Friday, April 19, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Easter 2019, by JD

Music for Easter week-

How the elite are preparing us for social breakdown

"Over the last thirty years, the UK has been taken over by an amoral financial oligarchy, and the British dream of opportunity, education, and upward mobility is now largely confined to the top few percent of the population. Government policy is increasingly dictated by the wealthy, by the financial sector, and by powerful (though sometimes badly mismanaged) industries. [...]

"These policies are implemented and praised by these groups’ willing servants, namely the increasingly bought-and-paid-for leadership of the UK’s political parties, academia, and lobbying industry.

"If allowed to continue, this process will turn Britain into a declining, unfair society with an impoverished, angry, uneducated population under the control of a small, ultrawealthy elite. Such a society would be not only immoral but also eventually unstable, dangerously ripe for religious and political extremism."

Oops! In copying this quote of Charles Ferguson across from Jesse there have been a few slips (i.e. I have substituted UK for US), but I think the gist still stands.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Automobiles That Changed The World, by Wiggiaatlarge

Normally when presented with a heading like that we are taken on a journey of delight in Delahayes, Bugattis, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Duesenberg and many more of that ilk, yet however desirable they may be they represent a very small percentage of the automobile industry output. It is difficult outside of lusting after these creations to put them in any semblance of order as to their importance in car evolution.

It is in the lower echelons in the pecking order that the really great cars come from, the cars that made the man in the street mobile, the cars that jumped a generation in the design and engineering stakes, and the cars whose longevity proved their worth as transport for the masses.

It is not as easy as it appears to single out automobiles that had a profound effect on the industry and the people who purchased them as those mentioned often had aims that were fulfilled in quite a different way from that intended .

Some vehicles select themselves. The Model T Ford could not be left out of any selection: not only did it provide the first mass produced car of any substance for the man in the street, but it also heralded the use of production lines that would survive to this day, a method of construction that made the price of cars within reach for so many, no longer the preserve of the wealthy.

Henry Ford himself said of the car….

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces. “

Little did he realise how prophetic those words would turn out to be, or maybe he knew all along.

The Model T Ford was always going to be a hard act to follow in the great cars stakes and it could be argued that there were no revolutionary cars in the years after the Model Ts demise in 1920, only a natural evolution of the automobile. Certainly in the upper strata of society the automobile took on a very different mantle with increasing wealth, that of the status symbol.

"People's cars" dominate this this argument on greatness. The Model T gave birth to a whole string of vehicles that through their longevity alone proved they had something more to offer than performance and soft leather. All of the below offered a chance for the man in the street to be mobile; some like the 2CV and the Fiat Topolino became almost fashion items, the Fiat more than any, a much coveted little car to this day.

Morris Bullnose (1913) - The Bullnose's official name was Oxford, after its manufacturing home...

Austin Seven (1922) ...
Ford Model Y (1932) ...
Fiat Topolino (1936) ...
Volkswagen Beetle (1945) ...
Renault 4CV (1946) ...
Citroen 2CV (1948)

All had shortcomings, built to a spec and a price they were never going to be all things to all men, but by the Thirties vehicles in more expensive sectors were beginning to be sold in numbers and several there had the credentials to claim greatness of sorts.

Citroen, never a marque to blanch at something different and inventive, produced the  Citroen Traction Avant. First produced in 1934 it was in production until 1957. It had a number of firsts for a car of its type: apart from the front wheel drive the body was of unitary construction, a monocoque; it also had four wheel independent suspension, rack and pinion steering plus hydraulic brakes - new to Europe. It came in various forms from 2 door saloon to a hatchback and a convertible and engines ranged from 1.3 four cylinders up to 2.9 six cylinders. Affectionately remembered here as a “Maigret” car versions of it became the presidential vehicles of the period, this was a game changer for the European car industry.

The photo shows a six cylinder car from 1951, ahead of its time even that late into its production.

Not long after that the ‘peoples car’ the Volkswagen started to evolve. Like the Model T Ford it was designed to be a car for the masses, robust simple to run and at a price most could afford. Undoubtedly this car had a profound effect on the auto industry and is still revered by some and a version has only just stopped production all these years later.

I was never convinced by the VW. I did briefly own one which sadly was a dog, but despite its quality build and interior finish, especially for that period I hated the road holding and the awful driving position that meant you could not use the pedals with your heels on the ground, and despite being simple it was difficult to work on engine-wise unless you took it out, so I never quite got the awe with which is held in by many; nonetheless a very important car.

Citroen did it again in 1955 with the launch of the DS: it ushered in a new world in looks and comfort and engineering ingenuity. Quite simply, there  had not been anything this advanced offered to the public as an everyday vehicle, it was and is in a class of its own. I am not going to go over all the attributes of this car, and a few downsides, instead just a link to a piece I did on it seven years ago.
I never owned one but did travel in a friend's Safari estate version quite a bit when we shared going to dog shows around the country, there has never been a better mile-eater. I did though own two other Citroens with the hydropneumatic suspension so I have been a beneficiary of that.

Another car always destined for the greatest badge is the original Mini. This was really a design coup by Alec Issigonis on packaging as much as anything else, a small footprint with maximum space and simple engineering that worked, giving it outstanding roadholding. As much as anything else it became one of the symbols of the Sixties, a time when this country shone in so many spheres.

I never owned one but I drove several variants. I am six foot one and had no trouble fitting in the Mini. The down side was a sitting position with no real variation available; that was not exactly fun on a longer drive, but the reality it was a city car and as such attracted all the glitterati of the period here and abroad to purchase the car,  often special coach-finished versions.

It also had an awesome rally and race record, despite being handicapped with an ageing design in the engine department, it was remarkable what power they managed to screw out of it in the race versions of the Cooper S race and rally models, but eventually it was that department that saw them overhauled in both race and rallying.

The original Range Rover was a game changer for off-roading and gentleman farmers: at last you had a comfortable vehicle with all modern accessories in a go anywhere car, though the very early models were sparse and practical in the cabin area, and its off-road capabilities were only matched or surpassed by the Land Rover and a few other utilitarian vehicles such as Jeep. The original used a petrol V8 that was not economical even in its class so it was hit badly by the fuel crisis and it was not until ‘88 that a turbo diesel engine was fitted to the Range Rover as an economical choice.

If Range Rover has had a problem it has been reliability and in many markets for 4 wheel drive vehicles it has lost sales to Toyota.

There is a whole raft of vehicles that have given something to the motor car in engineering, as the Volvo 140 did with the first proper crumple zones in a car body, beginning the drive to safer cars. The Toyota Prius heralded modern day electric vehicles in the form of the hybrid Prius from ‘97, long before anyone else, and it is still going. And there are many others.

I have not included sports or luxury cars: they may well have provided individual items that later trickled down to mass produced vehicles and many have become icons in their own right - Ford Mustang, Porche 911, E type and so on and in the luxury market RR Packhard Bugatti - and many more have provided style unsurpassed and quality that only money can buy, yet it is the cars above that remain the great innovators of the automobile.

Are there any more coming on stream? Not so easy today, as almost every car has the discoveries of the 100 years or so of progress incorporated into their build. Electronics move so fast these days that any innovation that is new is almost immediately superseded by something better. It is not so easy to make giant strides in engineering and design as in the past.

For me there is one little car that deserves a mention. Whether it will become a classic like the mini, I have no idea, yet the number of the original Nissan Micras that are still doing sterling service is amazing. They don't seem to rot and they have a fantastic if not overly powerful bomb-proof engine. Those seen on drives and in garages for sale are snapped up even at twenty years old - a modern Mini?

Others made their mark in different ways. The first Ford Cortina was simple, had a great engine line-up, the E series proved to be the bed rock for the majority of race engines of the period culminating in the Twin Cam version and had a gearbox along with the Corsair that was as good as anything in production, not a great car but a significant one.

Naturally everyone would want to include the likes of Porsche 911, E type, Ford Mustang, Ferrari, RR, Packard and many others, but the reality it is those that made a long term contribution and advancement in everyday motoring that deserve the accolades.

The future, who knows? In fifty years' time, with the internal combustion engine consigned to a footnote in history if they have their way, amps and voltages will be the discussion of the day among the self-drives of the period. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it though, does it?

Friday, April 12, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Mediaeval Hit Parade, by JD

It's time for 'Pick of the (Mediaeval) Pops!' Some of these sound surprisingly modern and you will notice a certain amount of singing and dancing in taverns: there are some traditions which will never die!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

State Power, Home Education and Mission Creep

I suppose two April Fool jokes was felt to be over-egging the pudding. On the first working day after March 29th we found ourselves still in the EU and Ministers are still laughing about that one; the announcement of a home-schooled children register was held over till April 2nd.

‘Please, I've only got so many ribs, Noel Coward,’ as RikMayall’s Richie said. (Not that your ribs belong to you, either, from April (1st?) nextyear; not unless you have found that opt-out page buried in the NHS Organ Donation Register – and provided the doctors remember to check it.)

This is the big theme of our age: the Power versus the People.

At present, the Education Act 1996 says the same as its 1944 predecessor, except for the addition of the special needs aspect:

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable —

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

There are various reasons why the State may feel the need to intervene, but please note the order in which they appear in the announcement:

A register of children not in school will transform a local council’s capacity to identify and intervene where the standard of a child’s education isn’t good enough or, in the rare instances, where they are at risk of harm. It will also help the authorities spot young people who may be receiving a solely religious education, attending an unregistered school or not receiving an education at all.

The word ‘efficient’ has remained undefined for the last 75 years, but it is a hinge on which the great door of officialdom can – and will - turn open.

Yet what if you turn the question round: why would you send your child to school?

One answer is socialisation. But this is exactly why some people have withdrawn their offspring: bullying. Anybody here watch Noel Fitzpatrick, aka TV’s The Supervet ? A rural farmboy with a gift of empathy with animals, here is his treatment at secondary school (p.75):

I remember one time going back into class after a particularly bad and mucky bruising when five boys set on me again, one on each arm, one on each leg, giving me the bumps, throwing me up in the air, while the fifth came down hard with his fists on my stomach as I bounced.

It's left its mental marks, even though he struggled on heroically to become a world-class animal surgeon who has much to teach human medicine too. Would we have heard of Isaac Newton or Michael Faraday if they’d been regularly beaten as swots?

My friends educated their three children at home. Two went on to do second degrees and the third has such personality that he has gone to the other side of the world and found jobs for which he wasn’t technically qualified – but which he soon learned to do, well.

Early on, a man from the LEA came round, but soon withdrew when father adopted the strategy of asking eagerly for materials and financial contributions. It’s funny how Ofsted and Education Ministers issue librariesful of advice and instruction to teachers, yet they never fund for a range of approved coursebooks that deliver the curriculum they are so sure is right for children. Why don’t they put ‘their’ money where their mouth is?

And I must have missed it: which Ministry philosopher has managed to answer the millennia-long question, ‘what exactly is education for?’

Friday, April 05, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Pentangle, by JD

Serendipity brought together five exceptional talents for an all too brief period between 1967 and 1973. After six albums they went their separate ways. Pentangle were a 'supergroup' before that term became fashionable; two of this country's finest guitarists plus, from the world of jazz, a first class drummer with a maestro on double bass and all backing the purest female voice in folk music.

And yet, they are largely and unjustifiably forgotten. They are rarely if ever heard on the radio so you can hear them now and relax into a reverie of musical magic with Jacqui McShee, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox!

The band have continued in various incarnations and currently perform as Jacqui McShee's Pentangle -

Thursday, April 04, 2019


In order to exclude the ignorant and stupid people who vote the wrong way, your eligibility to take part in the next local elections and the possible snap General Election depends on your answer to the following question:

"Is Jeremy Corbyn worse than Tony Blair?"

Answer with reference to (a) terrorists and (b) making war on a Middle Eastern country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

You may write on both sides of the paper and, in deference to New Labour "triangulation", on the edges as well.

Length: 500 - 1,500 words. NO CARTOONS.

Noises From The Echo Chamber

Last night's vote on the Cooper-Letwin Bill, evaluated according to Remainer logic: 1. It's not valid, because the majority won 2. Oh all right, majorities can win but this was by only one person's vote so it's too close and is void for that reason 3. OK it's not void because of the margin, but because somebody probably told a LIE at some point so the vote would have been different if only everybody knew all the details of everything and only told the truth 4. Okay, okay, (3) above happens all the time but those who voted for the Bill are probably nasty people who support things good people don't like so their votes shouldn't count 5 Look, here are cartoons to prove I'm right - ships falling off the edge of the Earth, lemmings jumping off cliffs, effigies of populist politicians shooting themselves in the head 6 Oliver Letwin is posh, need I say more? 7 You're blocked, you troll.

BREXIT: Power To The People

Right then: things keep moving on, and in a bad direction. Only a couple of weeks ago, Angela Eagle was complaining of the Government’s bullying towards the Opposition; now Mrs May says goodbye to collective Cabinet responsibility (a majority havecome round to No-Deal) and reaches out to Mr Corbyn, prompting Welsh Minister Nigel Adams’ resignation (good man: his letter is worth reading.)

On and on goes the Prime Minister, despite one smashing defeat in the Commons after another. She clings to power like a limpet; or perhaps, more like a limpet mine, primed to sink the ship of State.

This is autocracy.

Perhaps, if all else fails, her last card, the one that loses the stately pile and rolling acres, will be the use somehow of an Order in Council (such a favoured tool of Blair, ACL.)

Fanciful? Is there anybody who predicted what we have seen so far?

When all this Brexit business is done one way or another, the work of reassessing the British Constitution must begin. Perhaps we could start with a motion similar to John Dunning’s in 1780, altered to say: ‘The power of the Prime Minister has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.’

What is the point of the 2002 High Court ruling that ‘The British Parliament .. being sovereign… cannot abandon its sovereignty’ if it simply delegates away most of its power, either to the EU under the 1972 ECA, or to Ministers via ‘Henry VIII’ clauses that allow them to issue secondary legislation, or to the Privy Council so that the occupant of No. 10 can govern by fiat?

What is the point of having extended the franchise to 47 million voters, under a First Past The Post system that regularly sees some two-thirds of MPs elected on a minority of votes cast? Of ‘safe seats’ that turn some MPs into complacent, negligent absentee landlords?

Or of a Fourth Estate that suppresses and twists the information the voter needs? – even (this is the one that for me exploded Jon Snow’s credibility, I can cope with his infantile remarks about white people) allowing Blair’s right-hand man to take over one’s currentaffairs TV show without warning, to spin the ‘Iraq WMD’ controversy and then shaking his hand in fraternal thanks at the end (oddly, not shown here, but I cannot forget.)

What is at stake here – what greater theme of history is there? - is overweening Power. We thought we’d settled that in the 1640s and 1680s and the political reforms in the 150 years after 1789. But the barrack-room grumblings of the people today could eventually become something worse, if democratic checks and balances fail to stop Power becoming once again arbitrary and absolute.

Is the EU prepared to reform? Oh yes – in exactly the wrong way. Only last November, the enthusiast Mr Verhofstadt was calling for the abolition of member nations’ individual veto: ‘You cannot manage a continent of that magnitude with such a system.’

Even as it is, AfD leader Alice Weidel’s much-circulated 21 March speech to the Bundestag worried that the UK’s departure threatens Germans’ ability to muster a blocking minority EU veto (min. 35% of EU population.) Already, she says, Merkel and Macron’s Aachen Treaty stands to jam open Germany’s wallet for the depredations of French profligacy and the free movement of eastern Europeans per Schengen rights have led to growing strains on the German economy under Hartz IV socialsecurity arrangements.

It’s not about us ‘crashing out’ of the EU; it’s about the EU crashing around like a bull in a china shop. If no-one will put a ring through its nose, we have to leave the premises. If we mess about, the Germans may get out ahead of us!

And if we do finally manage it, we then have to face the other systemic wreckers closer to home: the ones at the top of our country.