Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wine: a Tale of Change and Fashion, by Wiggia

Those of you who believe that wine is a product made by artisans who tend the grapes' every need and sit in the vineyards during the winter talking to the vines and then with love ferment and mature the wine in oak casks before bottling and hand labelling, should look at the above picture.

That is the manufacturing plant of E&J Gallo in Fresno, California, the world's biggest winery! No, it is not an oil refinery.

Wine has been evolving and changing since it was first made - in ancient Greece?*

The acceleration of change in the last twenty or thirty years has been of a different magnitude on all levels. The science employed in the making of wine has matched the new knowledge employed by the winemakers and their ability to overcome indifferent sites and soil as well as temperature changes, and to enhance even further the already good sites.

On top of this the proliferation of countries manufacturing wine, yes it is an industry, now cover ever more areas of the globe. Not only are old forgotten areas being revived but new ones are emerging. All this should bring joy to a wine lover's heart, yet there are caveats.

The fashion in wine styles and the promotion of the next big thing grape-wise has meant in many cases whole areas being ploughed up and replanted to serve that fad. As wine is not produced overnight, and the vines take several years before becoming productive, you are taking a big chance jumping ship for another, and if you don’t move you could be stuck with an oversupply of the wrong wine.

Nowhere is fashion in wine and its downsides more clearly emphasized than in Jerez. The bulk sherry market has collapsed and grape growers are grubbing up vines and planting more profitable crops. Sherry has been struggling for years as has port, even aggressive advertising and assurances it is on the “up” have failed to stop the slide. The only good thing about all this at the moment is that high quality sherries and even vintage port have never been cheaper for those left still drinking them; even in Madeira much of the land growing vines has been lost as the demand dropped. All this is part of a cyclical pattern of drinking tastes and fashion.

None of this applies to those perennial top end regions such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, where demand at this moment in time exceeds supply and the prices correspond with that shortage.

What prompted this piece was an article written for the NYT by Bianca Bosker, a sommelier who in the piece debunks the snobbery against bulk wines and the fads in other areas like the current trendy “natural” wines - along with "bio dynamic" and "organic", these are the buzz words in the wine trade at the moment. "Organic" in its reference to wine is interesting as these days most wines outside of big brands are as near organic as you can get anyway, so no big deal with that on the label; "bio dynamic" is the picking and planting according to the position of stars or moon or something and while quite a few top class wines now claim to be bio dynamic would you really know and could you tell the difference? I think not; and "natural": well, if you plant, cultivate, pick and process the grape, that part is pretty natural by definition.The link to Bianca Bosker's piece is here, it’s a good read, if slightly indulgent:


Producing wine is at its most basic agriculture, it’s an agricultural product and all agriculture is governed by the same rules as to site, soil and climate. Even the technical side has infiltrated into growing the humble spud. It is only when the wine maker puts his own stamp and expertise into the product that the differences emerge and for that you need good fruit and a lot of faith.

But this is about the fads and fancies of everyday drinking. Few can afford cru class wines for daily consumption if at all; most will remain financially out of reach whatever our status in life. No, this is about that go-to bottle on the supermarket shelf, the one that may have been transported here in a boat and a giant plastic bag for reasons of finance, as it is cheaper to bottle here than transport in bottle with the added weight - read the link for all the technical “food” expertise that is now put into wine, quite legally. For the big brands, it is no different from being hi jacked in the street to say which is your favourite burger from a choice of six: the favourite goes on the market. There is absolutely no point in the big brands putting out a wine designed by experts and loved by experts if the public doesn’t love it. It is food sampling for the masses.

What the “expert” says about this is usually derogatory and sometimes they are right, but they miss the point: these wines are for the masses, us, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in that.

The problem with that approach is that eventually, as with buying a car, so much research has gone into supplying the “right” product that a uniformity starts to emerge, and where this has become more noticeable than anywhere else, probably, is with Australian wines that are available here. Australia almost single-handedly dragged the everyday wine out of the plonk era and replaced that awful French,  Spanish and Italian bottom end rubbish with a reliable drinkable product, and for that alone we should be eternally grateful.

In my view the problem that Australia now has, having grabbed a large chunk of the world's wine market and especially supermarket wines, is lack of variety, not just in grapes but in what you drink from the bottle. Their industry has been built on the great god Shiraz, 27% of the wine land is planted with the grape, and very well built too, but it is these very wines that now fail to inspire as they universally conspire to be user-friendly and to a large degree, as with so many of the big brands, they are  indistinguishable from one another other than on price. You have to pay an awful lot more now if you want something better. Yes, they do grow Cabernet and other grapes, but Shiraz is what they built their reputation on and that is what the public remember and expect from them. It is changing, but slowly.

The same with New Zealand: having conquered the Sauvignon Blanc world and now attempting to do the same with Pinot Noir they have little to fall back on as other countries muscle in on their patch and some very successfully. So far sales are holding up, yet for how long? as South Africa starts to up its game with other wines besides Chenin Blanc and is making a very good job of it. South America is really making an impact, with Chile’s big wineries making inroads into the bulk market; and Argentina is very well placed, having sold well in the USA with Malbec and now doing the same here and having many fine smaller wineries; and even at this relatively early stage in its wine evolution, Chile is diversifying in the planting of grape varieties. All this of course bodes well for the consumer in the long run, if you are interested in wine; if you are not, it makes no difference.

You will not be pouring your purchase down the sink in disgust as so much was years ago, or you shouldn’t be, so much has the quality of production changed, and as you open another bottle of Wolf Blass Cabernet you will enjoy it as you did the last time. After all, as a "yoof" I consumed indecent amounts of Watney's Red Barrel; that seemed perfectly OK at the time for getting blotto on, no need for a hand-crafted micro brewery beer for that purpose.

In some ways the fashion in wine is interesting. Who could predict the fall from grace in the mass market of Chardonnay, the great white grape of Burgundy? Who could have foreseen the emergence of Pinot Grigio?

And why, when Sauvignon Blanc offered a still better alternative at the same price, why the rise of rosé, when if you were blind you would never know you were drinking one? The colour, almost certainly - another success for fashion and the world of marketing, and as in other arenas such as fashion clothing itself there is nothing wrong with that. In today's world, somebody who has never purchased a bottle of wine in their life can now pick up at a decent price something they will probably enjoy and then return for another. Those wines of old would have had the opposite effect.

The majority of those buyers will never venture far from their chosen bottle. Does it matter? Not a jot, as long as they are happy; and the big brands intend to keep them happy. What I think is irrelevant, and when at your next "barby" the host pours you a fifth or six glass of the red he insists has a slightly mineral taste on the tongue and there is just a hint of herby medicinal after-taste, you can smile and just be thankful it is drinkable and you don’t really care if it was fermented in an upside down yurt. It really doesn’t matter.

More weasel piss, anyone ?

*Or Georgia? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_wine (Ed.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Music: the Hammond Organ, by Wiggia

The one thing that can be said about the Hammond Organ is its fall from grace was as quick as its rise. During the sixties several musicians formed groups including this keyboard instrument and Jimmy Smith in particular sold an awful lot of albums for Blue Note during that period.

He wasn’t the first and he wasn’t the only one to front a group using it, but he was the biggest star and the one name that endured in the time since. In modern parlance the Hammond Organ is a Marmite instrument, you like it or don’t and there are few people in between. On a purely personal basis I found it to be wearing for an album of it, but certain numbers can and do come across well, and of course it is out of the mainstream of jazz whilst a mainstay of prog rock, gospel, R&B etc.

Hammond organs were first manufactured in 1935 and the company went out of business in ‘85, so its reign was relatively short though Suzuki Musical Instruments took over the name and are still supplying to various groups in rock and blues and for churches. In jazz it appears infrequently as a backing instrument but rarely now as a lead. And of course the Hammond was an electronic forerunner to the plethora of electronic keyboards used today mainly in rock, though even there digitally produced sounds are taking over.

Jimmy Smith started playing the Hammond in the fifties though the first to start playing jazz on the instrument was one Ethel Smith, but Fats Waller was the prime mover and Count Basie also used it for a period.

If you Google jazz organists quite a list appears but few specialised and few became famous. Besides Smith the obvious candidates were Wild Bill Davis, Shirley Scott, Jack McDuff, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, and Richard “Groove” Holmes, Larry Young and some minor players or occasional ones.

Its jazz base has always been a black one; the black churches did and still do use the instrument, hence the sales of organ jazz have historically been to the black population. It never really took hold with white jazz lovers.

This is Fats in ‘42 playing the Jitterbug Waltz. He had played an earlier pre Hammond organ as far back as the mid twenties but this is an early Hammond recording.

One of Richard “Groove” Holmes' efforts from ‘66 “Living Soul”:

Of the top protagonists Shirley Scott outlasted them all. This, The Blues Ain’t Nothin But Some Pain from her ‘64 Great Scott album was the first time she had sung on record and she wrote this number and words the day before the recording date. For me she is up there with the best, in fact I prefer most of her music even over Jimmy Smith, somehow she makes the organ sit well with other instruments, few do. She was an admirer of Jimmy Smith but in many ways she surpassed him. She died in 2002 having recorded and performed till ‘92 .

Her health began to fail after using the now banned diet drug combination "Fen-phen", which she began taking in 1995. By 1997 she had developed primary pulmonary hypertension as a result of the drugs, and was permanently bed-ridden. She sued the manufacturer and the prescribing doctor, and was awarded a settlement of 8 million dollars in 2000.

This ‘61 rendition of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” from the album Satin Doll recorded by Rudy Van Gelder is as good as it gets from Shirley:

This live number from the Antibes Jazz Festival in ‘64 has “Brother” Jack McDuff leading his own group and the film shows in part the dexterity required to play any organ with its multiple keyboards. McDuff is in the Jimmy Smith mould as you will hear later.

Larry Young has featured with me before and this is from the same ‘65 album Unity. He probably gets his organ nearer to modern jazz than anyone else and this album was voted one of the best in its period. The stellar lineup with Young was Woody Shaw trumpet Joe Henderson tenor and Elvin Jones drums; to me this is the best Hammond album full stop and the about the only one I keep playing after all these years.


Jimmy Smith has to be here, such a big star for Blue Note in the sixties with those tremendous album covers they did then. He was in all ways very distinctive and very much the showman live.

The Sermon, the title track from the album of the same name is one of his big hits. In ‘64 Jimmy was a big star and for this reason there is some live footage of him in action:

Born in 1925 or 28, there is some dispute over this for reasons I have yet to fathom. He like so many when it came to putting bread on the table joined his father in a song and dance routine in clubs at the age of six, then self taught to play the piano, and at nine won a boogie-woogie contest on that instrument. In ‘48 - ‘49 he went to musical colleges, he began to play the organ then and joined some R&B bands playing piano. He never really left R&B as later in his career he went from hard bop to mainstream jazz funk and jazz fusion.

Smith's popularity dipped along with many others in the jazz fraternity in the 70s but he had a big revival starting in the eighties and toured to much popular acclaim. He then moved with his wife Lola to Arizona in 2004 where soon after she died of cancer. He was found dead of natural causes not long after in 2005 shortly after agreeing to go on tour again.

His pure jazz days (?) were in the 50s and 60s in those Blue Note years; in the 70s Smith opened a supper club in North Hollywood and here he recorded “The 1972 album Root Down, considered a seminal influence on later generations of funk and hip-hop musicians, was recorded live at the club.”

and finish with this from ‘97, Stormy Monday with Kenny Burrel on guitar:

Marmite ?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Night Music: Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band, by JD

Will Shade's Memphis Jug Band


That is a really remarkable story and in a way they were the hip-hop or rap stars of the twenties singing about the same things - drugs, cheating spouse, violence, going to jail, brutal cops etc etc

They were also way ahead of their time! Remember Lonnie Donegan and his song "Have a drink on me"? That was adapted from "Cocaine Habit Blues" which I have included here.

Also included here is "Kansas City" which was eventually recorded by just about every blues singer in the US as well as by the future luminaries of the British R&B music scene.

Will Shade helped bring a lot of artists to the mobile recording equipment that was being used by Victor records. One of them was Gus Cannon with a song called "Walk right in!" which, if you recall, was an inescapable record in the early sixties. Shade played on the record also.

It was a very interesting time in the history of American music!

Something different, I'm sure you will agree!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When old is new and new is old


An interesting post from Aeon by Nick Romeo draws parallels between Plato's ideas and modern behavioural psychology and economics.

In his essay ‘On Being Modern-Minded’ (1950), Bertrand Russell describes a particularly seductive illusion about history and intellectual progress. Because every age tends to exaggerate its uniqueness and imagine itself as a culmination of progress, continuities with previous historical periods are easily overlooked: ‘new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own.’

Behavioural economics is one of the major intellectual developments of the past 50 years. The work of the psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in particular is justly celebrated for identifying and analysing many of the core biases in human cognition. Russell’s insight, in fact, bears a strong resemblance to what Kahneman calls the availability bias. Because the catchwords and achievements of contemporary culture are most readily called to mind – most available – they tend to dominate our assessments. The fact that Russell’s articulation of this idea is much less familiar than Kahneman’s is itself a confirmation of Russell’s point.

Changes in language and social emphasis tend to obscure the lessons of history, so much so that even common sense has to be relearned under the endless pressure of events. If it ever is relearned of course. There are reasons to doubt that. Romeo continues -

But the richest precedent for behavioural economics is in the works of ancient Greek philosophers. Almost 2,500 years before the current vogue for behavioural economics, Plato was identifying and seeking to understand the predictable irrationalities of the human mind. He did not verify them with the techniques of modern experimental psychology, but many of his insights are remarkably similar to the descriptions of the cognitive biases found by Kahneman and Tversky. Seminal papers in behavioural economics are highly cited everywhere from business and medical schools to the social sciences and the corporate world. But the earlier explorations of the same phenomenon by Greek philosophy are rarely appreciated. Noticing this continuity is both an interesting point of intellectual history and a potentially useful resource: Plato not only identified various specific weaknesses in human cognition, he also offered powerful proposals for how to overcome these biases and improve our reasoning and behaviour.

The whole essay is well worth reading. For example, the paragraph below impinges on a particularly corrosive modern problem where we seem to be losing sight of the personal element in ethical behaviour, where we pay attention to what our minds are doing or not doing when we go with the flow.

It’s rare that contemporary discussions of cognitive biases flow directly into conversations on ethics, pleasure and pain, and the best way to live one’s life. But ancient philosophy did not compartmentalise what are now cloistered academic fields. Plato understood that susceptibility to distorted reasoning was a matter of ethics as well as psychology. This does not mean anything as simple as ‘bad people are more vulnerable to cognitive biases’. But consider his diagnosis of misanthropy and other sampling errors, which stem from ‘the too great confidence of inexperience’. In the Apology, Socrates claims to be wiser than other men only because he knows that which he does not know. When Kahneman writes that we are ‘blind to our blindness’, he is reviving the Socratic idea that wisdom consists in seeing one’s blindness: knowing what you do not know.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Music: Oliver Nelson, by Wiggia

Although Oliver Nelson had a short life and his pure jazz period - or at least his most productive - was equally short, he left a very impressive legacy to the world of jazz during that time.

Born June 4, 1932 in St. Louis, Oliver Nelson came from a musical family: His brother played saxophone with Cootie Williams in the Forties, and his sister was a singer-pianist. Nelson himself began piano studies at age six and saxophone at eleven. In the late ‘40’s he played in various territory bands and then spent 1950-51 with Louis Jordan’s big band. After two years in a Marine Corps ensemble, he returned to St. Louis to study composition and theory at both Washington and Lincoln universities.

After university he moved in ‘58 to NY and it was here he made a name for himself. After a couple of stints playing in bands he started recording in his own name, but it was the recording in ‘61 that pushed him to the top of the jazz tree with the release of on Impulse of “The Blues and the Abstract Truth”. Not only was the album a big success with its all-star line-up of Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Roy Haynes, Paul Chambers and Freddie Hubbard and himself (and was the only time Evans played with him) but it also had the Rudi Van Gelder studio behind it. It was a breakthrough for Nelson and he never looked back.

As an arranger who wrote, conducted and scored for numerous bands and artists he also managed to play brilliantly on alto and tenor sax. During this period to ‘67 he recorded several albums in his own name and under the umbrella of big ensembles. ‘67 saw him move to LA where he was in big demand in the film and TV business and scored wrote arranged for endless films and TV series including Ironside, The Six Million Dollar Man, Columbo and others, plus in the film genre Death of a Gunfighter, Zig Zag being among them and arranged for the music in Alfie and Last Tango in Paris. He also arranged and produced albums for pop stars such as Nancy Wilson, James Brown, the Temptations, and Diana Ross.

During this later period he still found time to appear with his big band and smaller groups, wrote some symphonic pieces and was very engaged in jazz education. All of this led to a very hectic lifestyle and he died suddenly in 1978 of a heart attack aged just 43. It was suggested by some at the time that stress and work load contributed to his demise; a sad loss for a very talented man and musician.

That early period was quite something as the year before Blues and the Abstract Truth album, he had recorded with Eric Dolphy “Screaming the Blues” on Prestige and that was the first of his albums I purchased. Also in ‘61 Eric Dolphy was launched as a solo artist on “Straight Ahead”, another Nelson classic.

Up until his ‘67 move to LA he recorded regularly but after the move much less so as the other side in films and TV took most of his time though a few interesting works emerged.

Here is the title track from Screaming the Blues.

Oliver Nelson: tenor and alto saxophones; Richard Williams: trumpet; Eric Dolphy: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Richard Wyands: piano; George Duvivier: bass; Roy Haynes: drums:

Stolen Moments from the Blues and the Abstract Truth album is a jazz standard and this album is one of the standout ones alongside Kind of Blue from that period. Everybody who likes modern jazz should have this.

In 1970 he was in Berlin with a big band playing this, Black Brown and Beautiful and soloing on alto, probably his most distinctive instrument.

This is from the Sound Pieces album of ‘66. The album has a variety of group set ups and is to all intents a compilation, but this track has Nelson playing soprano sax - I know JD likes this instrument ! The sound Nelson gets here is extremely pure, a sort of strained sound without that nerve-screeching that can be too much, a unique sound on this instrument and up there with Coltrane as one of the finest proponents of the soprano.


As I said earlier Eric Dolphy was launched to a wider public with this Nelson album Straight Ahead. What the album also shows is that Nelson was never afraid to use different combinations of instruments on the same track, similar in a way to Roland Kirk, Oliver Nelson (alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Richard Wyands (piano); George Duvivier (bass); Roy Haynes (drums), all recorded inevitably at the Rudi Van Gelder studio in 1961.

Straight Ahead, the title track:

This track is from that so fruitful early sixties period, a superb big band in which plays arranges and everything else. The track is “Message” from the album Afro / American Sketches ‘61. It is remarkable that a musician so young, only 29 when this was recorded, should have such a varied body of work already behind him; difficult to think of anyone else who had the same at that age.

And finally from his album Full Nelson ‘63, a big band ensemble containing the likes of Clark Terry, Joe Newman trumpet, Phil Woods and Al Cohn among the saxes and Jim Hall guitar, all arranged and conducted by Nelson and also playing tenor and alto.

You Love but Once:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Assange: balanced reporting, from the Daily Mail

Composition challenge

Read the first article, by "Julian Robinson" here, and complete either of the following tasks:

(a) rewrite it in the style and mindset of the "Daily Mail Reporter" who covered Aung's release here
(b) report Aung's release, with the style and mindset of "Julian Robinson"'s piece about Assange

Allegedly, "Julian Robinson" is a real person, as evidenced here, and not simply a cover for a CIA black propaganda unit.


Local Government - incompetent or simply mendacious? By Wiggia

Wiggia describes the frustrations of getting even the simplest things done, in what is supposed to be a democracy:

In line with the rubbish we are all being harangued with from the political parties pre-election, I have been doing a bit of haranguing myself with the local and now it seems the City Council.

I am not alone in this but in the beginning, before the local elections two years ago, I was a lone voice either because of voter apathy, something in a vocal sense that is more prevalent here than in countries the other side of the channel or I had been the only one to spot an announcement in the Lib Dem election leaflet that was not quite right - this is amazingly. at the moment, Lib Dem country.

As with all local election leaflets there is normally a picture of the incumbent councillor standing and pointing at various achievements he has made for the area, usually a covered bus shelter, a resurfaced woodland walk for all and similar.

But what caught my eye was the fact that a traffic calming measure was to be put in place on our road.

Our road has become a bit of a rat run during rush hour and holiday traffic times. It is nearly a mile long and the current traffic calming (put in by people with a total lack of brain) does not work; and as it is never policed, an increasing minority totally ignores it.

The road that was through what was originally a village is very narrow in parts, with some houses on the road and no pavements one side for stretches. This causes several problems whether motoring or on foot.

Back to the leaflet: what was strange about this welcome announcement was the fact that nobody knew anything about what was planned and there had been no consultation at all with the residents, plus the leaflet gave no details as to what the traffic calming would consist of.

As I am at a time in life when you have the time and inclination to want to know more about such things I emailed the local councillor who returned the favour, saying perhaps it would be better if we spoke face to face, I agreed and a pleasant lady came round and described the state of play She would not be standing here as she had moved to another ward - that word became more relevant as the story unfolded.

What she explained was that they had indeed had council meetings and that average speed cameras were the preferred solution. All well and good, I said, as long as they are sited correctly, for reasons I explained. This point was not something that had been discussed in detail but I was assured it would be. It was also revealed where the money had come for this project in these austere times: not from the council but a store project up the road that had offered money for this and another project in what can only be described as a sweetener for planning. My, and I thought only Italian councils asked for money in these situations!

Still, the money was in the bank, or rather the council’s coffers, and sort of ring-fenced for this project, we were told. I say we, as by this time some interest had stirred in the road and it was full throttle into consultations and the arrival of these cameras in that September. Things were not obviously going to plan as nothing was heard in any shape or form after that meeting and by September the cameras were a distant figment of the imagination. Undeterred I got back in the swing of things and fired off emails to my local councillor, the newly elected one, whose first reply was that she knew little or nothing about the matter. Another email reminding her it was a highlight of the leaflet that got her elected changed the tone somewhat and waffle followed.

I changed tack and went for the chief councillor or whatever they call themselves. I was by then at peak peeve and his anodyne reply got short thrift: I accused him and his party of lying to the electorate as what was said in the party leaflet was not an aspiration a la manifesto but a done deal. I copied in the local MP.

My email must have touched a nerve, as it was relayed to all and sundry at all levels and departments and received replies from all, showing how disjointed local government is, as all had different versions as to why nothing had happened, but I was assured it would! I kept all the emails for future reference and it was as well I did, as despite prodding with a sharp stick still nothing happened or was discussed.

Certain rumours emerged that did nothing to dispel that sinking feeling that all my efforts were in vain. I gave up as other events more important to me came and went; until a couple of months ago, when a manager on the highways division of the council who lives a few doors away said it was all going to happen in a few months. “False dawn, false dawn!” should have been the cry, as still not peep was heard.

Then the city council elections were held and the, you guessed it, LibDems sent out another detailed leaflet that had the usual “We did this and we have got the traffic calming going in soon” story again. Again this was worded as a done deal. At last the cry went up, and again hopes were dashed as others questioned what was going on and the same councillor who had been championing his cause pre-election backpedaled, blaming everyone else for the delay and the fact that various people in City Hall were not in favour of the scheme and the PCC was to have a meeting with the town council about it as the traffic people were in favour of putting new versions of the failed system back.

I queried both the lie that the Lib Dems had again printed and what on earth the PCC was to do with the scheme and what would he know about it anyway, having been in the job five minutes and not being vaguely local (he comes originally from Canada)! He sits on a fat salary and has been totally invisible since day one in the job. Of course in true political fashion none of my points were answered and more BS was proffered up. I have, and it’s unusual for me, lost interest to a degree.

All this has shown is that all the multi layers we have for government at all levels are way over the top as regards satisfying needs. Most could be swept away and yet they are added to with PCCs and Mayors, all with attendant offices paid for by the taxpayer. The vast majority really couldn’t run a whelk stall and like the NHS the waste has to be seen to be believed.

My only hope is the council meeting (date yet to be announced) is one I can attend to give vent to my anger and distaste for all of them who waste and lie and thieve from the public purse. If the Lib Dems were a private company you could sue for the lies they printed yet somehow it is all OK. I have seen several similar cases like this with different councils where I have lived over the years but never got directly involved.

“Angry of Tunbridge Wells” doesn’t even start to cover it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Granny farms" - A Modest Proposal, by JD


Reading Wiggia's excellent post - http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/granny-farms.html - he has highlighted the fact that the current system of care for the elderly is far from satisfactory. It is an important subject not least because we are all going to need looking after at some stage.

It is difficult to find how we have arrived at having approximately 11,000 care homes in the UK.. The Wiki entry is a bit vague on the origins of what is now the care home 'business' But it seems to have expanded very rapidly during the 1980s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nursing_home_care

That boom in the number of care homes during the eighties attracted some of the more dubious 'entrpreneurs' who saw a money-making opportunity. I can say that with some confidence by retelling the tale I told Wiggia and which he refers to in his text:

About 30 years ago (or more) I knew an Englishman running a bar in Spain and he used to talk occasionally about selling up and moving back to England to invest in what he called Granny Farms: the care home business. He disappeared and when I asked where he was I was told he had done just that; gone home to open a care home. But it was the term Granny Farm that gave a clue to his thinking. There was no charitable or other noble ideal involved, it was a business opportunity. It was just at the beginning of that point in history which saw the emergence of the 'yuppies' and 'greed is good' culture so it is hardly surprising that many care homes are less than ideal.

There are maybe half a dozen care homes in my local area; I haven't been in any of them (yet!) and I don't like the idea of having to move into one. 'Death by bingo' is not my idea of a healthy retirement. From what I have heard it seems that at least two of the homes are rather unpleasant places run with that 'granny farm' mentality. One of them is run by people who seem motivated simply by profit. Another one is currently building an extension. And from the outside it looks as though they are just more poky bedsits.

There is also a care home opposite the Working Men's Club and that one would have been my choice if necessary. Maybe not now, because one of the carers there died a few years ago. I knew her reasonably well and she was good at her job and actually did care about the people she looked after. And here we come to another important factor. It all depends on the people who work in these places. If it is 'just a job' then it is not going to be a nice place to live.

That is something which is not even mentioned when politicians start devising 'solutions' to the problems of old age and care. They look at it as a financial or management problem that can be 'solved' given sufficient money. An earlier post on Broad Oak about throwing money at a problem applies also to the problems of looking after the Oldies:


After reading that post it is even more obvious that a radical solution is needed to help improve life for the elderly but radical thinking, or indeed any kind of thinking, is not a skill one finds among politicians or bureaucrats.

In fact this problem has been a long time coming in that there has been such a fragmentation in our society including the dissolution of families. Fifty or sixty years ago such a crisis was unthinkable.

From what I know this is not a crisis in other countries, certainly not in Italy or France or Spain. They still regard family as the focal point of life.

Wiggia sent me some links to how the Italians deal with things. What comes out of those links is that the family side is in trouble because of the low birth rate so the state is having to step in but in a different way to here.

The other thing that was interesting was that Italian care homes are in the centres of towns or cities rather than on the fringes. So with the Mediterranean style of living, sitting outdoors at cafe tables, there is much less chance of Oldies feeling isolated. Among other things, the weather in the UK is against us for a similar idea to work here.

Meanwhile in Spain there are some who just refuse to grow old! -

"Francisco Nunez, 112, is from Bienvenida, Badajoz, southern Spain. Nunez lives with his octogenarian daughter. He says he doesn't like the pensioners' daycare center because it's full of old people."


But what underlies the stories from Italy and Spain is that both countries still have strong family bonds and communities. That is still the case to a large extent where I live but I don't know about the rest of the country.

I propose my own radical solution which you can dismiss as silly if you wish but........

Many years ago my mother would watch people passing the window and she knew which of them were on their way to the local British Legion for their Sunday 'liquid lunch' and, at closing time, they would make the weary journey homewards. (This was in the days of restricted opening hours.) And then in the evening the same faces would again pass the window for their second visit to the Legion.

My mother would often say "The Legion should build some bedrooms for them so they can sleep it off and save all that walking back and forth!"

Now that is more than just a throwaway joke because there is a precedent of sorts. The famous and exclusive Gentlemen's Clubs in London such as the Carlton Club, the Army & Navy Club, the Royal Automobile Club and others do in fact have bedrooms for their members who may wish to stay overnight. If it is good enough for the upper echelons of society, surely it is an idea to be copied by the 'lower orders'.

There are three Clubs close to where I live: the Working Men's Club, the British Legion and the Conservative Club. All three are thriving whereas the pubs are dying on their feet like pubs up and down the country. One of the reasons is that the Clubs belong to the members and are non-profit organisations. Any profits accrue to and are spent for the benefit of the members.

It is a logical step for the Clubs, as existing 'hubs' of communal life, to follow the example of those London clubs and offer the same facilities. It is a further logical and small step to provide for the elderly members a permanent residence within their premises. And it would be another logical and small step to develop that into a combination of care home and Club.

Most of the facilities are in place already in the form of a concert room (now called grandly the 'functions room') and quieter lounges away from the bar area. Many of these clubs already provide food so it would not be too much of a stretch to expand the kitchens. And the Clubs already provide things which would be appreciated by oldies: our Conservative Club currently organises coach trips to the races, the Working Men's Club currently has dancing most nights of the week (how times change!) - that's proper dancing by the way, not the nightclub style of jiving and twisting the night away - the Legion already hosts an Over 60s club and has done for many years. I fact my granny was chairman of that club for the last 20 years of her life.

Most, if not all, of the current residents in care homes will be members of one or other of the Clubs anyway and I feel sure they would be very keen on such an idea. And there is the joke among local gossips - "Oh So-And-So, you would think he lived in the Club!"

It could become a reality.

Feel free to tell me why it wouldn't or couldn't or shouldn't work.

P.S. There is a long tradition of self-help and self-improvement in this country from the Rochdale Pioneers through the Yorkshire brass bands to Northumberland's Pitmen Painters. The problems of care of the elderly will not be solved by the 'higher busibodies' in Whitehall and Westminster, 'top down' solutions rarely work. It has to come from the people who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of any new ideas.

Some links to give an idea of how the Oldies fare elsewhere -


More NHS abuse

Having seen what happens when the healthcare and insurance rackets are given a free hand (see Paddington's overview here), I remain in favour of a system where medical treatment is free (or at least, affordable by everyone) at the point of delivery.

But there needs to be some way of getting people to treat the National Health Service  responsibly.

My dentist in the Seventies was an old hand who remembered the introduction of the NHS in 1948. At last common people could have free expert help with their dental and optical (anybody else remember the tell-tale NHS blue plastic spectacle frames?) problems.

One man came to him requiring dentures. The dentist took casts and sent them to the manufacturing lab. Then came the second appointment, to check with the patient that the plates fitted well.

The man was delighted: "These are the best of the lot!"

"What do you mean?"

The man held up a bag of "choppers", garnered from visiting every dentist in the area.

After all, it was a free service.

What rules should we have? What should be included in the offer, as of right, and what not?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't try this at home (NSFW: adult content)

While the ransomware business continues to afflict the NHS, an informant tells me of another way Europe's biggest employer is being needlessly inconvenienced: kinky eroticism.

A man comes in with not one, but two large carrots driven serially into his rectum by his wife, puncturing his colon and requiring a partial colostomy. The vegetables are surgically removed and, as per protocol, returned to their owner.

Another arrives with a similar difficulty, explaining that he has "fallen on the lavatory brush". Good thing it wasn't Carmen Miranda's hat.

Women can be that stupid, too: one presents herself at the hospital with a whole apple in her back passage - so deep that staff can't remove it without a major operation (the patient finally manages to expel it herself, somehow). The fruit is a variety called Pink Lady.

Turning to the front bottom: a young man from the Eastern Med turns up with a nasty infection because he has injected his penis with Vaseline to enlarge the head. Apparently this is not an unknown practice back home.

The biggest challenge of all for doctors and nurses is preserving a professional straight face.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Music: More Big Bands, by Wiggia

The sheer explosion in popularity of the big bands lead to a huge number of outfits performing during the thirties and forties. Many of the earlier twenties bands faded away as the swing era came in but many of the thirties bands stayed the course, even managing to survive in the rock era.

Many of those that stayed the course changed styles, changed personnel and instrument line-ups, and some changed the whole direction of their music. Ellington is the best known and probably the most revered of all the bands and his music evolved continuously over decades. He also almost certainly did more work as a soloist and with other musicians than any other bandleader, as did Kenton who as seen and heard in the previous piece pushed the boundaries as far as anyone; Basie less so, yet stayed at the top right to the end such was his popularity.

Here I am simply going to put up some pieces from a selection of bands in various styles to illustrate that variation and how they changed.

This early Ellington rendition of “Mood Indigo” shows Ellington had a piano style even then that traversed the ages and yet had Russell Procope on clarinet soloing, an instrument that diminished in usage as a front liner soon afterwards.

Filmed version of the above(embedding disabled): https://youtu.be/GohBkHaHap8

By 1943 Ellington had written this but it was not well received at the time, so he shortened the suites into six parts, one of which is here, and when re-released in ‘58 it became a classic, from Black Brown and Beige:

Kenton made his name with a huge swinging style and a run of popular numbers such as Artistry in Rhytmn and the Peanut Vendor and this from ‘62 “Malaguena” with its Latin theme and sumptuous brass section:

City of Glass I featured in the last piece but Kenton pushed the boundaries of big band music in other numbers and albums. This is a live ‘68 video of Kenton just back from a serious illness with Intermission Riff, big bands don’t get much better than this:

and then in ‘72 for contrast, “Here’s that Rainy Day”:

Kenton's Innovation Orchestra of 1950 was putting out some numbers that were advanced for the time and his delving into Latin American music predated the Bossa Nova period, plus albums like MacArthur Park added to his broad based output.

Always a slightly underrated outfit Terry Gibbs had various bands, this is his ‘Dream Band’, not underrated himself by anyone with knowledge of music; a long and successful career. "Don’t be that Way":

A very current big band the Amazing Keystone Big Band with Quincy Jones as arranger shows the big bands have not entirely disappeared, here in a Latin vein playing “Manteca” in 2014:

A classic number “A Child is Born” here played by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, featuring Thad as arranger and playing flugelhorn. This was the resident band at the Village Vanguard NYC during the seventies, not as well known over here as they should be:

This is interesting. Oliver Nelson, musician-composer-arranger is one of my favourite jazz artists who went on to various strands of music with huge success. Here he is with a big band Jazz Interactions Orchestra the album Jazzhattan Suite and the number “Complex City” released in ‘68. To my mind the whole album is based on Kenton's “City of Glass” and has the same lush brass section - this also was not a complete success but an attempt, again in my view, to succeed where Kenton failed ? The similarities are too obvious.

Oliver Nelson will figure in more depth my next piece.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Declining by degrees

US professor "Paddington" writes: 

About 20 years ago, our political leaders finally became aware that the well-paid industrial jobs were becoming much more technical, and fewer in number. They looked at the famous statistic that college graduates earn more over a lifetime than non-college-graduates, confused correlation with causation, and pressured the education system to increase the number and percentage of graduates, and the quality of them.

The last is impossible, but it was quite easy to increase the number and percentage of graduates, simply by watering the coursework down.

However, there are disciplines where actual mastery matters, including Nursing and Engineering.

I contend that it is only a matter of time before we separate 'real' degrees from the others.

This leaves the question of how to designate the other degrees. Since B.S. is already taken, I would suggest B.E. (Bachelor's of Equality), B.F. (Bachelor's of Feelgood), or B.N.P. (Bachelor's of Nothing in Particular).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Willie Nelson, by JD

Last month was Willie Nelson's 84th birthday. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Nelson

He wrote his first song at the age of seven and started performong at the age of 10 according to Wiki which is why he seems to have been around forever. He is still writing songs and performing. His latest album, released earlier this year, is called "God's Problem Child " Two of the songs are included here including a very whimsical "Still Not Dead" which he wrote in response to internet rumours that he had died in 2015!

He has been a prolific songwriter as can be seen from this list- http://songwritershalloffame.org/songs/detailed/C133

Starting out in Nashville as a clean cut 'all American boy' writing and peforming, his most well known song is 'Crazy' which Patsy Cline turned into a huge hit. Willie then left Nashville and went home to Texas where he grew his hair long and became an 'outlaw' heading off in a different musical direction in a very successful partnership with Waylon Jennings.

He also developed a very distinctive sound and style on his very battered old acoustic guitar explained in a short video here and along the way he has recorded with artists as diverse as Julio Iglesias and Ray Charles.

On with the music!..................

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

HEALTHCARE USA: a guide to "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act)

Sackerson has asked me to write a short piece on the effects of the Affordable Care Act, based on my 39 years of fighting insurance companies in the US.

Since this is primarily for readers in the UK, it helps to understand that many Americans do not consider healthcare to be a right, or even an issue of infrastructure. The fact that it is referred to as the 'healthcare industry' should show that the emphasis is on the money.

There are many different programs for it, including:
·         Veteran's Administration – a completely separate set of doctors, hospitals and testing facilities, paid through the Defense budget, only for those who have served in the Armed Forces. In the past two decades, its funding has been reduced by conservatives. The inevitable problems which have arisen during two wars have been used as justification that the system should be privatized.
·         Medicare – a federal program for the elderly and disabled, paid by payroll taxes. Ever since it was introduced by President Johnson in his Great Society initiative, it has been another target of conservatives.
·         Medicaid – for the poor, paid by a mixture of state funds and payroll taxes. Also introduced in the Great Society and yet another target for anti-government conservatives.
·         Group insurance through employers – lose your job, lose your coverage. Only available if you work enough hours.
·         Group insurance through unions – rapidly going away as the unions do.
·         Group insurance through small business co-ops – typically expensive.
·         Personal purchase – very expensive.
Most of these offer multiple plans, requiring specific doctors and hospitals (or a hefty financial penalty),with assorted co-pays, lifetime maximum benefits and deductibles. I have three degrees in Mathematics, and I still cannot figure out what procedures other than basic office visits will cost, as the bills dribble in, sometimes for a whole year.

That said, here are some of the changes that have taken place:

More people covered
Before: An estimated 31 million or more uninsured.
After: Over 20 million people with affordable insurance.

Insurers' profits capped
Before: Insurance companies kept up to 54% of all premiums.
After: Insurance companies restricted to 20% of premiums.

Fewer health-related bankruptcies
Before: Medical bills were the #1 reason for bankruptcy.
After: Medical bankruptcies down 90% or more.

Less misuse of emergency services
Before: People without coverage used Emergency Rooms for primary care, paid by increased hospital costs for everyone else. Hospitals are required by law to treat critical patients.
After: Much less pressure and cost for many of those hospitals. Better outcomes for those with chronic conditions.

Extended coverage for dependent children
Before: Dependent children age 18+ not in college, or 22+ in college lost coverage on their parents' policies.
After: Coverage for dependent children up to age 26.

Birth control
Before: Many policies did not cover any birth control, although most covered viagra.
After: All policies cover birth control.

Cover for pre-existing conditions
Before: People with pre-existing conditions, from arthritis to cancer and much more, could either be refused coverage for those conditions, refused any coverage, or made to pay for much higher risk and higher cost policies.
After: Pre-existing conditions covered with no penalty.

Benefit caps removed
Before: Most systems had a lifetime maximum benefit, typically around $1 million, which could be exhausted in a couple of months of intensive care.
After: No lifetime maximum.

DRAWBACK: unintended effect on work contracts
Before: Small companies (around 50 people) could offer as many hours to their workers as they wished without offering benefits.
After: Part-time workers with over 30 hours per week must be offered coverage, so many people had their hours cut back.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sunday Music: The Big Band Era, by Wiggia

Duke Ellington

The big band era had one overwhelming effect on jazz: the sheer popularity of those bands, equivalent today to pop groups, brought the music to a whole new swathe of the population of the USA and later abroad. It also launched the careers of numerous vocalists to international stardom that without the big bands as a vehicle it would be difficult to imagine happening.

Their popularity continued right up to the age of rock when jazz in general not just the big bands suffered from a drop of interest and struggled for recognition and survival all through the seventies and the eighties. Only then did jazz start to come back as a music form that people recognised. The big bands, sadly (mainly because of the sheer cost of keeping them on the road) have largely disappeared; the “Golden Age” for them was indeed over.

Big bands emerged as the popular music in the mid twenties. The difference then as later was that the smaller jazz groups improvised whereas the big bands were highly arranged - even the solos had a tight script with a few noteworthy exceptions - so it was a different kind of jazz and swing was the first name attached to these outfits.

We are talking here of the first bands such as Paul Whiteman and Ted Lewis who “were” popular music up to the swing era, playing to ballroom dance crowds; some embraced it, some disappeared.

Swing itself started in 1930 and took of after ‘35, but a change in the style of big band jazz had already started in the late twenties with more improvisation and better arrangements when Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway started to change the musical make-up.

The popularity of the big bands was further enhanced in the thirties by their appearance and exposure in movies and on radio. This period saw hundreds of bands emerge giving versions of swing from Dixieland to hard and relaxed swing, and the lead instrumentalists and vocalists in many cases became famous household names in their own right as did many of the bandleaders.

These bands dominated popular music to such an extent that small groups faded away and that included the likes of King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton. It was the young that supported the big bands, dancing to their music, attending their concerts and buying their recordings and swooning over their idols such as Frank Sinatra - no change there, then.

The second world war had several effects on the bands. At first many raised troops' morale by touring and became even more famous like Goodman, and secondly it saw the start of a change in musical tastes. Many of the vocalists struck out as solo performers and many of the bands lost key personnel in the war and found it difficult to start over, and the coup de grace was the recording strike in ‘42 that finished many big bands off.

In the forties be bop emerged and the bands lost further ground to the new music. Be bop was not the end of the big bands, they were less in number, but took on different forms with the likes of Gillespie, Krupa, Rich, Gil Evans and on to Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and others, performing but few touring as of old - only the likes of Ellington , Basie, Herman, Kenton and a few others could continue profitably in that vein.

Most of the bands today with the demise of the founders are either tribute bands or in rare cases those that somehow still survive swimming against the tide. In that respect Jools Holland in this country does a sterling job keeping people employed and music played, it is not an easy way these days to make a living.

In no particular chronological order...

Tommy Dorsey with Sinatra, Connie Haines and the “Pied Pipers” as typical of the era as anything:

Oh Look at me Now

Louis Armstrong in ‘42 “Swinging on Nothing” with Velma Middleton proving size is no barrier to having a good time, go girl !

And here Cab Calloway and Jumpin' Jive with the greatest dance pair of all time, the Nicolas Brothers:

The three above show the swing era at its zenith, huge rhythm and lots of extras. All was soon to change as the former prewar band styles started to disappear or change their styles. Ellington of course simply adapted as time progressed, he never stood still.

This ‘42 version of C Jam Blues:

and how the same number evolved under him here in a live concert in ‘69:

Another who started a bit later than many of his contemporaries but also went with the trends successfully was Woody Herman. His early “Herds” were firmly in the swing era but that never stopped him experimenting, as here with him on soprano sax in “Fanfare for the Common Man” in ‘69:

I am going to stick with the big bands post swing as the obvious candidates including even Basie are well covered in other sections that I have done or are due further exposure in later pieces, so some of the more “progressive” pieces are the last choices.

Stan Kenton was known for the Artistry in Rhythm album as much as anything else, yet he pushed the limits of big band improvisation and arranging endlessly. His album “City of Glass” was not a total success either for the critics or those who followed Kenton, and I who actually purchased the album have never really come to terms with it, but it deserves a hearing as nothing else comes near, and his fans went in the opposite direction when this was played - Schoenberg ?

All the pieces were by Kenton's arranger Bob Graettinger who wrote the piece in ‘47 but it was ‘51 when it was recorded on a 10” LP. His arranger was worth a paragraph on is own but there is not space here. Kenton himself later said this about it, "Well, I tell ya, it was either the greatest music the band ever presented, or the biggest pile of crap we ever played, and I still do not know which."

“Everything Happens to Me”, a more subdued number with June Christy adding some measure of composure:

Charles Mingus was always an innovator, probably as much as anyone from be bop onwards. His music is still performed by the Mingus Big Band and others. This is from that wonderful Ah Um album of ‘59, Fables of Faubus that had a hidden undertone of protest at the Little Rock 9 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Supreme Court unanimously decided that the nine black school children should be integrated into Little Rock's school system, but Governor Faubus brought in the National Guard to stop them anyways.

Cool jazz extended beyond the West Coast groups and Gil Evans incorporated it in big bands. One of the great arranger-composer band leaders, his work with Miles Davis is legendary. A Canadian by birth, Evans started arranging for Claude Thornhill and then from his NY apartment he started with arrangements with Parker, Mulligan and Davis on scores that went out beyond the current be bop sound and style.

The Davis group was a nonet - the bigger bands had become unviable by then for anything other than the established ones. Capitol Records recorded 12 titles between ‘49 -53 and in ‘57 put them all together for the “Birth of the Cool.” Three other albums under the same record banner with Davis using Evans as arranger followed, all became classics: Milestones, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.

The score for Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was phenomenally complicated but considered to be as fine as any interpretation of Gershwin's music, if not the best.

Working with Evans also saw Davis extend his music outside of jazz, something that was not wholly successful. After this period he recorded under his name and as time passed moved into what was a kind of fusion of Latin and other forms, using electronic instruments and recording Jimi Hendrix numbers. He was to have actually recorded with Hendrix but the guitarist died a few days before the date.

Here from Birth of the Cool, “Jeru”:

and from Porgy and Bess with Miles Davis on flugelhorn and trumpet, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”:

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Granny Farms

The title is borrowed from a story told to me by JD in a discussion on a part of the welfare state that is fast falling into a position where it will be unsustainable and even worse undesirable, inasmuch that it is no longer fit for purpose; in many cases, as events have shown, it already has reached that point.

Two events in my life have given me insight into the workings and the inbuilt problems of elderly care. Not all of this can be blamed on the state, not that it excuses what is in many ways the abandonment of elderly people to their own devices.

The first goes back many years to the late seventies/early eighties when I first started out in building my landscaping business. In the beginning my objective was to be a garden designer and builder It was difficult to get the amount of work needed to put bread on the table when starting from scratch so I entered the world of maintenance as a back up to finances. It was commercial maintenance as that part involved twelve-month contracts and was based on job and finish which is a better system than hourly rates. It served me well for many years until I could slowly drop that side for landscaping and redeploy my staff seamlessly into the other side of the business.

One of my contracts was a nine-home trust of mixed-care residential and nursing homes. Unlike “granny farms” that are for-profit organisations, this was a trust with many working for free and donated properties and bursaries supporting it. It survived well until the properties needed refurbishment and several were listed, making upgrading a costly exercise outside the scope of their means, and it was sold.

I would visit the sites and got to know staff and even patients. As with all things not all was wonderful but in the main the organisation ran well and the majority of the staff at all levels were very good, but one incident remains with me to this day, an incident that is almost a blue print for the thinking of so many today when parents become old. Whilst waiting to see one of the staff a lady came into the hallway area who looked out of place in this home. She came over and said hello and started to talk. She had not been a resident long and obviously did not like being there. Her story is a familiar one: her husband had died earlier and her house was “wanted” by her children, and somehow they had convinced a lady who was quite capable of looking after herself that the house was too big and a care home was a better option; better for whom is all too obvious.

About six months later on another visit I saw and spoke to her again. She was distressed and had had a heart attack and though recovering, was alone and frightened. Other than spend a little time with her what could I do? Her children had made only nominal visits ! At a further visit at the end of the year I discovered the lady had died. a staff member I knew told me it was as much a broken heart as anything else.

What that showed was a prevailing attitude in many families that old people having passed their “use” date should be shunted off somewhere that means conscience won't be pricked and assets can be stripped with impunity. Families, don’t you love ‘em.

My second prod towards writing this is the current situation with an aunt, the last of her generation who at 95 has had a fall and the inevitable hip replacement. She lives alone - her husband died many years ago - and is fiercely independent. She had a very good job in publishing and is not without some means, so as she is not capable of looking after herself the spectre has risen of “accommodation." Her reply is she would rather die than tolerate that; the vision of communal bingo is simply not on her radar.

The problem there is that the home help that she has to have is expensive and she gets no help with that, nor will she if forced into a home. All that she accepts, yet of course she paid very large sums of tax when employed. I am not going into any other areas with my aunt's case as it is private but it explains a situation that affects many.

JD put it quite well with his “granny farm” tale of a man returning to the UK to set one up purely from a business point of view. The problem is not going away and after all those who have something left at the end of their lives have ever increasing amounts taken from them, you have to ask where will it all end.

Many years ago this country had philanthropy as part of its make up and mutuals thrived along with building societies, trusts etc; all now gone or disappearing. The avenues to create other ways to look after elderly people are narrowing to a model very few like the look of, and that's from the outside looking in.

Recent governments put the idea of immigrants as a part solution, a younger working sector paying taxes for the less fortunate in years. Except of course the immigrants from the third world are largely non tax-paying and themselves recipients of welfare and in their case have never paid into the system, plus a larger percentage demographically don’t work at all. All this is paid for by an ever smaller tax-paying percentage of the population, as are most taxes like council tax which makes successive claims seem rather like pushing a very large Ponzi scheme onto the general population.

Eventually as with all these "kick the can down the road"  schemes they will have their day at everyone else's expense. I pray I am not around to be part of it, as it seems (as my football club manager says) “there is no plan B”. The other big change that impacts on the same problem is family: we have changed dramatically as a society since the Second World War. Before then it was almost a given that granny would be cared for by the family, but not any more; hence the “granny farm”.

The “family” still has a big role in the likes of Italian and other Med countries where all live together, maybe not as guaranteed as in the past but it still exists; yet here of all places it exists among many immigrant groups and is still a major part, as it was when I was a kid growing up in a Jewish neighborhood where there was no hesitation about accommodating elderly relatives, they just did it.

So what is the answer? At this juncture there simply isn’t one: there are ever more elderly people and fewer places to accommodate and less choice if any; and poorer care seems the way forward, at ever more cost for less. It is a problem that has been building for decades, yet not one political party has made any attempt to plan for the future. As with most things regarding the welfare state and especially the NHS in all its forms, it would seem untouchable for fear of losing votes, which says all you need to know about the current state of politics in this country - shown to be ongoing, as the current election has already given us claims that can only said to be mendacious at best.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Django, by JD

This week's selection comes from Django Reinhardt-

Just a short clip of Django with Stephane Grappelli performing live (1945) which illustrates how he overcame the disability of losing the use of two of the fingers of his left hand. Listening to and seeing his dexterity you would never know it!

This last one is not Django Rainhardt but it is good and worth including as a 'tribute band' Pop groups spawn tribute bands so why not the best of the jazzers too?

Details: Django Reinhardt NY Festival 2005 At Birdland Dorado Schmitt (he looks like Django), Samson Schmitt (his son, to the right of him), Angelo Debarre (in the back) on guitars, Pierre Blanchard at violin, Brian Torff on double bass, Ludovic Beier accordeon, Ken Peplowski on clarinet (awesome), Joel Frahm (sax), David Langlois (Washboard Percussion), Roger Kellaway (piano), Gordon Lane (brushes).

Monday, May 01, 2017

You can throw money at the problem, but you won't hit it

The issue for our time is not Left vs Right but managerial effectiveness and anti-corruption. Chew on these examples:

1. United Nations relief programmes - from Aidan Hartley in this week's Spectator:

...the aid mandarins … dubbed the ‘Lords of Poverty’ by Graham Hancock… What we should expect when giving to charity is a better performance… The UN agency World Food Programme flies food to seaports, or airdrops bags of grain instead of buying locally or trucking supplies by road.

… refugees did not have cholera back home in their villages — but they find it when they congregate in camps specially established by the UN … Water from boreholes is plentiful… instead, the UN transports water … in 50 trucks every day, dumping the supplies into small plastic tanks that cannot easily be disinfected with chlorine. The reason… is that local UN officials are making money from the water trucks, since they are in control of the lucrative contracts supplying the camps… entirely usual for UN officials... to expect bribes of tens of thousands of dollars in return for a contract.

… In recent years there has been a flurry of stories about impropriety among UN workers, including rampant theft and sexual abuse… UN workers who commit crimes such as fraud and paedophilia enjoy complete impunity thanks to a little-known international law called the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.

2. Removing anti-personnel mines - or not; from AARSE (an armed services online forum):

Fraud and corruption happened, not with our guys but within the UN and national organisations. We might as well have spent all the money on a massive piss up, because there is **** all to show for it now...  Cambodia should have been largely cleared by now, but it isn't…

In Bosnia the World Bank lost a rumoured 7 million US dollars in demining and I stopped a massive cartel from operating there in 2000. These basket case countries are all the same. Fraudulent!

And the reason it happens is that the international pinko liberal policy is that the recipients of aid have to deal with it themselves, so time after ******* time millions of our taxpayers money gets shovelled into offshore bank accounts belonging to despots and scamsters and nothing ever gets done about it.

In 1999 I was the only person in Bosnia who raised the question of how did Mr. Pusic (head of the demining commission) go from wearing second hand Jesus boots and donated jeans and riding a motorbike to work, to wearing Armani suits and driving a new white Mercedes to work - in 9 months and on a salary of about 1000 use a month…

Some Baroness is at the moment giving DFID a going over and a shake up. Yeah right. I wish I was a manufacturer of white wash with a government contract! The whole Aid industry needs stripping out and re thinking and DFID needs shutting down dismantling and reassembling as a decent transparent department. Which will never happen because DFID is heavily connected with intelligence gathering.

3. Massive featherbedding at American universities (from Coyote Blog):

[One university President] … has 1667 staff and spends over a half billion… just on the office of the President! This is not in any way shape or form the total administrative size of the system - each university has its own administrative staff, for example. This is just her central office… It equates to every student in the system paying over $2500 a year just for the central headquarters staff that they will never see, this is before the first dollar is spent on their individual campus -- or God forbid -- on teaching or academics.

… Time and time again … we find examples where agencies that are supposed to be serving the public are in fact diverting much of their resources to maintain the staffing levels, salaries, and rich benefits and pensions of their employees.

4. "Private" railway companies that exploit public money (from Peter Hitchens' blog):

The most ridiculous is the way our trains – devastated by John Major's mad privatisation scheme – are falling into the hands of foreign state railways…

We might be hiring a foreign state railway to run a service [HS2] we don't even need, while Britain is full of sizeable towns with no railway station, which could be linked to the national system for a tiny part of the cost…

Privatised railways have never been real private companies. Their jaws are clamped firmly to the public teat, and when they fail they can just stroll away from the mess they have made.

…I long for the return of British Rail. Its undoubted arrogance and sloth were as nothing compared with its private successors, and its trains were faster and more comfortable. It looked after its track far better and – given the money – it would never have made the mess its successors are now making of electrifying the Great Western line…

In the 20 years to 2013, state subsidies to the rail sector roughly tripled in real terms, while fares continued to rise. This is a small slice of our national life of which I have direct daily experience. None of it works properly.