Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Is Drugs Liberalisation Racist?

In the early 2000s, a policeman came to talk about drugs to the care staff at a large children's home. He had a ponytail. He showed a variety of drug simulacra, named them and explained their effects.

His manner suggested an unspoken complicity with the carers - among whom racial minorities were well-represented - on the subject of the use of these chemicals. Until someone told him that black people suspected that the liberal attitude to drugs was a strategy to keep their kind down.

The official information suggests that the picture is more complex - that educational underachievement may have more to do with child poverty - see Figure 14 (p.49) here, where eligibility for Free School Meals (FSM) correlates with lower academic scores.

However it also shows that when adjusted for socio-economic status (SES), "all ethnic minority groups achieve at least as well and frequently substantially better than the White British students, with the single exception of middle and high SES Black Caribbean boys" (ibid., Figure 17.)

So there seems to be more than simply poverty - or simply drugs, though the poor are more likely to take them - holding back that last group. Perhaps, then, there should be more specific affirmative action to boost the ambition and achievements of Black Caribbean boys.

But for the poor generally, maybe it would help them to stop being cool about drugs and light-touch policing in deprived areas. When people are in the pit they turn for comfort to things that keep them in it. Our government has spent a long time liberalising the use of alcohol and gambling - that is to say, giving powerful commercial interests free rein to exploit the disadvantaged. Drugs seem to be next.

Is that kind of laissez-faire a form of what Marcuse called "repressive tolerance"?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

WINE: It’s That Time of the Year Again, by Wiggia

Bit late with my annual wine appraisal, but not too late for those who still need to stock up for the holiday period.

So what has been happening in the world of wine this year? Champagne and sparkling wine is still on the up, Sauvignon Blanc is still the number one white wine - though Chardonnay is having a revival (not that it went away) - and in reds all the major grapes are toe-to-toe in the popularity stakes.

In detail:

I will start with the fortified wines as for many people Christmas is the only time these are purchased. The supermarkets have some very good bottles on their shelves in this category. Port: the single quinta bottles from Grahams and Warres that many retail outlets stock and often on offer are an amazing bargain, Tesco recently had the Grahams for £20 ! Grahams again have both the 10  and 20 year Tawny ports available this year and both are great examples of their style and affordable, and Morrisons ruby port at £7 is ridiculously cheap for such quality, don’t confuse this one with what grandma used to drink.

There is a whole new display in some supermarkets - especially Waitrose - of sweet wines with very good Sauternes, Marsalas, Vin Santo, Australian stickies (Muscats Semillons etc) on the shelves. Well worth a dip into if you would like a change.

Sherry has been going through a difficult time with the bulk sherry market collapsing but this has meant many better sherries being offered and some great cheaper ones. At the lower end of the price range two finos stand out: the own label versions from Waitrose and in many people's opinion an even better one from Morrisons. All the other Waitrose sherries are good and they carry some very good rarer ones like Palo Cortados plus fino en ramas, and some superb Olorosos and Amontillados from the likes of Lustau and  Gonzalez Byass. Waitrose are on their own in the supermarket stakes for sherry choice .

With the huge increase in sales of Champagne and sparkling wines almost everyone has jumped on the band wagon. Champagne is still the go-to choice for those who like the bubbly stuff yet it is no longer clear cut as to who supplies the best value in this category. If it is price that dictates, Cava and Prosecco rule the roost; some examples of both that will not break the bank but will give value for money include:

  • Conegliano - from Sainsburys
  • Lot Folletto D’oro DOCG - Aldi (the DOCG on the label denotes a better growing area, for Cava)
  • Spumante Conegliano - Lidl
  • Cordorniu 1872 vintage Cava  - Waitrose
  • M&S Prestige Cava
  • Freixentet Cordon Negro

Just some of the better ones, but beware: there are some dire versions in those two regions!

A good alternative to both and Champagne are the Cremants from the Loire and the Jura:

  • Lidl's incredible value Cremant de Bourgogne
  • Tesco's reliable Blanquette de Limoux
  • Waitrose: Cuvee Royale Brut Cremant de Limoux

Champagne itself has got some serious competition now from English sparkling wines. All of the English producers are making compelling wines to match and even surpass their Champagne equivalents - sparklers from Nyetimber, Hush Heath, Gusborne, Camel Valley, Henners, Ridgeview, Digby Fine English. All are top wines and under £30. For me I would forsake Champagne unless you have the funds for their top cuvees and go for the English sparklers; again the best choice is at Waitrose.

White grapes that we rarely see and new countries starting to appear here mean a wider choice to choose from. Gruner Veltliner is appearing more and more, this Austrian speciality has a lot of appeal to some people others not so much but worth a try for something a bit different.
For lighter fresher whites outside of sauvignon blanc there are a lot of the Italian bottles on the shelves with grapes like Falanghina , Pecorino, Grechetto with some improved Soaves at last appearing. Verdicchio which should be on the list still only has poor samples in the major retailers so don’t bother unless you go to a specialist wine merchant. Pinot Grigio is still top of the pops but the majority is still industrial quality rubbish - shame, as the better brands are very good: the Alsace version called Pinot Gris is a much better bet and many now stock some versions of this wine that goes so well with food.

Riesling is still the bridesmaid in popular sales, nearly all the best ones are with specialists, but there are Chilean and NZ and Australian versions and many others appearing all the time, Australian ones from the Clare Valley are very dependable, such as any of the Grosset range and Jim Barrys Lodge Hill plus from WA any of the Frankland Estates versions, also from Chile Cono Sur is dependable and one or two South African Rieslings are very good, the ones above are readily for sale.
Chardonnay has returned, it never went away but style wise it has changed,  not so much wood in evidence, lighter fresher styles are now the go to styles though some heavier ones are good regardless of the oak, it is a matter of balance, in your supermarkets look for these as good examples, there are many more:

  • Sainsburys Maconnais Macon-Village
  • Sainsburys Taste the Difference Limoux Chardonnay
  • Waitrose  Fog Head Reserve Chardonnay from California
  • Majestic  Marisco The Kings Legacy Chardonnay NZ
  • Co-op have a bargain in their Truly Irresistable Chablis

A couple of other grapes worth trying:

  • M&S  Barrosa Valley Maranga Dam Rousanne
  • Sainsburys  Stellenrust Chenin Blanc-  the cheaper version (there are two from this producer) is the better value from SA

And so to the current darling of the white wine world Sauvignon Blanc, there are hundreds so here is just a small sample of the many good cheaper ones,.NZ dominates this grape now but France and the Loire still provide a different and traditional take on the grape that many prefer.

  • If you can still find this one at Morrisons buy Mastercraft Sauvignon Blanc this is a joint venture between the producer and Morrisons and is another absolute bargain.
  • Cono Sur reserve SB from Chile widely available
  • Tescos new own label North Row SB
  • The Ned on sale everywhere and universally liked
  • Majestic have under their Definition label Sancerre Loire
  • And if you want to splash out Greywacke is just about top of the heap, great wine and a better bet at less price than Cloudy Bay that is now sold everywhere.

Rosés have become very popular, not my cup of tea but that aside many get very good reviews these days. However I am not going to suggest any here as Christmas is not the place for these wines though there is no reason why not, and my sampling of them is very limited. so I pass.

With reds as Arthur Daley said “the world is your lobster” and it is, with seemingly all corners of the globe making great wines from different grapes. I am not going to go through all the varieties separately you will have dozed off before the end if I did that but what I will do is give an extended list below of the many great value reds I have drunk this year and are good to go for the festive season. Really at Christmas I expect most people would want to push the boat out a bit more, there's no Chateau Lafite, here just decent wines that are relatively affordable and not only taste good but will not disgrace any table.

Argentina has come along way in a short time as has all of South America so I will start with some Malbecs and Malbec blends from there.

  • Viñalba, Reservado De La Familia Malbec
  • Marks & Spencer, The Party Malbec
  • Santa Julia, Reserve Malbec-Cbernet Franc
  • Viñalba, Malbec & Touriga Nacional Reserve
  • Mendel Selection Malbec at Majestic
  • And any of Catena Malbecs one of the best producers and very reliable, plus anything by Zuccardi and most of Susanna Balbos Malbecs.

Chile is more diverse than Argentina at the moment. Its signature grape Carménère is still a bit thin on the ground and variable in quality and style.

Santa Ritas Meddala Real Carménère is a very good buy and if you can find the Gran Reserva even better:

  • Errazuriz Estate Series Pinot Noir - Majestic
  • De Martino single vineyard Alto de Piedras Carménère - Waitrose
  • Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon - Sainsburys and elsewhere
  • Koyle Royale Syrah - Morrisons
  • Montes Single Vineyard Merlot - Majestic

Down Under still supplies some great wines at fair prices despite the big brands taking the lion's share of the shelf space:

  • Rolf Binder Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - Waitrose, Co-op (some stores)
  • Kilikanoon Grenache Shiraz Mataro - Waitrose
  • The Hedonist Shiraz - various outlets
  • d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz - various outlets
  • Two Hands Angels Share Shiraz - Majestic
  • Burra Brook Cabernet Sauvignon - M&S; great value wine
  • Asda Extra Special Yarra Valley Pinot Noir - another good value wine

From New Zealand, mainly Pinot Noir which has become almost its second home. One thing I have to tell about NZ  Pinot is that the majority of the cheaper have better alternatives elsewhere. They lack ripe fruit, so be prepared to pay around £20 for anything decent.

  • Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir - Waitrose
  • Dog Point Pinot Noir - Majestic
  • Saint Clare Pioneer Block Pinot Noir - Majestic

South Africa is on a bit of a renaissance. A lot of very decent wines are coming from there now instead of those made in cooperatives:

  • Stellenrust Old Vines Cinsault - Waitrose
  • Rustenberg Peter Barlow - Waitrose
  • Fairview Pinotage - Waitrose
  • Helderberg Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - M&S

The USA gets a pass simply because there is so little for sale. Most is purchased and drunk in the USA and what does make it here tends to be pricey. A shame as there are some magnificent wines being made there.

Back in Europe the choice is getting wider with eastern European countries coming on-stream at last and the likes of Greece making some cracking wines and Portugal going from strength to strength. The Greek wines are worth a punt as I haven’t had a dud yet.

Portugal has quite a few reds of note at the moment and most are very good value. Two from Waitrose:

  • Esporao Reserva
  • Douro Valley Reserva Quinta da Rosa

The best selection is at the Wine Society but the society is a co-op and you have to pay to join before you can order. If you really drink wine they are well worth joining, it’s £40 but you get back £20 with your first order.

Spain, and one thinks of Rioja: plenty of poor ones around but plenty of good ones as well at all prices, other regions also supply top class bottles:

  • The Best Marques De Los Rios Rioja Gran Reserva - Morrisons good value
  • Rioja Crianza Marques de Caceres - Majestic; the reserva from the same people is equally good.
  • Rioja Reserva Vina Ardanza La Rioja Alta - Majestic and elsewhere
  • Rioja Reserva Imperial CVNE - Majestic and others

For Rioja look out for the wines of Muga, Roda, Telmo Rodriguez, and Vina Tondonia who have a large traditional style range and are very well thought of.

The wines from other regions include Ribera del Douro’s big red wines if you like that style and some very good Grenache/Garnacha from old vines. Lighter wines include those from Monastrell -these have proven very reliable and are extremely good value.

Italy has more grape varieties than anywhere else though many are rarely seen, but the great regions of Tuscany and Barolo produce wines up with the best of them and with prices to match.

Barolo is particularly difficult to find anything at a reasonable price but there are a few, though in general you have to know your way around in this area. Some of the satellite areas using the same Nebbiolo grape are more reasonable.

Waitrose have one at around the £20 mark: Terra da Vino Barolo Reserva  DOCG. It is a gold medal winner.

Otherwise look out for wines from the Lange region or lesser Barbarescos. This is a difficult area for value with all the better ones starting at around £40 and going north.

Tuscany is easier but again not cheap for the Super Tuscans or the top Brunellos or even the better Chiantis.

Cecchi Sagrato Chianti Reserva is fairly inexpensive and a good reliable winery, do not buy the difficult 2014 vintage - Waitrose

Also at Waitrose, they did win supermarket of the year for wine and it shows:

  • Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico and
  • Villa Antinori
  • M&S have Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico reserva
  • At Morrisons an old favorite, Nipozzano Chianti Rufina reserva

For cheaper Italian reds go south, there are some very good Negroamaros and Nero d’Avolas that are rich and plummy from Puglia and Sicily that will not make a hole in your pocket.

France considers itself to be the leading light in the world of wine with some justification despite unloading millions of bottles of plonk on us in the past, but times have changed and many of the regions that made that awful stuff now make first class wines, so the choice is huge.
Again unless you have deep pockets the best of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone will be out of reach but there are affordable wines in all three that are also value for money, a few below.

Waitrose, again, have several good value Bordeaux reds:

  • Chateau du Gazin Canon Fronsac
  • Chateau Le Fleur Peyrabon Cru Bourgeois
  • Moulin de Duhart
  • Chateau Lalande d’Auvion Cru Bourgeois 2015  ***
  • Deyrim Valentin 2015  ***

- they did have more in this category but have sold out.

Sainsburys - Cambon la Pelouse

Lidl are worth a look for these wines in limited numbers, they often have Bordeaux at knock out prices so it is worth a look for the likes of Marques de Terme ***

I will not even attempt to suggest Burgundy. Nearly all is overpriced  and the better ones stratospheric in price. You can find decent versions but you would have to go to independent wine outlets.
The Rhone is a different matter, north and south of the region provides good robust and silky reds at all price points.

  • Sainsburys have a very good Chateauneuf de Pape in Perrins Les Sinards 2016
  • Sainsburys also have a decent Crozes Hermitage Caves de Tain
  • Guigals Cotes du Rhone is widely available and consistently good.
  • Waitrose have Astralabe Chene Bleu VDP Vaucluse this is the £20 version.
  • Jean- Luc Colombo Les Mejeans Cornas - Waitrose
  • The Co-op have a very good value Cotes du Rhone: La Grange St Martin, made by Perrin for them.

Also worth seeking out: Gigondas Vacqueras reds. Again, most offer good value for deep hearty reds.

Sainsburys have a decent Sancerre Red. You don't see many of these, this one is worth a try if a lighter style is required.

This is but a fraction of wines available but I have been restricted to supermarkets and there is a lot more online and in the independent outlets, if you know a bit about wine it is worth searching out that way.

Never be frightened to try something different, you may well have a pleasant surprise.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Slim Gaillard, by JD

This week's star is Slim Gaillard and in the three short interviews with George Melly included here he plays and reminisces about his music and about other artists he has known.

A short biography is here for more information-

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Globalism Is Not Centrist

Former PM Tony Blair's approach to politics used the concept of "triangulation" - appearing to be not-Left, not-Right but a just-perfect Goldilocks moderate compromise.

Writing in The Conservative Woman, Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack says "In the protests throughout France we see symptoms which have appeared elsewhere in Europe of the crumbling of the globalist centre."

The word "centre" is (unintentionally, in this case) misleading. Between those who govern and those who are governed, there is no left and right. Instead it is up and down: those up there, us down here.

A triangle is two-dimensional. Here is the centre:

Original by MartinThoma - Own work, CC BY 3.0
adapted by Sackerson

But human nature being what it is, power and money have a tendency, not to "centralise" but to concentrate - at the top:

In the various modern versions of what is called democracy, the rationale for concentrating so much power in the apex is that somehow our interests are represented by it. Our problem is that we are daily less and less convinced of the truth of this argument.

Now it's becoming their problem, too.


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Trump the Incendiary - Irrational Political Satire 2

"Private Eye" issue 1484, 13 Dec 2018 (p. 29)

There is something about Trump that makes otherwise intelligent, well-educated and well-informed people lose their reason. When they're not trying to make you lose yours, as I showed a few days ago.

Above are two more examples.

Let's start with the cartoon. Here is Trump, with that darkened face (it would be orange if in colour) represented as George Washington in the famous anecdote in which GW freely confessed his wrongdoing to his father. So, translated into words, is this image telling us that President Trump was personally responsible for the fires in California? Or that forest management would mean cutting down the trees?

And then, when the satirists decide to use words, as in the skit atop this strange sketch, they blether about Twitter, climate change, MAGA, even inventing criticism by Trump of the firefighters tackling the blaze - just, lunacy.

It's a visceral thing, not a rational matter. This video gives a plausible explanation for "liberal" intellectuals' loss of self-control at the sight and sound of the President (htp: A K Haart):

What actually happened?

Trump visited California because of the terrible blazes there that have claimed dozens of victims, with hundreds of other people still not accounted for.

Now the usual approach of political leaders is simply to empathise on our behalf - remember President Clinton's "I feel your pain"? (he did say it), announce financial and other support in general terms, and so on. It's sort of performing a Father Of The Nation or priestly role. And because we are mostly emotional, it works: Clinton's "emotional intelligence" may have helped him gain the Presidency, denying Bush Senior his second term in office.

But Trump is a businessman, so he blundered straight on into practical suggestion, looking at what could be done to prevent a recurrence. Clearing the forest floor, for example.

And that was a gift for those who will seize on anything at all to bury Trump in negatives. Suggest thinning out the woodland and you are accused of grabbing an opportunity to increase logging. Or an expert "fire scientist" - or biology professor - says that's not the issue. And because Trump speaks as he thinks, he will make verbal stumbles and that's even better - so "raking" became the big joke.

No wonder professional politicians practise being bland and vague. Probably they would have taken the usual tack in cases like this - calling for some lengthy investigation that would cause the eyes of the news media to glaze over.

But eventually, amid the spluttering, there came some more nuanced reconsideration of the problem and possible solutions, e.g. the BBC's "California wildfires: Is Trump right when he blames forest managers?"

As so often, when the media flak has died down we find that Trump has, in his ham-fisted way, opened an agenda for discussion. Among other things, the BBC's article implies that there is a need for better coordination between the various large landowners of California's forests, and quotes an expert who agrees that some detritus needs to be removed to reduce fire hazard.

Trump referenced Finland in his comments, but we might also learn from Portugal.

Last year, Portugal saw horrendous fires in the forests in its central region, with over 60 fatalities, some caught in the flashover as they took the wrong road in their attempt to drive out of danger.

This is a perennial problem in Portugal, much of which which is mountainous and covered with oily, fast-burning coniferous trees. A standard part of the land management is to clear the woodland floor.

If you walk along the dusty tracks through the forest, you will see rags and empty plastic milk bottles hanging from branches: these indicate the boundaries of individually-owned plots of land, which can be quite small, in traditional rural areas. You can help yourself to branches and cones that have fallen onto the road, but everything off the track is private.

The owners are responsible for regular clearance of their patch. It's their duty to the community.

But the situation is becoming difficult as the pattern of land ownership and settlement changes. In Portugal, if you wish to sell your house, you must show that you have the legal agreement of the entire family, even those members living abroad (and some two million of working age have emigrated to look for employment.) As the Portuguese have risen out of relative poverty, what they have been doing is to buy or build new houses elsewhere and simply abandon the old ones. There are many houses and plots of land that lie untended and it's often not clear who they belong to. So, who is going to clear their forest patch for them?

There's a 2018 English-language study of the complex Portuguese wildfire management issues here.

President Trump can often seem clumsy and crass, but our respect for some media commentators and parodists diminishes when we see how unthinking their responses to him can be.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

SPORTS NEWS: Poor Boca, Rich River, by JD

The Copa Libertadores is South America's version of Europe's Champion's League, previously known as the European Cup.

For the first time in its 58 year history the final would be contested by River Plate and Boca Juniors, both of Buenos Aires and with a long history of sometimes bitter rivalry.

It could be compared to the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic in the bad old days. (As an aside, you will notice the two Argentine teams have English names, Boca is the name of the port district of Buenos Aires, but that is another story.)

The final is a two leg affair and the first leg in Boca's La Bombonera stadium finished in a 2-2 draw. The second leg was due to be played in River's Estadio Monumental on 24th November. But.... as the Boca team bus was nearing the stadium it was attacked by the River Plate hooligans (all clubs suffer from a lunatic fringe among the fans unfortunately).

The bus was badly damaged and one or two players had to be taken to hospital. Not a good advert for the game or for football.  The game was postponed postponed until the following day but Boca objected saying that some of their players would need more time to recover so it was postponed again. That's the background story and so far, so good or bad depending on how you see it.

There followed much consultation among the football authorities and then Conmebol, the South American football federation said that for security reasons the game would be played in another country. At first it was thought that one of the other members of the federation would host the game with Paraguay and Brasil rumoured to be favourites. Then there were tales of it moving to Miami but it was Qatar who made a firm offer of $13 million to stage the game. That was unacceptable as Qatar is the main sponsor of Boca; they have Qatar on their shirts. Finally it was decided to hold the second leg in Spain in Real Madrid's Estadio Bernabeu to be played on 9th December. Details of ticket allocations were even announced and much publicity ensued.

But the River Plate chairman lodged an official complaint in writing. (1) Reading the letter I was highly amused by paragraph 'f' in which the River Presidente suggested that the World leaders gathered in Argentina for the G20 summit should be invited to the game. "How could they refuse?" How indeed!

So it is now all in limbo and I have heard that Boca are also refusing to play the game in Madrid although I have yet to see anything in writing from Boca.

However, Alejandro Dominguez the Presidente of Conmebol, said on Saturday that the decision was 'irreversible' and that was that. (2) (Sorry but no English version of the story) As we are all aware, bureaucrats know best! At the time of writing the situation is unresolved so who knows what will happen next because all sides seem to be entrenched in their views. I see a battle of egos looming!

This is just the latest episode in the degeneration of sport into pantomime. It is slowly being turned into a travelling circus with games being played away from traditional venues and in the location of the highest bidder. We have already seen NFL games played at Wembley (and ruining the turf in the process) Spain's La Liga recently signed a deal with an American media company to play 15 games per season in the USA. This is being resisted by Spain's players, the fans and their Football Federation.

The inevitable result of all this greed for money, and that is what is behind this travelling circus mentality, will be to drive the fans away. I used to go to football but now I can't afford it, among other things. Friends of mine in Glasgow no longer go to Ibrox to see Rangers, they prefer to watch their local park team. The last game I went to was Real Madrid v Valencia in January 2004 and it was £480 for six of us; £80 per seat. Greed will kill the game and the P T Barnums of this world will move onto something else from which they can suck out the life and transfer the money into their grubby hands: think of the Yahoos in Gulliver's Travels and you will understand.