Too many memories.

A well documented problem of old age seems to be memory loss. I suppose that we all live in fear of that affliction. Not knowing who you are, or who your family and friends are must be really disturbing, though probably more for the friends and family than the sufferer.

But now it occurs to me that a similar problem may well be not memory deficiency but memory excess. Too many memories, rather than not enough. A recent example occurred when I created a picture comment (posted here”-

I took what I thought would be a universally recognised still shot from the really famous movie by the Russian director Eisenstein “Ivan the Terrible” If you are not a film buff and were born after 1950 you probably haven’t seen it. In place of the face of the medieval tzar, I superimposed that of the current Russian Tsar (sorry, I mean President) Putin. In place of the poor Prince I put the face of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and added the caption, merciful Tzar spares poor prince.

I thought this was pretty clever and sent it to a few friends but found that only one recognised the picture at all. For the rest it was completely unknown. In fact much of what my own character is built upon is unknown to the vast majority of the population.  My personality creating books, tv shows and movies have been superseded by more modern offerings (though not necessarily better, have you seen the re-make of The Wicker Man? Ugh). In a nutshell, I have become an anachronism.  The younger generation dances to a different beat and my memories are irrelevant.

Does it matter? Well actually I think it does, especially when we consider that well know aphorism penned by the famous (but only if you know him) philosopher George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It increasingly seems to me that modern politics thrives on memory loss. You might, if you are old enough, remember a time when there was a family “bread winner” usually the man, who could earn enough to support his wife and children. What do we have now? A western world where both man and woman must work to support the household. That’s real progress.

Clearly very many women like to work, and may even be more competent than the “man”. I don’t wish to criticise that at all, just point out that, where once a family could manage with one “bread winner”, now it really does need two.


a pithy observation which contains a general truth


Political power from the end of a pipe.

Chairman Mao, (remember him?) is reported to have once said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” which rather contradicts the widely quoted and comforting adage about the pen being mightier than the sword. However, things might just be beginning to change. Thinking back to 1956, it was guns which the Russians used to suppress the Hungarian uprising against the Russian imposed government and it was guns again which they used to put an end to the Prague Spring of 1968. However, in 2014, in the Ukraine, few shots were fired, and those that were seem to have failed to stop the popular uprising against, again, a puppet Russian kleptocracy. But of course in this case it is not the pen which has defeated the guns, rather it is the threat of something far more powerful, economic pressure.

Regrettably, it may yet end in tears. It is fortunate that we, in Central Europe are moving into spring. It will be about 8 months before winter bites again and when it does, it could well be the gas from the end of the pipe which has the real political power. In this, Russia and the Ukraine are locked in a deadly embrace. Russia needs to sell its gas to the West. They need the money. Ukraine needs the gas to keep, not just warm, but from freezing to death. Russia can use the gas as a weapon against the Ukraine, but the pipe to the west runs though that country, so they can’t actually turn it off. It’s all rather reminiscent of the cold war and the M.A.D (mutually assured destruction) doctrine. It worked then. We are, after all, still here. Will it work for these two countries? Probably, at least until the Ukraine develops some new energy sours (fracking perhaps) or until Russia increases the throughput of gas via the new Baltic route. It’s a race against time,  but which one will win?

For interests sake I include this link to the Olympic water polo match of 1956 between Hungary and  and Russia. This is really worth a view if you are not aware of it.

Economics as humour

Jokes are very common  among native English speakers but can be a bit difficult for those not brought up in the culture. Telling a joke and then trying to explain it rather spoils the point of it; never-the-less, and following on from my piece “money as comedy” I will try.

It goes like this. “If all the economists in the world were laid end to end they wouldn’t reach a conclusion”. If you understand, that’s great and I hope you find it amusing. If not, you need more lessons! Basically it is predicated upon the belief that no two economists agree about economics, something of a generalisation, but based upon the great number of economic theories that exist, none of which seem to work in the long term.

Being a simple sole myself I rather support the ideas of the economist John Maynard Keynes and his proposition, proposed following the  great depression of the 1930’s, that the world adopt a new reserve currency which he called the Bancor. Effectively this meant that there would be a currency made up of a basket of national currencies and commodities, (such as gold). Instead of this and following the economic victory they won in the second world war, the US dollar took the role, a role which seemed to have worked fine until the US inflation rate accelerated due to the Vietnam War. When European government complained they were famously told by John Connally, the  US Secretary of State for the Treasury, “It may be our currency, but it’s your problem”, which strikes me as somewhat arrogant, but who am I to judge.

This “Bancor” idea keeps on popping up, latterly in Russia, prior to that in China but it seems to me that as long as people (mostly Americans) still think that their national currency actually has some real value, its chances of actually happening are remote.

“Predicated upon” may be new to you. For clarification I give a dictionary definition here:-

(Predicate something on/upon) found or base something on: the theory of structure on which later chemistry was predicated.

Money as comedy.

Since the death of the great comedian and humanitarian Danny Kay (who he, I hear you ask) the works of that great Danish philosopher Hans Christian Anderson have rather faded from popular view. Understandable perhaps, popularity is a crowed place. Anderson’s great treaties, which translates in English as “The Naked Emperor” perfectly defines the basic operating mode of our modern society.  Fortunately, and thanks to Mr Kay, a simple yet accurate version of this work is available on Youtube, simply search Danny Kay Emperors New Clothes. Though appearing to be a simple children’s story, a fairy story, sung to a catchy little tune to a group or rosy cheeked children, the short narrative is in fact a perfect parody of our modern economic state. We believe that the paper money we have in our pockets has some real and intrinsic value. And so it does, until somebody rather naively questions the accepted view of value, and then the whole structure collapse. The Emperor is without cloths, paper money has no value.

Of course we are all, almost without exception, so invested in the idea that our money has value that we go along with the fiction for, though fiction it might be, it works, and works rather well. No longer do we have to measure the value of oranges against goats or cheese to songs, which we would have to do if we operated a “barter economy”. Instead we can use the simple and effective concept of paper money to guide as through these tricky questions.

A simple but rather old joke about the amount of money going around serves to highlight the current problem of what the economists call “liquidity” but which the former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson humorously referred to as “ the pound (yen/mark/dollar/ euro) in your pocket|  It goes like this:- “ if the ancient Phoenicians (Egyptians, Persians, you have a free choice here) invented money, why didn’t they invent more? Good question. And now we know the answer. This ancient concept of money was based on the rather crazy idea that money in itself had value. They found a substance which everybody valued, and worked out the price of everything against that. They chose gold, though it seems that at other times and in other places other people selected other much sort after commodities such as salt and  even, though hard to believe, Conch shells. What ever turns you as those lovely Californians like to say.

Now most people have at least some hazy idea about supply and demand. Maybe the don’t vocalise it as such, but they vaguely understand that if there is a lot of it about, the price is low, and if it is in short supply and people want it, the price is high. Until quite recently that was the accepted wisdom since what worked for salt worked equally well for money. If there was too much money about, goods such as cars, clothes and food, were worth more. This applied very strongly to land since, with the current state of science being what it is, we are unable to grow more. There are lots of historic examples of this phenomena the most famous example of which is probably the hyper inflation which occurred in post great war Germany where a loaf of bread required a whole barrow load of paper money. After all, you can’t eat money.

And so the accepted and dare I say logical conclusion was that the amount of money going around had to be carefully controlled by the government. This fine balance ensured that prices remained roughly stable and that inflation, the state where prices and wages constantly rose at an unpredictable rate, was kept under control.  So far, so good.

Now let us enter the new world order which came into existence as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. For those who had better things to do than to try to understand this crisis let me just say that suddenly a lot of major banks around the world found that their assets, the stock of money they had laying around, had suddenly disappeared. They no longer had any money. And somebody (just like the little boy in the Anderson story though in this case it seemed to be a quite large group of somebodies) shouted large and long that the what had previously be considered to be as good as money was in fact not just without any value at all but was actually a large negative value since these banks would have to find some real money to compensate the people who had believed the fairy story of value in the first place.

In times past the answer would have been to actually print more money, just at the German government did in the 1930’s but through the perfect vision of hindsight this was rejected. What was needed was a new and improved idea to produce more money but in a way which nobody would recognise as the old trick of speeding up the presses to print more. And for this magic trick governments turned not to economists or accountants but to the new creators of fairy stories, the marketing men. And so was born the idea of “quantitive easing”, an impressing sounding concept which was the same as printing more money, but didn’t actually sound like it. Brilliant. Hans Christian Anderson would have been proud.

Too many words, not enough time.

Patents, that wonderful legal process which protects inventors from having their ideas stolen, is pretty important today, and especially so in the field of technology. As something of a technology refusenik, mostly rejecting such things as Facebook (though clearly not blogs) these patents are of little interest; it is a young mans game I think.

You might imagine my surprise then to discover that not only is the head of the patent office in the USA is an 84 year old man, one James Bilington but that he recently changed the existing policy to make “unlocking” a cell phone illegal and subject to a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.  Just in case you didn’t get that, I’ll say it again, a $500,000 fine and five years in prison.

Let’s just get this straight. You buy a phone on a 2year contract and at the end of that period you have one of three choices. Either to have a new contract with the same supplier, you throw the phone away, or you risk the fine/prison option, unlock the phone and go to a different carrier.

It is reckoned that there are some 30 million unlocked phones in the USA so clearly this would be good news not only for the two controllers of the cell phone business in the USA, AT&T and Verizon, but a big boost to the privatised prison system. A win win as some might say. But now OBAMA has stepped in to spoil the party siding with the 114,000 petitioners who thought this idea was bad for rest of the USA population. It looks like the policy will be overthrown.The above is 286 words. The original article of 1100 words which inspired me can be found here, if you have the time.

Difficult days in the Ukraine.

As Winston Churchill said, jaw jaw (talking) in better than war war, so that fact that President Obama spent 90 minutes talking to President Putin about the Crimea issue is to be welcomed. Perhaps not so is the reported outcome, “Obama warns Putin” for warn is a poor choice of words. It suggests that Obama is speaking down to Putin, like a father might speak to a son and that is not, in my opinion, the way to go.

That Russia has significant interests in the Crimea is clear and these have to be protected, as does the welfare of the many Russian citizens and speakers living in the Ukraine. But these genuine concerns must not be permitted to undermine the ability of the Ukrainian people to  govern themselves, without outside interference from any quarter.

What is strange is that any in the Ukraine would demonstrate in support of the ousted President, representing as he does a kelptocracy rapped up in the national flag. I suppose they would say, “he may be a thief, but he is our thief”.

Rulers who uses their power to steal their country’s resources.

Pollution in China

This is again big news so I thought I would mention my own experience. Three or four years ago I visited a brand new factory in China which was producing very high quality textiles with a weldable coating. It is the sort of thing used in inflatable  mattresses. The process is quite elaborate and highly technical comprising of a row of cabinets side by side and extending over about 30 mtrs. Each cabinet had flashing control panels reminiscent of early computer systems. It really was a quite  impressive example of state of the art fabric lamination.

I notices the heating pipes running through the plant and asked if they were steam or hot oil. “Hot oil” the boss replied. “Interesting” I said, “how do you heat the oil”. “Let me show you” he replied, and took to the back of the facility where there was a man shovelling coal into a furnace. “This is the cheapest way to heat”, he said.

Of course the amount of pollution added by this factory is just a drop in the ocean. Unfortunately, there are so many drops that we are sure to drown! Or perhaps not. As a child I did survive the great London Smog of 1953 where the air was so bad that I couldn’t see my extended hand in front of my face and found my way home from school by following the edge of the pavement.