Sunday, 31 December 2017

Celestial Significance


New Year - a time of no celestial significance. Why, I wonder, did we never think to start the new year on the winter solstice or on the date of earth's perihelion on the 3rd of January?

In the Middle Ages New Year was in March and it was only in the 16th Century that moves were made to move it to January.


Anyway - have a good one.


Saturday, 30 December 2017

Rule by Tweet for Xmas Dinner


Trump and his Tweets worry me greatly. The old adage of marry in haste, repent at leisure needs updating to Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. Conducting policy and international diplomacy through Twitter has the unfortunate effect of facilitating hasty comments, especially of the retaliatory kind to which the fragile ego is susceptible, and no-one has a more fragile ego that this man-child. It's simply not diplomatic and can lead to huge problems.

Then there's the case of demonstrating your ignorance - for example, the difference between weather and climate...

The Trump Theory of International Relations is reduced to an intemperate and often angry Tweet in the middle of the night that's rapidly turning the USA into Fortress America with few friends, except sycophants.

we were watching some programme on TV yesterday about the British Christmas Dinner. One of the commentators mentioned the sadness of thinking about someone eating a pre-packed Christmas dinner on their own in front of the TV.


Quite appeals to me, if I'm honest.


Friday, 29 December 2017

New Year's Eve


New Year's Eve will be upon us in a few days. For someone who is normally in bed by 9pm, it's not something I look forward to and usually end up simply going to bed at my normal time, only to be woken at midnight by fireworks. 


I did once manage to make it to our local church, which is on an escarpment that overlooks much of South Gloucestershire and makes a wonderful vantage point from which to watch fireworks displays all over the area. It was memorable, but the attraction of New Year's Eve has waned with the years. Can't abide champagne either - bloats me and gives me indigestion. Sometimes I am persuaded to have a small glass at special events, but always regret it.

I guess I'm just not a party person - never have been really. I struggled to stay awake on New Year's Eve 1999-2000.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

No Platform


So one of the Johnson political clan wants university student unions to get rid of no-platforming in debates, with a threat of fines and delisting for universities if they don't comply. For a start, university debating societies are not controlled by universities (you'd think Johnson would know that). Secondly, they can invite whomsoever they want to their debates - who is anyone to dictate who they can or can't invite to speak? It's called choice.

Jo Johnson is quite a clever chap - he's attended more universities than you can shake a stick at. If anyone is from the establishment elite, then he's near the top, so what's behind it? Call me cynical, but I can't help feeling that this has something to do with the word 'union' being in the term student union and possibly that universities are perceived as bastions of left-wing thinking - reactionary parties would naturally want to find a way of promulgating their views.

Political activism in universities is a direct consequence of government policy - government caused it and is being hoisted by its own petard. Given only the Labour party has a policy of eliminating tuition fees, it's hardly surprising student activism falls to the left of the political spectrum - Newton's 3rd Law in action, and the government wants to head it off at the pass.

I'm split on this issue; while I support free speech, I also support the freedom of individuals or organisations to not invite speakers they consider subversive - that's also a form of free speech, or an example of the free market. The problem is that a large number of organisations that use the argument of free speech in order to gain a platform for their views are organisations that would curtail free speech if they were in control. The Daily Mail is a form of free speech which comes dangerously close to incitement, and people lap it up.

Inviting someone to speak and then uninviting them seems a bit churlish. Is that what's meant by no platforming? Just not inviting someone in the first place is within anyone's rights. I think no platforming is a term used by someone who is a bit disgruntled by not being invited to speak and somewhat akin to seeing yourself as a victim because you've not been invited to a party. It's a whinger's charter.


The No Platform policy, as defined in the NUS's articles of association, provides that no "individuals or members of organisations or groups identified by the Democratic Procedures Committee as holding racist or fascist views" may stand for election to any NUS position, or attend or speak at any NUS function or conference. Furthermore, officers, committee members, or trustees may not share a platform with any racist or fascist. The list of proscribed organisations includes the following organisations:Al-Muhajiroun; British National Party; English Defence League; Hizb-ut-Tahrir; Muslim Public Affairs Committee. Can't see anything wring with that.

The NUS also has policy refusing platforms to people or organisations for other reasons: the NUS LGBT Campaign (and formerly, also the Women's Campaign) refuses platforms to those they consider to be transphobic, including Julie Bindel and the National Executive Committee has a policy refusing a platform to those it considers to be rape deniers or rape apologists. Can't see anything fundamentally wrong with that either. Many student unions or debating societies don't follow the no platform agenda.

Political parties scrutinise their candidate lists to select candidates that support the party line, effectively no platforming dissenters, despite the fact they can well be Conservatives on all but one issue - and parties are notorious for changing their minds on certain issues if it's politically expedient to gain votes - what can be Labour policy one day can easily become Conservative policy the next, and vice versa.

What is good is seeing students becoming politically aware as a result of them being directly affected by tuition fees and the withdrawal of maintenance grants. For too long they've been apolitical. It's like the 60s all over again - quite exciting really.

No - no platforming does not harm free speech; those wishing to speak must merely go and find their own platform (like newspapers do) or fund their own debating societies.

I want the Flat Earth Society to be given a platform - they say they have members all around the globe...


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Weather


Lots of weather around today - woke to a blanket of snow.

Regulars will know I've been averaging the solar readings over the last 4 years to see if there's any pattern that can predict good or bad weather - it turns out that all the high correlations are linked to days with low levels of sunshine.


Click on the chart below to enlarge it - the blue line is the confidence level and all the spikes are, without exception, days of average low sunshine.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Insecure Hidden Delights


I've taken to sending Hay photos of supermarket shelves when I can't find anything, which is quite frequent. The other day I was sent to Lidl for a bottle of fino sherry, but couldn't find any - I simply took a photo of the shelf where it should be and she then correctly identified where the fino sherry was hiding. It was little wonder I couldn't find it - it was masquerading as a bottle of fino sherry. When you want to hide something, always put it in plain sight.


Over Christmas dinner we were discussing the British penchant for putting Christmas decorations up far too early and the conclusion was reached that it's a sign of national insecurity. A lot of things point in that direction at the moment.


Monday, 25 December 2017

Overheard on Christmas Eve


Overheard listening to BBC Radio 4's A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols:

Chairman: "Shall we listen to Radio 4's A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols? I just fancy listening to some wonderful carols"

Hay: "Yes, that'd be nice."

50 minutes later:

Chairman: "Good grief - there's another 40 minutes of this. Don't think I can bear any more..."

After another 10 minutes:

Chairman: "I could even manage to listen to a bit of Slade now."

After 1 hour and 33 minutes:

Chairman: "Thank God that's over for another year"



Turkeys, ducks, sprouts and parsnips were 30% off at Lidl by 3:45 yesterday afternoon.! Even the panettone and stollen bites were going at 30% off and I managed to snaffle the last panettone in the shop. Result! Scrooge is alive and well...


Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas


Ain't it strange that our Christmas cards have not yet gone post-Brexit. We still have cards that show perfect, German, Christmas idylls - complete with a tree that Prince Albert introduced Also the snow, which is very northern European and not at all British. It must infuriate Brexiteers.


Anyone ever seen a sleigh in England?

Post-Brexit we'll have to develop our own national Christmas, complete with blue (or rather black) Christmas cards to match our passports. Santa will have to dress in festive oilskins and cards will show rain-soaked English streets glistening in a harsh sodium lamp glow. 

Champagne? No - Newcastle Brown!

Santa Clause has a foreign ring to it - we'll have to revert to calling him St Nicholas - but he was Turkish, so he'll have to go. St Farage, perhaps with a Yule log? No - Farage is a French name. St Boris? Just can't get away from these damned foreign names.

German Christmas markets will be banned too, along with glühwein and other foreign imports. Hanging an MP or a judge as a traitor at Christmas will doubtless become a national post-Brexit tradition. 

I was looking forward to a Brexit argument over Christmas, but there aren't any Brexiteers round here - I'd have to go down the pub for even a remote chance of finding one.

Fröhliche Weihnachten everyone...


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Homemade Stuffing & Presents for Passports


Bloody Jamie Oliver, and the rest of them! "For homemade stuffing take some stale bread" - where the hell does one get stale bread these days? Damned stuff goes green before it has chance to go stale. It wouldn't surprise me if Waitrose or Sainsbury sold special stale bread at exorbitant prices especially for making homemade stuffing. Bastards!


That's all the presents bought and just a couple left to wrap. God, how I love charity shops and Poundland at Christmas; Such value for money...

So we're meant to be going back to blue passports. Strange that, as mine were black...



Friday, 22 December 2017

Independent Judiciary


I heard the MP Daniel Kawczynski talking in radio yesterday morning about the situation in Poland (he was born there). I was surprised to hear him support the view that the EU should not interfere in Poland's internal affairs (by threatening the withdrawal of budget) due to the Polish government making the judiciary accountable to politicians, rather than being independent.


The European system of justice is based on the independence of the judiciary - a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary, which is the trias politica model - and not politicising it. Appointments to the judiciary in England and Wales, since 2006, are made by the independent Judicial Appointments Commission and politicians have never been able to remove judges without just cause. Appointments to the Supreme Court are made by the Queen, on recommendation from the PM, which indeed is a political decision but, nonetheless, Supreme Court judges again cannot be removed by politicians without just cause and are selected from among existing judges who have been appointed independently.

The Polish reforms by the ironically named Law and Justice Party could force up to 40 per cent of Polish Supreme Court judges to step down and would give politicians control over the body that appoints judges. That contravenes the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which all EU members must adhere as a precondition of membership. Not only that, but the Justice Minister is the Chief Prosecutor.

What's strange is that ECJ judges are themselves appointed for a 6 year term by the governments of the EU members - 28 in all - and thus are political appointments but, crucially, not by a single government, and again are drawn from a cadre of independently appointed judges. I guess that's the only equitable way of appointing them, but they are not appointed centrally by the EU itself.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Uber Age Discrimination


A fishery has come under fire for banning Polish or Eastern Bloc fishermen, children and dogs.


Now, does the Eastern Bloc still exist? Theoretically it doesn't, as most of the former Eastern Bloc countries are now part of the EU, and even if it did it would include former East Germans who are now just Germans. It's an extremely imprecise and arbitrary definition and therefore rather difficult to enforce.

Poles would be OK, so long as they weren't fishermen. Now what's the difference between a fisherman and an angler? Again, a rather imprecise definition, as a fisherman is usually someone who catches fish as an occupation, although some dictionaries include sports fishing within the definition. Is an angler is a pure hobbyist.

Some have commented than eastern Europeans eat carp for Christmas dinner, but the lake concerned is closed for winter, so that's not really a valid argument.

Children and dogs - now that's discriminatory. I'm surprised Childline (do they catch children with lines?) and the RSPCA aren't up in arms...

In another story, Uber has been defined as a transport company by the EU. Doubtless the British government will define Uber as a train operating company, give it enormous state subsidies and allocate it monopolies on certain routes...


Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Sea Trials for Nan


I do wish the media would refrain from criticising the fact of a gland leak on the new aircraft carrier. The whole purpose of sea trials is to test systems and then go back to dry-dock to fix anything that crops up. It's like a snag list on a new house - there are always bound to be a few things that require further attention, especially on something costing several billion pounds and comprising a few thousand subsystems manufactured by a host of different suppliers that have to integrate.


Hay told me yesterday that hospital medics call an elderly person who has suffered a fall a 'Nan Down'. Quite amusing, but not for the nan concerned.

Had occasion to  BT yesterday - both our phone and Hay's dad's next door won't ring when someone calls. Opted for the web 'chat' facility. The prompt kept telling me that I'd be attended to in one or two minutes and several seconds, the figure changing every minute or so. The problem was that it took 25 minutes before I was put in contact with someone in India, despite the prompt telling me it would be in under 2 minutes.


Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Defibrilating Christmas


Tree decorated and living room illuminated with various LED lights. Hay wouldn't let me near the thing - she maintains I learned the art of Christmas tree decoration at the DP Gumby School of Home Decor, which I think a bit harsh.



Very impressed with the fake tree; if it wasn't for the base you wouldn't know the difference, and it's nowhere as wide at the base as a real tree - that always give us maneuverability issues.

Could do with Xmas tree baubles with LEDs inside that can be controlled remotely - and I don't mean strings of LEDs but individual ones with those little, flat batteries and no wires. Now there's an idea!

I've committed the ultimate sin - I bought Hay a Christmas present and hid it so she doesn't find it, but now I can't remember where I put it.

Yesterday Hayley did her civic duty and checked the defibrilator in the old village telephone box - rather her than me. Thought she was going to taser me at one stage. She's the village's official defibrilator checker and has to do it every two weeks.


She came up with what she thought was a catchy name for an older person dating site yesterday - Trinder. Had to disabuse her - it's already a Chrome extension.


Monday, 18 December 2017

Christmas Shoes


We went to a 2nd hand shop yesterday (not a charity shop) and I spotted a pair of these:


I was immediately transported back to 1972 - mine were grey and maroon and hand made for me by a bloke Hong Kong in some back street.

We decided on a fake Christmas tree in the end - the local DIY emporium was doing rather good ones for £30, which was a £40 discount. Told Hay we could use the microwave for a good display - just thrown some cutlery in it and whack it on full power- you won't get a better display of lights.

It's funny how shops promote Christmas for months and then in the week before Christmas everything to do with it disappears overnight. Lidl is the worst - can't get Christmas stuff there for love nor money now.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Christmas Tree


Time to start thinking about the Christmas tree. Once this weekend is over prices should start to drop as stockists rush to clear their inventory of trees and we should be able to just make an offer, as we did last year. Got an 8 foot Nordman for £30.

We were thinking of an 'installation', like we did a few years ago, instead of a tree; I suggested we get a drinks chiller cabinet and put an ice sculpture of a tree in it, but that didn't go down too well with Hayley.


Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Delivery Guy


Hay got talking to a delivery chap last night. He said he has a strict schedule for his deliveries and physically can't scan an item before the scheduled delivery time. If that's not bad enough, he's fined if he delivers late.


Welcome to the gig economy.


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Democracy


Roy Moore, the losing Republican candidate for Alabama, has said he wants a recount and that God is in control. How can God being in control be democratic?

Brexiteers and the Daily Heil are incandescent that parliament has established the fact of Parliamentary Sovereignty (not that we ever lost it) with the vote in the Commons last night. Stephen Hammond, one of the Tory rebels even got sacked for putting Parliament before party, which shows the depths to which the Tories have sunk. That's not to say that Labour don't have a large number of party apparatchiks who put party before country.


Doubtless there will be Brexiteers calling for blood. They're already talking about getting Tory MPs deselected (which is even more self-defeating than Brexit), but there's no accounting for intelligence and the consequences of actions features low on Daily Mail Readers' list of priorities. I expect the word traitor to be used quite frequently over the next few days.

The government is between a rock and a hard place; to decimate the economy through Brexit, or suffer the wrath of their Brexiteer supporters. Not an enviable choice, as both lead to the destruction of the Tory Party. The only way out of this impasse is to pass the buck back to the electorate and hope sense will prevail next time. When the facts change (or what were sold as facts by Boris, Farage, et al), most people change their minds - I'm not sure what Brexiteers do.

Someone needs to bring a balance to The Force.


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Cromwell's Car


Not yet having received my latest read from Amazon, I'm re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Antonia Fraser's excellent biography of one of my heroes, Oliver Cromwell.

I was intrigued to note that his house in Ely is still standing and a local attraction. I looked it up on Google Maps and found there were some photographs. 


I was delighted to discover Cromwell owned a Mercedes 500SL, exactly like mine!


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A Bit of Snow


As it transpired, my meeting in Glasgow had to be called off - my colleague who was flying into Heathrow from Antigua had her connecting flight to Glasgow cancelled due to the snow at LHR. On top of that, had I actually gone to Bristol airport I'd have discovered that my flight had been delayed to the extent that I'd never have made the meeting in time anyway. Everything now rescheduled for January.

Went out first thing this morning and, using the laser thermometer thingy, I got an outside temperature of between -13 and -16 degrees, depending on what I aimed the gun at. OK, not the same as air temperature, but indicative of how cold it was.

We never cleared up our apple windfalls this year, and after seeing how the birds have been feeding on them during this cold snap, I don't think we'll ever clear them up again. You can't really see them on this photo, but there are many tens of birds feeding on them. 


Had a few avalanches around the house too - from the solar PV and solar thermal panels.



Before and after photos.

I've determined that Hay is genetically incapable of sawing a slice off a loaf of bread without making the top edge thick and the bottom thin. Is this a female thing? I despair of the condition I'll find the loaf in after she's hacked off a slice.


Monday, 11 December 2017

Federalism


I was reading Rod Liddle's column in the Sunday Times yesterday and he was railing against a federal EU superstate but, crucially, neglected to provide a single reason why he was against it. He simply maintained that it was worth any price to not be a member. To form such an opinion, one must be able to argue the case and give reasons - but he doesn't. 

Those countries marked in green below are federal states and include some of the most vigorous economies in the world, such as the USA and Germany.


Some are across ethnicities and languages, such as India and Malaysia. I just can't see what people have against a federal system of government - it's the next stage of political civilization. A federation is even the idealised system of government in most science fiction novels. The secret of a successful federation is giving it just the right amount of centralised power to prevent sovereign states within it doing harm to other members, economically or politically - a light touch.

Nationalism is the enemy of peace and has been the primary cause of wars in the last 2-300 years. Here is an excerpt of George Orwell on Nationalism.

"Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality."

Isn't it about time we grew up? Here is Friedrich Hayek again on federalism, writing toward the close of WWII, and it's well worth reading in full, rather than me doing a precis.

"Those who are so ready to ride roughshod over the rights of small states are, of course, right in one thing: we cannot hope for order or lasting peace after this war if states, large or small, regain unfettered sovereignty in the economic sphere. But this does not mean that a new superstate must be given powers which we have not learned to use intelligently even on a national scale, that an international authority ought to be given power to direct individual nations how to use their resources. It means merely that there must be a power which can restrain the different nations from action harmful to their neighbours, a set of rules which defines what a state may do, and an authority capable of enforcing these rules. The powers which such an authority would need are mainly of a negative kind; it must, above all, be able to say “No” to all sorts of restrictive measures. Far from its being true that, as is now widely believed, we need an international economic authority while the states can at the same time retain their unrestricted political sovereignty, almost the exact opposite is true. What we need an international economic authority while the States can at the same time retain their unrestricted political sovereignty, almost exactly the opposite is true.

"What we need and can hope to achieve is not more power in the hands of irresponsible international economic authorities but, on the contrary, a superior political power which can hold the economic interests in check, and in the conflict between them can truly hold the scales, because it is itself not mixed up in the economic game. The need is for an international political authority which, without power to direct the different people what they must do, must be able to restrain them from action which will damage others.

"The powers which must devolve on an international authority are not the new powers assumed by the states in recent times but that minimum of powers without which it is impossible to preserve peaceful relationships, i.e., essentially the powers of the ultra-liberal “laissez faire” state. And, even more than in the national sphere, it is essential that these powers of the international authority should be strictly circumscribed by the Rule of Law. The need for such a supernational authority becomes indeed greater as the individual states more and more become units of economic administration, the actors rather than merely the supervisors of the economic scene, and as therefore any friction is likely to arise not between individuals but between states as such.

"The form of international government under which certain strictly defined powers are transferred to an international authority, while in all other respects the individual countries remain responsible for their internal affairs, is, of course, that of federation. We must not allow the numerous ill-considered and often extremely silly claims made on behalf of a federal organization of the whole world during the height of the propaganda for “Federal Union” to obscure the fact that the principle of federation is the only form of association of different peoples which will create an international order without putting an undue strain on their legitimate desire for independence. Federalism is, of course, nothing but the application to international affairs of democracy, the only method of peaceful change man has yet invented. But it is a democracy with definitely limited powers. Apart from the more impracticable ideal of fusing different countries into a single centralized state (the desirability of which is far from obvious), it is the only way in which the ideal of international law can be made a reality. We must not deceive ourselves that, in the past, in calling the rules of international behavior international law, we were doing more than expressing a pious wish. When we want to prevent people from killing each other, we are not content to issue a declaration that killing is undesirable, but we give an authority power to prevent it. In the same way there can be no international law without a power to enforce it. The obstacle to the creation of such an international power was very largely the idea that it need command all the practically unlimited powers which the modern state possesses. But with the division of power under the federal system this is by no means necessary.

"This division of power would inevitably act at the same time also as a limitation of the power of the whole as well as of the individual state. Indeed, many of the kinds of planning which are now fashionable would probably become altogether impossible. But it would by no means constitute an obstacle to all planning. It is, in fact, one of the main advantages of federation that it can be so devised as to make most of the harmful planning difficult while leaving the way free for all desirable planning. It prevents, or can be made to prevent, most forms of restrictionism. And it confines international planning to the fields where true agreement can be reached - not only between the “interests” immediately concerned but among all those affected. The desirable forms of planning which can be effected locally and without the need of restrictive measures are left free and in the hands of those best qualified to undertake it. It is even to be hoped that within a federation, where there will no longer exist the same reasons for making the individual states as strong as possible, the process of centralization of the past may in some measure be reversed and some devolution of powers from the state to the local authorities become possible.

"It is worth recalling that the idea of the world at last finding peace through the absorption of the separate states in large federated groups and ultimately perhaps in one single federation, far from being new, was indeed the ideal of almost all the liberal thinkers of the nineteenth century. From Tennyson, whose much-quoted vision of the “battle of the air” is followed by a vision of the federation of the people which will follow their last great fight, right down to the end of the century the final achievement of a federal organization remained the ever-recurring hope of a next great step in the advance of civilization."

Analyse and discuss.


Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Shroud of Old Sodbury


I've been suffering from Man Flu for the last couple of days, being confined to bed by Hay. I've suddenly realised that the Shroud of Turin is not some magical resurrection artefact, it's the bottom bed sheet of some poor bloke who had Man Flu.


Today is my last chance to shake it off, as I have to fly to Glasgow tomorrow for a meeting.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Utrecht Palm


Overheard while watching Time Team:

Chairman: "The're conducting a dig in Utrecht."

Hay: "Is that Utrecht son of Utrecht?"

I thought that was quite witty of Hay.

Years ago, not sure how many, but it must be 4. I bought a small coconut palm from Lidl, not expecting it to survive for more than a few months and certainly not into the winter. Well, against all odds it thrived and grew into a huge palm with some 7 or 8 fronds.

A few weeks ago I decided to replant it due to it becoming constricted; however, I accidentally ripped one of the roots while trying to prise it loose. Since then it has been gradually dying, one frond after another shrivelling up.


I'm currently down to one not-too-healthy looking frond and a shoot. It may just survive.


Friday, 8 December 2017

The Dark Wall


Kitty's dislike of foreign cats has led to demands for a Cat Wall on our bed. Strangely enough, the request came not from Kitty, but from Blackie, who is constantly being attacked by Kitty.


We've been watching a Neftlix series called Dark, an extremely good German production, but Netflix has gone and dubbed it in American English. The story is so good that we can just about overcome the sight of what are obviously Germans in German settings speaking American. Personally, I'd prefer it in the original German with English subtitles.

The series centres around a town where teenage children keep disappearing, but I tend to get rather confused about which character is which, as all teenagers look the same to me - the only differentiator is that some are male and some female.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Socialism


I've been having an argument with some people about the difference between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.


Let's be clear, socialism, whatever its pedigree, demands ownership of the means of production by the state. That's all the means of production - meaning no free market economy. Democratic Socialism is merely the use of a democratic vote as the means, rather than violent revolution.

Social Democracy is a free market economy with social provision, through taxes, for education, housing, health, etc. - the model for most western democracies, to a greater or lesser extent. The Nordics are probably the best example of Social Democracy in action, whereas Russia (closely followed by USA with Trump in charge) is one of the worst. It purports to redistribute wealth through progressive taxation.

Jeremy Corbyn describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, which makes him a proponent of a fully planned economy and all that entails - collectivism, or Communism without the authoritarian nature; however, it's almost impossible to have a planned economy without strong authority from the top, as it requires a huge sacrifice of liberty. It's a 'means justifies the ends scenario' - an 'at any cost' philosophy. That kind of power is seductive to those at the top.

Too many people, in my view, are not aware of the distinction. Corbyn, as a political thinker and admirer of Karl Marx, cannot possibly be ignorant of the distinction. Most of the electorate, unfortunately, is.

That's not to say our current Social Democracy in the UK is in good shape - it certainly isn't, and a large section of the wealthy are not paying their fair share of tax to fund social programmes, squirrelling most of it in off-shore tax havens. Corporations too don't pay their fair share, as we are finding out. However, to go from one end of the spectrum to the other seems self-destructive. That, however, seems to be what happens in politics - the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. The swing from Neoliberalism to Democratic Socialism is a swing too far, especially when the destruction that can be wrought by a planned economy has to contend with the fallout from Brexit - if it ever happens - and it currently looks like it will be either hard Brexit, no Brexit or a General Election.

Some believe Corbyn has been persuaded that a less left-leaning programme is more suited to gaining votes, but that doesn't change his personal views and there's debate within the Labour Party as to whether Clause IV should be brought back.

Capitalism beats Socialism hands down in creating wealth, but it's not very good an ensuring that wealth is equitably distributed unless regulated. Capitalist monopolies are to be avoided, but state monopolies are allowed in the pursuit of a social agenda that cares for the less well off - they are a necessary evil. That said, monopolies don't exist for long in a free market, unless it's with state collusion, as technological advances usually take care of them (monopolies, by their very nature, asre not innovative).

Socialism, on the other hand, is awful at producing wealth precisely because everything is a state monopoly and ensures what little there is can be shared equally. It's the monopolistic nature and fact that the little wealth is shared equally that makes it so bad at producing wealth - there's little or no incentive. You can't argue on the one hand that capitalist monopolies are bad but state monopolies are good - they're both equally bad for the consumer, as nationalisation has proven in the UK; however, a few state monopolies are necessary. That's not to say that in a free economy there shouldn't be some competition to state monopolies to generate innovation, but it should be limited.

We are placing ourselves between a rock and a hard place through ignorance of the distinction between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy. Almost all social media references to Social Democracy fail to make this distinction, except in political lexicons. But experts, eh, what do they know...

To view the other side of the coin, and link today's post with yesterday's; where the Conservatives have been successful was to harness the lower instincts of the masses and direct the blame for all their failures to the poor, and now the EU. The centre and the left, being generally more selective and discerning in their value judgements, are not as strongly organised into a single voting cadre, but values may have to be tempered with expediency at the next election.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Demagogue


Interesting comment from Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:

"In a totalitarian society the question is not what do a majority of the people agree, but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible; or, if no such group large enough to enforce its views exists, how it can be created and who will succeed in creating it. 

"There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best, but rather by the worst elements of any society. By our standards the principles on which such a group would be selected will be almost entirely negative.



"In the first instance, it is probably true that, in general, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and “common” instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards. It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people. If a numerous group is needed, strong enough to impose their views on the values of life on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed tastes, it will be those who form the “mass” in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind their particular ideals. If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavours. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.

"Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.

"It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skillful demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important negative element of selection enters. It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off. The contrast between the “we” and the “they,” the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program. The enemy, whether he be internal, like the ‘Jew” or the “kulak,” or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armory of a totalitarian leader. 

"That in Germany it was the Jew who became the enemy until his place was taken by the “plutocracies” was no less a result of the anti-capitalist resentment on which the whole movement was based than the selection of the kulak in Russia. In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations. It is the old story of the alien race’s being admitted only to the less respected trades and then being hated still more for practicing them. The fact that German anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root is of great importance for the understanding of what has happened there, but this is rarely grasped by the foreign observer."

He was writing in 1944, but this has a familiar ring to it.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Adversity


Some interesting comments on overcoming adversity:

"Those who can suffer most will win."

"The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

The first is by Ho Chi Minh, the second by Frederick Douglass.



Monday, 4 December 2017

Gregory Porter's AI Gardening Hat


You can't open a newspaper or news website with some astounding story about artificial intelligence and the fact we're all about to be replaced by robots. If that's so, why does it take Google Voice and Samsung Bixby about 4 attempts to understand what I'm saying, and still provide me with precisely the wrong information or open the wrong mobile app? I don't think we need worry just yet. AI, as it currently stands, seems to have even less intelligence than a slug.


Hay was reading something yesterday about a head gardener's course called A Head Gardener's Year. Believe it nor not, a head gardener's year is exactly the same length as my year. She bought a pair of Levi skinny jeans yesterday in Nailsworth - 27 inch waist (which, apparently, is a size 8) - and reckoned she could have gone an inch smaller. She's nearly as slim as me. Not bad for 52 years of age and 6 feet tall though.


Gregory Porter's ubiquitous hat - what's that all about? Good name for a band - Gregory Porter's Hat....

Tried a bit more yesterday with the spray-on frosting; there's no difference between the sandblasted glass and the sprayed one, but neither are the effect I'm looking for on the chandelier - a sharp, crisp, white frosting.


The one of the left is the spray frosting. Apparently a lot of frosting on glass these days is moulded on.
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Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Chandelier


Had a concerted effort with the chandelier project yesterday; tried the spray on frosting - bloody useless. Bought a few coloured glasses from the charity shop and then set to work.


We started loading it up with a few clear glasses, but staring at a naked bulb wasn't pleasant, so we removed the frosted shade from the old lamp, turned it upside down and started again.






I'd like to get some of these frosted glasses - the effect would be phenomenal - but at £60 for just 6 glasses when we need 21 is a tad steep. Maybe just one middle tier of 6 We'll also get a smaller frosted shade.



Saturday, 2 December 2017

Frosted Pumpkin Pod Capers


One Halloween pumpkin down, one to go...


Nice, curry-spiced pumpkin soup - delicious.


Hay bought some Aldi Nespresso-type coffee pods the other day - vanilla and caramel. There's absolutely no difference in the taste between these and the Nespresso ones, which are the only ones I buy as part of the deal on the machine: £8 for 60, as opposed to £18 for 60 Nespresso pods.

After a bit of a kerfuffle as regards pneumatic hose connectors, I had a go at sandblasting a test piece for the frosted wine glass chandelier I'm intent of making for Christmas. Not a good result. I ended up with a black, grit beach in the work area. It's far too industrial for something as delicate as a glass.


Glass etching cream is apparently very good, but it's rather expensive for 21 wine glasses. I've ordered some spray frosting, which is not my preferred option, but needs must - will let you know the results of a test.


Friday, 1 December 2017

Snowflake, Resident War Criminals


I do find it rather strange how the far right, who are fond of using the term 'snowflakes' for the left, are the ones constantly running scared of everything. The special relationship between the UK and the USA is between the peoples and does not depend on the tit currently occupying the White House. He'll be gone - hopefully sooner rather than later. As for his visit to the UK - he shouldn't be encouraged in his views and if he does come, he will only use it to manipulate his image.

There again, there's freedom of speech, but that also includes the right of reply to challenge his views and, if he does come, the visit will be stage managed to avoid embarrassment, protest will be stifled and the far right will capitalise on that - so no, he should not be allowed to come and be given a world platform for his vile views. He's had his free speech through the auspices of Twitter - not allowing him to come is our right of reply and will have far greater effect than him being feted on a state visit.

Trump is a congenital narcissist for whom climbing down and admitting he is wrong is anathema. Not indulging his smug narcissism is the most effective countermeasure.


This Bosnian war criminal who took poison - perhaps all war criminals should be offered poison in exchange for...., well, a much shorter sentence...

I was doing an online UK citizenship test for a laugh yesterday and found two mistakes. One concerned the date of the end of WWI and 1919, which is the official date at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and thus the end of the war, was not even an option - 1918 was merely an armistice as a prelude to talks to officially end the war. The other question concerned the rights of UK citizens and residents; the accepted answer included the ability of UK residents to vote in a general election, which they are not entitled to do without certain caveats - EU citizens who are resident here, for example, can vote in local elections and European elections, but not in a general election. I wasn't even born here, yet I seem to know more about UK citizenship than those who wrote the test.


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Panto Season


The panto season is almost upon us, so I am reliably informed. Only ever been to one with my kids - it was in Southport in 1986 where Les Dennis and Dustin Gee were performing. Dustin Gee had a massive heart attack during the performance and died the next day. Never been since.


Talking of panto season - Trump is at it again. The point about Britain First and Trump's admonition of Mrs May is not that BF is specifically anti-Islamic terrorism, but that they're simply racist, with all that encompasses, and fascist. Trump's teeny mind doesn't understand that, or maybe it does...


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Road to Serfdom


I'm currently reading The Road to Serfdom, a book by the influential Austrian-British economist, Friedrich von Hayek, first published in 1944. It basically warns against the dangers of central planning by government and how it can lead tyranny.


He makes a valid point which has never occurred to me before - in times of war the competitive, capitalist economy is an encumbrance and government has to quickly impose a command economy, which to all intents and purposes is a pure collectivist one; it takes control of the means of production to direct it toward the production of war materiel, imposes price controls and implements strict rationing. The irony at the time of writing was that the British government had to turn itself into a facsimile of very government it was fighting. The danger comes once the crisis has passed and government is tempted to retain this unprecedented level of power.

He posits that socialism and fascism are but two faces of exactly the same collectivist religion, with each considering the other as heretical for having believed false prophets. They both have the same aim - it's only in the means by which they achieve those aims that they differ. Both lead to the citizens becoming serfs to the state.

While being an old style libertarian, he nonetheless promotes the belief that a certain amount of government regulation is necessary as a condition of liberty - an excerpt: 

"The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life, but it admits of others which sometimes may very considerably assist its work and even requires certain kinds of government action. 

"To prohibit the use of certain poisonous substances, or to require special precautions in their use, to limit working hours or to require certain sanitary arrangements, is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. The only question here is whether in the particular instance the advantages gained are greater than the social costs they impose. 

"Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories, be confined to the owner of the property in question, or to those willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. 

"Even the most essential prerequisite of the market's proper functioning, the prevention of fraud and deception (including exploitation of ignorance), provides a great and by no means fully accomplished object of legislative activity. 

"There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision."

Wise words - exactly the type of interference the EU performs and is berated for, and precisely the kind of interference the neo-liberals detest.

Another excerpt with a warning for this era:

"It's at times of national crisis when hard-won civil liberties are most likely to be all-too-easily given up. Even more troubling, politicians instinctively recognize the seductive power of war. Times of national emergency permit the invocation of a common cause and a common purpose. War enables leaders to ask for sacrifices. It presents an enemy against which all segments of society may unite. This is true of real war, but because of its ability to unify disparate groups, savvy politicians from all parties find it effective to invoke war metaphors in a host of contexts. The war on drugs, the war on poverty, and the war on terror are but three examples from recent times. What makes these examples even more worrisome than true wars is that none has a logical endpoint; each may be invoked forever. 

"The electorate needs to be wary of such martial invocations. For a war to be fought effectively, the power and size of the state must grow. No matter what rhetoric they employ, politicians and the bureaucracies over which they preside love power, and power is never easily surrendered once the danger, if there ever was one, has passed. Though eternal vigilance is sage advice, surely “wartime” or when politicians would try to convince us that it is such a time is when those who value the preservation of individual liberty must be most on guard. 

"In Germany it was largely people of good will, men who were admired and held up as models in the democratic countries, who prepared the way for, if they did not actually create, the forces which now stand for everything they detest. Yet our chance of averting a similar fate depends on our facing the danger and on our being prepared to revise even our most cherished hopes and ambitions if they should prove to be the source of the danger. There are few signs yet that we have the intellectual courage to admit to ourselves that we may have been wrong. Few are ready to recognize that the rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period, but a necessary outcome of those tendencies. This is a truth which most people were unwilling to see even when the similarities of many of the repellent features of the internal regimes in communist Russia and National Socialist Germany were widely recognized. As a result, many who think themselves infinitely superior to the aberrations of Nazism, and sincerely hate all its manifestations, work at the same time for ideals whose realization would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny."

Ring any alarm bells?

While I heartily recommend the book, there are places where you can read three consecutive pages three times, and still not have a clue what he's saying.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Breastfeeding in Public


The other night we were watching an Amazon Prime TV series called Ray Donovan. In one scene Jon Voight was sitting in a plane and a woman a few seats back on the other side of the aircraft was breastfeeding a baby. Voight's character looked round and stared at the woman, ending up leering at her and winking, upon which the woman doing the breastfeeding made efforts to be a bit more discreet.


To me this summed up the public breastfeeding debate. While, as far as I'm concerned, it should be OK for a woman to breastfeed in public, she must be prepared to deal with the pervs. If she's OK with someone staring at her, no problem. If she isn't, then she should be a bit more discrete. 

I have the same view about Islamic fashion wear. It doesn't bother me in the slightest, but it obviously bothers some (why, I don't know). So long as the wearer can put up with the prejudice, fine.

Prejudice won't disappear - it might decrease, but it's always there. The reasons for it are many and complex, but it's a fact of life.


Monday, 27 November 2017

Hesketh


When coming back from Accrington over the weekend we called in at Rufford Old Hall, a 16th century National Trust manor house on the A59 between Preston and Liverpool. Even though I lived a large part of my youth in the area, I'd never been there before.


Rufford Old Hall is a property once owned by the Hesketh family, one of four famous Lords of the Manor in the North West - the Heskeths, the Inces, the Blundels and the Fleetwoods, whose names feature in the name of towns, parks and pubs in the area.

The Heskeths were so well off they could afford to leave the Old Hall in the 1700s and build a New Hall just over the road. This all came to an end with the current Lord Hesketh, who lost it all and seems to have a knack of turning everything he touches to dust. Hesketh Racing (James Hunt raced in Hesketh colours), Hesketh Motorcycles, British Mediterranean Airways (although he must have made a few bob on the sale of the latter) - he joined the board of Babcock, only to resign due to some injudicious comments.

Given he had a minor role as a Conservative politician, he could always rely on the Establishment giving him a job somewhere, but boy as he been unlucky - he even lost his place in the House of Lords when it was reorganised in 1999. He dabbled with  Ukip, which just shows how poor his choices are. He's a bit of a joke and all his family now have is the name.

A few photos of the Old Hall: