Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The rise and fall of the gentleman

Source

Do you know any gentlemen? Perhaps you do - perhaps you are even a member of that apparently dwindling band? For we chaps it's not an easy question is it - am I a gentleman

In my case the answer is a reluctant "no". It may not even be a practical proposition in the modern world yet I have a sneaking suspicion that those with no wish to be a gentleman probably aren't.

I may as well add here that I prefer not to pose a similar question our lady readers. If I may I'll stick to the gentlemen - to coin a phrase.

gentleman
Pronunciation: /ˈdʒɛnt(ə)lmən

NOUN (plural gentlemen)
1 A chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man: he behaved throughout like a perfect gentleman

Historically a gentleman has been many things and chivalrous might be a tad tricky in most areas of modern life, but courteous and honourable shouldn't be too difficult surely? Our leaders could easily set the trend - leading  by example in fact...

...oh dear. I see this line of reasoning might compel me to say something ungentlemanly about our leaders. Which is something I usually enjoy but for the moment I'd better say nothing and move on to a less unsavoury subject.

In fifty years there will be nothing in Europe but Presidents of Republics, not one King left. And with those four letters K-I-N-G, go the priests and the gentlemen. I can see nothing but  candidates paying court to draggletailed  majorities.
Stendhal - Le Rouge et le Noir (1830)

When Stendhal wrote these words, the use of the term gentleman already seems to have begun its apparently terminal decline although there has been an uptick in recent years. Not exactly a hockey stick though and I'm sure the meaning has shifted anyway.  

Not that we should put too much weight on gentlemanly shoulders because at least some were mountebanks, seducers of virgin innocence and even bankers. Dickens created a few, such as the ghastly Pecksniff who certainly posed as a gentleman, albeit not one of independent means.

So coming back to our less than illustrious leaders as I suppose we must in these troubled times, how about our current crop? Are they gentlemen? Mr Putin? Mr Cameron? Mr Obama? 

Would it help if they were - or have we been seduced by the myths of realpolitik?

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Ukraine: Raedwald's take

Cartoon: Taylor Jones

Raedwald's piece on possible sanctions against Russia includes the potential harm to Eurozone's industry and its banks (which have made big loans to Russia).

So the question is, how much does the USA care about the European side-effects of its geopolitical strategy?

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Russia and the Great Game revisited

(pic source)

A couple of months ago I looked at Russia's possible longer-term evolution ("Russia's big plans", April 28); now Peter Hitchens, still struggling to get a balanced message across all the shrilling, reminds us of the bigger picture as seen by the USA:

"It’s useful, at this point, to recall words written by Zbigniew Brzezinski( Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, and the unsung architect of Moscow’s doomed intervention and eventual downfall in Afghanistan. He wrote in his 1997 book ‘The Grand Chessboard’ : ‘Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’

"‘However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.’"

This provides a context for what seems to be an economic war using European gas consumption as its battleground, as discussed earlier today ("A dirty war for clean energy: Ukraine and beyond").

The attempt to contain Russia, which is under pressure to expand economically in order to stave off a kind of collapse, could potentially be as dangerous as the imperial hemming-in of Germany before WWI, or the victors' pound-of-flesh approach to Germany after 1918.

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A dirty war for clean energy: Ukraine and beyond

From Martin Armstrong today (emphases mine):

"We are getting info from reliable sources that there may be another layer to the USA v Russian conflict. Just as the entire Syrian agenda was to arm terrorists to topple the Syrian government in order to push through a pipeline to cut off the energy monopoly in Europe held by Russia, we may be actually seeing another motive here. The projections of fracking technology that the USA will become a net exporter of energy has set the stage for another perhaps covert move – sanctions against Russia to open the European market for energy. In this new war of words and sanctions against Russia, it is the Americans who seem to be marching either totally brain-dead, or with another energy secret agenda. This very will may be all about one thing -:taking the Russian energy market from them. To turn off Russia as a competitor, the Russian president is to be internationally isolated. The shooting down of flight MH17 is playing into this agenda and comes precisely at the right moment to aid the U.S. strategy on energy. We will keep you advised on this matter."

And from an October 2012 VT article:

(source: Veterans Today)

"The significant question to be asked at this point is what could bind Israel, Turkey, Qatar in a form of unholy alliance on the one side, and Assad’s Syria, Iran, Russia and China on the other side, in such deadly confrontation over the political future of Syria? One answer is energy geopolitics.

What has yet to be fully appreciated in geopolitical assessments of the Middle East is the dramatically rising importance of the control of natural gas to the future of not only Middle East gas producing countries, but also of the EU and Eurasia including Russia as producer and China as consumer.

"Natural gas is rapidly becoming the “clean energy” of choice to replace coal and nuclear electric generation across the European Union, most especially since Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear after the Fukushima disaster. Gas is regarded as far more “environmentally friendly” in terms of its so-called “carbon footprint.”

"The only realistic way EU governments, from Germany to France to Italy to Spain, will be able to meet EU mandated CO2 reduction targets by 2020 is a major shift to burning gas instead of coal. Gas reduces CO2 emissions by 50-60% over coal.[xiii]

"Given that the economic cost of using gas instead of wind or other alternative energy forms is dramatically lower, gas is rapidly becoming the energy of demand for the EU, the biggest emerging gas market in the world.

"Huge gas resource discoveries in Israel, in Qatar and in Syria combined with the emergence of the EU as the world’s potentially largest natural gas consumer, combine to create the seeds of the present geopolitical clash over the Assad regime.


"In July 2011, as the NATO and Gulf states’ destabilization operations against Assad in Syria were in full swing, the governments of Syria, Iran and Iraq signed an historic gas pipeline energy agreement which went largely unnoticed amid CNN reports of the Syrian unrest..."

There's more, lots more, in that VT piece.


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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cabinet reshuffle

Pic: Facebook

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Ukraine: down the memory hole

"Moment they realised it was a civilian plane"

From the Daily Mail, Saturday 19 July 2014, page 4

Interesting to compare the Daily Mail's print edition with its online counterpart. Sam Greenhill's helpful contextualisation (boxed in red above) seems to be missing, at least on my visit to the site (c. 9.30 am).

Perhaps the exclusion is merely to avoid giving more material to conspiracy theorists to fuss over, but in the present climate of profound public distrust it could have the opposite effect. As it is, both versions of the article are festooned with caveats ("appear", "claim", "allegedly" etc).

A little verbal telltale in the translation - "yards" for "gardens" - said "American English" to me, though whether that means translated by an American, or by a Ukrainian who has learned the American version of English, I couldn't say.

From the online Daily Mail (accessed 20 July 2014)

Nothing is what it seems.

And speaking of context, here is the sterling Peter Hitchens  (embedded link is mine):

One thing we should have learned in the past 100 years is that war is hell. We might also have noticed that, once begun, war is hard to stop and often takes shocking turns.
 
So those who began the current war in Ukraine – the direct cause of the frightful murder of so many innocents on Flight MH17 on Thursday – really have no excuse.
 
There is no doubt about who they were. In any war, the aggressor is the one who makes the first move into neutral or disputed territory.
 
And that aggressor was the European Union, which rivals China as the world’s most expansionist power, swallowing countries the way performing seals swallow fish (16 gulped down since 1995).
 
Ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from Moscow, the EU – backed by the USA – sought to bring Ukraine into its orbit. It did so through violence and illegality, an armed mob and the overthrow of an elected president.
 
I warned then that this would lead to terrible conflict. I wrote in March: ‘Having raised hopes that we cannot fulfil, we have awakened the ancient passions of this cruel part of the world – and who knows where our vainglorious folly will now lead?’
 
Now we see. Largely unreported over the past few months, a filthy little war has been under way in Eastern Ukraine.
 
Many innocents have died, unnoticed in the West. Neither side has anything to boast of – last Tuesday 11 innocent civilians died in an airstrike on a block of flats in the town of Snizhne, which Ukraine is unconvincingly trying to blame on Russia. 
 
 
from Wikipedia


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ukraine and the downed Malaysian airliner: four theories

1. For no conceivable advantage and in the certainty that they will be universally vilified, separatist Ukrainian forces deliberately shoot down a civilian airliner travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

2. Incompetent pro-Russian Ukrainian forces bring down what they think is an enemy military transport plane. For some reason this aircraft is travelling at a constant altitude of 33,000 feet 20 miles from Russian airspace, into which, travelling at some 500 miles per hour, it will pass in a couple of minutes. Subsequently a source says that oddly, reportedly "uncomfortable" with his route, the pilot has changed his flight plan, which normally would be to cross further south over the Sea of Azov, to head closer to the heart of the conflict:

source: Daily Mail
(UPDATE @ 18:35: see this from The Conversation about flight restrictions in the area.)
 
source: Mashable

3. In a bungled assassination attempt, someone working for the other side hits MH17 by mistake, thinking it to be President Putin's official plane.

4. The missile strike is a "false flag" pseudo-terrorist attack. In order to curb Russian expansionism (or historically, their partial recovery of some territory formerly under Soviet control) and block what may be Putin's plans for the Black Sea and a nascent EEC-style Eastern European economic union, Western agencies are quite happy to murder some 300 innocent civilians to create a pretext for military intervention in the Ukraine - or anti-Russian boycotts and sanctions.

Update (9:12): the trigger-happy-idiots theory may be correct - see Richard North today - but as North says, has the potential for dangerous anti-Russian spin, which Washington's Blog says was the American approach to a similar tragedy in 1983.

Update (21 July): Richard North says that the Ukrainian government was aware of an operational missile launcher in rebel territory and failed in its duty to warn airlines accordingly.


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Friday, July 18, 2014

EU energy security

It has long been my suspicion that for EU bureaucrats, the orthodox climate message is merely a sales pitch for energy security. Nothing whatever to do with science and the real climate except as a PR vehicle. It’s by no means the whole story behind EU climate orthodoxy, but for me there are four points worth considering. 
  • A totalitarian state such as the EU needs energy independence.
  • Too many oil-producers are unstable or potentially unfriendly.
  • Coal and nuclear have too many political hurdles.
  • In a warming world EU peasants should need less energy anyway. 

So it may well be that energy independence is to be purchased at whatever cost to the general EU population, but that cost is not perceived as excessive anyway. At least not to those who matter.

There has always been a problem in taking climate orthodoxy at face value. From the beginning its protagonists have exhibited political rather than scientific behaviour. In a world which failed to warm as predicted, EU climate policies are seriously weird unless climate orthodoxy is not really the political rationale behind them.

Surely we need a vastly more powerful political rationale to explain both the astronomical cost and the implacable way so-called green policies have been enacted. A few degrees of warming doesn’t come close as an explanation and the political classes are wholly uninterested in the projected timescales anyway. 

This degree of extreme political resolve is more characteristic of crazy totalitarian regimes than democracies. Massive projects intended to root out and change forever certain fundamental aspects of civil society. Soviet collective farms for example. Nothing can stop them whatever the cost, be it financial or social.

In which case, any human cost to the EU peasant is sure to be waved aside as collateral damage. Did you expect to be collateral damage one day? No – I suppose folk generally don’t.

The climate message, the extreme propaganda, the corruption of news media, the vicious malice directed at sceptics all point to a massive political project. A project which must be vastly more important than some obviously dodgy climate predictions about a future which lies decades beyond the political horizon.

Energy security fits the bill even if it isn’t the whole story. Blend it with a bungling bureaucracy and a totalitarian ethos and in my view a plausible picture emerges. The only real problem is that with current technology, aiming to power the EU by wind, solar, biomass etc is bonkers.

Why do we always end up with bonkers?

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The Davey Lamp

Ed Davey has an opportunity to make his mark when the lights go out. He could lend his name to a simple non-electric lighting device – the Davey Lamp.




Made in China from recycled power station generators and lavishly plated in genuine Brassex, this retro style no-electric green lighting module is sure to add distinction to any benighted home.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Foresight and pickled cucumbers


I made some pickled cucumbers yesterday. It doesn’t take long and they should be ready to eat in a few weeks. We enjoy home made pickles,  but for some reason don’t make them as often as we could. My pickled cucumber recipe is pretty old, so I suggest you go for something more modern, but it works fine for us.

To pickle Cucumbers fliced.
Pare thirty large cucumbers, flice them into a difh, take fix onions, flice and ftrew on them fome salt, fo cover them and let them ftand to drain twenty-four hours; make your pickle of white wine vinegar, nutmeg, pepper, cloves and mace, boil the fpices in the pickle, drain the liquor clear from the cucumbers, put them into a deep pot, pour the liquor [1] upon them boiling hot, and cover them very clofe; [2] when they are cold drain the liquor from them, give it another boil; and when it is cold pour it on them again; fo keep them for ufe.
Elizabeth Moxon – English Housewifery (1790)

[1] This of course refers to the vinegar pickling liquor.
[2] I finish here and omit the following step.

I don’t use thirty cucumbers because these days we can buy them all year round. Of course doughty old Liz Moxon was writing for those with the foresight and diligence to eke out a good crop of cucumbers to take them through the lean months of winter and early spring.

In those days, domestic foresight such as this was part of a middle class lifestyle and still not wholly unconnected with survival. In later decades the job would usually have been passed to a servant and later still a food manufacturer. 

I suppose it's the other side of economic progress and efficiency. It's easier and possibly cheaper to buy pickles rather than make your own. So everything is rosy apart from losing certain intangibles we've almost forgotten - such as the need for domestic foresight.

Oddly enough, foresight seems to be a problem doesn't it?

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Monday, July 14, 2014

A moment of luxury

Click to enlarge (Pic source)

Stow-on-the-Wold, heart of the Cotswolds and these days a tourist stop.

We grumbled about the variable temperature in the shower, yet less than 80 years ago, the town had no mains water, and modern drainage only two decades later:

"Stow was, until recent times, supplied with water from springs below the town. For centuries, women and children had carried water with yoke and bucket from the spring on Well Lane. Water carts plied between Well Lane and the town where the water was sold to the townsfolk at the price of a farthing a bucket. Several systems had been tried to force water up the hill including windmills, horse-mills and water wheels but all had failed. In 1871, Joseph Chamberlayne-Chamberlayne, lord of the manor, donated £2000 to the town for a deep well to be bored and this was a success. Mains water was laid on in 1937. Sewage disposal used numerous cavities in the rock, known locally as swillies, as natural soakaways under and around the houses until mains drainage was installed in 1958."

One of the wells on Well Lane (pic source)

We're living a life I didn't dream of as a child, driving from Birmingham to a beautiful place like this in an hour. For how much longer will many of us have cars and zoom round the country like pre-war landed gentry?

One of the charms of the town is its many little alleys (in York called snickelways). Stow's are particularly narrow and the man running the charity bric-à-brac explained that in the old times, when on market day the square might hold 30,000 sheep, the alleys made the wide-fleeced animals go in single file, which made them easier to count; hence the name of Fleece Alley.

Are we looking at the past, or the future?


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