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.