............................................Site Hassle...............Poppy Charade.............Technical Interlude............On the Beach................Two Documentaries



And on November 25, 2011:

Bush, Blair Found Guilty of War Crimes

A War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia has found former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair guilty of war crimes for their roles in the Iraq war:  http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article29815.htm

(Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pZxa0-IXl_U )

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The main item for this page follows the picture, taken ~5-mins walk from here. Swipe with mouse arrow to reveal the pond at the end of the track:

Escaping the Money FIX


“To me as a psychologist, it would seem that for many people seriously ill with psychic disturbances, the sudden loss of their fortunes and the destruction of their belief in the sacredness of money would be no misfortune but the surest, indeed the only possible, means of rescue…”

Hermann Hesse in ‘A Guest at the Spa


A warning from Banksy


- The Great BUYING & SELLING Fiasco -

All my life I've been suspicious of people who sell things. True, my very existence depends on people selling me things: food and shelter and clothes, for instance. But that doesn't mean I'm getting a fair deal.

I guess events in my early years are responsible for this sense of distrust. But not much has happened in my life to dispel it. In fact, experience has only consolidated the misgivings. Not that I think anyone else shouldn't get a fair deal too - including sellers. In an ideal world everyone in a transaction ought to emerge with a decent and fair result.

Alas, that isn't how the world works - or rather, it isn't how the people in control operate. Most people in my experience do play fair; but those who sell things - and those who represent them - are, with a few exceptions, a breed apart.

Back in the 1980s during the Thatcher regime there was considerable controversy over the first massive give-away privatisation – of BT. The government saw the sale as a success - what else when MPs and their City friends could make such a 'killing'? Not long after, TSB (then a ‘trust’) went on the market. As expected, the sale was oversubscribed; however, if you had an account with them you were given priority for buying up to (a measly) 1000 shares. Though, as ever, only the reasonably well-off had money to spare.

When I was a kid our family never really discussed politics - not overtly, at any rate. Even so, I was aware that my dad, who was from a working class background, was politically on the left - and was a lot more savvy and literate than most. Equally obvious was that we had little money, and lived near the limit of our income. This meant us kids were never spoiled materially, though nor did we ever go short of anything. So in an incidental way, I learned to be careful with money. And although they certainly weren’t naïve, I don’t recall either of my parents being over-sensitive to the risk of a swindle – as I’ve always been... due, as I say, to early experiences.

Dad once bought a set of ‘encyclopaedias’ from a travelling salesman. I remember the event well: of the salesman calling and showing us the books – which of course we all liked: 4 big red ones ‘The World of the Children’, 3 green ‘Science’ tomes, and 2 massive blue volumes of ‘Dictionary’. I think they cost ~£26 – a large sum in those days: ~1958. There’s no way I (as an adult) would have even let the guy in, let alone ponder the acquisition of his wares. Yet… yet those books were brilliant, solid with intriguing info and snippets of wisdom...with diagrams, cartoons, and extremely well-written, even grippingly for a kid (or adult… I have them still), and they kept me (at least) well occupied in dull moments for several years. 

I digress... so by the time of those aforementioned privatisations I was well into my 30s, and I guess without having to support us kids my dad had accumulated a few surplus quid. Either way, he bought his 1000-share allowance – which I remember thinking was a slight betrayal of principles. How often it happens that people relax their principles with age or in the light of improved circumstances. I think the shares were £1 each (I can’t be arsed to look it up), but a few years later, following the ‘success’ of BT, BG also became a victim of privatisation, and Dad bought 1000 of those too (or was it £1000 worth?). Subsequently, BG split into several outfits, ending up as: BG, Centrica, and National Grid.

When he died in 1998, my mum inherited the shares; and a few months before she died in 2005 she signed them over to me. My parents had helped my brother and sister a bit financially from time to time, as I too when needed, though maybe not so much, and perhaps this gift evened the balance?

Anyhow, at the time, ~Jan 2005, almost 7-years ago, the shares were worth ~ £6K. Now, 7-years on, at a rough calculation, they’d be worth about the same: TSB (now Lloyds) collapsed, while BG soared. 

Being somewhat socialist-minded, I took no interest in the shares. I thought I'd cash them in when I got around to it, then just shoved the certificates in a file with various other ‘important’ papers, and forgot about them. It wasn't until a bit over a year ago that I noticed shares and markets and related issues - which I found generally boring as well as more than a bit distasteful for their rip-off aspects - were being talked about on the radio and other media like never before. This reminded me of those certificates, and I decided to examine for myself precisely how the whole system worked: how was it that brokers and investment outfits (predominately banks) by dealing in shares consistently profited by multiple £££billions? How and why did the market fluctuate – apparently, so predictably (at least for those BIG investors and brokers) – and why are these outfits allowed to continually rip us all off like they must be doing…. because where else, I wondered, does all that dough originate if not from the mass of working poor? (The rich stay rich on these very proceeds, and there's not so many anyhow, so it clearly doesn't come from them). With a vaguely mercenary impulse, I thought (glancing at those certificates): Can anyone cash-in on this rip-off bonanza?

So I opened an account with an online dealing site, changed the certificates into their electronic equivalent, spent a few months studying the up-down movements of the market (and various companies), then began trading. Fine. At first it was fascinating….

I even dipped into a couple of books on the subject and read entirely Robbie Burns' 370-page ‘The Naked Trader: 2nd edition’. This is a well-written, comprehensive work on the many ways of trading, which shows the basic intended approach for financing successful industry and enterprise in the manner appropriate to western capitalism, as well as more doubtful methods like shorting and hedging, etc. It explains it all in some detail, including how to avoid bad investment (for instance: always check a company’s level of debt, and so on)…. etc. etc. but like all the other books, this contained no information on how the system actually works, nothing was explained about the mysterious edifice that controls it and keeps it ticking - and to which western governments are always so 'absurdly' subservient. (I put 'absurdly' in commas because to them there's nothing absurd about it at all).

In fact, to me the entire City looks now as it always did: not just a seething hive of greed and corruption designed principally for the wealthy elite, but a kind-of monstrous deity, an entity that relies on covert methods that remind me of Kafka's menacingly nebulous 'Castle’ as it appeared to K in the famous tome of that name. This aura of combined mystery and a kind of ominous grandeur is doubtless entirely deliberate. Even Robbie Burns hasn't tried to fathom it - or maybe he has and failed? But as a mere expert player, he has created his own website where he lists his investments together with anticipated and actual profits/losses, and invites readers to email legitimate questions – which I did:

First question: what, precisely, happens to the many £billions removed from the market when the index falls? Does all this money just sit idle in holding accounts, or what? (Each point of the FTSE is worth £250 million – ie, 100 points is equivalent to £25 billion). Robbie’s Answer (paraphrased): ‘Sorry, chum, I have no idea.’  Second question: I’ve often seen negative (or positive) spikes in trading charts that suggest a trader has made a massive sale (or purchase), causing a drop (or rise) in the value of a share, then re-purchasing (or re-selling) at that new advantageous price to make an instant substantial profit – what’s to stop this happening and when it does who exactly loses? Answer (paraphrased): ‘There are strict rules that regulate large trades, and penalties for those who fail to follow them.’ Well, that may be so, but how can that prevent consortia or group-dealing… ?

As I was saying, at first it was intriguing. Being an idler, there was no way - as Robbie suggests to do in the main section of his book - that I was going to research companies or otherwise faff about seeking then analysing information that interested me less than staring at a blank wall. So, as Robbie dedicates just one page of his tome to, I watched and played the FTSE 100 – all massive outfits that would definitely not go bust in the short-term (not even BP). And as I watched, they cycled, as they do, up down, up down, some virtually a sine wave. So I'd buy on a low, and sell on a high. Simple. I made a couple of grand in 6-months doing this. I looked at the long-term trend of a share-price and if the short-term was favourable too and there was nothing in the media (ie, like what happened with BP), I’d leap in or out accordingly - rarely staying ‘in’ more than a few days, so most of the time the money sat in a holding account. I was astonished how easy it was.

Well, so I made money - in the 6-months or so while I was doing it. Not a huge amount, true, because the investment was relatively small, and every time I bought, the price would drop (though never by much) – and then invariably, after a few days perhaps, rose above what I’d paid. Then I'd sell, and immediately the price would rise more, sometimes a lot, and I’d sigh at my impatience (or adversity to risk… though what risk, you might ask?).

But now I’ve stopped. 10 days or so ago I transferred the entire contents of that trading account into my bank. WHY? Well, I’ll tell you:

Supposing I was averaging a gain of £500/month - with four or five trades and with little or no effort? And in these volatile times, making dough from trading shares is easier than ever. When the markets are calm there’s not much change and the risk is actually greater for short-term dealing – so it seems to me. So why did I get out? ‘Get out on a high’ I thought, as I clicked on the ‘transfer’ button and the account went to zero.

Several reasons:

First, and maybe least significant, every time I made a trade I felt compromised. Millions of ordinary people are slaving away for a pittance and here’s me making dough from nothing. And ultimately that dough is being stolen from them. On top of that, the amount I was making didn't seem worth the trouble, I mean the time I spent weighing the odds, viewing the charts and prices, etc: I have enough savings, anyhow, if I need a new car, so why be greedy? And there's no way I'd ever make enough for a mansion, even if I spent all my time at it - which would drive me nuts anyway.

Second, when I told my sister a couple of months back what I was doing she scolded me – only mildly and only briefly; but on reflection I could see she was right. It’s precisely the kind of activity that’s bad for that inner essence that makes one who or what one is. Does dealing shares mean bad karma? Who knows... but probably it does, and that - if I was going to chuck it - should have been my primary reason.

However, it was the third reason that gave the most pressing grounds for ditching the whole sordid enterprise: a point came when I realised suddenly that I was thinking about little else. All my other thoughts were being forced into a shadowy background. The things I used to think about had been relegated to a back seat now and instead of concentrating on the reality around me or from time to time on some intriguing project or book or whatever else would normally occupy my brain, I’d be weighing-up issues like: "I wonder ...should I sell for £230 profit or chance it making a bit more?" (I always owned only one stock at a time, using the total investment), And I’d study the charts, then scan details of other outfits that were doing better, or which had dropped into a trough and would doubtless be soaring to another high any day soon…

Every morning, usually by ~09.30 at the earliest - since, again being an idler, I wouldn’t get up early for anything, not even this - I’d go straight to the share sites, ie: http://www.livecharts.co.uk/share_prices/FTSE_100_shares.php  for live data or http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/q/cp?s=%5EFTSE for good historical charts; and there were numerous other sites too that show variations: of data in many forms and dividends with ex-dates, and so on and so forth. Then I’d watch for a while as the prices moved. Sometimes I’d be watching them for an hour or so, flipping from one chart or list to another. Then I'd maybe go out for most of the day, the afternoon at least - all the time ruminating and mulling over the shares - and the first thing I’d do upon return would be to get back on those sites to see how my stock was doing, or which fairly predictable and undervalued stocks (according to my calculations) had dropped enough to make a bargain buy.

In short, it was dominating my life. I was thinking about it most of the time, and try as I did, was unable to keep it out of my head. Even when out in the countryside this crap would be meandering around my brain stopping me from really enjoying myself. If I shoved it out, just minutes later it would suddenly pop back into focus. Obviously, I wasn't cut out for playing with money; that seemed certain. I'd never gambled in my life before - if that's what it was; not in any serious way - and here I was going at it (at least, in my head) like someone possessed.

OK, I was making dough, and I could have made a lot more if I hadn't gone out at all but had been pathetic enough - and able - to have sat with it all day, being present at the most opportune moments: ie, after the 10.00 hiatus, prices would often stabilise, then do a leap or maybe a dive around 15.30, say, or even earlier, and could be influenced by the Dow when it opened around 13.00...then another big change might begin around 16.00…. just before close. But I was rarely present for these additional opportunities for making a killing...

You can see how one can get hooked though. It’s an addiction beside which smoking and alcohol look pathetically tame and innocuous (even, perhaps, for its effect on one's health; since whatever else smoking does, I'd be very surprised if it caused an increase in adrenaline, which playing with money probably does... the little thrill of looking at a rising share value that you own: to sell now, or to wait; will it suddenly take a dive, or soar to new heights?). In fact, I reckon now that quite apart from the morality of it, dealing money is probably about the most insidious addiction of all.

I remember my last full-time job in London at TVi (a television facility-house) in Wardour St just off Oxford Street. That was, I think, ~ 1991? But at the time there were all these colossal posters everywhere announcing:

‘There are only two things in life that people really care about: money and sex – in that order’.

I can’t imagine now what they were supposed to be advertising, but that statement was dead right. And I’d become a victim. If I'd fallen for some dazzling new lover... I'd probably have been no less distracted and preoccupied.

I hadn’t bothered much at first, only later did I get drawn in, about six-months ago – but in under a year I’d become an instrument in that very entity 'The Stock Market' that I detested more than anything on the planet, and which - together with all the othe 'stock-markets' around the world - I'm certain is destroying the planet. "Go for profit," declares the market, "profit is everything, go for growth.... and do it NOW...."

There's often a point on the scale of things where a concept that works well at the micro level ceases to function, so at greater levels it becomes not merely a liability but a threat even to its own existence. Imagine a bee the size of an eagle... As I’ve written/implied elsewhere on this site: any outfit that exists primarily for profit is potentially lethal. At a certain magnitude, how can it be otherwise? By allowing myself to become part of this monster I’d not only turned into a monumental hypocrite but a slave too, a slave to profit, to free money – money that someone somewhere has to earn (and not receive). And my excuse (which was entirely genuine - it's just that I let myself get diverted): to understand how the lousy system worked. Well, it caught me by the collar and hurled me into its clutches… until I woke-up a couple of weeks ago almost shocked to realise what was happening. It was like catching a software virus in the brain. Now, a bit richer, and a lot wiser, I still have no real idea of how that notorious 'den-of-iniquity' works...

For instance, if you click on that first share-price link above, then select and click on an outfit, you’ll see the chart for the day so far and beneath it several sales/purchases that if you click on the link will expand to a long list of recent transactions. Usually these are for just a few £thousand, but when I was last checking a share I noticed three purchases of >£12million, >£6million and >£2million in that one momentary list which changes every few seconds as trades are continually made. And that share, curiously after such massive purchases, then took quite a dive over several days so those investors would have lost out hugely if they'd sold then - almost certainly that share, being in the FTSE 100, will zoom back and beyond, though. But it was interesting that those big buys were insignificant. Which is why I remain mystified. Who or what is driving the colossal buys and sells that render even £12million irrelevant - a sum that would surely not have been traded lightly?

If at the top of that site you click on ‘live-charts’ you can watch charts for a selection of shares (or the ftse) move up and down in real-time by £billions in a few minutes for any one stock. The sums involved are enormous, far beyond what to me has any real meaning because what would I or anyone want with more than ~£1million – for personal use, that is, except to buy a flat in Chelsea? 

Do I miss watching/playing the markets? Maybe a bit. But I hate it more than I miss it (which I couldn’t say for roll-ups, kicked almost 7-years ago). I’m glad to say that, though, because it means I’m permanently free of the worst addiction ever: playing with money. I can’t call it gambling – which ‘shorting’ etc. strictly is, even if one hedges and never actually loses – because it’s quite easy to never lose; the gamble, if it can be called that, is simply of how much you might win? If you don't win straight away, then just leave it till you do. If you've bought carefully, you truly can't lose. Even BP took a while to even begin to drop on news of that Gulf disaster. But who controls it, and how, remains unanswered.

Now, happily, as before all this, my thoughts are free again to wander around many things; yet knowing now that if I ever did get close to the breadline, there’s always a way out…. ethical or not, survival is important! So long as one knows when to quit (before turning into a zombie!), because as is well known: The meaning of life is in the everyday living of it. (And conscience plays a part in that; or rather, freedom-of-mind).

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On Two Literary Documentaries

To Kill A Mockingbird At 50

A few days ago BBC4 transmitted a couple of documentaries on famous writers. One was a repeat from July 2010: 'To Kill a Mockingbird at 50' - of which I'd caught only the end of at the time, so this time I watched the whole hour:

"Marking the 50th anniversary of the influential novel To Kill a Mockingbird, writer Andrew Smith visits Monroeville in Alabama, the setting of the book, to see how life there has changed in half a century."

Several crucial conclusions could be drawn from this programme, which were strongly hinted at by Smith, but were not made explicit - maybe he thought to do so might hamper subsequent or other work?

Consistently over the decades since writing her famous book, Harper Lee has refused to give interviews or even to meet anyone from outside her local community to discuss her life, or her sole literary creation. Yet, at a communal dinner of her friends that Smith attended, one of the elderly women present bore a strong resemblance to pictures of Lee from fifty years ago.

In addition, and although her sister stated otherwise, it was revealed by the district attorney that Harper Lee's attorney father had defended a case closely resembling the one told in 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. It had been a unique case for her father since he was not a criminal attorney, but was employed on the case probably because no-one else had the nerve to take it on in the climate of the time, and because he detested racism. It would have been professional suicide for a criminal attorney to appear sympathetic to an accused black man. The district attorney also revealed to Smith that the case-file had disappeared many years earlier.

Almost as an aside, Smith added that reading the book he'd found the summing-up speech in the court by Atticus (the attorney) tedious and overlong.

MY CONCLUSION is that in spite of her excellent writing style, her fine introduction to and delineation of characters, the community and so on and so forth, the entire book is essentially autobiographical - especially down to the rendition of her father's speech, almost certainly taken word for word from the 'missing' transcript by the court recorder. And it's precisely this which explains why the famous author is shy of giving interviews or of any kind of delving into her writing of the book. I imagine that to permanently remove a case-file from the court records would be a fairly serious offence at any time.


John Steinbeck - Voice of America... see ALSO (on this site)

First transmission (I think). This was certainly superior to Smith's documentary (above). To be fair, Melvyn Bragg is among the most experienced and skilful presenters/producers/editors around. And however boring some of his 'In Our Time' radio programmes might be, this - as with all his TV work that I've seen - was as gripping and thorough as anyone could be in an hour. Concentrating on Steinbeck's four key works, as Bragg had chosen them, 'The Grapes of Wrath' appropriately took pride of place.

I was warmed, though, to see 'Cannery Row' as one of the 4 because in it, as Bragg mentioned, were the characters Steinbeck seemed to understand best: the loafers and dossers who were to be found scraping a living on the fringes of society, close to destitution, yet somehow unconcerned, even jocular, playful, contented with their circumstances.... while most people, as ever, aspired to surround themselves with possessions and wealth and the things people are usually encouraged by peer pressure, advertisements, etc. to value, and in their endeavours spend their lives under stress and worry, with little time to sit back and relax and enjoy life.... always busy, always toiling, always seeking that promotion, that executive position, that new car, 5-bedroom house.....

A truly edifying contrast if ever there was!

Highly recommended all..... come to think of it, considering events of recent years, I wonder: was Bragg's title meant to be ironic? I mean the 'Voice of America' bit... ? Maybe not; after-all, twenty years on, Steinbeck himself did a monumental switch... and supported the Vietnam war (as Bragg noted).

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.................4 shots of the moment - taken 22.11.11 (swipe with mouse arrow)

A Technical Interlude


After the hassle described below - together with the need for a new black-ink cartridge and a 2Gb memory-stick so I could try Linux - I called into a second-hand/repair computer shop here on the seafront. They had neither the right cartridge nor a 2Gb memory-stick (only 8 and above), but the guy working there was pleased to discuss some technical issues.

He told me he had a computer at home with 3 x 60Gb solid-state drives instead of the usual mechanical ones. They cost ~£100 each - he said. The mechanical ones are in short supply just now (hence more expensive) due to the Thai floods, which have disabled the massive hard-drive factories there. Are they the world's sole suppliers, I wondered? Who knows....maybe of cheap ones?

Anyhow, the guy said this computer of his would boot-up in under a second, and display webpages pretty-well instantly. Noticing how the price and capacity of solid state memory have been zooming in opposite directions, both favourable, during the past few years, I've been wondering for some while when finally mechanical hard-drives will become superseded by solid state?

Then the guy in the shop quelled my hopes when he said they had a lifetime of only a few years, less than a decade at any rate, since the NAND gates/junctions deteriorate with use and eventually fail. This, he added when I asked about them, must be true also of memory-sticks (though sticks would get far less use, probably, so last much longer): but what's the difference, I wondered, between so many kinds of sticks? When I look them up on Amazon, some are called 'Flash-Drive', some 'high-speed', etc. He didn't give a clear answer; maybe the faster ones are shorter lived - if the junctions are closer?

Anyhow, I told him about my recent re-installation of an original old 8Gb drive, and he said that due to more stringent manufacturing a decade ago an old drive from way back in 2000 would probably outlast my newest 80Gb one - though these days 80Gb is considered pathetically small. His 'other' computer, he went on, had 2Tb (ie, 2000Gb) of hard-drive, and the processor was water-cooled. That sounded a bit dodgy, I thought, water circulating amidst all that unprotected electronics. He showed me a photo of it on his laptop. The box was ~1 metre high and in the back several transparent plastic tubes could be seen running to where the processor was. It looked a bit Heath-Robinson, but he said it was fine. Leaning over the laptop, I noticed it was inaudibly quiet... did it have a solid-state hard-drive? No. This, he told me, was due to software that keeps the drive running as slow as possible to conserve power. (What about the processor cooling fan, I wondered silently?)

We discussed other stuff too... about how he was waiting for cheaper and better solid-state memory before installing it in other computers - which was a simple enough procedure, apparently... and about viruses and how they can be trojaned in data files.... and how ink-cartridges have a built-in memory these days so when you refill them they still don't work because they know how much ink you've used and are designed to make you go and buy a new one - colour and black together for my printer cost almost as much as the printer (so much for pointlessly burning-up the world's resources for mere profit!!!) .... what else did we talk about? Who knows, but I emerged feeling highly optimistic over the future of computers/robotics, etc.... I was definitely born too soon, I reflected, by several centuries at least.... so my musings continued as I wandered along by the sea towards the Old Town. And soon, maybe, (I mused), someone would come-up with optical processors immune from both aging and the need for cooling, and paralleled too in untold multiples.... dream on...


The Mad Poppy-day Fiasco

See last November's assessment, which stands for all time...

difficulties with site - update delayed

Sunday morning Nov 6:

Last week, due to agonisingly slow operational speed, I reinstalled the computer OS. Now its response times are fantastic, like new. The hassle, though, was enormous, which I guess now seems worthwhile - but only just.

To get dreamweaver working again properly was the biggest task, and it remains extremely weird compared with how it was before. Since I've never studied dreamweaver, but just muddled along trial-&-error, I'll just accord with the weirdness and changes - it's as if, after getting well used to someone and spending a year or so in effortless bliss, I have a new partner with a new personality an' all. I'll soon get used to it and learn to manage the quirks - such is the amazing adaptability of the human brain.

Important software such as 'Office' and 'Photoshop' works far quicker now after reinstallation of the OS, so I've disabled automatic downloads/updates - I've no intention of allowing all that pap to clog the system again, nor mad anti-virus stuff (it's like if the computer was a country it would be under Fascist rule). Better anyday, I reckon, to have smooth easy running and risk a virus (and another reinstallation). I did swap hard-drives, though - so as to keep all the data yet have a completely fresh start with a reformatted 'C' drive.

Now for a break - sunshine again at last....

Here's samples of the 10-galls and 5-galls respectively of vino I made this year from fruit off trees in the garden. On the left is from green plums (greengages?), on the right is from Vic plums which are a month later - both ~15% alcohol: