When Ken Livingstone made a prosaic – but totally insensitive – point that, because Hitler had espoused the concept of German Jews being transported to Palestine he was acting like a Zionist, he was rightly suspended from the Labour party. (Some feel that he should have been expelled.) When the UK’s ‘Joke’ Foreign Secretary makes a similarly prosaic point that Russia will make political capital out of the The World Cup, and then expands this to comparing Putin to Hitler, he remains in post.
Surely we deserve better than this?
The Ericle, in both his personal & political personae, is a keen user of social media in general and Facebook in particular. I think it is not unfair to say that I spend at least 30 minutes of every day on Facebook. I do not regard this activity as trivial or a waste of time, as I enjoy the interactivity that it affords with a wider community of people than would be possible in the non-virtual world. Since the dawn of social media, the ‘naysayers’ have taken swings at Facebook users with criticism such that they are narcissists, life-wasters etc. Today, with the revelations of the ‘alleged’ activities of Cambridge Analytica and the SCL Group, we are witnessing a broad re-visiting of the social media proposition and I am quite exercised that the issue does not become an excuse for a massive popular over-reaction in general which will in turn fuel the desire of regulators and governments, serving completely different agenda, to clamp down on the control peddle
Let me clarify what I think is at stake here, and what is not. There has apparently been a data-breach by Facebook and, quite rightly, Facebook needs to be taken to account for this and to provide assurances, backed by working practices, that it will do everything in its power to prevent repetitions. Whether this requires new legislation and/or regulations is a matter I am not sufficiently expert on to say. However, it seems to me that ‘privacy’ is ‘privacy’ regardless of its milieu and I would be very concerned if the matter requires new & separate legal instruments rather than an extension of the rules that are deemed to govern in general.
What I am reasonably certain of, is that it was not Facebook’s intention to have its platform used in this way. And what I am clear on, is that nothing in the core proposition offered to Facebook customers is flawed or misrepresented. This statement may horrify some, especially members of today so-called ‘snowflake’ generation. I have the freedom to post on my Facebook page anything that I want within the confines of the law. I choose to post family details, trivia, personal images and political opinion; the latter mostly under my Ericle persona. I choose mostly not to be confrontational and I try to take care that what I post will not offend or upset. I also chose to restrict viewings of my personal page to my ‘friends’, whereas my Ericle page is open to the public. How is this different from a similar activity undertaken in the non-virtual world and more significantly why should my personal behaviour differ on Facebook than anywhere else in the world? I don’t walk down the street with a placard announcing my bank account details, nor go looking for fights with strangers, so why would I choose to do this online? In everyday life, if a commercial organisation offers you a free service, you naturally will ask yourself what’s in it for them. Similarly, I understand that in accepting an account with Facebook – or for that matter, a free email address from Google – that the qui pro quo is that the personal details I chose to divulge are used by them to target paid-for advertising. You may think that Facebook & Google are getting more out of this deal than yourself and then if it really bothers you, you can choose not to play that game with them. However, what it is unfair for you to do, is to scream “foul” and claim astonishment that such things go in this world.
As some of you may know, I devote a deal of my energies to a voluntary group, (see here), that concerns itself with helping mainly older folk avails themselves of the resources of our 21st-century digital environment. For some digital exclusion has very real consequences to their lives, (I assure you that I, Daniel Blake is not ‘ a minority report’), while for most the internet is a very real antidote to isolation, Today’s disproportionate media assault on Facebook, together with other over-blown scare stories concerning the internet, brings with it commensurate disproportionate angst among our attendees. Moreover, this angst is the fuel used by commercial and political institutions to stoke the fires aimed at reeling back parts of our society that are beyond its control. It is exactly for this reason I am fearful that, in the same way in the UK the BBC is under continual attack, that social media has become a global battleground where we need to be very circumspect in our rush for judgment and take great care that hard-won civil liberties are not tamely given-up in the process.
The Ericle is by nature a positive thinker and I am not prepared to consign any year, let alone 2017, to the dustbin of history. Moreover, I am continually surprised how some/many/most people view their world in terms of a status quo and then project forward in a straight line, inevitably foreseeing doom – often of apocalyptic proportions. In reality this, surely, flies in the face of human experience from both the individual and collective perspectives. I have been on this pebble long enough to know that many predictions have not come to pass, certainly not in the form that many anticipated, and that many unexpected outcomes have occurred that have been scarcely predicted.
I am writing this as I sit here in London, on the first dawn of 2018, listening to the New Year’s Concert from Vienna’s marvellously ornate Musikverein. Barely 6 weeks ago, Mrs Ericle & moi-meme were enjoying a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the very same concert-hall. Taking my beat from the name of the excellent Robert Peston book that I received for Xmas, this was my WTF moment of 2017. Never has The Ode Of Joy, the adopted anthem of the European Union, seemed so nuanced. It spoke to me of my personal political rejection of the European agenda and I would not be completely honest with you if I didn’t feel some sense of shame. But hang on a moment: “O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!” Oh Friends, not such tones, let us be together in a joyful and pleasant atmosphere. Indeed!
I cannot recall a political time in my lifetime that has been so divisive. In fact, ‘divisive’ does not do justice to it – it’s veritably schismatic. And it’s not just within Europe, it’s everywhere and seemingly on so many issues. What concerns me most is that the polarisation of opinions seems to have fault lines that can be defined in socio-economic, even geographical, terms. I have had occasion to remark in 2017 how as a Brexit Referendum voter in North London I have often felt like “the only gay in the village”. That’s fine by me. I am no stranger to standing my corner of an argument. What really worries me is that the debates have invariably been initiated by an assumptive remark, often derogatory and dismissive, that any sensible person within earshot must be like-minded. As a result, I have found myself far too often in situations where I either have to leave a remark be or to take issue with their initiator. It’s not just the failure to understand that an opinion is different from an unalienable truth that bothers me so; it’s the oh-so comfortable certainty that the assembled company of the moment will be supportive and appreciative of opinion expressed. I am sure that this is happening in reverse in other parts of the UK; also in parts of Spain on the matter of Catalonia and in parts of the USA on the matter of Trump. This Dear Reader is, IMHO, the biggest malaise of our time. We do indeed live in ‘interesting times’.
Many commentators have tried to explain why we are where we are today. Most astutely point out that the nominal issues which divide us, are in fact, cyphers for a more broadly-based alienation that one sector of society feels for another. I am exercised by the fact how often these divides are almost always proportionate to each other; giving credence to the Hegelian notion that ‘actions and reactions are equal and opposite.’ However, his dialectic also spoke of ‘synthesis’; for synthesis there will be one way or the other. Whether this synthesis is abrupt & brutal, or progressive & peaceful, is within our own hands. The music of our times can either be an ‘Ode To Joy’ or a ‘War Of The Worlds’. A good starting point to ensuring that we veer towards the former, not the latter, I suggest can be found in the following words of another poet-musician:
“There are no truths outside the Garden Of Eden” Bob Dylan
Prosit Neu Jahr!
Today, Christmas Day, I picked up the book – Sapiens: A Brief History Of Mankind – that I have been reading for most of the year. The Ericle is indeed not the swiftest of readers but, even by my standards, I have spent a great deal of time with this book. However, in this case, this has not been a case of dwindling concentration or tiring eyes. I have taken my time willingly and purposively as a result of Sapiens being one of the richest and most illuminating books that I have ever picked up. Virtually every page yields analysis and insights, such that after a few page-turns I have put the book aside in order to dwell on thoughts that have been evoked.
I’d like to share with you a few sentences from Sapiens that I read this morning, of all mornings:
The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum. In contrast, most people today successfully live up to the capitalist-consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. How, though, do we know that we’ll really get paradise in return? We’ve seen it on television.
Wow! Wow indeed!
My reader may have noted that much of what I prattle on about is related to my perceived belief that we are living in times when there is a discernible disconnect between the lives we are leading and the palpable realities of the world in which we are living them. It is surely clear to any right-minded person that any of the 20th-century models, by which we have existed, are on many dimensions quite simply not fit for purpose. They not only will fail us, in all likelihood, they will destroy us. Sapiens expresses and expands on such thought most persuasively and brilliantly. The good news is that Sapiens has topped the non-fiction books best-seller chart for the whole of 2017; so, hopefully, there is a growing groundswell of people who have been affected and motivated by reading the book. If you haven’t picked up a copy of Sapiens yet, I strongly recommend that you do.
I am almost at the end of the book now, which is a fortunate thing as the sequel Homus Deus is on my Christmas wish list. At the time of writing, I have no idea whether this wish has been realised. This fact notwithstanding, I most surely intend to read Homus Deus in 2018 and I have little expectations of there being a happy ending! Merry Christmas!
On this day, 62 years ago, I went to Craven Cottage for the first time. This was the second professional football match that I had attended. On the 17th September I had been taken to see Chelsea, the reigning league champions of England, play Aston Villa. The game that day ended 0-0. Not seeing any goals was a huge disappointment to this 6-year-old. In those days, with Saturday afternoon public entertainment low on the ground, it was not uncommon to support a couple of local teams. Strange as it sounds now, many chaps went to Arsenal one week and Spurs the next. In the case of my father & uncle, they went to Chelsea & Fulham. So when, 3 weeks later, I was taken to Fulham and saw them score 5 unanswered goals against Hull, I declared that I only had interest in Fulham – despite their playing in Division 2 – from that day on.
I can’t say that I honestly remember too much about the Fulham v Hull game beyond the scoreline. What remains for me from my first Fulham match experience are the memories of what it was like going to a game at Craven Cottage. The record books show that 21,207 folk attended that game of October 1955. This was by no means a sell-out. However, compared to Stamford Bridge where greyhound racing took place until 1968, Craven Cottage was a very compact stadium. The closeness of the pitch, the presence of Craven Cottage, squeezed into the corner between the Stevenage Road & Putney stands and the stadium location on the north bank of the Thames further enhanced its intimacy. The record books show that the largest crowd to attend a game at Craven Cottage was the 49,335 that saw Fulham play Millwall in 1938. However even in the 1950s, with standing on terraces still at three ends of the ground, games often attracted crowds of around 45,000. It is very likely though that attendances were even understated not only for the purposes of tax-reporting but also because many youngsters like myself entered the ground not through the turnstiles but over them – for the price of a ‘tanner’ (sixpence) or so, which was pocketed by the chap at the gate. I can’t remember quite when an actual ticket was first purchased for my attendance but it was certainly not for a couple of years yet. I certainly can recall matches where the ground was so full that people were sitting on the ground on the small track surrounding the pitch. Also, the crush of people as the crowds exited the ground.
The next season, 1956-57 my father & uncle also abandoned Chelsea, ostensibly following the transfer of their favourite player Roy Bentley from Stamford Bridge to Craven Cottage. When Fulham gained promotion in 1959, they bought three season tickets in Stand G for the 59/60 season and my days of ‘flying’ rather than walking into the ground were very truly over. It is hard to imagine in today’s global village the relative scarcity of intimate information available to fans about their clubs. Sure the back pages kept tabs on the major news of the bigger 1st division clubs, but smaller & lower league mostly received a skimpy match report at the back of the Sunday paper. The only match shown live on television was The Cup Final, with short highlights featuring occasionally in news cinemas. There was some live radio coverage from the grounds on Saturday afternoons but it was the epic BBC Live Programme’s 5 o’clock Sports Report programme that brought the full set of Saturday’s results to football fans. However, a unique media feature of those days was the publication on Saturday evenings of a football-special paper – in London’s case The Evening Standard & The Evening News. At around 6 o’clock queues would form at corner shops, awaiting the arrival of the news van that transported these footballing tablets of stone to the faithful and the hopeful. From Monday to Friday football fans of smaller clubs survived without much more until Saturday came round again. I felt this sense of isolation more for the fact that we lived in North London and what football banter there was, in the playground of my school, centred on Arsenal & Spurs. Even when we ascended to The First Division in 1959, supporting Fulham was a very minority occupation in my neck of the woods. It also needs to be said that we weren’t supporters who went to the pub before & after the game; so even that sort of mingling with fans didn’t exist for us. So when, on Saturday afternoons, we settled into our seats in Stand G it really did feel like we were getting together with our football family. This is still the case today among season ticket holders – I now have season tickets at The Hammersmith End of the ground – but in those days the feeling was much more intense. I particularly remember the Greek fellow who sat behind my father, who chain-smoked throughout the game and who over the years burned many a hole in my father’s various coats. We also had 2 celebrities who sat right in front of us: Harry Fowler & Kenny Lynch. As I recall it, Kenny used to get quite annoyed when things didn’t break Fulham’s way but Harry was more laid back about things.
Looking up the Fulham v Hull match in Fulham Facts & Figures, I am amazed to find out that the Fulham captain Bedford Jezzard scored all 5 goals on that day. Perhaps it is the fact that Jezzard’s footballing career ended the following summer, after breaking a leg during a pre-season tour to South Africa, that I have no real recollection of him at all. The player that I do most fondly recall from that time, if not that particular match, was Johnny Haynes. Without a doubt, Johnny Haynes was Fulham’s stand-out player from those times and, most would agree, Fulham Football Club’s most famous son. So much so, that when we were blessed with our first child, few of my friends were totally surprised when we named Samuel Haynes. (How I got this one by his mother is a different story!). I have recounted this event and my feelings about The Maestro in an earlier blog entry, (see here); however it would be hard for me to overstate how much I adored him. At the time he seemed to possess a vision to pick out, and an ability to execute, the perfect defence-splitting pass. I sincerely believe that he was a man of true character as many have also noted and as reinforced via my subsequent contact with him in the 1990s. Suffice it to say that loving Johnny Haynes was the central plank to my earliest Fulham experience.
The match programme of that day noted that Johnny Haynes 21st birthday was upcoming on October 21st. I also note the influence of the Dean family on the club of that day: C B Dean (Chairman) and R A Dean & C B Dean Jr. as directors. But the tone of the club was very much set by the presence on the board of nationally-acclaimed comedian, Tommy Trinder. Both as a cause and effect, the tag ‘Joke Club’ attached itself to Fulham. (Some would claim that this holds true to this very day!) Despite being majorly unfair, there was something to this epithet, which has morphed into the well-used descriptor ‘Fulhamish’, as used to this very day. (See: Fulhamish podcast here). Today it refers mostly to the club’s ability to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, but in those days Trinder did milk his Fulham connection as part of his act, and very often in a not very supportive manner. However, there was, and is still, something about Fulham and its fans that is somewhat Quixotish – a smaller club tilting against the odds at windmills. Fulham relatively may not be a small club but compared to its ‘noisy neighbour’ and other giant London clubs it is, and is always likely to be, a poor relation.
How different my life could have been had Chelsea scored one single solitary goal on 17th September 1955! However, I am truly glad Chelsea failed to score that day and that Fulham’s 5-0 win, 3 weeks later, led me to be where I am today. Despite 62 years of lean pickings, when joys have been low on the ground and there have been many disappointments that still truly hurt, I would have it no other way. Sure things change, but I care to believe that Fulham are a unique club, who still do things in a way that doff a cap to the club I first encountered in 1955. We may never win the Premier League nor get to another European final but Fulham is my first, and remaining, true footballing love. COME ON YOU WHITES!
The Ericle & Son Of Ericle returned from Israel early on Tuesday, just in time to celebrate the start of the Jewish New Year on Wednesday evening. It was an odyssey that took us from Jerusalem (4 nights) to Masada (1) on to Safed (3), via Nazareth, and then on to Akko (1), ‘Acre’ in old money. Our fortnight ended in ‘Modern Israel’ via Caesarea (2) & Tel Aviv (4). It was a journey where one of our party was looking at Israel with a disposition to approve and the other was more disposed to criticism or being ‘objective’ as he would put it.
Ever since I was old enough to engage in ‘more educated’ conversations on the subject, I have found Israel to be both a welcome and unwelcome obligation.
Modern-day Israel, as legitimised by the UN mandate, came into being some 15 months before I was born. So, we kind of grew up together. As a child, I collected pennies to plant trees there. By the time of my bar mitzvah in 1963, Israel had already fought 2 major wars in pursuit of its right to exist. The Arab in invasions of 1966 (The Six Day War) & 1973 (The Yom Kippur War) straddled my time at Sussex University. Indeed my major, International Relations, meant that I had an academic, as well as an emotional, investment in the subject of Israel.
As a result of being a Jew in the UK, I have very often found myself having not only to defend the actions of Israel but also its very right to exist as a state. This is not the place to set out the myriad of dimensions to such multi-layered debates. This notwithstanding I would care to believe that, whereas I have agreed with most of what Israel has done in its national interest, I have also expressed critical opinions on such matters as the protracted 1993 incursion into Lebanon and the settlements policies. In such debates, though, I am always dismayed by the lack of sympathetic understanding for the policies of a country whose right to exist is contested by many of its neighbours & near neighbours. Moreover, I am continually astounded by the standards many expect of Israel, which are way beyond the practices of other countries and, in many cases, their own.
The Ericle’s one and only other visit to Israel occurred exactly 40 years ago. I was intrigued to find out how much the passage of time had changed Israel and whether this would affect my opinions in any way. I had heard that Israel was a much-changed country and this was clear from the get-go. In 1977 Israel exercised security practices that were not only unique but a quantum difference to those deployed elsewhere. On this occasion, the security check-in at the airport was no different from any other flight and once in the country, besides a couple of ‘pinch points’ such as The Damsacus Gate in Jerusalem and when we travelled through to Masada via the corridor that borders The West Bank, that I really did not notice an unusually high level of security. That is because, in broad terms, today security has become an international commodity. Israel has become normalised; in some ways because the rest of the world has had to share its values & concerns, in others because the country itself has grown & prospered and become more mainstream as a result. So what appeared as an under-populated country 40 years ago today has a density of population with a social infrastructure to match. All of this is not to say that a great deal of the country, especially the bit that is away from the Mediterranean coast, does not have singular features. Israel’s unique location at the crossroads of modern and ancient civilisations entails that it offers an unrivalled intensity of experience; especially when one considers that the country is scarcely the size of Wales. But you can get all this from any travel book of the area, with whom I have no intention to compete or compliment. However, I do want to offer a few words on what travelling to Israel means to a diaspora Jew, such as myself.
A sort of stasis exists for places in the world with ‘heritage’ and Israel’s Holy Places are no different. One travels to such places with a sort of pre-nostalgia, knowing what to expect and seeking the same out. There is change, of course. The Jewish part of Jerusalem’s Old City, which had been almost totally destroyed under Jordan’s stewardship has been majorly rebuilt since 1966. The Wailing Wall now offers an air-conditioned part where the devout can pray in more comfort. The basilica of Nazareth’s Church Of The Annunciation is modern, while Akko’s underground city is under on-going archaeological development.
As a Jewish tourist to the Jewish national homeland, I realise that one’s disposition to find affirming meaning in the experience is a self-actualising process. And yet, nonetheless, the Israel experience still gave me a true sense of ‘belonging’. On our first day in Jerusalem, on a pre-ordained track, I bought a ‘kippah’, (a.k.a. ‘ a yamulka’), a Jewish skull cap. On a whim, I put it on my head there and then and there it remained for most of my waking hours until we reached Akko. When this behaviour was, quite reasonably, challenged by my son, I was unable to come up with an immediate answer. But then it dawned on me. In London, wearing a kippur is a non-mainstream occupation; something that marks one out as being in the minority. In most of Israel this proposition is turned on its head (sic!). It’s not that I want to go about the place declaring my religion or ethnicity but doing so in a Jewish state enhanced that afore-mentioned state of comfortable belonging that I genuinely felt and really enjoyed. Not surprisingly in Akko, a predominantly Arab city, wearing my kippur seemed strange and I put it in my pocket and also in Tel Aviv, where wearing such head-garb is surprisingly low on the ground.
My kippur-wearing behaviour would seem to be a good example of the Social Cognitive Theory of learning, which equates individual behaviour to the observation of others within the context of social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences. In our visit to Israel 2 extremes of behaviour intrigued me greatly – that of the Chasidic communities in Jerusalem & Safed and, at the other extreme, the secular behaviour of Jews in Caesarea & Tel Aviv.
In London, the Chasidic community is largely centred in 2 areas – Golders Green & Stamford Hill. In Golders Green they are part of a larger Jewish community, in Stamford Hill they are THE Jewish community. However, in both cases, I believe it fair to say that to the outside observer, Jew & non-Jew, the Chasidic community seems a self-centred one, which keeps itself to itself. As a consequence, I cannot recall any meaningful interaction with a Chasidic Jew that was anything more than cursory. As a result, even though I have some knowledge of Chasidic beliefs & practices, I would describe the attitude of the London Chasidic community as one of ‘don’t bother us/we don’t want to bother you’. It was a revelation to see Chasidic people in Jerusalem doing the same kinds of things as most other people: zooming down the roads on electric scooters & bikes, eating out at restaurants and, yes, even busking Beatles songs. This was further amplified in Safed which, to all intensive purposes, is a Chasidic town. We arrived in Safed just before the inauguration of The Sabbath and I was amazed to witness the blowing of shofars all over town. The prevalence of Shofar-blowing all over Israel – even in Tel Aviv for all sorts of reasons – is perhaps the image of Israel that remains with me the most.
At the other end of the spectrum is the behaviour of Jews in the more modern centre of Israel of Caesarea & Tel Aviv where, if it were not for Hebrew writing, one could be hard-pressed to know that one was in a Jewish city. (A bit of an overstatement but I trust you get my drift.) Here, as mentioned, kippur-wearing is a minority occupation, pork is on some menus and The Sabbath finds most people on the streets doing things & enjoying themselves; (as opposed to Safed, which turned into a ghost town). One element of behaviour in Israel became another unique symbol for me of that country – the impatient blowing of car-horns when another driver does not react immediately to a light change or does anything at all that irritates. Initially, I put this down to an unkind thought that this behaviour says something inherent with regards to the Jewish personality. That is as may be but I have come to realise that this view really does miss the point. The sounding off of car horns is not different to the blowing of shofars. Israelis do it because they can!
This above example of social cognitive behaviour really has brought home why Israel reaches out to me, and most other Diaspora Jews. It is a place where Jews can be themselves. I am not saying that every Jew wants to go about the place blasting shofars or car horns. Nor that being a Jew outside Israel is particularly problematic in most places. In London I do not feel inclined in London to wear a kippur on a daily basis, (it’s not that important to me that I want single myself out), whereas in Israel it felt good to be doing so. And for me being in Israel as a Jew felt pretty, pretty, pretty (Xref: Larry David) darn good.
Shana Tova, Chag Sameach!
This is the first time The Ericle has re-published a piece from another source. It comes from THE SLOG, a brilliant example of what a blogging should be, written by John Ward with whom I worked in AdLand in the first half of the 1980s. John expresses, in his own inimitable style, many of the thoughts that I share but which I can not express half as succinctly as he does. I hope you enjoy reading it and, if you are so minded to want more of the same, there is a link to The Slog at the bottom of the essay
Ever convinced of its own unique immortality, the overconfident élite is in the throes of a gung-ho episode. Given the threats presented by empty monetarism, religious extremism, resurgent socialism, EU imperialism, consumer insolvency and a scientific step-change, this unaccountable optimism could not have come at a worse time.
Central banks are getting bullish about more rate rises, and withdrawing from asset purchases….except in Japan of course, where the BoJ doesn’t know whatTF to do.
Talking heads on Bloomberg and CNBC are treading a line that calls Western economies “not buoyant but certainly resilient”.
Corporate debt in China remains horrendous, but the PRC government says it knows this, and is “taking steps to contain the situation”.
Consumer credit across the Western world is now such that no economy can thrive without it, but low cost borrowing is not acting as a stimulant in the way suggested by the original monetarist script….which is, as we know, subject to frequent rewrites.
So too, bourses are – almost without exception – overvalued. Corporations have massaged their bottom lines (and thus share prices) and/or upped dividends, by borrowing cheaply under QE. Their costs have fallen as wages have either stalled (short term) or fallen in real value (long term). But lower personal disposable incomes mean lower levels of consumption and confidence.
Beyond these Sun-headline technicals (and to my old-fashioned mind, none of the technicals are natural any more) the left-field curved balls capable of evoking panic seem multivariate and ever-present. Another day, another North Korean missile test. Another day, another French cop attacked and London Tube station bombed by Islamists. Meteorologists are rapidly using up names to identify hurricanes, but this last six days, Irma has been anything but douce.
All this kind of stuff matters: I have spoken to US oil contacts who tell me the “no danger to oil equipment and the damage is affordable” as a narrative on Irma’s progress is complete drivel. And even if Kim Jong Un isn’t quite daft enough to actually fire a live missile at a US ally or territory, his potential for blackmailing his way into a share of South Korean wealth is real enough.
Similarly, no matter how much Brussels tries to dismiss the number of criminal and/or clinically mad migrants that have landed on EU beaches, the problem is real enough – as are the threat of Brexit, rebellion in Poland and Hungary, Italy’s deep malaise, Spanish independence movements and the continuing lack of dollar confidence in the eurozone. Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Not-Really-A-Nation address last Tuesday was a classic of delusional indifference, but the truly notable thing about it was the mauling it got among a broad selection of business media pretty much around the world. Equally damaging (for both the EU and UK) is the obvious stalemate in Brexit talks – a product really of EC bullying tactics from pinheads like Verhofstadt on the one hand, and a lack of tough confidence from David Davis on the other.
On the edges of the “Union”, the deadly mixture of Erdogan bombast and NATO energy obsession is made worse still by the dangerous nature of the Turkish economy, which Recep the Rabid is flooding with credit in an attempt to up his falling popularity ratings. Both his stifling of domestic opposition and steady shuffle towards a Caliphatic stance will be worrying Washington (even Juncker made his opposition to EU accession by Turkey clear) but if and when PKK bombs, economic disaster and diplomatic isolation lead to the Turkish führer’s fall, the consequences for energy supply and market confidence are obvious.
What we have overall here, I think, is a scenario in which monetarist can-kicking, religious lunacy, giant energy shifts and A N Other climatological/geopolitical/military/Sovereign instability ‘event(s)’ will sooner rather than later ignite a barrel of gunpowder among the sandy pillars of financialised globalism’s cellar.
But the most disturbing part for me is overconfidence among those casting themselves as “in charge”.
Many observers point at the ‘Vix’ index of perceived danger, saying its relative calm makes a mockery of imminent disaster scenarios. I don’t know why they say that. For top-end, muscle-bound savvy investors, there is no danger at all: they will be tipped off or nimble when the time comes. The levels immediately below them are either too young to know what a bust is like, or too trusting of those who claim normality is steadily returning. These are the folks the Vix researchers interview, but their views are almost worthless. Before every panic, the vast majority of commentators insist there is no need to panic. The Vix is a viable hedging medium, but it is most emphatically not a guide to the future.
This time, in fact, there are unique factors that suggest collapse on a size beyond the experience of anyone active in business today.
The stock market reset should really have come in 2004. After 2008’s expensive close-call, both US and European banking rules seemed set for tightening and overall reform…but it didn’t happen on anything like the scale necessary. Today, a great many influential banks and banking firms across the world have a model riskier than Lehman Brothers’ just before it collapsed.
The last really calamitous capital screw-up was in 1929. In 1929, there was no shadow banking sector, no internet, no mass-scale computerised trading, no credit cards, no energy shift, no globalist banking dominoes, far less investment credit provision, no euro, no Chinese debt corruption, no dollar-borrowed Brics, almost no serious property bubbles anywhere, no European Central Bank, and no fractional reserve banking nonsense at all.
Beyond those industry-specific absences, there were in turn no nuclear weapons, little known oil in the Middle East, no European Empire nutters, and – apart from the lunatic fringe of Iranian Ba’athists – no Jihadists armed to the teeth by globalised weapons conglomerates. America was isolationist, Japan was self-confident, Britain had a stable Empire and Russia was cut off by Stalin’s Socialism in One Country. As a word, terrorism existed but was rarely coined: there were, after all, hardly any terrorists.
Against this backcloth of delayed punishment and dangerous instability, Janet Yellen, Mark Carney and Mario Draghi maintain the myth that normality is just around the corner. While not quite as far off with the fairies as President Juncker, this unholy trinity is nevertheless attempting to prop up confidence by predicting gung-ho actions that smack of confidence. The only problem here is the smack in the face emerging nations are going to get when they step upon the debt-rake.
There is an enormous amount of dollar-denominated debt around – especially in South America. The problem is not sovereign bankruptcy, because that doesn’t matter….unless you’re Greece, and being beaten by the Brussels baseball bat pour encourager les autres. The problem is what the lending institutions do when governments renege on the debt – and Washington threats of carpet bombing fall on deaf ears.
The idea of raising rates aggressively may be justified by “the data”, but that’s because the data lacks emotional intelligence, and is blind to curved balls. As a policy, given the landscape I’ve been sketching out – it is divorced from reality. The Fed has begun to believe its own spin.
The generalised escape from reality has to be one of the most marked human trends of the last twenty years. Crazed religious fundamentalists, gamers, virtual reality fans, Leftist ideologues relaunching collectivism, Harder Left activists seeing Nazism in every act of individualism, economic free marketeers pretending not to see rigged trends and uncontrolled greed, celebs convinced that their fame has given them unique social insights, teenagers running off to fight for Stone Age belief systems, otherwise balanced people accepting flimsy evidence of racism, the constant desire to see the next two-dimensional politician as a Messiah, business news channels announcing ‘real recovery’ as if the $45trillion money-chucking exercise had never existed, finance ministers insisting that austerity can be an engine of growth…..the blacklist of delusional decisions is on a par with the rabid self-deception of mediaeval witch hunters.
That this torrent of cockeyed observation extends to the world’s investment markets cannot be denied. When stock values bear no relation to economic performance in general or margins in particular, when investment packages are related to seven types of junk, when hugely indebted Sovereigns are viewed as safe havens, when savers cannot get interest returns, when negative interest rates are accepted as a sane concept, when criminal deception is punished by tax bribes masquerading as fines, and when a tiny Greek surplus is lionised while an unrepayable debt is ignored….then you know that Reason has left the theatre.
So to sum up, Central banker overconfidence is to the fore, corporate and household debt is at an all-time high, any sense of real valuation has disappeared, élites and their media cronies are in chronic denial, geopolitics have never looked more accident-prone, ideological extremism is in the ascendancy, robotised techno-mathematical market trading has created a haven for false flags, there is a near total lack of fit between commerce on the ground and the scoreboards on the bourse, wealth disparities are greater than they were in France before the 1789 Revolution, and the legislators are making policy on the basis of rearview mirrors adjusted for focus on 150 year old socio-economic precepts.
But much of that wishful unthinking would be controllable were it not for the fact that humanity has, thanks to science and technology, reached a genuinely historic crossroad. Medical advance, high-quality robotic manufacture, and media digitalised by the internet have changed almost every rule there ever was….and there can be no going back. People are living longer, millions of jobs are disappearing forever, and both news and trading move faster than imaginable even thirty years ago.
Longer lives mean severe crises in the central government, pension and insurance sectors. Robot advance means high-pay unionised jobs being replaced by menial part-time jobs with little or no contract cushion. And higher speeds mean more confusion, less time to think rationally, and thus a much higher propensity to panic.
Less government spending, less consumer PDI or confidence, and built-in hysteria. This is not the stuff from which stable growth is made; rather, it’s similar in damage capability to the stuff of which icebergs are made. Sixty-five per cent of the Titanic’s progress towards the bottom took place in the last seven minutes: there is no such thing as a gradual panic.
Now the view taken by business opinion-leaders and their bought political Executives is that it would be counter-productive to talk too much about how the shock waves from inevitable collapse might create”collateral damage”. So I thought I’d leap into the deafening silence and toss a few spanners into the void.
I’m referring to small things like unsustainable African economies, the shock to Russia, the Arabs and Texas of oil being overtaken by multivariate electric energy, Chinese financial implosion, Japanese hyperinflation, a 50% correction in the FTSE, civil war in Turkey, gold at $30,000 an ounce, ClubMed insurrections being put down by a NATO-officered EU army, an Islamic nuclear atrocity, Australia being dragged down by Chinese confusion, and South America leaving the already battered global banking system with a “Can’t pay, won’t pay” dilemma.
It could be that none of these potential outcomes will be realised. On the other hand, it is equally true that none of them are fanciful…and as a range of possibilities, they are far from being exhaustive. (I have not, for example, even broached the subject of climate change)
The creeping rise of corporate, military and surveillance powers to a point well above the Rule of Law is now so obvious in Western societies, one would have to be both mentally and visually challenged not to be aware of it. Major governments long ago eschewed public service for the benefit of the citizenry in favour of Protection of the Realm panic, grovelling to the politically correct, and taking the Multinational shilling. The net result of that rising tide of sleaze and appeasement is that democracy has already all but disappeared (we vote for the chosen, not for those of our choosing) and personal liberty is under attack from all points of the compass.
So it won’t take much to achieve the deconstruction of the Western State model we once knew. In a world full of Islamists, nuclear proliferation, and élites examining every event for its excuse potential, military and security budgets will go up, nationalism will be condemned as disloyal to power-bloc needs, and opposition to further (wholly unwise) integration will be crushed with consummate ease….after a certain point.
The only way to control the poorer 50% of giant blocs like the US, the EU, and Arabia will be full-on fascism. The best hope for an alternative (at every level) remains cooperation between Russia, China, Black Africa and South America: but if you can see a liberal democratic tradition on that second list, do let me know.
In time, I suspect, globalist monetarism will overreach itself and collapse. More national entities will break up, and gradually the devolution of power down to more manageable levels will be affected.
If all of that sounds good, remember that the chances of it happening peacefully are zero. There will be, along the way, hunger, migration, and sovereign upheaval on an unprecedented scale. At various points, geopolitical war, genuine poverty revolt, and civil wars will occur. In some places, the outcomes will be good, in others, appalling beyond belief. The struggle between radical Islam and everyone else, in particular, will be rendered infinitely more bitter by the privations suffered among the majority of atheist infidels.
Political correctness, identity politics and sexual orientation rainbows will be blown away and replaced by an era of zero tolerance, hard cynicism and bigoted goading….all of it in my view regrettable, but entirely self-inflicted.
If major nuclear exchanges can be avoided, humanity will come out of it better equipped to deal and cope with reality – and hopefully allow focused science to reach a deeper understanding of exactly what reality is in the first place. But three generations later, all of those who suffered through the catharsis will be dead, and new idiocies will arise. Longevity, a freak evolutionary event and major climate catastrophes might stop the inevitable process of repeated dysfunctional species history. I’m not confident on that one; but then, I’ll be long gone by then.
I wrote this essay, after much digestion and soul-searching, not to increase the sales of antidepressants but rather in the hope that it might prove – one day, perhaps – to be a self-denying prophecy. But I lack even a fraction of the audience necessary to achieve that. And as the eighth decade looms, to be honest I lack the energy.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend. 😉
It’s strange how the mind works at times.
The Ericle & The Prodigal One are currently sitting in seats 13B & 13C of an Airbus A320 en route for Israel. Yes, they are exit row seats with added legroom which in easyJet terms must be all of 3 inches; however in this case size really does matter and those 3 inches are the difference between bruised knees & relative discomfort. Leaving home at an inordinately early hour for our 7.15 flight to Israel, we are now 2 hours into the flight. I’ve listened to some sounds, tried to sleep, read a paper, played gin rummy on my pad and eaten my breakfast biscuits. Amidst all this excitement, The Well Travelled One mentioned that this was the longest flight he had been on since his trip, last year to Japan. With this thought ringing in my mind (should that not be ‘ears’? – Ed), I find myself writing a blog piece – yes, another short term distraction – and thinking not about the symbolic journey I am undertaking to The Holy One with my Eldest One but of my own travel to Nippon. And then I remembered the fact that I had, for some not-so-strange reasons taken to writing haikus while travelling round Japan. And for the life of me, I can see no reason why they should remain my guilty secret, so here are quartet of them
Three lines of five, seven, five
Comprise a haiku
The girl with no mask
Knows I’ve taken a photograph
Of the mask she wears
In Japan the birds
Fly in a tight formation
It is expected
“Pain will go?” “Arigato
Israel, Schmisrael, can wait. It’s Haiku Time in the Skies!