Issue 111: 2017 06 29: Week In Brief: UK

29 June 2017

Week in Brief: UK

 Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

From the Brexit kitchen

QUEEN’S SPEECH: Last week’s Queen’s speech, a two-year programme of 27 measures, 8 of which related to Brexit, omitted many manifesto pledges.  Gone was the proposal to means test winter fuel allowance; gone were the plans to replace free school lunches with breakfast; gone was the “dementia tax” which would have reclaimed assets from the estate of the deceased to contribute to the amount spent on social care.  Other things have disappeared too.  There was no mention of the net migration target of 100,000.  Perhaps that policy has been downgraded.  Nothing was said about a proposed cap on energy prices or Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK.  Essentially the Government’s programme was gutted in order to focus on Brexit.  No wonder that Mr Corbyn referred to the proposals as “thin”.

DEVOLVED ASSEMBLIES: It appears that the Scottish, Irish and Welsh assemblies will vote on the way in which the Great Repeal Bill transfers certain EU legislation back to the UK.  This is mainly about agriculture and fisheries where considerable powers will come back from the EU.  The Scots are determined that they should come back to the devolved assemblies and not to Westminster.

ARCHBISHOP PITCHES IN: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has told the Mail On Sunday that there is a need for a cross-party body to work on Brexit strategy.  Other politicians including Lord Hague of Richmond and Yvette Cooper have also called for a more bipartisan approach and Lord Adonis has suggested that Sir John Major might make a suitable chairman for a cross-party committee.  At government level, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has asked for his shadow Sir Kier Starmer to be brought into the Privy Council so that he can be briefed on difficult areas.

OPENING OFFER: The negotiations regarding the terms on which we will leave the European Union began with the issue of citizens’ rights, that is the rights of EU citizens who currently live in the UK and of UK citizens who live in the other 27 states.  Mrs May’s opening bid, a proposal that those who have been in Britain for five years and have not been convicted of serious crime should be awarded “settled status” entitling them to the same rights as British citizens and that those who have been in Britain for a lesser period should be allowed to stay to accumulate those rights, was received unenthusiastically by Brussels.  Issues include which courts should enforce the rights.  The EU would like the European of Court of Justice to do it.  Mrs May would prefer the right to be overseen by British courts.

Other politics

DUP VOTES SECURED: The Democratic Unionist Party has agree to support the Government in the Commons on votes relating to Brexit, the Budget, national security, and on matters of confidence.  In return the Government has confirmed £1bn of expenditure on Northern Ireland.

NEW PRIME MINISTER: Philip Hammond is being suggested as a replacement for Teresa May on the basis that he would resign his position after two years so that another leader of the party could be appointed before the next general election.  Concerns of hardline Brexiteers, which focus on his preference for a soft Brexit, could be met by appointing David Davis as Deputy Prime Minister.  Mr Hammond might wonder why, if he is considered competent for the important job, he should make way for someone inferior once it is done.

GLASTONBURY: Mr Corbyn attended Glastonbury Festival to a huge and appreciative audience.  In an unguarded interview, however, he said that he expected to see Labour in power shortly and Trident being abolished.  The latter is not official Labour Party policy.

POVERTY STATISTICS: According to the Office of National Statistics, 30% of Britons fell into poverty over the four-year period to the end of 2015.  This is not a measure of falling living standards but rather of a greater spread of income in both directions.  To be in poverty for the purposes of the statistics you need to have an income below 60% of the national median.

Tower blocks

GRENFELL TOWER: The victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster are to be housed in Kensington in flats acquired by the City of London Corporation.  All cladding tested so far has failed safety checks and hundreds of buildings have been shown to have other defective systems.  A very large number of buildings will need to have their cladding replaced.  Meanwhile the blame-storming is well underway.  Councils blame the contractors who say that they did as they were told.  They also blame the inpenetrability of Government guidance.  John McDonnell blames the cuts and refers to “murder”.  Diane Abbott blames Tory attitudes to “second-class citizens”.  As politicians seek to turn the tragedy to their advantage and those involved with the construction of the blocks seek to push away the blame, the only bright spot remains the level of community support.  Latymer Upper School (a fee-paying school) and Arc Burlington Danes Academy (a state school) have both opened their doors to pupils from Kensington Aldridge Academy which is currently closed.

According to the London Fire Brigade, inflammable materials at the back of fridge freezers makes them one of the most dangerous household appliances.  The brigade has lobbied for a change to regulations for five years.

Medicine

GENERAL PRACTITIONERS: A proposal will be tabled at the forthcoming British Medical Association conference in Bournemouth suggesting that general practitioners adopt a “black alert” system similar to that used by hospitals.  Under the hospital system, a hospital sends out a black alert when it is at full capacity so that cases can be diverted elsewhere.  In the case of GPs they would be diverted to walk-in clinics, other practices and Accident and Emergency departments.

SEX THERAPY: Prisons are abandoning two courses on sex therapy because the rate of reoffending is higher among those who have taken the courses than among those who have not.  William Marshall, who developed the programs for Canada, says that this is because they have not been adapted in accordance with new research and that they have been led by people who are not qualified psychotherapists.

CHARLIE GARD: The European Court of Human Rights has followed the British courts in agreeing that the Great Ormond Street hospital should turn off life support for baby, Charlie Gard, and that he should not be taken to the US for further treatment.  The conclusion was reached by balancing the likelihood of distress against a limited potential benefits of the treatment.

Miscellaneous

BORIS BECKER: The three times Wimbledon winner has been declared bankrupt by a London registrar on the basis that there was no evidence that a substantial debt would be paid soon.  The application was made in connection with a debt owed by the star to investment bankers  Arbuthnot Latham.  It has been outstanding since 2015.

SEA TRIALS: HMS Queen Elizabeth, the 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy, has left Rosyth to begin its sea trials.  According to the evocatively named Captain Kyd, bringing it out of the dockyard was quite an operation, there being only a 2m clearance under the Fourth Bridge and 35 cm on each side at the entrance to the River Forth.  The ship, with her sister ship the Prince of Wales, has run hugely over budget but the Coalition Government, which would have cancelled the project, was told that that would will be more expensive than continuing with it.  The ship and its complement of Lockheed aircraft is expected to be operational in 2020.

SUPERGRASS: Gary Haggarty, previously a loyalist paramilitary commander, has pleaded guilty to 200 terrorist offences including five murders.  A police informant during the troubles, he is expected to receive a reduced sentence to reflect the fact that he is helping the authorities bring other offenders to justice.

HACKERS: In what is suspected of being a state-sponsored cyber attack, a foreign power gained access to the email accounts of MPs and peers.  Passwords are being changed but there are concerns at the possibility of blackmail (well you know what MPs and peers are like!). The Parliamentary authorities are being criticised for the fact that  the attack was not revealed for 10 hours.

Meanwhile computer systems across Britain, Russia and America were disrupted by a computer virus on Tuesday, disrupting government and commercial operations and affecting the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  As Russia is among the countries affected it is unlikely to be sponsored by the KBG (unless it is some form of brilliant double bluff).  In fact the attack seems to be designed to extract ransoms for unlocking screens.  Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has indicated that Britain is ready to respond “from any domain”, which is understood to include airstrikes.  If it is some teenager in a shed he may well get seriously flattened.

ICED SHIT: According to research by the BBC’s Watchdog programme, samples of ice taken from certain high street coffee chains contained faecal bacteria.  Is this a new variant of the age-old practice of spitting into the food of unpleasant customers? Hopefully not!

UNSCHISM: The Church of England and the Methodists are debating proposals to enter into full communion.  That would mean that the clergy could officiate at each other’s services and would involve the head of the Methodist Conference becoming a “president-Bishop” giving him the authority of an Anglican Bishop.

 

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Issue 111: 2017 06 29: Believe Me (Lynda Goetz)

29 June 2017

Believe Me

Eddie Izzard and LGBT teaching.

By Lynda Goetz

Gender and sexuality are, these days, something of a minefield.  Whenever I hear the term LGBT, I am ashamed to say I cannot help thinking BLT, which is clearly a frivolous and inappropriate response to a serious subject.  However, for those of us who have more than a few decades under the belt, the pace of change in terms of attitudes, responses and legislation in this area has been somewhat dramatic and, as I pointed out in an article earlier this year The Future of Civil Partnerships, it is only 50 years since homosexuality was legalised in this country.  Since that time, however, the UK has led in redefining relationships, marriage and gender recognition.

This week Eddie Izzard’s autobiography Believe Me is ‘Book of The Week’ on Radio 4 and he can be heard reading from an abridged version in clear, carefully enunciated tones at 9.45 in the mornings, or, of course, on iPlayer.  In it he tells, inter alia, how he slowly came out as ‘Trans’ and of the courage it took to step out of the house he was sharing in Islington with medical students many years ago and go to a help group nearby ‘wearing make-up and a dress’.  In the same week, we hear of a private Orthodox Jewish school (also in North London) for girls aged three to eight which has failed three Ofsted inspections because it does not teach pupils about homosexuality or gender reassignment, even though the school was otherwise praised for “good subject knowledge and high quality classroom resources”.  It could face closure as a result.  Is this right?

According to a spokesperson from the campaign group Christians on Education, the decision to fail the school on these grounds showed that “the Equality Act is actually hierarchical with sexual orientation and gender reassignment at the apex of the Act”.  The Act referred to is the Equality Act 2010, a piece of legislation which essentially brought together existing anti-discrimination legislation.  Is it correct to say that sexual orientation and gender reassignment is at the apex of the Act?  Almost certainly not, but it is true that the minority groups involved in the LGBT movement are, like many minority groups, noisy and vociferous.  They are ‘punching above their weight’ in terms of the impact they are having on the way society is conducted.  A number of religious groups are having difficulties with this.

Discussing the subject with a group of friends, it was interesting to consider the different viewpoints.  None of them have small children, nor have they got to the point of having grandchildren.  They have or have had quite varied careers and could all be considered Christian, although with varying intensities of attachment to the Church.  A couple of them were not convinced that children as young as three needed to have this information ‘thrust down their throats’, but the one who is a teacher was very insistent that ‘age appropriate’ information was important from early on and that we do have a duty in modern society to make children as young as three aware that even if they personally feel very happy and secure in knowing who they are, not everyone has this luxury.

This is a very tempting argument, but should it take precedence over the cultural and religious ideas of the group into which that child is born?  This becomes perhaps slightly more difficult.  Is it the duty of the state to inculcate its population with a set of doctrines, however right the majority (or perhaps only the vociferous minority) consider those views to be?  We are, or used to be, a Christian country.  However, we have allowed, even encouraged, other religions to exist and flourish alongside that religion.  Many are unhappy with being forced to bow to and assimilate moralities with which they feel they cannot agree.  Should they be forced to bring up their children learning attitudes with which they disagree or is it the child’s right to have all the information available so that they are free to make an informed choice of their own in due course?

The inspectors who visited the Vishnitz (or Vizhnitz) Girls School last month concluded that the fact that students are not taught explicitly about issues such as sexual orientation “restricts pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles”.  Vizhnitz is the Yiddish name of a town which was originally in Austria but is now in the Ukraine.  It is where Rabbi Menachem Mendel Heger, the founder of the Hasidic dynasty, now known as Vizhnitz, was buried.  The Hasidic communities are all, by their very nature, inward-looking.  Is it the State’s duty to force them to look outwards so that their young members can, as Eddie Izzard says they can, carve out their ‘own small slice of freedom of expression’ or should they be allowed to carve out their own community lifestyle within the society in which they live?

This is very much a problem of our age.  Hitherto, we have, to a large extent, abided by the principle of ‘live and let live’, but when situations like the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham have seen those who wish to undermine our society and promote their own take advantage of our freedoms then perhaps, ironically, we do have to become more doctrinaire in order to allow those freedoms to continue.

 

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Issue 110: 2017 06 22: Contents

22 June 2017: Issue 110

 

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption

Comment

Debt by John Watson

Disaster waits in the wings.

Meanwhile, In The White House… by J R Thomas

The administration looks at Syria and Wall Street.

Remain Or Leave by Richard Pooley

The dilemma facing one British expatriate couple.

A Tale Of Two Committees by Frank O’Nomics

Should the Fed and the Bank of England swap strategies?

After Isis by Neil Tidmarsh

To the victor, the spoils?

Features

Old Goats by Chin Chin

What are they doing in parliament?

Election Diary of a Corbynista by Don Urquhart

Extracts.

Caravanning In The Ionian by Lynda Goetz

Avoiding the car crash at home.

Reviews

Tosca (by Puccini)

Grange Park Opera, West Horsley

reviewed by Adam McCormack.

The RA Summer Exhibition

Royal Academy, 13 June – 20 August

reviewed by William Morton

Gem Amongst Jewels

Trewyn Studio Garden, St. Ives

reviewed by J R Thomas

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Heroes and Notables”.

Solution to the last crossword “More Pop”.

What’s on in June 2017 by AGGro

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 105: 18 May 2017

Issue 106: 25 May 2017

Issue 107: 01 June 2017

Issue 108: 08 June 2017

Issue 109: 15 June 2017

Issue 111:2017 06 29:A Kink In China’s New Silk Road(Neil Tidmarsh)

29 June 2017

A Kink In China’s New Silk Road

‘One Belt, One Road’ bypasses India.

By Neil Tidmarsh

Consider these three apparently unconnected stories in the news this week:

Two Chinese teachers were recently kidnapped in Pakistan by Isis.  The security services tracked them to a network of tunnels near the border with Afghanistan, and last week Pakistani commandos fought a five-day underground battle against the militants to reach the cave where the captives were being held.  Unfortunately, the captors escaped with their hostages, and this week it was reported that the two teachers have been murdered and beheaded.

President Trump welcomed India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to Washington.  Mr Modi was the first foreign leader to be a guest of Mr Trump for dinner at the White House.  During Mr Modi’s two day trip, Mr Trump is expected to authorise the sale of twenty-two Predator surveillance drones (worth $2 billion) to India.

China made a formal complaint to India, accusing Indian border guards of crossing into Tibet from Sikkim state, and claiming that the Indian army had obstructed road works on the Chinese side of the border.

In fact these aren’t separate stories but chapters in the same story. And that story is all about the spread of Chinese power and influence westwards.

President Xi’s plans for a new Silk Road – his “Belt and Road Initiative” – is a grand scheme to build a new economic belt stretching all the way from China to Europe by establishing new roads (by sea and land) across Asia.  China intends to spend between $4 trillion and $8 trillion on huge infrastructure projects in sixty-eight countries.

Pakistan is one of the most significant countries in the scheme.  Beijing is spending $55 billion to build 21 power stations there.  It has already built a huge port at Gwadar on the Indian Ocean, and is now upgrading and expanding it even further. The ‘China-Pakistan economic corridor’, including an oil-pipeline, will run the length of Pakistan from the Chinese border in the Himalayas to this port, giving land-locked western China vital access to the sea.

But that all now hangs in the balance following the abduction and murder of the two Chinese teachers.  The incident has infuriated Beijing and embarrassed Islamabad.  There is a suspicion that militants including the Taliban have targeted the corridor; at least forty-six Pakistani workers have been killed by terrorists while working on its projects.  Chinese workers have been evacuated from the volatile Balochistan province and its capital Quetta, a centre of Islamist activity where the two teachers were seized, but there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese working elsewhere in the country (more than 70,000 visas were granted to Chinese people last year).  Beijing has demanded more protection for them, and Islamabad has promised 15,000 extra troops to guard corridor projects.

This week China showed that it is keenly aware of the threat which terrorism in Pakistan poses to its great project; foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuan announced that China will conduct ‘shuttle diplomacy’ between Pakistan and Afghanistan to try to contain the cross-border traffic in terrorism between the two countries.  Foreign minister Wang Yi visited Kabul and Islamabad last week to get both countries to sign up to a ‘Crisis Management Mechanism’.

Meanwhile, India looks on with some trepidation.  India is one of the few countries which have not enthusiastically welcomed the new Silk Road plan.  India is wary of Chinese expansionism.  The two countries are economic competitors, two rival Asian giants growing side by side.  India is concerned that the Initiative is a Chinese plot to grab control of the Indian Ocean from under its nose (China is building a massive port in Sri Lanka, too).  And it finds Chinese involvement with India’s traditional enemy Pakistan particularly worrying.  The ‘China-Pakistan economic corridor’ enters Pakistan from China via Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, territories which India considers its own and over which Pakistan and India have fought at least three wars.  China has offered to mediate between the two countries over the dispute, but India has rejected the offer, fearing that mediation may be an excuse for China to move troops into the territory.  Indeed, India and China went to war with each other over Chinese-occupied north-eastern Kashmir in 1962; and China’s accusations of cross-border incursions at the other end of the Himalayas this week proves that this conflict still smoulders.

Moreover, India is concerned that the spread of Chinese influence westwards isn’t just economic, but also military.  Islamabad has just confirmed that it’s in discussions with Beijing about China building a military base in Pakistan.  Officials have admitted that there are ‘clear possibilities’ for China to build a naval base on the coast towards Pakistan’s border with Iran, giving China’s navy access not just to the Indian Ocean but also to the Persian Gulf.  The port of Gwadar seems the obvious place.

Such statements confirm US suspicions; only last month a Pentagon report suggested that China had ambitions to extend its naval power westwards in this way.  The USA is just as concerned as India, if not more so.  It’s already trying to contain Chinese ambitions in the South China Seas; it now seems that it will have the same job on its hands in the Indian Ocean and, more seriously, in the Gulf.  Pakistan is an important strategic ally of the US, and receives huge amounts of military and economic aid from America, but now it looks like Pakistan is preparing to switch alliances to a power which appears to offer it more muscle against India.

No wonder India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was invited to dinner at the White House.  No doubt those twenty-two Predator drones will be used to track Chinese nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean.  And no doubt their sale won’t be the last piece of military co-operation between the USA and India.

 

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Issue 111: Crossword – China

29 June 2017

Crossword by Boffles

China

 

To see a printable version of this crossword

 

Issue 111: Crossword – China – printable

29 June 2017

Crossword by Boffles

China

Across

    1  Smoky tea (7)

    4  Chinese Cricket Board?  No – construction bank (3)

    6  Confrontation square (9)

    9  Artistic medium (3)

  10  Tunic-suited chairman with some unpleasant habits (3)

  11  Add a ruler to this granny for city sacked by the Japanese (3)

  12  Prohibited area home to 8dn and other rulers (9,4)

  14  Cathay was such a name for it (3)

  16  Splendid ones from the Peak in Hong Kong (5)

  18  Office for the ordinary? No – its version of Boris bikes (3)

  19  Coin we have adopted? (4)

  20  …..En-lai, a colleague of 10ac (4)

  22  Amy takes nothing in for 14ac name of a port (4)

  23  Major river where, incidentally, an RN ship was trapped (7)

 

Down

    1  Culturally symbolic flower (5)

    2  Its Red Army (3)

    3  Province with its own tea and cuisine (5)

    4  In the Cultural Revolution you could be required to do this to yourself (9)

    5  Vegetable for your stir fry (3,4)

    7  A turn at its game? (1,2)

    8  Leading family of potters? (4,7)

  10  Early visitor (5,4)

  12  14ac name of island still claimed , although independent (7)

  13  Its is part of 2dn (4)

  15  Food linked with 14ac Beijing (4)

  17  Soy or sweet and sour, for example (5)

  21  Usually straw and conical (3)

 

Issue 111:2016 06 29: Post-Election Diary of a Corbynista (Don Urquhart)

29 June 2017

Post-Election Diary of a Corbynista

Extracts

by Don Urquhart

Picture of the Author, Don Urquhardt9 June

At just after 10 pm the exit poll summary said “HUNG PARLIAMENT”, and so it was to remain until this morning when we are just waiting for Kensington and Chelsea.  Piers Morgan was right to point out that the Tories had more of the popular vote and won more seats than Labour but Theresa May’s credibility (what is left of it) died at the announcement of the exit poll result.  The drama continues as Theresa May visits the Queen to tell Her Majesty that she has things wrapped up nicely with the DUP.

10 June

Theresa May is toast.  I think it was Matthew Parris on Newsnight who suggested she announce her intention to step down later in the year.  He is clutching at straws.  If it were done it were best done quickly, to misquote Macbeth.  The only way to resolve the chaos is for her to resign, for the Tories to elect a new leader and for that new leader to sell him or herself across the political spectrum.

11 June

Peston asked the Irish Foreign Minister whether the British government could act as guarantors of the peace process while in hock to the DUP.  If any room ever housed an elephant….

12 June

The Magic Money Tree will raise its head with demands from all sides to know how much the DUP is being paid to prop the Tories up.   It is noteworthy that Damian Green has been appointed as Deputy Prime Minister in all but name.  This will enable Theresa to hide from PMQ’s and also to resign soon leaving safe pair of hands Damian as interim PM while Boris and the rest scrap for the top job before calling another election.

13 June

The wall of sound from the Tories tells us everything is on course; Theresa May is being cheered to the echo, the DUP deal is quite normal.   IDS was on this morning saying the concessions are not really concessions, they are what was going to happen anyway.  The end of austerity?  He, IDS, had resigned over Osborne’s direction of travel.  It’s all very feeble, and still no word from Major or Blair on how they feel about the Good Friday agreement being torpedoed.  Michel Barnier requests some action from a negotiating team that is accountable and reliable.  He should not hold his breath!

14 June

Major spoke up.  He is clearly worried about the effect of the Tory/DUP deal on the peace process.   We are still looking for a sitting Tory MP with a spine.  The problem we all have is that there is no natural successor to Theresa May.  All of the big beasts are either too tarnished or too old.  Are they really saying that they have recognised that austerity has run its course?  They will clearly say and do anything to stay in power.

Seeing her do a Mexican wave with her new bestie Macron was quite nauseating.

15 June

Philip Hammond makes the annual Mansion House speech tonight.  It’s the event at which Gordon Brown famously promised light touch regulation just before the crash.  Judging by the trailers, the Chancellor will distance himself from hard Brexit suggesting a more flexible approach in the negotiations.  Is this a grab for the leadership?  If so it is ill advised.  The cabinet table is a knot of vipers.

16 June

Grenfell Tower dominates the news.  Theresa May visited but did not meet residents.  Corbyn is filmed clearly empathising and listening.  Theresa May seems doomed whatever she does.  No deal has been announced with the DUP but the Queens Speech is scheduled for June 21st.

17 June

On This Week on Thursday night Michael Portillo characterised Grenfell Tower demonstrators as the usual suspects.  This was echoed by Kenneth Clarke on Any Questions last night.  It is looking like Tottenham a couple of years ago and the poll tax riots of the late 1980s.  The poor people are not being listened to and have clear evidence that lives were put in danger by the fat cats of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.  They do not trust Theresa May and those around her to pursue the perpetrators.

18 June

Theresa May had some of the Grenfell Tower residents to tea at Number 10.  As a result very little has changed.  There will be a public inquiry so the long grass beckons.  The head honcho of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council claims to be distraught, although on TV the other day he looked like just another shifty politician with sloping shoulders.

19 June

The Brexit negotiations begin today.  IDS went on TV to caution backbenchers to stop plotting against Theresa May, thereby confirming that Tory backbenchers are plotting against Theresa May.  Phil Hammond was all over the TV reporting that the election campaign had been mishandled.  He would have eviscerated Labour’s financial proposals.  Last night’s dramatisation of the 2016 Tory leadership contest depicted the whole process as bloody and sordid.  Gove came out of it particularly badly.

20 June

I don’t understand the reports of the first day of negotiations.  Laura Kuenssberg has it that David Davis conceded that the divorce settlement would happen before discussions of a trade deal could proceed.  David Davis repeated the formula that nothing is settled until everything is settled.  Perhaps the key is in the body language of the two men.  Barnier seems very sure of his position and calm.   Davis seems shifty and uncertain.

21 June

Theresa May has trailed the Queen’s Speech with a statement that the government would show humility and resolve.  It is infinitely depressing to be led by a lame duck.  You just know that her backbenchers will unseat her at the first opportunity.  Effectively there is no government just a passive jelly.

23 June

I have to believe that Theresa May’s premiership is in its death throes, despite the schmoozy photo she achieved with Merkel yesterday.  “German Chancellor pats British PM on the back”.  Shades of 1938.

24 June

Theresa May went to Brussels to confer with EU leaders.  It was strange that she would make an offer regarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK.  After all there is a negotiating team.  Why not let them get on with the job?   So it looks like grandstanding and the EU leaders, Tusk and Merkel treated it as such.  They were polite but probably bemused.  Whatever Kuenssberg says this was a dismal contribution to the negotiation process.  Meanwhile we wait with baited breath for some progress on the Grenfell public inquiry.

25 June

Fifty Labour MP’s have written to The Guardian supporting the proposal that the UK should remain in the European Union.  Hopefully this is not meant as an attempt to hijack the debate within the PLP.

26 June

It is inflammatory language to say that the Grenfell Tower victims were “murdered”.  Then who is the murderer? I don’t think John McDonnell means to say that anyone has set out to kill the people in the tower.  I think what he means is that decisions were taken for cost cutting reasons in the face of warnings from experts that people were being put at risk.

27 June

The parties in Northern Ireland have until Thursday 29th to conclude a Stormont Agreement.  I am sure this is already done and dusted or the Tory/DUP deal would be dead in the water.  Reports vary on the size of the bribe.  It is somewhere between £1 and £2 billion.  I am reckoning that on average each family is subsidising the shabby deal to the tune of £50 to £100.    Missed that in the manifesto.

 

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Issue 111: 2017 06 29: Gastro Physics (Chin Chin)

29 June 2017

Gastro Physics

Matching food with ideas.

By Chin Chin

Until very recently I had not heard of gastric physics, the new science whose high priest is Charles Spence of Oxford University.  As I haven’t read his book yet, it would be a little unfair to review it, so I will just share with you the fact that we find food more attractive when it is well-presented or we are dining in good company.  That in itself is hardly a surprise.  Well-presented food in congenial surroundings has always been recognised as attractive.  That is why restauranteurs invest a lot of money in decorating their premises and why the best French restaurants sport immaculate white linen tablecloths and beautiful glass and cutlery.

The question is, of course, whether the trick is to serve the food meticulously or merely in the way which is most appropriate to it.  Suppose the chosen morsel is a deep fried Mars Bar, for example.  Would that taste better at the Savoy with a heavy Pedro Ximenes in a nice glass or outside a Scottish football stadium with a Johnny Walker chaser?  One suspects that the latter would better bring out the cultural profile of the dish.

Smart restaurants with tasting menus often offer a “flight of” wines to go with the various dishes.  You can see the gastric physics already at work here in the word “flight”.  “Collection of suitable wines” would not be as euphonious but, wines only flying when the diner has lost his temper, is clearly more accurate.  “Various wines which the chef has managed to buy cheaply but can sell at a high price to ignorant punters who are anxious to appear discriminating” would often be more accurate still.

But something is missing here.  It isn’t just the wines and the decor which make the food more attractive but also the atmosphere of the occasion and, if we go back to our fried Mars Bar example, the correct atmosphere must depend on the nature of the food.  How then to match your atmosphere against the particular dish which you propose to prepare?

It is a principle of gastro physics that good company, like good wine, is necessary to maximise the satisfaction which can be gained from a meal.  It follows that the company, like the presentation and the wine, must be tailored to the food being eaten.

Suppose, for example, that you have decided to serve a vegan salad.  Although worthy in many ways vegans tend to be rather serious-minded so to get the best out of the meal you should eat it with people who either are vegetarian or are prepared to adopt the vegetarian demeanour for the evening.  For example the conversation should be about politics with a tendency towards the left and environmental activism.  In fact you might prime your guests with the odd environmental line.  If they were to ask “How is the carrot water being reused?” giving you the opportunity to reply “It is in the coffee”, you will improve everybody’s enjoyment of the meal.  Incidentally, don’t actually put it into the coffee which would have the opposite effect, but if you use robusta rather than arabica and add a little chicory, you can explain that the change in flavour is due to the carrot water which has been through a refining process.  Obviously jokes would be out of the question for this meal although there is probably nothing against the occasional murmuring of “that’s a first world problem”, delivered rather sadly with hands clasped as if in prayer, in respect of anything which has happened in Europe or the US.

At the other end of the scale there is a beef steak dinner with a good Burgundy.  This time you need quite a different sort of guest and a few sportsmen would add to the occasion.  The table would ring to accounts of tries scored, boats rowed and records which were nearly beaten.  Any political conversation would be of the biff’em and bash’em variety and the tone would be robust rather than sad.  In any case there wouldn’t be much room for political conversation at all as the various sportsmen joshed each other over triumphs they had failed to achieve.

Much more difficult would be the longer menu with lentils as a first course and steak as a second.  How should the maximum enjoyment be extracted from both traditions, particularly if the pudding is something which is both sophisticated and luxurious, like say a dessert soufflé?  It would be difficult to match your guests to all of these.  One possible answer would be to change the guests each course.  “Come for the starter only,” you could pencil on the corner of the invitation, “as the other courses are unlikely to suit you”.  It sounds fine in theory but there is a problem.  You would have to explain to each guest why he or she has been chosen for a particular course.  Here one would have to be sensitive. “Because you are dowdy and rather serious-minded” would not necessarily appeal to all vegans. “Because you are big, muscular and a bit thick” will not necessarily go down well with all Jocks.  Your explanation to those who would enhance a dessert soufflé but probably not the steak or lentils would be even more difficult.  “Because you are very pretentious” might be fairly said to many in North London but even there it is not always received particularly well.

No, the only answer is to have the same guests but to ask them to change their conversation between courses.  For the first course all politics would be left wing but as that was cleared the guests would remove the ethical clothing, slip on a jacket and take bigger sips from their glass.  For the dessert soufflé the conversation would be exclusively about house prices and the musical achievements of offspring.

It would be harder, of course, for the restauranteur who wished to offer a tasting menu.  Should he print on it a list of approved conversations alongside his list of approved wines?  Should there be different tables in his restaurant devoted to the various courses?  These are the obvious answers, but there is a better alternative.  As you went into the restaurant you would receive a special set of audio receivers, rather like the ones you can rent at an art exhibition.  They would have a sophisticated sensory apparatus which would detect the moment when one course succeeded another.  Then you could be assured of appropriate conversation to go with your meal.  What is more, you could enjoy dining by yourself which, if nothing else, is certainly a great deal cheaper.

 

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