Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Monday, March 31, 2014

The plagiarism of ourselves

But what we call experience is merely the revelation to our own eyes of a trait in our character which naturally reappears, and reappears all the more markedly because we have already brought it into prominence once of our own accord, so that the spontaneous impulse which guided us on the first occasion finds itself reinforced by all the suggestions of memory. The human plagiarism which it is most difficult to avoid, for individuals (and even for nations which persevere in their faults and continue to aggravate them) is the plagiarism of ourselves.

Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu

Of course Proust is merely noting how subjective our notions of experience can be, how quickly we lapse into habitual responses. Hardly unfamiliar territory, but do we make use of such insights?

Well surely Proust's point is that we generally don't - it is too difficult. Even nations don't and these days we may add bureaucracies to the list.

So political promises about reforming the EU from the inside are empty for this reason. External events may cause habitual responses to be changed, but it is almost impossible for internal events to initiate similar changes. 

As Proust says - this isn't how we are made.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ukraine: daft quote of the week

"London - wear the fox hat?" (from the Daily Telegraph, 22 March 2014)
"Everyone can see that the West has no idea what to do about Russian power in the Ukraine. Britain, in particular, is at the margins. It is time for the Mayor of London to fulfil his historic role of stealing a march on more conventional politicians. Boris should take a leaf out of President Putin’s book and call a referendum of Londoners. He should ask them whether they would like all Russian housing in London to be seized, and be inhabited, instead, by British families. I predict a Yes vote whose percentage would exceed even that of the recent Crimean plebiscite. Obviously the Mayor, unlike Putin, has no military forces to implement such a measure (which is just as well), but the vote would make us feel a bit better."

Charles Moore, in this week's Spectator.

I'd have thought Mr Putin would be the first to vote "yes" to the expropriation of the emigre mega-crooks who have plundered his country and flashed their cash in Londongrad.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Battle for the Black Sea

(From Google Maps)
"The Balkans, and southeastern Europe more generally, present the major hurdle toward the creation of a Europe “whole and free” from the Baltic to the Black Sea. [...] Although U.S. Navy and Marine forces generally operate on a regular cycle of deployments to European waters, they rely on a network of permanent bases in the region, especially in the Mediterranean. These should be retained, and consideration given to establishing a more robust presence in the Black Sea. As NATO expands and the pattern of U.S. military operations in Europe continues to shift to the south and east, U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea is sure to increase."

From pp 15-17 of  "Rebuilding America's Defenses" (Thomas Donnelly and others, September 2000)

Before the fall of Communism:
 
Warsaw Pact countries, 1988 (Wikipedia)
 
Comecon, plus former Yugoslavia (pic source)
Greece has also had a history of struggle with Communism and the EU's crippling economic interference has recently re-raised tensions between (and support for) Left and Right. In this context it's worth noting that last May there was a Greek Communist Party rally in Thessaloniki. This is Greece's second largest city and a major hub for the eastern Mediterranean. Colour northeast Greece the same as Yugoslavia in the above map and the West's only ally on the shores of the Black Sea would be Turkey - which also (currently) controls the Bosphorus, the Black Sea's door into the Med.

Now:


The spread of NATO (Wikipedia)
 
The spread of the EU (pic source)
To the above map can be added the Ukraine, for which the EU has been outbidding Russia with help from the IMF (secured yesterday). It all looks like shoving Russia into a corner, as far as the Black Sea is concerned.

America has a habit of fighting wars on other people's soil. This push-and-pushback needs to be tempered with extreme caution, which appears lacking in the case of people like Cathy Ashton. The (unelected) EU foreign policy minister is so keen to drive the EU's agenda that her only response to hearing of the snipers who shot both sides in the Ukraine is to say "Interesting. Gosh." and barge on with her program:



We are ruled by the mad. To quote Cathy: "Byee."

UPDATE re sniper claim (31 July 2014):

"But questions remain, especially about the role of snipers. In an intercepted telephone call, Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet told the EU's Catherine Ashton that, while in Kiev, he had heard that snipers had used the same type of bullets on both protesters and police. This suggested that the snipers were provocateurs, possibly hired by the protesters. Paet's source was one of Ukraine's most admired people, the singer, songwriter and physician Olga Bogolomets, who helped organize emergency medical services for the protestors. She says that Paet misunderstood what she told him. She never saw the dead policemen or the bullets that killed them, she told Canada's Globe and Mail. "What I saw were people who were killed by snipers and on [protesters'] side." "

- Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News (4 April 2014)


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Friday, March 28, 2014

Speed-reading with Spritz

From spritzinc.com

I am a reasonably fast reader, but I often skip potentially interesting blog posts and online articles simply because they seem too long. I've half persuaded myself that anything worth saying can be said briefly, but I also know this could be wishful thinking.

Spritz is a soon-to-be-released app for reading text on small screens - and reading it much more rapidly than we’re accustomed to.

So I recently tried the Spritz speed-reading demo, easily managing 600 words per minute. Do I wish to read like this though? I'm not sure. The effect is an impressive demonstration of how fast we can take in written information, but somehow it isn't satisfactory - at least for me.

What about graphs, diagrams, illustrations etc? Maybe it's a question of familiarity, but an article from the Association for Psychological Science explores what seems to be the biggest problem with Spritz - the inability to backtrack.

The results, reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, clearly demonstrate the importance of eye movement control to understanding. When readers are kept from going back to re-read words—with the trailing mask in this study, and more generally with the RSVP technique—they have poorer comprehension of the material. Notably, this is true for both difficult and simple sentences. These findings provide powerful evidence that that reading without the ability to re-read parts of the text, when necessary, diminishes understanding.


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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Abortion switch

One issue on which I changed my mind only a few years ago is how we should describe abortion. Although it has never affected me directly or indirectly, I always tended to see abortion as some kind of unfortunate necessity of the modern world.

For me it was a matter of words. I joined no debates and rarely read the writings of either side, yet I was happy enough to use words such as abortion and foetus. I absorbed the progressive meme, happy enough to veer away from issues such as when this tiny scrap of humanity becomes a baby and oh so inconveniently human.

I can’t claim to have had any kind of Damascene conversion, but eventually modern verbal contortions over the issue became - well they felt absurdly furtive. Even somewhat silly if I’m to plumb the depths and admit all of it. I felt I’d been foolish in going along with such a transparently evasive narrative.

Abortion involves killing unborn babies.

I know it seems a little thin and bloodless to see the abortion issue as a matter of verbal behaviour, but to a great extent these highly-charged issues are exactly that. We must have our justifications whatever our sins, so we are obliged to analyse them, but too often we don't.

It was strangely refreshing to discover I’d changed my mind, especially on a socially significant issue. As I say, it was no Damascene conversion so I can’t put my finger on exactly when I made the switch. It must have seeped in into my mind over a number of years because it was never an issue I gave much thought to.

But there we are. Abortion is killing unborn babies – currently numbered in the millions. Yes there are special cases where impossibly difficult moral choices shake almost anyone’s principles, so I want nothing to do with any fanatical pro-life lobby.

So for me it is not a crusading issue, but verbal behaviour is important. Even morally important because this is how we are morally deceived. We usually begin by deceiving ourselves - as I did.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Stem cell therapy in tenth century Japan

Taira no Sadamori (picture source)

"The tale of Masakado offers a grotesque window into the superstitions and savageries of combat in the tenth century, not merely in his own behaviour, but in that of his opponents. In one of its sidebars, we hear of Sadamori's quest for a male foetus - the crucial ingredient in a magical cure for a bad wound that he has sustained. He first orders his pregnant daughter-in-law to give up what she is carrying, and is only thwarted by a doctor who tells him that his unborn grandchild would not be suitable. Instead, he slices up a pregnant kitchen maid, although her foetus is female, and hence useless. It is only with yet another death among his retinue that he finally obtains the foetus required. The horrific story may be an invention, although its details are true to folk remedies of the period, in which powdered foetus was indeed used as a cure for battle wounds."

Jonathan Clements, "The Samurai: A  New History of the Warrior Elite" (Robinson, 2010)

Superstition? Magic? Or pragmatic medicine?

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

My first public execution

From Vice News, the appalling story of Kim Joo Il who served eight years in the North Korean army. :-

I was ten when I saw my first public execution. I sat there thinking, "He committed this crime, he threatened our paradise, he should be punished." The man was my classmate’s brother-in-law. They said he’d been to China and stolen something from a Chinese museum. The whole school had to witness it. Everyone had to go to public executions, so they’d do them in big stadiums.

One idea the government keeps pushing is that, in North Korea, no one dies of starvation. As a captain, I had to report soldiers’ deaths, but I couldn’t say they’d starved. We wrote that they'd had acute colitis—an inflammation of the colon that can lead to weight loss, fever, and bleeding, among other symptoms—on their death certificates. A lot of female soldiers died, and a woman's hair will fall out before she dies of starvation. So when they died, they would be bald and totally flat chested, meaning you could no longer tell by looking at [the bodies] whether they were women or not.

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2014 Budget summary (pictorial edition)

What the new-style pound coin will resemble:
 
The flower is called "thrift"... (source)


What the modern pound is worth:
 
(There were 80 of these to the old pound)


What Osborne and the Coalition have done to guarantee savers against inflation:

http://img.tfd.com/wn/88/6C789-zilch.png

What will happen as a result of personal pension changes allowing the investor unlimited access to the fund:

(source)

What's going to happen long-term anyway:

(Source)

What the Government is planning for its own future:

Leading the way...


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Saturday, March 22, 2014

False proximity

In 1996, Princess Diana died in a car crash. As an extremely glamorous member of the British royal family, she was a major celebrity whose death was followed by an enormous amount of grief expressed by many who never knew her personally.

Mostly simulated one assumes, but why grief?

Surely we feel no genuine grief at the death of a celebrity we don’t know. Yet presumably many people felt close to her – a false proximity nurtured and encouraged by the media and by Diana herself.

False proximity seems to be an extremely common illusion, applying to abstractions as well as people. Celebrities are part abstraction of course. The Diana virtually all of us knew was mostly a glossy image nurtured, refined and endlessly fascinating to millions...

...Knock, knock, knock.

Two members of the Labour Party came to the door in the middle of writing this post. Canvassing for the EU elections no doubt. I waved them away and shut the door. I don’t want real proximities to mess up a post on false proximity do I?

Yet those two political toilers were presumably motivated to bang on my door by a false proximity to both people and political abstractions. Ed Miliband even! Plus equality, fairness, a just society and suchlike. Proximity to a Cause on my very own doorstep but no thanks – that’s not how detachment works.

Our ancestors were heavily influenced by a false proximity to God, ghosts, demons and even the local priest or vicar. Although I tend to wonder how common even that level of piety really was among horny-handed drudges with little to look forward to apart from a mug of sour ale at the end of  a long day.

Now we foster a sense of false proximity to everything from the latest teen idol to holiday destinations. What else is an exotic holiday but the illusion of false proximity to a more interesting or desirable location?

We foster a sense of false proximity to celebrities of course, but that about other abstractions? Royalty, honesty, integrity, intelligence, social class, other cultures, professional standards, science, the arts, places, the boss, style, football clubs, disasters, human suffering, conflict, the supernatural, the environment, whales, dolphins, furry animals, trees, forests and even the whole universe.

False proximity sells myths.

Even simile, metaphor and simple comparison may create a sense of false proximity between one idea and another, one situation and another, one event and another, a historical figure and one from the present day.

The distorting lens of the media presents unusual people as being fascinatingly closer than they really are. We get the same beguiling effect of false proximity when the media present us with rare events such as terrorist bombings or freakish murders.

  • A community is in shock after a young man was shot…
  • The film premiere was held last night - the stars were…
  • Armed police chased him across this road… 

It all adds up to a dramatic but distorted version of what is going on in the world. False proximity stirs up emotional confusions and sidelines detachment. 

Which of course is the whole idea.

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Ukraine: Belarus gets the message

Source: http://eurodialogue.org/Druzhba-Pipeline-Map

"Belarus will make all efforts towards returning Ukrainian-Russian relations to brotherly and good neighbourly ones, helping find options to settle all the existing contradictions and preventing armed confrontation," said the Belarusian Foreign Minstry on Wednesday.

This outbreak of reasonableness may have been prompted by the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing campaign to grab eastern Ukraine, across which runs a major Russian gas pipeline towards Turkey and (via the future South Stream spur) to Western Europe.

But it may also have to do with a sense that the game is up for the gas (and oil - see above map) bandits of eastern Europe. Yevhen Bakulin, the chairman of the Ukrainian national gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy, has just been arrested for corruption.

Four years ago, the President of the Ukraine claimed that his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had driven the company into insolvency in order to forge a closer cooperation with Russia.

At the same time (2010), Vladimir Socor commented on Jamestown.org:

"In Belarus, however, the presumably Russia-oriented president Alyaksandr Lukashenka has all along resisted Russian control of the oil processing plants and transit pipelines. The Kremlin is arm-twisting Belarus by shifting oil transit volumes into the Baltic Pipelines Sytem (BPS), which circumvents Belarus to reach Russian Baltic ports for tanker transportation to Europe. Similarly, Russia threatens to bypass Ukraine’s gas transit system by laying pipelines on the seabed of the Baltic and Black seas. Moscow uses the threat of circumvention to pressure Belarus and Ukraine into sharing control of their oil and gas sectors, respectively, with Russian companies. In that eventuality, Russia would presumably maintain the supply and transit flows by overland pipelines through Belarus and Ukraine.

"While the threat of bypassing Ukraine through the Baltic and Black Sea is hardly credible, the circumvention of Belarus is credible and indeed in progress through BPS Phase One, which is already operational, and the incipient construction of BPS Phase Two. The pressure is now growing through the threat of abolishing oil subsidies to Belarus, following Minsk’s attempts to improve its relations with the EU."

It's the old story. Middlemen taking "protection money" from traders in transit, whether it be exotic fabrics along the Silk Route or the ancient, Brittany-bound exports of Irish copper and gold across the Cornish peninsula that made King Arthur's court so wealthy.

Sadly for us who like the idea of democracy, it takes an autarch to beat the oligarchs into submission. Putin is taming Belarus and Ukraine by a combination of muscle and (with the threat of Nord and South Stream pipeline developments) Thatcherian "competitionanchoice". At least he appears to be acting broadly in his nation's interests, unlike the treacherous claques of Westminster.

There is a passage I recall from a biography of Armand Hammer, where the American entrepreneur was transporting much-needed pencillin by rail into Soviet Russia. At one rural station, the train was delayed by an official looking for a certain consideration. A telephone call was put through to Stalin, the man was shot, the train moved on.

Putin may not be a nice man, but he is, to use Mario Puzo's words, a "reasonable man". This is business. as Hyman Roth said:

"I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen; I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!"

If you want the luxury of freedom, be prepared to turn off your gas and electricity.


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Friday, March 21, 2014

Ukraine: never mind the Fascism taunts, follow the money

"... while the focus has most recently been on Crimea, eastern Ukraine is expected to be the next hotspot, with the action centring on Donetsk, the regional capital of the industrial heartlands. Pro-Russian activists say they are ready to fight against Kiev and its "fascist" backers in the West. And upon the outcome of this struggle will depend on whether the country splits between east and west."

- says Richard North today (htp: Raedwald).

As I said on Wednesday:

"... was the whole thing [anti-government Ukraine protests] set up by Russia in the first place, to provoke a crisis aimed at the annexation of Crimea, near which will run the South Stream gas pipeline?

- and possibly, in due course, eastern Ukraine, which is also predominantly Russian-speaking and across which runs Blue Stream?"

The core curriculum in our schools should include history and map-reading.

See also my Monday post on how Putin has for years been building up infrastructure on the shores of the Black Sea, using the Winter Olympics as cover. Some echoes of the 1938 Munich Games, perhaps; but unlike Hitler, Putin's not mad. Let him have his Sudetenland.

For really, it's business as usual: he's selling what we want to buy.

For the third time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Major_russian_gas_pipelines_to_europe.png

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Osborne gives us the threepenny bits

Pic source: BBC
The proposed new-style pound coin is publicised on the day of UK Chancellor George Osborne's Budget speech to Parliament.

The 12-sided design resembles the pre-decimal brass threepenny piece first issued in the reign of Edward VIII. The resemblance is more than physical, as we shall see.

Before 1937, threepence coins had always been based on silver, but the silver content reduced over the years and the coin eventually became inconveniently small. Why? Inflation, the curse of the twentieth century.

This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War of 1914-18. The Daily Mail's purchasing power calculator shows that one pound in 1915 was equivalent to £87 today. Coincidentally, under the old coinage system, there were 240 pence to the pound, or 80 "thrupenny bits". So a modern pound coin is worth much the same as a WWI threepenny bit.

The Chancellor introduced his Budget with the words, "Our country still borrows too much. We still don’t invest enough, export enough or save enough. So today we do more to put that right. This is a Budget for building a resilient economy. If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you. "

Actually, it's still not one for savers. I'm on Day 647 of my attempts to get my MP to ask questions in Parliament about NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificates. All I've had so far is substandard, ill-informed guff in written answers from three different Treasury ministers (see right-hand sidebar on the Money blog).

In Cockney rhyming slang, the "threepenny bits" stands for "the shits". Funny how all these things link up.


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Ukraine: is it just a business plan?

Were the protests really started by democrats fed up of a corrupt government? We don't seem to manage that here, so why there? These things need organising, so who organised it? Any involvement from the West?

Even if this did begin as a people's movement, France24 suggests that it may have been infiltrated by Russian agents.

Or was the whole thing set up by Russia in the first place, to provoke a crisis aimed at the annexation of Crimea, near which will run the South Stream gas pipeline?

 - and possibly, in due course, eastern Ukraine, which is also predominantly Russian-speaking and across which runs Blue Stream?

At present, according to the map below, there are two key points (one in central Ukraine, the other in western Belarus) that between them control Russia's gas exports to Europe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Major_russian_gas_pipelines_to_europe.png

Quite apart from empire-building and the desire for a year-round seaport, is all this fuss really about securing energy supply routes? Putin the businessman, prudently working out a plan for economic resilience? If so, Europe wants the same - all those houses to heat, gas-powered electricity generating plants to fuel.

In which case, the hooha is strictly for the punters and the fix is in already. Maybe that's why some of the South Stream construction contracts were signed last Friday.

And when Nord Stream is completed (see map), the capacity of Ukraine and Belarus to hold Russia to ransom will be very considerably reduced.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

From Sochi to Sevastopol

from Google Maps


"What Did Sochi Get for $51 Billion? Highways, Railroads and a Lot of White Elephants," scoffed Alec Luhn in The Nation last month.
Don't forget the new airport, Alec. And the new port.


Further up the coast is the "Hero City" and major port of Novorossiisk. Also being developed.
 
An hour away on the M25, northeastwards, is Anapa:

 
(Source, if you need to look more closely)
(Source)

(Source)





Poor, dumb President Putin! He simply can't see how he has wasted all that money developing Russian assets on the Black Sea.

Nor, to be frank, can I.

Watch for (a) destabilising tendencies in Greece and (b) a gradual rise in the commercial fortunes of Thessaloniki. And - who knows? - a revival of nostalgic sentiment among the descendants of Pontic Greeks (many of whom now speak Russian) in northern Turkey, Georgia and the Ukraine.

Currently, the Bosphorus Strait is 35 metres deep at its shallowest northern part.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The better part of valour is indiscretion


Many lessons are too late for the learning.

Only now do we know what an alley-cat Roy Jenkins was, and of his (surmised, but also in those days hardly exceptional) erotic relationship at Oxford with future Cabinet Minister Tony Crosland, surely relevant to the former's campaign to decriminalise homosexuality. Should we have known this in 1967? Perhaps it wasn't essential.

But how long ago did it become public knowledge that Crosland, once his party was in power, had said, "If it's the last thing I do, I'm going to destroy every f***ing grammar school in England"? Should we have been told that at the time? Surely.

Now, we can peruse 40+-year-old ministerial briefings that show how Heath and others (including Macmillan - we do we leave him out of it?) plotted to make us part of a European political union without our realising it; but 70+ years on, according to master blogger John Ward, we still can't read the minutes of three British Cabinet meetings from May 1940.

It seems that on every matter of importance, we are kept in the dark at the vital moment. Yet some know the truth, and others know who knows.

To what extent do the mainstream media collude in suppressing information that must be revealed if we are to make informed decisions, or accept decisions made for us?


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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Domeniconi: Koyunbaba

Came across this wonderful meditative piece on a Miloš Karadaglić CD my wife just bought me. The rendition below is by George Vassilev, which a couple of Youtube commentators say is the best.




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A reply from Mr Nigel Farage MEP

It may be a form letter, but at least it's a reply to my letter of 23rd February. Perhaps Christopher Booker will also reply.



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I should be redundant


There are some children who would have special needs even if they had two loving parents at home; but they're in a minority.

We once had a boy whose behaviour was really - well, the mealy-mouthed modern term is "challenging". He was taken from home and put in foster care. He was also put in with a much younger group of children at the educational centre, so he could take on the responsibility of being a good role model. The transformation was dramatic.

As a Looked After Child, his case was reviewed every few months. Part of the process is to get the views of the child, so I asked his teacher to help. We passed her an A4 sheet with the outline of a head on it; the boy had to sketch his face and write a few things about himself around the drawing.

In the top corner he wrote, "I am loved."


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What the Rhine maidens really wanted

(From the Bayerische Staatsoper's 2012 production of "Götterdämmerung")

Synopsis:

Having lost their gold to the Federal Reserve, who in turn foolishly leased it to Alberic (the gnome of Zurich), the Rhine maidens cling to the false gold of the Euro for comfort, though it will ultimately lead to the destruction of the Gods and all Southern Europe.

Prizing wealth and power above love, they have poisoned the wellspring of natural affection and driven away their lovers so, doomed ever to remain maidens, they are left lamenting, "Viagra, Viagra" (at 4:00 below).




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Friday, March 14, 2014

Gasless


83% of UK homes are heated by gas and much of our domestic electricity is supplied by gas-powered generating stations. Some estimate future supply at 40 - 50 years, so if you have children of school age they will live to see the end of gas in the home.

What's the plan?

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Professional trouser hunters

From dailymail.co.uk

From nknews.org

An acquaintance of mine, a North Korean refugee currently living in South Korea, told me how, in the early 2000s, she broke a bone. The incident happened one afternoon when she was on the way home. A few streets away from her house she encountered a patrol of regular police and militia, and she instantly knew she was in trouble because she had done something seriously improper. She had no choice but to run, and while trying to get away from her pursuers she broke a bone in her feet. But she still escaped the hand of law.

What was the crime she had committed? She was wearing trousers while walking the streets of a major North Korean city.

This story might seem strange. As every visitor to North Korea can testify, there are a great number of women clad in trousers on the streets of major North Korean cities. Nonetheless, a theoretical ban on women wearing trousers has existed since the late 1970s. Its enforcement has, however, been rather patchy at best.

My acquaintance did not blame her pursuers for the above-mentioned incident, instead she blamed herself. She knew that patrols of professional trouser hunters could be encountered only in certain parts of the city and only at certain times of the day, and she believes she was foolhardy to venture into such a high-risk area dressed in such an “indecent” way. 



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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oceans protecting us from global warming? For how long?

Are the scientists researching climate change allowing sufficiently for the moderating role of water?

Water has a high specific heat capacity. The same energy that raises the temperature of water by 1°C, will make copper hotter by more than 10°C.

This Time article (November 2013) reports "the vast oceans carry 93% of the stored energy from climate change, compared to just 1% for the atmosphere, with melting ice and landmasses making up the rest." Some of that energy goes to raising the temperature at certain depths.

But water has other ways of processing heat. It can expand, so that could be one of the reasons sea levels are rising.

There is also water's tendency to form chains of molecules - or even rings - and presumably heat energy will be used in the breaking of these structures, and there's a lot of them in the Earth's 1.3 billion cubic kilometres of ocean.

Another energy-employing phase change is evaporation. “The atmosphere’s water vapor content has increased by about 0.41 kilograms per square meter (kg/m²) per decade since 1988, and natural variability in climate just can’t explain this moisture change," says this article.

And then there's claims and counterclaims about melting ice. The argument is plagued by complexity because of the warming, cooling, evaporating and precipitating effects of wind currents and the difficulty of measuring ice thickness as well as extent.

The thermal absorption properties of water may have bought us more time, but they don't let us completely off the hook. Just as we are learning to discount climate change alarmists, we should look more skeptically at the sanguinists. There's a huge difference between "small chance" and "no chance", as we have found in financial matters; also, between "a long time ahead" and "never".

And then there's the at present theoretical concern about all that methane currently trapped in the oceans - by the water structures known as "clathrates", structures that heat energy can break.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Blown away by harpsichord

I've got the CD, and play it loud on the motorway. The combination of Frisch's powerful and authoritative playing, the pindrop recording and the tremendous sonorousness of the period (1751) instrument make other harpsichord recordings I've heard seem dull greyscale by comparison. This is not a geek thing - you will be hypnotised, moved, exalted. And when you've heard it, I hope you'll be fair to the artist and buy it.



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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Extraordinary guitar opening

I have to share this with you, perhaps it will move you as it does me. The first minute or so of Almir Sater's "Flor do Amor":



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The future of education: £1-an-hour schoolteachers, billionaire directors

A Daily Kos article currently circulating on Facebook compares American schoolteachers and childminders and calculates that teachers are far cheaper, at $1.42 per child per hour.

How about British teachers?

The main scale annual pay for classroom teachers runs from £21,804 to £37,124 (if you break through into the upper pay scale) and the statutory minimum hours (not counting marking, preparation and voluntary self-development) are 1,265 per year. Given a class of 30 pupils, that works out at 57p - 98p per child per hour (in London, 72p - £1.20.)

Nationally, the pupil-teacher ratio is lower, because some classes are smaller (e.g. with "A"-level groups) and there are teaching roles outside the classroom. On the other hand, teachers actually work much more than the statutory hours (ask anyone who's married to one), so if the pupil-teacher ratio is a third less but teachers work 50% extra hours, the rate remains unchanged.

By way of comparison, the Daycare Trust reckons toddlercare costs average £4.26 per hour.

But we're not comparing like for like: day nurseries have overheads, and so do schools. Overall, including additional amounts for some special needs provision, "core funding" across primary and secondary schools is around £4,000 per head. Even that is an under-estimate. It doesn't take into account higher levels of special needs, or other educational expediture. Three years ago, the average spend per pupil in England was £6,199 per year.

Also, if we're using the consumer model, we need to look at children's hours, not teachers'; but they're not fixed. The old law provided for at least two hours of secular instruction in the morning and two in the afternoon (as to subjects, only religious education was compulsory); today, in England and Wales, there are no minimum school hours, only a requirement for schools to be open for 380 sessions per year. However, a child's entitlement is generally taken as 25 hours a week, which multiplied by 38 weeks equals 950 hours a year.

That suggests a cost per child (in England in 2010) of £6,199 / 950 = £6.53 per hour.

Then you have to add on the cost of capital expenditure programs. At a guess, if it were run as a business, the compulsory education system would probably have to charge something like £10 an hour.

Which brings us to the question of privatisation. As with other formerly publicly-owned assets, there is a potential bonanza in education. The trick will be to get the State to pump in resources first, then transfer them into private hands at an unrealistically low price, together with a ready-made workforce for which the new business hasn't had to pay the costs of training and recruitment.

It would accelerate the process if nominally independent inspectors ran round the country denigrating schools which have a more challenging intake, putting them into "special measures" in preparation for rebirth as semi-autonomous "Academies" and eventually, privately-run outfits.

Oh, the money to be made! For you can squash down the salaries of the teachers, cut corners in all sorts of ways, boost administrators' remuneration and maybe even organise a massive debt-funded sellout-and-run, as Southern Cross Healthcare did with old people's homes.

A fantasy? No, look to the USA, where we started this piece, and see what's happening with "charter schools", educational publishers and testers, and the banks: Yes! Magazine's infographic here is very disturbing.


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Friday, March 07, 2014

Once a generation

1914
1939
1964-ish (young v. old)
1989 - the crumbling of communism
2014 ?

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"China to merge with Russia" - Classic FM

6.30 am: the Classic FM bulletin said "China" was to have a referendum on unification with Russia. Morning eyes. But this is something Russia has long feared, so I understand, and what with Russia having the lowest ratio of population to arable land of any major nation, plus wood and water aplenty, and China heavily overpopulated in relation to their natural resources, and thinking that Russia's eastern lands rightfully belong to them...

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

UKIP and low information voters

They have been called low information voters or LIVs, people who vote but know next to nothing about political trends, issues or possibilities. People who don’t even know the names of major cabinet ministers or the role of the EU in making UK law.

Yet they vote.

In my view and no doubt quite a few others, the main function of the EU has been to sideline all voters simply because the governing classes regard us as too thick and politically idle to be allowed into policy-making.

Whatever its original purpose, the EU clearly intends to sweep away the untidiness of democracy and smarten things up with a makeover of professional policy-makers. Nothing must be left to chance or the whim of voters in the fanatical pursuit of extreme, micro-managed political tidiness.

Anarchy is the enemy of liberty, and so, at its highest pitch, is mechanical efficiency. The good life can be lived only in a society where tidiness is preached and practised, but not too fanatically, and where efficiency is always haloed, as it were, by a tolerated aura of mess.
Aldous Huxley – Themes and Variations

We used to refer to extreme political tidiness as fascism, communism, totalitarianism or whatever. Take your ideological pick. Soft fascism melds well with modern trends.

Whatever we choose to call it, the EU has created a situation where the main function of national politicians is the covert implementation of EU policy. This leaves them plenty of spare time to waffle their way through faux public debates on unimportant, preferably non-EU issues.

So is democracy worth saving and is UKIP the party to give it the kiss of life here in the UK?

Well UKIP is hardly likely to resolve the LIV issue even if against all the odds it makes inroads into EU domination. So we may as well face the possibility that LIVs don’t give a toss about democratic principles because they don’t analyse political issues beyond their own superficial and largely inflexible allegiances.

It takes a lot to shift us out of our comfort zones because here in the early twenty first century those zones are voluptuously comfortable. Especially when compared to living standards of only a few generations ago.

We don’t take to the streets, agitate for general strikes or vote for a dwindling number of folk who actually want to make democracy work. Life is simply too comfortable to be bothered with all that reading and thinking malarkey.

So LIVs vote for the mainstream every time. Democracy is on the way out and what the future will usher in as its replacement is not easily guessed at. The change will be slow though, so LIVs won’t notice until it is too late.

Maybe it’s too late already and UKIP is no longer relevant apart from being a repository for protest votes – but LIVs don’t do protest votes.


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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Luck of the draw

From telegraph.co.uk

Do you count yourself as lucky? I do, but I suppose it mostly depends on the comparisons we make or fail to make.

I was lucky in all kinds of obvious ways from the time and country of my birth onward. In the developed world there are millions of us living our comfortable lives with worries previous generations would have treated to a tubercular splutter of disbelief.

We have our ups and downs of course, but materially most of us are lucky. We have our personal tragedies too because death comes to all and is so often untimely or painful. Yet in spite of the omnipotence of death we are lucky compared to earlier generations.

So are some people more lucky than others? David Cameron was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but do we count this as luck? I think we do.

What about Blair? Bonkers in my view, but lucky enough to be charming in a way I’ve never quite fathomed. Maybe if I’d met him I’d know.

I’m sure luck plays a major part in our lives. I’m lucky to have made a reasonable career decision when I discovered I was passably good at chemistry. I could have given chemistry a miss and opted for something with deeper appeal, but I didn’t yet the choice turned out reasonably well.

However I wasn’t well equipped to make the choice anyway – there was a hefty element of luck. Maybe my parents buying me a chemistry set for Christmas had a hand in it. A proper fifties chemistry set it was too, one where you could discover the combustible delights of sulphur and iron filings.

The books and comics of the time were stimulating too and my parents believed strongly in the educational value of regular reading. Another stroke of luck – I was born at a time when books were available to borrow free of charge from public libraries.

Looping back to political careers - are politicians such as Cameron and Blair talented, lucky or a bit of both? Which is the more powerful asset? Impossible to say of course, but I think with a enough talent, politicians are often able to twist lady luck around their little fingers.

Doesn’t say much for the present lot though does it?


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