About phenweb

Philip G Henley spent nearly eighteen years in the Royal Air Force before entering the civilian corporate world. He specialised in IT and then Programmes and Projects before most recently working as an IT Director for a large UK Service Company. He has recently turned to writing and ‘To The Survivors’ is his second book in a very different style and genre to his first story, which was a spy thriller called ‘An Agent’s Demise. Phil has lots of other interests to go with his writing including appalling golf where he has managed to come bottom of his Golf Society’s rankings for eleven straight years, and he shows no sign of breaking that record! Philip lives with his wife Lisa, and their two adult children, in Hampshire in the UK. He is currently finishing a third novel called ‘The Persuasive Man’ and has started a sequel to ‘An Agent’s Demise’, a collection of short stories, a Sci-Fi space book and a story about revolution. For all these and other projects please see www.books.phenweb.com. Philip likes getting reviews, good, preferably, but he is grateful to anyone who takes the time to read and then comment about his stories.

The Modern Dictator?

Human beings seem to have a fascination with the strong man form of government. Sometimes this is masked by the appearance of democratic election but in most cases this gives way to pure dictatorship. We seem to be going through a period of such leaders now.

In the 1930s many of the great powers of the world had dictatorial leaders. In the intervening period the form of government has continued albeit the leaders have tended to be of smaller countries in terms of world power. That is not to underestimate the damage they have caused to their own countries and their neighbours. Although Putin appears below his leadership has changed a virtually collapsed Russia back into a global power

Now we appear to have entered an era of great dictators once more and a worrying trend in the behaviour of others. Turkish democracy on the surface appears robust with a near 90% turnout in the recent election. But the result of the election was to allow President Erdoğan to claim additional powers.

Combine this with further limitations on opposition leaders, the free press and total biased control of the state media and you have the trappings of a one party, one leader state. Throw in the hate for a minority group (the Kurds) that a German citizen in 1938 might recognise. Including direct military intervention across an international border.

At the start of WWII the dictators appeared to support each other Mussolini, Franco, Stalin and Hitler in Europe with Hirohito in Japan.  The USA was isolationist and the Smoot-Hawley Act not only worsened and extended the Great Depression in the USA it also angered its nearest neighbours and allies. Another lesson from history seemingly ignored by the current US President.  I am not claiming that the current 45th President of the United States of America is a fascist dictator he just seems to prefer their company and seems unconcerned with angering his allies.

There seems to be several common traits on the path to dictatorship.

  1. Limit and ridicule free press
  2. Ridicule then imprison opposition
  3. Appoint cronies to all independent roles
  4. Blame outsiders (Terrorists, immigrants, minorities, trade, stealing jobs)
  5. Take more powers centrally to help control the situation
  6. Appeal to lowest common denominator in electoral support
  7. Rig election
  8. Take more powers centrally
  9. Remove opposition and free press completely (Assassination, imprisonment)
  10. Use military force against outside opponents or threaten such
  11. Award oneself numerous medals and awards

 

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Not Too Much – Out Today

Alex has everything. He’s one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. He’s chased by the Paparazzi and once went out with a communist. Now he hides from publicity whilst trying to find a soul mate.

Victoria is a struggling waitress in a London restaurant. She shares a flat with Sophie an aspiring actress whilst trying not to give up a dream of making a success.

They meet and try to make it work in this contemporary romance

One Morning In The Office Take 6

One Morning In The Office

@realdonaldtrump

"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm the cleaner Mr. President."
"Where is everyone?"
"Who, Sir?"
"Sean, Reince, Michael, even that Comey fella?"
"I'm not sure I am the right one to ask?"
"You're part of my staff aren't you, you should know."
"Actually my Great Leader pays for me to be here."
"So I can't fire you."
"You could but Mr. Putin would not be happy."
"Vlad sent you, to be my cleaner?"
"No, it was agreed at the meeting. I'm a Russian orphan you have helped into the country."
"But your nearly 60?"
"Both my parents are dead."
"I think that qualifies then. So where is every one?"
"Who Sir?
"Sean and the rest of them?"
"You fired them Sir."
"I'm good at that had a TV show did you watch it?"
"I preferred the British version."
"There's a British version?"
"Yes a Mr. Sugar runs it."
"You're making it up."
"No Sir it's on the BBC and Cable."
"Not Fox?"
"No. Look, should I get someone for you to talk to? Our Great Leader will want me to report back on something not just our chat."
"Is there anyone else?"
"Your new Communications Director."
"Remind me..."
"Anthony Scaramucci."
"Er..."
"I'll go get him Sir. Your new chief of staff will be over soon too."
"Who's that?"
"John Kelly, he's a general."
"I thought I fired the general."
"This is a different one."
"I have more than one?"
"You have many generals. Mr President, but it's a state secret how many."
"I'm the President you can tell me."
"I mean a Russian State Secret- I would have to ask our other Great Leader."
"Don't bother Vlad."
"I think Xi has the latest count."
"Good man Xi. So where is Anthony Scara, Scar erm..."
"He's sorting out the lot Sir."
"The what?"
"He's offering a special opening day sale, using the White House lawn; nice balloons."
"Selling what?"
"American cars I believe. He's got a latino couple in at the moment trying to get them to take the limo' with all the trimmings."
"Has he checked their immigration status?"
"I'm sure he will, after he has the money."
"Good man."
"Was there anything else Mr. President only I need to see my doctor?"
"No as long as you have finished tidying up. You get health care with this role?"
"No Mr. President but thanks to you I still have ObamaCare."
"What!"

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-trump-firings-resignations/

 

 

 

 

IT, Mathematics and Money

Although I would love to be a full time writer and earn enough to have that career, reality means that I earn a living plying a different role. Since leaving the armed forces most of that time has been spent in or around the IT industry. Sometimes that is for companies delivering support services for non-IT related government and private contracts. This article is in no way about my current company and I generalise for effect.

So what has this article got to do with that?

Let’s take a step back. How often have you heard otherwise intelligent people state that they do not understand mathematics. They did not do well at it in school and claim not to understand it now. Despite that alleged failing these same people hold down jobs and supposedly manage budgets sometimes of of hundreds of millions of pound or dollars. Many politicians suffer from this trait and their inability to add up neatly explains why tax income is exceeded by government expenditure. They do not explain this fallacy because they need to promise the electorate better services, higher wages, more infrastructure, etc. whilst reducing tax. Two plus two does not equal five. This promise inflicts, or infects, all political parties resulting in endlessly borrowing on all our grandchildren’s future. I have ranted about this before, the question is why is this simple piece of mathematics so hard for the population to grasp? This brings me back to that statement about not understanding mathematics, often explained with a silly smile and a shrug.

I get the same response about IT. There seems to be a culture of ignorance about IT in the same way as mathematics. In other words many, very clever, senior people don’t understand or do not want to understand IT. I have seen this across industries and from CEOs to numerate finance directors and operations directors. One mention of a network issue or a software problem and eyes glaze over. Now these folks fundamentally understand complex business operations or financial wheeling and dealing. I appreciate that IT, like other fields, is full of technical jargon and complexity. I do not expect a non-expert to understand the details of network routing and firewall configuration or the impact of a failure to replicate a database between clusters in multiple data centres. What I do expect is that sufficient time is allocated to discuss with non-technical jargon the impact of such issues. As a manager next time you check a business agenda, see where IT is, if at all.

I strongly believe that here we have a root cause of why so many major IT projects go wrong. Whether it’s a major update to a legacy system in a government department (take your pick from HMRC, NHS, DWP) or a failure sometimes in public of a major private company, BA is a recent example. In all these cases I am certain risks or issues where known, briefed in IT departments and probably ignored by senior management because it would mean cost, delay or change from sometimes impossible requirements. The old axiom of do it right first time is often ignored by reducing budget, resources and changing requirements. Meanwhile those in charge seem to have little if any understanding of the fundamentals they are changing. Compare this approach with other professions.

If a surgeon gives a long diagnosis and prognosis of a particular issue you may not understand it but you would not tell him to deliver the surgery in 60% of the time at 75% of the costs and by the way do it with two fewer nurses and use a cleaner as the anesthetist because we can do that bit without that expertise. Yet the number of times I have seen senior management claim this is all possible, if only the project or programme manager would get a grip. There is then equal surprise when the task is delayed, fails or causes some other major issue. Short cuts on patching regime, welcome to WannaCry. Short cuts on refresh policy welcome to system failure. Shortcuts on data centre configuration don’t be surprised when BCP does not work.

Clearly IT, like every business support service, needs to work to a budget but I have heard senior executives demand reductions in budget year on year regardless of the system requirements, status of hardware or software. This leaves security and service risks which again get ignored by clients and supplier alike. That is until disaster strikes or the project is so far over budget and behind schedule it cannot be recovered without exposing massive embarrassment. Try and raise this in a non-IT meeting and see how far you get. By the time you get traction it’s already too late.

So how can this be fixed? Better training? For whom? More respect for IT? Again how? Simpler explanations? They have a place but back to the surgeon. I do not claim that IT is as complex as brain surgery but some networks I have seen look more like a neutron cluster than a controlled design. This is due to company changes and just endless bolting on of additional bits to keep it working. Look at the bloat in our core office applications. Some of this code is new features but most is error checking and correcting code rather than core fixes. It’s cheaper that way and Moore’s law has given the raw horsepower to cope.  We now have massively inefficient code, applications, management systems and networks. This should go against every engineering tenet for simplicity of design. It will cost to fix this and until disaster strikes no one will care.

That major data leak, failure of data centre or never-ending non-delivering project will be blamed on the IT team, not the executives who ignored the warnings in that briefing they did not bother to read or understand. I wish it was not so but I fear this will only get worse with the Internet of things. Router config’ anyone?

Post Election

Time to reflect on the UK’s Election or what might become known as Theresa May’s disaster.

Some of this is extracted from a Goodreads forum discussion.

First turnout.

  • Although pleasing the turnout went up 3% since 2015 we still ended up with only 69% bothering to vote or deciding to vote. i.e. nearly 1/3 of electorate did not care or could not decide.
  • 53 to 48% on UK Brexit out on turnout of 72% of which 62% in Scotland voted to remain in EU and 60% in London did the same. EU vote also included Gibraltar
    55 to 45% on Scotland to stay in UK on 84.5% of eligible Scottish voters – no one else got a say
  • 2015 General election 66.4% turnout with wide variation dependent on constituency. The Conservatives won 36% of that which gave them overall majority of 12 seats in House of Commons

May as P.M

IMHO May got exactly what she deserved. 3 unbelievably bad decisions in under 12 months:

  1. No general election after becoming p.m and failing to seek support across parties for Brexit process after referendum and Cameron’s resignation
  2. Triggering Brexit process but not having election whilst clearly knowing there was a 2 year timetable
  3. Changing mind and having election – again this could have been agreed with other parties based on the Brexit timetable – i.e. the alleged reason of a stable government to agree deal on the timeline

If anything proves that May is not fit to be P.M it should be the above – as if her record as an appalling Home Secretary was any justification for making her leader. I think that was the anyone but Boris Johnson/Michael Gove vote in action. Luckily I was away for a few weeks of the general election campaign but seldom have I seen such a disastrous rabble as the Conservative attempt – again totally controlled by May’s cohorts, at least some of them have had the dignity to resign. Contrast with Scottish campaign run by Scottish Conservatives 1 MP to 13 is staggering.

Now what – the country will have to carry on with May (or have 4 weeks of leadership election) for a period but expect an autumn election – no party can govern without a more formalised agreement as 2010-15 showed – at least Gov was stable – unlike Lib-Lab pact of 70’s. Despite Progressive Alliance discussion Labour would need DUP as well as all the other parties to pass any legislation unless they expect Conservatives to vote for their policies – nationalise railways for example?

Labour

Kudos to Corbyn although losing an election is a funny way of claiming victory. The big losers are SNP but are still the majority in Scotland. My only comment there is if your campaign is entirely based on someone who is not standing i.e. Nicola Sturgeon then don’t be surprised if it get personal. Ditto for heresa May but at least she was standing in her constituency. Labour MPs after this election have 10 less than Labour won under Neil Kinnock in 1987. He resigned as it was seen as a disastrous result. Some Labour commentators have managed to mention the fact that Labour lost.

Some realism at last. To win an outright majority Labour need’s at least another 70 seats. To have a decent majority they need more like another 100. Even with a complete reversal in Scotland (30 back from SNP) a dozen from Wales and no resurgence in Lib Dems, somehow they need another 50 current Conservative seats.

Forecast

If there is another election will Conservatives campaign as badly? Will young turnout (thought to be Labour) be as high will places like Kensington stay with current result. My view:

  • Lib Dems will gain again impact on both Labaour and Conservative but only small number maybe another 5-8
  • Labour will hold more easily in North but lose in South end up same
  • Conservatives will regain Southern losts
  • SNP will again slip back to Labour but might re-gain Conservative wins.
  • Net result – same again but might just give Conservatives 8 seats net gain for overall majority.

I cannot see an alternate candidate for P.M – yes I know people talk about Boris but he does not have enough backing. There is no obvious alternate leader in waiting. I think May will survive for a few months, then again I didn’t expect Cameron to resign and her to become P.M. Let alone to blow the election – I had a bet for 50+ majority. This time I won’t put money on it and a lot can happen between now and then

The BBC’s poll of polls tracker actually showed it. The trend for Labour was up just as it had been for the referendum out vote and the 2015 election Conservative win. What Theresa would give for Cameron’s result now.

Tax

One of the problems of most electorates and the promise of jam tomorrow is misunderstanding how the tax system works and what can really be obtained by raising taxes. The Lib-Dem manifesto was at least partly honest by stating that there needed to be a rise in basic taxation to generate the funds needed for higher spending without just adding to the debt. Remember our UK debt interest payments:

(paying the interest) the public debt amounted to around £43 billion (which is roughly 3% of GDP or 8% of UK government tax income)

This is roughly the same as the defence budget 2/3 of education spending and 1/3 of NHS. In other words this is a staggering amount of money, which is growing daily and current spending activity despite austerity is just adding to it. i.e. the governments since 2008 have made this worse.

If we want more money for these areas (or anything else) don’t treat public spending as a never ending credit card. The difficult austerity measures of 2010-15 were designed to stop increasing this borrowing and failed. The Labour party campaigned (somewhat successfully whilst still losing) for an end to austerity but unless tax intake goes up substantially the debt will rise as day to day borrowing increases i.e. we add to the debt.

It doesn’t mater what you borrow for (infrastructure, deficit, pay) it all adds up to debt – a failing of virtually every country in the world. It’s called living beyond our means – although in most of advanced world it is its not paying our bills. i.e. if we paid more tax privately or from business we could pay this off. Relying on GDP increase to increase taxation is not working.

The other issue on tax is the fallacy that higher earners are not paying their fair share. 25% of £100k a year is £25k. 25% of £20k is £4,000 – ignoring allowances and higher payments (First £11k free of tax for both and higher rate coming in at higher salary) the higher rate tax payer already pays £21k a year more for the same services. So the richer members of society (everyone that pays tax) already give subsidies to the lower paid. At the same time many richer members of society do not use those services e.g. private education and private health/social care.

The old tale of the taxpayers should always be born in mind – yes its glib. For 10 taxpayers substitute ten companies with corporation tax

10 drinkers in a bar who decide to settle their £100 weekly beer bill roughly the same way we pay our taxes. So, the first four men (the poorest) paid nothing; the fifth paid £1; the sixth £3; the seventh £7; the eighth £12; the ninth £18; and the 10th man, the richest, paid £59.

Then the barman decided to give them a £20 discount for being good customers. The group wanted to continue to pay the new £80 bill the same way as before. While the first four men still drank for free, the other six divided up the £20 windfall by following the progressive principle of the tax system. So the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing, making a 100 per cent saving; the sixth man paid £2 instead of £3 (a 33 per cent saving); the seventh man paid £5 instead of £7 (a 28 per cent saving); the eighth £9 instead of £12 (a 25 per cent saving); and the ninth £14 instead of £18 (a 22 per cent saving). The 10th man paid £49 instead of £59 (a 16 per cent saving).

The men then began to compare their savings. “I only got £1 out of the £20,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the 10th man, “but he got £10 – the wealthy get all the breaks!” “Wait a minute,” said the first four men, “we didn’t get anything at all. This new system exploits the poor.” So the other nine men surrounded the 10th and beat him up. The next week he didn’t show for drinks, so the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when they came to pay, they discovered they didn’t have enough money between them to pay even half the bill.

Inflation

Unless we as a society do some fundamental re-thinking of tax income we are in danger of the rich man/company walking away. The amount of money raised by just increasing higher rates of tax is small because there are so few. This is always going to result in less income as the ridiculous 90% tax applied in the 70s demonstrated. The same applies to rich companies – i.e. those that generate sufficient profits or dividends. If the are publicly owned then those dividends turn into investment income for our pensions – yes the senior executives pay themselves extortionate amounts. The richest companies in the world (Apple etc.) employ hundreds of people to move money around to avoid whichever country tries to get more of the income even under a current system. If you make it more expensive for them to trade the directors will be duty bound (and financially incentivised) to try a way to avoid it.  Taking their jobs (from Apple store assistants to financial traders) with them.

By the way increasing wages in any organisation increases costs unless there is a corresponding increase in productivity. Cost = goods / services price rise or cost of service for public sector. Thus either price inflation or more tax required issue. Pay seems to come first, productivity a long way behind, if ever.  Have we learned nothing from the high inflation and high interest rates of the 70s and 80s. Of course the young have an excuse. They were promised in Labour’s manifesto free University education, higher wages, and the old more spending on welfare and social care. They are the now generation and have grown up with exceptionally low inflation. This is not a Conservative manifesto it is baic economics. We as a population are childish and naive. We want something for nothing. We all want jam tomorrow. The current political situation is a reflection of lack of honesty from politicians of all parties who have failed to address the major issues of national income and national debt. If we want good health care and good social care then it has to be paid for. That means tax not borrowing. The trident row is another good example, Whatever the merits of a nuclear deterrent the cost argument is farcical. Trident cost is £100bn for whole life i.e. less than the cost of one year’s NHS spending.

I sometimes think the entire population is unable to understand basic mathematics in particular what a percentage is i.e. the tax take example above.  If we really want to sort out public finances.Institue of Financial Studies produced this in 2015. Suggested reading

And a quote from that document my emphasis – “Of the big three taxes:
  • a 1 percentage point rise in all rates of income tax would raise £5.5 billion;
  • a 1 percentage point rise in all employee and self-employed National Insurance
  • contribution (NIC) rates would raise £4.9 billion;
  • a 1 percentage point rise in the main rate of VAT would raise £5.2 billion.
 If we want £10bn more for the NHS per year we need 2% on basic rate and we will all have less to spend.

 

Why?

Leonie Rogers

My phone has an app attached to our national broadcaster, the ABC (or Australian Broadcasting Corporation), which sounded its familiar ABC breaking news music this morning.

As normal, I looked down to see what was happening, to discover that there had been an explosion at a concert in the UK. We now know that over twenty have died, and close to sixty are injured. Another horrific attack because – at this stage – who knows?

As I scroll down my news feed, I can see articles on the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney, troubles in the Middle East, warnings about North Korea, and more articles on the ongoing issues in Syria.

It’s a sobering list, full of the atrocities humans perpetrate on each other. Sometimes I just have to ask myself ‘Why?’ I mean, really, ‘Why?’ Why is it that we can’t see the good in each other? Why can’t…

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One Morning In The Office Take 5

One Morning In The Office

@realdonaldtrump

"Vlad?"
"Don! How are you? Sacked any more Directors yet?"
"Give me time."
"I've told you time is of the essence don't give them time to think,
change continuously."
"I know, I know... Is that why you sent me the guide?"
"Yes I've updated from last year Kim Sung made some amendments."
"I admire him for one so young."
"He had good training, like Assad, you really should meet up."
"I can't with Assad I just bombed his base."
"I know still nothing damaged and you did warn us first so
I could tell him."
"Shhhh the FBI may be listening?"
"So what you have dealt with them now."
"No, not quite the temporary one is being nasty about me in congress
implying I was wrong."
"Then fire him too, or really terminate - its what the rest of us do."
"That reminds me, on page two of the guide it says
I should assassinate some journalists after I have removed the heads
of police."
"Yes you need to adapt for your own terminology but get rid
of a few journo's and the rest come into line."
"I noticed and Erdogan recommended the same."
"He's following the same programme, we'll soon have it all sorted."
"Shame about Marie."
"Yes and after the Dutch fiasco."
"The hack was too late."
"I've had the head of the team shot for the timing."
"If only I had your control."
"Back to the FBI, send them in armed and have accidental
shooting with terrorism connections always works.
Schools, cinemas, underground stations, all works and adds up."
"I know you are right. What's next on the agenda."
"Germany."
"Is she the short fat one?"
"Yes, but don't worry about her we still have the Stasi files."
"What did she do?"
"Nothing you have to worry about Don. Not as bad as the hotel..."
"You said you would not mention those again."
"Ha Ha just winding you up old friend. Xi says Hi by the way."
"I owe him a call need to coordinate message when
Kim does his next test."
"Will it fail?"
"We have not agreed yet. Now South Korea is coming on line
maybe we should postpone."
"No don't do that we need to keep the tension up.
I wish Kim had agreed to that limited strike idea."
"He needs to learn from Assad too.
Got to keep some world opinion on side."
"You are too soft Don, I'll get Ivanka to give you a rub down."
"Will she?"
"Anything for you Don you know that but
ease off on Twitter it makes you look silly."
"OK Vlad and thanks for the guide."