Commonwealth Future

Commonwealth flagA great sporting event has been taking place in Glasgow.

The 53 countries that form the Commonwealth of Nations have all had the chance to compete. Today the Games are halfway completed amidst great joy. Scotland has put on a good show.

The Commonwealth does everything we should expect from the European Union. It has a long history, brought together by a colonial past and a common language. Together it covers a quarter of the earth’s land and includes a third of the world’s population.

With the 1971 Singapore Declaration all members are dedicated to the principles of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade.

It allows Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth, with16 members of the Commonwealth recognising the Queen as their monarch. The position is symbolic, representing the free association of independent members, the majority of which (32) are republics, and five have monarchs of different royal houses (Brunei, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, and Tonga).

This binding association has considerable advantages bringing together nations from across the world. It has survived many difficulties, and has been brave enough to exclude members who failed to abide by its principles. Nigeria, South Africa and Pakistan have been excluded in the past. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 and withdrew in 2003.

It has tremendous cultural and trading potential, only some of which has been properly recognised, let alone exploited. It’s surprising that the UK Independence Party has not understood its potential as a viable alternative to the European Union. The combined economies are in excess of $9 trillion giving it enormous power if it was to be exercised.

The Games in Glasgow show the warmth and tolerance that can be shared amongst people. The crowds naturally support their own teams but are ready to show their appreciation of the efforts of others. This year has seen the inclusion of disabled athletes integrated into the event. This has been very popular and will hopefully lead to integration elsewhere.

This Commonwealth shows that people are all the same. We have the same aspirations and dreams even though our abilities may vary. It provides a model for co-operation that must be encouraged. At its simplest it is far harder to pull the trigger against a supposed enemy who has been your friend.

There have been some touching tales. A young female boxer, representing a remote string of Pacific islands was taken to a local gym. Someone noticed she had no boxing boots. Her coach explained they didn’t have money for specialist items, promptly new boots were bought for her, and she was given boxing training and support. It was heart-warming to hear the roar of applause given to a severely disabled runner who was left way behind the field. He achieved a personal best time, perhaps spurred on by that support.

Luckily politicians have not get too involved in these Games. Perhaps that is a sign. Left to their own devices the people can work and play together. They do not need politicians.

Meditating on our economy

green economyLast week I was at a Zen Buddhist sesshin organised by Rev. Koan of No Hand Zen, held at Ringsfield Hall, near Bungay.

A sesshin is a week of meditation, which within Soto Zen means sitting still in a formal setting. Two ordained monks and a number of Buddhists who had taken jukai; lay students who had received the Buddhist precepts.

Where possible the week was spent in silence, not an easy task for some people. I acted as Tenzo, ‘the one who makes offerings with reverence to the monks’. I was the cook, although the Zen Monastic Standards state “Putting the mind of the Way to work, serve carefully varied meals appropriate to each occasion and thus allow everyone to practice without hindrance.”

Time had been spent collecting together the ingredients needed for the week. In Suffolk we are lucky to have Maple Farm where the Manager Beff grows a wide selection of organic vegetables, with hundreds of happy chickens providing eggs.

Getting away from the ‘normal’ world is an wonderful experience. Everyday troubles fall away. Immediately I relaxed by not having to deal with the stream of tragedy and mayhem that the media regards as ‘news’.

Serving three meals to a group of people every day brings rewards, and it made me think. We are all persuaded to give up a large portion of our lives to work, too often for someone else, invariably having the cream of our labour taken by the government in taxes.

Talking to friends all had said they couldn’t stop work. All said they had too many bills to pay. All were running themselves ragged trying to keep solvent. Too many were really broke but sustained by forms of credit.

We have lost the distinction between money and wealth. We all have an economic pathway, work is an essential part of most of our lives. It has become increasingly so in recent times with both partners in a relationship required to work, often leaving their offspring to be looked after by child-minders, the long-term consequences are leading to a breakdown in our social structures.

New dangers are emerging. Human labour has been one cost in the production process yet there are now signs that it is replaceable.

Greater efficiency and automation are just two factors that reduce the need for labour. Coupled with that is the continuing growth of the world population, and in England immigration levels that apply dangerous pressures to our fragile economy.

Globalisation allows access to labour, with very low transport costs allowing cheap goods to become easily available. Plastic has replaced many components that once required care and skill to produce. The advantages of agglomeration has found large firms absorbing small companies, and the growth of multinational corporations who now have undue influence upon national economies.

We must never forget that our lives belong to us, as individuals. Too often we see our leisure time stolen away to meet the demands of an employer and the government. Work is no longer a way to utilise and develop faculties, to give pride to a person for a job well done. We have become flexible, meeting the needs of others, wage slaves who can be scrapped at leisure.

There are other ways to live your life. We need to recognise that work forms our character. To be proud of your achievements is an essential element in your well-being, and in the health of the nation.

The current measurement of a standard of living entirely dependent upon the acquisition of ‘things’ is shallow and has led to our country’s debt, with interest payments now running at over £1 billion a week for the government, with some suggesting it now totals over £4.5 trillion.

Add to this gloom is that about 50% of British companies are now foreign owned. That inward investment does turn us all into wage slaves. We work – our profits go abroad. Yet our government is intent on selling off more of our national assets. It does not make economic sense.

In England our national spirit has been eroded. We are no longer proud of being English. Our history is largely forgotten. Our land and assets are handed over for a little money, always insufficient to pay off our debts.

Localism is part of the answer. We need to look at the labels on everything we buy. Buy English products first, British second, the Commonwealth third and then Europe. International companies must be forced to pay proper taxes. Our local independent producers and suppliers can provide the lifeblood our economy needs. Spend money in our local shops, employ local contractors who use local people, who then spend their money locally. It is not cheaper to buy from abroad. To do so costs us jobs and increases our debt.

That’s just a first step to our recovery.

To get there we have to knock sense into the heads of our politicians, too few have any real commercial experience. In this county of Suffolk 85% of the workforce is employed by companies with no more than four employees. Those small businesses are our lifeblood.

BBC is Dying

bbc is dyingThat we will soon lose the British Broadcasting Corporation is now more than just a rumour raised by the awkward squad. Several factors are making it increasingly obvious. At least it appears likely if you look at the signs.

Daytime television is now beyond ridiculous. There is a paucity of talent and the schedule appears largely unchanged from week to week. Programming choices show that viewers during the day are hardly considered. The schedule rarely changes and the present selection of shows is contemptible.

The audience at that time of day is likely to be elderly or housebound so BBC1 TV sets out to exploit that group of people. ‘Sell your house darling. Move to the country. Retire to Australia or somewhere warm. Before you go sell your antiques.’ Then add a touch of danger. A silly little man, once known as a secondhand car salesman, warns of house security. Another highlights the dangers of stepping outside your front door. Helicopters land on front lawns to spirit accident victims away. We are shown the sordid undergrowth that infests our cities.

They all help to promote insecurity.

‘Move to the country darling. Houses are cheaper there. Yes, you will need a car. No there are no shops. The doctor is miles away and the locals are smelly.’

There is a small army of egotistical presenters of these shows, most of whom are now looking antique themselves. Are there any old items left hidden in attics that haven’t been churned through these programmes? It shows how little pride we have in ourselves. Antiques are old. They were made by experienced craftsmen now long gone.

The makers have died and so, very often, have the skills. We now buy disposable plastic substitutes from abroad.

When do we hear about our brilliant young folk and what they are doing? The vibrancy of creation is ignored as money overrides everything. How much can I make takes over from usefulness or delight in craftmanship. Short-term profit has replaced sustainability and pride.

Daytime TV is a disgrace. The evening programmes are not much better. Repeats Rule OK! Once you have a formula and a set of popular presenters the producers can set off for even more exotic places with a full film crew. Presenters of anything vaguely scientific can be seen walking along the skyline, frequently there are deserts, mountains, or jungles as they hack towards the traces of ancient civilisations. Too often the only shots are of presenters walking away from camera, or entertainingly walking towards camera. The worst shots have the presenter standing still whilst the camera slowly traverses around them.

Such programmes don’t need video, nor do they need foreign travel. They could be more entertaining with a good audio script fronted by lots of pretty pictures. Especially during the day. The decrepit daytime viewers like pictures.

It is tempting to accuse Beeb folk of being too middle class. Their images of ordinary people ensure we have a bewildering range of accents, with story-lines that reveal just how stupid the hoi polloi really are. Lowest common denominator TV may produce high audience figures but the years have shown our population has become submissive and will tolerate rubbish. Just look at the soaps, some show our world is constantly arguing, in conflict with neighbours, and spends a fortune on alcohol.

BBC Radio is expensive. Not quite sure why that should be the case. BBC Radio 4 spends £91 million a year. All BBC radio costs £650 million. That’s a lot of cash. Of course, there’s all the technical bits, and they tend to cost money when purchased by the BBC. Digital radio is a failing joke but the BBC hangs on, unable to cut its losses. The average community radio station, and we now have over 300 with broadcast licences, spends about £65,000 a year. A local BBC station, and we have 44, has 45 staff and spends millions. Yet BBC local radio stations only broadcast for about 13 hours a day, with the same old presenters, and a music playlist of 300 tracks specially selected by the management.

The BBC relies upon the Licence fee for most of its income. Over 98% of households have a licence. It’s a criminal offence to receive live TV broadcasts without a licence. Last year 181,880 were prosecuted. That is 12% of the workload of our Courts. Two-thirds were women, probably because they were at home when the inspector called.

In addition the BBC sells its products abroad through a number of marketing companies. That income is falling, from £222 in 2011 to £155 million in 2012. Is this one measure of the growing disenchantment with BBC programmes?

One small gripe is BBC World Service. It is a superb marketing vehicle for our country. It is trusted, and listened to because it provides unbiased reports. That is changing. There is now a regular slot called ‘Boston Calling’ which promotes the United States of America. In addition far too many US programmes are broadcast by our state broadcaster. Our writers will not find space for their short stories to be read as too often you’ll hear an American voice with a story that does nothing to support the British way of life. Should that be a reason for selection by a State broadcaster? Is that why we pay our licence fee? There is too much content provided by USA.

Europe – have you heard about Europe? Probably not. The BBC ignores 450 million of our neighbours, many of whom are intelligent and stimulating. When given the chance we respond with enthusiasm. Denmark is one of the happiest places on earth. Even when they send us dire detective stories we are receptive and entertained. The USA murders 33,000 people every year with guns. It is a juvenile delinquent. Yet the BBC is obsessed with US news and content. Is it just because they speak English? If that is the case we need more content from our old Commonwealth partners. They speak English.

The list of complaints could be endless. It is best to finish, but there is just one more gripe that eats at my soul.

Every morning BBC Radio 4 has an ‘In Business’ section about 6.15am. This never talks about business it is just updating information that will assist the unproductive to make more money by buying and selling shares and commodities. It forces us to think globally whilst half of British commerce is sold to foreigners. That tactic will see our workers subjected to the whims of foreign owners, turning us into a nation of wage slaves.

That’s the nub of the question. Does the BBC realise what it is doing? Is the lack of attractive programming, the endless repeats, the American influence, all a sinister plot.  The BBC Charter will be renewed in 2016. Without a doubt the present government, if it regains power, will privatise the BBC. It is already happening. More content is to be externally produced. Sports programming is allowing advertisers access all the time. Stadiums, equipment and players are plastered with the ephemera of marketing.

Instead of paying a licence fee perhaps we should all become shareholders of the BBC. It makes a profit selling abroad. Shouldn’t we share in that revenue? Is it time to realise that the population, as a whole, can make better decisions than the privileged incompetences who currently pick up huge salaries – for doing what?

It’s a discussion that should be started now before the leeches drain us dry and open the door to those wishing to exploit us as consumers rather than support and encourage us as individuals and citizens of a great country.

70 Plus Group

I can remember your swinging hips walking down Kings Road, Chelsea. We never met. You the dolly in a short skirt, me in leather, a rocker on a Triumph. Yet we came from the same world.

We had fun. Children of the War we were full of vigour. Now was time to rebuild a shattered world. There was a future.

Those were the days.

What’s happened to the world since then?

pensionToo much, and most of it needs money.

What good is money? Does it really make you happy to have a better mobile phone than your friends, or be a Clarkson lookalike in a Lamborghini?

You are not people. You have become the Exploited. The Consumers. Forced to work harder and longer not because of real need but in a ridiculous chase for the latest. That’s what you believe but it is not true.

Growth is a huge carbuncle eating away at our souls, and the precious world we live in.

You work to make profits for fat slugs, to have half your income wasted by faceless bureaucrats, who become more arrogant and demanding every day.

You can keep that world. It’s yours. We leave it all to you. Carry on as you are today and all will be destroyed. You can tear at the earth, kill all around you, spray noxious chemicals, turn all the land into deserts.

Our hope now is that we will not be here at the end.

For now we plan to have fun.

girls in fieldWe come from another world. We know the fun of walking through a field of grass counting all the different types, spotting the poppies, vetch, daisies and the buttercups, gloriously yellow that showed we liked butter when held under our chins.

We’ve seen birds swooping overhead as they chased hordes of buzzing insects. We know that a dock leaf will ease a wasp’s sting.

They were the days when summer holidays from school lasted for ever. We jumped on our bikes, played in the street with our friends, drank Corona from returnable bottles, and were always home inn time for meals. Simple meals that hungry kids enjoyed, or at least rarely complained about. We ate what our Mum had made.

That was yesterday. We have given you tomorrow. What shall we have for ourselves?

hopscotchFriendship. That’s vital.  Understanding. That’s helpful. Support. Increasingly that’s a need as we face the inevitable with a smile on our faces.

Our pleasures are simple.

We will keep them that way.

A Great War?

The AhgroveIt is a beautiful sunny morning. A day when I realise that my part of the world is just perfect. With the sun starting to warm I stroll to the bakery at the end of my road to buy breakfast rolls. On the way I exchange greetings with neighbours. It is the start of a perfect day.

It is right to remember that many people do not share my good fortune. For me to enjoy such pleasures there have been many sacrifices.

This year we remember the start of the Great War 1914-1918.

It was a stupidly unnecessary war during which millions died, and millions more lives were seriously damaged as a result.

Today there is friendship shared by the people whose relatives were destroyed by conflict. New arrivals to our countries shout about their rights and the plight of the refugee. We sympathise whilst wondering how many of them realise the heavy price we paid for our freedom.

My view was reinforced by listening to Diney Costeloe, the author of The Ash Grove, at the Felixstowe Book Festival. Her book is a fictional account of the effects of the First World War on a small village. One reviewer said, ‘It is a story full of history, dedication to duty, love, comradeship, compassion, sacrifice, and misunderstanding; telling of the futility of war, and the bonds between classes, ranks, and family members across generations, and the affect of war and separation on all of them.’

It is a sadly tragic story that is a reflection of destructive force of wars. Wars which have rarely solved anything.

We need to reconsider the logic of threatening and then killing another person. What has ever been gained?

This book bites at the very core of us all and the messages it contains must constantly be brought to mind.

Too often politicians forget the social impact of their decisions. I’m reminded of the statement that General Douglas Haigh, the man responsible for the Somme Offensive of 1st July 1916 when 20,000 Allied soldiers were killed on the first day, a total of 60,000 Allied casualties, making it the highest number in history. It is alleged that he said, ‘We will win the war, despite our casualties because we have more men than they do.’

Thanks Haigh. Thanks Scotland for giving us such a fool. Let’s all celebrate with a tot of Haigh’s whisky.

That war started for no good reason, yet it left 22,062,147 casualties on the Allied forces and 15, 404, 477 for Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey. Over 65 million service personnel were involved with over half (37 million) killed or wounded. What crass stupidity!

Yet shortly afterwards the warmongers were allowed to exercise their lust for power yet again, with further loss of lives.

Remembering those dreadful times in Europe is why I want us to stop posturing and start to work together, with enthusiasm and companionship, to make Europe the best place on this earth.

It is already, all we need t do is make steady improvements.

Diney Costeloe books at Amazon

Books and the Economy

Felixstowe bok festivalThe Felixstowe Book Festival took place last weekend. It was the second year of the event, which is already growing in popularity and attracting both speakers and audience. The organisers, notably Meg Reid, are to be congratulated and hopefully they will continue enabling both the town and the event to prosper.

It raised some interesting questions for me, some which moved outside of the publishing industry. Writers are often isolated folk, hunched over screens in darkened rooms. In most cases they are independent entrepreneurs who dedicate much of their lives in pursuit of a dream. They want to write, indeed most will tell you they have to write.

The moving hand having writ must move on. For too many that’s where the real problems start. They need help if their creation is to be read by others. For nearly two centuries manuscripts have been submitted to publishers, who have selected a few scribbles from a growing pile of submissions. It was not always the case. Writers once employed publicists to promote their books, paying them a small commission. That quickly changed as publishers became rich they were able to pick more than one cherry from the submissive trees.
Of recent years publishers have learned that real profit comes from just a small number of titles. The trick is to select which ones. That’s become much easier as the costs of production to an ever-widening market have been steadily reduced.

Today publishers could take a chance, and publish more titles. There is less risk. In some respects that’s true. The independent publisher could once survive by publishing a small hardback edition aimed at public libraries, in the hope that a paperback publisher could take it on if sales showed it was popular. Libraries have largely stopped buying such books.

Twenty years ago this country published perhaps 100,000 titles a year, that’s now risen to 160,000. Demand is still there, and may even be growing. Not all of these titles are published by the established industry, there’s a growing army of small publishers, often authors just publishing their own work.

The conventional response is that self-published books are invariably rubbish, poorly written, without any editorial control, and badly produced. That may be true, but as any young damsel will tell you, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before a Prince appears, but that will not stop her looking.

In many cases that is a lie spread about by publishers scared that the need for their services is being eroded. The author is concerned to produce a good book, and can now find support from independent editors and proofreaders, skilled folk who were dismissed by the trade and forced to work on short-term contracts.

Today we have the technology. The author has much more freedom. A simple computer will allow word-processing, from that ePub software can create an ebook to serve the growing band of ebook publishers. If it looks worthwhile the ebook can be turned into a printed book, best printed by demand (POD). Such books are only printed once they have been sold. Offered for sale or promoted through internet book shops, the authors blogs and web sites and through social media, an audience can be reached. On Amazon ebook downloads now exceed book sales.

Our bookshops have been reduced in number, and those that are left tend to stock titles produced by the agglomerated collection of imprints which are now owned by about seven large corporations.

Such companies are obsessed by money. Perhaps, somewhere, our literary heritage is being considered but mass appeal is much more likely to be attractive. Besides books are now cheap to produce. A marketing campaign is followed by careful monitoring of sales. If expected sales figures are not quickly achieved that title can disappear from the shelves. Large distributors tend to have book pulping machines to deal with such economic failures. Not that they will always disappear from the system. POD can often step in to help support the backlist, titles for which there is no longer any real demand.

The structure mirrors that of much of the retail trade. Supermarkets have replaced independent grocers and specialist food suppliers, be they butchers, bakers or delicatessens. Haberdashers and the wide variety of general suppliers are now all pushed into retail sheds, and private transport is needed to buy ten screws when you only wanted one.

One of the economic problems that England must overcome is our dependency upon retail trade. Making us all buy more ‘things’ than we need makes for a weak economic system, one that is over-reliant upon the idea that ‘growth’ is really important. Strangely enough growth is at the heart of our weak financial systems. We only have one planet, growth assumes that we already have at least two. If the whole world consumes at the same rate as the USA we’d soon run out of, well, everything.

We are now told that we must save money. We have all behaved badly and must now pay the price. Another viewpoint could be that the bankers are really to blame. They stood on our street corners handing out loans and mortgages like sweeties. Debt was OK. You can pay it back later. So we could, for a while.

Remember that none of this money has ever really existed. Loans are just a line of figures on the banks accounts. The loan is just a number, plucked out the air by the bank. All that really exists is the debt incurred for lending this fictitious sum and the consequences of failing to repay the interest when due. That demand falls upon the hapless debtor, and we have seen houses repossessed, businesses fail, just because a bank recalls a loan. A loan on a sum that never existed in the first place.

The Gold Standard, which ensured the banks must be able to cope with demands for cash, was abolished in 1971 by pressure applied by the USA, and the $USdollar became the new standard. You may recall that in 1968 Prime Minister Harold Wilson bought as much gold as this country could afford, flying it in to airfields in Suffolk, and storing it in the Bank of England. He was condemned and soon removed from office.

Now we are told we are poor yet the British government has spent at least £850 billion so far bailing out the banks – where did that money come from? In addition quantitative easing (QE) has watered down our currency by introducing £375 billion in ‘new’ money. The pound in your pocket is not worth what it once was.

Incidentally the QE cash was given to the banks who were to lend it to industry. So far from every £1 given to the banks they have lent just 8 pence to industry. Most of that money has been given to speculators. The Stock Market has improved but that market does not make anything, except profit for the small number of investors who can afford to gamble. They are just leeches stuck on the backsides of British workers, sucking out energy, destroying creativity.

Now over half of British industry is foreign-owned. Inward investment is heralded as a lifeline. Such investment sees profit leave our country and our workers dependent upon the whims of international conglomerates. It creates a nation of wage slaves.

It’s not enough to moan and groan. We need alternatives.
A discussion about those will follow tomorrow. You’ve read enough for today. Make yourself a cup of tea and have a lie down.