings are fairly crude and all jumbled together without perspective (so that they reminded me of prehistoric cave drawings which were intended as ritual magic).  All of them seem to have Christian connotations.  Here you can see the right hand of God releasing a dove.



















Above:  this image of St John the Baptist with staff and carrying the Christ child is unmistakeable (the image is more than life size).  The cult of St John the Baptist was venerated by the Templars.  Interestingly the local parish church is dedicated to St John the Baptist.



















Above:  another large image, this time of St George - also a cult brought to England by the crusaders.   On the right of the picture is what looks like a maze.  As far as I know the carvings have not received any serious academic study (they may just be folk art - but if so why in such an inaccessible place).



















Above:  this section of wall interested me greatly.  At the top is St Catherine of Alexandria and her wheel - the cult of St Catherine was again brought by the crusaders from the Holy Land (the crusader headquarters of the cult was supposedly at the church of St Catherine in Bethlehem).  Below St Catherine you can see (left to right): a large cross, apparently on fire; then two crowned figures which have been interpreted as Queen Berengaria and King Richard the Lion Heart; then a conventional scene of the crucifixion.














Above:  there were dozens of figures wearing heart symbols on their chest.  This picture shows two men with hearts (on the left) next to two women with crosses (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it).  This surely implies devotion to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary?
















Above (screenprint):  drummer Jon Moss (who is Jewish) wearing a shirt with the emblem of the Immaculate Heart.















Above:  Stephanie Germanotta wearing the Immaculate Heart in one of her recent videos (a sword shall pierce your heart also).

Sir Hugh Orde is in the news

Police "chief" Sir Hugh Orde is in the news currently, ridiculing any suggestion that politicians were in any position to control the riots earlier this week, and also commenting very publicly on future government policy.

If what he said on Newsnight on Thursday is true, three questions arise:

1  Why was there a clamour in the newspapers for senior politicians to return from holiday if it was the case that they were "irrelevant" (to use Sir Hugh Orde's word) to whether the riots were controlled or not?  Did the journalists simply get their facts wrong (ironic considering the lectures they like to give to bloggers about the importance of fact checking)?  Or were the newspapers trying to inflame the situation by creating a false narrative of politicians letting London burn while they lounged around in the sun?

2  If Sir Hugh Orde is correct, and the police were entirely responsible for the decisions taken about policing the riots, then they have a lot of explaining to do about why the situation got out of control.  We spend a lot of money on maintaining the police force and yet when gangs of teenagers challenged them they were found wanting.  If the police cannot adequately explain why they "held back" in the first two days then it is reasonable to ask for one or two heads on a plate.

3  Is it really acceptable for senior police to talk directly to the media on sensitive issues of public policy?  I thought we had got beyond all that.  And in addition to celebrity footballers and celebrity models and celebrity Speaker's Wives are we now going to have celebrity police chiefs constantly in our face?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alan Hollinghurst at Kings Place
















Monday evening I went to a talk by the author Alan Hollinghurst at Kings Place.

It was slightly disappointing in that the interviewer John Mullen (an academic at UCL) did most of the talking, hardly allowing Alan Hollinghurst to speak.  Instead of asking open questions and then waiting for the replies he took the author through an interrogation of closed questions that seemed to relate to his own very specialised technical interests.  Presumably John Mullen belongs to the Lionel Trilling school which holds that literary criticism is a higher branch of literature than mere novels.

When we did hear Alan Hollinghurst speak he talked about the ambivalence of the hero of The Line of Beauty; the tests of loyalty for the reader; the influence of Jane Austen.  He told us he likes to avoid the obvious.  He agreed The Line of Beauty was an historical novel (something that had not occurred to me).

The Line of Beauty is "structured via set piece events" in one of which Margaret Thatcher makes a fictional appearance ("...that was the part I enjoyed writing the most").  Alan Hollinghurst talked about the influence of Henry James on his characters.  He told us "I am not at all interested in creating caricatures".

During the questions one person (female) referred to The Line of Beauty and told the author "I've read it three times and in captures the nineteen-eighties in a way no other does".

In an answer to another question Alan Hollinghurst said the novel "follows the line of beauty rather than the line of duty".

A psychotherapist in the audience said he was "amazed at the understanding of human emotions" in the novel.

As I left the auditorium I heard one young woman say to another "It's made me want to read Henry James".

It has made me want to read Dancing with Dogma by Sir Ian Gilmour.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Over?

Are the riots over now?

At one stage they looked as if they might be David Cameron's Katrina-moment.

Increasingly they look as if they might be his Falklands-moment.

This is a difficult period for the Opposition since all they can do is offer solidarity and avoid any statements that will make them look sympathetic to the rioters.

Public mood is currently so belligerent that any premature examination of underlying causes, contributory trends and social pressures is likely to be misinterpreted.

Rereading my own posts on this blog made while the riots were taking place, I see at one stage I was actually asking for armed police to shoot the rioters.  Was this a momentary lapse of judgment?  Was it a silly exaggeration made for effect?  Looking back now, I am glad that people were not gunned down in the streets.  However I have to be honest and say there was a period just after Ealing was attacked when I DID want the police to shoot people.  I suppose if I had been in executive power at the time I would have ordered summary executions.  I am surprised at how angry I became.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Michael Gove currently speaking - very inspiring, and rightly condemning "greed and amoral hedonism".
Keith Vaz has just announced the terms of the Home Office Select Committee inquiry into the riots and has told the House of Commons that no one side has a monopoly of wisdom.

Brian Binley read out vox populi from Northampton South and said that politicians "were part of the problem".

Meg Hillier talked at length about the gangs of Clarence Road in Hackney.

Andrew Selous gave voice to the opinions of the blue rinse ladies of Caddington and Eaton Bray.

A little later Kerry McCarthy tried to pose as a veteran social campaigner of the 1980s riots "in Luton".  This is a grossly bigging-up of her experience.  My brother remembers well the Luton "riot" - he walked through the West Side and Bury Park while it was happening and it was just a stand-off that fizzled out.  Stupid self-opinionated idiot jumping on a bandwaggon.  This is the most irritating contribution of the debate.  I suppose she had a deep need to hear the sound of her own voice.

Andy Burnham has just said people are not interested in point scoring - he should tell Kerry McCarthy that.
I dipped into the debate again at 4.40pm to see Yvette Cooper laughing and joshing with Keith Vaz over some obscure aspect of funding for the police.  Glad they are having such a fun time.  I suppose it's all a game to them.
So many interruptions to Teresa May that she is hardly allowed to speak.
Diane Abbott spoke quite movingly about the fear people felt during the riots.
Andrew Neil has recommended a television documentary called The Scheme - is this going to be repeated?
David Miliband may have intended to make a serious point but it was too early in the debate to become party political and the way he delivered it sounded glib (possibly even a little cheap).
You can say what you like about Sir Peter Tapsell (and I noticed the smirking in the background) but he certainly speaks for the ordinary people - certainly among the people I have listened to.

Discussion between Baroness Warsi and Diane Abbot MP, moderated by Gavin Esler


Newsnight this evening included a discussion between Baroness Warsi and Diane Abbot MP, moderated by Gavin Esler.

Diane Abbot objected to the way in which parts of society are being "stigmatised", which is a fair point; but then undermined her credibility by trying to tell us that major riots tend to happen when there is a Conservative government.

Baroness Warsi said that the current riots were symptomatic of a long period of decline in the structures of society - I found this argument more convincing.

MJH Denison in Emotion As The Basis Of Civilisation said:  "...character is formed by enforcing a system of taboos which causes men to feel a sense of horror for acts harmful to the community".

What is undeniable is that the 1997-2010 Labour government presided over (and perhaps encouraged) changes in the taboo-systems of British society - Aldous Huxley said:  "...to change a society's taboo-system, even in part, is to change the character of its members, and along with their character the kind of emotions they feel and the kind of thoughts they think."

PS I entirely support the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his handling of the crisis - he is exactly the sort of person we need in a situation like this and he is taking the right decisions.

PPS Diane Abbot (and to a lesser extent Baroness Warsi) should not laugh and smile when discussing such a serious issue on live television - presumably they were nervous, but it looked terrible.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Col Bob Stewart MP talking to Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice, moderated by Martine Croxall

Interesting discussion on BBC News 24 this evening - Col Bob Stewart MP talking to Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice, moderated by Martine Croxall.

Also in the Guardian an extensive article by Zoe Williams.

All of them are making valid points about the roles of gangs in the current unrest in London.

However it would be interesting to hear from a sexual psychologist about some of the impulses that might be driving the violence and looting in these gangs.

For instance, the looting of trainers seems to be very prominent.  These extremely-expensive trophies are more than just items of clothing.  Anyone who has been involved in the marketing of trainers will know that male youth culture has for some years experienced the fetishisation of feet (over-large, brightly-coloured, "high performance" etc) exhibiting many of the Freudian signs associated with this fetish.

There is also the sexual nature of gang violence itself.  Aldous Huxley wrote:  "...all enjoy the warmth that accompanies boasting, the fierce electric thrill of fighting... to boast mendaciously about one's own gang and to slander and defame other gangs are acts everywhere regarded as creditable and even pious." 

He also wrote:  "In the absence of natural enemies men will go out of their way to create artificial ones, so as to have objects on which to vent their hatred. Similarly in the absence of women men will imaginatively transform other men into artificial women, so as to have objects on which to vent their lusts."


I suppose what I am arguing is that young people who are not working are kept in an artificially infantile position unable to afford the fetishised objects that are essential to sexual confidence, and on a more practical level unable to give prospective partners ritualised courting gifts or to establish a household in which to found a family.

In this context looting and violence (for its own sake) becomes a mechanism for achieving sexual status.

But I am not a psychologist, and this may all be wrong (and if this argument is right, then in an odd sort of way conscripting these people into an army might actually solve their psycho-sexual problems).



















Above:  interesting article by Hannah Devlin that appeared in The Times some weeks ago (you might need to click on the image to enlarge it).  Also Dolce & Gabbana photography has expertly exploited the psychological link between fashion, violence and sex.  Insanely I would like to go out into one of the riots and ask the participants what trainers they had looted, why they looted one style of trainer rather than another, did they experience any post-looting dissonence etc (also other questions - if their gang was a car what would it be; if their gang was a dog what would it be...).
















Above is a screenprint.















Above is a screenprint.
Left of centre think-tank Demos is critical of Ken Livingstone's comments on the riots:

"This isn't the time, as Ken Livingstone seems to think it is, to make direct connections between cuts in public spending and youth anger. Rubbish."

http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/noexcuses
Is it possible that the riots may bring about a change in society that the rioters were not looking for?

Many people I am speaking to are saying that they have "had enough" with social innovations and (perceived) indulgences and want a return to a more traditional structure to society.

I have not come across any sympathy for the rioters.

Ironically, resources have been poured into inner city areas over the past twenty years, but most of the money has not reached the general population.  Instead it has been diverted into programmes and projects designed to register on a macro scale (policies that will have electoral significance).  Especially the money has gone to pay for highly-skilled personnel who are/were doing work that may be valuable, but is not locally valued.

Seditious comment by Giles Frazer, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's cathedral

A carefully-worded but nevertheless seditious comment by Giles Frazer, Canon Chancellor of St Paul's cathedral, on Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  By saying that "the cuts are also a form of violence" he was making an equivalence between public policy and gang behaviour.  Surely he cannot remain in his position after making such an inflammatory statement at a time of national emergency?

Daily Politics

Presumably Andrew Neil's Daily Politics will be covering tomorrow's emergency recall of Parliament.
Owen Jones, author of Chavs, popped up on Sky News Press Review spouting more of his gobby gibberish.

The issues he addresses are serious, but none of his analysis makes any sense.

Presumably he is hoping to sell more of his book by these TV appearances (don't buy it - it's garbage).

Eve Pollard was also on the Press Review and said that some of last night's rioting was tribal, involving different ethnic groups fighting each other - this is new, I have not seen this reported anywhere.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Having just seen Cindy Butts from the Metropolitan Police Authority on Newsnight, I am beginning to understand why the police are holding back all the time.

She seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that the "years of community work" she refers to have led directly to this situation.

Even if she privately thinks this, she was unwise to say it live on television

Very thought-provoking discussion on Newsnight just now between Michael Gove and Harriet Harman. 

Harriet Harman got in a tangle over linking the riots to social grievances (even if she privately thinks this, she was unwise to say it live on television). 

There was no mistaking the anger of Michael Gove in responding.
Sky News is showing a community in Southall arming itself (with what looks like swords) and guarding public buildings - I am not sure I want to see private armies on the streets.
Owen Jones, idiot author of Chavs has just appeared on BBC News 24 saying that "the cuts" are causing the riots, and then contradicting himself by saying "the cuts havn't hit yet".

If the cuts have not been implemented how can they be causing the riots.

Idiot.

Stupid book anyway.
I am looking for strong effective action by the police tonight, fully backed by the government and supported by all other MPs (and if they cannot support the government they should stay silent).

Scathing sarcasm of Nick Clegg

Eddie Mair's PM programme on BBC Radio 4 has opened with very understated but nevertheless scathing sarcasm of Nick Clegg.
It was a good move for Boris Johnson to go up to a crowd of people and let them shout at him over what happened last night.  It can't have been very pleasant.  But it looked good and shows him giving strong leadership.

Nigel Farrage (on News 24) has a point


Nigel Farrage (on News 24) has a point about taking police away from other parts of the country.

As someone who lives in an isolated house in the country I am already aware that if anything happens on a Friday or Saturday night no police will come - they are all in urban areas an hour and a half away policing "the night-time economy".


Very clear statement just now by Harriet Harman condemning the rioting.  Also David Cameron said the right things earlier.  Nick Clegg over the past few days has been pathetic (and where was he last night? - he was supposed to be in control).

Interview with idiot Professor Gus John

Have just watched on BBC News 24 an interview with idiot Professor Gus John calling for "healing and rehabilitation", wanting more youth workers (framed in a sort of lets-get-down-with-the-kids format) and blaming "marginalisation and exclusion" for the way the rioters are behaving.

These are exactly the sort of policies that have failed.

Professor Gus John tells us that the rioters are "fearless";.

They are fearless because there are no adequate deterrents - police are treading on egg-shells around these communities; the courts are not giving out deterrent sentences and the prisons are not punishing them properly.

If they do not respect the law they must learn to fear the law.

A British "Katrina moment"

In many ways what happened in London last night was a British "Katrina moment" with ordinary people crying please help us and no-one coming to their aid.

Idiot MP Angie Bray... idiot MP Simon Hughes

BBC News 24 has just broadcast an interview with idiot MP Angie Bray who is STILL going on about "policing with consent".

Idiot MP Simon Hughes (deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats) has just popped up saying their is "a case for Operation Trident to be reviewed", wanting more "facilities" for young people and "there are social issues to be addressed" - what is very clear is that we cannot leave the Liberal Democrats in charge of the country ever again.

Idiot academic Dr Clifford Stott Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Liverpool

What is very clear is that social cohesion in London has completely broken down.

Among many young people primary loyalty is to their immediate social group - at one extreme to little inward-looking cliques on Facebook, at the other extreme to gangs.

There does not seem to be much loyaty to even their own families - and absolutely no loyalty to neighbours, civic entities or social institutions.

This is a failure of social policy which needs an entire rethink (not more of the same).

Especially we need a national policy of integration.

Have just seen on BBC News 24 an idiot academic Dr Clifford Stott Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Liverpool saying that this rioting is happening because some demographic groups are saying "policing is illegitimate".  This is the sort of nonsense that has got us into such a mess.  The police get their legitimacy from the democratic will of the WHOLE population and personally as a tax payer who maintains the police, I want them to enforce the law throughout the whole of society without any political correctness garbage.


http://afroml.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/rascals-fire-blaze.html 

Calming

Things seemed to be calming down.

I feel sickened and disgusted (and very very angry) at what has happened this evening.

My grandparents used to live in Peckham.  My aunt used to live in Ealing.  My mother used to shop in Arding & Hobbs.

TELL people to get off the streets

The Metropolitan Police chief has just appeared on News 24 "urging" people to stay off the streets.  He needs to TELL people to get off the streets and say anyone they find will be arrested.  Presumably there are no powers to impose a curfew.

Pathetic nanny state.

Armoured vehicles

Just on News 24 - the police have started using armoured vehicles, thank goodness.

Incredible live interviews

There have been some incredible live interviews this evening - have just heard on BBC News 24 an Eve and Tommy Thompson talking about a MASSIVE fire in Enfield.

State of Emergency

How bad do things have to get before the Home Secretary declares a State of Emergency?

We no longer have a Riot Act

Apparently we no longer have a Riot Act - the idiot politicans voted it away in 1973.

The maximum sentence for rioting is "10 years" (which means the idiot judges will just give them five years and they will only serve two and a half years).

Why don't we have laws and sentences that give adequate protection to society?

Why are the police not given the powers and weapons to control this situation?

The politicians who have created this situation (over decades) need a bloody good kicking.

Diane Abbot MP wittering away on Sky News about parents controlling their children - and yet in the Independent earlier today she was blaming the police for poor community relations.  Diane Abbot is a community leader and she needs to take responsibility for what HER community is doing.  Not that she will.
I am not, on the whole, an emotive person.

But at this moment I am EXTREMELY angry.
Interview on Sky News with a shop superviser in Birmingham called Lorraine.  It was one of the most shocking things I have heard.  The store she was managing was under siege, broken into and robbed, and her life threatened.

If the police cannot control this situation surely the army must intervene.

We have a Riot Act on the statute books - the Home Secretary needs to read it over the news channels (and perhaps over Twitter since that seems to be so popular with the gangs) and armed police need to shoot the rioters until the rioting stops.
Even Ealing, Queen of the Suburbs, is being attacked.

Ealing!
Ken Livingstone has been quoted on television as saying that the rioting is understandable because of the poverty of deprived communities - but poverty was far worse in the 1920s and 1930s, and people didn't behave like this.

BBC News 24 - live coverage of the riots in London

I am watching BBC News 24 - live coverage of the riots in London.

Dramatic and moving (and also shocking) live interview by Chris Eakin of Trevor Reeves whose furniture store has been burnt-out on rolling news television. 

Huge number of commentators all day have been saying "things have improved since the 1980s".

Personally I think it is clear that policing policies since the 1980s have failed.  However well-meaning the Scarman and McPherson reports were, the "light touch" policing-only-with-consent models have got us nowhere.  And "diversity" politics have also failed - these gangs are attacking individuals and burning and pillaging because they feel no sense of responsibility to the other people around them.

I have just seen Arding & Hobbs (now Debenhams) being looted in Clapham - the army needs to shoot these people.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Prom 32 at the Royal Albert Hall

















Above:  yesterday evening I went to Prom 32 at the Royal Albert Hall.  I am lucky if I get to one Promenade concert per year (mainly because they finish so late and it is a problem to get home).  Mild evening, large crowds but well-ordered so there was never a crush, when I got there I found I was entirely without cash, so had to forgo any refreshments.



















Above:  I went into the hall through Gate 9, opposite the Albert Memorial.  The sky showed huge variations of grey.  The warm air was a little oppressive.














Above:  at the end of Mahler's Das klagende Lied (original version, as the BBC points out).  Being a mild sufferer of OCD, I have over the years segregated and refined classical music so that I now tend to just go to Schubert, Schumann and Mahler (Mahler in a concrete box on the South Bank, Mahler in a baroque church in Smith Square, Mahler on holiday in Vienna etc).  I had a seat in row 2 of the stalls, very close to the stage.  High up near the roof I could see what looked like a painted trompe l'oeil frieze of people - until some of them moved and I realised they were real.  In the row behind me was an American expatriate who spoke loudly in the interval about how he was coming to the end of five years Non-Dom status and was going back to America to avoid paying the higher tax rate ("...one of the things I will miss when I go back is the musical life in London.  I lived in New York for a while and this beats it many times over.  Of course I could never tell a New Yorker that...").

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Live statement by David Lammy MP on BBC News 24 talking about the Tottenham riots

Pathetic and evasive live statement by David Lammy MP on BBC News 24 talking about the Tottenham riots last night.

He said most of the people who did the rioting were from outside Tottenham; he said the police had "questions" to answer; and he repeatedly described what happened as "mindless" (as if repeating it enough times would somehow make it true).

Anyone who has looked at the communities in that area (especially those on the social housing estates) will know that the violence was not mindless but all too easy to understand.  And it does relate to the events of twenty-five years ago and the failure then to take the right action.  And David Lammy's mealy-mouthed failure to support the police today is part of the on-going problem.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

West Indian writers - Jean Rhys, VS Naipaul and Andrea Levy

While I have been on holiday I have been reading West Indian writers - Jean Rhys, VS Naipaul and Andrea Levy.  It wasn't an area that I was particularly familiar with, so I was looking forward to new insights about the world.  The Rhys book is set in Dominica, the Naipaul book in Trinidad and the Levy book in Jamaica.














Above:  Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  I was astonished by the power of this book - poetic, subtle, intelligent.  Like Barbara Pym, there was a long period when her books were out of print, which seems incredible for writing of this quality. 














Above:  VS Naipaul has been a great discovery for me - I had never read anything by him before.  A House for Mr Biswas is one of the funniest and most engaging novels I have read.  623 pages long, I enjoyed every word and completely sympathised with Mr Biswas and his struggle to overcome the poverty created by a bad start in life. 















Above:  The Long Song by Andrea Levy was a let-down.  I got it from the library as a talking book, and listened to it for an hour every morning.  Although I eventually finished it, the work is not good - so disjointed it seems to be several sketchy books crammed into one.  The main problem is that the characters do not behave coherently or have an internal logic that is convincing.  Andrea Levy also seems to have crammed lots of extraneous information into the book that is not really integral to the story.  For instance a huge amount of "filler" about the printing industry (it is as if the author was determined to use up all her notes whether they were relevant or not).  The book tries to be a tragedy and a comedy simultaneously without succeeding (a more accomplished author, such as VS Naipaul, might be able to manage this, but Andrea Levy fails). 

Friday, August 05, 2011

Russia and the EU




















Have just got round to reading the latest Chatham House briefing paper on Russia and the EU.  The idea of Russia actually joining the EU is normally regarded as being impossible.  But a careful reading of this report suggests that most of the objections are not insurmountable.

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/0711bp_hanson.pdf

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The credit boom caused the housing boom which caused the banking crisis which caused the socialisation of debt which has caused a sovereign debt crisis

Unbearably humid evening in an upstairs panelled hall in the West End.  Even with the windows open the air was still.  Forty or so dark-suited men and a few women finished their glasses of wine and sat down to listen.

The speaker was a public figure (although I had never heard of him).  A self-styled adherent of the Austrian School.  He talked for an hour on the economic crisis.

He started by asking some questions: 

"If the Austrian School has any merit, what does it mean for the banking sector?  Is economics a positive applied science?  What do we mean by the monetary theory of the trade cycle?

"The interaction of human beings is what we call economics... The State is an enormous player in the economy... Public choice theory - you can see the lobby groups separating...

"Look at how the State creates expectations... Morality is a key part of economics... When the students were rioting in London we actually saw Communist flags in Parliament Square - there is a risk that people will turn to authoritarian alternatives as things get worse...

"Society is the community in action... Society is a dynamic process with choices and actions... The State is a territorial monopoly on the use of force...

"Profit is the measure of value you have created for other people... The history of the last hundred years is of intervention with borrowing, and the debasement of the money supply...

"The Austrian School intellectually survived the recent crisis... Where is the crisis going to end?  What options do we have other than the Austrian School?

"Honest money is money which holds its value... The central challenge of our day is organising our monetary arrangements... The Austrian School offers important insights...

"The Chinese State dominates only thirty per cent of the Chinese economy whereas the UK State dominates forty per cent of our economy... However the Chinese State does not need to rely on democratic persuasion... Various Austrian School economists believe China is about to hit the buffers...

"Leave interest rates to the market - they are a vital price signal that co-ordinates the economy... We have adopted social democracy - or Conservative interventionism if you prefer...  State direction is accepted in banking whereas we wouldn't accept it anywhere else...

"It is not good that we have credit expansion well in excess of real savings... The State should limit itself to enforcing property rights and contracts... Hayek suggested fiat monies should float freely and compete freely although this is not as good as using gold... Abolish central banks and deposit insurance... Move to one hundred per cent reserve banking...

"The credit boom caused the housing boom which caused the banking crisis which caused the socialisation of debt which has caused a sovereign debt crisis."

After the talk there was sombre applause.  My head ached slightly (was it the economic theory, or was it the fourth glass of wine?).  The worried-looking economists went down the elegant staircase and out into the sultry night.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Becoming enthusiastic about paying tax



















Above:  article by Rosie Murray-West, Deputy Personal Finance Editor for the Daily Telegraph.

A recent report by the Treasury Select Committee tells us what we already know - that there is "complete dissatisfaction" with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs and the way that tax is collected.

This makes me think the government is missing an opportunity to connect with voters, minimise dissatisfaction, maximise key messages, gain valuable feedback, create positive emotions, maybe even raise extra income.

The first government to do this will gain a competitive advantage over other political parties.

1  Almost every adult voter in the United Kingdom pays tax, and yet they are not properly thanked for doing so.  Why is the government so rude?  They should look at subscription and membership organisations for how people should be thanked (membership of the National Trust, subscribers to the Guardian, supporters of the RSPB - all know how to look after their income source).

2  Simply by connecting with people (but not in a wasteful bureaucratic way) will improve satisfaction ratings, even if the actual processes do not improve all that much.

3  Since tax is mostly about spending this is an opportunity for the government of the day to reinforce the policy decisions it has taken (again this must be done in a subtle and understated way, avoiding gloss and anything that looks contrived or expensive).

4  Ask for feedback, even when you know that people are going to be hostile.  Expenditure on the Greek bailout might be unpopular, but tax-payers will want to know their objections are at least being listened to.  Also gives an opportunity for renewed contact and explanation (see point 2).

5  Why is there an objection among most tax payers to paying tax?  On the whole people want to retain as much money as they can to spend on their own self-actualisation projects (very few people in the United Kingdom live at subsistence level, even among the very poorest).  And yet government expenditure can (in theory) be projected in terms of collective self-actualisation, leading to tax payers becoming enthusiastic about paying tax and creating the Big Society feeling that everyone is looking for.

6  Why not give tax-payers an opportunity to pay extra tax, ring-fenced for causes they believe in.  We know that charitable giving raises huge amounts each year so why can't this principle be extended to "official giving" (which is another way of looking at the payment of taxes).  Perhaps even have a mechanism where extra government funding projects can be suggested.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Paris Fanfare














Above:  recently I went to hear a concert by a brass octet.  I got there just before the concert began, and the only seats left were just in front of the perfomers, which meant I got the full blast of the music.  The place was absolutely packed, about three hundred people, which shows you how popular classical culture can be.


















Above:  the programme began with the Paris Fanfare, which was written to celebrate the opening of the Channel Tunnel.  Somehow I imagined Edward Heath conducting the debut of this piece.  Glasses of wine at the interval.

As I write this I am listening to Prom 24, and will continue to listen to Prom 25 as a sort of backdrop to Newsnight.