Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Thursday, April 30, 2015

North begins at Crich

Crich Stand
source

From the Guardian we learn that the north of England begins at Crich in Derbyshire.

People find it very hard to agree on the exact point where the north of England begins. This is one of the north’s defining characteristics: it doesn’t matter which part you come from, there’s always someone more northern to tell you what a soft southern moron you are. In my mind, the north starts at the village of Crich, in Derbyshire. 

In which case I must be a southerner as I can see Crich Stand (not Tower) by gazing roughly due north from the end of our street. Or I could until a new storage shed blocked the view. Now I have to walk a little further.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sunny interval

This post is intended to raise three questions.

A few months ago Paul Homewood wrote an interesting post on a possible link between UK sunshine, temperatures and air pollution. Because of our recent sunny weather, and long may it continue to warm my old bones, the issue is worth raising again.

Here we have a normalized graph of UK sunshine and temperature from 1929 based on data I recently downloaded from the Met Office. Obvious questions are :-

Is a link between UK sunshine and temperature worth pursuing?
Could air quality be a factor?
Do activists distort our perception of pollution?



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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Yesterday's Men and today's BIG, BIG issue

In the General Election campaign of 1970, Alan Aldridge designed a controversial poster showing plasticine models of the Conservative Cabinet and encouraging the electorate to write them off.

It didn't work. Heath won:

Edition of 20th June, 1970

- and the country lost. But it didn't know it. Ten years earlier, Lord Kilmuir had advised the future Prime Minister:

"I must emphasise that in my view the surrenders of sovereignty involved are serious ones and I think that, as a matter of practical politics, it will not be easy to persuade Parliament or the public to accept them. I am sure that it would be a great mistake to under-estimate the force of the objections to them. But those objections ought to be brought out into the open now because, if we attempt to gloss over them at this stage, those who are opposed to the whole idea of our joining the Community will certainly seize on them with more damaging effect later on."

RESEARCH PAPER 10/79 - Appendix 2 Letter to Edward Heath from Lord Kilmuir, December 1960 [www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/rp10-79.pdf]

From 1973 on we were in what we thought - what we had been told and assured - was nothing more than a trading arrangement, and Heath had long known to be a glass slope down to European Union.


Edition of 30th December, 1972

So in the Labour manifesto of February 1974, the Leader of the Opposition Harold Wilson said (my highlights):

"The Government called this election in panic. They are unable to govern, and dare not tell the people the truth.

"Our people face a series of interlocking crises. Prices are rocketing. The Tories have brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy and breakdown. More and more people are losing their jobs. Firms are going out of business. Housing costs are out of reach for so many families. The Common Market now threatens us with still higher food prices and with a further loss of Britain's control of its own affairs. We shall restore to the British people the right to decide the final issue of British membership of the Common Market.  

"The British people were never consulted about the Market. Even more, the country was deceived in 1970 about the Government's intentions on jobs and prices. They will not be deceived again."

Hence the 1975 Referendum, by which time Wilson was Prime Minister and was recommending a Yes vote:

"THE NEW DEAL

"The better terms which Britain will enjoy if we stay in the Common Market were secured only after long and tough negotiations.

"These started in April 1974 and did not end until March of this year.

"On March 10 and 11 the Heads of Government met in Dublin and clinched the bargain. On March 18 the Prime Minister was able to make this announcements:

"'I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved.'

"What were the main objectives to which Mr. Wilson referred? The most important were FOOD and MONEY and JOBS."

Who doesn't want these things? Who can manage without them? Who would have continued reading the pamphlet after this point, if they had read it at all? How many who did, would have teased out the timebomb issues further on in this document, or understood how to weigh them against the bribe-threats of "FOOD and MONEY and JOBS"?

Wilson continued:
 
WILL PARLIAMENT LOSE ITS POWER?

Another anxiety expressed about Britain's membership of the Common Market is that Parliament could lose its supremacy, and we would have to obey laws passed by unelected 'faceless bureaucrats' sitting in their headquarters in Brussels.

What are the facts?

Fact No. 1 is that in the modern world even the Super Powers like America and Russia do not have complete freedom of action. Medium-sized nations like Britain are more and more subject to economic and political forces we cannot control on our own.

A striking recent example of the impact of such forces is the way the Arab oil-producing nations brought about an energy and financial crisis not only in Britain but throughout a great part of the world.

Since we cannot go it alone in the modern world, Britain has for years been a member of international groupings like the United Nations, NATO and the International Monetary Fund.

Membership of such groupings imposes both rights and duties, but has not deprived us of our national identity, or changed our way of life.

Membership of the Common Market also imposes new rights and duties on Britain, but does not deprive us of our national identity. To say that membership could force Britain to eat Euro-bread or drink Euro-beer is nonsense.

Fact No. 2. No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.

The top decision-making body in the Market is the Council of Ministers, which is composed of senior Ministers representing each of the nine member governments.

It is the Council of Ministers, and not the market's officials, who take the important decisions. These decisions can be taken only if all the members of the Council agree. The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers it to be against British interests. Ministers from the other Governments have the same right to veto.

All the nine member countries also agree that any changes or additions to the Market Treaties must be acceptable to their own Governments and Parliaments.

Remember: All the other countries in the Market today enjoy, like us, democratically elected Governments answerable to their own Parliaments and their own voters. They do not want to weaken their Parliaments any more than we would."

Fact No. 3. The British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973. Thus our continued membership will depend on the continuing assent of Parliament.

The White Paper on the new Market terms recently presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister declares that through membership of the Market we are better able to advance and protect our national interests. This is the essence of sovereignty.

Fact No. 4. On April 9, 1975, the House of Commons voted by 396 to 170 in favour of staying in on the new terms.

Note the ultimate reassurance in "Fact No. 3".

And so:

Edition of 7th June, 1975

Forty years on, the 2015 Conservative Manifesto says (contextualising it in a discussion of economic migration to the UK):

We will negotiate new rules with the EU, so that people will have to be earning here for a number of years before they can claim benefits, including the tax credits that top up low wages. Instead of something-fornothing, we will build a system based on the principle of something-for-something. We will then put these changes to the British people in a straight in-out referendum on our membership of the European Union by the end of 2017.

Once again, fundamental democratic issues are blended with economics. And there is some question about the circumstances in which this pledge would be binding. In his speech of 23rd January 2013, Cameron said (my highlight):

The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.

At present we do not have a Conservative government, but a coalition, and this seems likely to be the situation after next month. And even it there is indeed an in-out referendum, will the people be fully informed of the implications? Will they be bribed and threatened? What will the Press and TV do?

Now here's the big, big issue: we're past the point at which national freedom simply means freedom from the EU. Wilson told us forty years ago:

Fact No. 1 is that in the modern world even the Super Powers like America and Russia do not have complete freedom of action. Medium-sized nations like Britain are more and more subject to economic and political forces we cannot control on our own.

We are now slithering further down the glass mountain, into an era of global governance. International trade agreements and regulation will more and more take precedence over national governments and their courts - and a secretive system of arbitration in trade disputes is bypassing open fora of international justice, so that a handful of firms in London (now taking one side, now the other, case by case) can impose multimillion-pound settlements on the UK and other sovereign nations, to suit the ambition and avarice of multinational enterprises.

To think we are still fighting the EU issue, when an even bigger threat to democracy is at our backs. David Malone ("Golem XIV") makes this clear.

But democracy can be used against itself, now as before: prejudice, misunderstanding, lack of understanding, misinformation, bribes and threats, the jokes of ignorant and partisan comedians, the slurs in the unthinking social media.

Fight, or flight? Are we "yesterday's men"(and women)?


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Tactical voting - why not tactical shopping?

Peter Hitchens describes this as "the most fraudulent General Election I have ever experienced" and discusses Norman Tebbit's message to Scottish voters that they should plump for Labour (rather than the SNP).

It's hardly surprising, considering our crazy, unrepresentative voting system. The big zombie political parties are spending millions (and boy, do they have it from us, let alone biz donors*) on advisers and computers to game it, and spent millions in 2011 to block the introduction of the Alternative Vote. They prefer to continue with an arrangement that can be manipulated, and that gives them Buggins's Turn, to one that might get rid of them altogether. So they'll even encourage us to vote for their equally moribund opponents.

How if we behaved as they urge us, but in relation to our weekly groceries?

"Normally I would shop at Waitrose, but I've read that Lidl is on the rise and must be stopped, so I'll go to Aldi instead."

Pity we can't influence parties as much and as often as we do with retailers. If only we could have a Parliamentary shakeup like the one Dave Lewis is starting at Tesco.


__________________________________________________

*Just look at "Short money" for instance:

"General  funding  for  Opposition  Parties  –  the  amount  payable  to  qualifying  parties from 1 April  2014  is  £16,689.13  for every seat won at the last election plus  £33.33  for every 200 votes gained by the party."

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

UKIP, Libya: conspiracies of silence?

Source

Listening to Radio 4 this lunchtime:

1. "Dead Ringers" (satire): all the GB parties get a swipe, even the Greens - but not a breath about UKIP. The little boy who saw the nude Emperor is to be denied the oxygen of publicity? Chances are that Carswell will still be the only UKIP spokesman in Parliament after the next Election, but their observations are a bit of a nuisance, aren't they. Bit proley, don't you know. Don't look.

2. "Any Questions?" (political debate, re-broadcast from Friday night): asked to comment on Miliband's criticism of Cameron for his failure to "plan the peace" in Libya (and so the tide of refugees), panel representatives of both Labour and Conservatives agree that our military intervention in Libya was necessary, to protect those in the Benghazi strip. This is to lose at least the first reel of that movie: how and why, and by whom, was eastern Libya set on fire in the first place?

You didn't hear it here first.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

EU: we're stuffed

"David Cameron has said he would be “delighted” to stage an early referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, if the Conservatives get voted into power in the general election next May." - The Independent

"... if the Conservatives get voted into power": read carefully. A Conservative majority in Parliament is simply not in prospect. The vote of "Eurosceptics" (i.e. believers in democracy) is being bought with the political equivalent of Toytown money.

The only way we would get a referendum is through cooperation between certain parties. And that isn't going to happen either.

A couple of days ago a comment here by Paddington directed us to the Shapley–Shubik power index, an analysis of how votes relate to the power to carry or block motions. In the footnotes of the Wiki article linked above, there is a site that offers different ways to calculate that power.

Here's one program: ipdirect. And here are the results using Electoral Calculus' forecast of Parliamentary parties post-May 7th:



A combination of two players out of Con/Lab/SNP gets a score of 1.0, i.e. complete power. Basically, whoever the SNP sides with.

So Labour (no EU referendum) plus SNP (no EU referendum); or Conservative ("Didn't really promise a referendum, did I? You should learn to read") plus SNP (no EU referendum).

And in any case, Ms Sturgeon has sworn not to deal with the Conservatives.

And in any any case, the puzzled and gullible electorate would probably vote to stay in (I would say, join, legally speaking), according to "EU Referendum", who himself would rather trust the Conservatives than deal with nasty Mr Farage.

In any any any case, the campaign would be so skewed and misreported that, just as in 1975, the people wouldn't have a clue what they were voting for.

We're stuffed.


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Political contradictions

Hugh Lofting's illustration of the Pushmepullyou in "Doctor Dolittle"

The SNP wants independence for Scotland, but not the UK.

Members of Parliament are hustling for our vote on 7th May to re-validate their right to control us for the succeeding 1,825 days; but virtually all of them think we should not have the right to validate our membership of the EU.

Can the system contain these contradictions, or will it tear itself apart under the strain?


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Teachers

source

What then is good? The knowledge of things. What is evil? The lack of knowledge of things.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

One thing I notice about web commentary is how professionals can be somewhat reserved about their professions. It is far from being universal, but I often sense a degree of caution or reticence when it comes to matters closely linked to professional background.

Teachers for example. There must be a vast amount they could say about a centralised curriculum, bureaucracy, political correctness, inspections, paperwork, parents, politics and child welfare. Teachers are hardly silent on these issues, but somehow I feel that this most central profession doesn’t say what needs to be said.

As a grandparent I have the impression that all is not well with education. The supposed problems are not news to anyone, but political froth and partiality muddy the waters for those of us on the sidelines.

No doubt part of the problem is a need to protect the identity of individuals, but I’m sure there is still much to say and I’m not convinced we hear it.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Measuring Voter Inequality

A brilliant site from the New Economics Foundation quantifies the skewing of our electoral system:


Go to the site to find out what your own vote is worth!
http://www.voterpower.org.uk/
 
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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Boris the spider

 
 


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

The SNP is the most over-represented party in Parliament

Electoral Calculus gives its latest prediction for next month's General Election: the Conservatives to be the largest minority, and only the SNP capable of topping-up the numbers to make a joint majority in the House:

But those 48 Scottish seats are more easily gained than any others. Based on the above data, here is the ratio of seats to votes (ignoring Northern Ireland and a mishmosh of minnows):

 
Constituencies differ in numbers of registered voters and percentage of voters choosing to participate, and parties differ radically in how their voters are distributed around the country, so we get this hugely unrepresentative result.

Here (approximately) is what the same votes would produce if each vote counted equally (NI and multivarious minnows excluded):



Now in this scenario, it would take a coalition of at least three parties to get a majority. Unlikely, but not unthinkable: if their promises are to be believed, Conservatives, UKIP and Greens would at least agree on the principle of an EU referendum.

So is the choice between grossly unfair representation - and even then a government of allied minorities - or a Babel scarcely able to govern at all?

Long-term, I don't think so, for these reasons:

1. Scotland seems fated to leave the Union, as I suggested last November (and others including Peter Hitchens point out how this would strengthen the Conservatives in what was left, so the Tories may not "strive/officiously to keep alive" the UK.) Whether this is in the Scots' interest is another matter, especially if they decide to join (or re-join - the legal issues aren't clear) Europe. Why cast off your English shackles only to have yourself tied up in a thousand EU threads like Gulliver? Perhaps there is more potential in a new alliance with non-EU Northern States, rather than the Auld one with France and the EU's current master, Germany.

2. Northern Ireland may also be headed for the exit, as I said last May: "None of Northern Ireland's 18 MPs belongs to any of the Big Three, so aside from their ability to lobby they merely serve to raise the bar for an overall majority in the House, from 317 seats to 326. Changing demographics in the Province suggest that, ever so slowly, Northern Ireland is moving to a closer relationship with the South... [She] is drifting away into a different future."

3. If (1) and (2) are correct, then that leaves an Anglo-Welsh Parliament with 573 seats to contest, and who knows how voter behaviour would change in that context? Especially if we re-visit the merits of the Alternative Vote that Lab and Con combined to jeer at in 2011. As I said at the time:

"No-one can foresee exactly how voting will change when all votes count, or at least half of them, anyway. The LibDems needn't assume that it will benefit them most, for if it does, the other parties will adopt a raft of me-too policies. No bad thing, perhaps, to make politicians work for a consensus.

"And maybe, just maybe, we'd start to examine the candidates more carefully, rather than simply glance at their rosettes. No wonder there's such resistance to change from the spoiled heirs of the present arrangement. Just who IS funding the "No" propaganda?

"Ah, but without (so-called) first-past-the-post we wouldn't have had Thatcher, say the Conservatives. Well, I think a general retrospective reassessment of her achievements is in order, seeing as how we've nearly killed our industrial base and allowed the financial sector to come out in a massive, choking algal bloom. But while we're reviewing her with the crystal hindsight of history, we can look again at the miserable record of the Socialist governments, too. The vaunted advantage of a government enabled to take bold action on the back of a Parliamentary majority founded on a minority of votes, is not such a strong argument, in my view."


We're in for an interesting time in and after this campaign, and as long as the EU doesn't find a way to turn our common disaster into an opportunity to tighten its grip on its slave nations, we may be able - eventually - to shake things up and make a new, freer and fairer arrangement. Quite possibly a less politically corrupt and arrogant, and a more economically prosperous one, too.

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Hari's rats: is drugs liberalisation the answer?

"Powerful interview with Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream.
This will completely change the way you look at the war on drugs:
http://bit.ly/1yrYMlD - ‪#‎EndTheDrugWar"

Hari has his own agenda, but I agree with him and Russell Brand that addicts (of all kinds) need treatment.

I worry that decriminalising drugs will lead to a massive increase in their use among children - you have only to see how porn and violent fantasy have spread down the age brackets. And of course, there are millions of stressed and depressed adults who will be tempted to lean on any available - if ultimately disabling - crutch.

Hari argues (from a 70s rat experiment) that a well-balanced society produces individuals who are unlikely to abuse drugs. I think he misses the logic of his own argument: it implies that we shouldn't liberalise until we have such a society.

I see every day traumatised young people who are prime potential victims of illegal and prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Billionaires are waiting in the wings, ready to develop another market in exploiting weakness. These lions are eager for us to tear down the fence between them and the lambs.

Yes, a purely punitive approach is not enough. But until that sane and loving society has been established - somebody tried it 2,000 years ago and we see how long that lasted - we need some way to protect addicts and potential addict-recruits from themselves, plus therapeutic help for those who are already caught in the trap.

This may not please those who call themselves libertarians, but I don't agree with the latter that you can do exactly as you please to yourself without in any way impacting on others.


 

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Friday, April 17, 2015

The statue

This is another excerpt from my aunt's memoirs describing her childhood in the back streets of Derby almost a century ago.

Empire Day. 
We prepared by walking the evening before to the field with the pond in the centre and there picked red tipped daisies. Behind the churchyard we’d find bluebells or birds eye and at home, made button holes to pin to our frocks. I can’t recall a wet Empire Day. One year it was so hot that, singing in the playground, one girl fainted from the heat. To the accompaniment of a piano brought into the playground for the occasion, young voices sang with gusto Flag of Britain, Land of Hope & Glory, Rule Britannia and many more. We’d end with the National Anthem and then troop home for the rest of the day.

A great number of small incidents come to mind, after all most of life consists of trivial events which we either enjoy or if unpalatable, try to accept with as much equanimity as possible. For obvious reasons I’m sticking pretty much to the former. In any case, isn’t it better to bear in mind the happy times rather than bemoan the sad?

Cohen’s Bazaar
My friend Glad and I were about ten or eleven I suppose, we’d run errands, saved the ha’pennies until we’d sixpence each. Just before Christmas we went to Cohen’s Bazaar in St Peter’s Street, a forerunner of Woolworths.

I can’t remember what Glad bought but my choice was an open fluted glass dish the colour of dark topaz for my mother. I was thrilled with my purchase. It was of course wrapped in newspaper, nothing so extravagant as brown paper at Cohen’s and walking home (there was no money left for tram fare) I was terrified lest my prize should slip through my fingers. Dripping wet but with the goods intact we got back. I hid my present in the bedroom, managed to find a square of reasonable paper to wrap it in. Mam kept that dish for years, long after I was married.

The statue
If I went into town on an errand for Mam I sometimes was given enough to pay the tram fare and if so, chose the open top deck when possible. The tram stopped at Bloomfield Street. Sitting on the left hand side I could see over the wall and into the garden of one of the big houses. Impolite it might have been but that garden rapidly drew my eyes. Flagged path, old fashioned flower borders and shrubs, trees, immaculate lawn. And to cap all this loveliness a statue of a chubby boy. I fell in love with that grey still figure and always looked for him.

Ever since, the ambition to own a statue has never diminished though my taste has changed and I would if I could, choose something for my garden with a more classical beauty. After my husband retired – he was seventy – he went to sales galore to try and get me a statue but no success. Eventually, being a stone mason, he said he would carve one for me himself. Alas he became ill and unable but I can still see in my mind’s eye that little chubby boy amongst the roses and lavender.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The military vulnerability of the West


"Tokugawa Yoshinobu leaving for Edo, looking at the fire at Osaka castle in the background."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Osaka_Castle

An excerpt from Sunday's Peak Prosperity podcast:

Chris Martenson:  ... One of the things I have been talking about is that a lot of it is perception. Perception rules a lot in life. In the United States, people say the United States is the world’s reserve currency. Of course, it is backed by having the most powerful military in the world. That is the perception.

John: That is the perception.

Chris Martenson: That is true if and only if you can project that power. How do we do that? We do that with this thing called a blue water Navy. We have all these ships out there. One of the things I keep telling people is you have to go onto Live Leak. You have to look at these anti-ship missiles – the Acon800 and other similar things, and the Sunburns the Russians have. They completely teach you that a Navy is no longer a useful thing. We still have the perception that it is.

I do not know if you caught this, but I love this incident. The USS Donald Cook sailed into the Black Sea last April to show the Russians a lesson. This is one of our—this is an Aegis Class Destroyer. It is packed with the most brilliant electronics in the whole world. This thing has 50 anti-aircraft missiles. It is like its own little island of death. The Russians sent one SU-24 Sukhoi jet, flew it over this thing, and jammed every electronic thing on board—just shut it down with some technology that they have.[*] Then they proceeded to fly back and forth in mock bombing runs. They would have just taken the ship out. This is our most advanced ship in the world. It was taken out by a single jet and just shut down. To me, that was a huge warning sign. I would have thought that our response to that would have been something like maybe we do not really want to poke that bear. If we lose the perception of having this indomitable military, we lose a lot, possibly including reserve currency status.

* See the original balls for public consumption (“Donald Cook is more than capable of defending itself against two Su-24s”), then an unofficial account ("After the incident, the foreign media reported that “Donald Cook” was rushed into a port in Romania. There all the 27 members of the crew filed a letter of resignation.")

John: Among other things. My most recent novel – I have three novels out. My most recent one is a near future novel called Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It actually focuses on the consequences of the United States getting itself into a situation where it actually suffers a serious military defeat. Yes, the effective destruction of a carrier task force is a central part of that.

Did you catch the story? I think it was last year. The Chinese had a submarine come up in the middle of a US military naval exercise.

Chris Martenson: Yeah, they came up and they waved.

John: They came up. They waved. They went down. Nobody had detected them. They could have carried out torpedo runs against the carrier and everything else in sight. The Chinese are turning out one after another—they are turning out these first rate very silent subs. They are turning out these light catamaran missile boats, which I think are probably going to be the prototype of the navies in the age of the cruise missile. They are small. They are disposable. They are very fast. Their basic purpose is to get within range to launch cruise missiles at something. But we are still fixated on our aircraft carriers.

The thing is this happens. You mentioned 1914. In the run up toward 1914, everybody was convinced in Britain that Britain’s survival depends on battleships. They put an immense amount of money into building and upgrading their battleship fleet. The battleships did absolutely nothing during the war. There was a Battle of Jutland, which was completely inconclusive. After this, everybody’s fleets just went home and sat out the war. Then in the run up to World War II, the British did exactly the same thing. They put all their money into battleships when smart money was going into aircraft carriers. Among other things, that is why Britain had most of its holdings in Southeast Asia and Indonesia scooped by the Japanese. The British had battleships and cruisers down there, and the Japanese simply bombed them into oblivion from the air. We are facing exactly the same situation with our aircraft carriers. At some point soon, I do not know what soon amounts to here, but at some point the US is going to send a carrier group into some situation. There is going to be a flurry of missiles from the shore. And the age of the aircraft carrier is going to end. The reputation for invincibility that the United States has is going to end too. The consequences of that are immense. Those are things that I was trying to sketch out in this novel of mine, Twilight’s Last Gleaming.

Chris Martenson: I cannot wait to read that. I love thinking things through from that. I think we have to think through the scenarios. But it has been completely obvious to me ever since an aging A4 aircraft using a French exocet missile sank the HMS Sheffield in the Falklands War. When was that – 1983 or something? ['82, as many British readers will know - Ed.]

John: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: I mean that taught me a couple decades ago. Oh yeah, ships are done. Still there is this perception that the United States has this very powerful military. It is true. But it is true only because we have not gone up against somebody who knows how to sink ships yet. We beat up on Noriega. We did a little Grenada action. We did a little Saddam action. It is really like an NFL team that has gone up against three pee-wee leagues and has decided it cannot be beat.

John: Yeah, that is exactly it. I mean we sent our bombers against the Serbs and the Serbs shot down one of our stealth planes. Do you remember that one?

Chris Martenson: Oh that is right, they did. They did.

John: The remains of the plane were then quickly shipped off to Russia. All of a sudden, they have first rate stealth fighters and we are stuck with the F35. We could have a long conversation about that dog.

Chris Martenson: That is just a trillion dollar program that does nothing.

John: No, it has performed brilliantly at its mission which is to completely destroy the US Treasury [laughter]. It has been enormously successful as a money sink.

Chris Martenson: It has bombed the Treasury successfully. The hit rate is 100%.

John: Exactly, it has a hit rate of 100%. It just does not do anything else well. Then nobody else thinks that there is ever going to be a hot war where the United States actually has to scramble serious planes. If that ever happens, we are in up to our eyeballs in alligators as I said.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

How does Government Debt go negative?

Today came the news that short-term German government paper was following the Swiss example and turning negative, not only that but its expected that it won't be very long until the 10-year Bund follows suit.

Quizzical isn't it? Why would anyone pay for the privilege of lending someone money?

Friends and colleagues of mine, having a hunch that I know a little more about finance than they do have been asking me about this quite a bit recently and to be honest I have struggled to give them an answer they could happily digest. Well it certainly is a "new normal" and set to spread throughout the developed world as things get worse but how and why is it happening?

In short this is what Quantitative Easing has wrought. Institutions paying for the privilege of lending their money to insolvent governments. Not because those borrowers are such low risk counterparties, but rather because now real investors must compete with totally price-insensitive Central Banks hoovering up sovereign debt with freshly 'Printed' money.

If you want to understand this mechanism in a little more detail here is an excellent blog post by David Stockman who is examining a fascinating new blog by none other than the architect of this mess, Ben Shalom Bernanke.

This is the crux of his conceit:
A similarly confused criticism often heard is that the Fed is somehow distorting financial markets and investment decisions by keeping interest rates “artificially low.” Contrary to what sometimes seems to be alleged, the Fed cannot somehow withdraw and leave interest rates to be determined by “the markets.” The Fed’s actions determine the money supply and thus short-term interest rates; it has no choice but to set the short-term interest rate somewhere.
He doesn't even know what this mythical rate should be, but whatever figure he comes up with I'm sure it will be agreeable to the bankrupt sovereign states of the West.


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Pledge


Elections are all very well, but each one seems a little less sane than the last and the current charade seems to be the worst of the lot. Even the acting is crap. Although charades are not supposed to be taken seriously we are surely entitled to a touch of sparkle from the political furniture - or candidates as we tend to call them. 

I’m sure we are losing the democratic plot here. Or maybe, ghastly thought,  this is the plot. Of course plotting is what democracy is all about, but we are where we are and due vote democratically are we not? Apart from the electoral fraud, gerrymandering and rigged voting system of course.

Made-up-on-the-hoof promises seem to be all the rage at the moment but people keep making fun of them. MarkMac and Demetrius have posts on this most popular and topical comedy.

These soundbite-sized promises are mostly... or should I be calling them pledges?  Don’t political poseurs refer to their promises as pledges or has that word been tossed overboard because it reminds everyone of furniture polish?

Anyhow, nobody but a party loon would believe their promise/pledges and even then he or she would have to be a fringe loon. Imagine being a fringe loon. Cut off from the cynics at the centre, cut off from the great mass of uninterested normal folk, cut off from everything that makes life worth living. Crikey it’s a grim thought isn’t it? There should be a charity for them.

Speaking of charity, I’m hoping someone will promise free marzipan for pensioners. Something seasonal to go with the winter fuel allowance we are forced to spend on Christmas booze in order to kindle some inner warmth and maybe even a hint of goodwill. It’s not that I’m particularly fond of marzipan, but it has that distinctive seasonal aroma of almonds - or cyanide as we chemists often call it.

So what will the loons promise next I wonder, because I really don’t have high hopes for a cornucopia of marzipan. Cracking down on bad things, pouring money into good things and generally avoiding anything which might tax... oops, wrong word... and generally avoiding anything which might cause political offence.

So what could cause political offence apart from almost any serious discussion on any subject?

...nope I’m struggling with that one.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

I am an immigrant

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ab/Bundesarchiv_Bild_175-S00-00326,_Fl%C3%BCchtlinge_aus_Ostpreu%C3%9Fen_auf_Pferdewagen.jpg


I am an immigrant. I was born in a country that no longer exists. My mother was born in a different country that also no longer exists.

I think there should be some system to control immigration, just as cars should have brakes, accelerators and steering wheels.

I do not think it is acceptable for the multi-party Establishment to use Goebbels' technique of the oft-repeated Big Lie to confuse economic planning with racial prejudice.

We are seeing the limitations of democracy as the people's ignorance and gullibility are used to undermine their future.

But I think the liars will win.


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Infestation in the ivory tower

Education dons gather for pre-prandial sherry in the Senior Common Room
In the Mid-Western United States, we have species of cicadas, which are referred to ’17-year locusts’. Every 17 years, the grubs emerge from the tree trunks where they feed, grow wings and swarm, mating as they go. The mess and noise that result are impressive.
There is a species of middle manager with a similar life-cycle. These are the education reformers, who emerge from the darkness every decade with a plan and a promise to fix all problems in the system. They are a parasitic and destructive organism.
While not technically predatory, they will scavenge weaker and more timid creatures. For that reason, their preferred habitats are the fields of Mathematics and Science. There, they are able to clear great swathes of space and build large numbers of flimsy and unusable structures in short periods of time.
Just before the extent of the actual damage becomes known, they retreat safely into academia, full of grant funding, and rest until the next generation emerges.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Lost bomber



We were walking in the vicinity of Ecclesbourne Valley today, well-known locally for its heritage railway. The area is mostly rolling farmland rather than the limestone hills we prefer, but pleasant walking on a lovely sunny day.

Not far from the path on Bullhurst Hill is a memorial to the crew of a Whitley Mk V twin-engined bomber which crashed there in 1944. It's a sombre sight set in a large field with no obvious reason why the aircraft might have crashed. A reminder of just how young the airmen were too. From Peak District Air Accident Research

The crew had flown a night cross country navigation flight and were returning to their home base at Ashbourne when the aircraft dived into the ground only a few miles short.

Following the crash three of the crew could not be accounted for and were assumed by No.42 OTU to have "disappeared with the aircraft which went fifteen feet into the ground". On the 1st August the vicar of St Saviour church in Ashbourne, Canon Farrow, took the memorial service for those who had died after which he held a committal service at the crash site.

Sgt William Smith was buried at Ashbourne cemetery only a few miles from the crash site and Sgt Maurice Lyon was buried at St Helens Cemetery in Lancashire.




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Sunday, April 05, 2015

A strange, subterranean battle

source

Every now and them something bright, clean and optimistic seems to show itself through the shifting fogs of repressive nonsense. Sometimes the ugly honking of professional liars dies down. For a while real life takes over. As it should of course.

It has become so easy to ignore the liars and find things out for ourselves. Or at least identify those many areas of uncertainty which the liars claim to be certain. Isn’t it easy to find worthwhile comment on virtually any issue? Isn’t it noticeable how rarely many of us go to the mainstream media for worthwhile comment?

So what does it all mean?

I don’t know.

Then what is the point of this post?

Simple – you can go elsewhere can’t you? Click. I am not a guru and neither are you. We don’t need them do we - you and I?

That’s the point – we are breeding vast numbers of savvy people, far more than we ever had before. Folk who don’t always have the facts and the arguments at their fingertips, but in one sense they know far more than most people knew only twenty years ago. Not only that, but they know how to flesh out anything of interest with a click or two.

This quiet upheaval seems to have upset the old paternalistic way of doing things, the assumptions about managing people, about politics, democracy, who tells and who listens. Who tells these days? Who listens?

Old style class rule with its unidirectional media cannot deal with it. Millions of savvy people are now collectively smarter than the elites because they are connected, interested, experienced and capable. The elites don’t have time to be interested or capable. They only have time to suck the teat of their sponsors. They think savvy can be dealt with by opinion surveys.

They muddle through by listening to a host of special advisers who do have the time to become passably savvy, but there are only a few of them while there are vast numbers of savvy folk out there – a host of virtual polymaths unrestricted by national boundaries.

Out there on the web are millions of years of personal experience. Think about that for a moment – millions of years of personal experience all available for sharing.

The old ways are creaking and the elites and their sponsors are furiously attempting to wind back the clock with a plethora of prohibitions, narratives, entertainments and controlling policies. Anything to keep the virtual polymaths at bay. It’s a strange, subterranean battle.

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