Jeremy Hunt - a walking disaster for the Conservatives?

The British public are very fond of the NHS, especially the elderly. It is a key electoral issue. Surveys have shown that the Conservatives are not trusted to take care of the NHS. It is their weakest issue.

Given those two points you would think that the Conservatives would take extra care not to put a foot wrong on the NHS.

Instead, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has managed to provoke the junior doctors to vote [98% in favour] for industrial action. 

How stupid can you get? 

The Conservatives only have a narrow majority in Parliament and they could easily lose that over the NHS.

They need to get rid of Hunt and put the NHS in a safe pair of hands.

Hunt has also refused to put the matter to independent arbitration. That will make people think that he is afraid that he would lose at arbitration.

Australian Slang Box

Some other Australian slang expressions.

Mystery bag - sausage.

Budgie smugglers - mens swimming trunks.

Larrikin - a mischievous fun seeker [usually young].

Technicolor yawn -  vomit.

Pollution from coal power stations

Which country is producing the most carbon pollution from coal powered electricity generators?

Yes, you have guessed it -it is China. Closely followed by the good old USA.

Blue circles represent the total carbon emissions in millions of tons from coal fired power stations. The outer ring represents a country's total emissions from coal, oil and gas power stations. The white area is therefore the emissions from oil and gas fuelled power generation.

Note that Australia produces more pollution from coal powered stations than the UK, despite the UK having about four times the population.

1 in 3 'Syrian' refugees have fake IDs

"Some 527,000 migrants have arrived in Germany this year. About 30 percent of these pretending to be Syrians come from different countries, Tobias Plate, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said on Friday.

We are seeing forged Syrian passports. There are people who claim to come from Syria but don’t speak a word of Arabic,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters in Berlin on Friday."


A story you will not see on the BBC.  They have abandoned their impartiality and appear to only report stories favourable to 'refugees'.

The Berlin Wall - an old lie exposed -

During the Cold War the East Germans put a barrier through Berlin [and elsewhere] to stop people 'escaping' to the West.

Here we have a photo of an East German soldier jumping the wire.

It was all clear evidence of how bad life must be over there and how cruel the regime.  We were told that very few people managed to escape and only at serious risk to their lives since the East German border guards would shoot at anybody trying to cross the Wall.

That was all a lie. People were crossing the border by the bus load.

Between 1964 and 1989 some 33,755 political prisoners and 250,000 of their relatives were sold to West Germany, for a sum totalling 3.5bn Deutschmarks. 

People were also traded for commodities such as coffee, copper and oil.   However, neither side wanted the public to find out - the GDR because it didn't want to appear weak and West Germany because it didn't want to be seen supporting the communist regime.   So the operation remained clandestine - people were traded in darkened nooks of the underground railway, the U-Bahn, or sent across the border in buses with revolving license plates. The number plates would switch at the checkpoints, so as not to arouse suspicion on the other side.

So, no need to tunnel under the wall or cut your way through the wire. All that was needed was money.

The truth is revealed 40 years later. It makes me wonder what lies we are currently being told.

Minard's Maps

Most people will be familiar with Minard's famous map of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

Here are two more of his maps.

English coal exports 1864

Global migration 1858

England saved from Heffalumps

Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5 [aka the Security Service] and head of Britain's secret police  warned that Britain was facing its gravest threat from fanatics and his agency had foiled six major plots to attack this country in the last year – the highest he has ever known. Mr Parker is trying to persuade Parliament to gives his organisation even more surveillance powers.

Here at MI4786 [and two thirds] we have had another successful year keeping the country free of heffalump attacks. Our department foiled 17,689 heffalump plots to launch attacks on our country. If even one of these  attacks had succeeded millions would have died.  I am confident we can continue to defeat heffalumps if our budget is doubled and we are given the power to enter any property and strip search any person we choose [and I am given a knighthood when I retire].

Mr Parker would undoubtedly claim that the fact that in Britain only one person has  been killed by a terrorist in the past ten years demonstrates that MI5 is putting its funds and sweeping powers to good use.

However, here at MI4786 [and two thirds] we have ensured that not even one person has been killed by heffalumps in the past twenty years and that demonstrates that we are even worthier of more of everything.

Death in the Long Grass

There is currently a lot of fuss in the British press about the killing of Cecil the lion. I thought this would be a good time to repost this piece from 2011.

You may have seen the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer. The  film was based on Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson’s book 'The Man-Eaters of Tsavo'. The man-eaters were two lions who killed 135 construction workers on the Uganda Railway in 1898 before they were shot by Patterson. The film is a typical Hollywood product but the book is worth reading. It is now out of copyright but  I found a copy on the internet. Patterson goes about slaughtering the wildlife, as they did then, but the wildlife has several very good attempts at slaughtering Patterson.

Reading it reminded me of Peter Hathaway Capstick’s 'Death in the Long Grass'. This 1977 book is about Capstick’s life as a big game hunter in Africa. It is an excellent read. The book is still in print and can be obtained from Amazon. I managed to obtain my copy from a charity shop for 70p.

Capstick describes several encounters with lions and mentions that packs of man-eating lions were common, especially near the Great Rift in Central Africa. The Ubena man-eaters had been operating for ten years before a game officer called Rusby started hunting them. In the two years he took to wipe out the pride they killed another 249 victims. The same chap wiped out the Njombe man-eaters, a pride of fifteen lions, which had a confirmed score of 1500 natives and colonists. A fully grown lion is 6-8 ft long [head and body] and about 4 ft tall.  The natives would have stood little chance against such creatures.  Video.

Capstick has some wonderful anecdotes about lions and other African predators. Its clear from what he writes just how deadly these cute Wildlife Special creatures are in their own environment. He thought that crocodiles alone were killing ten Africans a day at the time he wrote, usually women who had gone down to a river bank to collect water. Also, how little chance anybody would stand against them unless armed with a powerful rifle. Capstick was experienced and well armed but he acquired 300 stitches, three severed tendons and a cut femoral artery during his career.

From another source

"Zambia’s lions had a far worse reputation during the bygone colonial era than did the Tsavo lions. In the far north on Lake Mweru, there was an old boma (government outpost) called Chiengi, about 160kms from Mporokoso, and it was in this area that some man-eaters periodically set up a reign of terror, and they were never beaten. One particular lion, which regularly killed natives in the vicinity of Chiengi Boma, became known as Chiengi Chali. During 1909 alone, he killed ninety locals. For a long time, attempts to bring him to book failed, on one occasion he actually leapt into the courtyard of Sealy the District Officer’s house, but escaped before Sealy could get in a shot.

Efforts to bring Chiengi Chali’s reign of terror to an end were stepped up, with fires being lit and guards posted, but it was to no avail, he just went on killing. Chiengi Chali was not intimidated by very much and broke through the thatched roofs of village huts or forced his way into already lit up doorways. For a long time, he managed to avoid trap guns, yet stole the bait attached to them."

Read more here and here.

Jim Corbett wrote a series of books about hunting man-eating tigers [Man-Eaters of Kumaon] and leopards [The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag] in India. One tiger had killed over 400 people. A woman was taken from her hut by a tiger.  The tiger entered via a small window, took the woman from amongst her family as they slept on the floor, and left with her body through the same small window. A flower pot in the window was still in place when the family woke the next morning.


John Carey  is a British literary critic, and former Merton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford. He is the editor  of the Faber Book of Reportage (1987). This was published in America as Eyewitness to History, Harvard University Press, (1987).

The book [700 pages in paperback] is a collection of over 250 reports, starting with a report of the plague in Athens in 430 BC and ending with a report of the fall of President Marcos in 1986.  In between there are reports of a dinner with Attila the Hun, the torture of a Jesuit in the Tower of London, the Confederate bombardment at Gettysburg, the execution of Nazi war criminals and the My Lai massacre.

Some of the reports are several pages long. Others are only about a single page or even half a page.

The book is still in print. It is a superb read and I recommend it to you.

I found the book after reading Carey's autobiography, The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life (2014).

Carey also wrote the Faber Book of Science (1995) editor. Published in America as Eyewitness to Science: Scientists and Writers Illuminate Natural Phenomena from Fossils to Fractals, Harvard University Press, (1997) and that is my next read.

Glasgow's Lost Docklands

The  Clyde runs through Glasgow and connects it to the sea.  There used to be lots of docks on the river; some for building and repairing ships, others for loading and unloading cargo.

Some of the docks were very close to the centre of Glasgow. The small Kingston docks [below] were only a few minutes walk from the Central Station.

Two of Glasgow's biggest docks were only a short distance down the Clyde from the Kingston. The Princes Docks is on the left and the Queens Docks on the right. These date from the time when hordes of dockers swarmed into ship's holds and manually handled cargo.

Some of the shipyards are shown in the photograph below. You can see the Harland and Wolff shipyard on the upper left and some dry docks on the lower left.

In time containerisation and South Korean shipyards did for the Glasgow docks.

In an excess of tidiness the City Council filled in many of the docks.  Now, having seen what other cities have done with their docklands they really wish the had not been so hasty.

Interesting Gorges in Spain

The El Caminito del Rey (The King's little pathway)has now been restored and is open to visitors. In the second photograph you can see the old [very dangerous] path underneath the new one.

Here is a post about another interesting gorge.

I have not tried either of these but a few years ago I did walk the Cares Gorge Route in the Picos de Europa National Park. The park is in northern Spain and has several good walks.

Codes that changed the world

The BBC has an interesting series of radio programmes about computer languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN and JAVA.

They are available to listen online from here. I could not find any downloads.

The Mincing Machine - Fort Douaumont, Verdun

In 1916 over 250,000 French and German soldiers were killed in the Battle of Verdun. A further half a million were wounded. In term of casualties it was one of the worse battles in human history. Some of the worse fighting was around the French fort at Douamont.

Fort Douaumont was one of a number of forts built [according to the Sere de Riveres system] near the small town of Verdun. The French had decided to abandon these forts because they believed they were too vulnerable to artillery. However, when the Germans easily captured Douaumont the French were seized by an overwhelming desire to get it back. Over 100,000 men were killed or wounded before the fort was recaptured.

I visited Fort Douaumont about 8-10 years ago, and revisited this year during a trip across Northern France. Visitors can stroll on top of the fort [which is heavily pockmarked from artillery fire], and tour the internal galleries. More galleries have been opened since I first visited and one of the gun turrets can now be visited.

The entrance to the fort.

The galleries


Whilst the Germans were occupying the fort a cooking fire ignited grenades and flame-thrower fuel and 600-1000 soldiers died [different websites give different casualties numbers. I think a sign at the memorial below gives a figure of 975]. The bodies could not be taken outside the fort because of French shelling so they were walled up in a tunnel. The site is now an official German war grave.


The toilets below were not installed until after the battle. One can only wonder what conditions were like inside the fort when there were over a thousand men inside and no sanitary facilities.


Fort Douaumont is one of the most important WW1 sites but it is deteriorating and the French government needs to spend some money on restoration and preservation.

Other WW1 sites nearby

Fort Douaumont is shown to the top right in the aerial photograph below. The large site is the Ossuary and is the subject of a separate post.

The site at Fleury devant Douaumont is a large memorial and museum [with a good library and shop]. All three are worth visiting. By following our GPS we managed to repeatedly get lost, though as can be seen from the aerial shot the three sites are close together.

There are many other relics of the war in the area.


Sterioscopic photographs

When I first visited Fort Douaumont they had a number of sterioscopic photographs on display. These were amazingly vivid, one in particular. It showed a French artillery crew resting by their gun. Though the photograph was only black and white the 3-D effect and sharp image made the Frenchmen look very alive. They looked like people you can see any day in the streets, but better looking and more sophisticated.  Probably most of them were later consumed by the 'mincing machine'.

The stereoscopic photographs had gone from Fort Douaumont when I visited recently but there were a large number on display at the Ossuary.

Fort Douaumont Ossuary, Verdun

Douamont Ossuary and adjacent cemetery contains the remains of some of the French and German soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Verdun. Different sources give different numbers but Wikipedia states that the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers are stored in the Ossuary, and a further 25,000 buried in the cemetery.


Living on a pebble

Put your problems in perspective. You are living on a pebble that is orbiting an insignificant sun in an unfashionable part of a minor galaxy.

The BBC's 'A History of Ideas' podcasts

A  podcast series made by the BBC and the Open University

1.  60 short [about 12 minutes] talks on philosophy

2.  Short animations on philosophical topics

A review by the Independent newspaper.

This is the kind of thing that the BBC does well and justifies the licence fee.

Buying tyres online

I was never happy with the tyre buying process in the UK. After I had bought a tyre I always felt that I had been hornswoggled.

There was no way of determining which  brand of tyre was the best in terms of durability, safety and value for money. I usually used price as a surrogate for quality whilst well aware that it was not a good surrogate. There was also the suspicion that the garage or tyre fitting company was offering the tyres that provided them with the best commission and not the ones that were best for the buyer.

The problem was poor information.  To make a good  decision a buyer needed information on tyre quality and comparative information on a range of tyres.

The EU solved the first part of the problem by introducing a compulsory labelling scheme for tyres. The new standard gives motorists a way of comparing new tyres on their fuel efficiency, wet grip and noise.  The wet grip rating is particularly important.

The wet grip scale runs from A to G and each point represents 3 metres of stopping distance. The difference between a tyre rated A and one rated D is 9 metres, or the difference between stopping safely and sharing the drivers seat with the back of a lorry.

Of course, this labelling scheme is one of the reasons why Britain has to leave the EU. How dare those bastards in the EU dare give consumers information which is damaging to industry profitability. Without high profits factories will close and millions will be put out of work. When Britain is out of the EU our usual practice of  bribing lobbying politicians and civil servants will kill such schemes.

The established tyre retailers have not been enthusiastic about providing customers with comparative information so enter the online retailers, such as  These do provide the comparative information that has previously been unavailable. In addition to providing information they will supply tyres directly to the you or arrange for a nearby garage to supply and fit the tyres.

I checked the BlackCircles web site recently when I wanted two new tyres and was able to find a tyre with a rating of B/A/68. That is, a fuel economy rating of B, a wet stopping distance of A and a decibel rating of 68. Just what I was looking for and at a price of £65 per tyre [including fitting, tax and wheel balancing]. I rang my local garage and they quoted £73 for the same tyre and service, though they cut their price to £68 when I told them the Blackcircles price.

Blackcircles is not the only online tyre retailer. As more people become aware of them I would guess the existing tyre retailers, like HiQ, are going to experience some disruption.

 The old system gave tyre manufacturers no particular incentive to research and produce better tyres. The new system will and I expect that industry will also suffer some disruption, at least in Europe.

A telegram from the War Office

The British War Office used to notify next of kin of a servicemen's death by sending them a telegram.  A uniformed lad on a bike [later a red motor bike] would knock on a door and hand the telegram to a father, mother or wife.

As casualties increased  people began to understand the system and dread the appearance of a telegram delivery boy and a knock on their door.

The Streets They Left Behind web site has produced  a map of the homes of the 9,400 men  who died in World War I who came from the London boroughs of Highbury and Finsbury.  Each red poppy would have meant a knock on the door and a telegram.

The green poppies shows those  casualties who are buried in Islington Cemetery. I suppose those are men who were badly wounded in the war and died back in London.

This page has a link to the above map and also one showing casualties from Toronto.  'By the war’s end in 1918, some neighbourhoods were devastated. Shannon Street, a block running just south of College between Ossington and Dovercourt, lost ten men in the First World War. The Baron family, at 113 Langford Ave. north of Pape and Danforth, lost three sons – 28, 30 and 31 years old. Robert died at Ypres in 1916; Lawson was killed by a shell during a trench raid at Vimy Ridge in 1917; Thomas, gassed in 1915, lingered on to die in Toronto a few weeks before the end of the war.'

There is also an interactive calendar for Toronto's WW1 deaths.

Cameron makes UK an ISIS target

Interesting to see the disinformation campaign that lead up to the House of Commons vote to bomb.

First the terrormongering

Then the failure to learn from experience

1. Intervening in Iraq = disaster

2. Intervening in Afghanistan = disaster

3. Intervening in Libya = disaster

Then claiming there is no alternative

Yes, there is. It is none of our business. We are not the world's policeman. I listened to this Labour numpty on the radio saying that we are not the kind of country that would stand idly by. That is right. We are the kind of country that does as the US tells us to do.

Then deciding to train and arm terrorist groups in Syria

Just look how well this as worked out in the past. For example, arming rebels in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation of the country. Do you remember when Bin Laden was a CIA pinup?

My understanding is that the only groups that is might be reasonably safe to arm are such pussies that the big bad boys will soon come along and take away their new toys. Just as ISIS got all its good stuff when the Iraqi army ran away and left all their expensive weapons for ISIS to pick up.

None of the reasons that the government and their fellow travellers have given for going to war are plausible.  We have not been told the real reasons and once again we are being taken to war on the basis of a pack of lies.

How did the House of Commons ever come to vote for this nonsense?

When politicians claim to be upset that so few people vote in UK elections they might consider that it might be a consequence of them being a bunch of lying, self serving tossers.


Baume-les-Messieurs is a small village deep in a steep valley in the Jura region of eastern France. Limestone cliffs tower over the village.

In addition to the attractive Hobbit village there is an abandoned abbey which may date back to the sixth century.

In the early eight century the abbey and some surrounding villages were destroyed by Saracen raiders. The abbey was refounded in the ninth century. It is now open to visitors. There is a small tourist shop and a restaurant. It looked as if there was also accommodation available.

A river flows alongside the road into the village and there is an attractive  camp site by the river.

We visited in August and the village was not too crowded. Free parking was available.

Computers and productivity

It has been remarked that, “We find IT investment everywhere,
except in the productivity statistics.” The thought was occasioned by the observation that business investment in IT did not appear to be producing any measurable increases in productivity. This ‘Productivity Paradox’ has been investigated by a number of researchers and a number of possible explanations for the paradox have been developed.

1. Productivity has not increased but will in time. This explanation recognises the slow pace of innovation diffusion, and the even slower pace of organisational change. Both individuals and organisation, with the exception of a few neophiles, are slow to adopt new developments, particularly revolutionary ones. It has been remarked that the innovations which will cause significant change over the next 10-20 years are probably around now. The table below lists some innovations. It can be seen that we regard as new and modern have been around a long time. the first email was sent over forty years ago, and there are still people who do not use email.

1960’s Mailbox - first email
1965 Dendral - first expert system
1968 Engelbart’s demonstrated graphical user interface [lead to Windows]
1969 Compuserve – first online system
1972 Dialog – first online database
1976 Adventure – first computer game
1977 Apple II – first PC
1979 Visicalc – first spreadsheet

It has also been observed that people are even slower to change practices and processes to exploit new technology. The seminal work in this area is ‘The Dynamo and the Computer: An Historical Perspective on the Modern Productivity Paradox’ by Paul A David.

It should also be noted that significant innovations are infrequent. The technologies that disrupt existing business models or cause major changes in productivity and practices are very rare. Many innovations are little more than extra chrome, or minor evolutionary improvements on existing technology.

2. Productivity has not increased because IT investments are mismanaged. There is ample evidence that there is a low success rate in IT projects, particularly the larger ones.

3. Productivity has increased. The productivity paradox is a measurement error arising from the nature of the problem and the limitations of the research tools used by economists. Economists have attempted to find correlations between IT investment and productivity, but it may be that the data sets and tools being used are too crude to reveal productivity movements.

4. Productivity has not increased because IT is marginal to knowledge based activities. The argument here is that computers are good at data processing but ineffective in processing the knowledge and expertise involved in many tasks. There may be some truth in this argument, but it would not explain why improvements in data processing productivity have not appeared in the statistics.

5. Productivity has increased but the gains are being used to make qualitative improvements, rather than quantitative changes. The argument here is that productivity gains are being used to provide greater variety, or other qualitative improvements, in products or services [no longer can buyers have a car in any colour as long as it is black]. They are not being used to reduce employment levels or increase output. Productivity gains are thus being used to “fund” innovative procedural changes rather than directly affecting employment or output. Economists have tried to measure productivity changes in terms of reductions in employment or increases in output. If this hypothesis is correct it is not surprising that they have found no changes.

There are a number of models which attempt to relate productivity and employment.

Model 1

This model argues that new technology increases productivity and therefore fewer employees are required. This may seem simplistic but the model was used for evaluating the viability of many IT investments. Savings in employments costs were used to measure the rate of return on proposed IT projects. If this model is plausible there should be evidence of productivity increases from IT investments.

Model 2

New technology increases productivity and enables new products and services. Employment may fall in some existing areas, but the development of the new products and services will produce compensating increases. If this model is plausible there may be no overall measurable changes in productivity.

Model 3

As model 2 but the effects of the compensating mechanisms may be delayed, disproportionate or occur elsewhere. If this model is plausible then there may, or may not be, measurable changes in productivity.

Ukraine - is it all about gas?

What happened in the Ukraine?  Well, one group of pro Russian oligarchs was replaced by another group of [possibly pro Western] oligarchs. Interesting, but nothing to do with us. The Ukraine is a poor country with nothing much that we want. The sensible thing to do was mind our own business.

Instead, we appear willing to go to the brink of war to get involved. Already we have applied sanctions to Russia and they have retaliated. The retaliation looks as if it will cost some EU countries a lot of money. It wont cost the US or UK  because neither country buys Russian gas or sells much to Russia.

There are a lot of noisy warmongers at work in politics, the military and the media and I sense an organised campaign. But why, and who is behind the campaign?

If you want to know who is behind something fishy try applying the lawyers test of 'cui bono' [who stands, or stood, to gain from something, and so might have been responsible for it].

I came up with two possibilities.

1.  Corruption - the Ukrainian oligarchs are behind the campaign and have bribed a number of political, military and media figures to spread their propaganda.  They know they cannot oppose Russia so they are bribing people in the West to get their countries involved and do their fighting for them. The oligarchs are people with billions to spend. Tossing a few millions to some rent a ranters is nothing to them.

2.  Gas - because of fracking the US has lots of gas and it is looking for people to buy it. Germany imports $72 billion worth of gas from Russia each year.

 Do you think there might be people in the US who would like part of that business? If Germany could be persuaded to buy US gas instead of Russian gas some people would get very rich. There would also be a political advantage. Germany and the EU have been showing signs of having minds of their own. The US cannot tolerate that and making Germany, France and Italy dependent on the US for part of their energy would be a good way of bringing them to heel.

Of course, if the hidden hands get it wrong then this will be the outcome -

Don't worry. The people behind the campaign will not be anywhere near ground zero. You and I might be, but they will make sure they are in a different hemisphere. Read this post for a report on the Iron Mountain hideaway they had set up during the last cold war.

"From this New Yorker article on the Iron Mountain storage facility.

'In the sixties and early seventies, Mesick said, people sometimes slept in the mine: it contained fallout shelters, built and maintained by Iron Mountain for executives from Exxon, Shell, and other big companies.

One especially elaborate shelter, he said, had sixty-five hotel rooms, each with a private bath, and a large cafeteria with a commercial kitchen; in the mid-century-modern bedrooms, curtains obscured the concrete. According to Mesick, in the event of nuclear war, some executives, along with their families, would have been evacuated by helicopter from New York City. “They’d hired local folks to tend to them, to cook for them, to clean for them,” Mesick told me. “Their idea was to wait out the storm while the debris and radioactivity were going on overhead—then they were going to come out and sell oil to everyone who was left.”

Fortunately, in contrast to the rabid warmongering from some people in the NATO countries Putin appears to be acting sensibly and moderately. I think they are trying to provoke him into threatening gas supplies, but I think he knows that and will not bite.