Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Five hundred years ago, the end of the Aztec emperors

On or around 30th June 1520, Montezuma II, the last emperor of the Aztecs, became the victim of the Spanish. Britannica states:

Montezuma tried to buy off Cortés, but the Spaniard made alliances with those subject tribes who hated Aztec rule. Welcomed into the capital city of Tenochtitlán by Montezuma, Cortés realized it was a trap and, instead, made the emperor his prisoner, believing that the Aztecs would not attack as long as he held Montezuma captive. Montezuma’s submission to the Spaniards, however, had eroded the respect of his people. According to Spanish accounts, he attempted to speak to his subjects and was assailed with stones and arrows, suffering wounds from which he died three days later. The Aztecs, however, believed the Spaniards had murdered their emperor, and Cortés’s force was nearly destroyed as it tried to sneak out of Tenochtitlán at night.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Covid-19 deaths: Welsh turn-round

In April, I wrote that Wales was doing worse than both Scotland and England in terms of fatalities per head of population. Now expert analysis by a team based in Oxford University has shown that over the 11-week peak of infection, Wales has been safer than all the home nations apart from Northern Ireland. Indeed, Scotland, Ulster and Wales have made the UK's grisly record in handling the Covid-19 emergency look ever-so-slightly better.

deaths graph

Plastic resurgence

Were you concerned about all the extra plastic and discarded material from non-reusable PPE? You are not alone. Euronews reports:

It had all been going so well. Gone were the plastic straws, bottles were being made from recyclable glass again, many of us started buying reusable coffee cups and plastic bags had become thoroughly unfashionable. Those images of fish wrapped in difficult-to-disintegrate plastic and talk of microplastics getting into our diet genuinely seemed to have swayed the public mood. 

 How things have changed. From face masks and visors to gloves, almost every aspect of personal protective equipment is made from disposable plastic. According to Grand View Research, globally the disposable market for masks is expecting exponential growth; rising from an estimated 708 million euros last year to 147 billion euros this year. 

 Supermarkets have introduced plastic screens at check outs to protect staff, some fruit and vegetables are again being wrapped and we are shopping online so much more (which again means more wrapping, more plastic). In May alone some 2.5 billion customers are believed to have logged onto Amazon’s website. How many of us have ordered takeaways during lockdown? They're often stored in plastic containers with – yes, you’ve guessed it – plastic knives and forks and plastic pots for condiments too. 

 All of this is leading to a rising tide of plastic waste. Reports from rubbish collectors from Dublin to Athens suggest that plastic is taking up an increasing proportion of their weekly collections. Much of it is simply not recyclable, or won’t be recycled. Many plants were closed during lockdown and there are continuing concerns about the virus surviving on certain materials for many days. 

 Much of this plastic is simply ending up in landfill sites, but unlike the other rubbish it will take many more years to decompose. In fact, no one really knows how long it takes plastic to break down, but it is certainly measured in hundreds of years. Outside of Europe, rubbish is often left in open dumps, exposed to the elements. Some of it will end up in our oceans. 

 Plastic broken down by the salt and the sun ends up as microplastics, which are ingested by fish and shellfish and they are then, in turn, eaten by us. Plastic can often prove to be a killer of sea life too. Fish, turtles and whales can often choke on plastic bags or get tangled in plastic netting. 

 Things had been getting better, but the coronavirus looks set to change that. 

 For the past couple of decades, a concerted effort has been made to wean us off disposable plastic. A report last year by GlobalWebIndex showed that 53 percent of people surveyed in the US and UK had reduced their single-use plastic over the 12 preceding months. Yet, now plastic is our protector, it is literally helping to save lives. But will that immediate benefit be to the long-term detriment of our planet?

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Lady Maddock

The death of Diana Maddock has been announced. The official party pen-portrait has not been updated at the time of writing.

Diana Maddock was born in 1945 and taught in Southampton, Bournemouth and Sweden until she had a family and became involved in politics in the mid 1970s.

Diana joined the Liberal party in 1976. She was elected top Southampton City Council in 1984, only giving up her seat when she was elected to Parliament at a by-election in 1993. On the council she was Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group and had a particular interest in housing and energy conservation.

Diana served as Member of Parliament for Christchurch from 1993-1997. During that time she served on the communities of a number of Parliamentary Bills covering Housing, Finance and Building Societies. She was also Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats on housing, the family and women's issues.

In 1994 Diana came out number 1 in the Private Members Bill Ballot. She chose the Home Energy Conservation Bill which she successfully piloted through all its Parliamentary stages to become the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.

Diana has close associations with many national organisations concerned with housing and energy conservation and is active (is active) in All-Party Parliamentary groups concerned with these areas.

Diana has been a life peer since November 1997. She stood down as Housing Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords in 2004.

From 1998-2000 Diana Maddock was Federal President of the Liberal Democrat Party.

She was a member of Northumberland County Council 2005-8 and of Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council 2007-9.

She was a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life 2003-9. In June 2001 she married Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith, the Lib Dem Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Alan Beith was also later ennobled as The Rt Hon. the Lord Beith. I had the great pleasure of meeting Diana Maddock when she attended the 1999 Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Swansea.

The extraordinary Nellie Wan

It seems that she was the first person of colour (her ancestry being South Asian as well as African) to gain a contract in Hollywood. Moreover, it was given her by DW Griffith for a bit part on Birth of a Nation, the movie which is credited with reviving the fortunes of the Ku Klux Klan.

An article on Jstor states:
No one knows where the name Madame Sul-Te-Wan came from. It belonged to Nellie Wan, a black vaudeville actress from Louisville who adopted the moniker when she transitioned to film in the mid-1910s. But the origins of her stage name have always been murky. NYU film professor Donald Bogle believes it was her way of avoiding racist condescension, since at the time, white Southerners often addressed black women by their first names, or “Aunt.”

[From running her own dance company to marrying, moving to California, and then being dumped by her husband with three young sons, she needed money fast]
Griffith was in the middle of filming Nation, his blockbuster revisionist history of the Reconstruction era, when Sul-Te-Wan approached him. As Regester notes, there are conflicting accounts on what she said or did to catch his attention—at least one story features a costume of “a red satin turban, long shiny braids that nearly reached her knees, and shiny gold earrings.” But she evidently sold Griffith on her pitch. He gave her a job, paying her a salary of $3 a day. That initial offer eventually increased to a $25-per-week contract, the film critic Ashley Clark writes.

Thereafter, her work was prolific, though
Sul-Te-Wan was rarely mentioned in the mainstream white press outside the occasional cast list, though her turn as Tituba, a slave and accused witch in Maid of Salem, garnered some rare notice.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Golden thread

I trust that Zerbanoo Gifford will not mind me borrowing the title of one of her books for the title of this post. After all, it is another of her books which appears as an Indian bead on a thread which started on Liberal Democrat Voice.

There was a review by Simon McGrath of Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism by Dinyar Patel. It seems that the Americans have just discovered the first Indian MP. A comment to Simon's post complained of the lack of a British biography. That struck a chord with me, because I distinctly remembered another Liberal pioneer in local government writing a biography of the great man. I checked with the trusty Dictionary of Liberal Biography and sure enough, there it was: Dadabhai Naoroji, Britain's First Asian MP, by Zerbanoo Gifford, published to mark the centenary of Naoroji's first election.

There was also mention of another biography, by a certain R.P. Masani from 1939. (There was a paperback reissue ten years ago.) Minoo (the name by which he seems to have been better-known back home) Masani is an even more forgotten Parsi politician than Naoroji. An early socialist, he was at first taken in, like so many, by the Lenin-Stalin reconstruction of Russia, but eventually came to reject the centralised state to which Pandit Nehru and Congress were leading India. He co-founded the liberal Swatantra party as a counter-balance to Congress. Sadly, it did not catch on (the fact that so many of its supporters were from the moneyed classes must have damaged its image) and it fell to the ultra-nationalist BJP to end Congress's monopoly.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Policing methods

There are reports that some people involved in the administration of local police forces in the United States. feel that the prevailing strategy for keeping the peace is wrong. They are said to be looking abroad for ideas. They could start by following Canada and restrict the use of lethal weapons. Then they could consult Britain's Clifford Stott, who in the last in this season's Life Scientific programmes, explained to Jim al-Khalili how crowd trouble can be defused before it even starts.

My recollection is that policing in England and Wales in the 1950s was done largely by consent. Moreover, police prevented crowds building up in the first place. Of course, there was the right numbers of officers then to maintain such policies. At some time, the strategy changed so that in the capital at least we looked more like the French - a show of force by officers in riot gear behind shields. If, heeding the research by Professor Stott, the Met. at least change their strategy, a long hot summer may not see the crowd violence that such weather has engendered in the past.

But what are we to make of Maxine Peake, and, as a consequence, Rebecca Long-Bailey? Peake is an excellent actress and one who has admirably made the case for the North of England. However, she should have been intelligent enough not to stray out of her areas of expertise in passing on some ill-founded speculation:
US police learnt the practice of kneeling on people’s necks “from seminars with Israeli secret services”.

My first reaction to this was that, in the unlikely event that it occurred, it was more likely that the exchange of techniques was the other way round. Of course, this view is coloured by my recollection of extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation techniques from the days of a complaisant G.W. Bush. There are credible reports that the CIA trained the secret police of America's allies in the Middle East, including those of the Shah. It also seems unlikely that the many US police authorities - which have a great deal of local autonomy, it should be remembered - would take lessons from those of a foreign power when there was expertise within the States.

Besides, phrases such as "kneeling on the neck" or "putting feet on the neck" go back a long way. In recent years, women's liberation has used the phraseology. It does have a biblical ring, and sure enough there is in the Old Testament:
Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings … for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against whom ye fight. (Joshua 10:24-25)

It is arguable that the allegation is not in itself anti-Semitic (try substituting "French" for "Israeli" and it makes as much sense), but the biblical overtones and the context of a Labour Party trying to shake off an aura of Antisemitism make it so. If Ms Peake was foolish in Tweeting it, Ms Long-Bailey was doubly so, knowing that her new leader would leap on any slip to rid himself of a prominent Corbynista, and one who contested his leadership.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Dusé Mohamed

My subscription to the ODNB's biography of the day service seldom fails to turn up instructive detail about both well-known historical figures and some who were new to me. In the latter category comes Ali, Dusé Mohamed (who adopted Dusé Mohamed as a stage name). He was born in Egypt in 1866, made a living as an actor in England after his father died and later developed as an anti-colonial polemicist. His main claim to fame is his influence on Marcus Garvey who worked for him on one of his periodicals for a time. Another more tenuous claim is that he was the first African actor to play Othello on the English stage.

The mutual tolerance of Mohamed and the British is striking. Before moving to the USA in 1921, he seems to have adopted Kingston-upon-Hull as a base and even wrote a book about Hull. At the height of his publications dedicated to Africa and freedom for Africans from the imperial yoke, it appears he was never in trouble from the authorities. He maintained his admiration for Shakespeare throughout his life.

His latter years were spent in Nigeria, editing yet another weekly paper dedicated to African politics, which influenced two future leaders of Nigeria, "Zik" (who bought the paper in 1944) and Enahoro. He died in Lagos on this day seventy-five years ago.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Backed with silver

There is an old Rabbinic story, which I probably heard first in one of Lionel Blue's Today inserts. This is the version told by Paulo Coelho, a Catholic if not an orthodox one.

A very rich young man went to see a Rabbi in order to ask his advice about what he should do with his life. The Rabbi led him over to the window and asked him:
‘What can you see through the glass?’
‘I can see men coming and going and a blind man begging for alms in the street.’
Then the Rabbi showed him a large mirror and said to him:
‘Look in this mirror and tell me what you see.’
‘I can see myself.’
‘And you can’t see the others. Notice that the window and the mirror are both made of the same basic material, glass.
‘You should compare yourself to these two kinds of glass. Poor, you saw other people and felt compassion for them.
‘Rich – covered in silver – you see yourself.
‘You will only be worth anything when you have the courage to tear away the coating of silver covering your eyes in order to be able to see again and love your fellow man.’

Statues and symbols

"H. sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions." -Joyce Carol Oates, writer (b. 16 Jun 1938)

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Fifty years ago

For some of us, repeats of BBC TV coverage of past elections are always fascinating. Last Saturday, BBC Parliament treated us to a re-run of the 1970 general election. The technical differences between then and now were obvious, but there were some striking parallels with today.

The immediate impression was that of the personalities involved. As with too many of these programmes until comparatively recently, the presenters and reporters were all male. Until Janet Fookes appeared in an excruciatingly patronising interview by Robin Day, the only glimpse of a female face in the studio was that of one of the assistants among the banks of CRT monitors. There was also an overwhelming Conservative air to the presentation: Day himself and Cliff Michelmore may not have been "out" as Conservatives at this time, but their enjoyment of Edward Heath's victory was clear. The psephologists David Butler and Robert Mackenzie were regarded as more Liberal in their attitudes but there was no whiff of socialism - unless you count the young John Humphrys, who put in a brief appearance. Humphrys, David Dimbleby and the Sultan of Swing himself, David Butler, are happily still with us, but all the other famous faces have passed.

Reminiscent of 2019 was the evisceration of the Liberal Party. After the revival of the mid-1960s, the fall in representation from 12 MPs to 6 must have been a shattering blow. However, the rebound to 13 after the 1974 elections was just round the corner. A pattern seemed to have become established: the party's fortunes rose and fell with the unpopularity of the Conservatives. Something similar happened to Liberal Democrats between 1979 (when we lost only two seats, it should be noted, even after participating in the Lib/Lab pact) and 1997. However, I am not optimistic of a swift bounce back today, as we lost our reputation for political integrity under Nick Clegg and it will take some time to regain it. 

A sombre parallel was how 1970 was dominated by race. Result after result showed the biggest swings to Conservative candidates who were outspokenly xenophobic or in areas, like the Black Country, where race was a predominant issue.  The saving grace was that the leader himself and his trusted colleagues were socially liberal, as opposed to today when the prime minister is on the racially prejudiced wing of his party and is happy to play on this for electoral purposes. 

Monday, 22 June 2020

The Creation of the US Department of Justice

From the Web site of the Library of Congress, on this 150th anniversary of the creation of the DoJ:

It is a curiosity of history that while the office of the Attorney General of the United States was created by the first congress as a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Department of Justice was not authorized until over eighty years later, in 1870.
While there had been earlier calls for the creation of a separate legal department that would supervise the work of federal lawyers, it was not until after the end of the Civil War that Congress began to give serious consideration to the matter. In late 1867, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary asked Attorney General Henry Stanbery to respond to several questions concerning the efficiency of the government’s legal departments. Stanbery replied that a solicitor general was needed to argue the government’s cases before the Supreme Court, and that the centralization of the government’s legal business under one department would improve the quality of the work. In 1868, after the House Judiciary Committee asked Stanbery to respond to a similar inquiry, Representative Thomas Jenckes of Rhode Island introduced a bill to establish a department of justice. This bill was referred to the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment, a committee impaneled to consider legislation to reduce the size and cost of government. In addition, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative William Lawrence of Ohio, introduced a similar bill which was referred to that committee.
Due to the impeachment and subsequent trial of President Johnson, no action was taken on either bill during the 40th congress. In 1870, during the 41st congress, Jenckes introduced another bill to create the department, this time with the support of Lawrence. The bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed by President Grant on June 22, 1870; on July 1 of that year, the new department came into being.
Over the [...] 150 years of its existence, the department’s role has greatly expanded. The practice of paying United States Attorneys based upon fees was discontinued in the late 19th century. The department took on the litigating of the government’s position in a number of policy issues such as civil rightsantitrust,  and the environment. The department’s role in criminal law has also expanded. A separate Criminal Division provides support for the prosecution of defendants in federal courts. In addition, the department oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a number of related law enforcement agencies.
From a small beginning in 1870, the department is now one of the largest in the executive branch.

Great green Greek grand tour

There is news today that the pedestrianisation of the centre of Athens, part of the scheme outlined here, will be completed shortly. Traffic lanes will be reclaimed for cyclists and pedestrians. Use of public transport will be encouraged, though investment will be needed in new buses as replacements for the old fleet were put off under the austerity measures of the last decade. A long-term plan to make the capital more pedestrian-friendly, including being able to walk to the Acropolis, has been accelerated by the Covid-19 epidemic. There is a need to bring back tourists to bolster the economy, taking advantage of the nation's relatively virus-free status*. It is clear also that the benefits of reducing the pollution due to the internal combustion engine because of economic inactivity during the emergency have been brought home to administrators.

* The government still has to cope with occasional outbreaks such as this, and there are warnings against large gatherings.

Friday, 19 June 2020

British Intelligence

These days "British intelligence" must be regarded abroad as an oxymoron, thanks to the antics of those we elected in order to safeguard our future. However, back before the exposure of Burgess and Maclean, the UK's intelligence services had a great deal of respect. It was enough to inspire a young Chicagoan journalist turned screenwriter, Anthony Paul Kelly, to write a play about a supposed counter-espionage coup by our people in the dark days of 1917. Two films were made of the play under the title Three Faces East, a silent in 1928 then a Vitaphone talkie in 1930. Ten years later, when Britain and the Empire were standing alone against Hitler, the story was revived by Warner Bros. as British Intelligence. The Great War setting remained the same, but a speech in the last reel looking forward to an end to the war clearly betrayed the intention of the makers to draw a parallel with the current conflict. Major figures in Hollywood, backed by a subtle British PR campaign, wanted the US to enter the war against the genocidal Nazi regime. It actually took the Japanese intervention in 1941 to bring that about, but in the mean time Churchill was able to negotiate military aid from the US.

The film itself (shown recently on Talking Pictures TV) was not bad, considering it was probably released as a second feature, judging by the fact that the star name was that of Boris Karloff*. The female lead was Margaret Lindsay whose IMDb profile describes her as not quite of star status. They certainly carried the film. Ms Lindsay's pitch-perfect English accent, rare for an American actress of that time, was backed by a supporting cast of largely British origin. I had no idea that there were so many jobbing British actors in the US at that time. Among them was the great-great-uncle of Kevin Spacey. There was also a smattering of Germans - presumably seeking refuge from the Nazis - in the cast. Anyway, the script (and the cast) kept me guessing as to who were the agents and who the double-agents until near the final showdown.

* One of my claims to a low degree of separation from old Hollywood is that I once played postal chess against a younger brother of Mr Pratt.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Why not a Welsh Perry Mason?

After all, Raymond Burr was a Canadian, and a proud one at that. So the news that Matthew Rhys will play the part in a prequel to the classic TV series should not come as a shock. Nor should the trails that the newly-imagined young Mason strayed into the criminal in order to solve his cases surprise one. The Mason of the original Erle Stanley Gardner stories was quite prepared to mislead the police, tamper with evidence and to conceal witnesses or possible suspects in order to gain time. It was only when the TV writing team took over that Mason became more prudent - and of course he was positively magisterial when he was revived for the final TV movie specials. This progress from the chancer to the conservative merely reflects many men's careers.

How likely it is that Mason could have built up a legal practice and a great knowledge of precedent starting out as a private investigator is more dubious. It will be interesting to see how today's American writers chart this progress. Another doubt I had was that of height, but I see that Rhys is not as short as he appears; he is only giving one inch away to the six foot Burr. The Radio Times preview also hints at a young Paul Drake appearing. William Hopper measured six-three, so one wonders how the programme makers have risen to that challenge.

As to the current showings on a couple of the CBS channels here, we are back to the earliest series. I had hoped that, having finished series 4, CBS would move on to series 5 thus filling the gap with the last four series already shown. On the other hand, series 5 would be when the OPD which eventually claimed Ray Collins' (Lt Arthur Tragg) life really took hold. That can be the only reason for the scene in the last episode of series 4 where William Talman as DA Hamilton Burger took Tragg through the evidence in a series of leading questions rather than have Tragg speak for himself. Series 5 might make painful viewing.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Why should pensioners pay the price for Johnson's Covid-19 mismanagement?

After the trashing of the Green Investment Bank and the raid on the independent 0.7% international development fund, the Tories under Boris Johnson plan to go back on another progressive coalition policy, the pensions triple lock. With the guarantee of a 2.5% increase every year, if that was more than the rise in the wage rate index or in the CPI, UK old age pensions were gradually edging towards the more realistic levels on the continent. Now that is going to come to a shuddering halt.

The reason given is that "the policy may become unaffordable due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak". Typical of the short-term thinking of the Treasury, matching the short mental horizon of the prime minister, the long-term result will not only be more poverty among pensioners but also losses by local businesses, especially corner shops.

Instead of heading towards an ever-deeper recession, in which the weakest will suffer most, the UK could have been resuming normal business if Johnson had got a grip on the virus outbreak in good time, as the leaders in Greece, New Zealand, Taiwan and half-a-dozen other nations have done.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Johnson's cynical diversion of aid to dictators and big business

That is the practical effect of the abolition of the Department for International Development which my party has rightly objected to

Is it a coincidence that the announcement was slipped out on the same day as the stage-managed capitulation to a Manchester United footballer? This must have drawn the fire of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The best reasons for remembering Churchill

A veteran who organised a vigil in Whitehall yesterday in order to protect the Cenotaph and to show support for retaining the statue of Winston Churchill as a great war leader, had difficulty controlling his anger in an interview on BBC News this morning. He and his comrades feel a duty to protect all war memorials, but, when police advised them that they were breaking the law in conducting their assembly in central London, they withdrew, in good order - only to be replaced by a mob of neo-Nazis and their fellow-travellers.

The neo-Nazis of course were less intent on showing respect for our war dead than on provoking fights with Black Lives Matter protesters. Extremists among the BLM movement had daubed the Churchill statue after his depiction as a racist.

There is no denying statements like this:
I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.
[Churchill's War Office Memorandum, written May 12, 1919]

Perhaps the Tommy Robinson mob took the BLM categorisation at face value and hailed Churchill as a champion of racism. But, though he shared the prejudices of his class and age, he was most of all a patriot and a defender of European civilisation. His great contribution to this was in acting as a consistent opponent of appeasement, around whom others could gather, and then, when war finally came, displacing the ineffectual Chamberlain and galvanising the country. As late as May 1940, Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, wanted to discuss peace terms with Hitler. Halifax had considerable support which Churchill had to overcome. One imagines those terms would have involved the UK handing over African and maybe even West Indian colonies to Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. There would have been no Afro-Caribbean community in England and the parents and grandparents of the BLM protesters would have been living under a racist colonial regime worse than the worst aspects of British rule.

Churchill and social reform

What both Labour and Tories have succeeded in doing, for their various reasons, is erasing from the public mind Winston Churchill/s liberalism, of seeking to build and safeguard a society "in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity" to quote the current Liberal Democrat constitution. His pre-Great War achievements included the first UK network of labour exchanges, modelled on the German original which Beveridge had researched, and a statutory insurance scheme against unemployment - limited, but a world first. He established a system of wages councils which put a floor under the earnings of workers in a range of industries - a system which Mrs Thatcher systematically put an end to. He enthusiastically supported that great Liberal government's other reforms steered though parliament by his friend David Lloyd George. At the other end of his political career, towards the end of the second world war, he gave carte blanche to RA Butler to reform secondary education and turned to his former SpAd, William Beveridge, to produce the report which led to the vast expansion of the welfare state he had helped to initiate around forty years earlier.

Human rights

After World War II, he attempted to overcome the Labour Party's resistance to the UK's joining the European Coal and Steel Community, a proto-EU, for the sake of building links across Europe which would make future wars impossible. This page reminds us that:

From as early as 1942, Churchill had a vision of a post-war Europe united by common rights and freedoms. He believed that a shared commitment to these principles was necessary to safeguard Europe against the forces of totalitarianism and to prevent the further outbreak of war.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Local initiative works where national dithering fails

I have welcomed the very belated implementation of contact tracing by the Welsh government and latterly Westminster. How thousands of lives were jeopardised by inaction is laid out here.

While national governments dithered, one local authority, aided by voluntary bodies and the local health service, took an initiative which has resulted in the lowest Covid-19 death rate in Wales. It has been pointed out that Ceredigion had the advantage of being forewarned by the revelation of the first Covid-19 sufferers elsewhere in the UK before the disease hit rural Wales, but against that, the powers that be in London would have been aware that virus was spreading into Europe in good time for them to take action.

Plaid Cymru are running with this story because they are the largest party on Ceredigion council. However, I see this as the sort of community action which is at the heart of Liberalism and Liberal Democracy, irrespective of who implements it at local level. As a country we have allowed too much decision-making to be made centrally, even when it is obvious that those in charge are ill-informed. There is not only not enough trust in  experts, but also in the people on the ground. The sooner we get back to decision-making at the most effective level closest to the people, the better.

Friday, 12 June 2020

The new BBC Director-General

Tim Davis, former Pepsi branding manager and current head of BBC Studios*, will take over in September. Media quote him as saying:  "Our mission has never been more relevant, important or necessary. I have a deep commitment to content of the highest quality and impartiality. Looking forward, we will need to accelerate change so that we serve all our audiences in this fast-moving world. Much great work has been done, but we will continue to reform, make clear choices and stay relevant.”

To quote Marvin, the paranoid android, "it sounds dreadful".

* Habitually described as the commercial arm of the BBC, it is also opaque to the sort of public examination, such as over salary levels and sexual discrimination.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Toppling of statues 2 - it's not always black and white

Yesterday, I complained about the amount of screen time which was spent wallowing in the emotion of the funeral of George Floyd. I also suggested that his death was not the only, or the worst, example of gratuitous racist violence on the part of the police. But whether it was the appropriate trigger or not, I am glad that it was pulled and released the pent-up anger over racial injustice not just in the US but throughout the Western world. The USA may have a beam in its eye, but we have more than a mote, as Richard Thompson points out.

So it is not surprising that anger erupted in Bristol, culminating in the toppling and dumping (the demonstrators did not pause to consider the pollution of the river) of the Edward Colston statue. Bristol, along with Liverpool, prospered as a result of the dreadful triangular trade. Mark Pack writes of the failure of democracy in this matter; there was clearly a popular demand for the statue to go, but the authorities refused to move.

John Redwood takes a conservative stance.
Each generation has difficult decisions to make about the built and artistic inheritance. I think it is right to conserve sufficient of the past so all interested can see examples of the buildings for themselves, and can find likenesses of the leading figures that helped shape the UK of their day, for better or worse. I have never thought I should with like minded people be able to win an election and then purge our cities and galleries of memorials to those we oppose. My disliking Marx cannot change the historic importance his thinking has enjoyed, nor wipe out the millions of deaths carried through in the USSR and elsewhere by following his ideology. I fought my battles against Marxist social and economic thinking with my pen as a young man. I never suggested defenestrating his statues.
[A pedant points out that since none of the disputed statues are indoors, they can hardly be defenestrated.] Redwood goes on:
I share the hatred of many of slavery and enforced occupation of a country by a military power. I have always resented the way the Romans invaded our country, placed it under a brutal military control, and made a market in slaves to give the senior Romans a wonderful lifestyle. It has not made me want to remove all the Roman statues of the thinkers and leaders of the imperial and colonial government which enforced this system on us. I do not deny that alongside their belief in slavery and military rule they also produced some important academic work and technology. The Romans who delighted in the torture and cruel death of animals for sport were good at building large structures. We can debate what if anything they did for us without throwing their statues into the nearest river or sea.

Well, speaking as a fellow-descendant of the original occupiers of these islands (I am one of the Little People, after all), I tend to agree with him in principle. However, there is a difference between recognising the intellectual achievements of great Romans in their own time, and honouring a man purely for enriching himself and his favoured city on the back of a long-outlawed practice, reviled by most in the country. As Mark Pack points out:
Colston died in 1721. The statue went up in 1895. Those who put it up knew fully of the evils of the slave trade. Slavery had already long been illegal in Britain at the time they decided to honour Colston.

In a typically closely argued piece, Cen Phillips reinforces the message:
The argument for removal is a very simple one. We should never forget the Holocaust, but when we seek to ensure that is the case for future generations we do so by building specific Holocaust memorials, not by preserving statues of Adolf Hitler that were originally erected in his honour, and depict him as a 'hero' to be adored and celebrated. We don't make the Jewish community walk past public celebrations of those who ripped their families and their communities from their homes, forced them into slave labour and murdered them in almost inconcievable numbers. We just don't. It's very obviously not OK, and it still wouldn't be OK even if we wrote a little note on the side saying that perhaps he wasn't such a great bloke as the depiction of the statue would suggest. Why would anybody think it's OK to keep doing that to Black British people? It just isn't.

So, I am happy that Colston and Milligan are taken off the streets, even if they are preserved in a Black Museum.

Cecil Rhodes' statue is probably another that should be removed from public view, but the case is more marginal For all the ill that he did in his lifetime, he did found the Rhodes Scholarships, from which for decades now young people of colour have benefited. Nelson Mandela was content to use the legacy of Rhodes. According to Chris Patten, "he said, looking at a photograph of Cecil Rhodes, ‘Cecil, you and I are going to have to work together now.’".

I despair of Liverpool University, though. They wish to erase the memory of the founder of modern Liberalism by renaming Gladstone Hall on the basis of a partial reading of history. Gladstone is accused of having ultra-conservative views throughout his life and that he spoke out against abolition because his family benefited from slaves on its plantations.

Hoping to put the record straight, I turn to Roy Jenkins' biography of the Grand Old Man. John Gladstone, WE's father certainly did make his money in the West Indies.
He did not trade in slaves, even before the slave trade was outlawed in Britain in 1807, but the plantations he owned operated on slave labour throughout his time as a West Indian magnate.

There is no doubt that John Gladstone's money launched the political careers of WE and his brother Tom. But this was at a time when it was necessary to have a private income in order to be a Member of Parliament - MPs did not receive an annual salary until 1911. Gladstone was not the only prominent figure to benefit from inherited slave money. Sir Robert Peel, a wealthy cotton merchant, fathered the reforming Robert Peel. They were certainly not the only MPs to benefit in such a way and money from the plantations also went deep and widely into the middle classes.

Certainly, Gladstone did repay his father by using his first major speech to oppose the Slavery Abolition Bill of 1833 and then voting against the Bill, as did brother Tom. But that was his only concession. That he was no white imperialist was shown by his next significant speech, opposing the Opium Wars. Later, he opposed military adventures in Sudan and South Africa. In 1860
he described slavery as “by far the foulest crime that taints the history of mankind in any Christian or pagan country.” He had changed. Towards the end of his life he cited the abolition of slavery as one of the great political issues in which the masses had been right and the classes had been wrong. He thought it was a taint on national history and politics. His change was a move towards a profound commitment to liberty and perhaps this quote exemplifies his shift: “I was brought up to hate and fear liberty. I came to love it. That is the secret of my whole career.”[from the Hawarden Library's very Gladstonian response to the current iconoclasm.]

As to "ultra-Conservatism", there is a clue in the title of the party whose third prime minister WE Gladstone became and which he dominated for the latter half of the nineteenth century: Liberal.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

News values

A perpetual quetsch here is BBC News's fixation on United States news, in particular political news. (Conspiracy theorists may assert that we are being softened up for the Conservative project to join UK to the USA like a transatlantic Puerto Rico, debased farming standards and all.) Perhaps we should be grateful for any break from Auntie's obsession with "the coronavirus", but there are good BBC correspondents all over the world including places where important things are happening and they are not being made use of. There are rare exceptions. There was a fleeting reference to the internationally-recognised Libyan government turning the tide against an Egypt-backed rebellion and there will be a feature on Radio 4 later this week about the continuing locust threat.

It has long been known that there is an extraordinary civilian death toll as a result of police action in the USA. (There is a recent comparative analysis here.) The recent homicide of George Floyd is not even the most egregious. However, there is a movement behind the mass protests following the Minneapolis incident which has swept the world. The main reason is no doubt the wealth of good mobile phone footage which has been made available to the media. It seems that, if there are no pictures, there is no TV news report. It may even be that Minneapolis residents, aware of their police department's extraordinary record of complaints against officers, were prepared to capture a case of police brutality as soon as it occurred.

Even so, the coverage of not only the murder but also the George Floyd obsequies seems obsessive. It has served to push down the news running order the continuing danger which health workers in England and Wales, largely from ethnic minorities, have been put in because of poor planning before the Covid-19 emergency and poor management during it.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The right to demonstrate

It is certainly inadvisable to join large crowds these days for fear of infection with Covid-19. But is it illegal? Do the emergency regulations override people's right to assembly? There seems no clear-cut answer.

One opinion on The Secret Barrister web-site appears to say yes:

For the noes, there is:

It seems that only a test case can decide.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Toppling statues

On the dumping of the commemorative bronze of Colston in the river, Mark Pack remarks:
democratic means had been tried to remove that statue and failed. We only got action-by-crowds because democracy failed.

He emphasises:
Colston died in 1721. The statue went up in 1895. Those who put it up knew fully of the evils of the slave trade. Slavery had already long been illegal in Britain at the time they decided to honour Colston.

The toppling of Colston follows removal of various reminders of slavery in the USA as part of the George Floyd commemorations.

New look at Rome in Wales

There was an extensive aerial survey of Wales in 2018, taking advantage of the drought revealing hitherto unknown Roman sites and roads through crop marks. Extensive analysis followed, and the journal Britannia has now published the results of the work by the RCAHMW (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales). There is also a summary by the BBC here

Sadly, there is nothing new about Roman activities around Neath (Nidum), though we know there is much evidence in the ground, as excavations for the new teaching block at Dwr-y-Felin Upper School have shown. However, the discoveries in West Wales are exciting and would clearly repay spades in the earth, if that can be arranged. One of the few benefits of a recession is that there is less commercial pressure to develop sites of historical interest, though social distancing makes proper digs impossible at present.

Friday, 5 June 2020

They are our children, too

Alistair Carmichael has followed the lead stamped out by our late leader, Paddy Ashdown, in calling on the government to do more than offer conditional half-promises to Hong Kongers who want to take up UK citizenship. China's reaction, like her ready recourse to violence against protesters, has been over the top.

China may have control of the territory, but not the souls of those brought up under British liberal democracy. Even those born after the Union Flag was hauled down are entitled to the rights granted to them under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

It is regrettable that protesters have met violence with violence and I believe as well as fighting for Hong Kongers' civil rights, the UK should be reminding them of their responsibilities too. It could be that violence is being fomented by the United States, as is alleged by Chinese ministers. It would certainly be in the interests of US financial institutions to see perpetual disruption in Hong Kong, reducing the influence of the territory and its big international banks. So far, HSBC and Standard Chartered have restated their commitment, but Nomura has already decided to reduce its presence, albeit as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Covid-19: hidden history

It looks as if the date when the novel corona virus first infected a human being will have to pushed back from December to November 2019 at the latest. This comes from Euronews earlier this week:

Has the virus been with us longer than we thought?
On 27 December last year, a 43-year-old man from Bobigny, a suburb of Paris, turned up at a French hospital with a dry cough, a fever and trouble breathing. He had been sick for 15 days and had infected his two children, but not his wife, Dr. Yves Cohen.

As part of a series of tests, doctors had originally collected samples to check for the flu using a polymerase chain reaction test – the same test used to detect the new coronavirus – which searches for bits of viral genetic material.

Instead, what they discovered months later was that a sample taken just after Christmas tested positive for COVID-19.

The man had therefore contracted the virus nearly a month before France confirmed its first cases. But it's still not clear how he was infected, as he hadn't recently travelled.

Doctors can't say whether or not he was France's "patient zero."

This case is part of growing evidence that COVID-19 has been with us all much longer than we first thought. Genetic analyses of the new coronavirus suggest that it emerged in humans in China in late November to early December 2019. While China’s official submission to the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the first infection was recorded on 8 December, government data seen by the South China Morning Post newspaper seems to suggest that the first known case was actually observed on 17 November.

Anecdotally, we have all heard stories of friends or relatives who came down with severe flu in the winter, presenting many of the symptoms now associated with coronavirus, but most of them have not yet been tested.

If that evidence is confirmed, it leads to an obvious question: why, then, did we suddenly see a peak in cases in different countries at different times? Why did the number of cases seemingly explode?

Well, theories abound. One is that not everyone is equally infectious and so carriers don't have the ability to spread the virus equally. Also, it is likely that most of those early cases would have been so ill, bedridden, that they would have isolated themselves anyway, suppressing contact with others and so slowing the spread of the disease.

Another possibility, says Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at King’s College London, is that the virus was "smouldering under the surface for a long time and we weren’t necessarily identifying it."

"The elderly population, generally speaking, are a little bit less likely in the first place to come into contact with it, because they are not in a workplace where they are having frequent contact with people," she told The Guardian newspaper. "They go out, but it might be more limited...So maybe it took a while to get to widespread community transmission and to start affecting our older population."

Ultimately, even if there was transmission earlier than we first thought, that doesn’t mean that most of us have had the virus or, indeed, are immune to it. As I’ve remarked before, early analysis recently published by the Spanish government involving 60,000 people showed only 5 per cent of the Spanish population has so far been infected. In France, it was only 4.4 per cent.

There are still so many things we don’t know about this novel virus, COVID-19, and about its transmission. But by trying to understand the first cases and their spread we might get a sense of what the future might hold.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Small pleasures

Having to fix a wobbly tripod, finding that the tubes of Araldite I last touched over a year ago are still viable.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

A potential death toll to dwarf that of Covid-19

Vast swathes of crops from Chad in the west to India in the east have been stripped by locust swarms. The trouble started in summer of last year. The trigger, of exceptionally wet weather, is probably the result of global warming but an aggravating factor has been the continuing conflict in Yemen (to which the UK is contributing) preventing eradication measures.

Death from starvation is not as dramatic as that caused by disease. However, so many people are dependent on a single crop, and probably just one annual harvest of that crop, for their survival, that in the end more lives will be lost than will be taken by the corona virus. Probably a majority will be Commonwealth citizens, which makes the avoidance of the issue by the BBC and the House of Commons open to criticism.

The current situation as reported by the international Food and Agriculture Organisation is here. At least the FAO is one UN member organisation which the US has not left.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Blue and Green

It is remarkable how quickly the reduction in road traffic in the current emergency has cleared the air. Even places like Skewen, not far from woods and green fields anyway, has seen bluer skies than any time since probably the petrol rationing following the Suez adventure. At night, we have been able to see clear views of the stars and planets only normally available to people in places like mid-Wales with dark skies. Given a glimpse of what a Britain free of photo-chemical haze can be like, it would be a shame to deny it to our children and grandchildren.

All of a sudden, what appeared to be draconian measures to force non-electric vehicles off our roads now seem rather dilatory. Norway, wisely investing its windfall wealth from oil and gas, is already at least 10% electric in respect of all cars on the road.

The boom in cycling shows that folk are taking matters in their own hands (or feet). Those continental nations which incorporated cycle lanes into the reconstruction of their cities after the world war have been shown to be more far-sighted than they knew. Those of us who are less mobile than we used to be bemoan the fact that our local authorities (with honourable exceptions, like the New Towns) went the other way, as we dodge squads of young people on bikes on already too-narrow footways. It is ironic that the cycle-lane to nowhere outside Port Talbot Parkway station was not extended, but removed as part of the piazza project just before the Covid-19 lock-down hit.