Saturday, January 31, 2015

Calling jihadis "wankers" is not original, Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has received a lot of coverage for his suggestion that:
"If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers. Severe onanists.”
Yet the idea seems strangely familiar. And a little googling tells me where I first came across it.

In February 2006 Ian Buruma began a Guardian article as follows:
Does masturbation lead to suicide bombing? One would think not. There is no more direct link to suicide bombing than there is to blindness or schizophrenia. But there may be a connection between sexual inadequacy or frustration and the pull towards violent extremism.
Like anything by Buruma, it is worth reading.

Radio 4: David Boyle on the decline of the middle classes

Liberal Democrat blogger (and much else) David Boyle has a programme on Radio 4 on Monday evening at 8pm:
Clinging On: The Decline of the Middle Classes 
Is the middle class in terminal decline? Writer David Boyle, author of Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes?, explores the split between a small rich elite and those who are argued to be clinging on to a deteriorating lifestyle and falling expectations. The salaries of financial service workers based in London are soaring away from those in more traditional professions. At the same time, house prices are rising and so-called 'cling-ons' are being forced out to the peripheries of London and beyond. Many of those who might have aspired to private education for their children find the fees are beyond them. 
But does it matter? According to the eminent American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, it definitely does – democracy is dependent on a healthy middle class and without it there is a real threat of instability, with demonstrators taking to the streets even in Britain and America. 
David Boyle also talks to the distinguished Oxford sociologist John Goldthorpe, who worries that there is no room at the top for today's aspiring young. Tatler's deputy editor Gavanndra Hodge explains why even they decided to print a guide to state schools. And the programme visits Liverpool College, the great Victorian public school, which decided to cross the great divide and become an academy within the state system. 
Middle class professionals describe problems buying a house on two doctors' salaries, finding a job as a solicitor and raising the money to pay school fees, and even how an architect's life can be a tough one. 
Are the professions themselves under threat from technology that undermines traditional ways of working? One GP worries that the discretion he once enjoyed is being destroyed by the computer.

David Cameron has given the Lib Dems their election slogan

Yesterday I suggested our general election slogan would be:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
But this effort from David Cameron may be even stronger.

Thanks, Dave.

Thanks to lots of Lib Dems on Twitter.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."

In the course of an upbeat assessment of the Liberal Democrats' chances in the coming general election, Andrew Grice reveals what must surely be our campaign slogan:
"Labour will screw the economy, the Tories will screw you."
Grice attributes it to an "influential Liberal Democrat".

I have asked Lord Bonkers, but he assures me it did not come from him.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rutland earthquake latest

Thanks to Tired Old Git on Twitter.

Ashby Castle

Ashby Castle in Leicestershire is well worth a visit.

Bring a torch, because it has a secret passage you can explore.

Six of the Best 490

"Russia is a declared hostile power that intends to weaken or destroy both the EU and NATO. Once this critical fact is understood, it becomes very clear that the West must answer the threat from this barbarian state or risk following Rome into a dark ages of similar criminality and violence." Strong stuff from Cicero's Songs, but I fear there is a lot in what he says.

Mark Valladares charts the rise and fall of Liberal Democrat blogging.

"I genuinely thought no one outside the Conservative party would have the nerve still to be using that line." Alex Marsh is not impressed by Nick Clegg's resuscitation of a Greek myth.

Joshua Rothman asks why academic writing is academic.

Diana J. Hale pays a New Year's Day visit to Ely.

"Perhaps the humble county of Leicestershire has (or certainly had until very recently!) more examples of the game of skittles as played at pubs and clubs than any other county in Britain." Shove it, Chuck it, Toss it... on another of our claims to fame.

£45m to improve the Midland main line at Market Harborough

The track through Market Harborough is to be straightened and the platforms at its station lengthened, the Leicester Mercury reports today.

The £45m scheme will partly be paid for from £20m recently made available by the government from projects in Leicestershire.

Beyond that, says the Mercury, it :
will be jointly funded by the county council, Network Rail, and also local enterprise partnerships in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Sheffield who will benefit from shorter journey times.
The role of local enterprise partnerships in infrastructure spending is a reminder of how long central government has preferred "businessmen" to elected councillors.

Announcing a project, of course, is not the same as starting work on it. Crossrail was announced at every Conservative conference while John Major was leader, but there was no sign of it being built.

So we shall have to see when the work at Harborough starts and also how radical the realignment will be.

There is also the question of the promised access improvements for platform 2. I suspect they will now have to wait for this work to be done.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

English football has learnt nothing in 62 years

In 1953 the great Hungarian team outclassed England in winning 6-3 at Wembley.

Note Kenneth Wolstenholme's reaction to this piece of skill from Puskás:
"My goodness, if he can turn on tricks like this we ought to have him on the music hall."
Fast forward 62 years and here is Phil Neville reacting to a piece of skill from Tomas Rosicky:
“If that was a training session and somebody did that I’d be first over there and I’d probably look to two-foot him or take him out of the game. 
“If somebody did that in training to me, winding me up, I would be straight in there. I’d smash them.”
The idea that there is something funny, unmanly or unsporting about displaying skills at football lives on. Its persistence must surely be one reason that the England teams so often disappoints in major tournaments.

Billy Brooke proves the Lib Dems can confound the pollsters

Exciting news from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home: Annette Brooke's cat Billy has been voted Purr Minister 2015.

Annette told the Bournemouth Echo:
“I’m really thrilled that Billy has won, as I’m sure he will be, and he will be getting lots of extra treats. 
“It has been a pleasure to be involved in this opportunity to promote rescue centres such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, who do such good work. 
“We acquired Billy from a rescue centre in Dorset last July, and were so impressed with them. 
“My family stay in touch, letting them know how Billy is getting on, and I would really encourage anyone looking for a new pet to re-home from a rescue.”
What impresses me about Billy is that he cooperated in the taking of this winsome photograph, which must surely have played a part in his victory.

Faced with a camera, any other cat would have affected an expression of extreme indifference. I have still not forgiven Albany.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Battle for Berwick

Photo of Berwick-upon-Tweed © Richard West

The Journal has an amusing piece on the campaign in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency, where Sir Alan Beith is standing down after more than 41 years as an MP:
When it was announced in December that the A1 in Northumberland was to be upgraded, Prime Minister David Cameron made a rare trip to Northumberland to personally take a stroll by the side of the road. With him in the picture was Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a long-time campaigner for dualling of the A1 who just happens to be the Conservatives’ candidate for Berwick in the election. 
With him too was Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick for more than four decades and another long-term campaigner for A1 improvements. And with Sir Alan was Julie Porksen, the daughter of a Northumberland farmer who just happens to be the Lib Dems’ candidate for Berwick in the election.
And they were not the only politicians to visit Berwick that week.

How the blues conquered Birmingham

The way that the blues entranced white youth in Britain, but not in America, is one of music's puzzles.

I wrote about it - or rather quoted Joe Boyd else about it - in a post in 2008:
Boyd describes a concert at the Hammersmith Odeon:
This was middle America's worst nightmare: white teenage girls screaming ecstatically at Chuck Berry.
 Boyd noticed a familiar figure looking on:
 I blurted out "That's John Lee Hooker." The girls around me started yelling, "John Lee? John Lee? Where? Where?" I pointed towards the wings. They started chanting, "We want John Lee, we want John Lee" and were quickly joined by half the hall - hundreds of kids. 
Boyd goes on: 
In that moment, I decided I would live in England and produce music for this audience. America seemed a desert in comparison. These weren't the privileged elite, they were just kids, Animals fans. And they knew who John Lee Hooker was! 
No white person in America in 1964 - with the exception of me and my friends, of course - knew who John Lee Hooker was.
A recent profile of Robert Plant gives another example of the extent to which the blues influenced some young Britons and also provides a pleasing vignette of Birmingham's musical history:
"My preoccupation as a very young early teenager was a music form that I might have missed. ... If I had missed it, I would never have sung," he says. "If I hadn't heard the Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Richard music, I wouldn't have been drawn to music. Most of the music we (in England) were surrounded by was slush, without any commitment. ... I was born again and saved and reincarnated by American music." 
Dave Pegg, long-time bassist for British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, well remembers Plant's youthful musical passion. Monday mornings often found Pegg, Plant and other teens — including future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and future Traffic members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi — waiting for Birmingham record shop The Diskery to open so they could buy the latest records. 
"Robert and Jim Capaldi were kind of walking histories about blues and obscure soul albums," says Pegg.

Teacher with dyed purple hair expels pupil over his dyed red hair

Metro walks away with our prestigious Headline of the Day Award.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cleaners From Venus: Illya Kuryakin Looked at me

A wonderful homage to the Sixties as they were or should have been. Rita Tushingham. Harold Wilson. David Hemmings. David Bailey. The Avengers. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Cleaners from Venus are chiefly a vehicle for Martin Newell, "the wild man of Wivenhoe". It's discography is obscure, but as far as I can make out this track was released as a single in 1987 and can be found on the 2003 album Going to England.

Newell has moved in exalted circles. He has been produced by Andy Partridge from XTC and the guitarist here is Captain Sensible.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Churchill's funeral train leaves Waterloo

Winston Churchill died 50 years ago today. His funeral is one of my earliest memories: I thought that there was a funeral on television every time someone died.

This video shows his funeral train leaving London Waterloo en route for Hanborough in Oxfordshire. That is the station for Blenheim Palace and for the village of Bladon where he was to be buried.

The natural station from which to leave London for Bladon is Paddington. This apparent anomaly has given rise to the pleasing story that Churchill, who played an enthusiastic part in the arrangements for his own funeral, chose a different route so that Charles De Gaulle would be obliged to visit Waterloo.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceBeachcombing's Bizarre History Blog has looked at the evidence and judged that it is not true.

But when the legend becomes fact...

Market Harborough brickwork

I like these buildings in a yard off St Mary's Road, though I think I liked them better before the walls were painted.

Was this a practical solution to provide better clearance for traffic below, or was it a little piece of fantasy on the part of the builder?

When Vince Cable showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime

In the autumn of 2009, while Nick Clegg was taking paternity leave, there was a state visit to Britain by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The acting Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable,* showed the right attitude to the Saudi regime. As BBC News reported it at the time:
Liberal Democrat acting leader Vince Cable is boycotting the state visit to Britain of Saudi King Abdullah. 
Mr Cable says he will not attend any of the planned ceremonial events - as would be normal for the leader of one of the main opposition parties. 
Mr Cable told the BBC's Today programme that by any assessment of Saudi Arabia, "the human rights record is appalling". 
He also cited the regime's arms deal with the British firm BAE and the row over alleged corruption surrounding it. 
Mr Cable added: "I think it's quite wrong that as a country we should give the leader of Saudi Arabia this honour."
If you read the post I wrote at the time, you will find that Vince's stance was criticised by both Tory (Liam Fox)** and Labour (Kin Howells).***

Today we have Union Jacks**** flying at half mast in memory of King Abdullah and a Lib Dem deputy prime minister who remains silent.

True, Nick Clegg condemned the flogging sentence passed on the blogger Raif Badawi, but only after he had claimed to know nothing about the case.

I wonder how his silence this week strikes people who voted for us in 2010 because they admired the Lib Dems' strong stance on human rights?


* Presumably it would be Danny Alexander today.

** As in "whatever happened to Liam Fox?"

*** As in "Makes Neil Kinnock sound like a Trappist monk."

**** It is perfectly in order to call it the Union Jack. The idea that should call it the "Union Flag" is QIesque sophistry.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Richard Rorty on democracy and philosophy

When Richard Rorty died in 2007 I quoted a tribute by Christopher Hayes in the Nation:
Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty.
This interview, which he gave n 1997, is a good introduction to the appeal of Rorty's ideas.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Six of the Best 489

Stumbling and Mumbling is characteristically interesting in looking at the global onper cent: "If you want a picture of the global 1%, a bien-pensant 50-something in a house in north London might be more accurate than a billionaire hedge fund manager."

"Third-party surveillance tools have grown from a virtually nonexistent industry in 2001 to one raking in over $5 billion annually. It’s also enabled countries around the world to cheaply establish a crude surveillance state, one that manipulates citizens and threatens their privacy." Aaron Sankin on the unstoppable rise of the global surveillance profiteers.

"Do not imagine that the effects of any change in American standards will not ultimately affect you, wherever you are. Standards are increasingly international – what is decided in one jurisdiction pretty quickly affects others." Bernard Spiegal believes that TTIP and the harmonisation of standards pose a danger to play provision in Britain.

Flashbak has some wonderful photographs of the Home Front in the Second World War.

Just One More Ten Pence Piece ... on the practical and emotional work of clearing a house.

Limited-overs cricket is increasingly loaded in favour of the batsmen, argues former bowler Mike Selvey.

Gary Glitter believed Spike Milligan wanted to shoot him, court hears

The Leicester Mercury wins Headline of the Day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Woman with a Fish, Northampton

The photograph above shows the unveiling of Sir Frank Dobson's sculpture ‘Woman with a Fish’ at St Katherine's Gardens in the centre of Northampton in the early 1950s. It was first exhibited at the 1951 Battersea Park sculpture exhibition.

Today, as my photograph below shows, you will find it in the gardens at Delapre Abbey.

George Smid to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats

Spalding Today has a short particle about the excellent George Smid, who has been selected to fight South Holland and the Deepings for the Liberal Democrats in May's general election:
"I have collected a number of experiences: communist Czechoslovakia, a stateless refugee, professional career, a night-shift dishwasher, working for a multinational corporation, running my own business – to name but few.”

Boycott supermarkets over milk prices, says Bishop's Castle councillor

Charlotte Barnes, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Bishop's Castle in Shropshire and also the party's candidate for the Ludlow constituency in May's general election, is encouraging people not to buy milk from stores that fail to pay a fair price to local farmers.

She told the Shropshire Star:
“The long term problem has been the supermarket’s strangle-hold on prices – this is what has pushed our dairy industry into long term decline. 
“It’s clear from the research that prices paid vary widely with some paying particularly low sums to farmers.” 
Interestingly, Charlotte has suggested using the Fairtrade Mark on British produce.

Some will simply welcome the lower prices, but I take this campaign (which echoes Farm Aid in America) as another sign that the Big Supermarket Economy, which has seemed unstoppable for 30 years or more, is running into trouble.