Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Putin and Assad are on our side, says new UKIP leader Nuttall

So goes and article in The Times.


So this is true, is it not?


The Middle East is complicated beyond belief. However, the West has been backing so-called moderate groups in Syria, most of which  have turned out to be terrorist groups.


The US has been bombing mainly ISIS, which is also what Assad has been doing. So have Hezbollah and Iran and Iraq - a coalition of the awkward!


Wow, this is some mess, the main backers of ISIS are Saudi, Turkey and the Gulf States, however they have backed off in recent months.


It is a complete shower of a situation, in Aleppo people are being both bombed by the Government and also held hostage as human shields by terrorists - what a terrible place to be in all respects.


Putin of course has his own ends in mind, mainly to get a Syrian base and keep some Middle East influence, he is hardly in it for a greater good in which he does not believe.


Assad is a murderous bastard too who was the original cause of this by allowing his people to starve despite Syria having more than enough resources to enable a functioning state.


Given where we are though, the quicker ISIS is destroyed and peace returned to Syria and Northern Iraq, the quicker the deaths will end.


There re no good guys to back in this awful situation.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Why does the Government care about Executive pay?

Some of the concerns the Government has about Executive pay are bang on. Companies, particularly public ones, have a concept of reward that is very handy if you happen to be on the board.


They have a remuneration committee which is usually advised by some interested 3rd party like PWC or EY. They also have a Board of Directors and Non-Executive Directors who also are on other Boards. Hence they are recipients of bountiful goodwill from their fellow Men and Women.


In this situation, it makes perfect sense for Boards to effectively vote for large pay rises year on year, above inflation. After all, all boats will be floated.


Into this steps the Government, with a view that pay rises for Directors have gone too far and a list of some things that should be done:


  • Forcing companies to publish pay ratios that show the difference in earning between the chief executive and average employee
  • Improving the effectiveness of remuneration committees and the extent to which they must consult shareholders and the wider company on pay
  • Introducing binding votes on executive pay packages
Some of this is fairly anodyne, making shareholders vote etc. The piece that gets me is that why do they always pick on publically listed companies? Here, the Directors are under increasing regulatory burden and genuinely have more to lose than in the past. Even the coming reforms to Data Protection laws could see them face jail time for their companies mis-behaviour several rungs down the ladder.

It is all very well following the TUC and getting hot under the collar about Executive Pay. I spend a decent chunk of my week going to meetings in Mayfair. Their the average FTSE100 Directors salary gets paid to the junior people in the Hedge Funds. They walk around anonymously, in their chino's and polo necks, keeping their heads down.

I don't really care about them either. I am very relaxed with people earning money. Nearly everyone who earns decent money these days has to commit their entire life and being to it. Being a FTSE100 Director is totally all-consuming for the time that you do it, much like being a Government Minister.

Why is the Government so interested in their pay? I totally understand why the Government is worried about low pay - this is an issue for democracy, but selective worrying about high pay is just a left-wing whinge fest. I hope the Government are just virtue-signalling here and drop it thereafter.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Link to a Very Sad Post

For anyone who has ever read the remarkable work of "Anna Raccoon", this is the link to a very sad last post.

"... There is nothing more to be said. This really is goodbye ..."

But not unexpected.  Susanne Cameron-Blackie has been very ill for a long time.  Her blog seems to have been hacked (she had enemies), but the archive is backed up and parts of it accessible via her still (just-about) live twitter accountYou don't need to have agreed with her to acknowledge that her writing, tenacity, physical and, yes, moral courage, have been deeply impressive, an internet phenomenon.

Respect.

ND

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Weekend Post: Drew in Oman - The End of the Road

Concluding Drew's expedition to Oman in the 1980s ... 

End of the Road 

You've had enough of me swinging the old djinn's lamp; so here are a few random memories and photos to wrap things up.


The early-evening trip to the souk: always interesting.  On one occasion we went to a coastal market, in a corner of which was an astonishing precious-metals section.  Who were the customers for all that gold?  Sailors, we were told.  But how did the traders finance their inventory??  Ahah! - C@W ...


A typical Oman surprise: on a beach, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ruins - the Sultan's Marine Biology institute (!)






Al Bustan: this kind of crazy place is two-a-penny in the Gulf nowadays but not so 30 years ago.  Built for when it was Oman's turn to host the rotating meetings of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  Oman being a country where booze is OK in licensed premises, and many of the GCC boys being quite unable to hold their liquor ... it would get periodically trashed. 
Back to the serious stuff.  I wrote before about how, during the Jebel campaign, the RAF shot up the rebel centre of Tanuf, which was left derelict as a lesson.  This was their leader Suleiman's fort, also abandoned and derelict.  It houses the most ghastly oubliette - the fate of his prisoners doesn't bear thinking about.



The rebs were permitted to take to the hills. This was as far towards the 'tribal reservation' of the Jebel that we could reach, even with a military pass.  The end of the road ...

ND

Photos © Nick Drew 2016

Friday, 25 November 2016

30 shopping days until Christmas!



Going about my daily chores, I have often wondered at the sheer volumes of people, visiting the UK, on shopping sprees. Of course, they won't have come just for the shopping: there are apparently various interesting historical and cultural attractions on this green island of ours. But shop many do. They head to Bicester Village. They swarm to Primark. They queue at the Apple store. In my mind some of this shopping seemed perverse. After all, not much of the stuff that people buy is made here and actually a lot of the tourists could well be travelling from places much closer to the point of origin of a lot of the stuff they take back with them.

But I think I may have worked it out. I mentioned in a recent post about the shopping centres in Malaysia. They are everywhere. Malaysia is a prosperous and fast-growing country. Lots of people have money to spend. Yet even the upmarket malls I went to were awful. For sure, they had all the brands there. Yet the shops themselves were often dead, and you only had to go inside to understand why. Even the local branches of the global retail megacorps had very poor selections and things seemed overpriced, even taking into consideration my flimsy purchasing pounds.

Somehow, despite the marble, clean lighting, refreshing air-con and reasonably-priced food stalls, these shops and malls were getting the shopping experience dead wrong. I am not a particular fan of the actual act of shopping, but even I can occasionally get enthused to spend money in UK shops. 

I am not a retail expert, so I can't quite put my finger on what makes a British shop more appealing than a Malaysian one; but I can begin to see why tourists can get so excited about a shopping spree when they come here on their hols.

Long may it continue.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Jobs in industry: Why so few female coalminers ?

Before the Chancellor knocks all news off the airwaves with his tweaks and non-promise promises, this vitally important bit of news needs consideration.

The lack of men in female dominated industries has been a huge cause for concern. The Huffington Post were aghast at the lack of burly, bearded convention planners at a senior level.
The NHS, despite all their PR that they employ equally have only a paltry 8.9% of  male among their hundred's of thousands of registered nurses.

Jack Grimes, a member of the Guild of Beauty Therapists lamented the fact that he was in a tiny minority of hairy legged males working in the nation's nail bars.

"The artificial barriers to work in the pink sector are a real impediment to ex-Rugby players and bricklayers from taking up the beauty profession. Its very hard for a man to get anywhere in some of the more heavily dominated female industries. Men are just seen as 'window dressing' in some traditionally women's roles."

A spokeswoman for the Guild of Human Resources Professionals told us,

 "Great strides have been made in HR in the last twenty years. In this area, which has always been more of a female industry due to the particular demands of being able to have empathy., Have an analytical mind, read Heat magazine and gossip and make different colour pencil marks on personnel files that have a secret meaning. And to be able to shift blame quickly, This has not traditionally been fertile ground for alpha male, yelling and screaming and threatening all sorts of chaos types. But we have found in the last few years some have been quite well suited. Especially at the blame shifting. "

Some research has suggested that men are not particularly interested in moving into more female dominated areas.Mohamed Abzul told us "I'm 6ft 4 and 22 stone.  Chorus line high kicks isn't something that appeals..And I doubt I would be any good at it anyway..I mean...Just look at Ed Balls.."
women work stats
Also,  Stella Creasy, a Labour MP, has been asking why there are '...so few Boys in Girl bands and has it something to do with private education?'


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Exxon & the $74 Billion Fine

Your money or, errr ...
How the world changes, as amply illustrated by this story.  Chad proposes to fine Exxon $74 billion for - well, who really knows why?  Because they think it's the way to get 4 billion?  Because Exxon has 10 billion of local assets to seize?   Because they are desperate?  Because they can?

Well, can they?  I am sure their courts are sovereign in their own country and their adherence to the rule of law is impeccable, etc etc.  Just like everywhere else on the planet, in fact, and everyone will start taking a pop if this one works - there are enough US companies exposed around the globe.  And British, and German ...  

Global hostage-taking and blackmail is hardly new, indeed it's an entire industry, with consultancy services and all.  But it's mostly been at a *tolerable* below-the-radar level.  Piracy has been on the uptick in recent years, and at one stage got beyond a joke.  Russia has long felt at liberty to impound oil company assets at will, as BP, Shell, Conoco, aye and even the mighty Exxon have discovered over the past 15 years or so.   On the subject of BP, even the sainted Obama wasn't above outright theft.   VW hasn't fared much better there: and even more broadly America's de facto claim to universal jurisdiction has long been a cause of chuntering in many quarters.

Another straw in the wind of the end of globalisation as we thought we knew it?  It could be viewed even more simply: Might is Right.  But treason doth never prosper, etc, so when the USA does it, it's *globalisation*.

Maybe it explains TTIP et al.  Maybe the US saw this coming a mile off, and is trying to build a new layer of defence - short of sending in the drones, that is.  Trump's attitude will be interesting: he's said to be agin TTIP.  It might not only be Chad that discovers what the balance of international power looks like in 2017.

ND

Monday, 21 November 2016

Merkel wants to ruin Brexit and the UK

In the long game, the real game that is what States have played with one another for hundreds if not thousands of years, German and the UK are enemies.


Whilst we have some culture in common (terrible food!), we have long been the foes who have sort to exert their power on the weaker European States. Since the defeat of France in 1940, the French have either been supplicant to Germany or nothing, despite being on the winning side overall in the war.


Now, with the French economy wrecked by their socialist fantasies, the only powers who face off across Western Europe are UK and Germany.


Merkel sees this in an antagonistic way, as any decent Ossie would, and therefore is aghast at Brexit. Brexit is partly a push after all at dismantling the German hegemony in Europe. A free UK may well show up the fallacies that lie at the heart of the EU.


I had hoped that Merkel would not stand in the German elections next year, but over the weekend she has determined that she can see off AfD and lead her party to victory. She is still very popular in Germany despite her recent political mis-steps.


A Merkel win will make Brexit much more challenging as she is the most insistent after her home policies around immigration have been so prominent for her. There will be no compromise about free market for free movement.


Still, the UK can't rely on foreign governments for favours which is why we are in this position in the first place, so let's see what 2017 brings!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Weekend Post: Drew in Oman (3)

Continuing Drew's expedition to Oman in the 1980s ...
 
With the Colours

Pink desert, pink camouflage
My first observation arriving on camp was: why are the Land Rovers pink?  The answer was easy: the desert there is pink!  Actually, most of the vehicles were two-tone, pink and olive green, which worked well against the greys, greens and shadows that were the backdrop for camouflage in that pink part of the world. 

My little unit was multi-coloured, too.   The majority were (are we allowed to say this?) brown – Omani Arabs, and Baluchis (in the black berets).   As regards the other berets, I don’t recall beyond the burgundy ones worn with the khaki uniforms, which denoted the Royal Guards regiment. 

Played by actors (to protect the innocent)
Two of the crew were black: the chap in the orange beret, and the civvy who was our translator.  Most of what we did was in English but several of the team were not really proficient, and prompt translation into Arabic was vital, particularly on anything technical.  Yer man was really excellent – obviously he had to ensure his own understanding first; but he was one of the quickest on the uptake.  It was amusing how a single sentence of mine would be translated into a couple of minutes-worth, but it was evident he was explaining as well as translating.  Sometimes in such circumstances you’d wonder whether he was communicating accurately: but practical matters lead to tangible feedback, and in the long run you can tell.  And he was. 

And then of course there were my two sidekicks and I: white on arrival and only a little browner as time went on because direct exposure to the sun would have been unwise.  Everyone got on really well, including the obvious dummies, who were endearingly honest about their shortcomings and were bolstered by the rest, which is very much the army way.  You will never get a full complement of top intellects in the services: it’s attitude that counts for so much, and enough of a GSOH to rub along.   It became evident that banter was fine, and (as translated for me) seemed of a pretty universal military kind.  Only a very small number of the officers in camp had been to Sandhurst, so this culture was either endemic, or introduced by those Omanis and Brits who had.  The former seems the most likely.  The taciturn ones were the Baluchis (see earlier episodes) … but no-one was in the business of winding them up. 

The desert: pink, gravel ...
Trips outside camp were a revelation, and I cannot fail to be in awestruck travelogue mode.  Having become accustomed to the pink desert (which in our location was gravel, not sand), I was intrigued to see a band of vivid orange in the distance and was told this was dead grass.  In March, the annual rains come and the grass springs up, only to die back as no further water arrives to sustain it; and it dies a shade of Trump-orange.
... except where it's orange grass

These rains flood everything, making the roads impassable at points where a dip is built to let the water flow, delineated by red-and-white depth-markers to warn when fording is not on – naturally known as ‘Irish bridges’ (are we allowed to say that?) 

Irish bridge over a wadi
The rains also top up the irrigation system, a variant of qanat known as ‘falaj’ (plural variously afalaj or falajes) which were built centuries ago, reputedly by Persian engineers.  Made of the local clay, these channels are narrow (to minimize evaporation), and deeper than you’d guess.  On first inspection the water looks black and still: but put your finger in and you find it is running pure and strongly along the many miles of fine gradient these master irrigators carefully engineered, contouring around and between hills, always on the shady side wherever possible. 

It’s a system you can find on a much smaller scale feeding water-mills in the UK, as well as in the Moorish areas of Spain, as I recently discovered (I may write a whole post on this one day).  Any village that doesn’t have its own oasis will be built over a falaj, which is split into several smaller channels as it goes under the houses, then re-converges to go on its way.  (Again, you can find this system in the UK, where diverted streams ran through big Cistercian monasteries.)  Each house has a single hole-in-the-floor over one of the sub-channels, through which the occupants are permitted to dip a small bucket to draw fresh water.   This is the only use they may make of the hole … probably on pain of something horrible.  As mentioned in Part1, although the rebel village of Tanuf was thoroughly shot up by the RAF, the falaj there was carefully rebuilt.  There would be villages downstream that depended on it. 

Pink, green, black, white, brown, orange, burgundy ...  the colours of northern Oman.

ND 



The falaj near Tanuf, rebuilt after the RAF shot the place up.  Note how it snakes around the hillside.                   A masterpiece of Persian craft:  they really know about water conservation in the dry areas around the Med and Middle East  

Photos © Nick Drew 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Top Trump's for UK

Excellent analysis by Andrew Lilico on the likelihood of a Trump deal with the UK.


Carrying on from yesterday's discussion, it is really going to upset the Left when we get a Trump deal. Moreover, it is also really going to upset the EU as this will be an example of the UK benefitting from Brexit.


Also, Nicola Sturgeon will be in full force for a whole year about not doing a deal with the Orange One, talking her own book for the same reasons.


There are only 2 potential downsides:


1 - Trump makes a tough negotiator and maybe the deal in services won't be so good, he will want healthcare in it and that will send the UK with our NHS touchstone into meltdown.


2- The EU will hate us so much they wont negotiate on Article 50 and so we will have a tough tie re-creating our space in the world from 2019 onwards which will be a slight drag on the economy and altogether unnecessary.


At least the above two will be mutually exclusive.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Trump: Can They Possibly Mean What They Say?

Last week I suggested we were in for an entertaining feast of leftie hair-tearing over Trump's trump.  For the first couple of days I started noting some of the more egregious examples, but rapidly gave up - it would have been a full-time task.  Someone will do their doctorate on it one day: "Mass hysteria, hyperbole and competitive virtue-signalling: a case study in social media".

My question now is: do they seriously mean a word of it?  Because if so, (a) there will surely be a measurable Werther effect, not to mention a spike in clinical depression of an unparalled nature; and (b) well, let's just say the US Secret Service will have its work cut out.

Meanwhile, the more articulate lefties who are starting to realise they may just have overcooked things a little, are also starting to worry about a very amusing secondary problem, viz that with the passage of time they themselves will begin to 'normalize' the outcome of the election.  You can tell this troubles them a lot, so it must be happening inside their own skulls right now.

I can't wait to see what the even-more-subtle, third-order psychological problem will be that crops up after that.  Or maybe it can be mapped in the traditional maner: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  

They'd hate acceptance.

ND

PS, for a complete antidote, they should try this (via the perceptive Scott Adams).

UPDATE:   Right on cue ... 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What Brexit?





In more Brexit good news, Google has signed up London to be the HQ of its European operations and this will create 3000 jobs by 2020 in London.


So they join Apple in backing the UK post-Brexit with expansion.


I really don't think we can underestimate the value of this. Lots of start-up Fintech companies have been thinking about moving to Berlin. Certainly the Germans want them there. Fintech is the future of financial services as the Big Banks suffer from strangulation by both regulation and zero-interest rates. Pensions funs too, long a source of wealth for their employees and owners at our expense, will not last in their current form once technology companies start empowering people to 'take control' of their own pension pots.


So having a tech base is really key to the future of the Country and the investment of the world's two best know companies provides good mood music.


Brexit, it seems, is going to take a long time to work out and to an extent the effect of this is to massively downgrade its impact in the eyes of businesses making long-term decisions; of course, this is the opposite of what hyped-up media like to report. Not understanding, business they think long-term uncertainty is bad. Of course this is not the case as no business really plans ahead for more than 5 years tops - anything that wont have an impact within 3-5 years is discounted. The things that really bother management is what is happening tomorrow and in the next quarter and it decreases in importance from there.


So, here we are, several months in, still no impact of Brexit or sign of it bar the currency effect which is a net positive anyway? Yet you wont read or hear this from many people - such is the power of cognitive dissonance.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Oil On the Slide

Meanwhile ...


Oil has been on the slide again.  Was Putin getting his hopes up a few weeks ago?  Probably a bit sobering, what the anti-Assad faction can do.  Or anti-Putin?  No need for conspiracy theories: but the first meeting between little Volodya and the Donald should have quite an agenda.  The great deal-maker may have some interesting opportunities ... 

ND

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Weekend Post: Drew in Oman (2)

Continuing Drew's expedition to Oman in the 1980's ...

Into The Heat

Recruiting ordinary Omanis into the ranks of private soldiers was an informal, traditional affair.  At some point early in his adult life a young Omani man(1) would reckon it was time to serve his Sultan, and would wander down to a nearby army camp to enlist.  After a few years, he would decide he’d done his bit, and would unilaterally take his leave and wander off back home.

To the average westerner there is a flaw in this set-up … what if there was an active campaign underway and Private Mah’mud could ill be spared?  Don’t be daft: if the Sultan still needed his service, why of course then Mah’mud wouldn’t leave!   Other than these honourable self-imposed feudal disciplines there was only one significant formal rule applied to local recruiting: if a former soldier fancied another spell of all-found accommodation in the ranks, he would have to go through basic training all over again.

As I said in the original post, these loyal soldiers were pleasant and (I guessed) hardy and brave enough: but they didn’t come across as sufficiently ruthless for the 1980s border troubles we were there to assist with.  Border fighting in the mountains is a matter of maintaining small, hidden observation posts - and taking out the OPs of the other side; which all places a premium on operating silently and invisibly.  Now your average friendly Omani expects to get up in the morning and warmly greet everyone he meets – a blessing and a hearty handshake for even your closest friend.  Apparently these charming courtesies would be observed even in the field.  Even in an OP … And, clean-living Moslem fellows that they were, they certainly wouldn’t dream of carrying out their bodily functions in the confines of the slit-trench as is required in these circumstances.

This is where the Baluchi battalions came in.  Somehow, the Islamic customs of Baluchistan comfortably embraced the disciplines necessary to conduct silent throat-slitting operations in the mountains.

Officers quarters.  My baiyt was second on the right.
Into this heterogeneous mix of soldiery flew Drew and his two SNCOs.  We travelled incognito, Gulf Air (business class) and stepped straight into a waiting vehicle (unmarked) on the tarmac.  Stepped? Staggered, really, after the massive punch in the face that comes from the oven-door blast of a Gulf summer’s day on an open concrete surface in coastal humidity.  Our little white Toyota runabout had aircon, of course (on the coast itself you needed the windscreen wipers against the condensation forming on the outside of the aircon-cooled car windows), so we were rapidly back into a bearable micro-climate for the duration of the drive to the garrison.  Heading inland meant we had put the humidity behind us: but on arrival we had to acclimatize PDQ.  Some rooms had clanking aircon, some ceiling fans, others just desk-mounted jobs.  But the inevitable walking-around that happens in any military camp, from quarters to mess, and from mess to place of work, was unavoidably exposed to the heat.  There was one saving grace: for whatever reason, we were asked to remain in civvies (we were ‘advisers’) and could therefore dress loosely in white.

Perimeter stand-to position (not used while I was there)
The camp was spartan, but I was delighted by it all.  On the one hand it was romantically situated in barren foothills on the edge of the desert, very basic in essence, and felt like a proper 19th century cantonment, nicely marked out in white-painted bricks and with a rather lightly fortified perimeter (see pics).  On the other, it had electricity and running water, a small swimming pool (for the mad Brits), and Fosters in the mess.  My ‘baiyt’ (phonetic, & I have no idea what the proper Arabic is) had a rudimentary shower (all water was hot), a crapper-hole, a useless aircon and a reliable, fairly quiet ceiling fan.

Officers Mess
If the climate was a bit too hot, the welcome was warm.  I was the only British officer there.  The garrison commander was an Omani Brigadier: young, tough, suave, British educated, energetic, decisive and with natural authority, he would have done well in any army.  I got on well with him: he enjoyed conversations that ranged a little more widely than he probably encountered day to day, and was happy to offer his views on any subject, including (after a little cautious fencing on both sides), politics.  He had a brilliant gambit which I have subsequently used myself to good effect in third world countries: all pronouncements would be prefaced with the formula: “I think the Sultan is very wise on this matter …”.  After that, it didn’t matter who was listening in.

The senior staff officer was a Pakistani, a full colonel in the Sultan’s pay.  He operated from an office with a wooden verandah, straight out of the North West Frontier.  Clerks with manual typewriters pounded out the orders of the day (in English).   Though this colonel’s duties were strictly administrative, I figured he would be a useful person to have onside; so I made a point of seeking him out, presenting my compliments and inviting him to visit the unit I was advising.  He showed little emotion (then, or indeed ever), but I could tell he was dead chuffed to be treated with due respect - by a Brit! - and he took up my invitation; out of reciprocal politeness, probably, since he showed little real interest in what we were doing.

I am guessing he got less deference from the Garrison RSM, a robust Brit on secondment who seemed to me remarkably lacking in the kind of live-and-let-live tolerance I associate with the best of colonial behaviours.   He ruled the roost uncompromisingly in a Brit-dominated Sergeants Mess.  Maintaining standards is one thing, but apparent disregard for the locals is another.

Daily routine was oriented around the accommodations necessary for dealing with the oppressive temperature, naturally enough.   The call to prayer was broadcast noisily through a loudspeaker, and most of the Omanis rolled their eyes upwards when it interrupted what they were doing.  By no means all of them responded to the call.  Work started at 06:00 – with the usual hearty handshake for everyone.  Breakfast was at 09:00, a substantial affair with much minced lamb involved.  More work between 10 and 13:00, then back to the mess for lunch.  Lots of juicy, energy-giving local dates always on offer at lunch, which were pressed upon me enthusiastically: you eat dates, Captain Nick, then you go to your woman! 

Pool - without which, a punishment posting indeed
Lunchtime could be the last I saw of many of the officers for the rest of the day because all of them, along with all the Omanis of any rank or job, would then slope off for the whole afternoon (going to their women?) and few would be back for the evening meal.  The Brits, of course, reconvened at 14:00 and cracked on with everything that couldn’t be achieved in collaboration with the less-than-sparkling locals during the morning.  Then at 4, it was down to the pool; at 6 it was into the car and off to the souk for a wander as evening fell; then back to our respective messes.  For me, dinner and a chat with the Brigadier.  Yes, the Sultan was very wise.                                (to be cont ...)

ND

(1) I note that these days the Sultan's armed forces contain some rather dashing ladies as well.  Lots of medals on some of those chests ...  
 Photos © Nick Drew 2016

Perspective: Eyes Abroad

BE is in Malaysia on holiday. A quick post reflecting the UK's standing in the world, seen from further away than normal.. 

Plenty of Brits like to say that the UK is a basket case. I do not deny our many problems but the UK is still, after all this time, one of the leading economies. Despite the Asian Tiger era and the self-reflection at that time in the UK about "Asian values" (remember that?) the UK is still miles ahead on all sorts of measures. Malaysia is not a poor country: there is apparently a large and prosperous middle class, the infrastructure is good - albeit not to a European standard by any means, and the economy has been growing at a healthy clip for decades.

But the Malaysians still seem to look West for inspiration. A stupid example of this is that Sports Direct is a premium store here, to be found in the more up-market malls. In the really premium malls you can find M&S. Of course, Starbucks and its clones are everywhere. Coffee is of course pretty well indigenous, but the European cakes to go with it? Not so much. There are fake Hackett shirts and a huge number of people have tshirts and polos bearing the Union flag and/or the word London. Many seem to support English football teams, some more than one. I have just seen a G4S cash delivery man - with a large gun!

The lingua franca seems to be English, despite the official language (and presumably most people's first language)  being Malay. I have overheard Malaysians of different backgrounds communicating in English. There is of course a certain jingoistic joy in hearing tourists of many nationalities having to use their English to get by.

All of this suggests that there is plenty of trade being done by Brits, and plenty of opportunity for more. They could use some of our architects and town-planners, just to start.

We could learn some things too. There are shopping malls everywhere, but a lot of the shops are clearly independent traders. There must be enough capacity to allow relatively low rents. The food courts and hawker centres provide the infrastructure for small operations to run restaurants at presumably quite low cost.

On the social side the Malaysians seem to be adapting to modern urban living. They have not yet got the hang of waiting for people to get off the tube first (in comparison to Singaporeans) but there is little littering and people seem generally courteous. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Jeremy Corbyn could be the Trump act in the UK

After the very interesting discussion of BQ's excellent posts yesterday re the narrow Trump win in America, I thought we should continue the theme today.


The main lessons from the US elections and Brexit:


1 - People are fed up with Political Correctness and the Media push of all things liberal; equally they are cowed to speak out, ruining polls and making the public/private discourse in the Anglosphere discombobulated.


2 - Establishment=Bad (not that Merkel got the memo yet when you see her response to Trump, means she is toast next year though at least). Candidates like Hillary can't win nor Cameron.


3 - Anti-Establishment figures can be very radical indeed and still get elected on very weak, populist platforms.


4 - Polling is wrong, real people matter and the crowds of Trump v Hillary and crowds of Leave vs Remain are good evidence for this sea-change.


All this could be very good for Jeremy Corbyn;


- He is anti-establishment
- He has a weak, populist policy platform
- He is not an Establishment figure


On the other hand;


- He loves political correctness and does not play the blame immigration game.
- He is left-wing at a time when the Anglosphere is electing right-wing populists.
- He is not new, he has been around for a while which means by the time there is an election people may well have made up their minds.


Overall, there is reason to think Labour will do much better than expected with Corbyn given the developments in real world political economy of late. The Tory party may or may not prove competent to deliver Brexit. UKIP will only take on the Trump mantle with a strong, charismatic leader and they have just lost that one in Farage.


My personal call will be that it will not be Corbyn though. Too much of his personality is projected onto to him by willing believers. Trump and Farage are the opposite, leading through incitement of the Outrage Bus. Corbyn's lack of charisma and penchant for hang-wringing will not in the end be enough to carry him over the line (barring crazy events, like massive Brexit recession or some such).



Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Donald Trump's very tight margin of victory

http://static2.politico.com/dims4/default/59556d6/2147483647/resize/1160x%3E/quality/90/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fstatic.politico.com%2Fa8%2F12%2F2c19681c46d185d4cc7385aa5175%2F20160128-donald-trump-3-ap-1160.jpg
Hillary Clinton - 228

Donald J. Trump - 279 
 270 to win.
A pretty impressive margin at first glance. Democrats are wiped away.  And a very similar rerun to Brexit. 
Wrong polls: Hillary was 5% ahead in polls and still  95% certain to win on betting markets at midnight.  
PaddyPower had foolishly paid out on her victory weeks before the election.
Misinterpreted data. Exit polls showed 'the economy' and not 'immigration' was the most given reason for voting which is seen as good news for Hilary Clinton. 
Why would that be good for Hillary? It was obvious that the question asked was being answered as 'jobs' and not 'the wider economy'. You only had to watch two minutes of those being interviewed. 
Group think assumptions.  Latino's, black Americans and women are all voting Democrat.  
Why would Republican women, suddenly start voting for Clinton? The level of female support for Republicans is around 36-37%. That didn't move. And why would it?
 
Received Wisdom - The Democrat's ground game and Clinton's superior election experience will ensure more turnout for her than for Trump.
 Which ignored the near empty Clinton rallies and the Farage/Corbyn level of mob attendance at Trump ones. Why wouldn't those people be enthused to vote. As at Brexit. And for much the same reasons.
 When will they learn. eh? Probably going to need a le Pen presidency before it really sinks in.

228 - 279 is very impressive . Trump has the Whitehouse. Both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court on his side. If he wants to build, he can build a wall.

The surprise and scale of Trump's unexpected victory has meant that people have overlooked one quite important point. he very, very nearly lost.

Florida - An absolubte, no question, must win Trump state, was won by the Republican with 4,605,515 votes to 4,485,745.  out of  some 9 million votes the winning margin was 119,770.
The seats that took him to victory, and made sure the Democrats could no longer win were Wisconsin and Michigan. And the ultimate surprise, Pennsylvania. A 'swing state' that has not swung since Bill was greeting interns at the White House
 Pennsylvania . Trump - 2,912,941. Clinton - 2,844,705. - a decent 68,000 majority. however The 3rd candidate had 112,000 votes.
 Wisconsin.  Democrat voting since Ronald Reagan left office. 1,409,467  Republican. 
1,382,310 Democrat.
27,157 victory margin. The 1% !

Michigan.  Democrat since Bush the elder fell from office to usher in the other Clinton, has had 5-15% democrat margins of victory since 1992.
2,279,210 - Trump. 2,267,373 Clinton. 
4.5 million votes. Margin - 11,800 votes. A Gordon Brown zero % win level of victory.
 Those 3 states, just a few thousand homeless voters down the polling station, and that would be a Clinton presidency under their hybrid, first past the post system.

So a Remoaner style argument of  a tiny majority for Trump from people who didn't know what they were voting for could conceivably be made quite convincingly. Especially if the assumption that third party candidate votes should have gone to Clinton is made, however speculatively.
That would explain the damaging, unexpected, and in the words of Margaret Beckett today 'Horrifying and terrifying specter of Donald Trump in the Whitehouse.'
And would conveniently ignore the facts that the Democrats had a very unpopular candidate who took months and months longer than expected to lock down her own nomination. 
Had 30 years of political baggage, stored in a closet with more skeletons than Vincent Price and more scandal than a Profumo romp. 
Who couldn't get out the vote, even among Hispanics and women who had been subject to constant Trump abuse and or threats of deportation. Even going as far as promising to build a wall to keep them out once he'd booted them from America.  
Who never managed to explain why she deleted 30,000 yoga class reminders on her private email server or where her millions of dollars mixed  in private-government-charitable companies came from.  
Who offered nothing more than a status quo, third term Obama, with a bit more war. Who refused to even debate concerns on immigration or the direction of the economy. 
Who exuded a sense of elitist entitlement. Of self virtue and self righteous preaching and ivy league disdain for any opposing illiberal views.
Who seemed to believe should be President of America because she was a woman.. and had waited a heck of a long time.. and it was her damn turn!
 Someone so unpopular that a rich TV host could come from nowhere. Say anything he liked, no matter how discourteous or outrageous. Stand for office without even the support of his own political party. Alienate half of America and have western democracies debating in parliament whether he should be banned from ever entering their countries, and STILL beat her..
That might have had something to do with it.

UK prospects improve with President Trump

So that was fun, wasn't it?


The men at the train station in London today were apologising for both the severe lateness of the trains and also the US Election; really?


In good news for the UK, the welcome fall in the Pound is now unlikely to become a further rout which will mean we may have optimum inflation - some but not too much.


Luckily, we dumped Cameron who had insulted Trump and instead in PM May have one of the first to phone and congratulate him. Looking forward to that trade deal. Meanwhile in Brussels there must be itchy feet about President Le Pen next year.


Plus, as ND notes below, we have lefties crying for our sport whilst I have a tiny sum to collect from the bookies later.


Twitter is awesome at time like this.


And two of my good friends are likely to get senior jobs under Trump which is great; my only regret is I did not take up the chance to meet him in January when offered!

A Treat In Store

Can't wait to see the blubbering Beeb and Grauniad pundits swing into action.  There will be some cut-out-and-keep moments to savour over the next few days.

They don't like it up 'em.

Open thread.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Say After Me: GDP Trumps GHG ...

While we await the outplaying of the Ameri-farce, here's an amusing story:
Greece set to win €1.75bn from EU climate scheme to build two coal plants
Yes, and lignite plants to boot.   Lignite! 
"You couldn’t make this up,” added Imke Lübbeke, WWF Europe’s head climate and energy policy. “The ETS was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but it now risks being abused to facilitate investments in the new coal plants, which would operate well within the 2060s. This would violate climate targets and is in no way compatible with the leadership role the EU aspires to play in global climate policy and carbon markets.”
Well, there you go.  (In case you were wondering, I didn't make up "Imke Lübbeke", either.)  Law of unexpected consequences, plus my old motto of GDP always trumping GHG.  And this coupled with two other Grauniad stories this week:  hydro power turns out not to be 'clean', and wind turbines are conducting a massacre of bats.   

Life is never as simple as we hope, is it?  We feel their pain.

ND

Monday, 7 November 2016

The EU are going to dictate Hard Brexit, our hyperventilating politicians are myopic poseurs

The Fuss over Article 50 is something to behold really. How something so meaningless can come to dominate  the national psyche, even if only for a few days?


The 'Trigger' of Brexit was the referendum, from which there is no re-tying of that Gordian knot.


The Prime Minister will have an easy majority in Parliament to pass any Article 50 Enabling Bill, it is as though everyone has forgotten the large Labour Leave support and DUP support. It is really not in doubt. Plus, failure is a confidence matter for the start of a general election that the current Government would walk with current polling.


However, the real reason it is a nonsense is the posing of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn about Single Market access and such. None of this is in our gift. We voted to Leave the EU, that means the single market and all the other pieces. The only way to keep Single Market Access is to, err, not leave the EU but to stay in all but name.


There is no mandate for this and, moreover, that is a worse position to be in than either staying or leaving fully. With leaving we go gain control of the future, by staying we keep the status quo (for now), half leaving means we get all the bad stuff of EU bureaucracy and none of the political control


The EU nations are determined from everything they have said so far to make it either a stay or go negotiation. Perhaps hoping that stance will force a second referendum or that the punishment beating handed out will deter others from the same path.


What our red lines and negotiating positions are is being really over-analysed in the current febrile environment. Once Article 50 is enabled, it will be a full exit from the EU, bar minor stuff like police information sharing. The EU won't have it any other way.


As usual, our politicians are playing on their hopes about they think people voted for. Vox pops in the country show clearly whenever I see them that Brexit voting people knew what was coming; it is just the metropolitan elite who cling to the hope that somehow that is not so. Neither do these wets realise what having the EU on the otherside of the table means.  It means business, it means walking away.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Weekend Post: Drew in Oman (1)

Back in the mid 80’s I found myself soldiering in Oman for a short while, as mentioned in a post a few days back on the subject of Baluchistan. Anon asked me to elaborate, and here we go.  I don’t claim any of this is up-to-date, because I haven’t been back for a long while; so it’s in the past tense accordingly.  Also, I wasn’t there on a UN fact-finding mission or writing a doctoral thesis: I was there to assist our ally the Sultan maintain the integrity of his realm, and only know what I saw or was told.  If anyone reads something and thinks, hey, that’s not correct, then – do tell ! 

So - draw up a sand-bag, swing the red lamp, and harken to old Drew

Intro: the Benign Dictatorship - a Bit of Background 

Britain has had a very longstanding relationship with the Sultans of Muscat from the days when Sinbad the Sailor was pirating against our India trade, and plenty of Brits have been down that way over the years to help the Sultan out. ( For example, rather unexpectedly the RAF Museum at Hendon has an interesting exhibition on airforce links with Oman, including film of a fly-past put on for the Sultan back in the ‘30’s.)

In the post-war period, things hotted up when the Sultan sought to extend his reach from the coastal strip he traditionally ruled, further inland: he was after the oil being found there, naturally. In so doing he came up against the local tribal leaders (supported, it is said, by Saudi and US interests to the west, who also wanted the oil: the border on that side was vague, just a dotted line on the map). It wasn’t plain sailing. However, the trusty Brits weighed in on his side and, well, fortresses made of mud don’t really stand up to strafing from Hawker Hunters (see below). But the tribesmen retreated to the high Jebel, and couldn’t be dislodged. Inevitably it fell to the SAS to do the job, winkling them out cave by cave. The northern Jebel thus pacified (and given protected areas somewhat like Native Indian reservations), the Sultan lay claim to all of Muscat and Oman. 

"... cave by cave."   In the foothills of the northern Jebel
This worked more or less satisfactorily during most of the 60’s, until communist insurgents based in the former South Yemen (confusingly, to the north of North Yemen) started taking a crack in the south of Oman, where the border was also still just a dotted line. Once again, airpower and the SAS were pivotal in sorting things out, after a coup against the Sultan by Qaboos, his son, who encouraged some much-needed modernization in all departments, including the military.  Brits, inevitably, were well to the fore.  Qaboos bin Said al Said still reigns to this day. 

By the time I got there these major disturbances were a thing of the past, and the residual aggro was a lively (but little noticed) border dispute with South Yemen: no communism involved, just the usual neighbourly land-grabbing I wrote about briefly before. There were many Brits knocking around in the Omani military: some on long-term secondment (especially in the airforce), some taking the Sultan’s shilling directly. There were also quite a few Brits in the northern coastal towns on business – mostly energy, though the Sultan had a (misplaced) fear of the oil running out, so he encouraged the precautionary building of tourist-industry infrastructure. This one could see in the form of fine but lightly-used coastal highways, large dusty hotels only occupied on the ground floor and first floor, and the remarkable Al-Bustan complex, of which more anon. But very few tourists indeed, at that time: the visas just weren’t being issued. 

Finally, there were quite a few Brits in the Christian cemetery, just to remind us it could be for real.

"... quite a few Brits in the Christian cemetery ..."
The Sultan ran a fairly relaxed, not-quite-secular country. Booze could be bought openly and legitimately, and consumed in private or in licensed bars. Plenty of the Omani officers drank: I was the only British officer in the garrison where we were stationed but there was Fosters on tap. Islam was the official religion, but Christians were fine, it was Hindus that weren’t countenanced (idolatry). Oman is very sparsely populated so a huge immigrant workforce was required to maintain the standards the oil-rich Sultan aspired to for his country: Pakistanis, flown into Seeb to hand over their passports and complete a tour of work - mostly menial. There were some unexpected sights: for example, Tuesday was motorway-cleaning day, meaning you had to watch out for chaps with brooms dashing out to sweep the carriageway. No lanes were closed for this exercise. The number of itinerant workers was a state secret: and since it was pretty obvious they outnumbered the locals by quite a multiple, you could see why. 

But everyone seemed pretty happy. Away from the ‘coastal strip’ (60 km between Seeb and Mutrah), everything was dirt-poor: why, then, no beggars? Because that would be a disgrace to the Sultan: if anyone really needed alms, they would present at a Post Office and be given some. (Open to being abused?  No – the Omanis themselves would have been disgraced if they did that to their monarch. A similar honour-code prevailed in recruiting the soldiery, as I’ll recount in another episode.) The phrase ‘benign dictatorship’ came unavoidably to mind.                      (to be cont ...)

ND 

The village of Tanuf, a rebel headquarters in the Jebel campaign.  The building are of mud: the RAF unsportingly shot them up.  It’s been left in that state as a reminder.  But the complex and ancient irrigation system (falajes) had been carefully repaired; and Tanuf Water from a local spring is the Perrier of the Gulf.  Indeed, Perrier owned a bottling plant there! 

Photos © Nick Drew 2016

Friday, 4 November 2016

Uber's challenge to the courts

Image result for employment tribunalCU suggested on Monday that Uber's challenge to the now employed status of its self employed drivers will pass easily through the courts. Once a sound judge has a think about it.And with expert advice. Sound judges have also ruled on Brexit. With a rather contentious judgement.

Having attended employment tribunals for many many years, representing the employer, I am not so sure. Employment rulings have baffled me. Going into one, despite preparation and legal advice, and having a full dossier of facts and figures, was always a lottery.

For a weekend competition, here are some examples.All are HR, or actions against no-win-no-fee firm's, if not necessarily tribunal ones. See if you can guess whether the action brought was successful or not.

CASE 1 - Young girl lost the tip of her finger shut in a manual  fire exit door. Defended by the insurance company. Doors signed as OK on a monthly H&S check just days before.
 C - Received apology from company. Told to seek legal advice elsewhere

CASE 2 - Store manager fell from a ladder and suffered bruised ribs and shins. Claimed the ladder was defective. The ladder had been signed off as 'in full working order' the previous day. By the person now making the claim that it was faulty.
 B - Received apology from company and awarded £8,000 damages.

CASE 3  - Young lady suspected of theft was asked by a male supervisor to lift up her top and drop her jeans to show she hadn't hidden anything underneath it. No item was found.
F - Received no apology and no compensation.

CASE 4 - An employee was observed by a member of the public in a 2nd floor display window.
The male employee was having ..erm..lets say ..a  private wonking session. The female member of the public asked for compensation for what she had witnessed. 
 E - Received apology from company. No compensation

Case 5 - A member of a retail staff made anonymous telephone calls to fire services and local council claiming that the building was unfit for work and in breach of fire regulations. Both were rejected by the officers who attended. Same employee made 7-10 other false allegations over the next 15 days about other workers.The management. human rights etc etc. Employee was dismissed after 20 days service, {including 7 days sickness} after three HR meetings over the previous weeks, as 'unsuitable'. 
Claimed unfair dismissal.
 A - Received £32,000 in damages.

Case 6 - Employer was asked by a manager to do a task. When he asked 'why us?' {he was in a group of chatting warehouse packers} was told "because you people are not doing anything."
The ethnic employee brought a case for a racist remark. The  words 'YOU People' he claimed, meant -You Black People.
The group being spoken to was of mixed ethnicity. The manager asking was mixed race himself and married to his Jamaican wife.
 D - Received full apology from the company and compensation about £300 in vouchers.

Match the outcome to the case.

A - Received £32,000 in damages.
B - Received apology from company and awarded £8,000 damages.
C - Received apology from company. Told to seek legal advice elsewhere
D - Received full apology from the company and compensation about £300 in vouchers.
E - Received apology from company. No compensation
F - Received no apology and no compensation.

Edited now - Results by each case. A fuller explanation in the comments

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The UK is not a democracy

A clickbait headline to hopefully boost the C@W coffers but a serious point. The High Court's decision that an invocation of Article 50 needs parliamentary approval should not come as a surprise. 

After all, the UK has a constitution, and in its simplest form our comstitution is that what Parliament says, goes. Not the government, not the people.

The mistake arises from the point that the legislation setting up the EU referendum did not say what would happen if Leave won. Fairly obviously, had Remain won then nothing would have changed and we would have carried on as if nothing had happened. But Parliament did not agree what the process would be in the event of a Leave vote. Parliament could have set this out but chose not to, for whatever reason. We don't have a general rule that a referendum trumps Parliament, although of course Parliament could introduce one if it wanted to. 

The point about a parliamentary system is that only Parliament can overturn legislation enacted by Parliament; and our membership of the EU and the enforcement of EU law and procedures derives from UK legislation. 

If the government was allowed to invoke Article 50 we might easily be in the absurd position that according to the treaties we had left but according to Parliament we were still a member, meaning that we still used EU law in our courts (where relevant) even though we no longer were invited to council meetings or European Parliamentary sessions. 

Lots of people are saying "how dare the courts overturn the will of the people?!" but that is nonsense. The court is simply re-stating the obvious: that the leaving process must have a real legal basis.

It is now for Parliament to do its bit. Its options seem to be:

- pass a quick Bill giving the PM the power to invoke Article 50
- pass a complicated Bill invoking or allowing the PM to invoke, and setting out the consequences of leaving (by way of the proposed Great Repeal Bill, for example)
- to not pass anything and create a crisis, or force an early general election.

The government may quite like an election to be forced on it, as I have speculated before. How would Labour fare when half of its candidates represent areas which voted to leave but who have campaigned against the views of those areas? What would Jezza put in his manifesto on the issue? Would the pro-Remain parties field unitary candidates to try to rally support for a Remain majority?

The Tories could create a solid Tory manifesto and potentially win quite well on the back of it, playing the Brexit Means Brexit card, as well as grammar schools and other popular measures.

Open dicussion thread.

MasonWatch

I haven't suddenly developed a paranoia about the denizens of Great Queen Street.

Nor a fixation with Paul of that ilk.  But I do find him a very interesting character with a lot of fascinating stuff to offer, re-hashed marxism and all.  He's clearly wrestling mightily and imaginatively with the 21st century in all its turbulent novelty: and he's also (like George Monbiot / unlike Polly Toynbee) the sort of leftie who cannot dodge the need to admit when some thesis he's adopted has clashed with the Facts and is plain wrong.

And now he's joined Momentum! (another phenomenon that interests me a lot).  This may be a mixed blessing for them, because he's already telling them exactly what to do, at some length.

Well, that's their problem, I am sure they will enjoy the dialectic process.  However, for anyone disagreeing with the above assessment of the man, have a read of Postcapitalism and the city.  Or Find each other and act! 12 principles for a neo-Bevanite left.**  When you get a minute.  Or two.

ND 
_____________
**he does rather enjoy telling people what to do ...

UPDATE:  someone else is interested in Mason, too 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The caring, sharing economy

Whoever coined the phrase "the sharing economy" is a genius. The basic concept is that people "share" their resources, and earn a few quid in the process. Something which might otherwise be unused or under-used, such as a spare room, is put to work for a profit. 

Of course, there is nothing really new about this, but technology has made it all an awful lot easier. It was perfectly possible to rent one's spare room out before the advent of Airbnb, but Airbnb brings together hosts and guests smoothly. This potentially increases the number of hosts and guests. Lower barriers increase trade.

George Osborne was a big supporter of the sharing economy. For example, he increased the "rent a room" threshold significantly, taking a chunk of room-let earnings out of tax. The UK has also so-far resisted the kind of nonsense being imposed in Berlin, where property owners are dictated to by the state as to what they can and can't do with their own property.

Airbnb has been accused of pushing up rents in London and other cities, by shifting the balance between short-term holiday lets for tourists and long-term rentals for permanent residents. Maybe, but the main problem in London and other places is an overall shortage of housing. I suspect that supply and demand have increased in the sharing economy, so the impact on prices is more difficult to calculate anyway. And in the new export-oriented era, surely we should celebrate making our country a more attractive destination for visitors?

In Paris, where they take a very different view on what people are allowed to do with their money, an entire industry of buy-to-Airbnb has cropped up - precisely because the authorities have tried to stifle a more regular buy-to-let industry. So once again, a well-intended rule has pushed people "underground".

Ultimately, the sharing economy is just "the economy": the system by which resources are allocated, hopefully as efficiently as possible.