Sunday, July 28, 2019

Infrastructure, a dirty word ? by Wiggiaatlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Craig Murray (whom God preserve) has a moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monsieur Barnier’s Epic Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your move, Michel.

Friday, July 26, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Jean Rameau, by JD

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

Sackerson adds:

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

Perfect for a motorway drive. Crank up the volume.

Friday, July 19, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Peter Green, by JD

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

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

BONUS TRACK - This is for Paddington -

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

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

Plenty more music, the well never runs dry.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Trump: spot the racism, Guardian-style

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

Mr Trump uploads another tweet

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

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

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

On 14 July Trump sent a series of tweets saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

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

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

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


Friday, July 12, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Paul Verlaine - French records, by JD

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

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

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

Clair de lune

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

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

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

Paul Verlaine

Monday, July 08, 2019

En Primeur: a popular con? - by Wiggiaatlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 05, 2019

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

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