Boats moored on Lake Windermere, October 2017


John W.

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A convenient miracle

An Irish priest was stopped for speeding in west London. The police officer smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car.

He says, “Sir, have you been drinking?”

“Just water,” says the priest.

The policeman says, “Then why do I smell wine?”

The priest looks at the bottle and says, “Good Lord! He’s done it again!”


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The Dunmore Proclamation and Virginian Slaves in 1775

In June 1775 royal authority in Virginia was in tatters. Lord Dunmore, the governor, was incapable of enforcing royal authority on the Virginians and concessions were impossible. Virginia was in a quasi-revolutionary situation. Dunmore was so concerned that he made a tactical retreat to a British ship off the coast. His obvious response to the Virginians’ challenges should have been a declaration of martial law, after which those who continued to oppose royal authority would be traitors. There was no certainty that this would succeed and Dunmore knew it. In a reckless act, Dunmore’s Proclamation offered freedom to able-bodied slaves from rebel slave-owners who joined his army. Dunmore’s Proclamation completed the alienation of many Americans from Britain.

Dunmore understood Virginian slavery. He too was a slave-owner and appreciated that slaves weren’t a homogeneous group. Virginian slaves are often thought of as working on plantations under the lash but this ignores slaves working in the service industry. These slaves were usually working in the household as nannies, kitchen staff, coach men, personal maids and so on. Like any other large group of people, slaves varied in ability, intelligence and social skills. Slave-owners talent spotted amongst their slaves. Slaves with potential were nurtured, eventually becoming important to the smooth running of their owners’ lives. (The addendum below illustrates this point.) Elite slaves were in an enviable position but had a heightened awareness of their servitude. Paradoxically they were in a psychologically worse position than field slaves who had no hope whatsoever.

Dunmore’s Proclamation was aimed at elite slaves; slaves who could read and were aware of the world beyond their locality. Dunmore was hoping this elite would act as opinion formers and spread the word amongst illiterate field slaves. But Dunmore’s message was conditional: only slaves from rebel slave-owners would be accepted. Dunmore wasn’t a moral anti-slavery crusader, he wanted able-bodied men who could be recuited into his Ethiopian regiment. Dunmore was weaponising slavery in Virginia: legitimising escape by slaves from their owners. The black slave population was nearly equal to the white population numerically but fear kept slaves on their plantations. Dunmore’s Proclamation didn’t create a flood of escapees.

Dunmore’s Proclamation was the nuclear option but was hamstrung by his unwillingness to declare ‘war’ on rebel Virginians. If he’d declared slavery illegal this may have unleashed the 40% of Virginian population who were slaves*. But that was an intellectual and political leap too far. It would have united rebel and loyalist slave-owners against him and was of dubious legality. Being in a quasi-revolutionary situation was uncharted territory. His proclamation was reckless because it hardened attitudes against both him and Britain without delivering a knock-out blow. Political leadership from London was ambiguous until the following year when independence was declared.

Dunmore’s Proclamation was a bold and imaginative initiative but was doomed to failure because it was ambiguous. A colonial revolution was beyond the scope of a governor who was intellectually bound by the concept of unchallenged royal authority. Dunmore failed but he did the decent thing and didn’t abandon those slaves who had joined him.

Addendum: an advert for a runaway slave following Dunmore’s proclamation

STAFFORD County, AQUIA, Nov 3, 1775.

RUN off last night form [sic.] the subscriber, a negro man named CHARLES, who is a very shrewd sensible fellow, and can both read and write; and as he has always waited upon me, he must be will known through most parts of Virginia and Maryland. He is very black, has a large nose, and is about 5 feet 8 or 10 inches high. He took a variety of clothes, which I cannot well particularise, stole several of my shirts, a pair of new saddle bags, and two mares, one a darkish, the other a light bay, with a blaze and white feet, and about 3 years old. From many circumstances, there is reason to believe he intends an attempt to get to lord Dunmore; and as I have reason to believe his design of going off was long premeditated, and that he has gone off with some accomplice, I am apprehensive he may prove daring and resolute, if endeavoured to be taken. His elopement was from no cause of complaint, or dread of a whipping (for he has always been remarkably indulged, indeed too much so) but from a determined resolution to get liberty, as he conceived, by flying to lord Dunmore. I will give 5l. [l = pounds] to any person who secures him, and the mares, so that I get them again.


N.B. Since writing the above advertisement, the mares have returned, and there is a great probability, form [sic.] many circumstances, to conclude that he was taken from Dumfries, in company with a white servant of mr. Andrew Leitch’s, in an oyster boat belonging to one Kelly, near Smith’s point, in Northumberland. I will give10l. if he is taken, and allow a handsome gratuity to any person who can convict Kelly of having carried him off.

*Virginia 1775 Slave population was 40% of the total


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Technological sabotage: Rene Carmille 1942-4

René Carmille — was a punch card computer expert and comptroller general of the French Army, who later would head up the Demographics Department of the French National Statistics Service. As quickly as IBM worked with the Nazis to enable them to use their punch card computer systems to update census data to find and round up Jewish citizens, Rene and his team of double-agents worked just as fast to manipulate their data to undermine their efforts.

The IEEE newspaper, The Institute, describes Carmille as being an early ethical hacker: “Over the course of two years, Carmille and his group purposely delayed the process by mishandling the punch cards. He also hacked his own machines, reprogramming them so that they’d never punch information from Column 11 [which indicated religion] onto any census card.” His work to identify and build in this exploit saved thousands of Jews from being rounded up and deported to death camps.

Rene was arrested in Lyon in 1944. He was interrogated for two days by Klaus Barbie, a cruel and brutal SS and Gestapo officer called “the Butcher of Lyon,” but he still did not break under torture. Rene was caught by the Nazis and sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he died in 1945.


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Film Review ~ Paddington 2 (Hugh Grant and All Star cast)

This is a wonderful family film. When I went there were a few children but a significant number of adults who were thoroughly enjoying the experience. Insofar as there is a storyline it’s puerile and it doesn’t matter one little bit. The film is an experience not an intellectual exercise. The first Paddington film had a very strong pro-immigration message based on Kindertransport, which continued throughout the film. That message informed every expectation that Paddington had of his journey to London. This has disappeared into a frothy feel-good film, which is entirely lovely but leaves a curiously empty feeling. This is my only caveat.

Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) is the pantomime villain who steals the film. Through a series of incidents, none of which need retelling, Paddington ends up in jail. His wonderful social education from Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) is transformative. Hardened criminals including the ferocious Knuckles (Brendon Gleeson) become positive caring human beings. This transformation is brought about by Paddington’s love of marmalade. Silly! Silly! Silly! But oh so wonderful. The villain is thwarted and everybody ends up happy and successful.

Why you should watch this film: It’s escapism joy at its finest

Why you shouldn’t watch this film: You’ve lost your inner child.

For an alternative review


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A Trade Unionist has a tough life

The CEO of a big company calls in the senior trade union negotiator to try to avert a strike.

CEO: “Pleased you could come Fred. I’m sure that everything will be OK once we fully understand each other.”

Fred: “We know how much profit you make, what dividends you pay and executive salaries. We want double wages and a shorter working week.”

CEO: “OK. What did you have in mind?”

Fred: “Double wages and one day a week. We had in mind Wednesdays.”

CEO: “Sounds reasonable.”

Fred gasps: “That won’t do. You’ve got to negotiate. Keep me here all night so that I can fight for a deal.”

CEO: “Tell you what let’s watch a few DVDs, have a drink and we leave at 3 a.m.”

Fred: “Done.”

Later the next day Fred tells the mass meeting what he’s achieved and they’re ecstatic. Fred calls for a vote and just before the vote is taken a lone voice shouts out, “Is that every Wednesday?”


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Repair and Maintenance in Tower Blocks

Practically no one gives any thought to the effort required to keep tower blocks fit for purpose. Once upon a time Councils undertook to repair almost any or everything. For example, Hackney Council in the 1960s controlled its DLO (Direct Labour Organisation) with a workforce of over 2000 tradespeople. Many were skilled in plumbing, carpentry, metal work, glazing, bricklaying, plastering, tiling and painting and decorating. Similarly Havering Council’s DLO provided comprehensive repair and maintenance teams. Where and why did all those high standards evaporate?

Over the years with many changes in Government and Local Authority administrations council repair obligations have nearly vanished. The main reason for reductions was the attack on the grant year by year. The Government HIP (Housing Improvement Programme) imposed on the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) grant to Councils controlled the ability of Councils to organise their programme. The Councils annual bid for capital and revenue needs gave an overview of its overall stock condition with details of under or overspend in the previous five year period. That requirement (due to leaseholders becoming responsible for their own repairs) substantially reduced the social housing repair responsibility. Combined with tightening of Council budgets most Councils reviewed (reduced) their obligations to remaining tenants.

Some councils understood that ‘planned maintenance, against reactive maintenance’ was far cheaper and more effective than current practice. Therefore proactive councils saved thousands on their HRA by simply replacing ordinary domestic appliances, as properties became vacant, rather than wait until they broke down.

Now, regardless of age or ability, all tenants are expected to undertake a whole range of home skills from replacing worn tap or ball-valve washers to repairing cupboard doors and latches. Many found blocked waste pipes weren’t a council problem! Of course, tenants can request the council undertake these repairs but that will be undertaken with the councils time scales. Worse: the work will recharged at current tradesman rates, which can be eye watering for those on fixed incomes or,unemployed.

One effect of the reduction of social housing stock because of “right to buy” is that the Governments fiscal grip on councils has tightened. Tenants have increased responsibilities in the pursuit of free market forces. The poor have got poorer and Council tower blocks have deteriorated turning some of them into dangerous slums. Young people are now in the clutches of private rented properties often owned by unscrupulous landlords who are entirely unconcerned about property conditions. Rat/cockroach infested hell holes are rented out at exorbitant prices. Rachman* style harassment has re-emerged with all the misery and grief it ever was. The attack on social housing hasn’t solved the housing crisis its just shifted it underground. Meanwhile social housing is deteriorating because of short-sighted maintenance programmes.

The money raised from the sale of council housing stock was labelled as “Capital Receipts” – however, councils were severely restricted as to how they could use it. There is a huge pot of money built up in capital receipts across the country. The Government are only now (2017) realising the folly of not allowing councils to use that money to replace council housing with new build properties to rent in the social housing sector. The double whammy is that population growth and a reduction in social housing ahs created a societal crisis. Today I read that the housing charity Shelter, fears the crippling combination of homelessness, high rents, Universal Credit and the lack of affordable homes will create misery this winter. Calls to its free helpline have already risen by 25% in the past year. It beggars belief that the Tories Government has the brass neck to turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor.

Grenfell Tower was a tragedy on a scale unheard of in the UK and it can’t be brushed under the carpet no matter how much procrastination goes on. Meanwhile thousands of other tower blocks are rotting due to government fiscal policies which is costing untold billions. The Tories are meant to understand investment so why are they destroying billions of pounds worth of social housing. Is it on purpose? Is it an ideological attack by right-wing extremists?

* A vicious London property owner who attacked some of his tenants to make them leave protected properties in the 1950s.


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