Saturday, February 24, 2018

The US gun debate - some additional facts

The recent mass shooting in a Florida school has seized the imagination, since it combines elements of fear, unpredictability and helplessness.  But emotional reactions have a way of skewing perceptions of overall reality. For example, the thought of an airplane crash has a similar terrifying effect, even though commercial passenger flight is, statistically, the safest mode of travel.

Without at all wishing to discount the horror of those killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I offer a few facts that might make us consider related issues more deeply:

In most countries, suicide is a bigger threat than homicide

"In 2013, 33,636 persons died from firearm injuries in the United States [...] The two major component causes of firearm injury deaths in 2013 were suicide (63.0%) and homicide (33.3%)." (1)

In most large and advanced countries, suicide is significantly more likely than murder or manslaughter - 2 1/2 times more in the US, 12 times more in Germany. (2)

Some other advanced and developing countries have a worse intentional death rate than the USA

Taking the overall rate of intentional death (i.e. homicides and suicides together), the US is less plagued than Finland, Japan and China, to name but a few. (2)

In the USA, black people are, proportionately to their numbers, far more likely than whites to be victims of homicide

Despite representing only 12.6% of the US population (3) ... "Of the 13,455 cases from last year [i.e. 2015] in which the FBI listed a victim's racial information, 7,039 victims – or 52.3 percent – were black." (4)

A number of other large countries have a worse murder rate than the US

The intentional homicide rate is some 5 times higher in the USA than in the UK (5), but the rate in the US [4.88 per 100,000 inhabitants] - terrible though it is - puts it 94th in the list by country. Large countries [see (6) for population figures] that have a higher homicide rate include (e.g.) Brazil (pop: 209m), Mexico (129m), Russia (144m) and the Philippines (105m).

Mass gun slayings in the US are a small percentage of overall firearm homicides

In 2015, mass shootings accounted for less than 4% of total US homicides by firearm. (7)

Things used to be far worse, in the Middle Ages

The murder rate in the university town of Oxford, England, in the 1340s is estimated to have been 110 per 100,000 inhabitants (8) - slightly worse than the most violent country today (said to be El Salvador - see (5), again)


Friday, February 23, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Breton Lays, by JD

Staying with the French theme of recent weeks, here is some very different and distinctive music and dance this week from the region of Bretagne, Brittany. This is the Celtic fringe of France and the final video here is Himne de la Bretagne "Bro gozh ma zadoù " which you will recognise as exactly the same as the Welsh equivalent, Land of my Fathers.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Africa: Still A Basket Case, by Wiggia

Wiggia is pessimistic about the outlook for South Africa:

This is a short summary of my feelings after seeing the "address the nation" speech and the other speeches in the South African Parliament; absolutely nothing ever changes there in Africa.

Anyone who has been to Africa will have seen those countries that have “shrugged of the yoke of colonialism” as they like to call it, fail miserably to take advantage of the legacies left by the European settlers.

The scramble for Africa had many faults, the carving up of territories with disregard for tribes was probably the worst mistake, but with exceptions a land sparsely populated then was given a blueprint for a way forward that would enhance their future in a way they could never have dreamed of.

The cry we hear for reparations from African states is nothing more than a hand being held out for endless funds to bolster their total failure to take advantage of that legacy. Certainly Europeans took or made available valuable resources in these countries, resources the inhabitants had no knowledge of or any means to extract or use those resources; it was Europeans that made that possible.

So what happened? For many reasons - greed, personal ambition, the quest for power is all pervading in those countries - graft is on a scale outside the imagination of European politicians. Even relatively minor government officials find ways to squirrel away millions in Swiss bank accounts; and even those who (rarely) are brought to account and jailed or dismissed are immediately replaced by more of the same.

We see Prime Ministers and Presidents from these countries feted on official visits here, politicians who could never legally gain the wealth that they flaunt to the public; yet still they reign, using the power of their parties and corrupt legal processes to build impregnable walls round themselves and their cohorts.

Coincidentally I met one one of these officials when I was working for a client in Bayswater, London. One morning I was outside and the door of the house next door opened and several people came out; all, I discovered, were Nigerian. A smiling man called out good morning and we had a quick chat about the work I was doing next door.

It was only later when talking to my client who owned several properties in the area that he told me who he was and that the Nigerian also owned the property the other side of his: this one always had the curtains closed day and night and is where his “other” wives lived. This was all after this episode that you may remember:

This of course is just another story in a long list of corruption scandals out of Africa. But it is not just corruption that holds the continent back: power is the real driving force to the universal malaise there. Power and the acquisition of it is the bedrock of all political parties everywhere and here as there how that is gained becomes more questionable and democratic with time.

Yet Africa somehow manages to do all this with acquiescence of its people who blindly believe that any change will deliver them from poverty and that whatever happens whitey is to blame. One can’t blame them, for that it is what their leaders have been telling them for years, because they have no other excuse.

Nothing could be a better example of the above than the maiden speech of Cyril Ramaphosa the new president of SA, finally having ousted the corrupt Jacob ‘I showered so I can’t get AIDS’ Zuma. He starts off his tenure with the popular commitment "land will be appropriated from white farmers without compensation"* giving all the murdering thugs who support the EFF and its leader Julius Malema in the belief he will be the nation's saviour the right to kill and injure white farmers even more than is happening at this time; their choice, of course.

But that route will lead South Africa to the condition of Zimbabwe, and international investment withers on the vine. It does not seem credible that a nation with the resources of SA can disappear down the plughole of incompetence, but sadly once again we are talking about Africa, a continent about to suffer the biggest demographic explosion the world has seen - and they make getting rid of white farmers who feed and export for the nation a priority!

Africa will not change in any meaningful way. It has proved time and again since they got their independence from the European colonialists that the only thing they are good at is wrecking the legacy left and opening Swiss bank accounts on the money the West still gives them, and that includes the charities. It is a basket case.

*"We will accelerate our land redistribution programme not only to redress a grave historical injustice, but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation... this approach will include the expropriation of land without compensation.

"We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensure that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Labour's conundrum

I suspect the Guardian hates Corbyn and wants Guardian-type socialism instead - the kind where you do well out of doing good, and get to condescend to the lower orders.

The trouble with being the friend of the poor is that you need them to be poor always so you can be their well-paid friend forever.

This is why the way out for the poorly paid and unemployed could come from the sort-of Right rather than the Left. A real Labour Party would seek so to improve the lot of the workers that in time, they wouldn't need the Party. What are the chances of that happening?

In the USA a maverick like Trump is hated not only by the Left (Michael Moore seems to be another one doing well for himself by noisily championing the poor without actually giving them jobs) but by the Right because he is interfering with the extractive setup that has seen a small minority hoovering up the wealth gains of the last 40 years. If he succeeds then we should all forgive his crassness and history of buccaneering business deals.

Is there a British Trump among us?

Cheap cameras, great results, by JD

A reposting from 2010, originally published on Nourishing Obscurity -

JD is big-leggy…………

…and is also a happy shopper….

…and is bemused by silly road signs….

and is also lost…

These pictures were all taken with a digital camera which I bought for £35 at a time when the cheapest Canon or Pentax etc were around £200. It is basically a webcam to sit above the computer screen but can be used out and about as you can see.

Cheap doesn’t always mean bad and expensive isn’t always good.  The camera shown here is an updated version of the one I have.

The picture to the right is of my key ring camera.

The key ring itself is more robust than the flimsy plastic box on the other end of the chain. When I saw it in the shop I thought it was just a novelty but I was assured that it was a real digital camera and it worked.

So for £12 I had myself yet another camera (current count is eight I think) and I set about seeing what it would do.

Because it was so cheap I didn’t mind when this very friendly horse, curious to know what I was up to, stuck its nose over the wall and snorted into the lens. As you can see this toy of a camera produces good pictures.

Two other photographs show that it is good for bold colours and strong shapes and patterns.

Pillar box


Pinhole Camera

It’s back to basics with the pinhole camera shown on the left. Can’t remember where I bought it but they are available in the USA from here

Just fold the cardboard, assemble all the other bits and pieces, glue it together and you are ready to go. It takes 120 roll film and gives eight pictures per roll.

With digital photography having almost completely taken over it is difficult to find anywhere that does 120 film processing now. So that and a lack of time means I haven’t fully explored its potential.

But this self portrait sitting outside my little hovel shows what can be achieved:

Those two cameras could be described as Toy Cameras and if you search the internet for Toy Cameras you will discover a whole sub-culture of reactionary enthusiasts dedicated to their Lomo, Holga, Diana or Seagull cameras. (Unfortunately Lomo and Seagull have exploited this enthusiasm and their products are not as cheap as they ought to be.)

And if anybody knows of anywhere that still processes films for my Nimslo 3D camera then I might be able to use it again.

JD adds (18.02.2018):

A necessary postscript is that the two cheap digital cameras no longer function; not because there is anything wrong with them but because the likes of Microsoft have 'improved' their product with Win10 which does not accept old gadgets (my scanner no longer works either).

There was nothing wrong with XP but the technology companies want us to keep on spending money we do not have on their new stuff which is all created in the spirit of Hutber's Law: 

You can insert swear word of your choice at this point!

Friday, February 16, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Yann Tiersen, by JD

Once more some musique française pour apaiser vos soucis......

This is from Yann Tiersen who is a Breton of Belgian/Norwegian descent. Finistère was not far enough to the west so he currently lives on the island of Ushant, off the coast of Brittany. His new recording studio there will have uninterrupted views of what he calls the Celtic sea.

On some of the videos below Tierson plays a 5 string violin. Here is a guide to the history and the reason for the additional string-

In the final video here the music is played on a toy piano which I think sounds better than the original grand piano.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Dream Of Reason (Revisited), by JD

Nearly seven years on, and after an unexpected result in the 2016 EU Referendum, JD offers this reposting, which first appeared on Nourishing Obscurity here:

JD says:  "It remains appropriate because the EU is still wedded to that dream of reason, that all problems can be resolved by 'wise' political 'elder statesmen'. Bah humbug!"

El sueño de la razon produce monstruos 
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the title of this etching mistranslated as “The sleep of reason…”

Sueño can mean either sleep or dream depending on the context.

“The dream of reason calls forth monsters” is the correct interpretation.

When you are asleep you are unconscious and brain activity is flat. When you are dreaming, the subconscious is actively creating pleasantries or nightmares according to your inner true nature, as in the scene above.

Goya lived through a turbulent period in European history and, even though he was a proponent of the political enlightenment and freedoms promised by the French Revolution of 1789, he became aware of the Terror that followed, where Reason prevailed and the old ways were swept away.

No one is innocent once he has seen what I have seen. I witnessed how the noblest ideals of freedom and progress were transformed into lances, sabres, and bayonets. Arson, looting and rape, all supposed to bring a New Order, in reality only exchanged the garrotte for the gallows.
After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Goya sought to commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies during the occupation of 1808 with this painting. Along with its companion piece of the same size, El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid (La carga de los mamelucos en la Puerta del Sol) it was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya’s suggestion.

El 3 de Mayo de 1808 en Madrid. (Los fusilamientos en la montaña del Príncipe Pío)
As Goya noted, the ideal of reason does not produce reasonable behaviour.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Germany and the Russian Revolution; George Soros and... ?

Gosh, will I ever cease to be so ignorant. Douglas Adams' hapless hero Arthur Dent  "no more knows his own destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Company," and until Peter Hitchens' column today (second section, here) I didn't know Germany started the Russian Revolution to free up 50 divisions from the Eastern Front and (so nearly) win the Great War in the West.

I'd always fuzzily assumed that Lenin had been deported from Germany (in a sealed train) as an undesirable; I hadn't known that the plan was not to deport, but to export him - to send a spark into the Russian gunpowder room.

An explosive situation prepared, it seems, with some 50 million gold marks funding high-print-run, quality-paper subversive newspapers among the Russian armed forces and factory workers:

In the same edition of the Mail On Sunday - a paper edited by a Scot who, confusingly, wants independence for Scotland but for the UK to remain in Europe - George Soros is allowed to tell his version of the story in the controversy over his funding the pro-Remain "Best For Britain."

I don't know what Soros' game is, but if he wants more amicable relations between the increasingly hysterical and demanding EU negotiators and the limp-as-old-lettuce UK leadership, wouldn't he do better to grease the wheels on the European side?

What does he imagine to be the eventual result of unrestricted movement of people into a country like ours with high (albeit disguised) unemployment - not to mention skewed employment, away from wealth production and into various forms of bandaging for a wounded society - and a generous but ever more unaffordable Welfare state? Is it - revolution?

Friday, February 09, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Moriarty, by JD

The 'three French hens' a couple of weeks ago seems to have been very popular. The final video in that set was labelled "Jimmy (Moriarty cover)" so, naturally, I looked for the original and what I found was another group of French musicians who turn out to be rather good also. You can read about them here-

The sound quality/balance is less than good on one or two of these videos; apologies for that, hope it doesn't spoil your enjoyment.

Friday, February 02, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Edgar Meyer and friends, by JD

This music post came about after listening to the violinist Joshua Bell on Radio 3 last week. Among the tracks played during the interview was one from an album called Short Trip Home which Bell had recorded with the virtuoso double bass player Edgar Meyer and others, a strange mix of bluegrass and classical. My curiosity aroused, I looked for more of the same on YouTube and found a whole new world of wonderful music and what follows is a selection from Edgar Meyer and friends.

Meyer himself began playing bass at the age of five! The mind boggles at the image of a small child grappling with a musical instrument almost twice his size but, no doubt, there are ways around such minor problems. You can read a short bio of him here in which The New Yorker calls him “…the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively un-chronicled history of his instrument.”