Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Famous Lithuanians

Thanks to Jessica Duchen I can assign Jascha Heifetz, Cesar Cui and Marc Chagall to this hitherto neglected category. It seems that Backus is a Lithuanian name so the man behind Mr Magoo and the co-originator of BNF may be added, too.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


For a long time, I had it in my head that Douglas Jay, once MP for Battersea, Gaitskellite democratic socialist, europhobe and a thorn in the side of Harold Wilson, was the son of radio and theatre actor Ernest Jay.  However, as the obituaries of the writer and producer Sir Antony Jay pointed out, I was confusing two lineages.

For those of a certain generation, Ernest Jay will be for ever Dennis the Dachshund in the Toytown series by SG Hulme Beaman. It must have been Sir Antony who I heard recount one of his father's ploys. When you are in the rehearsal room, he said, look around. The morose individual sitting apart will be the writer. Ernest made a point of cultivating writers in order to improve whatever part he was playing.

Conservative opponents made great play with Nick Clegg's family links with the Netherlands, but were clearly ignorant of the Dutch heritage of one of their heroes. Sir Antony's grandfather's real surname was Alberge, son Ernest clearly believing that the snappier "Jay" was better for a career on the stage. (The Coronation Street actress Betty Alberge is seemingly not directly related, though perhaps there was a flight of the Jewish Alberges from the Netherlands in the 19th century, some settling in the East End, some in Lancashire.)

The other Jays were a much longer established family. I had not realised until I looked up their ancestry what a privileged background Douglas Jay had. His father was a barrister, travel writer and politician with a connection to the aristocracy. Douglas's brother Michael became a pillar of the establishment. It must have contributed to son Peter's sense of entitlement.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Bring your own device

Back in the early days of online computing, the means of your average office worker communicating with his organisation's central database was a "dumb terminal", a device with a keyboard and a smallish TV screen, displaying text in either black-and-white or more likely green-on-black. Security was no great difficulty. No external devices could be plugged in to the terminal and the central computer facility controlled access. The only weak point was the users' password, but these could be centrally allocated and thus not easily deduced by an outsider.

All that changed with the growth of the personal computer. It became cheaper and easier to provide each desk-jockey and even executives with a basic IBM-style desktop computer. However, this necessarily came with connections to the external world - first a cassette-recorder interface (dropped in the 1980s) and 5.25" exchangeable disk drives, followed by 3" and 3.5" disk drives and then the USB interface. Each development enabled successively smaller exchangeable media. Coupled with opening up the World Wide Web as well as organisations' internal network, a headache for data controllers was created.

It has been a short step to providing not just an organisation-owned physical machine on the desktop but also wireless access to corporate facilities via a user's own device - lap-top computer, tablet or smartphone. When the lines between private and corporate facilities become blurred, we reach the situation in which Mrs Clinton has found herself. I believe she is merely the most high-profile example of careless crossing of boundaries which occurs day-by-day in companies, councils and government.

BYOD infographic

It is clearly essential that organisations holding or with access to third-party data, as well as their own sensitive information, have strict policies on BYOD (or "bring your own technology" as it sometimes described) and it is good to see that government has issued guidelines.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

How Vote Leave succeeded

Thanks to Terry Teachout for passing on this quotation:

“No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.”

Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Saturday, 27 August 2016

St Paul would be affronted

There is an admonition in all the Abrahamic religions for women to dress modestly. Some Spanish authorities have enforced public cover-ups well into this century, and the bathing-machine survived to the age of photography on Britain's beaches. So it is perverse as well as shameful for armed men to insist on women to remove burkinis and it is good to see the French supreme court restoring sanity and liberal values.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Limited scope for Fairwood expansion

On the face of it, the idea of Travel House owner Martin Morgan to expand Swansea Airport to regional status is an attractive one. Swansea hosts an expanding university, top division rugby and football teams and a thriving cultural scene. The airport itself is in Gower, the UK's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and could be an entry point to other west Wales tourist attractions.

However, a glance at the map shows that there is no direct connection to the rail or motorway networks. This would reduce its commercial viability. As a contributor to this Evening Post article points out, expansion of facilities to regain regional status would take "a significant amount of investment" over several years. The main runway would need to be extended by over a third of a mile to be able to the sort of aircraft needed for a regional service. This would require planning consent and possibly a public inquiry. Infrastructure to handle the new level of passenger traffic would have to be created.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Chilcot and the Athens of the North

There is a thought-provoking comment by Maria Pretzler on the public reading of the whole of the Chilcot Report during the Edinburgh Festival. She finds more than one parallel with "the ancient Greek tradition to recite whole epics during festivals".


In the midst of the war of words over Jeremy Corbyn's travelling sit-in, a writer queried the candidate's use of the term "ram-packed". My guess is that he did what so many of us do when speaking off the cuff: mixed up two phrases. In this case, it was "rammed" (becoming a common synonym for "crowded") and "jam-packed".

I have noticed another confusion of two sayings which has now established itself: "by far and away", combining the traditional "by far" and "far and away".

While I am in pedantic mode, Richard Branson should be described as co-owner of Virgin Trains, not the owner.

Port Talbot integrated transport hub

From a report in the Evening Post, it seems that the proposals launched last year are being taken a stage further. The details as approved by the planning committee last year are here. It is not clear from a swift perusal whether the council has taken into account the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and built accessibility into the design, something which is sadly lacking in the Victoria Gardens bus facility.

On the subject of Neath, when is there to be an integration of bus and train here?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Channel 4 documentary on John Harris

It seems that the son of the deluded Johannesburg bomber John Harris was left in blissful ignorance of the crime until he came across his father's stored belongings. Channel 4 have taken the opportunity to make a documentary about the man. It will be shown at 8 p.m. on 27th August. We are assured by the producer that it will be even-handed and not seek to excuse the crime. The choice of title does not bode well, but the programme-makers did take the trouble to interview as many of those involved who are still alive, including the victims.

My compilation of reports of the events of 24th July 1964 is here.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Threat to critical Companies House data

The current Private Eye magazine has a worrying report in its In the City column. It seems that the management of the Gwent-based Companies House wants to purge records of companies which have been dissolved more than six years. Since the database is now computerised, it is hard to see what this move would save, apart from a few hundred pounds for disk storage. This would be lost many times over by victims of rogues who would gain anonymity by the move. The victims would include not only ordinary investors but also the exchequer.

As the Eye report states, the magazine has "often relied on the story told by Companies House records of long-dissolved comanies to dig out the truth." The writer lists such chancers as Dominic Chappell of BHS infamy, Craig Whyte (Glasgow Rangers), Brian Leigh, and Sam Gyimah, whose failed business ventures would all have vanished without trace under a six-year rule.

The article concludes: " What Companies House is proposing is not the right to be forgotten but the right to rewrite history for the benefit of those with something to hide - and where the public has a clear right to have that history remembered."

Mrs May has shown herself to be generally in favour of good company governance and of cracking down on tax avoidance. It is to be hoped that she will pass the message on to the BIS minister that nothing should be done to make it easier for con-men.

I would like the government to be more proactive, and pursue companies which break the law by, for instance, not filing returns on time or having clearly phony directors, both of which software is capable of detecting. However, not opening the six-year loophole would be a good start for a clean-hands May administration.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Global warming deniers have gone quiet*

Anti-scientific campaigners are quick to point to any anomalous downturn in temperature or inconsistency between the data provided by the various research institutions. However, they have had very little to get their teeth into for over a year now, and the figures for July 2016 tend to confirm the long-term trend. As Discover magazine's Tom Yulsman reports:

Even though the El Niño warming episode is over, Earth’s heat streak is continuing. Big time.
Both NASA and NOAA have released their verdicts for global temperatures in July (NASA’s here, and NOAA’s here). And both concur that it was the hottest such month on record.
Since July is typically the warmest month of the year globally, that means it was the hottest of all 1,639 months on record.
Let us count other ways in which July 2016 was noteworthy:
  • It marks the 15th straight month that the global temperature record has been broken.
  • This is the longest such streak in the 137-year record.
  • July marks the 40th consecutive such month with temperatures that were at least nominally above the 20th century average.
  • The last time July’s global average temperatures were below average was back in 1976.
  • Last month also was the 379th consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average.

*many of us suspect that they re-directed their energies into rubbishing the European Union, with rather more success

Stuck in a rut refers. So now I have a better excuse for failing to deliver a report on time: "I was in a temporal metastate".

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Toc Ack for the memory

A contemporary wrote recently on Facebook: "we had a physics master called Alec Dumbill (he was far from dumb). One of his favourite put-downs was: '[whoever], you're as dim as a Toc H lamp'. Never knew what it meant and still don't."

This struck me as disingenuous. John was not trying to conceal his age - he actually dated the exchanges (1956, if you must know) within his FB message - so I can only think he was pretending to appear less knowledgeable than he is, but I have no qualms about showing off. When we were growing up, there were still remnants of the Great War phonetic alphabet around. I can distinctly remember ack-emma and pip-emma, (a.m. and p.m.) being used in films and radio programmes. References to ack-ack (anti-aircraft fire) would have been understood almost into this century, even if the original derivation had been lost. A grammar school lad with any curiosity would have wanted to find out more, and I did.

The progress of phonetic alphabets is interesting. The clearest exposition I have seen is here. Being an army brat, I was fairly familiar with the Interservice set. The NATO alphabet, now in common use across public services as well as the military ("Juliet Bravo", anybody?), is clearly an advance in using names which are internationally recognisable, but some of the historical resonance has been lost in its adoption.

And Toc H? It stood for Talbot House, the brainchild of an Anglican clergymen, "Tubby" Clayton and named in memory of the nephew of a fellow-chaplain, Neville Talbot, during the 1914-18 war. It was intended as a club house open to all ranks and conditions of men as an alternative to the numerous bars and brothels in the town of Poperinge. For many, Talbot House became a home from home. Its symbol - guiding light, perhaps? - was an Aladdin-style lamp to which the cross of Ypres was attached (the "Lamp of Maintenance"), seen dimly burning through the window of an upstairs chapel.  The house's modern-day embodiment is described here.

Two years after the war, Clayton developed the concept of an international, interdenominational, association for Christian social service and, as we would say now, used an established brand name to give it instant recognition. Toc H continues to use the Lamp of Maintenance as a symbol. So the saying was probably originally "as dim as the Toc H lamp" and it was only later that the indefinite article came to be common.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Corbyn the Russia-lover?

Jeremy Corbyn has lived down to the media stereotype of the Labour-lefty fellow-traveller with his failure to confirm that he would honour the NATO pledge to defend another treaty member. It was a Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee, who promoted the treaty organisation and defended it against attacks from Moscow. Successive Labour leaders have stood by the pledge, and quite rightly, too.

From 1949's USSR until today's Russia, Moscow has proved very willing to proclaim its willingness to sign up to peace agreements while deviously pursuing its own interests regardless of its public stance. There are current examples in the Ukraine and Syria. It is nibbling away at Georgia and stands ready to regain control of the Baltic states if we forgo our readiness to defend them. If Mr Corbyn seriously believes we can rely on diplomacy alone to constrain Russia's expansionism, then he is as useful an idiot as Donald Trump.

Owen Smith has shown himself equally credulous when it comes to Daesh. It is clear that the UK would not be safe in the hands of either of these men. Can Labour produce another candidate for leader, please?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

There is never a time to talk to Daesh

Owen Smith seems to have been reading my old posts. At one time, I felt that the organisation which then saw itself as the new caliphate could be negotiated with. At least, the Sunni tribal leaders who were attracted to ISIL as a defence against the perceived threat from Shia forces could have been given concrete reassurances and turned away from violent revolution. However, that was before I learned of ISIL/ISIS (now known by everyone outside the BBC and Saudi Arabia as Daesh) embarking on its gruesome and barbarous career, putting itself beyond civilised discussion.

Nobody should be lending the leaders of Daesh any shred of credibility.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

It''s what Wales voted for, part 9

BBC reports:
UKIP Wales leader Nathan Gill has announced he is leaving the party's group in the Welsh Assembly to sit as an independent AM for North Wales.

But he said he was not leaving the party and would remain a UKIP MEP.

Spin bowlers improve with age

Graeme Swann is one of those spin bowlers who made an early impact, featuring in England Under-19 sides of the 1990s. He did not develop as quickly as one might have expected - indeed, I remember commenting that his replacing Robert Croft in the full England side was premature - but he certainly had a late flowering. This is demonstrated in his autobiography which Jonathan Calder reviews here.

That is why county selectors should have patience with young practitioners of the art. There is no substitute for learning in the middle and teams should be prepared to include bowlers who have not yet reached their full potential.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Hats off to Glamorgan

After the rude things I have said about the county's cricketers, it was a pleasure to watch the run target on cricinfo counting down to achieve their second win (against promotion candidates Worcestershire) this season. Congratulations especially to Owen Morgan who held the innings together after going in as night-watchman. He deservedly sealed the win and his maiden championship century with a four. A word too for Aneurin Donald who found his form again after clearly suffering a reaction to his record double hundred, and to Will Bragg who contributed 46.

Clean up our streets

There has been much discussion on the Ferret about the filth and rubbish on our streets in Neath. Cen Phillips tells me that Aberavon is as bad. Now there is a way for concerned citizens to make their feelings known to the council. There is a petition here.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The biggest single-member ward in the borough

This news item reminded me how skewed council representation has become. In 2004, the population of Coedffranc West  was 1,727. In 2012, it had risen to 2,142. I do not have the exact number, but with the surge in house-building after that election the population in 2015 was around 2,600 and it will clearly exceed 3,000 by the time of the electoral register to be used for the 2017 council elections. In all that time, the ward has been represented by a single councillor. Contrast that with Coedffranc Central nextdoor which has had a fairly static population of just under 3,000 and has been represented by two councillors since the inception of Neath Port Talbot county borough. Margam ward has also been growing, though not quite as fast. It, too, has only a single councillor.

There was an opportunity in 2010 to equalise representation and bring it more into line with government recommendations. However, an inexperienced boundary commission (pdf here) produced an impractical and unacceptable solution, much to the relief no doubt of the ruling party which over the years has stood to gain from the unchanged situation.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Russian Liberals launch new manifesto

Liberal International reports that Grigory Yavlinsky, YABLOKO's founder, has presented the party's programme for upcoming elections in Russia. Their trouble is that if they look like achieving any real power, Donald Trump's butty Volodya has them locked up.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Liberal Democrats policy-making more transparent

This page is a new handy guide to the progress of current federal Liberal Democrat policy discussions. Note the invitations to contribute where the consultation process is still open.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Signal control centre in Port Talbot to close

The rail lines in South Wales will be the latest to come under control of one of Network Rail's Rail Operating Centres. These have already opened in Manchester and York, so far without any reported trouble. The Cardiff ROC is scheduled to open in October 2017 and will eliminate the need for the facility in Port Talbot, as I read this report from Rail Technology magazine (RTM).

This reorganisation would clearly be carried out anyway, as it is part of Network Rail's programme to make job savings. However, re-signalling is also essential to the future electrified running of the Great Western main line (GWML) including that to Neath and Swansea. The RTM report has a slight sting in the tail:

The mammoth GWML electrification project recently reached a major milestone at the end of May when a section of the line was officially declared “energised” for the first time. But the project still faces major challenges, with the ORR [Office of Rail and Road] saying in its annual Network Rail assessment in July that while the infrastructure owner had improved its performance, the GWML electrification scheme remains “at risk”.

The rolling stock share of the programme is running well, however, with Great Western Railway recently ordering seven more Class 800 IEP trains from Hitachi after the first took its maiden voyage at the beginning of July.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Illiberalism on the rise

Another sign of a world-wide trend to authoritarianism comes from Nicaragua, as reported by Liberal International. In a clear attempt to remove all effective opposition in advance of parliamentary elections in November this year, by stripping liberal parliamentarians – the largest opposition group – of their power in parliament. This follows a decision by the Sandinista-backed courts to rob Liberal International Vice-President, Eduardo Montealegre MP, of his legal position as head of the liberal party, Partido Liberal Independiente.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Consultation: Priorities for Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

The Welsh Assembly's key economic committee seeks suggestions on its priorities for the coming Assembly year. More details here.

Farmers hard-pressed financially

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution reports that it has had to help out more Welsh farmers than ever before.

The long form of cricket under threat

Tomorrow is a make-or-break day for Glamorgan Cricket. It should not be. The players should have been committed to all forms of the game. However, it was decided some years back that the county should concentrate on the Twenty20 format. There were some near misses, but at last Glamorgan have reached a T20 Blast quarter-final. The return of Shaun Tait will help, but Yorkshire are a formidable side in one-day cricket this year. I wish Glamorgan luck.

I sat on the terrace last week and was depressed by the lack of will to win in the Royal London One-Day match against Hampshire, especially after the opposing captain made what should have been a tactical error in choosing to bat first on a field still affected by overnight rain. Scoring was initially slow with an outfield which became faster during the day, but Glamorgan helped to turn a moderate target into a challenging one by dropping three catches. I dread to think what Wilf Wooller would have said to the fielders concerned if he were alive today - Fergie's hair-dryer treatment was nothing compared to a Wooller dressing-down.

The talk on the terrace was of the move away from four-day cricket to city and regional franchises playing limited-overs matches on the lines of the Indian cricket league. Have the Glamorgan committee given up a long-term commitment to traditional county cricket in favour of promoting the Cardiff Taffies (or some such)? If four-day or even three-day cricket goes, then England and Wales as a force in test cricket will soon follow.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Swans make profit but lose leader

The moment Swansea City fans had feared has arrived. Everton only had to increase their offer by £2m to overcome the resistance of the new owners at the Liberty. Ashley Williams will be missed for his experience and ability but most of all for his leadership.

But one wonders how he will adjust to Goodison. He has been used to running the show for Swansea and Wales. Unless manager Koeman specifically grants him the same rôle in the Everton defence, Williams is going to be down the pecking order in the company of other experienced internationals.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Lowell Goddard resignation

Cathy Fox, a persistent campaigner for justice for child victims of abuse, has taken the even-handed approach of posting the responses of  the opposition to the Goddard Inquiry. One wonders how her honour's appointment, which was hailed as a bold and intelligent move sixteen months ago, is suddenly seen as perverse.

Justice Goddard's sudden resignation may not be the disaster which it might seem at first sight. Her stewardship has had the effect of taking the Inquiry out of the media eye and allowed the back-office staff to proceed with the business of marshalling witnesses and so on. It may be that the Inquiry's scope was too broad for one person to oversee. However, that is no reason to abandon any part of it. Things have gone too far. If necessary, there should be a division of judicial labour. Perhaps PM Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd would consider the suggestion made earlier that a Scottish judge without any ties which might be seen as compromising should be brought in.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

South African politics grows up

That was the sense of the Guardian's response to the results of last week's local elections in South Africa. The final results were declared yesterday, and show that the ANC failed to hold several of its previous strongholds. It is worth noting that Jacob Zuma's main selling point was race, and that he conspicuously failed.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Canal development

It seems that the scheme to remove the post-war obstructions to the canal in Clydach is still a goer. I wish the promoters well, while hoping that corresponding work on the Neath and Tennant Canals is picked up again. A start should be made by maintaining the tow-path between Neath and Tonna which is I believe on an officially-nominated cycle route.

Then the overgrowth in the upper reaches could be cleared:

A great perch for ducks, but fallen trees near Cwmgwrach assist the stagnation of the Neath Canal.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Alf Siddley

It is with sadness that I learned of the death of Councillor Siddley in today's Evening Post. I remember him as a defender of traditional Labour values but always friendly and good company. My sympathies go to his family and friends.