Friday, 1 August 2014

WWI - a personal reflection

On the 28th June 1914 a young man called Gavrilo Princip , standing beside the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, shot and killed Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Thus the spark was ignited which led to the outbreak of the First World War on 4th August 1914. This 100th anniversary is NOT a cause for celebration. Obviously the interest today is the politics, personal ambitions, royal interaction, military tactics and consequences etc of the elites that wielded power. Moreover a lot of people - businessmen, politicians, & crooks, to name but a few - became very rich from the war and many did not want it to end. That history is also fascinating.

But what we should really remember, with great sorrow, is the devastation wreaked upon ordinary people on all sides and all over the world by this war. It is reliably estimated that some 37million people were directly affected. By the time you add in relatives & friends it is probably more like 200million whose lives would never be the same again. We rightly remember & mourn the 453 British Service Personnel who have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001.Nowadays combat induced mental illness is recognised and treated. In WWI 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed after courts-martial for cowardice or desertion.

It is hard to get ones head round the fact that 57,470 casualties were sustained by the British in just one day, ( the first day of the Somme [1st July 1916]). That is almost half the present population of Blackpool and roughly the same as the total population of Lancaster, Corby and others. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to note that of 22 schoolboys who played a game of cricket in 1910 only 6 were still alive in 1920. And to try and grasp the horror one incident, where a young soldier (perhaps 19yrs old?) his body shredded by shrapnel said, in between his screams, to the officer who was cradling him " I'm sorry for making such a noise Sir. I really cannot help it" before mercifully dying.

No, August the 4th 2014 is not a date to celebrate. Whatever else you do, find a few moments to go to a quiet corner and weep.

Prime Ministers need lessons in negotiating skills

Apart from the Liberal Democrats the UK political establishment has no conception of 'consensus' politics and thus how you build consensus on controversial issues in order to get your preferred decision accepted. We are imprisoned by the infantile 'Tweedledum & Tweedledee' of Prime Ministers Questions & the like. Thus David Cameron's humiliation over the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission was not, as the ' we hate Europe mob in his own party & UKIP' are so deliriously happy about, an EU plot to humiliate Britain. It was a catastrophic failure of his own negotiating skills and his appeasement of his 'Euroseptics' [not a misspelling !] which began way back in 2005 when he pulled his MEPs out of the European Peoples Party [EPP] group of centrist conservatives and aligned them with some far right parties. That silly move excluded him from the major decision making group. He was warned at the time it was a bad idea. So it has proved.

FLASH BOYS - a book by Michael Lewis.

Light can travel 186 miles in a thousandth of a second ( 1 millisecond). A 'Stockmarket' is no longer a market in the sense most of us understand 'market' . Current stoock exchanges are now 'server farms' airconditioned warehouses stuffed with computers. John Naughton, writing in the Observer of 6th April 2014 reviews 'Flash Boys' indepth. It turns out that one group of investors thought it was worth spending $300million to lay a fibreoptic cable through mountains and under cities such that it would be absolutely straight so that the time for a message to travel along it from Chicago to New York could be cut from 17milliseconds to 13. Traders pay $14milion plus an upfront fee to get to use it. Why? Because software algorithms can buy & sell shares in milliseconds, & this high frequency trading is incredibkly active, accounting for maybe 99% of US stock market trades, for those armed with the right kit, software and networking skills an advantage of 4milliseconds turns $14m a year into annual profits of maybe $20bn. The book goes on to discuss how easily the technology can get out of control and the serious political consequences arising from the frightening ignorance of the civil service and others to even get to first base when getting to grips with it and the huge disparity of resources between the big commercial money and what Governments will provide to finance regulation.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Wythenshawe & Sale East by-election not such a great UKIP triumph

Chris Moncrieff reports [An unsettling result as PM shrugs it off Blackpool Gazette 18th February] that the Leader if UKIP, Nigel Farage, ' - - has pointed out , only three weeks ago his party had no presence whatsoever in this constituency [Wythenshawe & Sale East] and had never fought it'. It should come as no surprise that Farage is either ignorant of the facts or economical with truth or both. At the General Election in 2010 Chris Cassidy stood in this seat for UKIP & polled 1405 votes. What can really be deduced from this result? The one unarguable fact is that some 17000 people who voted in 2010 didn't bother this time. Nearly 15000 voters deserted the Government parties of Conservatives & LibDems & it would be silly to pretend that that was not a bad result for them. Approximately 900 deserted the BNP. Did the BNP deserters vote &, if so, who for, one might wonder? Against that background, for UKIP to only pick up less than 3000 extra votes, given all their noise, effort & hype is NOT terribly impressive.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A great piece of British industrial history brought back to life

In 1861, the Peruvian Government of Ramon Castilla, ordered two small cargo-passenger “gunboats” for Lake Titicaca. They were to be built in UK by James Watt of Birmingham and the Thames Ironworks (the origins of West Ham Football Club & its 'Hammers' nickname') .Without a rail link to the lake at that time, all cargo had to be carried up on mule back. Therefore,
the ships were built in kit form, with no piece weighing more than 3 ½ cwts, the maximum carrying capacity of a mule. On 15th October 1862, the “Mayola”, bearing the 'kit' [for two ships]docked at Arica – a Peruvian port before the War of the Pacific – and discharged the packing cases. 2,766 pieces and two crankshafts then had to be transported overland transported to Lake Titicaca,12,500 ft. (3,810ms) above sea level. With the aid of 8 British Engineers, at 3pm on Christmas Day 1870, the First Lady of the Lake was launched. The amazing journey from the heart of Empire Britain to the spiritual heart of the Inca Empire was finally complete. Fast forward to 1982 and a redoubtable lady called Meriel Larken discovered the abandoned & ruined ship, commissioned a Lloyds Condition Survey which found that being in fresh water at high altitude, the iron hull [Note NOT steel] was in excellent condition and it was deemed worthy of restoration. By 1987, The YAVARI Project (Registered Charity No.298904) and La Asociación Yavarí (non-profit making NGO) had been formed and on 17th February the YAVARI was bought from the Peruvian Navy. Now, thanks the heroic efforts of Meriel, and the generosity of hosts of sponsors and individuals, the ship is fully restored to working order and is currently being used as a Bead & Breakfast facility. It needs a further £350000 to be certified as fit to carry passengers on the lake. So come on people – especially wealthy people for whom this is NOT a big sum. Contact by Email: – and make a donation. Type Yavari Ship into a search engine for much more detail of this fascinating story.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Might be the Worlds greatest something but 'Newspaper' is arguable

The Daily Express, never shy about blowing its own trumpet, has a blazing headline claiming that over 150000 have signed an anti immigration petition. Oh Wow !  Its own figures claim a readership of approx 1.2million on sales of 537,743 so it's not such a big number on the petition given the mindset of Express readers. And when you further consider that there are about 42million people over 19yrs old who describe themselves in the census as 'white British' the number becomes insignificant. 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Tory lies

Whenever there is an audience George Osborne sounds off about clamping down on unreasonable tax avoidance having brought in the General Anti Abuse Rule (GAAR) earlier this year. But it is not true. 'Private Eye No 1349 ' [20th September to 3rd October] devotes four pages to reporting on an investigation jointly with Panorama shows that the UK has now become one of the largest 'tax havens' in the world. What is even worse is that the HMRC has a mountain of evidence on tax evasion – which is illegal – only one very wealthy offshore tax dodger has been prosecuted. But more than 600 builders, plumbers, doctors etc have been nailed for cooking their books and of course all the Tory focus and that of its supportive press is on benefit cheats. No one condones benefit cheats but even handed & cost effective enforcement – no way. And before anyone questions the veracity of Private Eye remember how many times it has been sued. Nowadays it is very very careful. Finally it seems that the Government is trying to pretend it can't afford a scabby 1% pay rise for NHS workers. Perhaps if it tried a bit harder not to lie about taxing the rich such a rise could be more than afforded.