Friday, 27 February 2009

Pension Remuneration Formula

It has been reported that former RBS chief, Sir Fred Goodwin, should not recieve his £650,000 annual pension after presiding over the near bankruptcy of that bank.

On the other side of the debate Costigan Quist argues that this is what you get under a system where executives get to set their own rates of reward. Therefore, Mr Quist concludes, it would be wrong to make an example of one individual who popular opinion takes exception to for following the current set of rules.

Instead, how about changing the calculation* from


to something along the lines of


If we want accountability then those at the top must be made equally liable, in accordance and in proportion with the responsibility of their role.



Wednesday, 18 February 2009

How to recycle arms and alienate everybody

This is an oddly fascinating story, so I'll provide a broader selection of backlinks for readers to peruse.

The BBC broke the story and it appears they quickly passed it around the semi-official chain of anglophone diplomatic links to Voice of America and the Australian state broadcaster.

The UN then provided confirmation to international news agencies JTA and AP after they picked up on the reports.

Taiwan has an obvious interest in seeking official UN approval, so was quick off the mark in providing a write-up, beating the typically responsive and vociferous Italian press by a short nose.

Ha'aretz and YNet followed up with a short delay after presumably consulting political advisors.


On first glance it seems a fairly straightforward case of a poor and embattled people taking advantage of any edge to tip the balance in their favour.

However it should be blatantly obvious that a militant sect within a highly politicised society would seek to obtain any arms or munitions which they could turn to their purposes. In any attritional combat situation scavenging unexploded bombs for their detonators, casings and payload is military logistics 101.

The varied response from all the different sides to the news that Israeli incompetence is supplying the munitions which go into creating the missiles they wish to prevent flying over the border is more than informative - even within that small selection of reports the tonnage of reclaimed material varies between 5 and 7.5 according to the level of threat that is wished to be conveyed. a whole warehouse full of unexploded munitions has apparently gone missing from under the guard of Hamas in Gaza. The stockpile was awaiting UN specialists to arrive before it could be neutralised and made inoperable.

This means that Hamas were either lax in maintaining supervision of the cache while it was in the warehouse and/or complicit in the removal. Therefore the conventions of the ceasefire have been broken and Hamas is delegitimised by either being out of control or by breaking the terms of their agreement.

Yet this is to forget Israel justified dropping these self-same bombs as a preventative measure. And now Security Minister Avi Dichter has repeated the case that Hamas is being supplied with weaponry from smuggling through cross-border tunnels in what appears to be a move to support more preventative measures against further attacks which have been enabled by the first round.

Maybe this is what you call chutzpah!


From my point of view this conflict remains principally about the power relationships between people and the states they are represented by.

Israel is the dominant Middle-eastern power and still has the strongest economy and military forces, so any failure to achieve peace is Israel's failure, whatever policy course is decided upon.

Israel does face an existential dilemma about it's role in the region and it's relations with neighbouring states, but this will not be resolved by any amount of violence. The longer the conflict retains its ability to cause bloodshed the greater the diplomatic cost to Israel will be, for although they may win each battle the war is not over until hostilities are concluded.

Israel simply cannot afford to expend any additional resources of goodwill by committing further mistakes: a more mature and responsible foreign policy is becoming more urgent by the day.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Global Communications Collapse Scenario

Apparently 58% of the world's 1.2bn email users send messages every day and yet while one in four companies said they would experience reduced productivity if their email system failed only one in 17 can meet regulatory compliance [1, 2].

So when I read something like this (about the biggest recorded crash between two orbiting satellites) I start to have visions of how quickly things could go wrong.

And that's just email - let's not even start considering telephony, broadcasting, meteorological surveying or other communications networks, all of which are highly dependent on satellite network infrastructure.

The biggest problem with any collision in space however, is our inability to clear up afterwards. All the debris has to go somewhere and as it disperses so it gradually creates a cloud of smaller particle each of which can cause major damage to any other orbiting object (at over 1,000 mph a fleck of paint half the size of a grain of rice can penetrate several inches of bulletproof glass sufficiently to weaken the structural integrity of a space shuttle - glass which is designed to be heat resistant to over 1500C [reference]).

There are 17,000 tracked objects of larger than 10cm circulating around the planet - each with different paths and vector trajectories, which makes for some frighteningly difficult maths in calculating the chances of an impact - imagine trying to take off from a major international airport without any air traffic control, and then add in flocks of migrating birds.

When a collision takes place the debris scatters in a torus and migrates into a new unpredictable orbit with some reentering the earth's atmosphere where it burns up and other particles drifting off into outer space. And with only around half of the 6,000 satelites launched since the beginning of the space programme still in service that makes for a lot of space litter (picture the equatorial rings of Saturn made up entirely of obsolete technological junk) - every single piece of new debris increases the potential for new damage exponentially.

It is so easy to forget in the cosseted security blanket of capitalism just how tenuous this existence is. Until recently the European Space Agency didn't even consider space surveillance a priority and had to be informed retrospectively by NASA when a close encounter between a Chinese orbiter and a European weather satellite occurred.

So, does this all show a need for a universal umbrella organisation of space agencies to facilitate co-ordination between different systems, or does it prove how intransigent and unweildy state organisations are?

With the prospect of space tourism and commercial flights to the moon in the near future, private multi-national corporations clearly see space as the next frontier to be conquered, but is shareholder accountability enough to ensure sufficient oversight without any conflicts of interest?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Unemployment statistics disgrace

It has been announced that unemployment has risen to 1.97m, the highest in 12 years since Labour came to power, adding increasing gloom over the economic outlook.

The total rose by over 130,000 last month and represents 6.3% of the economically active workforce.

How hard the statisticians and bureaucrats had to work to massage these 'official' figures in order to keep them below the psychologically important 2m figure is beyond me, but it is completely wasted effort as they will surely bow to the inevitable next month if Ed Balls is to be believed when he softened up our expectations earlier this week.

The greater problem is the credibility of the ONS in the first place - after all, what is the point of having a reporting facility if it is debased by dishonest reporting? You might as well ask Sheila in the Post Office how things are going, except that the government has closed it down.

It's the same problem with inflation.

While at the Treasury Gordon Brown changed the measurement from CPI to RPI and thereby excluded things like monthly mortgage repayments from calculations of the national inflation figure. This meant inflation was reported at far lower levels than were experienced by mortgage-holders and helped contribute to the housing market boom... and we know where that got us.

Financial reporters have now countered this political manipulation by reporting on the different figures, as can be seen here.

So following on from the further reduction in interest rates last week, it is predicted that a zero interest rate could be on the cards as the Labour government enters panic territory in the search of economic good news ahead of a general election.

Instead of looking at Ed Balls and seeing a put-up job by his mentor and boss, maybe we should see criticism in the warning and a play for the leadership.

Still, I'm not certain any politician would be well-advised to take over from Brown if interest rates go any lower, as the only policy option left on the table at that point would be an inflationary policy of 'quantative easing' - at a time when a banking crisis, a credit crisis and a liquidity crisis are all combining with rising unemployment and falling consumption - could be a policy choice which actually creates the depression of the century.

So whichever way it can be looked at pain will have to be borne, either today or in greater quantities tomorrow.

And I'd rather resist the impulse to set off the chain reaction which will lead to a third world war, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Process monkey

I once remember hearing Gaby Rado say "If you understand the process, you can explain the result."

It was a formative revelation.

But that's an aside to this from his colleague.

Friday, 6 February 2009

A short history of camping and caravanning

In 1901 six campers pitched up in an orchard on the outskirts of Wantage.

Among their number included Thomas Hiram Holding, who had developed a passion for the outdoor life after crossing the American prairies with his parents in 1853, aged nine. Holding went on to become a founder and leading light of the Bicycle Touring Club in 1858. Years later, he took up the idea of 'cycle camping' with a friend and undertook an expedition in Ireland, which he chronicled in a book 'Cycle and Camp in Connemara'.

In this book he invited interested readers to get in contact with him, from which an initial Association of Cycle Campers was founded with 13 members. It was this group which organised that first night under the stars in idyllic Berkshire.

By 1906 the club had several hundred members who enabled the burgeoning club to set up it's first permanent site in Weybridge that year.

Disagreement about the purposes of the organisation led to a splintering into factions, as some members felt the variety of activities they offered should be widened. At this point The Camping Club was founded, followed shortly afterwards by the National Camping Club and in 1907 by The Caravan Club of Great Britain and Ireland.

When, in 1909, the Association of Cycle Campers and the Camping Club merged under the title of the Amateur Camping Club, and in 1910, with the National Camping Club, total membership had grown to 823 and Capt. Robert Falcon Scott (who would hold the post until his death in 1912 on famous Antarctic expedition) added immense prestige to the organisation by becoming it's first honorary President.

The Caravanning Club was equally successful in this period soon being able to claim 450 listed sites across the country.

The years of the First World War were a difficult time for both organisations as well as the whole country, but the experiences gained from numerous overnight outdoors trips was almost certainly of much benefit in helping improve the conditions of individual soldiers on the front line of the conflict. Indeed, The Caravanning Club contributed to the war effort by supplying caravans to the Red Cross - in 1918 50 vehicles arrived at 24 hours notice, which significantly assisted the mobility of the army, support and humanitarian services after German withdrawl.

After the war the National Camping Club changed it's name to the Amateur Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland and in 1919 recieved the influential backing of Sir Robert Baden-Powell who became the club's President and would combine this role with his promotion of the outdoor life integral to the Scouting movement until his death in 1941.

As the Scouting movement had matured and developed international wings, so too did The Amateur Camping Club. In 1933 the ACC helped found an international umbrella organisation (The International Federation of Camping Clubs (Federation Internationale de Camping et de Caravaning, or FICC) to confer the benefits of memberhip to those who wished to experience the outdoors while travelling across borders.

This outdoors movement had grown unstoppable and despite continuing legal challenges from landowners who resisted free access to the countryside and the 'right to roam', a series of mass trespasses (repeating the impact of the first on Kinder Scout [report] in the Peak District, organised from the nearby club site at Hayfield in conjunction with the Ramblers Association and a coalition of other politically inspired groups) finally resulted in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act [Wikipedia] .

Initially it appears Baden-Powell had attempted to integrate all forms of outdoor activity into a single structure setting up a caravanning, canoeing and mountaineering sections, among others. But with his grip unable to contain the scope of the organisation as various interests proliferated and grew this vision was never realised.

With the onset of the Second World War the militaristic overtones of the Scouts had reflected on the campers and The Caravanning Club began to revive, publishing the 100th edition of thee magazine 'The Caravan' in 1941, the same year as Baden-Powell's death. With the passing of it's dominant figure the ACC felt unburdened from it's association with scouting and set up a youth division, The Youth Camping Club.

The following years provided a massive impetus to get out of the overcrowded cities into the countryside to get away from the bombs and escape from the horrors and privations associated with war. Rationing was also less strict closer to to where food was produced, so the alternative of camping or caravanning was a far cheaper, accessible and more relaxed way of having a short break or holiday. This popularity was recoginized in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 which helped make it easier to set up a site.

In 1951 on it's golden jubilee the King, George VI, granted his patronage to the almost 15,000 members of the organisation. When he died the following year Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, was appointed patron of the now merged organisation.

Following successful lobbying to increase the speed limit for towing caravans (from 10mph to 40mph) the two organisations split again in 1959, since which time growth has continued almost unabated.

The Camping and Caravanning Club (it formally changed it's name from the Amateur Camping Club in 1983) surpassed 100,000 members in 1967, 200,000 in 1991 and 300,000 in 1999. It currently owns more than 100 permanent sites and 12,500 smaller certified sites in the UK.

Motor-caravanning began being introduced on a wider scale after 1967 and The Caravan Club now offers 200 sites and 2,500 certified locations in it's guide with specialist facilities.

Both organisations also offer listings and cooperate with a much larger number of affiliated independent site owners to help encourage enjoyment of the outdoor life. Having celebrated their centeneries they now offer a wide range of all-encompassing products including everything from rallys and tours to financial products like insurance. Both organisations are owned by members and run by members and their facilities and services are 'developed by people who share a love of camping and caravanning'.

Sources: The Caravan Club, The Camping and Caravanning Club.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Wen in Europe...

...does as Western politicians do.

Shock and amusement have followed in equal measure following in the wake of a shoe-throwing incident - in which Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was attacked by a potentially lethal object/almost forced to sniff the odour of a middle-class university undergraduate's footwear during a speech to an invited list of students at Cambridge University.

It is similar to the incident involving outgoing US President Bush where he had a shoe thrown at him during a recent press conference in Iraq, and taken together this perhaps marks a new shift in political protest (several years ago paint was the protest of choice, before cream cakes became flavour of the month, while recent evolution has seen a move to eggs and flour, suggesting the protesters ideas have got more half-baked with time...). It's possible to conjecture that their inspiration comes from Khruschev at the UN.

The event marked an enlivening interlude in Premier Wen's 'trip of confidence' to western Europe which has seen him lead the Chinese delegation sent to the World Economic Forum at Davos, a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels, as well as Germany and Spain, before spending three days in Britain.

It is perhaps informative that Premier Wen ("Less irascible and blunt than his hard-driving predecessor") seemed relaxed and unflustered by the attack, while (or maybe because) the heavy presence of security guards in his entourage attempted to block any pictures of the incident. My impression however, was that Mr Wen was more dignified - if less swift - than George Bush in his reaction (though the shoe in question appeared to pass further from its target, while also being made of rubber on this occasion) .

It is also reported that the shoe-thrower has since been charged. Protocol would appear to demand this, though it seems unlikely that any information on the exact nature of the offense will be released until the visit is over for fear of derailing the more serious practical discussions. So expect an insignificant charge to be dropped or dismissed at a latter date when the fuss dies down, or at worst a slight fine as punishment received (which would in any event most likely be paid by wealthier interests).

It is all part of the merry dance of democratic expression, typified by undiplomatic behaviour by bystanders trying to muscle in on the serious action.


The principle objective of the trip was diplomatic and economic, with the Premier visiting expatriate communities (such as in London's Chinatown) during specially extended Chinese New Year festivities.

The political focus however has not been on the protests regarding Tibet, the environment or the continuing abuse of human rights, as the economic downturn is now dominating attention across the globe.

While in the UK deals spending of China's $400bn financial stimulus package was discussed with expectations that it will cover deals for British companies in areas like aerospace and pharmaceuticals, though Gordon Brown's expressed ambition for trade between the two partners to double from $5bn per year currently to £10bn by 2010 suggests that he didn't secure a particularly large slice of the pie.

China may still be experiencing high official growth levels of around 7%, but the slowdown is taking hold even as the boom continues. While western consumption of mass-produced Chinese goods falls factories in the eastern superpower have been closing and there are reports of as many as 20m people could find themselves without work upon their return from the New Year holidays spent with family in the interior.

Internal migration is a big component part of the Chinese economy with an annual influx to the coastal cities of 5-6m additional workers from rural areas, but unemployment casts a historical spectre among a nation where hard work is valued highly (some would say excessively so and to the detriment of other virtues). Yet much of China's competitiveness is based on looser control of companies, many which pay scant regard to environmental concerns, local communities and the workers themselves. So when a downturn hits there is little protection from criticism for the political classes.

Minor disturbances as well as major demonstrations are a common sight in the country, with an estimated 510,000 protests (in 2006 alone) away from the spotlight of central showpeice arenas like Tiananmen Square or the Birdsnest Olympic Stadium - explaining why they go largely unreported. But this is beginning to change as the the internet has given citizens the ability to communicate directly on a much wider scale than before without official intermediaries.

Memory of the 20th Century civil war and revolutions still plays it's part in how reactions are interpreted and a breakdown in law and order on the streets remains closely related with disintegration of central authority and administration, but political action is an eternal human desire and is unlikely to go away any time soon.

So issues of censorship in China are extremely relevant. Reportage often lends a different and insightful perspective on current events, identifying and explaining the causes of potential problems - maybe a weakening Chinese economy will encourage introduction of the liberal safeguards to check and balance the current system in order to prevent total collapse when the country comes under greater strain in the future.

Our political leaders need to proactively move for beneficial reforms as the only sensible precaution against the worst that can be imagined because where calamities are concerned it isn't a case of if, but when.


I think this trip has allowed Premier Wen to show a slightly more human face to the west. Though respect and honour are highly regarded attributes, this can have the effect of distancing individuals when higher levels of engagement are needed to more firmly establish trust between partners in an interdependent world. The economic plans show that China recognises the challenges present, but now the leaderhip needs to show it is representative of the people by demonstrating a bit more of an empathetic connection.


James Reynolds has a list of interview questions for Premier Wen.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The guessing game

Some fun has been had and some time has been wasted in completing the political spectrum quiz and the political compass questionnaire, just as a variety of others blog writers (Jock, Alix) have done.

Just to be awkward I'm not going to be advertising my answers immediately.

People who've seen me about here and there may be able to say, but I'd rather play a guessing game: if ten people are prepared to guess in the comments below using their personal experience, the content of these web pages or any other comments I've authored elsewhere as the basis for judgement, then I am happy to unveil my results to you all.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


As a recent entrant into the blogosphere it is interesting to read the stats made publicly available by others.

LibDem Voice advertises 23,696 and Liberal Burblings 7,024 absolute unique visitors during January.

These figures are quite impressive, but nothing compared to the heavyweights.

Wikio does something slightly different and uses an algorithm of recent links between sites as a way of measuring the relative influence different blogs have.

So I've been looking at my own and trying to glean information about how to manage NYOOTW and Reading List better. It'd do your head in if you tried to go chasing numbers and compete on the same territory as the market leaders, so as part of my ongoing evaluation I'm convinced it is best to just keep trying to carve out a niche for myself in order to provide a space for self-expression.

The explosion of activity at Reading List has been a bit of a shock considering I only started it up as a means to for me keep in touch with the local scene, but a large number of other people obviously already think the same which means it has a clear and viable audience. I see some potential, but I need to get the balance right.