‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Friday, January 31, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Alfred Schnittke, by JD

In the 80s and 90s there were many excellent magazines on the market and one I bought each month was ClassicCD, their first issue was June 1990. All of those magazines, for one reason or another, have ceased publication.

The ClassicCD magazine usually had a CD attached to it with selections of music from newly issued CDs which were reviewed within the pages of the magazine. From the reviews and the CD I discovered a lot of new composers and artists; new to me that is.

One such was Alfred Schnittke who first came to my attention playing piano on Arvo Pärt's composition 'Tabula Rasa' (a fabulous minimalist piece of music which also features the violinists Gidon Kremer and Tatjana Grindenko) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Schnittke

It was after buying that CD that I discovered, via ClassicCD magazine, that Schnittke was also a composer. The following videos are a representative selection of his varied work.

Note: video 4 here is the opening of Schnittke's Requiem set to a film excerpt from Fritz Lang's 1921 film "Der Müde Tod". Videos 5, 6 and 7 are the five movements of 'Suite in the old style' (that's what Google translate tells me!)















Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New post on The Conservative Woman: 'Out of the EU and on to a hard road ahead'



THE Withdrawal Bill has passed all its Parliamentary stages, received Royal assent and we’re out on Friday. Allegedly. The Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration are not that much altered from the versions Mrs May failed to get through and I fear that the new PM may be telling himself that a compromise that satisfies nobody has the most chance of shutting up the malcontents on both sides.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope there is a way to ensure that we don’t leave ourselves under EU legal jurisdiction, we don’t put our armed forces at risk of being embroiled in EU military adventurism, we don’t dash the hopes of our fishing communities, and we don’t continue to pay out monstrous amounts of money. Is there any other way than ‘crashing out’ without a deal?
But despite all these daunting challenges, are we too concerned with shorter-term matters? Perhaps we need to step back and see the big picture. The industrial Revolution that Britain pioneered multiplied human effort and, coupled with the development of international trade, allowed our population to increase to six or seven times what it was in 1801, the last time we were anything close to food self-sufficiency.
 To get by in World War Two, we ‘dug for victory’ and slaughtered most of our food animals, which left us short of natural fertiliser, and the land was reportedly ‘losing heart’ towards the end. Starvation was a possibility.
Since then, we’ve been building on agricultural land and flood plains, while a lunatic New Labour deliberately lost control of immigration in order to teach their political rivals some idiot point about diversity; now we don’t actually know how many people are in this country.
Today we import 80 per cent of our food (the 50 per cent figure is a fudge – food processed here from imported materials is counted as British) and according to Sunday’s BBC1 Countryfile programme, our farmers depend on the Common Agricultural Policy for 61 per cent of their income; otherwise many of them would be goners. Even if we cut out dietary luxuries, if anything seriously interrupts the system, we’re up a gum tree.
Since we can’t feed ourselves, we have to pay the world for our board. Food is cheap (for us) because of modern farming methods that ultimately depend on fossil fuels in various ways; and also because of relative currency values that make the pound buy a lot more in many foreign countries – for now. So, make-and-trade it is.
Except it isn’t. In the 1970s, a Conservative government signed away our fishing rights and plugged us into an EU-regional trading system that undermined our industry; the damage showed up in unemployment and underemployment –  both carefully disguised – imbalance in visible trade, gradual personal financial impoverishment for much of the populace, widening wealth inequality, growing public debt and neoliberal rules that allow rich individuals and powerful corporations to flee if taxes become too burdensome. And then it went global.
All this was foreseen long ago, as we see here:




In the recording above, Sir James Goldsmith was speaking to Brian Walden in 1994, not long after the signatories to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) had agreed to form the World Trade Organisation. The billionaire warned that globalisation would harm the interests of the Western working classes, as on a smaller scale the EU’s internal market had done already, and he began by citing the experience of France, where he had recently won a seat in the European Parliament:
‘In France you had in 1973 420,000 unemployed. Between 1973 and 1993 the economy grew by 80 per cent, eight zero, almost doubling; and the number of unemployed went from 420,000 to 5.1million. What can be the purpose of an economy which by doubling goes to 5.1million?’
He went on to say that a similar situation pertained in Britain. Had it not been for North Sea Oil and monetary expansion (BoE and the mortgage boom), I’m not sure Conservatives would be looking back on the Thatcher years with such unmixed admiration.
Some say, get completely free of the EU and let’s trade on WTO terms. In that case, we need to examine the latter more closely, too. It’s a topical issue, for despite his domestic political travails, President Trump took the opportunity last week at Davos to call for reform of the WTO since China, though now the world’s second-biggest economy, is still benefiting from preferential terms relating to its WTO status as a ‘developing’ nation.




Bloomberg explains further here, but the takeaway for us is that although several other countries have agreed to give up that status in future talks (see point 7 in the article), China is digging its heels in.
There’s a reason for that. Although the Middle Kingdom has the highest Gross Domestic Product in the world in terms of local spending power (Purchasing Power Parity), it has a vast population and per person its income isn’t even in the top 100. During President Xi’s term of office (and he has no intention of leaving soon) electricity production has more than doubled and he seems determined to continue industrialising and urbanising his country, whatever Greta, Sweden’s Joan of Aargh! may say.
Who runs the WTO anyway? The makeup of its secretariat is interesting: headed by a Brazilian, with deputies from Nigeria, the USA, Germany and China – so, two developing countries, one superpower, a wannabe superpower (already interfering in Africa and compromising Ireland’s constitutional military neutrality) … and the huge Chinese axolotl, neither primitive nor developed. (By the way, note that the latter’s WTO deputy, Yi Xiaozhun, is in charge of intellectual property issues: Mr Xiaozhun must have so much to discuss with his American counterpart!)
Post-Brexit, shouldn’t the UK also have representation at a senior level in the WTO, as a major global trading economy and freshly-liberated nation? For his part, Trump has more than once indicated a preparedness to withdraw from the WTO if necessary, but I wonder whether even our new UK government is capable of fighting its way out of a wet paper bag, let alone triggering WTO-exit. The next 11 months of EU trade negotiations will be a key test of its general will and skill.
But we ought to reassess our policy towards the WTO – another one that likes to give orders from very nice offices far away – because remote supranational quangos practically guarantee trouble for the little people, aka ‘the many.’  
Take the Airbus dispute: The EU subsidised the makers ‘illegally’ and the WTO ruled that the US could impose retaliatory tariffs on EU goods. This is to hit exports of Scotch whisky. Irish ex-EU beef exports could also suffer and at the same time the South American trade bloc Mercosur has agreed with the EU a deal allowing it to send annually 99,000 tons of beef to Europe.
Irish MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan told the EU Parliament that the agreement ‘paid the most sustainable beef farmers on the planet to go out of business: We don’t want that type of support. At the end of this, farmers have got to come out of it all right. It’s very hard to believe how they will, though, because they usually are the ones who – both in a literal sense and in a metaphorical sense – end up with the shit on their hands’.
I hope I’m right in thinking that Dominic Cummings’ recent job advert is for a team to tackle much more than Brexit and if so, I fully support him. The detailed planning to get us out of this nexus of potential disasters will need the geniuses and weirdos he’s looking for.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A bug’s life (coronavirus)

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/what-new-coronavirus-n1119081


The death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise in China, and with it the conspiracy theories. Amidst all the horse-pucky in the latter you will often find a seed or two of truth.

For example, we now know that Wuhan, the city where the outbreak started, is also the location of China’s only level 4 biological research facility, or the only one we’re allowed to know about.

Someone connected this with the escorted departure of some Chinese scientists from a similar laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada. Nonono, said CBC: ‘online chatter’… ‘disinformation’ (watch for that word with Google Alerts, there’s an organised official counterattack against social media infospread)… before reminding us of one of their earlier stories that revealed the National Microbiology Lab had sent live Ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on an Air Canada flight last March. Good job planes never crash.

The Chinese probably didn’t need shipments of coronavirus, though. After all, their SARS epidemic eighteen years ago was another version of the same class of virus. The earlier one was traced back to cave bats in Yunnan; the latest has also been blamed on bats and a Chinese vlogger has had to apologise for commending them as a delicacy (like almost everything else: if its back is towards Heaven you can eat it, is the old Cantonese saying) – or is that explanation itself official disinformation?

Could it possibly have been an Andromeda Strain-type accidental lab release? The 1975 (effective date) international Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the military development, production etc of germs and viruses, and China signed up in 1984. Yet given the fallen state of mankind and especially governments, I shouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t continued undercover there, as this writer claims.

Asked where the UK does its bio and chemical research, most of us could only name Porton Down (I remember the Aldermaston marches, but when did the public march against germ warfare?) However, we have another facility in Hertfordshire, three in Surrey and three more in Greater London. I hope it’s all white-hat stuff, though I can imagine Whitehall arguments for developing nasties in order to find defences against them if ‘the other side’ tries to use them.

There’s two in France and another French-supported one in Gabon. They do like to do things their own way, do the French; unlike us, they don’t need US authorisation for their nukes, either. A reason I pick on our Continental cousins here is a story that caught my eye in 2016, about the opening of a level 3 (allegedly) bio-safety laboratory in French Polynesia. Funnily enough, that Tahiti News article has since disappeared. The Institut Louis Malardé (ILM) opened it, not on the main island of Tahiti or in Pape'ete, but on a tiny two-square-mile atoll called Tetiaroa. Supposedly it is for research into mosquito-borne diseases and having it locally would save processing time, according to France.tv. Google flagged up an article on the ILM site with a snippet under the link - ‘Lutte contre les moustiques. Une expérimentation innovante à Tetiaroa’ - that now I can’t find there.

Colour me sceptical, but we have every reason to distrust our rulers and their massive military establishments. Humans aren’t grown-up enough to play with such toys; the trouble is getting them back into the box.

It’s easier to keep us in the dark, I guess. New definition of a British D-notice: ‘dis information must not be released to da public.’

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Caning the toad: redefining 'woke'

WOKE: awake, but with your eyes closed

We were enjoying last night's episode of QI XL, a programme that explores interesting facts and provides opportunities for laughs, many of them a bit bawdy but reflecting on the human condition.

And then, a propos of bugger-all, Phil Jupitus had to bring Brexit into it.

The segment was about cane toads in Australia, and we got a close-up of one:

View recording: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XJRoKzrA5rVpB-gblUQ48Z-QNOFHYbtN/view

























At 19:07 in: (stupid, gravelly voice) Hullo (audience laughter)... I definitely think we should leave Europe."

So, funny because the supposed speaker is old? Or ill-educated? Or white?

If I were a wokester, I guess I could have him on my checklist of offences: ageist, elitist, racist.

Bear in mind that Brexit wasn't the topic under discussion and there was no lead-in even from Jupitus. It was just something that his daft metropolitan audience (the programme is recorded in the London Studios, Waterloo) could be guaranteed to agree-laugh at. It's almost Bernard Manning for right-on bigots.

But Jupitus is not himself daft. He's a grammar-school boy, making his money off an easily pleased English fanbase although he lives in Fife.

And the TV will try to persuade us that the country thinks like these degree-holder morons.

The episode (#241) was first aired on 25 October 2019. I don't suppose the result of the General Election a couple of months later will have changed his opinions (or the opinions he affects to hold while in performance), any more than that of the 2016 Referendum.

But 'woke' is about falling for the emo-traps set for us by the real elite, who encourage us to focus on personal and sexual issues so we can't see the power-grabs going on around the world.

And there's a class of clever, well-rewarded entertainers employed to play to audience prejudice. Ordinary Brits, downtrodden by globalist forces from which educated professional smartcrackers are relatively immune, are guyed by the comparison with an ugly toad. Despicable; an easy and suitable target for us sophisticates; 'deplorables,' to coin a phrase.

I wonder how these salon sallies would play in coastal fishing communities; in the broken mining areas; in the housing estates around closed steelworks; in the built-over former car factories; on the struggling farms across the country?

Friday, January 24, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Tatiana Eva-Marie (French jazz), by JD

Tatiana Eva-Marie is a French jazz singer based in New York. With her Avalon Jazz Band their music is inspired by the Parisian jazz scene of the 1940s: a mix of swing, Gypsy jazz and French chanson.

She appeared on French TV at the age of seven singing Flocon Papillon, a French children's song and the clip is on YouTube if you wish to satisfy your curiosity and you can read more about her here -
http://tatianaevamarie.com/about/

















Wednesday, January 22, 2020

National economic salvation: the task before us

Free trade of the sort the new government has vaguely encouraged us to welcome is potentially ruinous. The severe competition from globalism is made worse by a modern monetary system that cannot act as a self-correcting mechanism. As a result, we in the West see growing debt, inequality, creeping economic ruin and the potential for major social disorder. Instead of leaving the market to regulate itself, the political class must exercise control; Brexit is their teething-ring for learning to tackle the new world economy. Are our leaders sufficiently skilled, educated and motivated to save us?

In classical economics, free trade can be mutually beneficial even when one party is more competitive in all the things the other can do. David Ricardo illustrated his 1817 ‘theory of comparative advantage’ with a theoretical example of England v Portugal and the making of cloth and wine. When each country shifts some resources to the item it produces more efficiently at home, overall output is increased and the surpluses can be traded. Win-win!

But what if your competitor nation can make all your goods with labour costs 47 times lower – not to mention far cheaper land and equipment, currency-adjusted? Sir James Goldsmith spelled it out in a 1994 interview with Brian Walden:



Here is what he said about the effects on workers of two decades of trade liberalisation within the EU:

‘In France you had in 1973 420,000 unemployed. Between 1973 and 1993 the economy grew by 80 per cent, eight zero, almost doubling; and the number of unemployed went from 420,000 to five point one million. What can be the purpose of an economy which by doubling goes to 5.1 million?’

Globalisation and the GATT talks that enabled it threatened even – far – worse. Sadly, it was good for the blue suits and bad news for the boiler suits; the comparative advantage is now that of capital over labour. But “What,” asked Sir James, “is the purpose of the economy? It is to enrich us and therefore how do we have an economy which can provide jobs and prosperity?”

Yet even an enlightened employer may not be able to protect its workforce. In his book on the plight of the white American underclass, ‘Deer Hunting With Jesus’, Joe Bageant related (pp. 75/76) how a plastic goods manufacturer, the main employer in his home town of Winchester, Virginia was forced to succumb to globalism:

‘Wal-Mart sells by far the greatest volume of Rubbermaid products of any retail chain. Given such an advantage, in 2001 Wal-Mart’s executive management team heavied up on Rubbermaid, demanding ridiculously low prices despite an 80 per cent increase in the cost of raw materials and personal pleas by Rubbermaid CEO Joseph Galli.’

Forcing the issue, the retailer found an alternative supplier that made cheaper ‘knockoffs’ of Rubbermaid’s lines. The latter lost 30 per cent of their sales and caved in to Wal-Mart, sacking eleven thousand employees nationwide for the sake of survival. (And, I suppose, if Wall-Mart hadn’t done it, somebody else would have.)

However, when a company lays off employees, the costs (and there are many ramifications) are borne by society generally; the boost to the company’s profits and taxes may be outweighed by the burden it has thrown onto the community. And in a world where firms can reincorporate abroad, they can escape more completely (a move HSBC is rumoured to be contemplating.) Perhaps we should worry less about CO2 and more about UB40 (aka Jobseeker’s Allowance) - and PSNB.

Theoretically, the currency exchange market could help correct trade imbalances, as Investopedia explains. But China cemented its cost advantage against the USA by pegging the renminbi to the dollar in 1994, preventing the former from rising in value which would have made its exports pricier; even since 2005 it has allowed only a limited appreciation. Since the US dollar is also the world’s trading currency, the effects are not limited to America.

The wealth-sucking has continued, abetted by Western money-makers who are now beginning to fear for their own safety as society starts to collapse - some have started to buy boltholes in the Pacific.

China has recycled some of its surplus in massive purchases of US Treasury bonds, though it worries about the value of its holdings and the Americans worry about the plug being pulled suddenly (which could see damaging interest rate rises on the crippling amounts of US public debt.) She has also invested c. $180 billion in US assets, though again Americans fret – perhaps too late – about the security implications. Longer term, China is looking to urbanise fast and under President Xi has more than doubled electricity production, whatever Greta (our Joan of Aaargh!) may witter. They seem to be working on ‘endogenous growth’ of their economy in preparation to move out before the West’s roof falls in. When the dollar ceases to be the global means of exchange the flood of cash returning to the US could be greatly inflationary.

Traditionally, gold has been a hedge against inflation. The old saying is that an ounce of gold buys a handmade suit, and that’s pretty much true now. But it’s funny how while China and Russia have built up their stocks of gold, Canada has been selling off its own to the retail market and Britain’s stock, once 2,500 tons, has fallen to 310. Maybe we are going the way of Toronto, for – did you know this? - a recent (6 November) Privy Council meeting has authorised designs for a range of gold coins including one worth £7,000. I suspect that gold sales are to stop us – for a while - seeing inflationary reality. When the slowing velocity of money (how fast the cash turns round affects GDP) stops offsetting the money-printing by central banks, we may be up a gum tree in a forest fire.

That money-printing proceeds apace. The banks are still zombies, and in the US the Federal Reserve has been providing life support by hundreds of billions in the overnight lending system known as the ‘repo market.’The Global Financial Crisis is not over, it’s been monetised.

If we are to have a stable and just society, we need to get our people working. And since the money system can’t correct for globalisation, governments will have to intervene. Not that we should put down the shutters on international trade, but we should at least try to control the rate of change, to give our economies time to adjust. Otherwise many of us will have our enterprises disrupted as British weavers experienced two hundred years ago when the new spinning machines abruptly cut their livelihoods from under them.

The challenge is already daunting. The Daily Mail’s Alex Brummer wrote eight years ago about the growing foreign ownership of British businesses, and guess where the axe will fall when global recession bites? Not in the home countries of those overseas owners. Also, we are losing the capacity to rebuild: one of my clients was a firm whose business was exporting toolmaking machines from closed-down factories – selling our family silver, as Macmillan said, but not even to private British hands.

I hope Dominic Cummings’ think tank-cum-Civil Service SAS can work out a credible detailed plan.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Electrification of China, by Nick Drew

Somebody (Lenin?) said that communism is soviet power plus electrification.  Or something like that.  And there's no doubt communist Russia and communist China have historically placed vast importance on electrification, along with developing heavy industry in general.   (It's not just them, of course: India feels it's got a lot to do in this respect, too.)

And ... why not?  As Lovelock says, civilisation is energy-intensive (with electricity increasingly the primary delivery-means of useful end-user energy).  Who doesn't want the material benefits of civilisation?  Who's to tell them 'no'?

So: only internal factors are going to stop China (and India) (and one day, Africa) electrifying to the full.  By which I mean: China may pause, if it chooses, when excess coal-smoke is literally killing their people by the thousand.  India may struggle because of its massive political and economic inefficiency.  But they ain't asking permission of anyone to carry on with their electrification (etc) plans.  Particularly not the Chinese who need not bow, and have no intention of bowing, to anyone else ever again.  When they say the Chinese Communist Party recognises no higher authority than itself, they really do mean it.

And that includes Greta.

Today the Beeb ran an item on how China's coal-burning capacity - and concomitant CO2 emissions - continues upwards ("Is China Addicted to Coal?").  They didn't really sermonise about it; just a little wistful, I guess.  Oh dear, look what's happening here; oh well ...

They said "China's economy is slowing" - which is bollocks, of course, it just isn't accelerating as much as heretofore -  which they offered as the reason why coal remains in vogue.  We can put it more simply (as I have been for more than a decade):  when it comes to GDP vs GHG, GDP will win every time.  And of course that's not just China, BTW - though we well know what's at stake for them, specifically: their tacit political settlement is that the populace will shut up and let the Communist Party have its way, provided the populace gets wealthier all the time.  And the CP has no idea how they'd keep the lid on if they fail in their side of the bargain.

As the Beeb notes, China now effectively accounts for the whole globe's annual increase in CO2 emitted.  So - to the extent you worry about these things - you could say: if we all go to hell in a handcart, it'll be because the Chinese CP is afraid of its own people.

ND

Sackerson adds:

Readers might also like to read this piece by China-watchers, about President Xi, his recent purging of a million allegedly corrupt bureaucrats, and the drive to urbanise China as fast as possible and reduce her dependence on the West for trade profits:

https://www.quora.com/What-terrifies-you-about-Xi-Jinping

Sale! Sale! Sale! by Wiggiatlarge



Some years ago the Advertising Authority drafted new regulations in regard to the promotion of goods with big discounts in the title: they had to be on sale for a specific time at what was supposed to be the ‘normal’ price for a fixed period before they could be offered at discount.

All that seemed fair, after numerous complaints over many years of items being permanently on sale that actually never had a price other than the sale price.

When the regulations came into effect there was a sort of lull in the promotion of goods with big discounts but little by little this all disappeared as they found ways round the ruling. A revolving catalogue of products is the easy way to side step the regs; that is if they are ever enforced at all - when was the last trader to be taken to court for flouting them?



And in many cases endless sales still seem to be the norm. The recent demise of Bathstore is a good case in point: the local branch of Bathstore said - and I imagine all the others never had a window display that said different - 'Up to 70% off.' 70% is not really a feasible figure for any product unless a genuine clearance and you see little of those these days. This is really misinformation: an invented retail price that is then discounted, making the product appear cheap. Household fixtures seem to be at the forefront of this ruse: bathrooms, kitchens, bedroom built-in furniture, all are in a permanent state of 50% off this January, followed by spring sale of 50% off and summer stock clearance of 50% off, ad infinitum.

Fortunately most of us are fully aware of what is going on and shop accordingly. The problem with this sort of marketing is that there is no benchmark in pricing to gauge by: all prices are false so what is the real retail price? In effect the real retail price is the discounted one; it has to be or the firms would be out of business.



The only time I purchased a new kitchen from one of these firms I was told the ‘offer’ would only last another two weeks, the usual marketing ploy to make you believe you could be missing out. When I stated I had other firms to consider first, which I had, they came back the following week with a further discount, all of course under the guise of a special special offer. Make of that what you will.

Even supermarkets use a form of this with items that almost permanently have an offer sticker or if they don’t they will next week, so in reality no one buys unless the item is on offer. The tactics are so wide spread that it is with some cynicism that you see these prices and believe they are real discounts; they aren’t.

More cynical is the approach of many non-material products such as insurance and things like breakdown cover and broadband,. The latter I have always managed to get down in price from the quote, so either the quote is bumped up or they take a median figure and expect a percentage of customers to barter down and those that don’t, don’t pay the difference.

When I phoned to get my broadband quote down, and succeeded, the girl the other end then said laughingly they would be doing the same thing next year, so the chances of anyone paying the upfront price are pretty slim, except for those who don’t bother to haggle.

Recently “Which” said this about supermarket offers….

“Which?'s Natalie Hitchins said: “Many of the big supermarkets are clearly still in the wrong, with numerous examples of dodgy discounts and never-ending offers.

“These retailers must stop tricking shoppers with deceptive deals and spurious special offers - if not, the CMA must intervene to ensure that pricing guidelines are followed.”

This has of course been said before yet nothing happens and I doubt anything will this time. Which? themselves did a similar report in 2014 !

Absolutely none of this is new. However as most are aware, subtle changes to marketing to get round selling real bargains still crop up. The days when stores had January sales with genuine products being cleared for new year's stock have almost disappeared; the ‘special purchase’ has taken its place - items purchased cheaply that are not a normal stock line so no there is retail price of previous sales to go by, but you are asked to accept that the product is a bargain.

Electrical goods change models almost by the month so sales there can be a be genuine bargain as the spec rarely changes, just the outer shell, but you still need to know the original price to be able to compare.

Online buying is slowly killing the high street shop but again all that glistens is not gold: online retailers are having a huge problem with free returns, something that is necessary as faulty goods have to go back somewher. And sizing in the modern world is a huge problem as the Chinese and other Far East sweatshops seem to make up their own version of standard sizes, so customers are buying several items, keeping the one that fits and returning the rest; some returns are not fit for resale and the seller then cops for the lot.

This returns issue is costing £6 billion a year in the UK alone so the situation is slowly changing. A tighter returns policy for most is on the horizon and eventually (as the high street maybe fades into obscurity) online forms will start charging for returns. When that happens of course online shopping will no longer be so convenient or cheap; but just as smaller shops were driven out of business by the supermarkets' use of loss leaders, the sellers will be in the same position online. Personally I have never seen the sense in buying clothes whose quality / colour you cannot judge accurately and more importantly which you cannot try on; but it appears I am in an dwindling minority.

With all purchasing it is 'caveat emptor' - as it always has been.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Universe is stranger than we can imagine

On Thursday night BBC4 screened a programme about how the distance between things may be an illusion; maybe there is no such dimension as space.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000db95/einsteins-quantum-riddle

The idea sprang out of a scientific conference in 1927 that looked at the then-new quantum theory - the behaviour of subatomic particles.

Implicit in a later 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen - and teased out by Erwin Schrödinger - was the idea of 'quantum entanglement', the possibility that a pair of photons might be intimately related even when separated from each other. When one particle is observed, so the theory goes, its characteristics are instantly - no waiting time - reproduced by the other, even if the particles are separated by galactic distances that light would take millions or billions of years to cross. This appeared to break all the rules and Einstein hated it.

Yet a scientific project in 2018 supports this impossible notion. A team studied light - billions of years old - from two widely separated, very distant objects and found much higher correlations between the qualities of the light particles from them than would happen by chance.

The implications are mind-bending. If nothing travels faster than light, how do these particles know immediately what their 'partners' are doing across unimaginable gulfs of space?

We know a lot more about the universe than we used to, but we may perhaps never know everything. As Haldane (a biologist, so not at the 1927 physics conference, but writing in the same year) said, 'I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.'

TV programmes about deep science can only do so much for us - they tend to use visual analogies that give us the illusion of understanding, but we have evolved to deal with reality at our level of the universe and there's no reason for us to be able to visualise subatomic interactions. For example. when I was at school electrons in atoms were explained in terms of solid balls orbiting a central mass, but apparently it would be closer to the truth to say they are clouds of unborn possibilities that only become real and fixed when we observe them.

And we laugh at mediaeval theologians arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

Which brings me to a different analogy. The programme reminded me of a kids' book I read many years ago, 'A Wrinkle In Time' by Madeleine L'Engle, in which the characters are able to travel across space and time. L'Engle compares their journeys to a pin put through the gathered pleats of a skirt: when straightened out, the material appears to have a series of unconnected holes; yet from the vantage point that sees the universe as folded, all the holes have been created by a single thrust.

So maybe when understood properly, the photon pairs are not separated; there is no such thing as distance or space.

And maybe our perceptions of space and time are illusions, as though we are 3D holograms projected from a 2D ground.

Perhaps we are ready to visit Vedic philosophical ideas of reality and unreality, existence and non-existence. Perhaps we are not separated from one another or the Godhead (is this where the theology of the Holy Spirit has its roots?)

Perhaps we are not meant to understand. Perhaps the attempt is impious, like the Tower of Babel. Perhaps our imagination cannot cope with the challenge and runs out like a river into a desert.

Kurt Gödel's theorems showed that even mathematics (or that part that can generate natural numbers) will always be an incomplete system of proofs.

Similarly, I think there can be no scientific explanation of the coming-into-being of the universe, because everything we use in our scientific explanations relates to things within the universe itself, and so such accounts must be using circular logic.

Which brings us back to the ancient Hindus, with their contemplation of being and unbeing.

We know so much, and yet virtually nothing.

Friday, January 17, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: John Coltrane, by JD

The incomparable music of John Coltrane!

John Coltrane; 1926 - 1967

Instead of trying to summarise Trane's music and his legacy I have shamelessly borrowed Wiggia's introduction from his post about jazz saxophone a couple of years ago....

"John Coltrane was way out in front when it came to pushing the boundaries in jazz, so far out he completely lost the plot in later life but fortunately the bulk of his work remains where it should be, at the top of the pile. Influenced by Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins and later Charlie Parker he was playing with Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostik and Johnny Hodges before his late fifties association with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, a glorious period; but his debut album as leader, Giant Steps was a seminary album, it blew me away when I first heard it and the melodic chords on this were not just very difficult to play but constituted a new sound in the saxophone, much imitated later."
http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.com/2017/02/music-great-tenor-sax-by-wiggia.html

I have been watching recently the PBS series on Jazz by film maker Ken Burns. In the section about Coltrane the voiceover said that he was listening to a solo by another musician when he had what he called 'a divine revelation' which prompted him to give up heroin as well as alcohol and even cigarettes. He then began to explore other styles of music, mainly from India and Africa.

This from Wiki -

"In 1957, Coltrane had a religious experience that may have helped him overcome the heroin addiction[46][47] and alcoholism[47] he had struggled with since 1948.[48] In the liner notes of A Love Supreme, Coltrane states that in 1957 he experienced "by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. " The experience and his subsequent interest in music from other cultures eventually led to his album A Love Supreme in 1964
If you don't have the album the liner notes from A Love Supreme are here -https://web.archive.org/web/20110608155911/http://www.jindustry.com/xtra/coltrane/html/saintjohn.html

The history of music has seen fans hero worship their idols, often being driven to hysteria: in the 1930s there was a 'battle of the bands' between Benny Goodman and Chick Webb which required Police to control the crowds trying to get in to see the 'contest' (from the aforementioned series by Ken Burns), riots in the early 1940s among the young bobbysoxers 'in love' with Frank Sinatra and the more recent mass hysteria in the US among audiences for The Beatles. But Coltrane must be unique in that a religion was spawned in his name!
Saint John Will I Am Coltrane. http://www.coltranechurch.org

"For there is nothing in this world which can help one spiritually more than music. Meditation prepares, but music is the highest for touching perfection." -Hazrat Inayat Khan













Thursday, January 16, 2020

Long or short?

It's my feeling that American readers prefer essays, articles and blogposts to be longer than we like in the UK, where we seem to appreciate brevity and conciseness. I casually explain it to myself as Americans liking to 'get their money's worth' but more seriously wonder if there may be a couple of other factors at work.

1. Although both the UK and the USA are slightly below the international average in literacy rates, those Americans who do read, read more - about 12 books per capita p.a. compared with 10 in Britain.  Also, this infographic places the USA 7th globally in terms of 'literate behaviour characteristics', behind Nordic countries and Switzerland; we rank 17th on the same basis.

2. American attendance at Christian churches is double that in the UK. Maybe they're more used to long sermons - remember Meghan's preacher starting to let himself go at the wedding? On the other hand, the most religious may not be the most well-read.

So is my impression correct and if so, what are the reasons?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Clownworld: the advance of minority rights, by Wiggiatlarge

In the last few years claims from minorities have become a deluge in the advancement of perceived rights that should apply to the majority regardless of the miniscule size of the claimants' groups.

The Equalities Act has a lot to answer for; not for the fact that equality in many areas should be enforced, but in its backing of absurd extensions of what most people would consider not worthy of discussion. let alone the implementation of laws.

Consider the vegan who won a case against his dismissal for saying funds used by the League for Cruel Sports were invested in firms (among others) involved in animal testing, I have no idea to what percentage of the League's funds were used that way but knowing the way they operate it could only have been an oversight, not a deliberate act.


His case was upheld and being an ethical vegan is now philosophy or so the judge in this case has decreed. How he arrived at that is anyone's guess (unless he himself is a vegan !) but surely being a vegan is simply a lifestyle choice.

If it is not challenged it opens yet another Pandora's box for every minority belief to have the same rights as everyone else in banning, refusing, demanding all those items that affect us all.

We already have Pastafarians: the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is awaiting a European Court decision on their being a legitimate religion , and they have already gained the right to wear a colander in their driving licenses and passports. This ‘religion‘ is of course a joke but only to a degree, it was formed to show that those who can claim special rights for their  religion are simply no different or should be to any other group claiming the same. It has to be read to understand where they are going with this…….
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/18/documentary-follows-pastafarians-strain-for-recognition
In the world of minority rights they have a very good point.

Back to the vegan. I have no problem with anyone who wants to eat the way they do, most of us eat vegetarian meals without a thought that they contain no meat, that’s fine. But vegans - and the same goes for them as for Pastafarians - have a lunatic fringe that (like the eco fascists) want to impose constraints on the eating habits of everyone else. And that is where this ruling becomes problematic, as it gives license to believers to change e.g. workplace habits and company trading practices, even when they are in a very small minority - often just one, as in this case.



As can be seen here they have already tried and are trying to have the plastic banknotes removed because a minute amount of tallow is used in the finishing process. Tallow contains beef and pork extract so you have a double whammy there with Muslims wanting a change as well. Will it happen? In our current clownworld climate anything is possible, as no-one in authority these days ever seems to stand up and say enough is enough; apologies and repositioning are the form of the day.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/03/vegans-could-legally-fight-unethical-banknotes-following-landmark/

Yet in nearly all of these legal challenges, such as in the "Christian bakers" case, it is nearly always those on the fringe of these beliefs/fads/lifestyles that want to push for their beliefs to become mainstream regardless of any logic; in fact logic, common sense, listening to valid counter arguments are never ever contemplated, it seems.

The vegan is typical of that group described above. His regaling of his private life and the way he lives it should be a matter for himself, but no, it becomes part of his agenda to promote how serious he is about his beliefs.

The downside for him is that it reveals  he has not thought through what he says. In most arguments one can pick out discrepancies in another's logic, but when you act and talk total cobblers it totally shreds what you are trying to put across, which makes this case even more worrying in the pattern it is setting.

Apparently, as well as wearing clothing that contains no animal by products, he also will not travel on a bus because of the number of insects and birds that are killed by vehicle strikes; taking that to its logical conclusion all forms of transport are bad, including walking as each square meter of land contains on average 2700 insects; and I suppose houses are out for living in because of the number of birds that commit hara kari flying into them. Why does anyone give people like this the time of day? If he and his ilk want to live on a remote island rubbing sticks together to keep warm (though I imagine in their world the fire created is polluting so that is out) then please do so and leave the rest of us out of your plans.


The banknotes case brings more nonsense to the fore, though I should not give extra material to these devotees of the absurd: the tallow involved that is their target for objection is of course used in many other things: as an additive in fuels and lubricants, in salves and ointments, soap candles (think of all those vigils they lit up using evil animal by-products), plastic bags - they are evil anyway, make-up, bike tyres and ‘crayons’; so even Angela Rayner is toxic as well as dim.

What is worrying is that these people continually get traction for their ideas in the press as in this (where else?) Guardian piece, ‘We are all vegans now’ (not really just 1% of the population are vegetarian)...
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/04/were-nearly-all-vegan-now-but-lets-still-honour-the-original-radicals

And the politicians love to hang their hats on a perceived new popular trend, especially if it can however tenuously linked to climate change - there's big bucks in climate change.

The current Australian bush fires show how taking notice of Greens can have serious repercussions. Already we are seeing the negative consequences of decisions taken because Greens promoted and pushed forest management measures that ensured fires could start and spread more easily. The fireman who was fined for clearing a fire break round his house against the new laws had the last laugh, as his was the only house in the neighbourhood still standing after a fire swept through it.

We can only hope these fads - for that is what most are - and the misinformation that goes with them do the right thing and die an early death, as one thing's for sure: if all these ‘requirements’ are met, and approved products and food and sustainable energy come to pass, we will become impoverished. The costs are breathtaking and for what? The climate will change if it's going to anyway; culling all the cattle will not make a shred of difference and those that propose we should re-forest all of Britain or try to grow crops on land fit only for those now absent animals are deluded.

The culling of of many of those constantly pushing for these measures would be a better bet and it would reduce the population at the same time, which is a much bigger problem than all their perceived ones.

Still we all have the now obligatory Pride Parades to look forward to as an annual event in a town near you and can gasp in wonderment at the explicit displays and the Police engagement, something that the few gay people I know view with horror and have nothing to do with; anyway, penis socks are ‘so’ last year!

Friday, January 10, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Asturias, by JD

Think of Spanish music and most minds turn immediately to Flamenco, the music of Andalucia. But as we have seen in this series, other regions of Spain have their own very distinct styles of music; Galicia has a very strong connection musically with the music of the Celtic nations.

But the neighbouring province of Asturias also has that same strong connection. Because Asturias is or was the coal mining heartland of Spain there was a parallel musical choral tradition. So enjoy this selection of music from Asturias.

















Monday, January 06, 2020

My Job Application To Dominic Cummings

Dear Mr Cummings

I have seen your blog advertisement for corkscrew thinkers and wish to apply for the post.

First, I should like to get a couple of possible objections out of the way. I note that in other categories you want ‘recent’ economics graduates, and ‘VERY clever young people’. I am in my sixties and think that we have had enough of the enthusiastic, brilliant, thrusting types that burdened us with New Labour and have very nearly destroyed our financial system (the silly quants); perhaps it is time they made way for an older man.

Also, you say you ‘don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties.’ I did read English at Oxford, it’s true; but before the impenetrable nonsense of post-structuralism hit the subject there. Besides, you yourself read History at Exeter College and as with many other arts graduates (think of Douglas Adams) the wooliness obviously stimulated your interest in science, philosophy and anything else that might actually seek objective truth.

And so, from objections to objectives. Although your advertisement betrays impatience and ruthlessness, it’s still not clear what exactly you wish to achieve. Apart, that is, from a ‘seismic’ shakeup of the civil service and the ‘merry-go-round’ of ministers.

As to the first, the Civil Service is suffering from ‘shaken baby’ syndrome, having been politicised under Mrs Thatcher and then virtually radicalised under Tony Blair - you’ll remember how he used the Privy Council one day after the 1997 General Election result was declared, to give up to three spads executive power over permanent civil servants. Now, when you concentrate the levers of power in that way you have to look carefully at the hands manipulating them. I do hope you don’t plan eye-catching initiatives of the ‘abolish the Lord Chancellor’ type that our British Pol Pot came up with to drive away boredom one weekend in 2003. I’m sure Sir Humphrey can seem maddeningly obstructive sometimes – but maybe there is a need for brakes and steering in even the fastest car?

The revolving-ministers bit I can appreciate. It was fun to see John Nott walk out of Robin Day’s interview in 1982, after the latter had called him ‘a transient, here-today and, if I may say so, gone-tomorrow politician.’



Of course, that may have helped shorten Robin Day’s Newsnight career, just as (imho) Jeremy Paxman was binned for continuing to be too good on the same programme when New Labour got in; never forget where power lies, and don’t speak truth to it too frankly, not to say rudely. But why should ministers give up the best of their lives in relentless work, if not in the hope of further advancement? And isn’t it the role of Cabinet government to set the policy framework for its interconnected ministries, whose continuity and detail work is provided by the Bernards and Humphreys  – or do you have your eyes on a sofa-based inner-Cabinet ‘den’?

And what is all this redesigned machinery going to fix? Will it address a political system in which the majority of people directly in the 2016 Referendum, and indirectly but overwhelmingly via the manifestoes of most MPs who were returned in the General Election that followed, instructed Parliament to recover its own authority from the EU, yet saw three and a half years of delay and subversion instead?

Not that it’s over, necessarily. Minutes after Bojo’s landslide was adumbrated by exit poll results on 12 December, BBC’s Naga Munchetty (or was it our own dear Laura K?) was optimistically spinning it as an opportunity for Boris to ignore the troublesome extreme Brexiteers in his party; and I have a sick feeling that she was right. For the Brexit promise is driven more by deadline than results.

A friend told me he’d voted Conservative ‘for the last time’ (and I think the first) just to get it over with – ‘to make it stop,’ as I suggested and he agreed. Now let’s see what happens to the barely-altered Withdrawal Agreement and still-a-surrender-terms of the Political Declaration that Johnson seems set to push through, bish-bash-bosh. As the Americans say, ‘he could care less,’ meaning he couldn’t. After all, he voted for those landmine-salted agreements in October.

I understand the tone of haste in your advert, perhaps better than you. For unless there is radical systemic action – and I don’t mean tinkering with the bureaucratic gearwheels and oilcan – it will be Labour next time, and the time after that.

I wonder whether you know how much the Conservative Party is hated. A Welsh friend recently told me his father had joined the Tory Party late in life, so that it would lose another supporter when he died. Johnson’s delight at the extent of his victory was mingled with justified surprise. Only the weedy incompetence of Corbyn, Softy Walter to Boris’ Dennis the Menace (that would make you Gnasher, I suppose), drove the Northern Reds to break their wall. This government is on appro, and if the betrayal I fear becomes reality the blowback will be savage.

And structural, which will make sense to you as a systems thinker. For decades, the two major parties have colluded to undermine the working class, the Tories because cheap offshoring and low-wage inward migration suits the blue suits, Labour because the more paupers we have the more the Santas in the red suits can lay dingy benefits under the tree while mortgaging the house to pay for them. But just as differential birthrates in Northern Ireland may eventually see the Province join the Republic, the short-sighted greed of English businessmen may be the demographic death-knell for conservatism. Already 3.4 million Britons have never had a job, and there is a limit to how much further education can paper over the unemployment figures. Add to that the threat to white-collar workers of AI and the arguments of the future will be about the distribution of wealth rather than its creation.

Getting out of the EU is only a battle in a much wider theatre of conflict. Unless we work hard and fast to stem the national outflow of money and the decay of skills, uncontrolled globalism will end with us broke, overpopulated and at each other’s throats. You have an Oxbridge Classicist and Oxford Union talker as your boss; your first task is to give him the Odyssean education for which you have argued so long and eloquently.

That corkscrew enough for ya? I can start Monday.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

The Dormouse, by Wiggiatlarge

I have often thought that animals which hibernate are onto something. The idea of gorging oneself ! and then going into a semi-conscious state for a few months when the weather is at its worst does have an appeal.

Especially in a winter like this one that has seen, if you can see in the permanent gloom, incessant rain drab skies cold winds and everything to make going outside something to be shunned. Yes, I know that in my youth challenging the elements, standing on the top of an exposed hill in a sixty mile an hour wind with driving rain could loosely be called bracing, even giving one the status of a hardened go anywhere anytime in any condition man, it is good for you etc etc. Luckily today I have a very different view.

As we approach our later years a sense of perspective creeps in, some sanity at the expense of reckless youth, and I would no more want to repeat those times in my youth when such things were commonplace and lose the comforts of warmth and a cosy environment than the Dormouse would. Hibernation does have attractions in the same way as pulling up the bedclothes in the morning after having seen snow falling, or going back to bed with a cup of tea/hazelnut upon seeing how inclement it was outside. 



Why have I mentioned the Dormouse? It is simply that we have a resident one: he has been with us for a few years, a solitary little chap that occasionally makes a foray into the left-over bird seed area and then darts off to the shed where he has exited when I enter. But  his main habitat is in my large compost bins; fortunately the first time I saw him there when removing compost in the early spring he moved so no harm could come to him through not knowing his presence, and now I am wary.



The little nest he built in the compost bin was warm, dry and under the cover of the tarpaulin over it, a perfect little winter retreat; I almost envied him in a sort of Wind in the Willows way. Whether he will be there this spring I have no idea, they live roughly five years and he has been seen here for about four to my knowledge so his life span is nearing its end. They are very solitary, I have never seen another one and they are on the endangered wildlife list; I can only hope the little chap has found a mate and produced some offspring - it would be a shame to lose the line and the presence of a Dormouse now very rare.

Even writing about the Dormouse has a soporific effect, sleep slowly overcomes one...
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
zzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, January 03, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Neil Innes, by JD

Neil Innes 1944 - 2019

We have featured Neil Innes previously in this musical mini series -

He was a founder member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in the 60s; worked with Eric Idle in the series Rutland Weekend Television; created (again with Eric Idle) the 'tribute' band The Rutles, an affectionate parody of The Beatles.

But of all the things he did, his best work was undoubtedly in the great British Music hall tradition of the comic song. By using film/video he added a wonderfully surreal visual imagery to the very clever lyrics. For that alone he deserves this second tribute.

https://spinditty.com/industry/British-Music-Hall-Comedy-Songs
https://neilinnes.media