Sunday, August 28, 2022

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: Colombian Coffee Art, by JD

We have all seen those pavement artists on their knees with boxes and boxes of chalk beavering away to produce reproductions of famous paintings. And we throw a few coppers into their hats in appreciation of their efforts and as a thank you for brightening up our day.

But this is a piece of pavement art with a difference....

The image comprises 3,604 cups of café con leche each cup with a different amount of milk in the coffee thus providing the variations in colour to produce the illusion of the Mona Lisa.

OK it was a publicity stunt for a coffee maker in Chinchiná, Colombia but no less spectacular for that.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

WEEKENDER: Dumb Stupidity, by Wiggia

Donald Trump has been denigrated and called an idiot by those who want him removed from the face of the Earth, but he called this correctly along with much else.

It is often said we get the politicians we deserve. Recent events have proved that to be true, and the video below shows a classic example of a script reader clinging to the narrative, let them eat cake…

This seems to have been a week of stupid promises, as potential leaders officials, think tanks, ministers and businessmen offer silly solutions to the energy crisis as a way of being seen to be doing something, It should be said that as they are responsible for the majority of the mess we are in after decades of denying practical ways forward, preferring be in awe to the great green god, they should come up with solutions, but all I see is back of a fag packet knee-jerk reaction to  problem of their own collective making.

Perhaps as they get energy allowances they are not that bothered about what happens to the plebs, but they should be careful, in times past this sort of situation resulted in heads on pikes across Westminster Bridge; not likely to happen in what has become a largely apathetic nation, but who knows?

Onward, such a hopeful name, a government think tank, has suggested a halving of stamp duty to those who would install a heat pump. You can tell this was made up over a couple of Mojitos on the terrace at Westminster as none of the obvious downsides are mentioned.  

The rebate is an incentive to those being’ hesitant about adopting new technologies’; no, people are declining the fitting of heat pumps because without a suitably insulated property and underfloor heating the are an expensive mistake.

Naturally net zero and its addicts trump any sensible proposals. As a former environment secretary said ‘Liz Truss ought to know the devastating consequences of failing to reach net zero.’Do these bubble dwellers ever stop to think that if we actually reach net zero, we won't, that it will not make one jot of difference in the scheme of things other than reduce our standard of living?

James Kirkup writes a scathing article in the Spectator about Liz Truss' and Rishi Sunak's dismissal of solar farms. There is nothing wrong with solar power, apart from the fact that no sun no power and the much vaunted storage ‘that will save our nation’ is still a far distant fairy story; and how much will we ever be able to store for those long dark winter months when the sun doesn’t shine?

Kirkup goes into great detail about how cheap solar power is. It really isn’t: as I have said before, no renewables are cheap if you have to have a parallel source of energy on stand by for those dark windless days. Until renewables can stand alone, why don’t we invest in an energy source that works and gives us independence, or is that too simple?

Before the crisis, I received an email from a major energy supplier that claimed that all their energy was from renewables. They are not alone, several companies say the same. It is a blatant lie: no energy company can possibly have a choice in the source of their energy, they simply use a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificate REGO to enable them to say such twaddle.  

It enables companies to claim they are 100% green when they actually only need to have 30% in the mix. Wherever they claim to get their energy from, in fact all companies get it from the national grid which cannot stream different sources of energy. These companies take people for fools and get away with it.

From the above link…
‘Both Ecotricity and Good Energy source enough renewable electricity to match their customers’ usage though this tends to mean that their costs are higher and as a result their tariffs are more expensive.‘
So Kirkup's claim that renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels falls at the first hurdle as the green consumer actually pays more and gets the same energy as everyone else

The energy companies have themselves come up with a plan to ‘help’ the public. Keith Anderson, boss of Scottish Power, wants to help by setting up a government-backed (i.e. taxpayer funded) deficit fund running to £100 billion. Other companies are backing him and you can see why as the self-serving plan is popular: it effectively underwrites their businesses takes away risk of bad debts and takes away any windfall tax extensions.

It involves freezing the cap at £2000 for two years then covering the gap between the cap and the wholesale price of gas with the deficit fund. The repayment would be spread over ten to fifteen years with a mix of energy bills and taxation.

I am sure there is a better way of ‘helping’ those struggling with bills than this and it doesn’t involve giving ‘insurance’ to energy companies; again, the public are being taken for stupid.

Meanwhile Rishi Sunak, hoping to become PM, has issued this statement about how the Covid period was mishandled:
“This is the problem… If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed… We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.” 
He concludes that had we not done so, and had we acknowledged trade-offs from the beginning 
“... we could be in a very different place… it could have been shorter. Different. Quicker. There were often times the officials would do a “pre-meeting”, decide what they wanted to push through, then ram it through in the main meeting with the PM/ministers.”
This process wasn’t helped when, on occasion, ministers would go into the key Covid meeting and be handed a set of 100 papers by officials, with no chance of being able to digest them before a decision was taken....
“Mr Sunak recalled the moment when Prof Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London presented their Report 9, which claimed Covid casualties could reach 500,000 if no action was taken but would be reduced to 20,000 with a lockdown.”
As wriggle-free statements go it is quite good, but what it actually says they blindly took the path laid out for them by ‘experts.’ Not only have experts prospered on their misleading of the nation, but those who govern us just sat on their arses and signed anything put in front of them without any scrutiny. Now he wants us to believe it was none of their fault.

Why was Ferguson even invited to give his opinion? His track record in modelling was there for all to see. You, Rishi, along with others were a minister at the time but you failed to raise any alarms or resign in protest; nor did anyone else for that matter, so it’s bit late now.

Boris has no exit plan so has gone on holiday and laid low until he sees a further opportunity to gloss over his multiple failures and visits Ukraine again, promising them almost anything and telling the people back home they will have to ‘suck it up’ re energy prices as the Ukraine is more important than your granny dying of hyperthermia this winter.

Strange words from a Prime Minister whose prime concern should be his nation, his borders, and most importantly the safeguarding of his people, but when you are seeking a life beyond Westminster and a legacy all that goes out of the window.

Of course, Boris doesn’t pay any energy bills and as long as he stays an MP he can claim on expenses, while a growing number of people at the bottom of the pile will not be able to turn on the heating.

His and previous governments have pandered to the green lobby and become evermore reliant on importing energy to cover the shortfalls when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun stays in, rather than build our own infrastructure and be secure, and now he wants us to suffer to save Ukraine. 

They take us for idiots and get away with it.

Friday, August 26, 2022

FRIDAY MUSIC: Surfing Songs For Summer, by JD

These come from the late 50s or early 60s, from a more innocent and more optimistic time. And this was reflected in the music, bright and breezy. The guitar sound that set the tone for most of this music was invented by Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar' -

I have added a few other popular guitar based hits as, at that time, guitarists were starting to be recognised as stars in their own right and the music is still an influence to this day.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Email from America (12): The destruction of education in the US

When I moved to the US in 1978, teaching was a fairly well-respected union job that could keep someone solidly in the middle class. The pay was not huge compared with union truck drivers and auto workers, but school districts had a pay scale which rose with additional education, and seniority pay bumps every 1-3 years for the first 20 years or more, on top of cost of living adjustments. Pension and health insurance were totally paid by the school districts. Overall, the pay package was more generous in many places than I received as an Assistant Professor at a state university.

Then came the Reagan Revolution of the 1980's . A large percentage of the population became convinced that government, unions, pensions and taxes were all terrible things, which could be replaced and improved by the private sector. The conviction that 'private is better' extended to education, even though standardized measures such as the ACT show that public schools outperform private ones. Once one factors out special education, which most private schools do not do, the per-pupil cost is even comparable.

This hatred of government and taxes led many communities to fail school levies, meaning layoffs and benefit cuts, larger classes, and cuts in offerings, except for the all-important athletics.

These financial issues coincided with studies showing that the average results of the US education system were at best mediocre in world rankings.
This led to a great many self-proclaimed 'experts' to offer their solutions.

Those people included Bill Gates, with his conviction that we could replace teachers with AI. The past couple of years, including the lockdown period, have shown how important the human interaction is to learning and that he is dead wrong.

Other 'solutions' included requiring ever-higher largely useless qualifications for teachers, costing them a great deal of time and money, and making Colleges of Education further inflate their sense of importance.

2001 brought the delightfully-named No Child Left Behind act, yet another attempt to 'fix' education. Rather than adopting the European model of testing mastery at various levels, the act went the route of egalitarianism. Each state was allowed to set its own standards, with the utterly insane mandate that every single student, regardless of ability or disability, would demonstrate 'proficiency' by 2012. In one extreme case in Florida, a blind, wheelchair-bound, non-verbal and brain-damaged student was ordered by a court to have to take the tests.

While these awful tests did nothing to improve student performance, they could be used to punish teachers, who were 'obviously' the problem. This in turn led to teachers in some cities to game the system by teaching the specific answers to questions, telling students the answers, or erasing and correcting wrong answers.

Interestingly, when some quasi-private charter schools tried to improve student performance by a combination of bonuses for teachers and firing 'under-performing' ones, it also failed. It is almost as if bad student performance is not primarily attributable to the teachers.

Now add more pressure.

In the past few years, we have seen the rise of the helicopter parents (hovering over their children), the lawnmower parents (who mow down all obstacles in the path of their children), and the jackhammer parents (who smash their way through everything). Teachers are criticized by parents and GOP politicians for discussing sex, slavery, or actual history. Some have been physically threatened.

Not surprisingly, many are leaving the profession in droves, especially those in the STEM areas, who can make much more money in insurance analysis and other technical jobs.

And what is the solution proposed by Republican politicians in Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin and elsewhere? Require no college degree or other qualifications, under the argument that anyone admitted to college must know enough to teach every subject in K-12 education, even ones which they themselves have never taken. There are, after all, education consultants who specialize in training teachers to follow scripts to teach classes.

How could all of this go wrong?

Sunday, August 21, 2022

COLOUR SUPPLEMENT: An evening in Chinchon, by JD

Another retread from my archive first posted at Nourishing Obscurity in 2011, I think. (As long ago as that?) Not sure of the date of the visit to Chinchon, it was probably December 1999 or possibly the following year.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

One very cold December evening we decided to visit Chinchon, about 20 miles or so to the south of Madrid. No particular reason for the visit except that I hadn’t been there before and even if it was cold and dark, that was no reason not to go.

For those of you unfamiliar with Spain, Madrid is about 2000 feet above sea level and so in the winter it can be very very cold. On the plus side is the fact that it is dry with very low humidity in both winter and summer which makes the extremes of heat and cold bearable. The locals like to joke that they have 'nueve meses del invierno y tres meses en el infierno' which is not strictly true but you get the idea.

Arriving at our destination we are greeted with the splendid sight of a beautifully illuminated Plaza Mayor-

We then stopped off in this bar/restaurant for a small refreshment, after first visiting the cuevas which were filled with very large barrels full of vino.

Even though the fire was no longer ablaze, the fireplace in the background had stored the bulk of the heat (which is what fireplaces are designed to do) and was radiating a wonderful warm glow throughout the room.

We enjoyed a vino in that cosy ambiente and as you can see we are somewhat pixellated.

Later we had a look round the Parador de Chinchon which has been converted from an old convent and very elegant it is too.

Had a stroll in the gardens and took a few photos. Did I mention that it was cold? They were sitting on a cold stone bench and telling me to hurry up and also laughing because I wanted a picture of their backs.

But I knew what I was doing with the above photo because I had ‘seen’ this, which I painted much later. This is a quick watercolour sketch which I did shortly after our viaje while it was still fresh in the memory -

And then a few years later I did this larger version in acrylic paint. The two 'models' in the photo have prints of this painting which are framed and hanging on their respective apartment walls.
(The original painting is better in reality, this digital version looks a bit washed out lower left for some reason)

And so, time for more vino and tapas. In this bar we had what can only be described as an instant hot-dog. A sausage cooked inside a large baguette, rather like a sausage roll but with dough instead of pastry.

Fresh from the oven and cut into slices it was delicious.

A very pleasant evening in what is obviously a nice location. Must go back in daylight sometime to see what it looks like.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

WEEKENDER: Tulip mania? by Wiggia

It was while browsing a nursery catalogue and observing how plants of all types have gone up in price alongside everything else as a result of last two years in lockdown, and now add on the rising energy costs, that an article came up that linked with something I saw in one nursery listing.

The listing was one of a specialist in tropical plants and rarities. Some of the prices astounded me and at first I thought they were just attempting to scam the public on the back of those rare plants, but I was wrong.

A bit of digging into other specialists in this field revealed equally staggering prices, I found it difficult to believe anyone would actually pay for what in most cases were not especially rare plants, more versions of fairly common houseplants, but again I was wrong.

Twice before plants have actually traded at prices that would have got them into the FTSE 100 and in the case of Tulip Mania became more valuable than currency, such was the demand for rare bulbs as they became a trading commodity.

It started in the 1500s when the Dutch entered their ‘Golden Period.’ The first bulbs came from the Ottoman Empire in 1557  and first appeared in Vienna. This was the period when vegetables such as potato, pepper, tomato were first appearing here also. From Vienna they made their way to other capitols including Amsterdam.

The rise of tulips as a status symbol coincided with the Dutch rise in commerce as with the east India trade routes.

It was the colour breaks, unknown in European flowers at the time, that caused the interest. As with all plants or nearly all, variegation is caused by virus and crossing infected bulbs started to produce what at the time were amazing flowers.

The real trading mania started in around  this period. From Wiki…
“Thus the Dutch, who developed many of the techniques of modern finance, created a market for tulip bulbs, which were durable goods. Short selling was banned by an edict of 1610, which was reiterated or strengthened in 1621 and 1630, and again in 1636. Short sellers were not prosecuted under these edicts, but futures contracts were deemed unenforceable, so traders could repudiate deals if faced with a loss."
And here…
“Tulip mania reached its peak during the winter of 1636–37, when contracts were changing hands five times. No deliveries were ever made to fulfill any of these contracts, because in February 1637, tulip bulb contract prices collapsed abruptly and the trade of tulips ground to a halt."
It was probably the first occasion in more modern times, equivalent to the economic bubble bursting in 1720 when the South Sea Company failed. The South Sea Bubble is a classic case of a company building on non existent trade and failing.

And then we had the Orchid trade that emulated the tulip one in a smaller way, when the rarity of plants demanded sky high prices only for the market to collapse again.

There is a very good book The Orchid King which traces the life of Frederick Sander whose name became synonymous with many orchid varieties. I inherited it from my grandfather who was a keen gardener and orchid grower.

In the early 1900s the craze for orchids reached its peak with rare bulbs fetching enormous figures, rare bulbs fetching £1,500 pounds. These would be split by the owners and grown on to sold at a profit down the line, but it was the beginning of the end. Sander was a classic case of a man with a passion, and a business brain who became the king of his field with a nursery in St Albans and a huge, for the time, production facility in Bruges, Belgium; but people no longer wanted to pay the prices asked and profits dwindled. It was a slow sad decline and the Second World War finished it off as a going concern with Bruges lost and no new species coming from the east to tickle the buyer's fancy.

So I was naturally surprised to come across this current fad for rare tropical plants fetching very high prices…

This like the previous trends in plants is fuelled by a desire to own a rare plant and be prepared to pay over the top for it. The business behind this is small compared to the previous tulip and orchid fads, yet is based on the same desire as the tulip mania in that most of it is reliant on virus infected plants producing rare leaf colourings or contrasting patterns.

In most cases from what I have seen very few of the plants can compare with the rarity of found species from the previous bonanzas. A cheese plant whatever the leaf is still a cheese plant but who am I to say what people spend their money on? Strangely the article gives the Covid virus as a reason for people to up their game in buying these plants; in the same way that they purchased pets and paid silly sums, they may come to regret the purchase as the post virus era is now leading us into a recession and a cheese plant won't really have much credit.

As a final word, growing orchids is no longer the preserve of the avid gardener or expert. They provide amazing value as a house plant, being in flower often for months, with exquisite flowers and colours. Production techniques are such that today what were rare plants costing a year's wages can now be purchased for a few pounds. Supermarkets often have a good selection, and with a bit of love they will give years of pleasure; few houseplants come anywhere near.

Friday, August 19, 2022

FRIDAY MUSIC: Yuja Wang, by JD

Last Friday I watched the BBC Proms featuring the Chinese pianist Yuja Wang playing Franz Liszt's first piano concerto. A very good performance which she managed to surpass with her two 'encores', variations on Carmen by Bizet/Horowitz and then Gluck's Mort d'Orphée from Orfeo and Euridice. 

Her 'Carmen' was a fiery performance which received a huge ovation in the hall. And then with the Gluck she showed herself to be a very sensitive and excellent pianist!

I don't begrudge the licence fee when the Beeb is so consistently good with its music. For those who demand an end to the BBC, be careful what you wish for unless of course you wish for more Love Island or Britain's Got Talent and all the other dross served up by the commercial channels. For the commercial TV stations the viewer is the product being served up to the advertisers and nobody ever lost money by underestimating the public taste!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Trump and the Untouchables

The recent raid on former President Trump’s home has renewed doubts about the political impartiality of government agencies. Elements in the news and social media seem threatened by this slant and are countering it by rehearsing Trump’s many flaws and past sins. The implication is that he is so dangerous that he must be stopped at any cost, even if it means breaking the rules (not that such is admitted.)

The cost may be too high, if it entails the general breakdown of public trust and support for the State. This is especially important in a nation historically founded on a deep mistrust of arbitrary executive power, on the even-handed administration of law and the regular revalidation of government by the people’s express will.

The modern state has acquired almost limitless resources and the citizen is correspondingly far weaker and more vulnerable. Even an individual with substantial private means can have difficulty in seeking a legal remedy against official wrongdoing. For years, Trump had to defend himself against what now seem false allegations of conspiracy with Russia, yet his case against certain FBI officials said to be involved in the frameup was thrown out just this 22 July, on the grounds that they were protected from personal liability by the 1988 Westfall Act, which indemnifies Federal employees carrying out duties in their official capacity.

Was it with a similar sense of impunity that those working behind the scenes selected federal magistrate Bruce Reinhart, who recused himself on June 22 from overseeing a Trump lawsuit against Hillary, to issue the warrant for the search of Mar-a-Lago; and included in the search party some FBI agents who are said to have been personally involved in the ‘Russiagate’ affair?

Appearances matter and ‘the optics’ are bad in this case. In suspicious eyes it seems plausible that the justice system has strayed from impartiality, so confident in its invulnerability that it can afford to be careless in its choice of servants. People are beginning to ask themselves, ‘If they can do these things to him, is anybody safe?’

Has the Leviathan become too big?

If the US intelligence community were set up as a separate State of the Union, it would be a sizeable one. Its annual budget is $85.6 billion, which ranks it parallel with the GDP of Idaho and above that of ten other US States; and more than the GDP of two-thirds of the world’s countries.

Leaving aside that part - about a quarter - of the overall Intelligence budget that is allotted to military and foreign intelligence, the FBI consumes some 17% of the (domestic) National Intelligence budget. Its Director, Christopher Wray, lists many serious ‘Key Threats and Challenges’ in his $10.7 billion request for 2023.

Yet, how do we do a cost-benefit analysis?

Say we looked only to save lives (though the FBI seeks to do much more.) A 2003 study set the value of a statistical life (VSL) in the US at a median $7 million, which adjusting for inflation is around $10.5 million today. How many lives does the FBI save each year, but how many more could more be saved per dollar spent, by e.g. national safety regulations, medical interventions, guidance on food and drink?

Tough one. Black SUVs and squads of agents with high-powered firearms are so much more dramatic, visually. But what do they achieve, other than to remind the little man - even a Trump - how small he is? Why go in so mob-handed - or at all?

As to impartiality, why by contrast was Hillary’s off-workingplace storage of classified information glossed over as mere carelessness?

As to timing, why now? Is it because the dust and noise raised by this Eliot Ness-style gangbusting raid may help give Trump’s political opponents some advantage in the runup to this autumn’s mid-term elections?

And what exactly was included in the 15 boxes of documents removed - surely not anything relevant to Trump’s lawsuit against Mrs Clinton, or against government agencies that made false claims about him? Did the FBI indulge itself in what is known as a ‘fishing expedition’ in the hunt for something, anything to help convict him of some felony, or at least serve to charge him pro tempore until the ballots are cast? Is the process the punishment, for a disruptor, a maverick, a challenger to a corrupt status quo (even granting that he himself is a cheating, brass-necked blowhard)?

Optics: so important, yet not so easy to manage. For every one rubbing his hands in glee at Trump’s discomfiture, there is another dreading what the State is becoming.

In the information age, there is already widespread concern over the government’s mass surveillance of its citizens, with all the implications for controlling us collectively and individually. Experience has shown that these cyberspying powers are apt to be misused:
Section 215 [of the PATRIOT Act] at the time authorized the FBI to obtain [telephone] records, but in this case, the FBI obtained nothing: the records instead went to the NSA, which was not mentioned in the statute. The statute said any records obtained had to be handled pursuant to FBI guidelines; they were not, and instead were handled pursuant to NSA guidelines…
The State has powerful civil pals in the Silicon Valley giants (note how Mr Zuckerberg has renamed Facebook’s parent company ‘Meta’, brazenly advertising its use of metadata to discover our connections to everything and everyone we know.) Further, already every social media conversation can be monitored, ‘corrected’ by ‘fact-checkers’, drowned in assertive counter-propaganda or just plain censored. Even talk in the domestic setting can be spied on by ‘smart speakers.’

How do we avoid the world of Franz Kafka (how reluctant they were to release the affidavit that triggered the search warrant!), of ‘Minority Report’, of a Chinese-style social credit system? Is liberty only the freedom to be ‘good’?

Opening up the ex-President’s house has opened a can of worms for us all.

P.S. I can't compete with a pro - read Matt Taibbi on this (subscription required for the full text but as far as I am concerned it's worth £1 a week, I've just signed up):

Monday, August 15, 2022

Fifteen years and whadda you get...

Lessons from history

The Debt Offensive began in 2007: Charlie hit us with everything he had. Cadres of underpriced risk were tunnelling under our lines, popping up when least expected and decimating our defences. We fought back hard, dropping cash from the Hueys, first $700 billion, then trillions, but it was no use. Sure, we beat him back for a while, took down a few banks; but the public couldn't take seeing it all on TV. It was the turning point. We had lost the will to win.

Republished from 2009

Sunday, August 14, 2022


For this week's Sunday Colour Supplement a few more 'cheap shots' from cheap cameras as previously featured here four years ago. Not the same photos of course, just another selection which are sitting doing nothing in the archives. I suppose I ought to print these pictures before the inevitable day when the politicians realise we have run out of electricity and all our digital records disappear.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

WEEKENDER: A tsunami of bad news, by Wiggia

This was taken at Ardingly reservoir in 2011, showing that capacity was inadequate even before the drought we have this year.

It is hard to believe, but every day appears to have another story of doom and gloom, and all fall into that category of problems with no obvious answer.

I wrote a while back about how the failure over decades of this country to build new infrastructure in almost every category was going to come home to roost; that moment has come in spades.

And almost without question you can lay the blame for 90% of it at the door of successive governments who have been totally derelict in putting right the obvious, in exchange for short term advantage.

The very real threat of power cuts this winter, something that has been on the cards for some time pre the gas and oil crisis, was not something the government would be likely to shout about from the rooftops. Nonetheless the likelihood is staring us in the face. What was buried on page 26 of whatever paper you read is that Norway with whom we have an interconnector may not be able to supply us at all this winter as the hot weather Europe-wide has depleted their reservoirs and the hydro plants are being seriously affected. Despite having nuclear they rely on a large hydro scheme and the usual surplus is sold off mainly to us; not this year, as they are looking after their own.

Our hurry to bulldoze all coal fired plants to make the government look as though all was well with our new renewable strategy and the concreting of the fracking test site just show how ridiculous our energy strategy has been for decades and now we are about to find out. A mild winter and we might scrape through and the fact that the cost of energy will dampen demand will also help; the latter can hardly be called a policy and will have consequences for health especially among the elderly, among whom many already cannot afford with inflation to put the heating on. Welcome to the 21st century.
“The National Grid has said that it is worried that we will fall short of power as early as December. This is partly because of our reliance on green power and partly due to gas problems. The grid had put what few remaining coal-fired stations we have on stand by. But these shortages are basically of our own making, we have closed down coal-fired stations and replaced them with intermittent wind turbines and solar panels. We have run down nuclear power stations and not replaced them. We have decided not to frack the huge volumes of gas we have under our feet and import more of it as we have run down our North Sea resources. We have closed down our gas storage facility. We have partially relied on inter-connectors to France, but they have been importing from us as their nuclear stations have problems. So now put what little coal plant we have left on standby, but we have closed down all our mines and will have to import the coal. This whole policy is mad, we need to frack, mine coal and build small modular nuclear power stations today.“
Elsewhere in the Ukraine, a corrupt regime is now wanting to prolong the war and get Crimea back into the fold. Naturally the Ukraine has no money, nor do we, and is banking on the successor to Boris to further impoverish the UK by giving arms money indefinitely, much of which is seemingly disappearing once it crosses the border. I am sure our betters will oblige, under the banner of ‘it is the right thing to do’

Back in Blighty the DM, obsessed with house prices, warns of the hurt that rising interest rates will have on those with mortgages:

Many of the problems with house buying or to be exact the ability to buy, stem from measures taken over many years to stimulate the market and ‘help’ those who want their own house onto the so-called housing ladder.

Nearly all help has itself fuelled house price rises. Make the money easier to get and the house prices go up; give people deposits and easy start schemes so they never have to save, the house prices go up; increase earnings ratio, house prices go up. 

All and everything has fuelled house prices and kept the financial sector happy and housebuilders too, they of course are major donors to the Conservative party.

It is interesting that through all this the quality and size of new builds has remained largely p*ss poor, both items ensure bigger profits for the builders, yet they still sell to a gullible and malleable public, in a market that is supposedly cooling! 

And it has to be said, how on earth during the last two years has the only thing to make a profit been a house? Apart from pent-up demand, house prices have escalated on such a scale they are in a parallel universe to everything else. In reality we don’t need more houses, the indigenous population remains largely static, so any extra demand is by way of government policy on immigration: every year the failure to curb immigration brings another half a million that need housing, health care, social services etc. that a hard pressed taxpayer has to fork out for, the same taxpayers who mainly want a stop to this unfettered policy on immigration.

And now building societies in an effort to keep the ball rolling are proposing 50 year mortgages that can be passed on to one's children, should they want to live there and if they don’t then the mortgage becomes no more than a rent as the difference will still have to paid by selling the place. With six times and more earnings ratio now the norm this Ponzi scheme is heading for a fall one way or another, but we have said that in the past. Yet miraculously another wheeze to keep it all rolling along seems to appear and save the market.

An extra factor emerged linking the lack of housebuilding with the energy crisis when in west London a major building project has been pulled because the grid could not supply the needed energy in the area and wouldn’t be able to for several years. They all of course blame one another for the fiasco.
This could spread with the lack of energy to other areas where large building projects are planned: no power, no houses.

GPs are now looking for the sympathy vote. Full time GPs are at the lowest level for in five years after doctors complained of being stressed; so few work full time now that stress must be being gauged by a different system from the rest of us - with a few noticeable exceptions GPs have long since stopped putting in a shift like their forebears did. A quarter of all GPs last week did a 37.5 hour week and that would include in many cases extra earnings outside the surgery; stress!

The water companies are starting to impose hose pipe bans. These are the same companies that have milked their customers and totally failed to increase capacity in line with the population. The fact they are leaking 2-3 billion litres of water a day does rather increase the cynicism they bring on themselves when making demands on others.

Selling off reservoirs has been despite a growing population been going on for decades. On many occasions when asked about capacity the answer has been ‘we have over capacity’ and the surplus reservoirs are sold off; no one, who could have done, pointed out the obvious in line with all other infrastructure failings.

A letter in the Times spells out the facts…
“Water leakage rates in the South are about 25 per cent. So of the total water supplied only 75 per cent is available. Commercial and agriculture use 90 per cent of that water. This leaves 10 per cent for domestic customers. A hosepipe ban saves only 10 per cent of that water or 0.75 per cent of the water supplied.

My thanks to Mr Armistead of Hampshire also for pointing out that in 1976, there was talk of building a national water grid to bring water from the North to the South. Naturally, nothing happened.”
The unions are not going to be left behind in all this. Various strikes are planned and some have started in a bid to raise wages in line, some hope, with inflation. Why not? For once I am with them: the MPs got their rise without so much as a sneeze; though the Felixstowe dock one, should it start (Felixstowe handles 50% of container traffic) will have a big impact on already stretched supply lines.

To finish a tale of government profligacy, 12 fig trees gifted by Jeb Bush erstwhile governor of Florida (though there seems some doubt about this as other sources say they are rented and others they were purchased for £150,000) stand outside Portcullis House at the entrance to Parliament. In essence the trees were unsuitable for the position in which they were planted and grow sideways. Efforts to keep them upright have resulted in a two-decade battle to to stop them from falling over. Between 2001 and 2012 the Commons spent £400,000 on maintaining them, it then cut costs and spent a further £137,000 on them. The solution is to remove three trees? No, the solution should be to remove all trees for obvious reasons, as not too far into the future further thousands will be required apart from maintenance costs, to remedy an error of their own making. Nice contract, though...

Just listen and look at the cringing MPs defending this in 2012 at the end of the first contract… they don’t give a fig!

Friday, August 12, 2022

FRIDAY MUSIC: Manu Chao, by JD

This week it is the turn of Manu Chao who is Spanish but was born in Paris. His music is a mix of Spanish, French, African, South American with lots of other influences besides. 

And a song for Diego Armando Maradona, they always like to include a clip of his 'hand of God' goal against England!
"Manu Chao helped begin the Latin alternative movement way back in the '80s -- although it had no name then -- and in his later work he cut a cross-cultural swath across styles and geographic boundaries. Chao was born on June 21, 1961, in Paris to Spanish parents -- his father, Ramon Chao, a respected writer, comes from Galicia, his mother Bilbao. Growing up bilingual, he was also influenced by the punk scene across the English Channel that happened while he was still in his teens."

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Alcohol and the State

From my Substack files:

In 1911, when California held a referendum on the question of women’s suffrage, the writer Jack London surprised his wife Charmian by saying he had voted in favour, because:
"When the women get the ballot, they will vote for prohibition. It is the wives, and sisters, and mothers, and they only, who will drive the nails into the coffin of John Barleycorn.”
In his 1913 book ‘John Barleycorn’ he claimed that few men were born addicts to alcohol; the real driver was its availability:
It is the accessibility of alcohol that has given me my taste for alcohol. I did not care for it. I used to laugh at it. Yet here I am, at the last, possessed with the drinker's desire. It took twenty years to implant that desire.
Sure enough, the Constitutional amendments introducing Prohibition and granting women’s suffrage were passed within six months of each other, in 1920. Women did not vote directly for Prohibition - there was no referendum, though by 1918 fifteen States had already legalised the female franchise - but the two movements ran in parallel. Women have been ‘blamed’ for Prohibition, though perhaps ‘credited’ is a better term, seeing the practical benefits of the experiment.

London’s accessibility argument is borne out by British history. When the Government deregulated sales of gin in order to turn people away from importing brandy from the enemy, France, the result was an epidemic of drunkenness that forced the passing of the 1751 Gin Act to reduce the damage.

In 1830 there was a second deregulation, of beer houses, to draw people away from spirits; the consequence was another spate of intoxication:
A fortnight after the passage of that Act, Sydney Smith, renowned for his idealism, who, previously, had been a strong advocate of it, wrote: “Everybody is drunk. Those who are not sinking are sprawling. The sovereign people are in a beastly state.”
Since then there have been various episodes of regulatory tightening and re-loosening of licensed hours and premises, from e.g. Sunday pub closures in Wales (1881) to the nationwide availability of 24-hour licenses (2005.)

Outlets have proliferated: today, I would be hard put to count all the places within a mile of our (suburban) house where I can buy alcohol; not just pubs and off-licenses but supermarkets, post offices, garages and convenience stores.

In our post-industrial country, the home is an increasingly important venue for consumption:
The main change in the structure of capital during this century has been the relative stagnation of industrial capital and the growth of the service sector of the economy. This trend, which has been most marked in the south of England, has had consequences for inner city working class areas: de-industrialisation, mobility of labour, and post-war rehousing policies have combined to dislocate the pattern of community based upon local work and extended families and associated cultural traditions...

Population has been decanted to the New Towns, and more generally, to the suburbs, where social life has focussed upon the nuclear family, and the home is increasingly regarded as a place of leisure, recreation and consumption. It is in this context that off-licence sales have become more important. The 1961 Licensing Act relaxed restrictions on the opening of off-licences, and the 1964 Licensing Act facilitated supermarket sales. By the late 1970s, most beer was still sold in public houses, but one third of all wine and half of spirits were consumed at home.
From ‘Alcohol, Youth, and the State’ by Nicholas Dorn (RKP, 1983)

The State is conflicted on the subject: on the one hand there are the health and other costs of alcohol; but on the other there is the fact that the sales taxes represent something like 2% of total Government revenue (not counting the taxes and National Insurance Contributions provided by all those employed in the drinks industry.)

Whether it is to do with the 1961 and 1964 Acts or the general increase in prosperity, there has been a clear (re-)increase in alcohol consumption since the 1950s:

Males drink more than females, though the latter are catching up. On average, men in 2018 were drinking the equivalent of 17.8 litres of pure alcohol per year - in spirits terms, more than five 70-centilitre bottles a month. Bear in mind that around 20% of the adult population doesn’t drink at all (among the young, there may be a switch to drugs instead, especially when beer is retailing at close to £5 a pint in pubs) and according to this survey:
… the very heaviest drinkers – who make just 4% of the population - consume around 30% of all the alcohol sold in the UK.
Even if the State decided to crack down on alcohol abuse, there are powerful commercial interests involved; strong enough to defy the Government, as they did in 1991 over Sunday trading restrictions.

Those who call for further controls over alcohol, tobacco, gambling and drugs will often be accused of ‘nannying’, though the State Nanny is one that has been making it easy for her charges to get the things that harm them, and who gets backhanders from the suppliers; a Satananny, if you will.

Libertarians dislike having anyone say no to them; the line starts behind me on that one, but let’s have no illusions about our supposed complete rationality and freedom of the will: there’s not that many Buddhas in the world. Jack London ended his 1913 book with a personal commitment to a more measured approach to alcohol:
No, I decided; I shall take my drink on occasion. With all the books on my shelves, with all the thoughts of the thinkers shaded by my particular temperament, I decided coolly and deliberately that I should continue to do what I had been trained to want to do. I would drink—but oh, more skilfully, more discreetly, than ever before.
He didn’t live past 40.

We may not get booze and fags back into Pandora’s box, but maybe we can do more about the plague of gambling - so heavily advertised on TV at the moment - and think twice about liberalising drug laws.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Archie vs the NHS

I republish below a post from my Substack account (June 15.) Tragically the boy, Archie Battersbee, died yesterday after his life support was switched off, against his mother's will. Her request to move him to a hospice was also denied and permission to take the legal case further refused by the Court:
Three judges, sitting at the court of appeal in central London, ruled on Monday that the decision of a high court judge to reject the plea by the parents of Archie Battersbee for him to be allowed to die a “natural” death had been based on the child’s best interests.
What we suspect it's really about: resources, especially money.

Tiger mothers

... or should they just be sensible and listen to experts?

A British boy currently lies comatose in hospital; doctors say there is ‘no brain activity’ and a High Court judge has ruled that he can be taken off life support. Yet his mother says he has gripped her hand; she believes he is ‘still there’ and she will fight on.

Intensive care is very expensive and so there can be a financial element in medical professionals’ judgment that there is no point in continuing. They may or may not be right in this case; yet ‘miracles’ happen.

Lady Anne Glenconner’s autobiography ‘Lady In Waiting’ (chapters 14 & 15) gives reason to hope against hope. In 1987 she learned that her 19-year-old son Christopher had had a motorcycle accident (helmetless) in Belize; after emergency surgery he was flown to Miami in a deep coma. Fortunately she had bought travel insurance for him and he was taken on to London in a private plane, still unconscious and on life support.

After Christopher had been unresponsive for weeks in the Wellington Hospital a doctor with long experience in this field told Lady Anne:
‘Christopher will be a vegetable all his life. There is no hope of recovery for him. If I were you I would forget about him improving and get on with your life.’
There are two kinds of explanation. One is to enable you to understand a phenomenon; the other is to explain it away, preferring it not to be real. I’m no preacher - I doubt everything; but this is what Lady Anne says and I believe she is being truthful:

Already religious, she had begun engaging with God and praying hard. At the point of giving up she heard of a Christian healer in Scotland, a Mrs Black, and got help from her by telephone. Then Mrs Black came down several times to work on Christopher in person. Lady Anne thought she could see tiny improvements, but she told Mrs Black she herself was exhausted. Back in Scotland, Mrs Black told her to prepare for a session next morning:
‘Suddenly, to my amazement, I felt as if champagne was flowing through my veins. I felt invigorated. It’s the only time in my life when anything like that has happened to me.’
With renewed energy and commitment she sought out a doctor whose own son had been in a coma; he stressed the importance of doing things with the patient and engaging all five senses. Christopher would need to be stimulated ‘fifteen minutes in every hour every day for weeks.’

Lady Anne set up a rota with the help of friends, to use the doctor’s ‘coma kit’ - smells, music, singing, talking, reading aloud, brushing Christopher’s skin with different textures and temperatures.
‘We even persuaded the nurses to let us take Christopher out of bed [still wired up to many machines] and nurse him on the floor so I could cradle him: I was sure that if he could feel my heartbeat it would have a positive effect on him.’
The breakthrough came when after Christopher had come off the ventilator a friend arrived with a baby’s bottle. A skeptical nurse let them try and eyes still closed, Christopher started to suck. Eventually, after four months in a coma, he woke up, and began rehabilitation.

If Lady Anne hadn’t accepted Mrs Black’s help, she would very likely have followed the hospital doctor’s advice and given up, sensibly.

There’s the choice.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

WEEKENDER: A View From The Past, by Wiggia

Probably THE party anthem of the Sixties

As with so much with us of the older generations we get berated for opinions that are dated, do not take in the advances made since our youth and being stuck in a supposed ‘golden age’ that never really existed, except in many cases as with all else it did.

Anyone who was in their late teens or early twenties and lived through the Sixties would probably agree it was the best decade in modern times, we had it all.

The music that exploded across the world was nearly all our making and changed the landscape of popular music. It was without a precedent, nothing before or since has matched it.

British fashion was a bad joke until the Sixties. Suddenly an explosion of talent changed all that and we led the world in fashion design: the mini skirt became an icon of the age, Mary Quant hairdos, and barbers became hairdressers much else in design such as promoted by Terence Conran, and innovators appeared and were hugely successful in that same decade.

And through it all up till the present day Twiggy represented the age with style:

And alongside Twiggy a bevy of photographers changed the way the camera recorded the age: David Bailey, Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy and the photojournalist Don McCullin, and Tony Ray-Jones the social photographer changed the way in their respective fields how Britain was seen, here and worldwide.

Bailey could almost be accused of making the Krays ‘popular’,
 such was the success of his portraits of them.

Our way of life changed, not necessarily all for the better as ‘free love’ via the contraceptive pill, came with certain problems but the earlier prudish approach to relationships was swept away in that decade. Women advanced their case more in the Sixties than all the decades before, equal pay after the Dagenham Ford strike was demanded and started to be accepted as the norm, even though the resistance to it stayed for years after.

We started to venture abroad for our holidays and those weeks at Butlins started to became a faint memory for many.

There was full employment, good wages and working conditions were being transformed. At the beginning of that decade hardly anyone owned a motor car at the end of it nearly everyone did, and we got the E-Type Jaguar and the Mini.

And pre-EU we were successful as a nation. The old nationalised industries were slowly being privatised and became more competitive, we led the world in nuclear fusion, had a more than competitive aircraft industry and still had armed forces that could be a force anywhere should the need arise.

Concord first flew in ‘69 and to this day is a marvel of aviation. Anyone who saw it could not help but be amazed something like that was actually flying. Yes, I am aware it never made money but at the time who cared.

Entertainment through the medium of television created the first stars of the screen, pubs and working men's clubs provided entertainers who went on television and became household names, who without that medium would have remained undiscovered.That Was TheWeek That Was broke new ground in the presenting of news and satire with brilliant writers and presenters.

Sporting achievements were capped when we won the football World Cup, we had our first world road race cycling champion in ‘65, we had a whole raft of innovative race car and engine designers who changed the whole way that race cars were built and we won world championships on two wheels and four. John Surtees won the world drivers championship in ‘64 and became still the only man to have won world titles on two and four wheels' Hill Clark and others cemented our position at the top of Grand Prix racing. Lynn Davies and David Hemery made gold in the ‘64 Olympics

No decade is perfect. We went from Harold Macmillan 'You've never had it so good' to Harold Wilson 'From now on, the pound abroad is worth 14 per cent or so less in terms of other currencies. That doesn't mean, of course, that the Pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued' - quite………….

You could see your GP at any time and he would visit if necessary in the middle of the night. The hospital system was more rudimentary but it worked and there were no real waiting lists.

Prices in ‘65 adjusted to today's allowing for inflation:

A pint of beer £1.70, newspaper 25p, average house price £50,000 and you got space inside and out, Ford Cortina 9,500. Not all was cheaper: new technology was much more expensive than now inline with the first mobile phones, and some food items are much the same, but transport was cheap.
Posting a letter cost 19p adjusted in ‘68 compared with 67p today.
Petrol per gallon - see here for how it has gone upwards ever since the motor car became a tax gift.

Eating out, something that simply did not exist in the Fifties started to happen in the Sixties. Rudimentary it may have been, nonetheless although Chinese and Indian restaurants had been around for decades they were never really a pull for the general population. That all changed and with the change came food with taste, and along with the spicy food came lager. So much before had been so bland as to be instantly forgettable. As usual not all was good, Wimpy bars arrived!, and Bernie Inns, but it nonetheless got people out to eat in a way not seen before.

We really did not eat out, even the pubs only had a plastic cheese roll under a glass dome that had been perspiring for days and a choice of crisps: salted and unsalted.

Wine started to appear on menus. Till then wine had been something that Colonels drank in the shires; Mateus Rose and Blue Nun changed all that - basic, but a start.

Among other technological advancements in the sixties, carbon fibre was invented at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in ‘63.

The touchscreen was another British invention in ‘65, who would have believed then what an influence it would become in later years.

Barclays Bank saw the first ATM in action in ‘67 - a British, in its final form, invention; and James Goodfellow a Scottish engineer pioneered the PIN system which incorporated in with the credit card made cash withdrawals from ATMs a part of normal life in ‘66.

Technological advancement meant people had more leisure time. The microwave appeared along with transistor radios and colour TVs; Radio Caroline opened up a whole new a whole new world with DJs who promoted popular music.

Film mirrored the age and actors like Michael Caine, David Hemmings and a list that seemed endless advanced on the world stage, plus the films that were made when we sill had a functioning film industry, many remain classics and icons of that time.

My Generation | Official Trailer from Photon Films and Media on Vimeo.

People spoke to one another in the street down the pub. Today all you see is people glued to mobile phones. The art of dating has been lost as all go online to meet someone of the opposite sex, and same sex! - can’t think of a worse way to set out in the world with a new partner, it’s like colouring by numbers, you get a result but they are all the same.

Nobody gets married any more and single parents prevail, a backward step on all counts for the child especially, and a further burden on the taxpayer.

Being unemployed during the Sixties carried a stigma with it, no one wanted to go on the dole; today you can’t get a large percentage of the population weaned off it, it has become a lifestyle choice and is aided by the State.

And our ruling class of all colours gets ever more ridiculous and incompetent, yet people still vote for them.

As is the case younger people with no knowledge of earlier times are inclined to sneer at what was a golden age sans smart phones, it’s all they know, which is sad as they missed something they could never envisage. Who knows they might even have enjoyed it, the music was certainly better.

Politics has changed as well, no longer any orators or even speakers with any authority, who today could emulate this from Harold MacMillan:

Or this….

Or this…

Instead we are reduced to this, though it could have been any one of dozens today of the self-serving dross that is foisted upon us:
"I am Kamala Harris. My pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit." Second in command of the most powerful nation on the planet. God help us.
The Sixties was Britain pre-EU,  a world that we left behind to join a trading bloc? Something else the later generations would not have a clue about. It was on reflection a decade we largely took for granted at the time such was the speed of change, but there has not been a decade like it since.

“If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there.”

That line though with some basis of truth for a small section of society was not of the time, it was first uttered by American comedian Charlie Fleischer in ‘82 and he would be just ten when the Sixties started so probably knew little about the decade. It assumes everyone at the time was on something, that was also not true but it makes a good punchline.

Tottenham Royal with the Dave Clark Five on stage, a regular haunt of mine during the Sixties.
Many top bands played there as they did up the road at the Astoria Finsbury Park (later the Rainbow.)