Why posh boys and girls run the Arts

Not long ago, my wife, a composer, asked me if I would ever advise a student from a low-income family to pursue a career in the arts.

What do you mean? Of course.”


If that’s what they wanted to do, and they had talent.”

But they don’t have money.”

If a student were really passionate and talented, she’d figure out a way.” That’s always been something my parents told me. “Think about what you’d do if money were no object. And then work hard. You’ll find a way to make money.”

Your parents give you $28,000 a year. They paid for your tuition. They made it possible for you to do what you’d do if money were no object—because money was no object for you.”

For the full article go to https://www.ejroller.com/2018/10/25/my-parents-give-me-28000-a-year/


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The defeat of cholera

New epidemic diseases are always terrifying.1 Cholera arrived in Britain in 1832 when Britain didn’t have a medical-scientific infrastructure to cope. Favoured explanations for cholera were Miasma, (roughly, ‘bad air’), moral turpitude and God’s anger. Victorian Britain’s rationalists looked for evidence based explanations. After the third epidemic of 1854

Timeline for cholera

they dismissed miasma, God and other fanciful theories out of hand. This epidemic brought Snow’s theory of polluted water. His statistical analysis of the London outbreak identified precisely why the outbreak emerged where it did and why its victims were its victims. Cholera’s coup de grace came with the ground-breaking research of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. Their work plus engineer Joseph Bazalgette’s sewage systems eradicated cholera from first world countries.

King Cholera in a London slum

It was a commonplace belief that cholera struck poor areas because of the vile living conditions that existed in their neighbourhoods. The miasma theory fitted the narrative perfectly. Poor neighbourhoods stank making people feel ill just breathing and therefore they were ill because of bad air. John Snow lived in Soho, London, where the 1854 outbreak was virulent. His acute analytical mind dismissed the miasma theory when he saw people were dying in clusters. In brief everyone was breathing the same air but only some were dying.2

John Snow’s map of cholera in Soho, London

The miasma theory encouraged the belief that cholera victims were really victims of poor lifestyles. Therefore improving their lifestyle would prevent cholera.

Broadside issued by the New York Sanatory Committee during the cholera epidemic of 1849.

The dead hand of traditional knowledge3 denied Snow’s insight but an engineering solution was in hand with the creation of London’s sewage system. In 1858 London came to halt when the open sewer which was the River Thames erupted into virulent unpleasantness during a very hot summer. The miasma theory ironically came into its own. A gagging stench shut parliament and provoked action. Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, was financed for a stupendous public works project.4

London’s post- 1858 sewer system

Two great continental scientists Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch proved beyond doubt that cholera was transmitted by polluted water. Pasteur stroke of genius was to connect his work on beer to the wider problem of the transmission of disease. He developed the germ theory of transmission and Koch did the fundamental work establishing a new paradigm. Medical scientists could never again look beyond their work.

Louis Pasteur’s intellectual journey

The conquest of cholera was driven by non-medical analysis. Snow ‘knew’ that water caused cholera but was unable to demonstrate it: to prove it. The miasma theory took a long time to die but it’s final contribution was the investment in sewers following the Great Stink of 1858. Pasteur and Koch laid the intellectual foundations of modern medicine with their research. However cholera is still an ever present in the third world where the infrastructure of clean safe water is patchy. This was shown in Haiti in 2010-2 when UN provided peacekeepers inadvertently brought cholera with them from Nepal. Complacency is a killer where cholera is concerned.

1 Compare the Black Death, 1349, the Great Plague, 1665-6 and Ebola 2014-6.

2 …the Southwark and Vauxhall water company, your water is taken from the river directly downstream of a sewage outfall pipe. Snow’s great insight was to recognise that people who breathed the same air didn’t all die, and that S&V customers were dying at a rate 22 times higher than those of the Lambeth Water Company, whose intake was upstream of the outfall pipes.


3 Thomas Kuhn in 1962 described the way that science is dominated by paradigms which people build their careers on turning them into certainties. Attacking a paradigm is therefore more than just presenting a new thesis, if successful, it can end careers. Snow’s destruction of the miasma theory was resisted by many medical-scientists as it would overturn the basis of the transmission of disease rendering their knowledge obsolete. See http://www.thwink.org/sustain/glossary/KuhnCycle.htm

4 Amazingly Bazalgette’s work was opposed on the grounds that prevented the use of human waste as a resource regardless of the presumption that sewers saved lives.

There was outrage in 19th-century England when Bazalgette’s sewers wasted good excrement by transporting it into the sea. Excrement was a useful fertiliser, and suddenly London was making it useless by diluting it with drinking water. (Karl) Marx fumed at the monetary loss of so much good fertiliser.



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Two priests on holiday in Hawaii

Two priests went to Hawaii on vacation without worrying about stereotypes. When they landed they bought shorts, shirts, sandals, sunglasses, etc. so they’d fit in.

An attractive holiday maker, dressed in a bikini, said ‘Good Morning, Father. Good Morning, Father,’ to both priests as she walked past them on the beach.

They were both stunned. ‘How did she know they were priests?’

The next day they returned to the beach and exactly the same thing happened.

One of the priests said, ‘Can I speak to you for a minute?’

‘Yes, Father?’

‘We’re priests and proud of it, but I have to know, how in the world do you know we’re priests, dressed as we are?’

‘Father, it’s me, Sister Kathleen’.

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Book Review: Sven Hassel ~ The Commissar (Translator Tim Bowie)

Sven Hassell is very controversial in Denmark where his ‘fact based semi-autobiographical’ novels have been scrutinised and found to be (astonishingly!) fiction. The style Hassel writes in does lead the reader to believe that there is an underlying truth hard at work. Apparently Hassel was little more than a criminal chancer in the war but mingled with Danish SS soldiers immediately post-war garnering stories and colour. This problem illustrates the brilliance of Hassel’s novels. They appear true because of the vivid authenticity of the writing

Hassel’s stories are fiercely located in a Nazi Panzer unit. He has an enduring list of characters all of whom are well drawn and complementary. A Nazi fanatic in the same crew as a Hamburg gutter rat Tiny and Albert, a black German driver. They loot, use Soviet Kalaskinov’s in preference to German guns, commit war crimes and crimes against humanity without a second thought. They routinely denounce Hitler, disobey officers and are perpetually drunk. They’re lousy, have only filthy rags for clothes and are Darwinian man personified.

Chapter one Panzer Attack is 50+ pages of stunning writing about the actuality of warfare. It’s required reading for any war crazed politican (are listening Tony Blair et al?) and chapter four is a superb satire on the pomposity of the Nazi regime. Unrelentingly non-politically correct language pours over the reader and numbs liberal sensibility with sheer thrilling writing in this war novel.

Why you should read this novel: It’s a vivid and brilliant page turner

Why you shouldn’t read this novel: In many ways it’s hateful apparently glorying in carnage.

Buy it at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Commissar-Legion-Damned-Book-14-ebook/dp/B0043M6744/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1543853646&sr=1-15&refinements=p_27%3ASven+Hassel


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The Drug Culture

I only take it for my pain. I don’t really enjoy it.

Ray H

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Russian police for hire

…in modern Russia it is sometimes difficult even to know if you are working for the gangsters. The assassination of organised-crime boss Vasily Naumov in 1997 came as a particular embarrassment to the St Petersburg police when it emerged that his bodyguards were members of Saturn, one of their elite rapid-response squads, moonlighting and apparently engaged legitimately through a front company.

Galeotti, Mark. Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (Kindle Locations 4192-4195). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.


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Hackney DLO

In 1965 I was employed by the Hackney Direct Labour Organisation (DLO). I enjoyed being one of their plumbers. It wasn’t a prestigious position but aged twenty one I only wanted a steady reliable income. The talk in the building industry at that time was – ‘there is no real money to earn in Local Authority, but the employment was constant’. That was true. Gradually I got to know both the Hackney area and hundreds of workmates.

Being a bit of a drinker, I was told about the Hackney working men’s club. This was on the top floor of the Town Hall annex in Reding Lane. Over the years I used to frequent the club. I got to know the Bar Steward and his wife, and spent a number of Saturday evenings in the club with my then wife Pat. She was gloriously gregarious in just about every way. After 9 pm the DJ would invite audience members to take the microphone and sing to the piano. Pat being Jewish was adept at getting people onto the dance floor with many songs made popular by Helen Shapiro, Connie Francis and the like. The club was democratically governed by a large committee made up from the membership as well as councillors. Even at such a young age I was getting a reputation for being the plumber’s shop steward. One of the councillors asked me if I would consider joining the committee. I agreed straight away and the following Monday I attended my first meeting in the Hackney Council Chamber.

I was very impressed with the professional way the business of the club was handled and a shocked to see how financially unsound it was. The bar alone was turning over thousands of pounds each year. Without knowing that I was about to open a can of worms I asked when the last bar stock audit had taken place. I was very concerned to eventually learn that the last audit had been over two years previously. I expressed my disapproval. I dug a bit deeper into the bar banking and finances. I was horrified to learn that, ‘we leave all that side to Bar Steward’. He was a very long standing employee who’d been the steward for years and was a law to himself. After a further two or three committee meetings I  proposed and saw through A Bar Control Sub-Committee, answerable to the main committee. On learning about my activities within the committee the bar steward threw himself into a hissy fit and promptly resigned. I was very unpopular for a time when the whisper went round that I had sacked the Bar Steward.

The eventual audit was quite thorough but not conclusive of misdealing. Both the bar takings and banking arrangements were robust enough, but there were questions about the amount of “spillage and ullage” reported as wiped “off and unrecoverable”. Seen as a weekly figure the amount appeared negligible but over a two year period the amount was excessive, given the business we were turning over.

Much later it came to light that a few customers had complained to the steward that the gin was not up to taste. If it was watered down, as I suspected, enough time had elapsed from his resignation to the audit that proof was difficult to establish. But the scrutiny I established was a very useful lesson for me when I became a senior shop steward.


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