Thursday, August 31, 2017

Nelson and Robert E Lee

Having written a post yesterday about the need for tolerance and respect for opposing views I have set myself the challenge to respond to the article from this year's "silly season" which I most disagree with and to do so in a polite and respectful way.

Over the pond they have been having fierce arguments about whether to tear down statues of people who fought for the Confederate States of America such as General Robert E Lee.

Not to be outdone, Afua Hirsch wrote in the Guardian that if Britain were not guilty of "inertia, arrogance and intellectual laziness" we would right past wrongs against black people by toppling Nelson's column.

She accused Nelson of having been a "defender of slavery" who "used his seat in the House of Lords and his position of huge influence to perpetuate the tyranny, serial rape and exploitation organised by West Indian planters, some of whom he counted among his closest friends."

While this depiction of the Hero of Trafalgar is rather oversimplified and should be taken with a bucketful of salt - for example, I don't think he made much use of his seat in the House of Lords to do anything since he spent the great majority of his adult life at sea - we can accept that Nelson wasn't awarded the statue because in his private life he was a candidate for sainthood.

During the generation after Nelson's death Britain took the most important first step possible by abolishing the slave trade - both the Atlantic slave trade and the North African slave trade.

The military force which largely stamped out these disgusting trades, which were crimes against the humanity whether the millions of victims were predominantly of African descent, as in the former case, or of all races including more than a million Europeans, in the latter case, was the British Royal Navy, including many commanders and men trained by Nelson.

It is important to put historical monuments in their proper context, and we should be careful about judging the people of former centuries by the standards of our own. This particularly applies when we are talking about issues or opinions which are at best peripheral to the main achievements for which an individual was remembered.

As Jerry White, professor of London history at Birkbeck College, told the Standard in response to Hirsch's article, “Almost any historical figure that we could think of, when tested, will come off looking like they had views that would be unacceptable to people living now."

The main thing for which confederate figures like Robert E Lee are remembered is for having fought for the rebel cause in the US Civil war, which they described as a war for Independence and "states rights" but was triggered because the states which formed the CSA suspected Abraham Lincoln of planning to abolish slavery.

Hence it is not entirely unjustified to accuse those who are remembered for having fought on the confederate side of having fought for slavery and it is not surprising that there is more than a little sensitivity to anything which appears to celebrate symbols of the Confederate cause.

Nelson, by contrast, spent thirty years at sea defending Britain against a wide variety of enemies, but he is most remembered for his battles against Emperor Napoleon, and he not only gave his life in that cause but was one of the pivotal figures in stopping that immensely talented but dangerous megalomaniac from remaking the world in his image.

Napoleon said "Let us be masters of the straits for six hours and we shall be masters of the world" and he was probably right: Nelson possibly did more than any other man to stop him from doing so.

If you are in Paris and want to get an idea of the sort of man Napoleon was, go to the Musee D'Orsai and look at the picture he commissioned Ingres to paint of him on his imperial throne:

The painting is powerful as an image on the screen but the impact of the real thing in it's full size is much stronger. I've stood in front of that painting and it scared me - by making me think about how close the man it depicts came to conquering the earth and what sort of world he would have created.

(Possibly not one in which Afua Hirsh would be publishing articles in The Guardian or anywhere else: Napoleon wasn't all that keen on women being allowed political opinions. He wasn't terribly big on other forms of minority rights either.)

Nelson not only helped stop Napoleon from conquering Britain and the world but he also helped build a tradition which later stopped Hitler's similar ambitions.

Unlike Robert E Lee, Admiral Nelson fought on the right side of history. By all means remember his flaws but let us continue to celebrate his achievements.

Quote of the day 31st August 2017

"After six decades of thought and political action there remains not a single successful example of a socialist society anywhere in history and anywhere in the world."

(Lord Danny Finkelstein, article in The Times which you can read here.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Midweek music spot: Arne's "Where the Bee Sucks, There Lurk I"

Puck's song from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" set to music by Thomas Arne and sung by Emma Kirkby. Three great artists with two centuries between each.

Where the bee sucks, there lurk I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back do I fly
After sunset merrily.

Merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Living up to the principle of open-mindedness

When it comes to open-minded, evidence-based and tolerant debate, many of us are far better at calling for it than at living up to what we preach.

It is slightly unfair to call out Chris Deerin on this point because he is far from the worst offender, but his article in yesterday's Scottish Herald,

"The world is drowning in a wave of ignorance and self-interest."

particularly struck me as exemplifying those who call for tolerance and yet in the next breath or sentence speak or write of those who disagree with them in language which makes you think that there is an unconscious coda, "except for those morons who disagree with me."

It is a classic example moving beyond criticising ideas to criticising the people who hold them.

The other reason I'm choosing Chris Deerin to call out is that I agree with everything in his article except the sweeping insults towards everyone who takes an opposite view of the issues. In particular I agree with his call for being open and tolerant, but unfortunately this sits most uneasily in his article with the language he uses about those who disagree with him.

As I do not hold any of the collection of views he particularly criticises people for holdingm I can be confident that there is no hint of "How dare you talk about me like that?" in my reaction to the way he spoils an article which otherwise has a lot of merit with his abuse of those who do.

After a lot of agonising I voted "Remain" and if transported back to June 2016 knowing everything I know now I would do so again, but that doesn't mean I regard everyone who takes a different view as an idiot.

I think Donald Trump is proving to be an unsuccessful President, (although I don't think Hillary Clinton would have been a great one either.)

I believe that the strong balance of evidence is that human activity is having a more than trivial impact on the environment, more than enough evidence that on the precautionary principle we should seek to limit carbon emissions and otherwise reduce the negative footprint of human activities.

But our models of the Earth's fantastically complex systems are inevitably imperfect and it is really important that we allow a genuine debate about what is happening to the environment. Such a debate  is completely incompatible with labelling anyone who deviates from any aspect of the current scientific consensus as a "climate change denier" whose views should be ignored.

The range of positions on climate change is not a binary subdivision between wise people who wholly accept one monolithic consensus which blames all climate change on human activity and on the other hand,

"aristocrats of error, the barons of bull, gammon-faced ragers against reason"


"assert to this day that climate change is a fiction dreamt up by the elites to ensure ongoing subjugation of the common man."

There is a continuous spectrum from those who take the most pessimistic and cautious view of what we are doing to the planet to those who think that all man-made climate change is a myth.

Although I completely agree that the strong balance of evidence suggests that humans are indeed having an impact on climate, I cannot see any safe or rational way to identify some precise point along the spectrum and say that anyone beyond that point is a climate change denier and a dangerous nutcase who is not entitled to host shows on Radio 4 or have their opinions taken seriously.

Any such attempt is bound to include some people on the "legitimate" side of the line who are pushing mistaken views and exclude some people as bad guys who are actually making legitimate points - as happened to the Danish "sceptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg who was wrongly labelled a "climate change denier," which he isn't, for challenging what he regarded as misreported or alarmist claims and suggesting, for example, that a focus on warming may sometimes be "the wrong reason to fight climate change."

(To avoid any charge of misrepresenting Chris Deerin, he applies his fullest invective, including the insulting phrase quoted above - and lots more - not to all disbelievers in man-made climate change but particularly to those who combine this position with supporting Brexit and approving of the Trump presidency.)

The true test of our willingness to listen to evidence and to be open-minded is our willingness to be respectful - and even to listen if there is the merest scintilla of a possibility that there might be something of merit buried in what they have to say - to those we are convinced are dangerously wrong.

Quote of the day 30th August 2017

"This is what it’s like to live in a world run by those who have had enough of experts. Science and deep study have their flaws, and produce plenty of mistakes, but the process is ultimately self-correcting due to relentless inquisition and the discipline of open minds. The alternative, a society motored by ignorance, ideology and self-interest, is a dark prospect indeed."

(Chris Deerin, from an article criticising the Trump administration's hostility to the evidence on Climate Change in the Scottish Herald, here.)

Monday, August 28, 2017

A rare example of a stereotype coming true

Alexandre Dumas is one of many people to whom the saying has been attributed

One frequent generalisation which I have to deal with when speaking to friends from south of Watford Gap is jokes about living in the "Frozen North."

Actually thanks to the Gulf Stream West Cumbria is often warmer than parts "dahn sarf."

Yesterday was an exception when the stereotype was actually true for once ..

Bank Holiday music spot: Bach's Harpsichord Concerto BWV1052

Quote of the day 28th August 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday music spot: "For Behold, Darkness shall cover the earth"

Recitative and Air From Handel's Messiah:

"For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth,
And gross darkness the people,
But the Lord shall arise apon thee,
And his Glory shall be seen apon thee.
And the gentiles shall come to Thy Light,
And Kings to the brightness of Thy rising."

"The people that walkedst in Darkness have seen a great light,
And they that dwell in the land of the shadow of Death,
Apon them hath the light shined."

Quote of the day 27th August 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A bad two days for accidents in Copeland

Not a good two days for accidents in Copeland.

A stretch of the A595 was closed yesterday following a tragic accident on the A595 near the High House Hill junction near Bigrigg and Moor Row - one of the very sections on which we have been expressing concern about road safety and the need to improve it.

And this afternoon roads in part of Whitehaven were closed by police which I understand was due to another nasty accident.

Thoughts are with the people hurt and with their families.

Saturday music spot: "But who may abide" & "And He shall purify"

From Handel's Messiah.


( Solo)
"But who shall abide the day of his coming?
For he is like a refinder's fire."

"And he shall purify the sons of Levi,
That they may offer unto the Lord and offering in righteousness."

Quote of the day 26th August 2017

"There are stretches of the 1980's where it's difficult to find a photograph of Jeremy Corbyn that doesn't have a terrorist in it.

You find a nice one of him on his own, then you look at the photo credit and you're like,

'Oh, right, the terrorist took the photo.'"

(Comedian Ahir Shah, from his Edinburgh Fringe show, from a review of the best political jokes at the 2017 Fringe in the Sunday Times by Stephen Armstrong)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Robert Colville on Britain's productivity problem

The biggest threat to prosperity, quality of life and good public services in Britain for the last ten years has not been Brexit, or the EU, nor international markest or any other external factor.

It is our anaemic growth in productivity.

Economists have been worrying about productivity in Britain for a long time, but although it has not risen as fast as we would like and sometimes lagged behind our competitors, it nevertheless grew steadily from the 1950's through the decades, through the Thatcher, Major and Blair, years, but dropped sharply following the 2008 crash, and has only gradually recovered since then. This graph from the Office of National Statistics shows the problem:

Earlier in my lifetime "The British Disease" was seen as strikes and industrial unrest: now the British disease is low growth in productivity.

Depending on which measure you look at, productivity did eventually surpass the level before the crash, but it took too long to recover to that point and has been growing only slowly and in fits and starts. During the last quarter of 2016 Britain had the highest productivity recorded to date but it fell back again in the first quarter of this year, because of a drop in the service industry (manufacturing productivity grew slightly over the same period.)

As the ONS said when it released the latest figures
  • UK labour productivity, as measured by output per hour, is estimated to have fallen by 0.5% from Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2016 to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2017; over a longer time-period, labour productivity growth has been lower on average than prior to the economic downturn.
  • Labour productivity fell in services but rose in the manufacturing industries; services productivity fell by 0.6% on the previous quarter, while manufacturing productivity grew by 0.2% on the previous quarter.

This is NOT an issue which lends itself to party political analysis by any party or to simplistic explanations which try to blame everything on the EU or on Brexit.

Britain's growth was lower than it needed to be before we joined what was then called the EEC but was higher than it has been since 2008.

Britain's growth was periodically an issue during most of our membership of the EU, but during the 80's 90's and the first few years of this century was significantly higher than it has been since 2008.

It has been an issue while ministers from all the main parties have been in office. The worst ever drop was on Labour's watch but no party ought to be happy with the record on this issue while they were in power.

There is a good piece by Robert Colville on CAPX here which addresses the issue.


Colville links to a blog article by Sandra Batten and Dena Jacobs. two Bank of England economists, about foreign investment, which you can read at

and which is called "Foreign owned firms and productivity."

I suspect this article may be more than a little controversial because it would be easy to oversimplify it's message and present it as an attack on British management. The article certainly makes a powerful case that British owned firms operating in Britain do not invest enough in R&D or generally.

As I've said in the comments below, it would be interesting to see a comparison between the relative efficiency and productivity of British owned versus domestically owned ones in foreign markets where UK companies operate. I strongly suspect that the points identified by Batten and Jacobs may not be so much indicative of a problem with all British companies as that the more innovative businesses which spend more on R&D and investment and are well managed are more likely to also be outward-looking and grow to operate on a global scale.

We certainly need to make sure government policies reward investment - which one of a number of reasons why adopting Labour's policy of higher corporation tax would be utterly stupid - and provide incentives and opportunity for more and better training for both young people and the work force as a whole.

Batten and Jacobs conclude:

"We find that foreign-owned firms are more productive than domestically-owned ones and there are several channels through which their presence can boost aggregate productivity. It is true that large productive foreign-owned firms are able to expand and invest in overseas branches located in the UK and this boosts UK productivity by simply raising the average. But this is only one part of the story. Foreign-owned firms also make a significant contribution to UK R&D spending and promote the diffusion of ideas through their collaborative activities. Continued foreign investment and the presence of foreign-owned firms will therefore be important for the UK’s productivity outcomes."

I agree that encouraging international trade and investment does far more good than harm, most particularly if efforts are made to ensure than the benefits are more widely and evenly spread, and the sort of economic nationalism sometimes observed on both left and right which resists such trade and investment can do a huge amount of harm to a country and to the living standards of ordinary people.

Quote of the day 24th August 2017

Robert E Lee has been in the news this month for a lot of wrong reasons. He may have been on the wrong side in the US Civil War but his observation about the cost of war is thought provoking ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The "Silly season" remains in full swing ...

American communications company ESPN have removed one of their staff from commenting on a college American Football game in Virginia and moved him to commenting on a game in Pittsburgh instead.

This was because his name is Robert Lee - the same name as the Confederate General about whose statue there were riots in Charlottesville earlier this month.

Meanwhile people are sharing an image on social media in which an African-American gentleman is holding a confederate flag while a white gentleman is holding a "Black Lives Matter" poster.

What a world we live in ...

Quote of the day 23rd August 2017

"The success of Northern Transport depends on the North itself."

"It is central government's responsibility to provide funding and a delivery structure which ensures efficiency, value for money and accountability."

"But beyond this, I want the North to take control."

(Transport Secretary Chris Grayling writing in the Yorkshire Post.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Water campaign makes progress.

The campaign by Trudy Harrison MP and local residents to keep softer water for Copeland has made significant progress with a change in policy by the water supply company.

United Utilities had recently begun to mix water from Ennerdale  the traditional source of supply for West Cumbria and which provides "soft" water, with water from boreholes near Egremont which is rather "harder."

Many local residents had noticed a change in the taste and characteristics of the water supply, and thousands joined the campaign by Trudy Harrison MP or contacted United Utilities themselves.

Following a meeting with Copeland MP Trudy Harrison and Copeland mayor Mike Starkie, United Utilities have agreed to reverse this policy, It remains the long-term intention to replace supply from Ennerdale Water with water piped through from Thirlmere when a pipe is completed in 2022. (This should not be a problem, as Thirlmere, like Ennerdale Water, provides "soft" water.)

But during the intervening years UU have agreed not to top up water from Ennerdale with water from boreholes except in conditions of drought, which is a relatively rare occurrence in Cumbria (lately we tend to have the opposite problem,)

Campaigners described the change as "a step in the right direction" though they also made the valid point that we will need to monitor how the new arrangement works in practice.

More details from the News and Star website here.

Quote of the day 22nd August 2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Ex- Hurricange Gert doesn't seem to have been as bad as was feared ..

After being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, Gert has been something of a damp squib, which I dare say most people will be grateful for.

There has been some rain in Northern parts and will be more over the next 36 hours or so but basically what was one a ferocious storm has arrived in Britain as not much more than a slow moving area of low pressure.

Monday music spot: Simon And Garfunkel, "The Sound Of Silence"

Quote of the day 21st August 2017

As Cumbria is expected to get some filthy weather today from Storm Gert, I thought this quote was appropriate ...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday music spot: Haydn- Insanae Et Vanae Curae

After a day of techno-hell trying to sort out various problems with my computers and electronic devices I need some "hard stuff" to get me to relax, and as I don't drink alcohol the nearest equivalent of a strong dose of whisky was a piece of powerful music such as Haydn's musical masterpiece.

As I have previously posted, the lyrics can be roughly translated into English as follows:

"A crazed and hopeless passion invades our minds,
Again and again madness fills our hearts and robs us of hope."

"How can it profit you, O mortal, to seek for earthly riches but take no thought of Heaven?"

"Yet if God is for you, all things are possible for you."

This magnificent recording is by the choir of St John's Cambridge.

Bad weather warning - Storm Gert expected to hit Cumbria tomorrow

The tail end of tropical storm Gert is expected to hit the UK tomorrow (Monday 21st August) and there was at one point some concern among the relevant authorities that it might cause problems such as flooding.

Teams of officers from various authorities have been discussing how serious a problem this is likely to be, and making sure appropriate measures are in place to deal with any issues.

The current expectation is that

1) Prolonged rainfall is expected across Cumbria from 2pm to 9pm on Monday with some localised intensity.
 2) High ground figures of expected levels of rainfall are circa 50mm on Monday afternoon and 40mm at lower levels. (This is a rather less than was expected last week)
3) This may trigger several Flood Alerts and worst case scenario (Environment Agency modelling) 1 Flood Warning for the lower Eden. We’ll know more on this by Monday morning.
4)  The Environment Agency are engaging with communities in higher risk areas such as Glenridding and the Kendal area.
The EA are using social media (tweets) to reassure the public. CCC will re-tweet their messages in order to ensure consistency
Summary - expect an afternoon of filthy weather tomorrow if you are in Cumbria or the North of England but it looks less likely than it did earlier that there will be serious flooding. Emergency services and other relevant authorities have been asked by the Environment Agency to remain on standby in case that situation changes.

Quote of the day 20th August 2017

"I think we should just ignore Doctor Mengele over there."

(Response by one colleague when Lord Danny Finkelstein, who is Jewish, suggested in a discussion on education policy that "the natural ability of pupils might differ" as described in an article in The Times this week by Lord Finkelstein.

For the avoidance of doubt I am quoting this not with approval but as an illustration of the degree of venom some people are willing to use to try to shut down the expression of a viewpoint they disagree with.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sir Bruce Forsythe RIP

Bruce Forsythe, who has died at the age of 89, was a great entertainer with a remarkable stamina, a great sense of fun and who was capable of enormous empathy.

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace

Back from holiday

I have just returned from a short family holiday on the Norfolk Broads.

Working through the long list of post and emails items sent while I was away. Will try to get back to people as soon as possible.

Music Spot :The Barron Knights parody top of the pops and MASH

To finish off what has become and informal "Barron Knights" week ...

In the 1980's spoof below the Barron knights first sang a parody of "Top of the Pops" and then for the "Number One" spoofed the theme tune of the contemporary comedy "MASH," which was about a US Army field hospital in Vietnam, as the "Masochistic and Sadistic Hospital Song" about the NHS.

There are a certain number of contemporary "in jokes" in this clip which cannot be explained without ruining them but most alert people should get most of the jokes.

For the avoidance of doubt I have posted this because it is funny and no endorsement or statement of any political view whatsoever is intended by doing so.

Quote of the day 19th August 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday music spot: Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band sing "Love Divine"

Maddy Prior, who sings with Steeleye Span, is here with her other group, the Carnival Band, singing the familiar hymn "Love Divine" to an older tune. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me this music was written by Henry Purcell as "Fairest Isle."

Quote of the day 13th August 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Climate change and free speech

Lord Lawson and Brian Cox are both highly intelligent men.

The former ought to know better than to dismiss the evidence for the impact of human activity on the climate as lightly as he does.

The latter ought to know better than to attack the BBC for allowing Nigel Lawson to express that view on Radio 4. in the manner that he did

You do not win arguments by claiming that the other side does not have one and should not have the right to a platform, no matter how strongly you believe - possibly correctly - that the evidence is overwhelmingly on your side.

Quote of the day 11th August 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

More doctors and nurses to be trained

About time too!

This ought to have been done fifteen years ago but it is very welcome that it is finally happening.

Don't lose your vote

If you want to be able to vote in any elections , scheduled or otherwise, over the period of the next electoral register, don't forget to register to vote.

Copeland Borough Council sent out the registration form this week and other local authorities will be doing the same about now.

I certainly never imagined when I registered this time last year that there would be two parliamentary elections - a by-election and a general election - to vote for in the period covered by that registration.

Quote of the day 10th August 2017

I think Google could think about this one too ...

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tuesday music spot: Handel's Chandos Anthem No.9

The movements of this mini-oratorio are

1. O praise the Lord with one consent
2. Praise him, all ye that in his house attend
3. For this our truest interest is
4. That God is great
5. With cheerful notes let all the earth
6. God´s tender mercy knows no bounds
7. Ye boundless realms of joy
8. Your voices raise, ye cherubim

Most people will find the recurring theme of the first movement rather more than slightly reminiscent of the first line of "O God our help in Ages past" ...

Still fighting the last battle ...

It's evidently a slow news day. Some pro-remain papers had a retrospective go at the Leave campaign this morning over their exaggerated claim during the referendum last year that the UK sends £350 million a week to the EU.

Not to be outdone, the BBC fact checkers had a go at both sides, saying,

"EU Cost: why £350 million and £156 million per week are both wrong."

The BBC is right to say that we do not "send to Brussels" either of these figures in the sense that the former is the approximate value of a purely notional gross contribution, and Maggie Thatcher's rebate is deducted before anything is paid.

£156 million a weeks was the net contribution - Britain actually sent £252 million a week to the EU in 2016 but received back £96 million of EU spending in the UK.

The net contribution is a far more representative measure of the net cost to the UK of payments to the EU than a notional gross contribution millions of pounds of which was never actually paid, but if you are going to nit-pick over the exact words used the amount we "sent to Brussels" was the actual gross contribution e.g. £252 million a week.

But come on guys, the referendum was more than a year ago.

And since then we have had a general election in which the two main parties standing on a platform of implementing Brexit increased their share of the vote and got well over 80% of votes and seats between them, while the anti-Brexit parties (the Lib/Dems and SNP) both did very badly.

Isn't it high time for both sides to stop fighting the last battle and concentrate on making the best of the present situation?

Whether we like it or not Brexit is going to happen.

I don't, but as a democrat I respect the decision of the electorate.

Let's try to get the best and fairest deal for everyone on both sides that we can.

Diversity, sexism, and the need for open discussion

Many issues are too complex to have a perfect solution, but there is almost no case where you get towards a better one if you penalise people for expressing a view about them which you think is wrong.

Even if that view really is wrong, the resentment you create if you make martyrs of those who express it - and the risk to honest debate if people keep their heads down on consequence - does more harm than good.

It appears to be just as well for one of the regular posters on the comments threads of this blog that he works for Sellafield rather than Google, since one employee writing a memo expressing what were labelled as "anti-diversity" views at the latter organisation on issues like the gender pay gap appeared to have caused quite a furore at Google.

Personally I do think that racial and gender inequality exist, as does the gender pay gap (though it is also estimated in Britain that it is as low as it has ever been and is reducing) and that we ought to find positive and constructive ways of reducing them. Nor do I agree with every word in the controversial memo, far from it.

However I take the author at his word when he wrote

"I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group "

In a healthy organisation or society people who in a polite and constructive way express even highly controversial views should absolutely not be penalised for it.

Quote of the day 8th August 2017

"If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem."

(James Damore, extract from the controversial memo which caused a stir at Google)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Useful Idiots

Both communism and fascism have destroyed the lives of millions of people and turned entire countries into giant prison camps.

In a free society we are entitled to hold, and express within the law, any opinions we wish, but anyone who uses the liberty of a free society to express support for authoritarian tyrannies whether of right or left casts doubt on their judgement.

The vast majority of people would have no truck with fascism or nazism and would regard support for either as putting the person who expresses such support outside the pale. Yet a surprisingly large proportion of those who - rightly - condemn fascist or Nazi regimes and their sympathisers do not express the same condemnation of Marxism or communism.

This is astonishing given that avowedly communist or Marxist regimes have been responsible for crimes which have destroyed even more millions of innocent lives than Nazi and fascist regimes.

Lenin is reported to have described those in the West who supported the propaganda of his regime as "useful idiots" and there have been a long history of people who have allowed themselves to be duped by far-left regimes, governments which claimed to follow idealistic policies but which left a string of ruined countries, shattered lives and murdered opponents.

Oliver Kamm on CAPEX has an excellent article at

which chronicles the story of some of these "useful idiots" and notes that Jeremy Corbyn's support for the disastrous regime in Venezuela is the latest in a long line of people who have given uncritical support to dire hard-left governments our of a wish to believe that hard-left policies can succeed.

The corruption and incompetence of previous governments in Venezuela had previously been very damaging but the history of the Chavez and Madura regimes demonstrates that hard-left policies were no solution and that in the medium and longer term only made matters much worse. Chavez is still popular with some people in Venezuela because he managed to die before most of his chickens came home to roost. Maduro is continuing the same economic policies which have manifestly failed while effectively trying to abolish democracy to cling to power.

History will not be kind to either. Nor will the wise be impressed by those who held up Venezuelan socialism as a model for Britain to follow.

Sunday music spot: William Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" sung by The Sixteen

Quote of the day 6th August 2017

"Success is like an Iceberg" (Wright Thurston)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday music spot: "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (Johnny Cash)

From Johnny Cash's album "Silver."

The painting is called "The wild hunt: Åsgårdsreien" by Peter Nicolai Arbo. This song was written by Stan Jones on 5 May 1948. It was originally recorded by Burl Ives on 17 February 1949.

Quote of the day 4th August 2017

One thing Nehru and Churchill agreed about (WSC, of course, is responsible for a very similar quote.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Music spot: Steeleye Span "Somewhere Along The Road"

Ken Haywood RIP

I have just learned that my former friend and colleague Honorary Alderman Ken Haywood has died at the age of 91.

Most readers of this blog in Cumbria and the North West will not have heard of Ken but if I have any readers in St Albans or indeed in Hertfordshire they will almost certainly remember him.

During his twenty years as a member of the Council of the City and District of St Albans Ken was Mayor of St Albans in 1982/3 and again in 1988/9, and he was leader of the council in 1990-1

He was my immediate predecessor as leader of the Conservative group on the council and also served a term on Hertfordshire county council - he was in fact my county councillor from 1989 to 1993.

Ken was a dedicated public servant with an eye for getting to the heart of the matter and he had a number of favourite expressions for concentrating on the big items and not getting so hung up on minor details that you forget the more important ones.

"Fish where the fish are" was one of those expressions, and another, referring to what takes up most of the costs of local government, was "costs walk in on two legs."

You probably would not get away with that latter comment today but back in the eighties and nineties someone like Ken could say it without meaning or causing offence. 

Ken Haywood worked hard for his constituents, was a loyal friend, had a good sense of humour and was a sympathetic and patient listener, and I will miss him.

He is survived by a widow, June, and a son and daughter-in-law, David and Cathy.

Usual Obituary rules apply to this post.

Rest in Peace.

A Canadian perspective on their form of constitutional monarchy

I stumbled by chance on a fascinating piece in a Canadian paper which you can read  here describing the form of constitutional monarchy in those Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia where the Queen is their head of state as a "fluke work of genius."

I don't think you could ever plan for such a model - hence the valid reference to a fluke - but it makes a most interesting point.

Quote of the day 3rd August 2017

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Midweek music spot: Dixit Dominus (first chorus) by Handel

A thank you to HRH Prince Philip

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, carried out his final public duties today in a career of public service which has lasted by my count for nearly seventy eight years - since he joined the Royal Navy early in World War II.

His naval career was impressive and it is not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that if he had not married the Queen he might still have become an Admiral of the Fleet by working his way up to the job as his grandfather and uncle did.

After his marriage to the Queen, he has spent sixty years, well into his nineties, carrying out a punishing schedule of royal engagements.

We owe him our thanks for all his work on the nation's behalf, for his untiring support to his wife, and our good wishes for a happy retirement.

The silly season - or not

My first reaction to the Times front page with the headline

"Labour MPs urge Corbyn to condemn Venezuela"

was to laugh uproariously and think "The silly season is off to a good start."

My second thoughts was that actually the situation in Venezuela is too sad to be funny. More than a hundred and twenty people have died in riots over the past four months as the economy becomes a basket case.

What should be one of the richest countries in Latin America is spiralling down into collapse.

CNN reports, "Venezuela is running out of food. Hospitals are overcrowded with sick children while doctors don't have enough medicine or X-ray machines. Electricity isn't guaranteed. About the only thing Venezuela has in abundance is chaos."

As that well known right-wing newspaper The Guardian (irony warning) commented after a disputed election for a constituent assembly,

'The European Union has condemned “the excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces” and said it had serious doubts whether the election could be recognised. On Wednesday, one of the companies who worked on the voting system for Venezuela’s constituent assembly election said it believed results were inflated by at least 1m votes.'

Since the vote, Maduro’s government has continued to arrest representatives of the country’s beaten-down opposition.

It would be oversimplistic to blame everything which has gone wrong in Venezuela on Hugo Chavez or socialism, and this more nuanced account argues for a broader view but it is beyond dispute that the present socialist government which Jeremy Corbyn praised to the skies has catastrophically failed to resolve the country's problems and is resorting to increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial measures to try to hold on to power.

Even many of those socialists who used to praise the Chavez and Maduro regimes have, like  Asa Cusack in a mea cupla in the Guardian, changed their minds.

Of course, the left are on a hiding to nothing. If they condemn the Maduro regime, we will be reminded that they used to support policies - and advocate them here in Britain - which have contributed to complete catastrophe in Venezuela. If they don't, their silence about the dictatorial and brutal methods used by the Maduro regime will be all the more deafening.

Quote of the day 2nd August 2017