Wednesday, August 21, 2019

JULIAN ASSANGE: A Letter to the Home Secretary

I've tried, and you can probably do much better - I hope you do. I see Assange as essentially a political prisoner and think that despite his faults he should be defended - for our sake as well as his.

You can also write to him direct to help his morale - I repeat the guidance for this at the end here.


Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Home Secretary
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Dear Ms Patel

Julian Assange

I write to you in your capacity as Home Secretary and congratulate you on your recent appointment.

As you know, Mr Julian Assange has spent seven years effectively in solitary confinement at the Ecuadorian Embassy and has recently been seized from there and confined in Belmarsh Prison.

You will be very familiar with the details of his case. As you know, there is widespread disquiet about the British Government’s treatment of this journalist whose work has been given the Serena Shim Award “for uncompromised integrity in journalism.” (

May I most respectfully request that your Department:

  1. Ensures that Mr Assange’s medical problems are addressed promptly, appropriately and fully, seeing that the distinguished journalist John Pilger reports him to be in poor and worsening health (
  2. Ensures that he has access to papers and sources of information relevant to his defence and that items illegally seized (as reported in The Guardian here ) are returned to him as soon as possible
  3. Notwithstanding our country’s desire to maintain the most amicable relations with our friends in the United States, carefully and sympathetically considers appeals against his extradition
My reason for contacting you about this is that I feel that our country’s moral standing in the international world is in danger of being compromised in this case.

Yours sincerely

Julian Assange is being held in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison and appears to be in ill and declining health. Some people are concerned that he is not receiving adequate medical treatment, is being harmed by continuing long periods of solitary confinement and is allowed insufficient time to meet with his legal advisers and others.

Aside from protests, demonstrations and fund-raising, one way to show support is by writing letters - to your political representative, to the current Home Secretary Priti Patel, and to Julian himself (which MUST be done IN THE RIGHT WAY, as shown below).

Some links:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Space: the superstore for energy and minerals?

Just connecting a few dots here, but there's an outside chance that doomsters could be confounded by technofixes involving space technologies.

A couple of years ago, The Sun newspaper reported on a planned NASA exploration of some of the asteroids sharing Jupiter's orbital path around the sun. One, "16 Psyche", appears to be the metallic core of a protoplanet and contains vast amounts of iron, nickel and precious metals:

How could we extract these materials profitably and get them to where they are needed?

Could we bring an asteroid home?

And what about the potential out there for solar power generation?

If we are able to gather energy in space, how do we get it back to Earth? One suggestion is to beam it through the atmosphere down to ground-based receivers - but this involves energy loss on the way, and problems with ensuring that the beam is directed accurately and safely.

Here's a suggestion that occurs to me - probably kited already among the bright brains in those research units: space elevators (cables tied to the ground at one end, and to a geostationary satellite at the other.)
People are already experimenting with the idea on a smaller scale:

- but instead of (or as well as) being a ladder for space vehicles to climb into orbit, couldn't they be high-tension power cables?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Brexit: Stay Out The Car

A scene haunts me, from the biopic "Pollock", and it keeps telling me about Brexit. The final moments are based on real events, with only minor changes (a strangers' house instead of a bar)...

By 1956 the abstract painter Jackson Pollock had passed the peak of his fame:

"The art critic Clement Greenberg—Pollock’s onetime champion—would later say that by this time “Jackson knew he’d lost the stuff” and was “never going to come back.” Pollock was drinking heavily and had fallen into an abyss of nonproductivity; he was in a “death trance,” according to another biographer friend, Jeffrey Potter." (1)

Pollock's lover Ruth Kligman returned to him from a stay in New York, bringing the receptionist (Edith Metzger) from the beauty parlour she frequented, because her friend Bette wouldn't come.

After dinner they drove out to a party.

"On his way to the car Jackson staggered and Edith asked Ruth if he was "all right? I mean, are you sure he can drive? He's been drinking all day." After reassuring words from Ruth they got in the car - all three in the front seat...

"We drove toward East Hampton. Jackson drove fine, then suddenly started driving very slowly, then slower and slower. Finally he came to a full stop in the fork of the road."

A policeman spoke to Pollock and let him continue.

Edith whispered to me, 'Ruth, he's drunk. Let's go home.'
'Take it easy. He knows what he's doing. Don't worry.'

... Again he started to fall asleep. He drove about twenty miles per hour, his great head falling, his eyes glassy, moaning incoherently. I wished to God I knew how to drive. 'Jackson, please let's go home'... We got him to stop. He turned around in front of [...] a roadhouse bar. [...]
Edith quickly got out of the car. 'I'm going to call for help or call a cab; I must do something.' She was panicked. She was right, but I called her back.

Jackson got furious. 'She can't go in there, get her back.' ...
'Edith, get back in the car. Come on! Don't go in there!'
'But Ruth, he's drunk. I don't want to drive with him. I'm afraid.'
'No, he's not, he's fine, I promise you, we're going home. Come on! Get in!'

[...] I finally coaxed Edith to get back in. We started on our way home. Jackson was fully awake, fully conscious. He was angry, annoyed at us, and began to speed.

Edith started screaming, 'Stop the car, let me out!' She was pleading with him. Again she screamed, 'Let me out, please stop the car! Ruth, do something. I'm scared!'

He put his foot all the way to the floor. He was speeding wildly.

'Jackson, slow down! Edith, stop making a fuss. He's fine. Take it easy. Please. Jackson, stop! Jackson don't do this.' I couldn't reach either of them.

Her arms were waving. She was trying to get out of the car.
He started to laugh hysterically.
One curve too fast. The second curve came too quickly. Her screaming. His insane laughter. His eyes lost. We swerved, skidded to the left out of control - the car lunged into the trees.
We crashed." 

The car had crashed into two small elm trees. All three were thrown from the car. Jackson and Edith were both dead. Ruth survived. (2)

- - - - - - -

Started so well... lost control... drunk, arrogant and overbearing... passenger's move to escape... stupid advice to stay in, from friend... going faster as the squeals get louder...

That's how it feels, to me.

Saturday, August 17, 2019


Julian Assange is being held in the maximum security Belmarsh Prison and appears to be in ill and declining health. Some people are concerned that he is not receiving adequate medical treatment, is being harmed by continuing long periods of solitary confinement and is allowed insufficient time to meet with his legal advisers and others.

Aside from protests, demonstrations and fund-raising, one way to show support is by writing letters - to your political representative, to the current Home Secretary Priti Patel, and to Julian himself (which MUST be done IN THE RIGHT WAY, as shown below).

Some links:

Friday, August 16, 2019


We are into that time of year which used to be known as the 'silly season' which coincides with school and Parliament holidays and the newspapers are filled with trivial or inconsequential stories. Times have changed somewhat and it sometimes feels as though the silly season lasts all year round!

But to maintain the 'tradition' here is a potpourri of musical strangeness. (- in keeping with this year's strange weather.)

br />

Sackerson adds:

From the sublime to... here is a favourite of mine -


JD tells me some swine actually did this for real:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

1978 - when TV political debate was more serious

Here is the Thames TV debate on the Common Market and its relevance to the minority Callaghan government. If only modern debate could be more like this.

Dennis Skinner is very good on the multiple impacts on British industry and labour.

I like the comment by John Pardoe (Liberal) towards the end of Part 2 when he talks about the disadvantages of government by a party that has secured an overwhelming majority in Parliament.

I think that EU membership and recent British government have highlighted the need to revisit:

  • The increasing power of the Executive
  • The use of prerogative powers
  • The expansion of secondary legislation that is merely waved through both Houses

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Epstein: a prediction

I have read that Jeffrey Epstein used to document everything about his activities and clients, presumably as a form of insurance. Now that he is dead - rather mysteriously - his properties can be searched without hindrance.

I predict that nothing will be found that would prove any of the allegations or rumours made against some of the rich, powerful and famous people with whom he had been associated. Not at his homes, offices or lodged with his lawyers past and present.

For I'm confident that America is just as good at losing information as we are.

You may remember that in 1984 Conservative MP for Huddersfield, Geoffrey Dickens passed a file about paedophiles and child pornography to the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan. Dickens had been campaigning on this issue for some years and had even used Parliamentary privilege to name a former British High Commissioner. He claimed there was a paedophile network involving "big, big names – people in positions of power, influence and responsibility" and threatened to name them in the Commons also.

Brittan had told Dickens that the file would be passed to the police; Scotland Yard later said that they had no record of any such investigation. And in the same week that the dossier was given to Brittan, both Dickens' London flat and consituency home were broken into and ransacked - without any ordinary valuables being taken.

Also in the 1980s, it is said that former Labour Cabinet Minister and then MEP Barbara Castle gave investigative journalist Don Hale a dossier alleging the involvement of MPs and peers in the Paedophile Information Exchange. Hale was then visited by police and Special Branch and ordered to hand it over.

That file seems to have been lost, too.

Here's a challenge for a brave and tech-savvy blogger to take up: install one of those programs that identifies your readers' computer addresses and geographical locations, then run a piece titled something like "British VIP paedophile network: notarised copy of Geoffrey Dickens' 1984 file found among deceased lawyer's papers" - and see who looks in.

Or - and I guess this is best - let sleeping dogs lie. As Stalin liked to say, "A man, a problem; no man, no problem."

Friday, August 09, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Ex Africam # 2, by JD

The Proms on BBC4 at the weekend featured Angélique Kidjo and I found this review from the Evening Standard:

The review gives special mention to the percussionist but I thought the drummer was even better and special guest Roberto Fonseca was excellent, as usual.

Watching the show I was reminded that we need a further helping of music 'out of Africa'.
Part one was here -

....and we continue, belatedly, with more of the same and it is easy to see how the Blues and the S.American rhythms were derived from Africa's musical traditions.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Parliament's Conundrum

Brexit: Legal bid to prevent Boris Johnson shutting down parliament

Parliament voted to repeal ECA 1972.

Parliament voted to trigger Article 50.

Parliament rejected the dWA a record 3 times in the same session (a breach of established protocol that we can only hope will never be repeated.)

If the EU fails to offer an acceptable revised deal, how can there be anything more to say?

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Fake News and Misleading Adjudicators

People look for quick answers, for someone to tell them whether a claim is true or false.

But the judges themselves may not always tell the full story when putting their stamp on it.

Zero Hedge, 28 December 2018: "Angela Merkel: Nation States Must "Give Up Sovereignty" To New World Order"

This is labelled "Fake News" by Maarten Schenk on "Nowhere does she mention the "New World Order" and there is no place where she says "sovereign nation states must not listen to the will of their citizens when it comes to questions of immigration, borders, or even sovereignty".

I reply:

"Some misquoting, perhaps - but the essential point is correct, if you read the original KAS press release ( 

You will know from that, that the conference was about the tension between national sovereignty and globalisation; and that Frau Merkel is in favour of the latter, merely using parliaments as the instrument to surrender sovereignty. 

This ignores the tension between parliamentary representatives and the people they claim to represent, as has been clearly instanced in the UK. 

So, not quite fake news after all. Do you think you yourself have been slightly misleading here?"

Who shall guard the guardians?

Monday, August 05, 2019

Simon Reeve on why we should have completely open borders

Hopping channels, we got a few seconds of this: "Mediterranean", with Simon Reeve.

He's just been spending a bit of time with lads on the North African coast who are trying to get into Europe illegally. And here's what he says, now on board ship and looking over the Strait of Gibraltar at 17:30 minutes in:

"Across the Mediterranean, from Africa to Europe, from Morocco to Spain, it feels that under the watchful eye of those lads in the forest who look at these big ships carrying their hopes and their dreams across to southern Spain. And I just get to do it thanks to this (gets out his passport) little thing: my passport (chagrined grimace); an accident of birth."

Yes, indeed. It's hard not to feel sympathy with people who want a better life.

But if you're going to play on our emotions in this way, there should also be a cool head to go with that warm heart.

There are three options:

a.) Let anyone and everyone into Europe, anytime.
b.) Let nobody in, ever.
c.) Let some people in.

Since (a) and (b) are obviously lunatic, it must be (c). And if (c), then we need a system.

It really doesn't help the political discourse to have TV presenters and celebs indulge in obiter dicta without considering the implications of what they say.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Getting past eco-guilt

There's some element of psychological sado-masochism at work in the Great Plastic Rubbish Crisis. It's almost as though the real driver is the need to make (other) people feel bad about themselves, which mostly they do anyway. 

If you're going to whip the world you'll need a long lash, and in this case there's plenty of thong. We've all seen the animal pictures, and then there's the five great ocean garbage patches to remind us what a messy, throwaway lot we are.

Like the WW2 British tearing down park railings on tne pretext that they were needed to make into tanks and aircraft - which they weren't, so I understand, it was just to keep the populace aware that There Is A War On And We Must All Make Sacrifices (geez Louise, as though we didn't know) - we've had the Plastic Shopping Bag Guilts foisted on us.

The 5p charge has indeed been effective at reducing waste, and that's a good thing:

- because it is always good not to be wasteful.

But then there's the link between that and Killing Sea Turtles (etc.):

By and large, it's not me. I live 100 miles inland and what my Local Authority doesn't recycle it burns - creating atmospheric particulate pollution that may be more of a health hazard than Deadly Diesel (the fuel that the Government wanted us all to switch to, then very much not).

So the Mail boasts of how it has successfully influenced our consumer behaviour, yet only last year ran a story explaining that most of the seaborne plastic garbage comes from rivers in far-off continents:

- a story based on a German scientific news item from the year before:

We may be indirectly responsible, in that until recently we sent a lot of garbage to China to be processed, but China is calling a halt to much of that: (sodding paywall)
But you can read this follow-up:

It seem the real answer to 90% of the problem is to get faraway foreign countries to stop throwing the stuff into the rivers - a perfectly practicable, political issue.

And then maybe a cleanup of the floating ocean crap - initial cost estimate c. £1 billion:

- though likely to be far more:

- yet even then, still a tiny fraction of the cost of building an aircraft carrier, for example.

Meantime, I wish the new prophets would get out of my head with their arrogant Save The World stuff.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

9/11 Conspiracy Theory Gets Legal and Scientific Teeth

24 July 2019: The Fire Commissioners of the Franklin Square and Munson Fire District outside of Queens, New York have passed a resolution calling for a formal enquiry into allegations that explosives were planted in the Trade Centre buildings prior to the airplane suicide attacks -
NY Fire Commissioners Demand New 9/11 Probe, Citing "Overwhelming Evidence of Pre-Planted Explosives"

This comes after a petition to the New York Southern District Attorney's office by victims' families on 10 April last year, stating “The Lawyers’ Committee has reviewed the relevant available evidence . . . and has reached a consensus that there is not just substantial or persuasive evidence of yet-to-be-prosecuted crimes related to the use of pre-planted explosives and/or incendiaries . . . on 9/11, but there is actually conclusive evidence that such federal crimes were committed.”

That Grand Jury Petition made on 10 April 2019 can be read here:

Friday, August 02, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Al Andaluz Project, by JD

...tip of the hat to Mr Sackerson for this which popped up in his sidebar of random selections from the archive. I haven't yet checked out "Marko Markovitch's tremendously vibrant jazz band" but I did look for the Al Andaluz Project and they were very interesting.

They are a collaboration between a German group called Estampie and L'Ham de Foc from Valencia.

This from their web page -

"The encounter of the three "leading" cultures of the Middle-Ages - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - a topic as fascinating and controversal as ever - is reflected in the Al Andaluz Project by the origin of the involved musicians. Just recently violent-prone fundamentalist movements, whether religious or not, have taken centre stage of public debate. Unfortunately, the necessary basic knowledge of the matter is often fragmentary, this being due to a general ignorance of the historical context. And this in view of the incredible abundance of musical literature. In some regions this music has never ceased to be living tradition until today. Especially in the realm of music, the peaceful co-existence of the three great cultures lasted for centuries - a shining example for a mutually enriching and inspiring social life."

"Al-Ándalus is the name chosen by the Ummayad conquerors for the Iberian Peninsula. Moorish-governed Spain was not only famous for its tolerance and scholarship, but for prosperity, trade and flourishing arts as well. For many centuries, people with different religions - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - lived together in peace and inspired each other. Philosophers, poets, artists and musicians were most welcome at the courts of occidental rulers like Alfonso X "the Wise" of Castile, and made their artistic contribution to a unique merging of cultures."

The music is not all from Andalucia, the first video below is Portuguese/Galician* but it fits the style and the mood of all they do.

*Sackerson asks:

"Can you describe for our readers the technical differences between Portuguese/Galician music and Andalusian?"

JD replies:

Well I can try :)

This is a traditional version of the Portuguese/Galician song -

As you can tell the AlAndaluz Project adapted it to their Arabic/Sephardic rhythms and tunings but the melody is identifiably the same.

Their style of music is nothing like the popular image of Andalucian music, i.e. flamenco which has roots in the north African 'tarab' as I showed in my previous post -

The Al Andaluz Project web page mentions the influence of the Umayyad caliphate which had its origins in Damascus and they were one of the more enlightened sects of Islam in contrast to the Abbasids who drove them out of Damascus prompting their migration to Al Andalus. The link I had in the references helps to explain things -

I think there is a lot of guesswork goes into reconstructing history and as I have pointed out elsewhere historians only tell us about the 'gangsters' who, animal like, fight each other for power. They tell us little or nothing about how people lived and even less about their traditions and their arts and music but if we open our eyes and our ears we can get glimpses of the influences from one tradition to another.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Infrastructure, a dirty word ? by Wiggiaatlarge

If there is one thing above all others where we have fallen badly behind our European neighbours it is in the world of infrastructure: hugely expensive, always over budget and always years late, not just in the building but in the whole planning and execution phase.

I could pick any sector. Schools, hospitals, transport, airports etc etc all are dated in short supply and/or in poor condition. It seems to have been like that for decades now and it has been. For the purposes of a small local illustration of the absurdity of the way things are "run" and planned and executed, I will tell the tale of a road to nowhere just up from me here in Norwich.

Norfolk in general is not exactly blessed with road connections. It has no motorways. It does have some A roads, the worst example being the A47 the main east to west route that still has many miles of single lane sections causing horrendous jams and stationary traffic on a daily basis during any daylight hours. We live in west Norwich and it takes over two hours to reach the A1, the nearest motorway to the north, and if you go south the newly dualled A11 (it only took thirty years to get that bit done) takes you slowly south to link up eventually with the M11, and that is it: everything else is single lane and very slow and very crowded.

Back to the road north of here. For years - it is always years - there has been a need for a northern by-pass to the City of Norwich to link at each end with the A47 and create a ring road for the city.
This was finally built and opened 18 months ago to much joy, despite certain cheap short cuts in its build which rather took the shine off it. But the real farce with this road is that it stops short on the western end of joining with the A47. How could this be? I thought only the Italians with Mafia help built roads that just, well ended, but no, we have one.

There has never been a decent explanation to this ‘short’ coming. Reading between the lines, it's likely the Norfolk Council and Highways England who are responsible for the atrocious A47 could come up with money for their bit and the project went ahead on the understanding that, well, ‘one day...’

There was needless to say a fairly large riposte to this nonsense as the road's stopping short created other problems, shovellling traffic at the short end into small rat runs through the surrounding villages. Norwich has a river network that bisects the city and this creates problems through lack of decent crossings, most are small and old. The two bridges near us for example both have 7.5 tonnes weight limits but that doesn't stop 44-tonners using the bridges and creating mayhem in the small villages and tight roads and corners that can hardly contain them. As usual in these circumstances the police are less than useless in stopping these lorries and fail totally to stop the excessive speeding in the same roads, a tale retold in many places in this country.

Back to the road to nowhere: after the obvious and pointedly ridiculous foreshortened route the council embarked on a local study as to how best to complete the route. Total nonsense of course because it has been discussed over and over for years; if they don’t know how to finish the road I would suggest they all resign and do something else for a living.

Yet on they have ploughed with a “consultation” document, meetings with proposals and diagrams for alternative routes have been held in all the affected areas and emails and letters sent at great expense to people who live in these areas. This process in itself - unsurprisingly, if you are a cynic like me - managed to eat up 18 months of time since the road stopped short, almost certainly stalling in the hope of funding coming forward which is not there at the moment.

Finally the survey is completed and analysed and a final route chosen. Naturally it is not the one that 90% of those asked plumped for which begs the question why ask? but in their consideration a route further west was chosen and the reasons given. What they don’t say is that by pushing the joining up further west the inclination is for many to not bother and take the rat run instead because it is shorter. Well done Norwich City Council, they really should not be allowed to plan anything.

They also give a timetable for the works (assuming it gets the go ahead,) It will start work on this three and a half miles addition in 2022 and finish in 2025. Three years for three and a half miles! The Chinese recently built 2000 miles of railway in eighteen months.

And all this comes with a caveat of the funding being made available. You really couldn’t make it up.

Meanwhile at the top of our road the council has just spent £5.4 million making a dual carriageway. This involved one extra lane and some re-jigging of the less than a half mile stretch. Apart from the money being wasted - and they cry austerity at every juncture - it achieves absolutely nothing as it ends at the same set of lights and the road from then on into the city is mainly single carriageway and where it is dual it has a bus lane. Well done again Norwich City council: £5.4 million that could have gone towards the road to nowhere used for a useless road widening. We get what we vote for but sometimes I think whoever we voted for would come from the same gene pool of the current incumbents of city hall, a building that itself despite having millions spent refurbishing on it still looks like Ceaușescu’s palace.

Every time I go abroad now the difference in things like road infrastructure, railways, airports and more becomes ever more evident. In a crowded isle it is never as easy to make the building of major projects yet we seem to be shackled by planning, shackled by lack of vision, and shackled with the lack of desire to make the citizen's life easier.

Because so much is is in a parlous state through long term neglect we ended up with the unbelievably costly PFI projects for items like hospitals; these by their nature are a business man's dream and a taxpayer's nightmare at the time. PFI was an easy method to get past legislators as any government could with the right projection be seen to be actually doing something; only later did the cost raise its ugly head and while the increase in PFI projects has slowed they are still being pushed and passed in some areas. As with all such, other people's money is easy to spend whether short term or long term.

All that is wrong is exacerbated by an increasing population. All the increase comes in from abroad , from the EU and from the third world, all have access to our crumbling infrastructure and all by sheer numbers contribute to its further decline.

Is there a light on the horizon? No, not if a Prime Minister can sign away a trillion on a climate change project that will do nothing to change things; despite the hand-wringers who say we should do “something” that does not make it all right to squander huge sums that further impoverish a once powerful proud nation while disregarding the real needs of the people.

As a really powerful storm showed last night, if the climate is changing and it always has, we - homo sapiens - are in just a very small window of the evolution of the Earth. It will do as it has always done: change. If we are adding to it there is one problem that will not be solved by throwing money at it: the population explosion wipes out any gains made every minute of every day, so how about spending what we have on things that don’t impoverish the nation, just for once spend it on something that makes a difference to everyday lives and boosts trade at the same time: infrastructure!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Craig Murray (whom God preserve) has a moment

One of the few Net commentators on whom I rely for the true inside gen has his moments of unbalance. Here he splutters about the new "right wing" Cabinet, contrasting it unfavourably with the gang of corporatists in Mrs Thatcher's last line-up. Sometimes he simply loses it, like "Attila The Stockbroker" who also uses the term "right-wing" so loosely on Facebook that it might as well mean "occasionally wears a tie."

I reply (but what's the point?):

Usually I look to you for information or angles on subjects that are suppressed in the mainstream media, but there are one or two topics where you seem to exhibit a galvanic response. I suppose even the brightest minds have their red-button issues.

Surely you know that the EU is neoliberal in its economics – vide Costas Lapavitsas' “The Left Case Against The EU” – and intent on Empire-building, interfering in countries as far away as Mali (and thereby compromising Ireland’s military neutrality by the involvement there of Eire’s troops, as Irish Midlands MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan explains.)

Yes, one element among Leavers are “free traders” who are happy to see capital smash-and-grab its way about the world – though on a local scale that is what the EU does also. But there always was and should be a Left vision of a sovereign nation working for the good of all its people, which is not on the menu in the EU as its peripheral members are sadly only too aware.

I suppose this splenetic outburst is related to your hope for an independent Scotland, but in that case why should the UK also not be allowed to desire independence? And how much more wealth and liberty do you imagine Scotland would have in the event (unfeasible I understand) of her being a separate member of the EU?

“Ken Clarke, Chris Patten, John Major, Virginia Bottomley, Douglas Hurd and William Waldegrave” – corporatist anti-democrats: you want “right wing”, you’ve got it there. Guys who despise the people – Major prided himself on "knowing how to talk to the man in the four-ale bar,” like knowing that koalas need to be fed eucalyptus. 

Maybe you’re drawing your political graph all wrong – it’s not Left v Right, it’s Horseshoe Theory:

Monsieur Barnier’s Epic Fail

There is no crisis that the French cannot extend and deepen: the Tennis Court Oath and the Treaty of Versailles spring to mind. M. Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator since December 2016, has found it difficult to resist the call of this tradition.

Sensing Mrs May’s weakness (or ambivalence), he allowed himself to be misled into the stubbornness that sometimes passes for resolution, even when the British Parliament thrice refused to take even a teaspoonful of the addled, trap-studded pudding that was the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

I say ‘was’, but M. Barnier’s first reaction to Mr Johnson’s ascension to the UK’s highest office was a tweet saying ‘We look forward to working constructively w/ PM @BorisJohnson when he takes office, to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and achieve an orderly #Brexit.’  

However, as the new Prime Minister was quick to signal, the ratifications deserted PMTM’s sinking ship some while back. The dWA must be swiftly hauled into dry dock, have the Barnier-cles scraped off its hull and its faded pink lines given a fresh coat of red paint.

Swiftly, not for our sake, but for the EU’s: the tide is turning against them. Never mind the one-off c. £39 billion divorce payoff that is risked by Community intransigence, the net trade balance between the UK and ‘Europe’ is £64 billion per annum in the latter’s favour – partly because the UK’s major strength is in services, which (deliberately) are not allowed the same liberal EU trading terms as manufactures (when will the BBC get that across to the viewers?)

One can understand Barnier’s desire to hamper our attempts to escape: he was, after all, France’s representative in the group that wrote the Lisbon Treaty. Perhaps it was a mistake to make the same man the negotiator for the process that now threatens to spoil The Project; the mind of even the brightest enarque can be clouded by emotion.

Or is it more (or less) than spite? Is it, as Johnson himself said in 2017, an attempted ‘punishment beating’ pour discourager les autres? Trouble is, that would be a game of Blind Man’s Buff and the UK would be far from the only country to take a hit. Is the EU happy to harm manufacturing giant Germany’s economy further, when it is already stagnant in the face of global recession? That would give the Bundestag’s AfD opposition party something to beat Mrs Merkel with as she tries to hold her country together. Maybe M. Barnier really thinks he will win with his repeated de Gaulle-ish ‘Non’; maybe he is merely putting on a brave front while officials scramble about in the background to review the dWA for their own red lines.

Alternative game metaphor: when chess champion Bobby Fisher wiped the floor with Boris Spassky, he had two exercise books of move openings, one labelled ‘Spassky White’ and the other ‘Spassky Black’. Our new PM needs one for ‘Negotiated Deal’ and another for ‘No Deal,’ both meticulously thought-out. His appointment of Michael Gove for the latter option shows he knows this, and Gove’s intellect is well up to the task.

What a shame that Mrs May only had one cahier in her satchel.

And it will concentrate M. Barnier’s mind wonderfully if he is forcefully reminded of what is at stake for him personally. With reference to a State leaving the EU, Article 50 (2) of the Lisbon Treaty says ‘the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State’: clearly the onus is on the EU’s negotiating team, not on us. Lord Kerr, who wrote that Article, has explained that its function was to buy time for the EU to organise an orderly separation and reduce the "legal chaos" for the Community.

If Barnier doesn’t unfold his arms soon, he personally will have failed the EU, leaving it floundering in a Sargasso Sea of complications and costing it many much-needed billions.

Your move, Michel.

Friday, July 26, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jean Rameau, by JD

A small selection of music from the French composer Jean Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764)

Sackerson adds:

Although not a classical buff, I bought the CD of Celine Frisch playing Rameau, seven years ago, and it's still one of my favourites. Never heard the harpsichord played with such power and zest. And lyricism. The instrument is an authentic mid-18th century piece.

Perfect for a motorway drive. Crank up the volume.

Friday, July 19, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Peter Green, by JD

You have all heard of Fleetwood Mac who play a very bland 'easy listening' version of rock music. Before Fleetwood and McVie went to California they formed the rhythm section of a very different band under the name of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac which featured three of the very best guitarists from Britains 'love affair' with American blues during the early sixties and Peter Green was the best of the three.

When blues guitarist B B King was in London he recorded an album featuring the best of the British players, he said of Green - "He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats"

BONUS TRACK - This is for Paddington -

Background information on the making of the hit Albatross. Poor sound for some reason, need to turn up the volume. The video clip of them playing has Jeremy Spencer playing the melody line; amusing because he wasn't on the record and that is not his style of playing (he was an excellent slide guitar player as you can hear on Oh Well) And later in the clip Green said he played bass on the record alongside John McVie, there were two bass lines in other words.

I still have the single here somewhere. I didn't include it because it is so well known, I wanted to highlight Green's mellifluous tone although at times it is hard to tell which is Green and which is Kirwan :)

Plenty more music, the well never runs dry.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trump: spot the racism, Guardian-style

My brother assures me that Mr Trump has, prior to his Presidency, shown racist traits in his employment practices and I never doubt his veraciousness.

Mr Trump uploads another tweet

But the latest prigs-on-steroids hoo-ha is far from a clear example, even as reported in the Guardian newspaper under the headline (they always find a cute angle) "'His only tool is racism': why Trump's bigoted tirade could be a vote winner."

If you take the trouble to click on the Q&A inserted in the story (why not in the main body?) you will find this concession to contextualising:

What did Trump say in his racist ‘go back’ tweets?

On 14 July Trump sent a series of tweets saying:

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

The US president did not name his targets, but the attack was directed at congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Only Omar, who is from Somalia, was not born in the US.

One cannot hope to attain the transcendent wisdom and moral purity of Guardian journalists in a single lifetime, but I have trouble finding the specifically racist element in this outburst - I see it more as defensively nationalist. Typically, the hypersensitive Trump has got some detail wrong, in this case place of birth (though do they see themselves as hyphenated Americans?), but he knows from which direction he - and Joe America - is being got at.

And I would like to see some more context - such as, what exactly these four people have been saying that provoked the so-easily-entrapped Mr Trump.

But it may not be safe for me to ask these questions. A series of video piss-takes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC) by a young girl has been taken down by her parents because of death threats, in a country that has more firearms than people.

American conservatives, or violent, up-themselves SJWs? What a choice!

Perhaps, when I have more time and patience, I will look up what the four picadors were doing to enrage the bull.

Or maybe the Guardian will get round to telling us all, disinterested seekers after truth as they undoubtedly are.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

If we weren't already in the EU...

If we wanted to join a federation that is militaristic, has imperial ambitions, identifies Russia and China as potential enemies and inteferes on the African continent; allows people and money, goods and services to move freely within its borders, while challenged to prevent illegal migrant incursions; is run largely by and for a small elite and offers in a number of its member states carefully-structured vehicles for secretive, tax-efficient squirreling of capital; has runaway debt and a zombie banking system close to collapsing; then a better ready-made solution can be found in the USA.

At least there, individual states stoutly assert their sovereignty and the President, for all his other faults, isn't a drunk.


Friday, July 12, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Paul Verlaine - French records, by JD

I have been listening recently to the CD "La Chanson Bien Douce" which featured the poetry of Paul Verlaine set to music by Billy Cowie and sung by Cathryn and Lucie Robson. I included two of the songs in a music post a couple of years ago -

And I have noticed that YouTube has been 'recommending' other music set to the words of Paul Verlaine's poetry -

A lot of it is very good and I had not realised until now that Debussy's 'Clair de Lune' was inspired by Verlaine's poem of that title so I have included that also, played by Debussy himself in 1913. All very inspiring and a pleasant interlude in this troubled world.

Clair de lune

"Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L'amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n'ont pas l'air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d'extase les jets d'eau,
Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres."

Paul Verlaine

Monday, July 08, 2019

En Primeur: a popular con? - by Wiggiaatlarge

Firkin nonsense but tuns of fun... Wiggiaatlarge explores the hoo-ha around early-bird wine buying:

This little piece comes on the back of having been suspended from the Wine Society blog, for the second time. I believe I am the only person to be suspended once never mind twice, so it's a sort of badge of honour.

Why was I banned? For asking a question that was not answered, so I asked again and still no answer despite me ‘helping’ the comment maker with a hint; he then 'lost it' and in doing so gave the answer I wanted at the start, but by then I had apparently ruined his day and everyone piled in to say I was a bully and it was not cricket to pursue the question. All very strange and it shows that a vociferous minority on there are living the latest ‘everything is offensive’  ‘everyone is offensive’  and asking a simple question is akin to a hate crime. Replying that if the commentator had answered in the first place that would have been the end of it resulted in my suspension; the strange world of wine appreciators strikes again.

But I digress, somewhat. Every year the wine trade winds itself into a frenzy over En Primeur - "EP" - this is the annual release by the top Bordeaux château of their yet to be bottled wines from the last vintage, 2018, to the public through wine merchants here.

It is all based on the wine critics going to Bordeaux in the early part of the year to taste cask samples, wine still fermenting in barrels, and then pronouncing their judgement on it and giving it points rather like in gymnastics, 9.9 or less or more, except that most - and this is where the general public will become baffled - almost to a man/woman, score out of a hundred; which is strange, as they start at 50, it's rather like a gymnast being given 5 out of 10 for turning up, but that's what they do and everyone waits with bated breath for the results... well, almost everyone.

Plus it is no guarantee that the wine will ever taste as their predictions say.

A little of the background to EP. It originated as a way to help wineries with their cash flow until the wine was ready to sell. For a discount you could buy wine in advance, so all things being equal you gained and the winery got some money up front to help with the cash flow.

But that all changed markedly after the ‘82 vintage which turned out to be superb. Those who purchased EP in those days would buy on the assumption that their purchase with discount meant in effect they got some free wine in the long run, but ‘82 saw a lot of buyers piling in to take advantage of the vintage and many later sold much of their stock at hugely inflated prices as the vintage matured. Some people made a lot of money, though of course you had to lay out a lot and take a chance as in those days profit was not a given.

The châteaux saw all this and said to themselves 'we want some of this' so started to jack the prices up as the end of the eighties approached and they have been ratcheting them up ever since. This was made easier for them as the affluence of the late eighties meant many buyers of wine, conveniently for the châteaux, forgot all about how EP came about and purchased whatever they wanted at these inflated prices. Strangely the crash of ‘89 did not see much of a check on the sales of EP and the sales and prices kept going up, until the 2008 crash; this time the sales did take a hiding and have not really recovered despite much hype and the explosion of the Chinese market. In America EP has always struggled as a concept because they cannot, rightly, see why you should pay in advance for anything, especially when it will still have to be cellared for years.

So despite all this and the fact that apart from one or two rare occasions when EP makes some sense, it makes no sense at all to older people who will be dead if they buy the latest vintage that needs at least ten years to be ready to drink. People here, as we are at the forefront of this folly, still believe for some reason despite the diminishing market, that EP is a good idea.

This video gives the good and the bad but doesn’t give the ugly, greed, and contains a portion of total bollox, to be expected as they are promoting EP, Ever Present in their case.

The trade of course push EP as it is part of their annual sales and get ever more hyped about it. The annual circus that surrounds EP has become a love-in for yet another vintage of the century despite the fact no one will find out if it is, and many of the 'vintages of the century' turn out to be merely good, for perhaps twenty years, by which time several other vintages of the century will have been promoted.

If anyone who is interested in wine as a drink they have to look no further than the broker's sales list to see that buying wine EP is pointless There is hardly a wine from all the good recent vintages that is not available, many ready to drink, so what really is the point these days of purchasing that way, as on top of the inflated prices unless you have a cellar you will have to pay for storage charges every year as well.

Here is an article by the respected Jancis Robinson on the current state of EP, and even this still has the underlying notion that it is a good thing, ignoring its raison d'être.

Virtually no raison. Going back to the late lamented blog, when I put this point to the over-excited adults foaming at the mouth about proposed purchases of EP  they were obviously upset that it should be criticised, and would reply with childish notions of it being exciting. I cannot get my head round giving inflated prices in advance for a product you can buy at any time ready to drink, all with my money. Exciting? Stupid, yes; exciting, no.

And still the châteaux ramp up up the prices. The trade make light of 7-8% price rises over last year, another contender for vintage of the century. Will the bubble burst? It should, but the châteaux have become greedy and are loath to set fair prices while gullible buyers still exist; but even the Chinese, who have hardly helped by buying anything and everything at these ridiculous prices, are cooling as they become more knowledgeable and start to realise the real value of things.

What also doesn’t help in the war against inflated prices is the auction houses. Certain wines especially Burgundies that by their nature can never be made in quantities to satisfy demand have gone stratospheric, thousands of pounds for a bottle in some cases, for wine that is now a commodity not a drink is purchased and sold around the world by collectors, not drinkers who treat a case of wine like an art work. It isn’t of course it is a beverage but you would never guess.

So  what next in the arcane world of the wine trade, who despite moving eventually into the 21st century on many levels have brought much of the baggage of the past with them, EP being the prime example of something that lost its purpose long ago?

I give an example of how inflated prices have become, it is one I have used before. In the seventies I was browsing a wine outlet in Queensway, Bayswater, London and espied on a rack of bin ends (wines that are few in number, for clearance) a bottle of Burgundy vintage ‘66. It doesn’t matter for here what it was except it was a top winery in a good year. I thought for a while: should I, could I buy it? and I did. The exact price I have forgotten but it would have to have been around a maximum of £10. Out of curiosity I looked up the same wine: it would cost you over £2000 a bottle today, absolutely bonkers, but we are where we are and as long as people treat wine like an art work or a commodity or a talking point for the rich prices will remain ever more out of reach for the wine drinker who just likes the stuff.

Have I purchased EP? I would be a hypocrite if I said I hadn’t. I did buy the odd case long ago for the purpose of drinking when the prices were sensible and I did buy some after the 2008 crash as a way of spreading what little cash I had in what was a hopeful money-making project - it wasn’t and I came out with what I had put in, just about.

So the strange world of the upmarket wine trade bumbles on, its arcane set-up with EP (plus the matching language of the oenophile and wine taster, an article on its own there) remains. In a normal commercial environment, En Primeur would die a natural death, but I have my doubts. Whilst people still treat the whole annual jamboree as fun with your own money, it is a world apart, almost masonic in its rituals and habits, and will probably stagger on and who knows even revive while people retain that attitude.

For the more sane wine drinkers there has never been a better time to enjoy the choice, for the whole world has never been bigger more varied or better. Enjoy!

Friday, July 05, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, by JD

Another slice of Americana, this time from Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. Guaranteed to raise a smile, a very 'tongue in cheek' celebration of the roots of America's musical history. Behind all the fun is a very good slide guitar virtuoso with a gravelly voice which is a reminder of Charley Patten, Son House, Howling Wolf, Captain Beefheart and many more. Music is alive and flourishing if you turn away from the usual bland sameness offered by the mainstream radio and TV channels and look elsewhere!'s_Big_Damn_Band

Friday, June 28, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: John Hartford, by JD

You may not be familiar with the name John Hartford but you will most certainly know his most famous song, "Gentle On My Mind".

John Cowan Hartford (1937 – 2001) was an American folk, country and bluegrass composer and musician known for his mastery of the fiddle and banjo, as well as for his witty lyrics, unique vocal style, and extensive knowledge of Mississippi River lore.

He liked to joke that the song had been good to him. He once said that royalties from Gentle On My Mind gave him the security to indulge himself with a steamboat on the Mississippi river.

As well as being a talented songwriter, banjo picker and fiddle player he had a habit of tap-dancing while he was singing and playing as you can see in the videos which follow.

Following the success of the film "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" all or most of the artists who had contributed to the film's sound track gathered together for a concert which was filmed and released on DVD under the title "Down From The Mountain" John Hartford was the compere of the show as well as making his own musical contribution to it.

When I first heard that song I thought it was just another typical whim of Hartford's very fertile imagination combined with his wry sense of humour. But no, there really was a steam powered aeroplane. Designed and built by the Besler Brothers in 1933 in Oakland, California.
You can read all about it here -

And this is some archive film of the test flight -

Monday, June 24, 2019

Home Economics, by JD

After last week's televised 'pantomime' in which five potential 'future Prime Ministers' demonstrated why they should never be allowed anywhere near the job, along comes another one today if this report is correct-

One of the bright ideas is -

"The proposal to scrap the Capital Gains Tax exemption on main homes would force owners to pay income tax on the profits when they move home." 

They never learn, do they? When politicians interfere in the 'housing market' they always, always cause problems.

The Heath Government of 1970-1974 was a chaotic diaster for many reasons: the first 'oil shock' when prices rose sharply, the miners' strike, petrol rationing, power cuts etc and worst of all, joining the Common Market.

What will have escaped the notice of most people studying that period was the introduction of 70% grants for home owners to improve their property and specifically for kitchen and bathroom improvements. 70%? That was and is madness! When the government hands out 'free' money there is bound to be a scramble to get a share of it. It didn't take long for the cost of materials to skyrocket and it didn't take long for £300 of building work to cost £1000. For the home owner the cost remained the same - £300 - but the price paid to the builder was £1000 thanks to a generous government.

The many local Councils up and down the land decided to take advantage of these grants, and there was no reason why they should not benefit. So in the early seventies there was a boom in council house improvement works. I am told there was a building workers' strike in 1972. My response to that was and still is, strike? What stike? At the time I did not know of any tradesman who was unemployed. And I knew a lot of tradesmen, I employed more than a few. I met them all the time in the local Working Mens Club. And all of these tradesmen were earning money. It was in many ways a sort of mini 'golden age' of full employment and money to spend. There was a knock-on effect in the housing market generally and this was when the phrase 'gazumping' entered into public consciousness.

Fast forward to 1979 and more government interference with the sale of council houses to their tenants. A good idea in principle, in theory but........ They were sold at a discount but they had also been improved during the earlier reforbishment programmes thanks to the aforementioned government grants. So, in a way, the buyers were receiving a double discount on their price. (House tenants living in privately rented homes were not so lucky and so continued to save for the deposit for a home.)

The council houses sold were not replaced with a further building programme. The revenue from the sales was, as far as I can ascertain, never spent on anything and was 'ring fenced' for some unspecified future use. As far as I know it is still unspent.

How do I know all that? I know it because I worked in house building in the sixties and seventies, on sites as well as in offices.

And then I moved onto other, larger building projects in various parts of the world so lost track somewhat of the UK's mismanagement of home ownership. Looking at that story in the Mail, our politicans are as clueless as ever. I also know that interference, in the form of new building regulations, suggests that politicians and their academic 'experts' are never going to learn anything about house building.

I know that new houses are badly designed and badly built. I can see that for myself and it is not just houses. Every new building I have seen or visited is, for want of a better description, rubbish. Ask any Estate Agent.

Just another tale from Broken Britain. Broken by our dysfunctional political class.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Crazy Christians in America, by Paddington

Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets in two sentences - without dinosaurs - and yet, as Paddington shows, some American churches have added and altered until unrecognisable...

As a sequel to my piece on US evangelism last week, I offer some tidbits.

1. In the last few years, the Texas School Board has held hearings on textbooks and curricula, with a great deal of pressure from fundamentalists. This is very important, as Texas buys the books for the whole state, which in turn affects the offerings of publishers. Among the proposals was the watering down or elimination of evolution (replacing it with 'change over time') and any Science which indicates an old Earth (most of it). Then there was the rewrite of History, marking Moses as one of the most significant people ever (he is a composite of several, including Sargon), and claiming that US law was based on the Ten Commandments and Leviticus, rather than Old English Law. Then, there was the cheery description of the slave trade, describing Africans as climbing on boats to come and work in the New World (technically true, I suppose).

2. The fundamentalists have this bizarre concept of 'interpreting the Bible literally', and the assumption that it is totally inerrant, which leads to a significant level of doublethink. So much so, that adherents are forced to ignore most of Science and much of History. It can lead to some significant absurdities, such as the Smithsonian museum survey some years ago, in which 60% of respondents replied that the Earth was less than 10,000 years old, and 60% replied that dinosaurs lived on the Earth millions of years ago.

3. Last week, we had the latest end-of-the-world prophecy. The 'literal' reading of the Bible, especially Revelation, makes this a fun game. I have talked with adherents who can't wait for the Rapture and End of Days.

4. This week in Alabama, the buckle of the Bible belt, Roy Moore announced that he is once again trying for a seat in the US Senate. He was narrowly defeated the last time, when it came out that as a city prosecutor in his 30's, he was banned from a local shopping mall for trying to pick up girls as young as 14, and was accused of assaulting some. He became famous for planting a 10-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments in his court building, when he was elected as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He refused to remove this blatantly unconstitutional decoration, and was removed from his post. He was elected again as Chief Justice, then suspended for ignoring US Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. After leaving office, he set up a religious charity, of which the primary beneficiaries appeared to be him and his wife.

5. Also in Alabama this week, we have the news that the governor has authorized one of the most racist churches in the state (quite a high bar) to have their own armed police force, with full arrest powers. And Americans worry about Sharia law!