Today's Daily Telegraph entitles its letter page "It's the hell of a mess of the EU that B********s had voted to escape", together with a lovely colour picture - that regrettably, and for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce - entitled: '"Push him under the molten pitch": a manuscript illustration for Dante's Inferno (1440)'. The picture shows several demons at work with forks and rakes pushing the damned beneath the pitch.
The various letters appended illustrate nicely the balanced and liberal views of that splendid organ:
"More than 17.4million people obviously think it [the special place in hell] looks preferable to the place they've been stuck for the last 45 years ..."
"I suspect a much hotter place in hell's reserved for unelected dictators ..."
And my favourite:
"If Mr Tusk would like to know what hell would be like in Europe, he just needs to reflect on how it was the last time the Germans ran it ..."
Mr Tusk wonders about a ‘special place in Hell … for those who promoted B****t without even a sketch of a plan …’
Well Donald, one can, I suppose, understand your frustration, but this sort of language is quite definitely not helpful, in fact it’s the kind of thing we usually associate with the other Donald T ...
And it is, of course, hugely counter-productive, because the snivelling reptiles and their third-rate toadying lickspittles that have got us into this mess, will now start bleating on about how intransigent the EU is, it’s their fault for refusing to negotiate, and ‘this is what we have said all along …’ etc. etc.
Nevertheless Don, you asked the question. I think the eighth circle is the place you need. Dante called it Malebolge, which apparently means ‘evil ditches’ – ten in number – set aside for just such as you describe. Yes! They are perfect!
Ditch 5 is for Corrupt Politicians; Ditch 6, Hypocrites; Ditch 8, Counsellors of Fraud; Ditch 9, Sowers of Discord and Ditch 10, Falsifiers.
Their punishments are delicious – refer to Wikipedia for specifics – but, for example, those in ditch 5 are immersed in boiling pitch and guarded by demons who, if they should dare to show themselves above the pitch, are ‘seize[d] … with more than 100 rakes …’
I think it would be fun to decide who to commit to which particular ditch, but in the interests of wishing to remain out of gaol, I will not name names just now, but I am thinking …
Some of my earliest memories are of listening to the ‘wireless’, and I continue, when I can to listen to Radio 4 and Radio 3. Every now and then, one hears an absolute gem. Who can forget Jim Naughtie announcing to the nation immediately before the Eight O’ Clock News, that he would be interviewing ‘Jeremy C*nt’, at ten past eight (of course, Jeremy Hunt, a minister of something or another in Her Majesty’s Government). First prize for the world’s most apposite Freudian slip. How Naughtie managed to read the news after that, with everyone in the Radio 4 control room almost certainly doubled up in terminal hysteria, is a miracle of radio broadcasting.
Then there was the famous occasion when the normally unflappable and patrician Charlotte Green had a fit of the giggles – also reading the news – following the playing of the world’s first sound recording.
And today, there was another treat. Paddy O’Connell, a most witty and amusing presenter, chairs Broadcasting House, Radio 4, 9 – 10 am on a Sunday Morning. Among his guests today was Kirsty Wark, an ‘elder stateswoman’ BBC person, broadcasting, I think, from Edinburgh. She was reading from a newspaper interview with Lord John Kerr – author of the infamous Article 50 – who was criticising Theresa May for appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, since she didn’t trust him; Kirsty added, ‘No shit, Sherlock!’
Two of the main characters in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first meet under inauspicious circumstances. Sebastian Flyte leans through Charles Rider’s window – from the outside – and vomits into his room. Rider’s college accommodation at Oxford is on the ground floor and Sebastian is somewhat the worse for wear after he and his chums return from a good night out. Sebastian’s friends carry him away, and one returns to apologize:
‘The wines were too various,’ he said: ‘it was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault. It was the mixture. Grasp that and you have the root of the matter. To understand all is to forgive all.’
It seems to me that such a healing sentiment is desperately needed in this broken country of ours. The United Kingdom is split, our Parliament is split and the major political parties are split. And the problem is that no-one is listening to people of opposing views.
17.4M people voted to leave the EU, 16.1M voted not to, but why did they all vote the way they did? Did the Remainers believe Project Fear? Did they think that the country would slide into a pit of fatally damaged industry, crashing house prices and deep recession? And what about the Leavers? Did they believe that unrestricted immigration from the EU was damaging the infrastructure of the country, and taking jobs from British workers? Were they of the view that an ‘unrestrained’ UK would do far better in terms of trade outside the confines of the EU? Did they reject the concept of the EU project sliding into political union?
In a very real sense, the truth or otherwise of any of these views does not matter, because people hold them for better or worse, and so the country is paralysed. The only way forward, when the choice appears to be binary, is to compromise. If we stay completely in, half of the country will feel betrayed; if we completely leave, the other half will forever hold a grudge.
What we must do is try to understand the point of view of the ‘other’ side. It is no good calling either Rees Mogg or Anna Soubry insulting names, that simply increases resentment. It is time for men and women of good will to get together and sort this mess out.
Most politicians are conscious of their place in history. If the present lot screw this up, they will be forever remembered by future generations as Quislings who betrayed their country because they were too obstinate and stubborn to compromise.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Sir Thomas Beecham once observed: ‘One should try everything in life, except incest and Morris Dancing.’
I have tried Morris Dancing, but not – in so far as I am aware – incest. I have also tried a number of other things with varying degrees of success, and I have described a few of them in these posts and elsewhere on this website. But there are two ‘things’ that I could (and can) never make any sense of at all – thermodynamics and accountancy.
I was reminded of this while reading Jim Al-Khalili’s book Paradox (a Christmas present). I like Al-Khalili; his BBC Radio 4 programme, The Life Scientific, is interesting and informative, and he is one of the better contributors to the programme In Our Time. His book though, is disappointing – to me at any rate – because I do not find his explanations very helpful.
However, it was his chapter on Maxwell’s Demon, in which he invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that left me more confused than when I started. You can look up Maxwell’s Demon and the laws of thermodynamics in Wikipedia; the second law says, in essence, that disorder in a closed system always increases. Fine. But how that is then quantified and applied to the real world using a measure of disorder – entropy – has always eluded me. I’m amazed at the insight of the 19th century engineers who developed the theory and applied it to make better steam engines.
Similarly accountancy. I once spent two years studying the subject, and came out knowing one single thing: that accountancy uses a double entry system (which was, I believe, invented by the Italians several hundred years ago). A friend once lent me a large well-printed and illustrated book – effectively accountancy for dummies. On page 3 there was a statement that such and such an item was a credit, whereas I could not see that it wasn’t a debit (or it might have been vice-versa) and I crashed.
I did hear a vaguely relevant story that might have been circulated by the Monty Python team. A young woman, having been told by her doctor that she has only six months to live, asks him if there is anything that can be done. “You could try marrying an accountant” he says. “Will that make me live longer?” she asks. “No,” replied the doctor, “But that six months will seem like a lifetime…”
Today has been the shortest day, and tonight is the longest night, when the sun set in line with the axis of Stonehenge – built nearly five thousand years ago, quite possibly to mark the event. Tomorrow, the sunset will be just a little further north, the day will be longer and the night slightly shorter.
And tonight, as a wonderful bonus, there was a beautiful full moon.
God knows what the new year will bring, with Trump and Putin running the world, and the terminal disaster following the European referendum. But whatever happens, there will be a new year, with a summer, whether or not there is anyone left sane (or even alive) on Earth to see it.
The solstices and equinoxes will revolve on regardless as they have done for billions of years, with or without us.
I enjoyed listening to Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell being interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili on The Life Scientific, although sorry that it was dominated by her difficulties as a woman scientist in a man’s world, and her famous – or rather infamous – failure to receive the Nobel Prize.
In the early ‘seventies while at Southampton University, I attended Jocelyn Bell’s lecture on pulsars – which she had discovered just a few years previously while a PhD student at Cambridge. Painstaking attention to detail in the analysis of signals from a radio telescope had found some unidentified ‘fuzz’ which her supervisor, Anthony Hewish, dismissed as artificial and earthly in origin. She persisted, and found other signals, named LGM1, LGM2 etc. (Little Green Men); the signals were quite definitely interstellar, and so regular that they were thought initially to have been artificial.
Soon, the signals were identified as emanating from a new type of astronomical object, a rapidly rotating neutron star henceforth known as a Pulsar. Hewish, received the Nobel Prize for the work; Jocelyn Bell did not. Hewish was unrepentant; his justification was something like: he was the captain of the ship, Jocelyn Bell was just the lookout who first saw the uncharted land …
It was sad that in a half-an-hour programme, so much time was spent on Jocelyn Bell’s difficulties in academia – she was ragged during lectures at Glasgow University (because she was female), and Jodrell Bank would not take her on as a postgraduate student because Bernard Lovell had decreed: No Women!
History though will judge her generously; she will always be known as the person who discovered pulsars – and was denied the Nobel prize for it. She will join the ranks of great women scientists largely ignored in their lifetimes – Henrietta Leavitt who discovered the relationship between luminosity and period in Cepheid Variable stars which enabled Hubble to discover the expansion of the universe and Rosalind Franklin whose X-ray diffraction images enabled Watson and Crick to discover the double helix.
It is just possible that anyone who reads this might be aware of a running 'battle' I have had with the Oxford English Dictionary since around February 2017. I have, since that date, been trying to get them to update the entry on 'Inferno' to include its usual meaning and not just the reference to Dante's Inferno: life-imitates-art-hell-and-the-oxford-english-dictionary.html
Well, I am most pleased to say that the December 2018 release of the OED contains, at last, a draft update including the common definition of Inferno. And it has only taken them 22 months...
There seems to be a resurgence of vinyl long-playing records. Once more they are in the shops, and people are buying turntables to play them. Enthusiasts say that they provide the ‘authentic’ sound that is lost in clinical-sounding CDs or digital downloads.
Does vinyl provide ‘faithful’ reproduction of music? No way José.
The first mass-produced gramophones played shellac records at 78 revolutions per minute (RPM). They used a steel needle that was able to reproduce the music without electronic amplification, and were a miracle of purely mechanical engineering. I had one in the 1950s, and first heard the best bits from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung on an old 78 record. The ‘hiss’ from these machines sometimes almost overwhelmed the music – certainly in the quiet bits.
The technology improved greatly using diamond or sapphire needles with electronic amplification, on vinyl records rotating at 45 and then 33 RPM. The level of hiss and noise was lower, but it was always there, together with ‘rumble’ from the turntable motor.
In the mid 1970s when I started earning money, I wanted decent quality music and built a pair of great cabinets out of chipboard with Wharfedale loudspeakers. I also built an amplifier from a kit – which had to be returned to the manufacturer because I wired it up incorrectly and it blew up – and purchased a reasonably expensive turntable with a diamond stylus.
I relished my music and enjoyed, for the first time, hearing both classical and pop in reasonable HiFi. But as the quality of the sound greatly increased it was impossible to ignore the more subtle faults, the ‘pops’ and ‘clicks’: static electricity. There are many problems with vinyl, but the one that drove me quite mad, was that of trying to eliminate static electricity build up. It is virtually impossible, because a rotating dielectric disc with an arm containing metal bits close to it, goes some way to becoming a Whimshurst Machine, an early design of generator for producing very high voltage static electricity.
I tried everything: a brush made of carbon fibre (a conductor to conduct away the static electricity), a carbon fibre mat on the turntable platter, even a static gun that was supposed to neutralize the static by spraying static of the opposite polarity. All failed.
Then there was the tracking problem which introduced further distortion. When the master disc was cut, the cutting arm did not pivot at one end but tracked the groove, so that the cutting needle was always parallel with the groove. Nearly all turntable decks have a pivoting arm, where the angle to the grooves varies as the record plays. It is possible to get parallel tracking decks but they are expensive – I had one, and the proof of the pudding, an LP that I twice exchanged at the shop because of intense distortion in a crescendo (it was Elgar’s Sea Pictures) played perfectly on my parallel tracking deck.
A further problem that can occur, is that a very loud section immediately before or after a quiet section can sufficiently modulate the adjacent groove such that the ghost of the loud bit can be heard during the quiet period. I first heard that in a 45 record of Shakin all Over – Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ best known hit.
Then there is background noise. The stylus pickup needle and coil are very inefficient, so the electrical signal needs a great deal of amplification – lots of gain. High gain means that all the imperfections, mechanical noise and distortion etc. get amplified up to be heard as background noise. And of course, the whole thing is analogue, with the intrinsic difficulty of maintaining linearity at high gain.
Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of records that I had a problem with were of classical music, with its far greater dynamic range, but, as noted above, even ‘pop’ music was not immune.
So the ‘authentic sound’ that advocates of vinyl claim, consists of surface noise, rumble from the turntable motor, electrical noise from the high gain amplifiers used, tracking distortion and static ‘pops’, not forgetting the regular clicks as the needle encounters a scratch on the disc, and the intrinsic limitations of an analogue, mechanical system to reproduce, with any sort of linearity, the original signal. Give me a CD or digital download any day.
Toshiba have just pulled out of building a nuclear power station in the north west, and the UK finds itself in the situation of generating 20% of its electricity from nuclear plant that will be obsolete and possibly shut down within ten (?) years. The only new nuclear power station will be Hinkley C, coming on line in 2025 (?), and making up only half the shortfall (and that very expensively).
Renewables could fill the gap, and there certainly do seem to be a lot of wind turbines around – as well as a lot of solar power. But, as they say, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Quite.
I keep a boat at Bradwell Marina on the estuary of the River Blackwater in Essex. The tidal range there is frequently 15 feet. Twice every 24 hours, a considerable quantity of water climbs up 15 feet and then drops back down. This pattern is repeated to a greater or lesser extent all around the coast of the UK. Surely this enormous energy source could be tapped?
The idea of tide mills goes back hundreds of years. There was one at the head of the River Roach near Southend; there still is one at Woodbridge although it has been converted into a marina. The principle is simplicity itself: build a reservoir with access to the sea. Allow the high tide to fill it up, then close the access channel. As the tide drops, allow the water in the reservoir to drain out via a water wheel. As the name suggests, in early days these were used to grind corn. However, replace the water wheel with a turbine driving an alternator and there is a source of electricity, and with a suitable design, it will work as the tide is falling as well as when it is rising. The process is entirely renewable subject only to maintenance costs.
Although the height of the high tide varies throughout the year with the waxing and waning of the Moon, it is little affected by the seasons and the weather, and the reservoir can be as large as you like. How about a great barrier along the east coast? The coast would be protected from erosion and the sinking of the land, and enough water could be stored for the entire electricity needs of the country. The Dutch have built such sea barriers – starting hundreds of years ago – so why can’t we do the same here using modern technology? Another thought; the vast Goodwin Sands off the Kent Coast are an on-going hazard to shipping. Why not build a great reservoir there?
The bad news, is that there was a plan for a 320 MW scheme in Swansea bay – that is about half a percent of the country’s electricity needs. The cost would have been £1.3 bn. The government rejected it earlier this year because the capital cost per generated unit of electricity would have been three times that of Hinckley C. Is it me, or was that an insanely short-sighted decision?
Much of the cost of the Swansea project would have been for the construction of a nine km barrier, but that is prehistoric technology! The pyramids were higher tech than that, and once built, the barrier would have lasted virtually indefinitely. The turbines would have been sophisticated, but even they are hardly cutting-edge technology. No-one knows what cost-overruns will occur on Hinkley C, but given the history of the nuclear power industry and the state-of-the-art technology, I’ll bet they will not be modest.
Hinkley C has a design life of sixty years. After that, it’s just a large area of very expensive highly dangerous scrap that will cost goodness knows how much to make safe. And in case anyone has forgotten, Hinkley C is financed by the Chinese and French and built by the French. How’s that for ‘Taking back control?’
I am not against nuclear power, far from it, but even its most ardent supporters would never claim that it is a low risk technically or financially.
No, the Swansea Bay decision was very poor. Just another example of the inability of this government, with its retinue of mediocre second-raters and time-servers, to make any decision without f*****g it up.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs