Wednesday, January 30, 2019

JD on Venezuela (all's well that gets oil wells)

Venezuela has suddenly become part of the news agenda, or maybe it is part of the 'fake news' agenda. It is hard to tell these days.

Unlike the majority of pundits and commentators, I have actually been to the country. For about three months in 1992 I was working in Caracas on a pipeline project bringing water to the capital to service the 'barrios' the shanty towns encircling the city. Most, if not all of these 'favelas' were without running water.

It was a long time ago and I have forgotten most of the details of what I was doing on the project but I did garner some vivid impressions of life there so here are a few. I will offer a few thoughts on the current situation later.

I had already worked for this company on another project in Zaragoza in Spain so I knew their ways reasonably well and they wanted me because I can speak Spanish and especially the engineering and technical terminology.

I was lodged in the CCT hotel which is itself incorporated into a very large shopping complex. First thing I noticed was the armed guards at every entrance to the shopping centre and not just one man with a pistol, there were four or five at each entrance and very visibly armed. Among all the shops were bars and restaurants as well as night clubs and through the windows of one I could see and hear some very lively and energetic dancing. Clearly these Venezolanos know how to enjoy themselves!
The office was somewhere downtown and a taxi from the hotel basement was the best way to get there. Taxis were all fairly nondescript American 'barges' which usually feel like floating about in a hovercraft. Up in the lift at the office block to the twelfth floor and sitting in the lift lobby was a uniformed guard with a gun and his back to the window. On the 12th floor? What sort of country is this?

As time passed I began to learn that Caracas is a sort of 'inside out' prison with all the good guys living their lives behind bolted and barred doors, and with all the bad guys free to walk the streets. I never felt threatened at any time but I was always aware of my surroundings. Lunch was a cafe/bar across the road and was very good. I especially liked the black beans with arepas, spicy and tasty.

I noticed that it rained every day regular as clockwork in the afternoons. A cloudburst of very heavy rain and it was literally a cloudburst. Something to do with the microclimate generated by the high altitude and the surrounding mountains. (Climate scientists do not like to acknowledge such things because it upsets their computer modelling; see previous post on climate.)

And then one day, during my final week there, our office manager was shot on his way home from work. He was driving home and was waiting at traffic lights when he had a gun pointed in his face through the open window. The robber took his watch and then shot him in the thigh. He then fired two or three bullets into the engine for some reason. I went to visit him in hospital and he was not seriously wounded but he did seem to have been traumatised by the episode and was nowhere near his usual cheery self. The hospital, by the way, was spotlessly clean and had an air of calm about it. I think our NHS could learn a thing or two from Latin America; a few years later I visited a colleague in hospital in Chile after he had a heart attack and it had the same air of unhurried calm and was spotlessly clean.

A couple of days before I left I was told by the senior project manager to go and get a ticket for the BA flight - "You have to be patriotic" or words to that effect.  So I went to the travel agent on the ground floor of the building to book the flight. Only two seats available, one in first class and the other one at the back among the backpackers. No contest, I'll have the first class ticket please! Project manager had gone back to Paris by this point so I didn't say anything and nobody checked in the weeks after. I am worth it anyway, that's my excuse! Later that afternoon there was a power cut in the building. When the power was restored we found out that there had been a bank robbery at the bank next door to the travel agent. The robbers had somehow interrupted the power supply which allowed them to do whatever they did.

I think I have related elsewhere how the company's 'Mr Fixit' took me to the airport and escorted me from kerbside to 1st class lounge in about 10 or 15 minutes just by waving his security pass at everyone! That's the only way to travel!

A few thoughts on the current situation starting with some background information taken from my copy of the South American Handbook, 1992:

* The Spanish landed in Venezuela (little Venice) in 1498, what they found was a poor country sparsely populated with very little in the way of a distinctive culture. It remained a poor country for the next 400 years or so, agrarian, exporting little and importing less.  Oil was discovered in 1914 and everything changed. It became the richest country in Latin America and the known reserves were estimated to last for 40 years. (i.e. until 2032)

* Only about 20% of the land area is devoted to agriculture and three quarters of that is pasture. (In effect, animal husbandry with little in the way of food crops)

* 84% of the population live in urban areas.

* Venezuela is Latin America's fourth largest debtor despite having foreign reserves of approximately US$20 bn accumulated by the mid 1980s from oil wealth.

Carlos Andres Perez was president of Venezuela while I was there in 1992 -

Note the importation of 80% of food during his first term and the huge loan from Washington during his second term. If there are food shortages it means the supply chain has been cut and knowing how and why that has happened will be a clue to the reason for the current crisis. All of those loans will come with strings attached and any spending will be monitored by the 'money changers' with very little leeway.

 I watched the TV programme about Chavez last week and both Chavez and CAP seemed to me to be pursuing similar policies, trying to improve the living standards of their people. But they also made the same mistakes; relying solely on oil revenues and not investing in the future for when the oil runs out. The conditions attached to the various loans will probably mean that the social programmes of both Chavez and CAP will be abandoned in favour of 'austerity' as is happening in Europe.

During the last few days (at the end of January) the US policy on Venezuela has become blatantly obvious: regime change. And I look at the history of the continent and I cannot help but see that the US has supported every dictator in Latin America.

Since 1492 the imperial powers of Europe have sought to control the whole continent, both north and south. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British have been playing a perpetual power game in order to exploit the 'Eldorado' of the new world. Now the US has joined the game and their main objective is oil, it is always oil for the US. It is the foundation of their foreign policy. I saw a comment somewhere that it wasn't really about oil because the US has more than enough oil in their own country. A very naive comment indeed; I first worked in the oil industry in the 70s and it was made clear to me that there were indeed massive resources in the US. Hundreds of wells have been drilled and capped and they serve as their reserve. Almost all of the American engineers I encountered would gleefully boast of how they were going to deplete the resources of other countries. After all, the supply is finite. The earth is not manufacturing oil any more. It was a great joke among Americans that when all of the foreign resources had been fully exploited then they would open the taps on their own wells.

With the whole world supporting the US actions except Russia and China who are lining up behind Maduro and the Venezuelan people, this is not going to end well so I leave the last word (28th January) to Ron Paul -

Sackerson adds: these stories seem to imply that Venezuela "needs saving from itself"...

World Bank Reports Venezuela Oil Output Falling Since 2000

Monday, January 28, 2019

"Kill them all, God will know His own!"

... said the Abbot.

1. Abortion up to the moment of birth (New York State, 2019):

"The law also now allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York... The law also addresses late-term abortions. Under New York's Reproductive Health Act, they can be performed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when necessary to protect the life of the mother."

(Interestingly, CNN here leaves out the real hole in the law, that will let through the coach and horses: the words "or health" to be inserted after "life" in the quote above. In the UK, 97% of abortions are justified by reference to mental health.)

2. Arguments for abortion after birth (British Medical Journal):

"Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

3. Drifting towards euthanasia (Royal College of Physicians):

"In a statement, the RCP said: “following this new poll, the RCP will adopt a neutral position until two-thirds of respondents say that it should be in favour of or opposed to a change in the law”. That is to say, unless two thirds of respondents say they oppose euthanasia, the College will change its position to one of neutrality."

Already a man has been euthanised for being an alcoholic:

Soon, it may be disabled young people and adults; the old and/or decrepit; the poor...

Will only prisoners convicted of a capital crime be safe?

Abortion and Google, the BBC and "unbiased" advice

As New York State has now legalised abortion up to birth, many people must now be looking around for information to work out how they feel about the issues involved.

But Google may be quietly making their minds up for them:

"According to the Breitbart source, a Google software engineer started the discussion thread after learning that abortion-related search results had been manipulated. 

"The source said the manual intervention was ordered after a Slate journalist inquired about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube. 

"In response, pro-life videos were allegedly replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results, the software engineer said, calling that change a 'smoking gun'."

And when I look for statistics on the British Pregnancy Advice Service, to see if there may be any bias in their advice to expectant mothers, on Google I find nothing.

However the tone of their chief executive, Ann Furedi, is interesting:

“The answer to unsafe abortion is not contraception, it is safe abortion. When you encourage women to use contraception, you give them the sense that they can control their fertility – but if you do not provide safe abortion services when that contraception fails you are doing them a great disservice.  Our data shows women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone, even when they are using some of the most effective methods. Family planning is contraception and abortion. Abortion is birth control that women need when their regular method lets them down.”


Furedi's background may be relevant, for although the BPAS site says "We support pregnancy choices and trust women to decide for themselves," her past history may give us some clues:

"Furedi has worked in pro-choice organizations for more than 20 years, mainly in policy and communications. She ran the press office of the UK Family Planning Association before leading Birth Control Trust, a charity that advocated the need for research and development in methods of contraception and abortion. Before joining BPAS, as its chief executive in June 2003, Furedi was Director of Policy and Communications for the UK regulator of infertility treatment and embryo research, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). She is regarded as a leading pro-choice advocate and spokesperson, often appearing in the media representing this perspective.

"Prior to her career in pro-choice organizations, Furedi was a journalist, specialising in healthcare features for women's magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Company, sometimes writing under her "maiden name", Bradley. She is also known as Ann Burton. In the early 1980s, she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties as its Gay Rights Officer, using the name of Ann Marie Bradley.

"In 1982, she married Frank Furedi, the founder and then leader of the British Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)."

Broadcast media may be no more help to those who want unbiased discussion - see this complaint by the pro-life organisation Life:


Years ago there was an office in the Birmingham Bull Ring for something called the Solid Fuel Advisory Service; run, of course, by the Coal Board. I assumed their advice would go something like this:

Should I have a gas fire, or a coal fire?

- Coal.

And if a woman comes to the BPAS and says, "I'm pregnant and I'm not sure what to do," what (when there's no cameras or voice recorders) will their advice be?

- And do they put it in writing?

Friday, January 25, 2019


Tonight is Burns Night once more. A celebration of the life of Scotland's national poet; more whisky, more haggis please!

Last year we had a selection of his songs and they can be reprised here -

As a musical celebration this year, something slightly different. But first a cautionary tale from Scots comedian, Danny Bhoy:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Abortion and the law

Yet another area where there is far more heat than light. But since New York has just passed a new law on abortion, I'd be interested in some clarification.


What counts as "health" in this context? Is this defined in other legislation?

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child - founded by Christians but not limiting its membership to them - says:

"... 97pc of the almost 200,000 abortions which occur annually in the UK, take place under the 'mental health' ground.

"In fact, these abortions [in Ireland] are almost always for socio-economic reasons," a fact acknowledged by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which said in its report of Irish women who travel for abortion or obtain pills: "What became clear during evidence is that the majority of terminations are for socio-economic reasons"."

Is it necessary to be a Bible-thumper to feel concerned at the potential inhabiting this seemingly vague legal terminology?

Is this a "freedom" cause for the Left and/or libertarians, and/or does it suit those (on the Right?) who see aborting the poor as a way to reduce crime, as per the findings of the authors of "Freakonomics"?

Or should one not ask any of these questions, and pass by on the other side, pretending not to notice?

The balloon goes up: has Parliament cut its own string?

As Parliament continues to try ways to subvert the results of a Referendum it previously assured us would be binding, "Raedwald" detects what I call "a dangerous groundswell" in public opinion.

I go on to comment:

"I'm reading a potted history of the English Civil Wars and there are points of similarity between the 1630s/1640s and now: arrogant and slippery Government, discontent with the system of representation in Parliament, multiple ideological fracture lines in the populace. 

"Charles thought he could dodge round it all and carry on. Our current political establishment seems to think it can do so, also."

At this time we begin to hear calls for direct democracy, or at least closer ties between the people and their MPs in an age where travel and electronic communication have almost abolished our separation from Parliament. However, enthusiasts for direct control overlook how divisive voting can be, and how intemperate, prejudiced and ill-informed are many of the participants.

So, who is fit to decide?

We go back to the New Model Army's Putney Debates of October-November 1647. One of the issues was Parliamentary representation: the system was out of balance, constituency sizes varying from "around a dozen to several thousand."(1) The first demand of the Levellers faction, stated in their draft "Agreement of the People", was:

"1. That the people of England being at this day very unequally distributed by counties, cities and boroughs for the election of their deputies in parliament, ought to be more indifferently proportioned according to the number of the inhabitants: the circumstances whereof, for number, place, and manner, are to be set down before the end of this present parliament."

The word "inhabitants" needed clarification.

Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, for the Levellers, argued that owning or renting property should not be a criterion. For him, the franchise should be universal for all adult men:

"Really I think that the poorest he that is in England has a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he has not had a voice to put himself under."

General Henry Ireton saw a potentially destabilising implication in this:

"In choosing those that shall determine what laws we shall be ruled by, no person has a right to this, who does not have a permanent fixed interest in the kingdom…if we take away this law, we shall plainly take away all property and interest that any man has."

Rainsborough was swift to deny that he was arguing for anarchy, but Cromwell intervening and attempting to take some of the heat out of the discussion, still noted that there was such a potential in the proposal:

"No man says that you have a mind to anarchy, but [that] the consequences of this rule tends to anarchy; for where is there any bound or limit set if you take away this [limit], that men that have no interest but the interest of breathing [shall have no voice in elections]?"(2)

When the property qualification was at last abolished in 1918, and women to some extent were also enfranchised, the size of the electorate tripled. Later, all adult women could vote; then (in 1969, and presumably because he thought young people would be more like to vote Labour) Harold Wilson dropped the minimum voting age from 21 to 18. In 2015, Labour's Ed Miliband was proposing to drop it further, to 16; last year, a Cambridge professor mooted a reduction to age 6.

Surely there must be some age below which people cannot be judged capable of mature understanding. But we don't have educational or IQ bars to voting, so why age?

And one could argue that the right to vote is not to do with having sufficient judgement to direct public affairs, but instead to register one's desires, since governments are now involved in almost every part of our lives.

Besides, isn't the exercise of skilled and well-informed judgement the role of the Parliamentary representative? Thus (htp: Michael St GeorgeEdmund Burke in 1774:

"To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

"Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament."

In any case, how can an MP fairly represent a constituency deeply and almost equally divided on some great matter?

So for most of the time we may accept the argument that MPs have the good of the nation as a whole for their guiding star.

But what sharpens the contest over Brexit is the sense that politicians are acting neither in accordance with the manifestos on which they stood at the last General Election, in which undertakings were given to see the Brexit process through to its conclusion; nor in accordance with the will of the majority of the electorate in the Referendum; nor (as that majority judged) in the people's best long-term interests.

This raises questions about the status of party manifestos; about "First Past The Post"(3); about the power to reselect MPs; about the potential conflict of personal and career interests of MPs with their duty to the public; about whether it is or was ultra vires for Parliament to compromise or give away national sovereignty without a most serious, carefully balanced debate and plebiscite; about the authoritative status of that plebiscite.

For it was a plebiscite, not a referendum: leading politicians and the Referendum pamphlet itself made it clear that what the people decided would be the last word on the matter.

A fine and dangerously fractious mess.

As I said on Raedwald's:

"In 2016 the Government could have said, decision made; we shall implement it, negotiate a sensible settlement with the EU in the interests of the country as a whole, and assiduously seek to reunite the people as we go forward.

"It is not too late to do so, even now; but it is getting late."

(1) John Miller, "The English Civil Wars," Constable and Robinson (2009), p. 167
(2)  Keith Lindley, "The English Civil War and Revolution: A Sourcebook," Routledge (1998) pp. 152-155
(3) It's interesting to see that the Alternative Vote was already being used in the twentieth century:
"The universities constituencies which returned more than one Member used the single transferable vote system to elect the Members."
- "The History of the Parliamentary Franchise," House of Commons Research Paper 13/14 (1 March 2013), p. 43

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Should we keep up the fight against drugs?

I've been pleasantly surprised to have a civilised discussion with someone on Facebook. He makes the points that the ban hasn't worked and illegal drugs aren't controlled for quality; if legalised they can be controlled and the tax used for education and medical treatment; drugs have always been around and shouldn't be in the hands of ruthless dealers who will sell to anybody; we should legalise, regulate, educate and tax.

Fair points, well made.

I reply:

"The PTB have quietly abandoned any serious attempt to tackle the trade over the last 40+ years, partly because they, their pals and sons and daughters indulged themselves, so we don't know what might have happened if they'd got a grip instead.

"And drugs used to be taken in a socially controlled context - e.g. the old men past work sitting under the Tree of Idleness in Kyrenia. Even here not so long ago, pub landlords were supposed to manage drunkenness.

"It's not just the physical harm aspect - alcohol is plenty bad too - though the way drugs get to us also involves harm (perhaps a phial of victim blood should be attached to every baggie, as a reminder?) - it's that with young people, it's like tying their legs together at the start of the hundred-yard dash, so that if and when they're ready to start a career they're years behind their contemporaries. There's lots of youngsters struggling against it - I've known at least one teenage Asian lad (re)turn to Islam in an attempt to get himself off what he called "bud, Bu-ddha"; unfortunately the meditation disc he was given to listen to segued into a Jew-hatred harangue once the trance was well on...

"But there's big money to be made in this, as well as tax, so I expect it can't be stopped.

"People cite Prohibition in the US as though it was a failure - it wasn't (and it didn't forbid drinking alcohol - only commercialising it.). It was repealed because the Depression had set in and the government needed money, plus the brewers and their workers saw an opportunity to better their fortunes."

And now that our government is strapped for cash, here we go. Please, not Mr Branson, though.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Grasping the nettle: sentencing for knife crime

I had given up hope of finding this - prompted by a reference in a reader's letter to The Spectator some years ago, I think - but Billy Connolly mentions Lord Carmont's action in his new autobiography.

Cruel to be kind? Needed again, now?

Note that Carmont gave fair warning before he started.

The judge who stopped knife crime

Lord Carmont rocked the underworld of Glasgow in the Fifties when he began handing out long sentences for knife crime. Judges should follow his example now, says ADAM EDWARDS

RUTHLESS: Carmont imposed lengthy sentences on those who used blades

ONE terrible fact leapt out of the crime figures published by the Government last week: a knife attack takes place in Britain once every four minutes on average. There were 129,840 violent attacks involving a knife last year – more than 350 a day. The stark numbers bring shock and surprise – surprise that the Government has little idea what to do about them.

But a dip into fairly recent British history suggests the solution to the knife-crime epidemic is obvious.

Back in the Fifties, Glasgow was in the grip of razor gangs when Lord John Carmont, one of its leading judges, decided to do something about it.

The hawk-faced adjudicator, who died more than 40 years ago, was ruthless in his determination to rid the city of its stabbers and slashers. His answer to the wave of knifings was simply to give long jail terms to anyone caught carrying an open “cut-throat” razor.

His tough stance became known as “copping a Carmont”. From 1952, he became so notorious for punitive sentences that even today the French language still contains the phrase “faire un carmont”. The message quickly reached the gangs and carrying razors fell out of fashion. He “rocked the underworld of Glasgow”, wrote a contemporary, and stopped knife crime in its tracks.

“When I was a teenager in Glasgow, I remember the sporadic terror wreaked in the city centre’s dance halls by gangs intent on recreational violence,” says Charlie Gordon, Labour member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Cathcart. “It took exemplary sentences issued by Lord Carmont to stop a razor-slashing culture that was growing in the city.”

Born in 1880 to a distinguished Catholic family, John Carmont was educated both in France and at the beautiful Abbey School in Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands. Called to the bar in 1906, he saw active service during the First World War both in the ranks and as an officer in the Black Watch.

He took silk in 1924 and established himself as one of the most formidable characters in the Scottish judiciary. He had an unusually retentive memory, could quote verbatim from legal texts and was admired for his sturdy independence of mind.

Though his sentences were harsh, he was personally “the gentlest and kindliest of men”, notes his 1965 obituary, adding that his sentences were “the logical outcome of his sense of priorities which demanded that the public was entitled to protection from the anti-social activities of the lawless”. Would that all judges had such views now.

With the constituency of Glasgow East voting in a by-election today, it is significant that the retiring MP, Labour’s David Marshall, has also spoken of the impact of Carmont’s crackdown.

In a speech on law and order, he told the Commons: “I feel sorry for the police. I give them my full support and they do splendid work but much of what they do is to some extent negated by the courts, which let down the law-abiding citizens of this country and its police force. If the courts were to make an example of some criminals, particularly those who commit acts of violence, crime would rapidly decrease.

“I cite an example from 40 or 50 years ago. Lord Carmont sentenced a few razor-slashers in Glasgow to 20 years’ imprisonment at a time when 20 years meant precisely that. Overnight, razor-slashing ceased.”

In fact, a standard Carmont sentence was one decade behind bars rather than two but Mr Marshall was on the right lines.

In the first half of the 20th century, Glasgow had an unenviable reputation for violence. The city took the brunt of the Depression in the Thirties with very high unemployment, substandard housing and poor levels of health.

The worst of the suffering was in the run-down district known as the Gorbals where, according to the writer Colin MacFarlane who was born there: “Human waste ran down the tenement stairs and filth, violence, crime, rats, poverty and drunkenness abounded.” A novel No Mean City by Alexander McArthur was published in 1935 about slum life in the Gorbals. Its anti-hero was “razor king” Johnnie Stark. The book was so grim that many libraries refused to stock it.

Glasgow and knives were inextricably linked in the public’s mind. The nickname for a slashing, for example, was known in some quarters as “a Glasgow smile”.

“By the early Fifties every gangster carried an open razor,” according to Danny Grant, a former policeman whose beat included Glasgow’s toughest districts.

When Lord Carmont, by then a senior high court judge, saw how many of Glasgow’s criminals were being sent to his court for knife crimes, he knew that the city was in the grip of a violent crime epidemic which had to be stopped.

“Carmont stated that in future anyone appearing in front of him who had been found in possession of an open razor would be sent to prison for 10 years,” says Grant. Back then, a 10-year sentence meant 10 years behind bars.

Carmont’s reputation for being tough was already well known to Glasgow criminals, as his treatment of John Ramensky attests.

Ramensky was the best-known safe blower in Scottish history, as famous for his prison breaks as for his crimes. During the Second World War, he was recruited by the military to blow up enemy buildings and steal important documents. He won the Military Medal and had been given a free pardon.

Shortly after the war, at the age of 50, Ramensky appeared before Carmont after being caught blowing a safe. He made an impassioned plea for clemency and cited his war record. He pleaded with Carmont that he had undergone more than his share of suffering. “Give me a chance, as only good can result from it,” he said in mitigation. But Carmont sentenced him to 10 years with the cold remark that “any sentence of less than 10 years would be useless”.

AS SOON as Carmont had decided to solve the blade problem, he was merciless. In one court sitting he passed sentences of up to 10 years on eight men – 52 years in all – simply for carrying razors and knives.

Those sentences had an immediate effect. For a brief period in Glasgow’s history, razors and knives vanished from its streets.

Today the plea for tougher sentences for knife crime echoes across the country.

In 2006, Charlie Gordon moved an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act going through the Scottish Parliament calling for mandatory jail sentences for possessing knives. His amendment failed.

But now he has renewed his call for automatic jail sentences for knife possession. “This is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

It is time for all MPs and judges to take note of the views of the public. It is time a new generation of violent hooligans got to know the meaning of “copping a Carmont”.

Friday, January 18, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Robert Crumb, by JD

Robert Crumb. Where to start? In his own words, he was born weird. So that is as good a place as any. He was and is a prolific artist and in the sixties became a favourite of the 'counterculture' with his cartoon images in comics and album covers etc. His most famous creations were Mr Natural and Fritz the Cat. But he was also a musician of sorts with a taste for old style 20s music. I would describe him as a radical traditionalist!

Below is a selection of his music and a wonderful cartoon of Mr Natural.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

UPDATED: who DID NOT VOTE on yesterday's EU Withdrawal Bill?

(Post rewritten following further investigation!)

This morning the Daily Express had a shouty headline:

DEMOCRACY BETRAYED: Did YOUR MP ignore your Brexit vote? Find out here

I had a look myself. At first I thought 8 MPs had played hooky, but not so...

The 634 MPs who did part in the vote are listed here by They Work For You:

That leaves 16 who didn't:

The Speaker, John Bercow, who is expected to remain neutral

Four Deputy Speakers, who are also expected to remain neutral:

Paul Flynn (Lab)
Sir Lindsay Hoyle (Lab)
Dame Eleanor Laing (Con)
Dame Rosie Winterton (Lab)

Four Tellers for the division (two from each of the major two parties, for balance, so not counted):

Iain Stewart (Con)
Wendy Morton (Con)
Vicky Foxcroft (Lab)
Nick Smith (Lab)

And seven Sinn Fein MPs who do not take their seats in Parliament, on principle:

Órfhlaith Begley
Mickey Brady
Michelle Gildernew
Chris Hazzard
Elisha McCallion
Paul Maskey
Francie Molloy

... so nobody failed to vote without good reason.

It's not often the whole House participates in a division.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Britain's Tragic Waste of Talent

Thus (wryly) John Birch, giving a reader response in The Conservative Woman:

"Allowing and even encouraging (by lack of effective punishment) crime to take place at the levels that it is today makes me highly suspicious. Has anyone ever read a study on the positive effect of crime on the economy? After all the huge number of people necessary to clear up behind criminals, all those middle-class jobs in the prison service, judiciary, probation, welfare, hospitals, paramedics. They all create turnover in the economy in one way or another linked to crime. Then we have security services, cctv, locksmiths, insurance companies, all those replacements for items stolen. And so it goes on. It makes me wonder if going soft on crime is being used to boost the economy."

John Mortimer's fictional barrister Horace Rumpole often reflects how the Timson family of criminals keeps him in claret - and indirectly, also helps employ judges and all the rest.

But what might all those resources have been used for instead, if crimes were severely reduced?

And what could we do with all the first-class brains engaged in the complexities of taxation and its avoidance?

And the geniuses using their mathematical nous to play in the great casinos of stocks and bonds?

The waste! The opportunities!

Monday, January 14, 2019

This Man Dahna Pub, Right? 'E Knows More Than The B****ing Experts!

Through the door, the usual circulars - and an unusual circular:

Tim Wetherspoon makes his case against the scare stories about food prices post-Brexit, but unlike the usual news media he follows this double page with six third-party articles about the in/out issues, three from each side. How different! - click on "The EU Debate and the Circle of Deceit"

But what I'd like to focus on here are two points from above, on the flawed expertise of the experts:

Wetherspoon is substantially correct, though he overlooks retention of the costs of collection:

But how can the experts not know this?

Fabrice Montagné is the Chief UK and Senior European Economist at Barclays Investment Bank. Previously he worked at the French Treasury, then at FFR (the French Pensions Reserve Fund, managing funds for public authorities), and then the Dutch Central Bank.

Mark Brumby has a degree in "Economics Macro & Micro Trends" from Cambridge and is the Principal of Langton Capital. According to his profile on LinkedIn he "has occupied positions in both corporate finance and in fund management when he ran the US$100m Global Leisure Fund for Banque Pictet in Geneva. He returned to the UK in 2002 in order to co-found Oriel Securities and has since worked at Blue Oar Securities before founding Langton Capital in 2010."

Anyone else for a subscription to Wetherspoon News?

How Modern Social Media Communication Works

The techniques are only a couple of thousand years old, or more:

"But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death."

In the market place, a voice over your shoulder. You turn, but the speaker has moved on, to repeat his message.

You can do it to smash an individual, as Google allegedly did to James Damore; or public figures like Farage, Trump etc; or issues like Brexit.

There they are, the voices in but not of the crowd, supplying the insults, insinuations, cartoons, factoids, distraction issues for "Facebook simple"... and the coaches and placards, the knots of "representative" people on St Stephen's Green, the agents provocateurs...

On Saturday my wife and I were shopping, and on the pavement was a stand with two people asking passers-by to write on a Post-It and stick it on a board to "have our say" as to "What Should We Do About Brexit?"

I said to the nice lady, "Leave, obviously" and the shutters came down behind her eyes and her mouth repeated my words in puzzlement. If I'd bothered to write a notelet for this primary-school exercise, would it have stayed long on the board?

But if you sow division and confusion, that is half the battle.

Democracy can be managed.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Tribute To Frank Sinatra, by Wiggia

                                               FRANCIS ALBERT SINATRA

                                                              1915 – 1998

So much has been written about Sinatra that anything I put on paper seems superfluous,  yet twenty years have gone by since his passing and with time it matters not how famous or influential you were in life, it soon becomes forgotten, only revived when something related is mentioned or discussed.

Sinatra was quite simply the greatest songsmith of his and subsequent generations. We can all have favourites in music, mine was always Mel Torme, but that in no way diminishes the effect Sinatra had on music during his lifetime.

With all these great performers they learnt their craft the hard way, the details of that and more are far too long to include or do justice to here but this link fills in all the details:

Certain details show the way forward, starting when Frank was singing for his supper and started to take elocution lessons: for a boy with scant education and little schooling that was a big move, but it was his tutor John Quinlan who was the first to notice his remarkable vocal range.

It was the Swing era that launched Sinatra on the big stage with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey had a big influence on Sinatra who admired his trombone playing and tried to model his breathing on the seamless style Dorsey had when playing. He left Dorsey in ‘42 when he had become bigger than the band and then the bobby-soxers period erupted every time he appeared on stage as a solo artist.

Now with Columbia records, his output was curtailed by a Musicians Union strike 42-43 but in ‘44 he more than made up for with a huge laying down of tracks including Put Your Dreams away, his theme tune for the time. This enormous output became known as his Columbia years.

Axel Stordahl left Dorsey at the same time and became Sinatra's chief arranger during these Columbia years and the numbers such as These Foolish Things, You Go To My Head, and  That Old Feeling defined the era.

His success continued until 1948 but his style was not evolving, and the first suggestions of his association with organised crime garnered negative press. His workaholic style - up to a hundred songs a day - had taken a toll on his voice and depression set in. His divorce from his first wife Nancy and his stormy affair with Ava Gardner added to the downward effect. To many he was washed up, finished; even his record company didn't help, getting him to record some banal songs. His record contract was not renewed in ‘52, his TV show was cancelled and he was dropped by his agency !

Yet he still managed to record some great songs during this time including this one……

During all this time Sinatra had been acting in films. I am not the only one who during that period thought he was a very good actor in the right films and he was. The passage below is a cut and paste on his film career, I shall stick to the music in my subsequent comments.

“Sinatra appeared in several films throughout the 1940s, the best among them being the musicals in which he costarred with dancer Gene Kelly. Of these, Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) are pleasant diversions, whereas On the Town (1949) ranks among the greatest of film musicals. It was acting, rather than music, that precipitated Sinatra’s comeback in 1953. He pleaded with Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn for the role of the scrappy, tragic soldier, Maggio, in From Here to Eternity (1953), and he agreed to work for scale. His performance was universally praised and earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor. Sinatra went on to become one of the top film stars of the 1950s and ’60s, and he delivered fine performances in quality films such as Suddenly (1954), Young at Heart (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955; Academy Award nomination for best actor), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Joker Is Wild (1957), Pal Joey (1957), and Some Came Running (1958). The political thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is perhaps Sinatra’s greatest film and features his best performance. With the possible exception of Bing Crosby, no other American entertainer achieved such a level of respect and popularity as both singer and actor. Although it is said that Sinatra stopped taking films seriously after The Manchurian Candidate, owing to his ongoing frustration with the tedious filmmaking process, his motion-picture résumé remains impressive. In later years, he was memorable in The Detective (1968), and in his final starring vehicle, The First Deadly Sin (1980). “

In 1953 Sinatra signed with Capitol Records and an era started that many consider to be his most fruitful, nine years of probably his most important body of work. Many of his albums were on a single theme and called concept albums: his first with Billy May, Come Fly With Me  1958 and  Come Dance With Me 1959 are the stand-out ones.

But it was the two decade long association with Nelson Riddle, whom Sinatra said was the greatest arranger he worked with, that produced at least three albums considered by most to be masterpieces: In the Wee Small hours 1953, Songs for Swinging Lovers 1956 and Only the Lonely 1958 all are musts for any serious collector of modern music.

Sinatra also collaborated with others beside Nelson Riddle. He sang with all of the best of the era - Basie et al. This, The Best is Yet to Come with Basie shows all the skills Sinatra had at his disposal, tonal range, timing, projection, diction etc a masterclass that today's singers in the main could only dream of.

It wasn’t all ‘smooch,’ far from it: this upbeat Day in Day Out was typical of his racier numbers this from 1967 with a slightly Latin flavour.

His “Rat Pack Years” mainly while doing the rooms in Las Vegas had a free-for-all style, not surprising considering his company with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis junior plus to a lesser extent Shirley McClaine, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. It was an act based on comic boozy fun, mostly ad-libbed and very successful. A good example of the period is this number, not at the Sands where most of this act was performed but in St Louis with the added attraction of Johnny Carson thrown in:

Sinatra founded his own label Reprise Records in 1960 whilst still on contract with Capitol until ‘62; Capitol allowed the two to run until their contract ran out.

He still worked with his original arrangers but new blood was brought in: Neil Hefti, Don Costa and Johnny Mandel injected new ideas to Sinatra's work.

Several hit singles were generated during the Reprise years including Strangers in the Night (1966) That's Life (1967) and My Way (1969), plus two of his best albums: September of My Years (1965) and the collaboration album Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobin (1967).

This is Wave with Jobin, a dip into Bossa Nova by Sinatra.

By 1969 another generation had taken over the music world and Sinatra said ‘They are not writing songs for me any more’. In ‘71 he announced his retirement only to start recording again in ‘73. In his last years he “only” produced seven albums but many were his most poignant, culminating with his last Duets 11 in ‘94.

His voice was suffering in these later years, more coarse, largely through his life of cigarettes and drink, but he compensated and could still deliver.

Here he is with Ella, these were the days when ability and talent actually mattered; sadly, as with those wonderful big bands, now all history:

Despite no more recording and failing health Sinatra did not retire, he performed at hundreds of live concerts all over the world. I am ashamed to say I lost the chance to see him live at the end of his career at the Docklands arena after a mix up with dates. To live through the Sinatra years and enjoy the decades of great songs with great composers and arrangers and then miss the last chance to see him live has always grated.

Still, the sound is there for many more years. He like his contemporaries were supremely talented and above all professionals, a golden era. Fittingly the last number is That’s Life:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Policing: Grasp The Nettle

David Clarke (htp: Churchmouse Campanologist) is a former Sheriff for Milwaukee and argues for much stronger policing in urban ghettoes. A black man, he has little patience with what he sees as the liberal approach:

The Right Approach to Solving Gun Violence

It’s a swing and a miss to target guns. Instead, we should target violent career criminals and their anti-social behavior. We shouldn’t take politically correct policy advice from the same leftists that have failed to deter crime.

Rather, there are a handful of new approaches we should take to make America safe. We must identify repeat perpetrators by their long rap sheets. Send out teams of officers to arrest everyone out on outstanding felony warrants. Arrest probation and parole offenders for the slightest violation of their probation or parole. Follow-up with quality debriefings by investigators to determine the associates of perpetrators and the vehicles they own. Prosecute offenders and keep them locked up for the longest period allowed by law, keeping neighborhoods safe. Set high bail and stop liberal programs like community corrections and second chances for repeat offenders. Send felons who use a gun in commission of a crime to the Department of Justice for prosecution because federal guidelines for sentencing are longer and more certain. Stop accepting plea bargains in exchange for weak sentences. The reality is that these policy alternatives are effective crime control tools...

If mayors and police commanders are unwilling to come up with a strategy such as the one I propose – improving the quality of life in crime-ridden neighborhoods through proven tactics – then they should prepare for another violent summer. One in which blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately victimized by crime and violence.

Far from being racist, vigorous policing in such areas would protect the innocent poor, who have just as much right to live in an orderly society as the financially better-off. It would also protect the life chances of young men at risk of straying, if they could see that a life of petty and violent crime is a non-starter.

Research suggests that crime prevention measures more than pay for themselves, if the effort is systematic and sustained. e.g. Table 1 here:

Peter Hitchens has long argued for a return to foot patrols rather than reactive policing - remember J.B Morton's definition: "FLYING SQUAD: A special contingent of police whose business is to arrive at the scene of a crime shortly after the departure of all those connected with it."

Time to grasp the nettle?

Friday, January 11, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Fame's Fame, by JD

Georgie Fame was part of the sixties 'beat' boom and had a number one hit in 1965 with "Yeh Yeh!" After his first hit records he recorded with Alan Price and then continued with a solo career. More or less forgotten, he was and is vastly underrated but he is one of the best musicians this country has produced in the rock/blues/jazz genre.

Here is a brief overview from Wiki and among the videos below is an interview about his time playing in the Flamingo Club in London.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Managed economy, or blowup?

"And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled down over a billion hungry worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they labored into the night over smug little treatises on the value of a planned political economy."

- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (what a genius he was!)

But is there a distinction to be made between a planned economy and a managed one?

Left to its own devices, big-money capitalism will tend to consolidate, shut out competition and reap the excessive benefits of monopoly, as Ms Hearn shows here:

Naturally, because organisations develop a life-instinct of their own, they will resist anything that tries to limit them. So part of their budgets will be to influence politicians and the news media in their favour. Look how the EU and its fellow travellers in the UK managed the news in 1975 - the mystery to me is why there was anything like a fair hearing for both sides in 2016.

Somehow, the cat must be belled.

Quite how the US managed to do this in the "Progressive Age" I don't know exactly, though I imagine responsiveness to the people via the machinery of democracy had something to do with it. Hence the introduction of antitrust laws.

But I suppose a lot of work goes in to "managing democracy" these days; perhaps bought tongues and internet trolling will prevent a recurrence of mass antitrust understanding and sentiment.

And the battle continues, not only within countries but between them: fast- moving globalist capital versus captive local populations.

Just as the immigration question is not one of "nobody in" versus "everybody in", perhaps there is a position to hold between no-imports protectionism and unconditional "free trade."

Some of us are so focused on the EU membership question that we are forgetting the same issue is writ much larger in the world as a whole. It must be possible to allow the Third World to rise without destabilising the social fabrics of the developed nations.

To use an analogy, if you have a car, it does not only stop or go, it has a steering wheel and brakes.

I should have thought that the British Labour Party would have understood this - I think it used to, but as an organisation with its intrinsic desire to survive and thrive it decided some time ago to extend its pseudopodia towards the prosperous middle classes, and despite the appointment of a Left leader has not adequately developed its analysis and reformulated its objectives.

Absent a coherent political and economic platform, things are coming to a head:

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Four Factors for Life Success


Starting c. 6:52 in this clip, Professor Jordan Peterson names four factors that taken together are good predictors of life success:

  • IQ, or general cognitive ability
  • Conscientiousness (or "grit")
  • Freedom from negative emotion (aka "low autoeroticism")
  • Openness to experience

I read long ago that IQ (as measured) can be increased by doing more problem-solving, and is also influenced by early mental stimulation; though presumably there is some limit. Perhaps it is is more easily crushed than developed?

I should think that conscientiousness and openness to experience can also be systematically encouraged.

But all of these won't result in much happiness if negative feelings about oneself are not tackled. Where do they start - nature or nurture? - and how if at all can they be corrected? Otherwise, even if the other traits are pronounced, we have the equivalent of a high-performance car steered by a crazy driver.

I read that efforts to boost self-esteem tend to result in narcissism; so are they pointless, or just the wrong kind of intervention?

UPDATE (8 Jan 18, htp "JD"):

Peterson offers answers to the emotional side:

"Peterson draws on reams of studies to show that fundamental changes to personal habits such as sleep and exercise schedules can dramatically improve serotonin levels, thereby increasing the chance of personal success and fulfilment. From there he draws in stories from world mythology and religious texts to show that humans derive great meaning from overcoming psychological and social obstacles."

Monday, January 07, 2019

I Have Never Heard So Much Sense Talked In Such A Short Time

JD emails me - and I just have to share:

A comment at The Slog posted a video by Mark Blyth but it was 'explained' by some American TV show host. Don't know if you saw it but I found the original:

Blyth thinks it is about more than the EU and he explains "it is a revolt against technocracy."

By a bit of synchronicity I had pulled off the bookshelf the other day Fritz Schumacher's book called "Good Work" published in 1980. It is a collection of lectures he gave during the 1970s and one of the things he emphasises in those lectures is exactly what Blyth has figured out, the problem of the economic system is that it is built around technical 'improvements' which are all designed, albeit unwittingly, to reinforce the economic system. Instead of 'trickle down' we get a further increase in 'trickle up' so the majority continue to get poorer and the 1% continue to get richer.

At the end of the video he mentions the Hamptons on Long Island. A very astute man is Professor Blyth!


I wonder if it is because Mark Blyth is Scottish that he thinks independently?

"The man o' independent mind 
He looks an' laughs at a' that."
- Robert Burns

Blyth is following traditional wisdom, as was Dr Schumacher in his books. And so too was the late John Michell in all of his books and magazine articles-

"The big idea of today is that human beings are unreliable and should be replaced by computers"
John Michell; The Oldie magazine, October 2005.

See also -

"What began as a way of duplicating human skill on a greater scale will end by replacing skill altogether in order to produce goods regardless of any human intervention. As a necessary part of the process any call for the control of machines, however desirable in human terms, is bound to seem illogical since it amounts to the destruction of the system for generating the wealth needed to perpetuate the consumption that underpins the social fabric."

"Such is the remorseless pressure of this process that it becomes, in due course, a sort of cannibalism, first of all destroying the machine minder through automation then in a further step destroying the machine by an economy based on the virtual reality of computerised information. At this stage the question of human needs hardly arises, having been displaced by the internal demands of the productive system itself. This 'system' possessing no vision of an end other than its own perpetuation, must eventually bring about its own destruction."

The above two paragraphs are copied more or less verbatim from Brian Keeble's book