Sunday, 26 March 2017

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book ....

Three out; one at the printer and due in May 2017. Two general works of autobiography and criticism; two academic works. Published by degree zero. All available on Amazon, new and used, or by order at your local bookshop (Waterstones included). Take your pick:

Click on Image to Magnify

The Best I Can Do. 176 pages. Paperback. Published May 2016. £8.95

Materials and Medium: An Aesthetics. 160 pages. Hardback. 
Published October 2016. £17.95

Silence Is So Accurate. 224 pages. Hardback. Published February 2017. £20

Studies in Pragmatics. 240 pages. Hardback. Due May 2017. £30

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sauve Qui Peut

When the euro was introduced, I decided to dual-price my stock. I still occasionally come across an old label reading £10 / 16 €. Today the second figure would be 11.4 € and already Brexit has undermined part of my business model: I bought in euroland and sold in the UK which was profitable when the rate was 1.4 even 1.3. But now it’s not. Right now I am trying to buy in the UK and sell in euroland, mostly through European auctions since I am not so keen now on long-distance travelling to stamp shows and so on.

At the age of 69, my thinking cannot exactly be long term but it has now become decidedly short-term. Enjoy the Single Market while you can! is my guiding thought. That basically means trying to sell up in the next two years ending March 2019 so that I am not stuck with stock which is a nightmare to export, whether by post or by physical travel to mainland Europe from my base on England’s south coast where France is much nearer than Wales or Scotland, let alone Northern Ireland.

There is a major international stamp show coming up LONDON 2020 which may turn into a catastrophe for the organisers if the UK has fallen off the cliff into some nightmare of red-tape bureaucracy, the UK a country hard to get into and hard to get out of. I was going to allow my stock to drift up specifically for that show, but now my thinking is to sell everything by 2019 and if LONDON 2020 turns out to be viable, then to re-stock rapidly in 2019 – 2020. Any other course of action effectively assumes there are not huge risks to small businesses coming up. Some small businesses will fail well before 2019. EU staff are quitting London, for example, making some companies non-viable; and British will become a brand to avoid when you cannot guarantee the robustness of the supply chain.

Well, it was good while it lasted. In my twenty-odd years as a single market dealer, I have stood behind tables selling my wares in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Slovakia. Sometimes only once, it’s true. But I drove a lot of miles in my Skodas. One or two more trips hopefully still to come before the curtain comes down and the lights go out. Less money for Her Majesty's Revenues and Customs then, I'm afraid.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

When We Were Idiots

On an afternoon sometime in 1969, I took part in a march down Piccadilly in support of some cause I have now forgotten. But I have not forgotten that one of our chants was directed at those on the pavements:

Hey, Hey, Bourgeoisie, Hurry Home It’s Time For Tea

It did not occur to me that this might be the dream chant of an agent provocateur, aiming to deprive us of as much public support or sympathy as possible. No doubt there were bourgeois on the pavements of Piccadilly, but there were also – as there always are – shop and office workers, bar and restaurant staff, shoppers who had come into town, tourists, off-duty nurses and doctors … the list can go on. But we were sufficiently blinkered not to realise that the pavements were crowded with people no more privileged than ourselves and, in many cases, no doubt less so.

I did soon enough begin to have my doubts about demonstrations. Most of them came to seem to me pointless or perverse. Ineffective in achieving their objectives, even modest ones, and a waste of time for those who participated. Clearly, demonstrations make some people feel good. The same is true for nights in crowded nightclubs where you can’t hear anyone speak.

I am impressed  by imaginative, alternative forms of protest, occasions when - for example -Greenpeace hangs splendid banners off high cranes. But marching up and down busy streets, causing general annoyance to people -  except to the police who are counting their overtime payments – no, that’s strictly for idiots.

Image result for greenpeace protest white house

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Doctor Will See You Now

As a young child, I already had a considerable knowledge of Britain’s health system, the new National Health Service introduced in 1948, a year after my birth. I spent a lot of time in the company of ageing aunts and uncles for whom ailments and visits to the doctor were routines of life. The basic picture was this. If you were ill, you went to the Doctor who gave you medicine which was either white or pink but in both cases supplied in glass bottles. Sometimes the Doctor gave you Pills, but I wasn’t so sure about those since they were less visible on bathroom shelves. And occasionally the Doctor would give you a Letter to the Hospital (you would sometimes personally carry it there), and in this case you would have cause to be Worried. Hospitals were only interested in you if there was something seriously wrong. In contrast, you could go to the doctor in a normal frame of mind.

What my world view missed was a fact fully visible. Doctors all the time deal with things which are wrong, sometimes seriously and, indeed, so seriously that it would be irresponsible not to respond on the spot. The thing might not be immediately life threatening but would become so if you left it for 48 hours or a week. Take out life-threatening, and there are a large number of acute debilitating conditions which patients walk into the surgery and from the pain or frustration of which, they quite reasonably want relief. If you have an acute ear and throat infection which mean that you basically can’t swallow or sleep, you would not be impressed if the Doctor said to you, “Hmm. This is so serious that I must refer you immediately to hospital”. You want medicine (pink or white, that’s the Doctor’s job to decide) and you want it now. You want to be pointed onto the right path of treatment and cure, now. That’s what you have come for.

In thinking about alternative to the ten minutes with the front line triage of the GPs surgery, it’s important not to lose sight of the core need which generated the system in the first place: an immediate, practical response to a problem which is subjectively distressing and may also be objectively threatening. This includes nowadays, the possibility of a response which is based on the doctor’s judgement prior to confirmation by a test of its correctness. If a man walks in the surgery and says he is pissing blood, the doctor asks for accompanying signs of infection but even in the absence of signs will in all probability prescribe antibiotics since infections should not be left to go out of control. There is a Protocol which tells GPs to behave like this.

So alternative systems need to be able to mimic such protocols. Either the person at the end of a phone line must have authority to prescribe prior to test results or else the patient must have authority to take that decision. Indeed, already GPs quite often pass authority on to the patient as when they pre-prescribe medications for patients travelling abroad just in case. At one time, I used to keep quite a medicine chest acquired in this way and used it mainly as insurance against the vagaries of Opening and Closing times.

Of course, people walk into GP surgeries with pre-planned problems rather than emergencies. Their arthritis is getting worse and they wonder what they can do about it. It’s true, such pre-planned problems should be scheduled in ways which does not mean that they take away valuable,finite slots of time from people who are ill now. One weakness of free-at-the point-of-use appointments is that there is only a weak internal self-regulation mechanism available to us to decide whether we have an acute problem which really needs to be addressed now or whether it's a nice day and convenient  to go to the doctor to talk about that arthritis which has been bothering us. The same problem applies to Accident and Emergency. What is perhaps most remarkable is that only in very recent years does the NHS seemed to have developed a Public Education model designed to nudge people towards better (and more socially-responsible) decision-making about when to go where.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

America Cannot Continue Like This ...

I was cleaning up my Blog
and found this essay from 2012. Seems like I should have seen
Trump coming ... Apologies for the formatting which I cannot fix

Monday, 15 October 2012

Essay: America Cannot Continue Like This

I haven't reviewed any books recently - I have been giving up on books half way through and therefore -  under the terms of this Blog - cannot review them. This is true of Joseph E. Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality (Allen Lane 2012). I kept comparing it unfavourably with Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone - a book which Stiglitz does not mention.

The problem with Stiglitz's book is not its argument - which relates only to America - but in a decision to consign all the evidence to the footnotes. There are 290 pages of text and over 100 pages of footnote citations and discussions. This leaves the text uncluttered, but - unfortunately - dumbed-down and repetitive. I gave up.

But this is not at all to deny that growing inequality in America, combined with the weakness of the political system,  is a problem for us all and could become a pressing problem.  America surely cannot for long escape its own Arab Spring. Its rent-seeking (Stiglitz) or, as I would put it, extractive elites (the 1% who own and rule and don't pay taxes) have no intention of conceding any ground - indeed, they are still pushing for even more favourable treatment. And their grip over the media, the political process and the legislature has disillusioned citizens where it has not simply disenfranchised them. That is a recipe for civil disorder not orderly political renewal.

Wilkinson and Pickett's book contains many graphs correlating different kinds of Inequality with different social and economic measures. On most of those charts, the USA is an outrider - it has more Inequality and it has worse performance on measures of employment, health, security - you name it. It is never anywhere near the average. Some of those outrider figures surface in Stiglitz's book. We may in a sense already know it, but it is still shocking to read - for example - that "roughly one in three black men will spend time in prison in his lifetime" (page 70). That's a Gulag-like statistic and no society which achieves that outcome can be other than dysfunctional.

Here in Europe, serious newspapers and their serious readers looked at the Republican primaries with jaw-dropping disbelief. How do these nutters get to be front-runner Presidential wannabes? And when Romney finally emerged as candidate, the sigh of relief was quickly replaced by the fervent conviction that No Way, No Way do we want this man to become US President. That would be true across the political spectrum. Even the Conservative Party guardians of Britain's "Special Relationship" with the US pray each night for an Obama victory.

To tell the truth, they pray because they are scared. We are all just a bit scared and become a bit more scared every time some strange Congressman holds forth on Abortion or Evolution or Rape. These guys are Fundamentalists and they are Dangerous, make no mistake.

Whether they are scared in China, I do not know. But in China they are watching America carefully. It is only Chinese money which prevents America's financial implosion. If you think Greece has got problems, look at America's federal budget or its trade balance.

And back of it all, we know that America's war industry is lobbying for another War - and Romney knows that, if elected, he will have to give them one. It makes money and it makes jobs. That the War will be lost, just like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, is of absolutely no concern.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

What Goes Up Must Come Down - On Public Monuments

In our country, we no longer allow the erection of monuments or memorials to anyone. Our history – which I do not need to rehearse, I am sure – eventually left our parks and pavements cluttered with masonry in which only the pigeons took an interest. A rather short period of reflection on our inheritance produced three conclusions to which we were, albeit reluctantly, obliged to assent:

1.      With very, very few exceptions – some said no exceptions –our monuments and memorials had no “artistic merit”. Even though many had originally cost a great deal of money – much of it raised by Public Subscription – the erections which resulted could all be classified as hack jobs, things towards which you would not address a second glance – or, if you did, only because you were struck by the ugliness.

2.      With equally few exceptions, no one could volunteer any spontaneous information about the subjects of the monuments and memorials. It seems that immortality is a very short lived thing. On closer inspection of the detail, it seemed as if had been a perk of the job to have a monument erected to you if you had once been a king, queen, prime minister, admiral, general, and occasionally scientist or poet. Apart from the queens, they all appeared to have been men though given the motives which existed in the past to pretend you were a man, some of the men may not have been. That is by the by.

3.      When we could put a name to the face and a bit of information to the name, we shortly discovered that we did not have a high opinion of at least half of those who had been monumentalised. Some had committed unspeakable crimes, others speakable ones. Some had said things about their fellow human beings which were not very nice, and some had clearly not been very nice people full stop. The Public had subscribed to some very odd causes.

So rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, we decided to put a stop to it. It would protect our parks and pavements from further depredations. But they were still rather crowded and in places – like the capital – ridiculously so. Some people said we should remove some of the erections. But which ones? Those which had the least artistic merit? Those about which even the most enthusiastic pub quizzer could not spontaneously generate an iota of information? Or perhaps we should focus on those which memorialised people whose conduct had been so distasteful that they really should never have got a statue in the first place?

After some debate, this is what we decided. All would come down but there would be a popular vote in which electors could write-in the names of up to ten monuments they thought should be left undisturbed. They would not be prompted by a list but when the votes were counted, the ten most popular monuments would be preserved. A reasonable percentage, it was felt. It is in this way that Nelson’s Column still stands. A lot of people have their doubts about Nelson, but they do like his Column.

It was proposed that we should look at street names in the same way. They didn’t clutter things up like the statues, but very few of them on inspection had anything to commend them. They were, for the most part, entirely and unremittingly unimaginative, which some argued was actually a merit. Where they mentioned names, it was very rare for anything to be known about the person they memorialised, though it was discovered that the majority were landowners who sold their land for property development but kept their name on the resulting streets. Finally, there were some baddies among those whose names we did recognise.

There are a lot of streets in our country and no one really had the enthusiasm to reform their names. A committee was set up as a way of putting the issue out to grass. Eventually, it reported. It had only one recommendation. Someone had pointed out that in the whole country, there was not a single Revolution Street. The committee recommended that there should be one but that it was unnecessary and undesirable to specify which Revolution – let people imagine it as they wished.

And that is why you can now walk up Revolution Street towards Nelson’s Column.

Closed and Open Borders - Lord Lucan and Anis Amri

No one's borders were open in 1974 but Lord Lucan  was able to kill his children's nanny and get clean away. It helps to be posh, it's true, but still he was never found in the United Kingdom and in 1974 there was no channel tunnel.

In 2016, Europe's (but not the UK's) borders are open and Anis Amri got from Berlin to Milan before he was stopped and shot. Would it have been better if the borders were closed?

I don't think so. Consider that the UK does not have a single police force, just lots of local constabularies - some of them incompetent and, as official reports frequently also tell us, corrupt. Commit a crime in Cumbria and flee to Cornwall and you are moving from the territory of one police force to the territory of another. So should the borders be sealed as you move from one constabulary area to another?

In July 2005,  Mohammad Sidique Khan was able to travel by train from Leeds to London and blow himself up on the London Underground. He and his friends killed 52 people in their attack. Does that mean you shouldn't be able to travel by train from Leeds to London without being stopped at whatever is declared the border between North and South?

Europe's open borders are a huge political achievement. They enormously improve business productivity - lorries travel faster  - and they make holidaymaking and even simple day trips more pleasant. Just compare driving from France to Germany with driving from England to France (and back).

Those who want to close the borders don't tell you one important thing: they assume that they themselves will use the VIP channel, likely in coming years to become a lucrative business. Buy shares now and profit from discrimination against the ordinary traveller who of course is now likely to vote for more sheep pens like they have already at Calais. British holidaymakers assume that it is only natural to wait and wait before they are allowed back into their own country.