Monday, 25 June 2012

Psst, want to join the government?

In a February letter to the Badger Trust, seen by the Guardian, officials at the environment department (Defra) argued that "advice from the NFU was so integral to the development of the cull policy" that it considered the NFU to be a part of the government in this instance, and would therefore not release its "internal" communications with the lobby group.

Where does this end? Who or what else, on what other issues, could become so 'integral to the development of [government] policy' that they should be 'considered ... to be a part of the government' and their advice should be hid from the electorate?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Hurry on down

Subterranean waste disposal, they point out, is a cornerstone of the nation's economy, relied on by the pharmaceutical, agricultural and chemical industries. It's also critical to a future less dependent on foreign oil: Hydraulic fracturing, "clean coal" technologies, nuclear fuel production and carbon storage (the keystone of the strategy to address climate change) all count on pushing waste into rock formations below the earth's surface.


Yesterday, walking on National Trust land above the West Dorset coast, I could find on hindreds of gorse bushes only a single flower. usually at this time of year they are a mass of vivid yellow.

As it was not

In past centuries, when man's efforts had only small effects on the natural environment and the workings of natural processes, poeple were immensely concerned to discober whether untoward natural phenomena were some kind of retribution for their misdeeds and much livestock was sacrificed in the effort to find out. Nowadays, when our natural environment is fundamentally shaped by our activities, past and present, for some it seems worries melt away if it can be thought that unwelcome or unprecedented changes in the natural world are not 'anthropogenic', and many keyboard strokes are expended in the effort to prove it.

Not fit for purpose

According to one expert in evolution and development, Professor Georgy Koentges of Warwick University, the central problem is the impossibility of defining "fitness", whether in organisms, organs, cells, genes or even gene regulatory DNA regions. As a result, he sees both Dawkins and Wilson as "straw men" in this debate.

"Dawkins has a lot of unnecessary rhetoric in his review," he said this weekend. "He is usually on the spot, but it has to be said that some of his arguments are based on older models of calculating fitness. The difficulty is in assigning what Darwin called 'fitness' to a particular genetic feature. They are trying to set basic fitness conditions which they believe work over very long periods of time."

This is a fantasy. There is no such thing as a good or bad gene. It doesn't work that simply. Genes are used and re-used in different contexts, each of which might have a different overall fitness value for a given organism or a group."

In later life Darwin said he wished he had called his theory natural preservation, rather than selection, but even the preservation of certain genes down the ages is no proof that they are good.

"To use a simple human example, someone with the perfect set of genes for walking with two legs might die early because they jump off a cliff," said Koentges.

"Equally, there are many things that survive in biology for no beneficial reason, like male nipples. They are 'bystanders' of other important processes. They result from underlying genetic processes that in the opposite sex are absolutely essential for our survival as mammals."

Like other scientists commenting on this "tit-for-tat" dispute between Wilson and Dawkins, Koentges also detects the old struggle between those who focus purely on the gene and those who see it as "an anthropological insult to our own feeling of self-belief".

"The field has moved on, and so should we all," says Koentges.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday, 8 June 2012

It's the banks, stupid

"There is a path out of this challenge. These decisions are in the hands of Europe's leaders; they understand the urgent need to act. There are specific steps they can take right now to prevent the situation from getting worse. One of those steps is taking clear action as soon as possible to inject capital into weak banks."

President Barack Obama, 8 June 2012

"Monetization of government debts is perfectly safe in a liquidity trap. It would solve the need for austerity and allow governments to repair their economies. Unfortunately the global elite want depressions as unemployment lowers wage demands, increases the time debtors owe money to creditors and increases interest rates and their yields.

"It works thus-

"There are two parts to QE. The first part is where the Bank of England uses its privileges as a central bank to magic some money from thin air, buy a truck load of outstanding government debt from banks and credit their reserves with the money it has created.

"This is the part that should be and is designed to be inflationary. Money is created and the banks should in theory be able to leverage the reserve crediting up and stimulate demand in the wider economy with it.

"In the last couple of years the Bank of England has created £325 billion this way. So what has been the effect on the money supply?

" 'Figures released by the Bank of England on Wednesday showed that the UK's broad money supply, M4, shrank by 5pc in the past year to a new record low.'

"QE obviously isn't working in the way it is intended. The credits given to banks are not finding their way into the real economy. QE is simply not stimulating growth in the money supply in the way it is intended to.

"So what has gone wrong? In short - bankers greed. Banks demand a 15% return on equity to enable them to support their "business model" of spending over half their turnover on pay packets that average £350,000 . This level of return is so high and greedy that banks have no interest at all in lending for mortgages or to small businesses - the returns are too small.

"As credit creation in banks is the only way the UK economy can widen its money supply and credit creation in banks is responsible for 97% of the money supply growth. If banks won't lend then the money supply doesn't grow and our economy shrinks. The money supply must widen by at least 5% pa for any growth (money supply growth averaged 10% pa in the decade before the 2007 crash). That isn't happening so we are in recession.

"The other source of growth is government spending but since Osborne is taking many multiples of £150 billion out from public sector spending this virtually guarantees we enter a depression.

"Is there a silver lining though? Yes - the Bank of England has successfully bought up a third of the government debt that Cameron and Osborne are withering on about without sparking an inflationary spike in the money supply.

"Given that everybody was expecting QE to feed through into growth in the UK money supply there was always planned to be a second part to it.

"The second part of QE is the insane bit. Sitting in the wholly publicly owned Asset Purchase Facility is £325 billion of outstanding government debt. The same debt Cameron says it is critical we eradicate. His plan for it is that in a few years time, the Asset Purchase Facility should sell it back out to the banks we bought it off and then rip up the money the banks give us for it.

"Given the original reserve crediting didn't cause the money supply to widen this is just treasonous and insane. The resale obviously can't be inflationary - the money creation bit from part one happens over 5 years before the reissue of gilts. Reissue will obviously be deflationary as banks will allocate liquidity to buy the gilts instead of using the money for something else. But it cannot be inflationary as there is no money creation at that point. The second part of QE should be abandoned. A sensible government would announce that the money supply is shrinking, that the £325 billion in the Asset Purchase Facility can be safely monetized and that public sector cuts are cancelled and a £175 billion stimulus package can safely be afforded.

"How likely is this? Given how corrupt, incompetent and misleading is the current government to mis explain how the economy works in order to justify selling off the public sector to their friends and funders? The Tories and their backers want high unemployment and household debts to rise as this lowers wage demands and increases corporate profits. They are deliberately engineering a slump in order that the banks who provide 50% of their funding and the donors who can afford the £250,000 dinners with Cameron can slightly increase their profits.

"Business is sitting on £700 billion of retained profits, banks are rich enough to pay an average of £350,000 to their staff. So what does Cameron do? He abolishes the bankers bonus tax, drops the 50p highest tax rate, lowers corporation tax and exempt overseas subsidiaries of multinationals from paying tax. The rest of us get a 5% hike in VAT, trebling of university tuition fees, youth unemployment raised to 20% and once again (as with Thatcher) unemployment."

Payguy2 The Guardian CIF 6 June 2012


Letting go

As we mature and age, 'letting go' is generally seen as something to be commended, celebrated, respected. Letting go of vain ambition, resentment, discontent, regret, attachment. Sommehow we think it is part of a higher state of being. Yet there are exceptions. We generally cannot accept a letting go of our engagement with direct experience or with our own history. Loss of memory, loss of mental faculties: that is a letting go too far for us. What is it we wish to hold on to?

The phraseology of the mind

I wonder if any of my small band of readers found this posting provocative and whether it set them thinking, in the way that I have often done on this blog, about the relationship between language and thought. It would seem there can be language without thought, not just in the sense in which one asserts it as an insult, but in the way in which one finds speech can utter completely unbidden and unreflected.

But phraseology as the ornament of the mind: it struck me with that sense of shock that runs through one's being on finding something, in art or discussion, that seems to apply intimately to oneself - or possibly so, requiring a defence.

It reverberated in two areas. Like most people, I like to think I am capable of thought, and, perhaps neurotically, I wonder whether thought is subverted by expression. Cut out anything you think particularly fine, as Dr Johnson advised.

I also like to think I am capable, on occasion, of designing furniture and worry about the place in it of ornament, so demonised by modernist thought and practice from a century ago and persisting into the present day, especially among the higher ranks of respected architects. Ornament perhaps became demoted from the role ascribed to it by Ruskin (and even Morris) as the creator became more determinedly autonomous, often in defiance of the economic logic of the day.

But if phraseology and ornament are condemned as mere efflorescence on the act of creation, to what extent can expression and thought be separate, if at all? In art it is an orthodoxy (at least when critics are confronted with the question, rather than indulging in talk about a work of art) that the art object is the meaning and that an abstracted 'meaning' is always a lesser thing. Why else bother to create the work of art? Even if the commentator is sometimes the creator - never trust the teller; trust the tale, as Lawrence put it. But mere talk is not art - or is it?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Mr Speaker

A recent examination of the latest financial disclosure by Mitt Romney makes interesting reading. Despite a few tentative steps in the direction of disclosure in this country, especially in the spat between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson in the election for London mayor, we shall probably wait a long time before we are able to pore over such details here.

One source of income that Mr Ronmey shares with our own politicians is generous speaker's fees. It is of course something that truly blooms once the senior politician has left office and, despite his elaborate and successful efforts to ensure his financial affairs achieve maximum opacity, we know that our own Tony Blair now commands six-figure fees for his lucubrations. Who is it who pays so generously to hear the reflections of retired heads of government? Not the local women's institute but usually interest groups which have been past beneficiaries of the opinions and actions of the politician. The suspicion must be that they pay less for any new insights than to express their gratitude for past favours or benefits, in a kind of laundered rewards system.

"There is no wealth but life"

As thus: lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at the bottom. Now, as he was sinking — had he the gold? or had the gold him? 

John Ruskin "Ad Valorem", Unto This Last, 1860

Unfortunately for the rich of the world, they have so astonomically increased the quantity of what is fictitiously called 'wealth' that there is insufficient gold and not enough cowrie shells to strap around their waists in the hour of need. 'Wealth' must find its expression somewhere (what good is it if it nourishes only the individual and is not recognised by the world and the poor?) and as all banks and many 'sovereign' nations are deemed unsafe havens, there is not enough capacity in Germany, which now must be paid to take in deposits, whilst the less successful have to make do with riskier mattresses such as the United States or even the UK.

The faith of people that fleetness of foot (and on what else is the City of London based?) can keep them always ahead of the impending correction of ecomonic, political, social and geophysical imbalances is almost endless.

Little people pay taxes; little people commit crime

Dr Mejia said: "It's an extension of the way they operate at home. Go after the lower classes, the weak link in the chain – the little guy, to show results. Again, transferring the cost of the drug war on to the poorest, but not the financial system and the big business that moves all this along."

With Britain having overtaken the US and Spain as the world's biggest consumer of cocaine per capita, the Wachovia investigation showed much of the drug money is also laundered through the City of London, where the principal Wachovia whistleblower, Martin Woods, was based in the bank's anti-laundering office. He was wrongfully dismissed after sounding the alarm.

Gaviria said: "We know that authorities in the US and UK know far more than they act upon. The authorities realise things about certain people they think are moving money for the drug trade – but the DEA [US Drugs Enforcement Administration] only acts on a fraction of what it knows."

"It's taboo to go after the big banks," added Mejía. "It's political suicide in this economic climate, because the amounts of money recycled are so high."