Podcasts you might like

In Our Time  - BBC

99% Invisible - Independent

Rear Vision  - ABC

The Boring Talks  -   BBC

Babbage  -  The Economist

Page 94  - Private Eye  [UK listeners only]

More or Less  -  BBC

Futility Closet  - Independent

Income Inequality

"Well, the most famous or infamous example is that in England right before World War I the richest 1% of the population owned 70% of private wealth, and the richest 10% owned 92% of all private wealth, which means there wasn't really much left for the other 90% of people in Britain to own. That's a particularly extreme example but you have similar levels in France, in other countries, especially, in Europe …"

Walter Scheidel
Professor of Classics and History, Stanford University

The quote comes from a podcast on Economic Inequality produced by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National's Rear Vision programme. You can find the full podcast (audio and transcript) here.

Rear Vision produces excellent podcasts which provide the  historical context for current issues,

"In today's information age we know when things happen almost immediately but so often we don't know or understand why. News and current affairs are instantaneous but more often than not presented in a historical vacuum. Rear Vision attempts to change this by presenting contemporary events and people in their historical context."

Some people see the period before the First World War as some kind of European Golden Age. I suppose it was for a very small number of people.

If the 70% and 92% figures are correct Britain appears to have been a kleptocracy. A country where corrupt political systems and control of what Gramsci referred to as the state's ideological and coercive agents [schools, media, courts, police, army]  allowed one social class to rob the rest of society. All those beautiful English stately homes are the proceeds of crime.

Of course, our world has lots of kleptocracies. The USA seems to be well on the way to becoming one with the same levels of inequality as England at the beginning of the 20th century.

Identify the book

This is an illustration from a well known book. Can you identify the book?

There are bonus points if you can name [the well known] artist.

Brexit cartoons

Defending Britain

Free at last

Plastics in the sea - the culprits

According to Britain's Economist magazine about 90 percent of all the plastic that reaches the world's oceans gets washed down just 10 rivers.

These  are the Yangtze, the Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, the Nile, the Ganges, Pearl River, Amur River, the Niger, and the Mekong (in that order).

Very little plastic comes from North American, European and other first world countries.  They have good water treatment systems.

If we want to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans we need to put strong pressure on the countries that control the 10 rivers. 

In Britain environmentalists have wasted their time  on  attempts to stop  people using plastic straws and disposable coffee cups. Such campaigns are puerile and pointless when the potential benefits are compared to the amount of stuff being but in the oceans by China, India and other major polluters.

Where is my Scroll?

I have just bought a new 27" Apple IMac. My old IMac is still working after almost eleven years but it is showing its age. The IMac is overpriced but not so much so that I would buy a Windows machine.

So far, I am happy with my choice, but unhappy with the technology. What I would have really liked was a scroll.

Where is my Scroll?

The main components of a personal computer are the microprocessor, primary storage, secondary storage, display, power supply and devices for data entry and control.  Not all of these have developed at the same pace.

Microprocessors have followed Moore's Law, and reached a stage where most users have enough processing power. Random access memory has become much cheaper, and most personal computers have several gigabytes of RAM. More is always useful, but random access memory is not a constraint for most users.

Secondary storage has become much cheaper and disk capacities have increased.

The two areas of the personal computer which have hardly developed at all are the display and battery life. We have we moved from CRT displays to flat panels but we still have to choose between large displays which are tethered to the desktop, or displays which are portable, but too small. Batteries still have too short a life.

We don't need more powerful processors or bigger hard disks. What we do need are large portable displays that do not need much power. Some form of electronic paper may be the solution.

When large flexible displays are available at a reasonable cost we will see the development of devices such as the scroll.

Bob's scroll 

It’s one of those hectic mornings. Bob’s stress level was already sliding into the danger zone before he stepped off the elevator – and that was two mind-numbing meetings ago.

Thankfully, his next meeting isn’t for half an hour, so Bob sneaked downstairs to the local coffee bar and ordered a chilled espresso and cream. He found a comfortable chair and opened his scroll; a plastic film wrapped around a 400mm long and 12mm diameter metal tube.

Bob unrolled a single sheet of plastic less than 0.3 millimeters thick from the tube. A shake of his wrist turned the sheet rigid. With a squeeze of his thumb on the bottom corner Bob selected a business magazine from a pop-up menu of various newspapers and magazines to which he subscribes. Instantly, his ultra-thin display displayed the magazines latest front page.

Bob flipped through the electronic pages to his favorite columnist and relaxed into his chair. Just as he was getting to the fun part of the piece, a tiny icon begins to flash in the top corner of his screen. He tapped the icon with his finger, which fades the newspaper into the background and brings his e-mail to the forefront.

After a quick scan of the messages, Bob squeezed the bottom corner of the screen and selected the keyboard option from the menu. Instantly, the bottom third of his electronic display showed a computer keyboard. After placing the display on the tabletop, Bob began to type replies to the more urgent messages.

Just as he catches up, another icon appears. With a tap, his e-mail program fades into the background and the face of his personal assistant appears. Her lips are already moving.

Bob tapped his ear to turn on his Bluetooth earbud and caught her words midstream.

His next client is early. Bob quickly retrieved a copy of the client's spreadsheet from the company servers and checked the latest figures.

With a sigh, Bob rolled the screen back around its tube. He’ll need to catch up with the columnist at another time.

David Dale’s Cotton Mills

David Dale was a Scottish entrepreneur who was instrumental in establishing Scotland’s cotton milling industry. He was born in Ayreshire in 1739. In 1783  he met Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning frame, at a dinner in Glasgow. Next day the pair went to the Falls of Clyde to see if the power of the Clyde could be harnessed to power a cotton mill.

Their visit led to the building of New Lanark, with four mills and housing for workers. The mills operated very profitably. Later they became famous because of the social experiments conducted there by Robert Owen, who was Dale’s son in law. They closed in 1986. New Lanark has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Dale was involved in a number of other mills.

Blantyre Mills were established in the 1780’s by David Dale and  James Monteith.  The mills continued in operation until 1904. Now, all that remains is a single housing block. This was the birthplace of David Livingstone and the building now contains the David Livingstone Centre and some reconstructed mill workers accommodation.

Catrine was a small village in Ayreshire until Dale and Claude Alexander built a cotton mill there in 1787[see the separate post on Catrine].

Spinningdale was a small mill built by Dale, in partnership with George Dempster, in around 1790. It was intended to relieve local unemployment but the highlanders employed in the mill kept going off to work on lambing, harvesting and cutting peat. When the mill burnt down in 1806 it was not rebuilt.

Stanley Mills had been built in 1784 by Richard Arkwright to harness the power of the Tay. Dale only became involved later and supposedly lost a lot of the money he invested in the mill. Stanley Mills continued in in business until 1989, latterly as a jute mill. The buildings are now being restored. See my post on Stanley Mills.

All the mills had three things in common.

Highlanders - At the time that Dale was building his mills people were very reluctant to work in factories and a lot of Dale’s workers were highlanders who had been dispossessed by the The Clearances.

Water Power - The situation of the mills emphasises the importance of water power. New Lanark and Blantyre were built by the Clyde, Stanley by the Tay, Catrine by the Ayre.  Spinningdale harnessed a burn. With the exception of Spinningdale all the mills were inland and in remote locations. Raw cotton would have had to have been shipped to a Scottish port, unloaded and carted to the mills. Then the finished products who have to have been carted away, some back to ports for export. The shipping costs must have been enormous, but insignificant compared with the benefits of water powered milling.

At New Lanark and Catrine reservoirs were built to store water so that the mills could continue in operation even in summer. Long tunnels were cut through rock at New Lanark and Stanley to carry  water to the mills.

Social Conditions – The conditions in some cotton mills were appalling. Many employed child labour and treated the children very badly. There were high death rates. Dale cared about his workers and provided good accommodation and decent working conditions. New Lanark had particularly good housing, the first working class school in Scotland and The Institute for the Formation of Character.

Dale's mills started the industrial revolution in Scotland.   They also introduced the factory system and changed the ways in which people lived and worked.

Eli Whitney and his cotton gin

In the late 18th century America had a lot of land which was suitable for cotton growing but the only plant variety that would grow in America had a serious disadvantage, a lot of seeds were mixed in with the cotton. So much so, that plantations had to employ at least 15 people on seed extraction for each person who picked the cotton.

Whitney invented a simple but effective machine which stripped out the seeds so readily that one person could complete the work that had previously required fifty.

Cotton growing suddenly became very profitable and the South went from exporting 487,000 pounds of raw cotton to England's mills  in 1793 to exporting almost 128 million pounds in 1820. This availability of cheap cotton lead to a great expansion in cotton milling.

A side effect of the cotton gin and the expansion of  cotton growing was an increase in the demand for slaves to work the plantations.

Percentage of WW2 effort spent on defeating Japan & Germany

I have just been re-reading Richard Overy’s highly regarded book on the Second World War, ‘How the Allies Won’. The Sunday Times described the book as “a masterpiece of analytical history”.

I had always assumed that Japan and Germany had been about equally difficult to defeat, and had required about the same commitment of men and materials. Apparently this was not so. Very early in the war the USA and UK agreed a 'Germany First' policy. Despite it having been Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour which brough the USA into the war they agreed that the priority should be to defeat Germany

Overy makes the remarkable statement that “the United States devoted only about 15 percent of its war effort to the war with Japan. The other 85 per cent was expended in the defeat of Germany.” Britain and its empire probably split its effort, more or less, on the same lines as the Americans. Russia contributed almost nothing to the defeat of Japan, devoting all its resources to crushing Germany.

The US and UK were largely responsible for deafeating the German navy and air force, but Germany's superb army of 200+ divisions was almost entirely destroyed by the Russians. Only 30 German divisions, and generally not the best ones, were deployed in the West. All the others were on the Eastern front. Russians military deaths have been estimated at 10 million,  compared to the 416,000 American and  383,000 British soldiers, sailors and airmen killed on both fronts.

If we assume, and this is my assumption, not Overy's, that Russia provided 60 per cent [mainly people] of the Allied resources in WW2 and the US/UK the other 40 per cent [mainly materials], we get the calculation

[US/UK v Japan 15% x .4 = 6% and Russia 0%]   Total 6%

US/UK v Germany 85% x .4 = 34% and Russia 100% x .6 = 60%]   Total 94%

that only 6 per cent of the total Allied resources were devoted to the defeat of Japan. This would make the war in the Pacific a sideshow.

You can see why this might be so. Japan started the war with many short term advantages. It had an experienced army and navy and some good weapons, such as the Zero fighter and the Long Lance torpedo, but its lack of oil and geographical disadvantages meant that its position was hopeless right from the start. It could be defeated by sea [mainly by mining of harbours {Operation Starvation} and submarine warfare] and air power.   As, of course, some Japanese realised before the war. The attack on Pearl Harbour was, in reality, a very loud suicide note.

 Germany was damaged by naval blockades and bombing but could have survived both. They had to be defeated the hard way.


An AI guided drone delivers a shaped charge to the head of a 'bad person'.

Watch the video.

Secret History - The Burning of Cork by British Forces

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence,  the centre of the City of Cork was burnt by the  Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries, two British units set up to fight the Irish Republican Army.

"More than 40 business premises, 300 residential properties, the City Hall and Carnegie Library were destroyed by the fire. Over £3 million worth of damage (equivalent to €172 million today) was wrought, 2,000 were left jobless and many more became homeless. Many people were assaulted. Two unarmed IRA volunteers were shot dead in the north of the city."

The Black and Tans were set up by Winston Churchill. They and the Auxiliaries
carried out numerous atrocities in Ireland.

I doubt if one British person in 100,000 is aware of this astonishing incident. It has been kept very quiet. I have  read a lot of history but never read about it or seen it portrayed in a film [and what a film it would make] or television. 

A proud chapter in British history.

Italian Chapel at Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow is a natural harbour in the Orkneys, a group of islands to the north of the UK mainland.

During both world wars it was the main anchorage for the British Fleet. After the First World War over 70 ships of the German High Seas Fleet was scuttled there.

During the Second World War a group of Italian prisoners of war, who were held in Camp 60 overlooking Scapa Flow, converted an army Nissen hut to a chapel. In the first photograph you can see the corrugated metal hut behind the stone front built by the prisoners. The other two photographs show the stunning interior of the chapel.

Domenico Chiocchetti, who was the person responsible for the interior,
returned to Scapa Flow about twenty years after the end of the war with his two sons and repainted the plasterwork. I took these photographs when I visited the Orkneys to dive some of the World War I German battleships that were sunk in Scapa Flow.

The Orkneys are well worth a visit. In addition to being able to dive the wrecks of the German fleet there is a 4,000 year old village, a tomb with Viking graffiti inside, stone circles and lots of other stuff.

The sea paintings of Ivan Aivazovsky

Ivan Aivazovsky [1817-1900] was famed for his marine art. Just look at his portrayal of waves in these two paintings.

More Fake News

What the media reported -

" I saw a headlining story on the BBC about how Donald Trump had tipped a whole box of fish food into a pond full of carp during his trip to Japan, heavily implying he lacked the patience or intelligence to feed them slowly with a spoon as he was supposed to."

What actually happened -

"Moments before, Shinzo Abe threw his entire box into the pond and Trump simply followed suit, and all of this can be seen in the unedited clip. But major news channels like the BBC and CNN decided to go with a carefully edited clip which showed Trump looking foolish, and ran it on their front pages. Someone, somewhere in these organisations are quite deliberately making these decisions, abandoning all pretence of impartiality and accurate reporting."

See full story here.

It is sad to see organisations like the BBC throw away their reputation for impartial reporting. All because the liberal haters want to blackwash Trump and are willing to damage their organisations credibility to indulge their own political prejudices.

Does it not occur to them that all they are doing is proving Trump right when  he contemptuously dismisses their output as fake news.

Differentiated marketing

Sometimes an advertisement may attempt to appeal to widely differentiated markets.

Up to Schynige Platte

Schynige Platte is a plateau above the town of Interlaken in Switzerland. It is famous for its wild flowers and views, particularly of Interlaken and its two lakes.

We left our car in the large car park behind Wilderswil station and took the cog railway  to the plateau.  I think this is the only way of getting to the top, apart from walking. A single ticket costs 18 Swiss francs, so it is a pretty expensive trip, though the train journey is an enjoyable experience by itself.  The train stops part way up at Breitlaunen, where there is a hotel/hostel of some kind.

There is also a hotel on the plateau if someone wanted to do a few days of high level walking..


There are several walks around the plateau. There is also a famous walk from Schynige Platte to First, which is above Grindlewald. This is sometimes described as 'the' classic Swiss alpine route. It takes about six hours. Because a railway runs from Grindlewald to Wilderswil you can easily do a round trip involving rail, cable car and Shanks Pony [see the map above].


Schynige Platte offers superb views all around, but particularly of Interlaken and its two lakes.



We made the mistake of walking down from the plateau. It was ok for the first hour, which brought us to  the station at Breitlaunen.

The next two hours to Wilderswil were more trying, particularly because we did not have walking poles with us. The path is good and easy to follow, but three hours downhill was hard on my thigh muscles.

Great Dune of Pilat [Pyla]

The Great Dune of Pilat is in France, just to the south west of Bordeaux.  It is just what the photograph shows. An humongous sand dune standing all along on the coast, near to the mouth of the Bay of Arcachon. I have no idea what unusual natural forces have led to its formation, but it is worth seeing if you are nearby.

After you have slogged up to the top of the dune you can sit and admire the marvelous view. It was a nice day when we were there so it was all very pleasant.

You can see the dune marked on the map below. 

Links to some strange dunes in Japan and Brazil.

Arcachon is a pleasant seaside resort.  They rear oysters in the bay. Some of the oyster fishermen have built houses on the Ile aux Oiseaux [Isle of Birds]. You can see some of these in the final photograph. They are built on piles because the island is under water at high tide.

The Killer Whales of Eden

Eden is a small town on Twofold Bay on the south eastern corner of Australia. The killers of Eden were a pod of about 30 killer whales who, between 1830 and 1930, cooperated with the whalers of Twofold Bay in hunting baleen whales migrating along the East coast of Australia.

The story is that the killer whales would herd baleen whales into Twofold Bay and then alert the whalers. They would then work with the whalers to kill the baleens. Their reward was the tongues of the dead whales. The leader of the pod was called Old Tom. To speed up the hunt he would tow the whaler’s boats out to the cornered baleen whales by gripping a bow rope in his mouth. After a whale had been harpooned Old Tom would hang on to the harpoon rope to tire the whale and prevent it escaping. The other whales would dive underneath the harpooned baleen to prevent it diving.

There is a Killer Whale Museum in Eden with Old Tom’s skeleton. If you take a close look at the picture you will be able to see that Old Tom’s teeth are worn down on one side from grasping the bow and harpoon ropes.

This all sounds like an Internet myth but I have been in the museum and seen Old Tom’s skeleton. The museum itself is a substantial operation and has been in existence for over 70 years. There have been a couple of books published about the story. There is also this website. If it is a hoax, it is a remarkable well done one.

The south east corner of Australia is off the regular tourist track. Most of the traffic between Melbourne and Sydney goes along the Hume Highway. If you have the time a trip along the Princess highway will take you past some spectacular coastline, including the excellent Ben Boyd National Park, and some interesting little towns.

Hotel booking sites

It has just been announced that hotel booking sites are to be examined by the UK's competition watchdog. This is long overdue.

I have only used Booking.Com so my comments only relate to that site.

I have used Booking.Com  to book hotels in the UK and overseas. Being able to book hotels through one site and compare prices, locations and reviews is very useful.

Recently they have been using pressure selling techniques to get bookings.  Messages are constantly appearing giving the impression that if users do not book immediately [IMMEDIATELY!!!] they might have to reconcile themselves to sleeping in a cardboard box. Research and careful consideration are not encouraged.

It did not use to be so but now the ethos seems  like that of a used car lot and not that of a trustworthy e-commerce site. Booking.Com is no Amazon.

Describing an hotel as 'Fabulous' happens far too often. To my mind an hotel has to be extraordinary to be described as fabulous. Recently I stayed in one that Booking.Com described as 'fabulous' but I would describe as no more than OK. Its price would have been justified if it had been fabulous, but it was not.

The problems at Booking.Com must lie with senior management.  Perhaps the company needs to bring in someone capable of building a trusted brand. Uber had to make changes. Booking.Com needs to do so voluntarily before they are forced to change their ways.

Good riddance to both of them

Israel to join US in quitting UNESCO.

 Good riddance to both of them.

Yet another example of the Israeli tail wagging the American dog.  I wonder when it is going to dawn on the US public that corrupt politicians are spending US lives and gold to serve the interests of another country.

Perhaps it has already occurred to them.

I suppose they are no great loss to UNESCO. Israeli tail wagging over the Iranian nuclear deal is much more serious.  Why would the US behave so irresponsibly?  I suspect payments to corrupt politicians, and not only from Israel.

Saudi Arabia has recently agreed to spend $15 billion to buy Thaad missile systems from a consortium consisting of Lockheed Martin Space Systems [as prime contractor] and Raytheon, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Honeywell, BAE Systems, Oshkosh Defense, MiltonCAT and the Oliver Capital Consortium. Lots of interested parties in that deal. Lots of money to spread around.

The Brexiters plot to oust May as UK Prime Minister

The people behind the Brexit campaign want to get rid of Theresa May as Prime Minister and replace her with Boris Johnson [or someone similarly pro Brexit]. They are conducting a covert campaign to achieve that objective. The first step is to force May to resign and thus trigger an election for a new Conservative Party leader [and new Prime Minister]. They are using anything they can, however absurd, to apply pressure.

For example, May had a coughing fit during her speech at the recent Conservative Party Conference. That, some are apparently arguing, is yet another sign that she must be sacked. Coughing during a speech, their media hirelings argue, is clear evidence  that she is totally incompetent.

Once they force May's resignation the key to their success is the process by which the Conservative Party elects a new leader.

Step 1 - Conservative Members of Parliament select two candidates. Boris Johnson would be almost certain to be one of the candidates, even though most Conservative MPs despise him. He would get enough votes to get on the short list. It would not matter who the other candidate was.

Step 2 - Conservative Party members in the constituencies would vote on the two short list candidates. Since most party members are older, more right wing and more pro Brexit than their MPs, or the general population, there would be a good chance that Boris would be elected party leader.

Step 3 - The Conservative Party has the most votes in Parliament so whoever is elected as the new party leader would become the new Prime Minister. There would be no need for a General Election. The lucky winner would then have five years remaining of the current parliament before a general election would have to be held.

Plenty of time to arrange the right kind of Brexit. One that would get  rid of those tiresome EU regulations on workers rights, environmental standards, product quality and competitive bidding. A chance to get back to the kind of Britain we used to have fifty years ago. Where everything was organised by and run for the benefit of the right chaps and the proles had been taught their place. Lets call it Boris World.

Being able to organise whatever Brexit you want is the prize and getting rid of May is the way to win the prize.  No wonder somebody is running a smear campaign.  I have no love for Theresa but the alternatives are much worse.

If you think the way by which someone can become Prime Minister without having to win a General Election is a little strange you may remember that Teresa May became Prime Minster through this process. The previous Prime Minister resigned. May stood as leader, and since there were no other candidates, she became the new party leader and Prime Minister. The party members in the constituencies never had the chance to vote. Nor did the UK electorate.

Some people found it suspicious that Boris Johnson did not stand as a candidate. Did someone give him a choice? Stand as a candidate and if you win you will be Prime Minister. If you lose you will get nothing. Do not stand as a candidate and we will make you Foreign Secretary. Did that happen? I do not know but it is hard to see how he became Foreign Secretary on merit..

Ups and Downs in India - a game for aspiring missionaries

Ups and Downs in India is a Snakes and Ladders type board game. It was produced in 1930 by the Church Missionary Society. I have the board but not the box, tokens or instructions.

Players start at a British training college and then, after a bit of medical training its on the steamer to India.

In square 59 the missionary uses a magic lantern show to make converts. I try the same thing when I am trying to recruit people to my Satanic cult. A quick puppet show, a few tunes strummed on my ukulele and they are ready to worship the Horned One.

Any trouble makers who don't sign up are stoned as in square 57. Nothing like a brick in a sock to persuade people to abandon their old gods.

Square 62 - Tigers and leopards used to kill a lot of people even in the 1930's.  In the early1930's Jim Corbett's shot the two man eating leopards of Kumaon [they had killed 525 people], the Champawat tigress [434 kills[ and the Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag.  His books are well worth reading. He observes that by 1930 there were probably only about one tenth of the leopards and tigers there had been 40 or 50 years earlier.   Link 

A missionary could have done more good with a big gun than a magic lantern.

I am not sure how many young people wanted to become missionaries after playing this game. The pictures of shortages and sickness must have put some off.

Apparently the Church Missionary Society thought malaria was caught from heavy rain. No mosquito nets visible in square 34. That is strange because Ronald Ross won a Nobel Prize in 1902 for discovering the link between mosquitoes and malaria in 1890.

And then the happy ending.