Thursday, 31 May 2018

Led Pools

Well, yesterday's weather prediction was spot on with the confidence level still at .62, which is statistically significant (anything above 0.5 his highly significant). The solar generation was actually the worst in 5 years, which perversely reduced the confidence level, but that was because the previous years were somewhat higher and around the same figure for the 4 years, although still low.

What is strange is that almost all the dates with high confidence levels are days of low solar generation. The only high confidence of high solar generation (for the time of year) are in the middle of winter.

There's a news report that Jimmy Page - he of Led Zeppelin fame - has opposed the building of a basement pool by his neighbour in London, one Robbie Williams.

In the 70s Page was famous for his pool parties and I seem to remember (although I can't find the relevant info) that someone died in his pool. I do know Philip Hale died of vomit inhalation during a party at one of his houses. Since then, there's been a meme about not going to Jimmy Page's pool parties if you want to stay alive. John Bonham certainly died at one of Page's houses in 1980, but not as a result of drowning - unless you count drowning in his own vomit after 40 shots of vodka. The drowning in vomit seems a recurrent theme - perhaps that's where the meme started.

When I lived on my boat in Caversham Marina, I regularly used to go past Page's house in Sonning (below), which was on a corner and walled off - it was just opposite the Uri Geller's house; a lot of famous people lived in Sonning and George Clooney bought a house there recently.

The road through Sonning is a nightmare at rush-hour, as it's a rat-run to the A4 to Maidenhead with a bridge over the Thames that is only one car width. I bought myself a motorbike specifically to negotiate the traffic while living in Caversham and working in Ascot. When I previously worked in Maidenhead and lived in Emmer Green, I'd go via Henley specifically to avoid the bridge.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Predicting Italian Elections

Today, the 30th of May, on the basis of the average for the last 3 years, should result in a very low chance of generating much solar energy.

If you look at the above chart of my average 3 year solar generation, you'll see a blip in the blue line, just before the half way mark - that's the level of confidence. It coincides with a dip in the red, solar generation line. It's a totally fatuous predictive chart anyway, as the red line will smooth out as more data is added over the years. Not only that, but the paucity of, and continued decline in, high confidence points shows it's useless for predictive purposes. We'll see what happens today, but the forecast is looking to remain firm, at least for 2018.

Talking of predictions, Italian politics can be described as a circus at the best of times, but the current kerfuffle seems somewhat strange - an alliance between left wing and right wing populist parties. I wonder what the 5 Star and Lega voters themselves think about the alliance? While both parties are united in the populist axis, their left and right wing positions on the political axis does not bode well for united decisions on many areas of policy. I can foresee another election producing some unexpected shifts in the voting pattern and perhaps a migration to the centre as an expression of dissatisfaction the leaderships and their alliance with the enemy in the pursuit of power.

Talking further about predictions, I can predict that, following a hard day of shopping at Lidl for tools and inspecting all the local charity shops on my part, Hayley will not don a nice cocktail dress for my return home, having chilled the Martinis and having a chicken chasseur ready in the oven...

Tuesday, 29 May 2018


Few surprises there then:

I was watching a Jonathan Meades programme on iPlayer last night where he described Trump as exhibiting; "Racism, misogyny, a chilling nationalism, blatant nepotism, sheer nastiness and a complete lack of generosity." Can't disagree with any of that.

Seems Meades is with me on contemporary art too.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Beyond Design Life

I just about manage to keep the old ride-on mower limping along from one year to the next. Had to take the deck to be welded - again - a few weeks ago, but then a spring went on one of the tractor drive pulleys. 

Given the bits are like hen's teeth and have to be ordered from either the USA or Germany and can take weeks to be delivered, I concluded a jury rigged fix by removing a spring from the seat, the seat being sprung because it acts as an automatic cut-out for the engine when you dismount. 

The problem was that while the seat spring was of the correct length, it was too fat, resulting in the clearance between the spring and the drive belt disappearing, although I didn't now that at the time, as you're working almost blind without a ramp to put the thing on. Naturally, one pass of the garden resulted in the drive belt shredding and me having to finish the job with the hand mower, but at least the grass, which is now growing like mad, had received a cut before we went on holiday to Cornwall.

I tackled the drive belt yesterday, when the spring issue became apparent but, given the ground clearance is only about 9 inches, I had to put the thing on its side to gain access, which naturally risks damage to the engine because of petrol and oil leakages. Luckily, I'd ordered a suitable spring before going on holiday from a spring emporium on eBay, so the correct (although not original) part was available to me.

Never having replaced the drive belt before, it turned out to be a mammoth task requiring the clutch to be removed, which in itself is difficult enough. Finally managed it and discovered I needed to put the drive belt over the rear axle pulley before putting it over the main drive shaft and had to do it all over again.

A lot of buggering about later and the job was complete, but I wonder what will fail next. You learn a lot about things by keeping them going long after their design life, especially when they're so old that there are no manuals or YouTube videos to help you and all you have is an exploded parts diagram lacking specifications.

I'm going to tackle the next bit of welding myself as I have an electric welding kit. What I don't have is a welding mask, but I see you can now get self-darkening masks which allows more accurate placement of the welding rod. Must get one of those!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Self Service

I keep hearing Brexiteers accusing the Lords of being self-serving in relation to their scrutiny of Brexit. It's usually in respect of any that have EU pensions but, a) very few do, and b) they will get their pensions whether we remain in the EU or leave. It's a very specious argument that can be equally levelled at the electorate itself.

We all know that if we had more tax money available then many things would improve - the NHS, libraries, police, etc - anything to do with public service. Yet, when it comes to general elections and the electorate is offered the choice of a tax increase or a tax cut, the tax cut wins hands-down. Isn't that self-serving?

The will of the people, to use a popular phrase, is rarely in the interests of the country as a whole. Every few years our constitution provides the electorate with an opportunity to display its ignorance, which it does by voting for a self-serving policy. Given electoral horizons don't extend beyond five years, any damage can be reversed at the next election, should the people will it so, but they rarely learn.

Brexit, on the other hand, will affect a whole generation for decades to come - the irony being that it's nether in the interests of the electorate nor the country, just speculators and rich press barons. Even Patrick Minford, who is one of only a handful of economist who predict an upside and has been criticised for using an out-of-date model, does so on the back of massive job losses, which he admitted when pressed.

The Geheime Brexitpolizei now want to get rid of the House of Lords, yet many, prominent, Conservative Brexiteers actually voted against reform of the Lords a few years ago - JRM included. Now they've changed their minds, but only because their Lordships disagree with them on this issue. Isn't that in itself self-serving?

Filling the Lords with political appointees merely to get a majority, one way or the other, is not conducive to proper political scrutiny. Say what you like about the old aristocracy, but their horizons extended far beyond a five year parliamentary term and they did have the interests of the country at heart. I really don't know what the answer is to Lords reform, but we do need scrutiny of new laws and the HoL to be filled with people having experience. We also need it to be above mere politics and filled with people who operate in the best interests of the country, rather than a particular political party.

Talking of voting, it seems de rigeur now to accuse the winning side of voting irregularities. It's become an automatic, knee-jerk reaction in many countries. In many cases it's actually very valid, but in some it's merely a political ploy that is becoming wearing.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Contemporary Art

Following on from our visit to the Tate St Ives last week, here are some photos of a few of the art works on display. The vast majority of it left me stone cold. The odd Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore sculpture I could appreciate, along with the Piet Mondrian, but once you've seen one Mondrian you've seen them all and one boulder is pretty much the same as any other.

My beef with contemporary art is primarily with Abstract and some Expressioinism and is that it's impossible to differentiate between a good artist and a bad artist - which to me says it isn't art at all. At least not in my definition - and I don't necessarily have a definition; I just know, as the saying goes, what I like. Art, like music, is very subjective. What leaves me cold may send someone else into paroxysms on delight. Mostly though, I thinks it's pseudo-intellectualism. When a monkey with a paintbrush can fool so-called connoisseurs, then it ain't art - it's decoration at best and tripe at worst.

Take this one, for example. Patrick Heron - utter tripe. Recognised as one of the leading painters of his generation and influenced by Cezanne, Matisse, Braque and Bonnard - influenced by copious quantities of Watney's Red Barrel, more like. I'm convinced that St Ives in the early 20th century was the epicentre of the UK drugs trade.

Does me not appreciating a Patrick Heron make me a Philistine? I don't believe so - I think it makes me immune to marketing, hype and fakery. If this is good art, then everyone is an artist, which debases skill.

Here's another 'masterpiece' from Heron:

I wouldn't even have it on my floor as a rug, for God's sake; it certainly doesn't move me. It took me ages to get this photo, as some bloke was stood in front of it admiring it for at least 5 minutes. Perhaps he was just waiting to 'get it'.

Even the great Mark Rothko (above) isn't immune from my excoriating critique. I've heard people say they feel an almost religious experience when viewing a Rothko close up. Why? I'd need to be high on LSD to feel anything for this. Are such people religiously moved by carpets too, or are they merely echoing the art establishment mantras? I suspect the latter.

Another Heron above. Still don't 'get it'. Not a semblance of draughtsmanship or form - just a couple of daubs on a green background. Doubtless he agonised over the exact shade of green, but no more so than I did over the shade of magnolia on my walls.

I do get the artist who has demonstrated that they can at least draw then going on to experiment with different styles and techniques, or the artist whose work is important from an art hisotry perspective, but when all they've done since day one is scrawls and splashes, it debases the artist who has the ability to actually draw and spent some time learning to do so.

Some who churn this stuff out are, I'm sure, just on the bandwagon for the money and can see a chance of a quick buck by hoodwinking people. Much of contemporary art is like Prog Rock - so consumed with its own pseudo-intellectualism that it has gone too far up its own arse and had been subverted by speculators in the galleries; the Emperor's New Clothes, so to speak.

I do like this installation from the Tate St Ives though, which was tucked away in a corner. The juxtaposition of the stools and the chair show an uncanny affinity for form and space. Sadly, it was unattributed and there was no accompanying explanation in bollocky art-speak.

Never expected to find this contemporary homage to Marc Duchamp though:

It was signed Armitage Shanks who, I have to admit, I've never heard of.

I resonated more with some of the stuff on display in the high street galleries (below):

This ceramic piece is almost hypnotic when you view it and makes you giddy. Interesting, certainly, decorative too, but art - I don't know. The lines are blurred here, as the artist has a skill in ceramics.

This chap can be viewed from any angle and look good. Not sure I'd pay 4 grand for it though - I wonder how much the artist gets from that price - less than half, I'd wager. It's one of only 4 the sculptor made.

As I said before, art is in the eye of the beholder and this beholder just has an abhorrence of Abstract art, just as I have an abhorrence of most Punk and all Country music.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Limpopo GDPR for Trump

Got back a tad late from St Ives yesterday. We called in at Charlestown near St Austell for a look-see, and very nice it is too. However, halfway back the Jag went into Limp Home Mode (or Limpopo Mode, as Hay calls it) and I couldn't get it back to normal. 

Charlestown is definitely on the list for somewhere to stay on our next holiday or long weekend. It doubled as an 18th century port in the Poldark TV series, but still looks relatively undiscovered. Not a Joules, Weird Fish, Fat Face or Crew Clothing shop in sight - in fact, with the exception of a couple of craft shops, hardly any shops at all. Absolute heaven.

I've been inundated by GDPR emails; there is one benefit, however; I can elect to unsubscribe from services I never even knew I was signed up to in the first place. Hundreds of the beggars. Pain in the arse. I must email all the people in my phone address book today to ascertain whether they agree to me keeping their information - you have been warned.

Seems I was right about Kim Jong Un playing Trump for a narcissistic chump. Saw it a mile off. 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Unhealthy Food in Large Houses

Overheard in the holiday let:

Hay's Dad's girlfriend: "This salt tastes very salty."

Saw some tosh in a news story yesterday about taxes on unhealthy food unfairly penalising the poor. Healthy food is actually cheaper than unhealthy food - unhealthy foods use healthy foods in their preparation and then the manufacturers monkey around with them, making them unhealthy and more expensive. 

The problem is we have an entire generation that is unable to cook - and that applies to men as well as women. And who can blame them when female participation in the workforce is at an all-time high - who wants to come home after a day at work and cook a meal from scratch? However, it's not as difficult or time-consuming as some may believe.

Well, our week in St Ives has come to an end - back home today. It has been warmer at home than here, but we've nonetheless had wall-to-wall sunshine and there were no crowds.

This last photo is of Porthledden House on Cape Cornwall that was, until 2015, owned by No.1 Son's school friend's parents who had made a mint by founding

They bought it in 2005 after it had been derelict for 20 years and spent 10 years renovating it to a beautiful standard before selling it for £3.5m, which seems very little for what it is. They must have spent at least that renovating it

We were invited in a few years ago when dropping No.1 Son off for a stay with his friend and I have pictures of the interior somewhere - it's absolutely jaw-dropping.

Just dug out one of the photos from 2008. I first though that was my black Merc 500SL parked outside, but it can't be, as I didn't have it in 2008. Below are some shots of the inside. Given our friends no longer live there, I think it's OK to show them.

The Daily Mail did an article on the house when it went up for sale, with better interior shots, which you can read here.

The area around the house is bloody bleak though, even in summer.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Meeting a Grieving Sash

Isn't it strange how new houses are being built to look like Victorian houses, complete with sash windows.

Genuine, Victorian houses, on the other hand, had their sash windows ripped out decades ago and replaced with plastic, double glazed units bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the originals.

An regulars may know, Hay and I are avid watchers of continental dramas. In a recent episode of Salamander the protagonist had to arrange a meeting over the phone with his daughter, knowing their call might be listened to. They agreed to meet at a location where they had watched a firework display with the daughter's mother on her birthday. Hay and I played the game and said we'd arrange (in our minds) to meet up where we first met. Unfortunately we would have missed each other, as we couldn't agree where or even when we first met...

Wall to wall coverage of the Manchester bombing service yesterday. Can't help but think that this current penchant for massive displays of public grief plays right into the hands of terrorists - it's exactly what they want to see. Leave those who lost loved ones to grieve in private (as they should) and the terrorists score no points. The British, stiff upper lip is trembling and I don't necessarily see it as a good thing. Perhaps it's yet another generational thing that those over 60 simply can't understand, or perhaps it's the media just doing what the media does - poking its nose into areas it shouldn't. Remembrance day is a totally different thing - the wars and losses they commemorate are over. The fight against terrorism isn't, and probably never will be.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bamboo Toilets

We want to make the patio at the back of our house a bit more private. When out walking the other day we spotted a rather nice bamboo hedge in a pub, which would be ideal for our purposes.

I mentioned to Hay that bamboo is fast growing and can be somewhat invasive and enquired how we could keep it under control. She suggested we get a panda or a Chinese cook.

Yesterday we went on a short train journey from St Ives to Hale and, just before we arrived in St Erth (where we had to change trains), I decided to deballast in the train toilet. It was one of those corner toilets with automatic, sliding doors. On entering it I pressed the button for the door to close and, as soon as they had slid shut, a voice announced that the doors were no longer working - I was trapped. I considered pulling a switch inside the toilet, but wasn't sure whether it would also stop the train, which seemed a bit over the top for a simple door failure. After a bit of faffing around and having alerted Hay to my predicament, I finally pulled the switch and heaved the doors open, only to discover we'd already reached St Erth and the train was now headed back to St Ives. Had to go all the way back and come out again. Rather embarrassing.

Monday, 21 May 2018


I've discovered that the E-Type Jag Prince Harry was seen driving away in is a Concept Zero electric version, which for a purist like me is anathema.

To me it's the equivalent of a fake Leonardo, although not quite, as it relies on an original, existing body. It's just the engine that's replaced with the electric powertrain.  I suppose one has to move with the times and legislation, but a 168 mile range? Come on!

I wonder what Mr Clarkson says about it...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sovereignty of Wedding Tea & Pastry

What with doing a 9 mile walk along the SW Coastal Path from St Ives to Zennor, we thought we'd nicely missed The Wedding, but when we got back to the holiday let we found out that Hay's dad and his girlfriend had suffered a catastrophic TV failure and had missed it - Hay's dad had somehow, accidentally managed to disconnect the aerial. That meant we had to sit through the entire, interminable thing on iPlayer after I got the TV working again - there was no compromise as far as his girlfriend was concerned.

The bride wore a nice dress and the groom wore a uniform, although the uniform looked like it was from the Undertakers' Regiment - didn't he have anything red in his wardrobe? The American, pantomime bishop was good, but someone should have hoicked him off after the first 5 minutes. Beckham's tattooed neck added a nice touch of Thug Life to the proceedings (was he chewing gum?). I thought it would have been a nice touch if Prince Philip could have been asked to walk her down the aisle - it would have been his final hurrah.

The papers are going to have a field day today with images of grumpy celebrities and yawns. It was a nice wedding though. Eventually went to bed at 8.30, as I was knackered and in no mood for more wedding analysis.

Woke up this morning to find Harry had bought Megan an E-Type Jag as a wedding present but, sensibly, he drove it. Bit over the top, if you ask me - hope it's not coming from my taxes. The Sunday Times shows a picture on the cover of the couple, with Harry sporting the rictus grin of one who has been forced to smile all day (I call it the Wallace and Gromit grin). We've watched Harry grow up in the glare of the media spotlight - it must be like living in a permanent Truman Show for him, but he's in on the act. Her too now.

This preoccupation with sovereignty is becoming a bit silly. Spotted these in a cupboard in the holiday let:

Never seen any tea plantations in either county. Everyone knows the tea is actually grown in the foothills of the Pennines in Lancashire and imported into Yorkshire and Cornwall where it's then rebranded...

Is it just me, or has Trump got Mr Pastry as his National Security Advisor?

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Rural Diamond Geezer

I just love being over 60...

Especially Wednesdays when it's Diamond Discount day for the over 60s...

well, it's the big wedding today, but I'm afraid we won't be watching. I think a long walk is called for. It beats me how Megan Markle's parents are affording all this pageantry - it must be costing them an arm and a leg. Marrying into a  large family on benefits doesn't help either.

An interesting result from a YouGov daily poll with a clear divide:

Friday, 18 May 2018

Guitar Art

While we were up in Southport a couple of weeks ago we found this guitar in a shop called Dad's Guitars.

Now Hayley's sister is an artist, so Hay's going to commission her to transform a £30 charity shop guitar and possibly start a new business with her.

I was talking to a neighbour the other day and he told me he took the Citizenship Test for a laugh and got 20%, and he's 100% English. I wonder if they'll have a question such as 'what is Brexit'? Half the nation will disagree with the other half as to the definition.

One swallow does not a summer make, as the saying goes. The failure of private industry to run the East Coast Rail Line is not en excuse to start wholesale nationalisation of everything in sight, as the left wing is wont to do. Virgin and Stagecoach merely made a bad investment decision. That shouldn't be used as an excuse by ideologues. Some things are better in public ownership for a variety of reasons; some are plainly not.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

In Search of a News Story

Came across this yesterday:

Seems, at first glance to be quite legit. That is, till one tries to find out who or what Vexen Crabtree is. I found the chart by searching on images in Google and it was on a blog called The Human Truth Foundation, which is a blog by one Vexen Crabtree. At best it has been researched, but at worst it's just one person's view and therefore liable to personal bias. The fact I tend to agree with the chart is immaterial.

Talking of news stories, it would appear Trump has been owned (to use a popular phrase) by Kim Jong Un. Someone in the North Korean regime has analysed Trump and determined that his weakness is his narcissism - that comes as no surprise. They knew Trump could be easily led into a trap by offering talks and just waiting for him to crow about his success - then whipping the carpet from under his feet at the last minute. At least that's how I read it. Kim's offer of talks just didn't seem right to me; it was totally out of character for a dictator.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

What's in a Name

Had to laugh...

It was an article on FlipBoard; people don't half jump to conclusions.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018


Despite the unseasonally cool weather, last week (till Saturday) was the one of the weeks with the most sunshine since we started recording our solar generation.

Click Image to Enlarge

The highest we've recorded was a week in June in 2013, the year we first started recording. We made something like £45 in solar generation that week.

An interesting pattern is developing in our heating use. Whereas in 2013 through to 2015 we had a single trough of electricity expenditure (the blue shaded area), the last three years have shown two distinct phases of usage in winter.

Monday, 14 May 2018

F1 Wedding

Overheard while sat outside a tea shop:

Hay: "I've had enough of working from home."

Chairman: "Ah, that's because you lack the discipline. When you've done what needs to be done you get anxious and start doing things that don't need doing. I have the iron discipline to lie down on the couch, read a page or two and fall asleep, which recharges my batteries and allows me not to do things that don't need doing."

Listen to a news programme or open a paper and all you get bombarded with is the Royal Wedding. I wonder how much Windsor Castle is charging Megan Markle's parents for the wedding package and if they managed to negotiate a discount. There's not much we can learn from the French, but how to treat royalty is certainly one...

Heard something about an F1 road race than's being mooted for London. I firmly believe it should be raced with the potholes being left as they are, as it'll provide added excitement. Formula 1 has become too boring these days - I used to follow it in the 70s and 80s and early 90s, but not since Marcel Proust stopped racing. How he found time for F1, what with all his looking for lost time, I'll never know.

We went out to Minchinhampton for a brief walk yesterday  morning and were sat next to a courting couple outside a tea shop. He seemed to have commitment problems and was complaining that that afternoon he had to wash his car, tidy his flat, prepare himself a meal for the evening and see the girl he was sat next to, but couldn't do all three things. I wondered which he was going to drop.

Minchinhampton is yet another of these beautiful and quaint Cotswold villages that we're infested with in this part of the country - it's horrendous! I believe Keith Allen lives nearby, which isn't necessarily something to crow about and could put visitors off.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Fifth Transporter

Overheard while watching The Transporter:

Chairman: "Who wrote this film?"

Hay: "Luc Besson."

Chairman: " Ah, the bloke who wrote The Sixth Element?"

Hay: "The Fifth Element."

Chairman: "I was talking about the relatively unknown sequel. It has Barry Wossisface in it."

Hay: "Bruce Willis."

Chairman: "That's right - Barry is his middle name - Bruce Barry Willis."

Has anyone ever tasted soy milk cheese? I've heard reports that it tastes nothing like cheese, in which case why call it a cheese?

Why is it that the vast majority of people like paintings by famous artists, yet hardly anyone will put a copy of an Old Master on their wall? The prohibition doesn't seem to extend as much to copies of modern artists and it's not that unusual to see a copy of, say, a Lichtenstein or a Kandinsky on someone's wall, but it's always made obvious that it's a print (as if it could be anything else). It would seem that if we can't have an original, we'd rather not have them on our walls at all, despite universal acclaim to the fact they are beautiful paintings. It's seen as gauche - I wonder what it is about our psychology that makes it so?

I'm led to believe, from the news, that the Eurovision Song Contest was on TV last night. Does anyone still watch it? I haven't had the vaguest interest in it since Terry Wogan stopped presenting it, and even then it was more to do with his irreverent and laconic commentary than the acts. I suppose it does provide a populist a view of geopolitics, but only between the countries that enter. I find it all rather cheesy and would obtain more entertainment value from a documentary on tractor making in Uzbekistan.

Hay and I are addicted to The Bridge - we've watched all three previous series on iPlayer over the last month. Belgian, Scandinavian and Dutch TV series have now become our staple - the plots are excellent and the production values are unrivalled, even when compared to the BBC. The added advantage for me is that I can go and make a cup of tea and still keep up with the plot - maybe not as much with the Scandinavian ones, but it is surprising how many words are common with Dutch. We can't wait for the French spy series, The Bureau, to start again. Live TV on our house now consists of the news and that's about it - the rest is Catch-up, Netflix or Amazon. The vast majority of what passes for entertainment on 'live' TV is cheap dross. More choice, when virtually everything is funded by the same pot of advertising money, can only mean cheap and worse programming.

Think we're going to have to change our Sunday paper from The Sunday Times to something less right wing and with more news in it. The magazine this morning is just The Rich List, which I have no interest in whatsoever; I never even open the Style magazine and the only bit I actually get any information from is the Culture supplement, and that's only about new books. Suggestions on a postcard for a non-partisan newspaper with a good spread of news, both domestic and international.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Iran - Israel

"Israel occupied most of the Syrian Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move not recognised internationally," says a BBC news report about the recent spat between Israel and Iran in Syria. Now the words 'not recognised internationally' are weasel words - they do not mean not recognised in international law. The word 'occupied' is also a very loaded word.

I was having a chat with a friend on precisely this subject and what follows is a history from the perspective of international law - it is not a moral judgement. I transcribed it from a presentation I saw by a professor of international law and shortened it:

In 1919, following the Treaty of Versailles, what is now Israel, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza and the entire area of Jordan were designated as a homeland for the Jews after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire - this was the British Mandate. This was one of many Mandates that broke up Empires that were on the losing side, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire – in all 26 Mandates.

Article 25 of the Mandate says that if there are not enough Jews to create a country, Britain could cut part of it off, which they did - Jordan and Transjordan, the greater part of the Mandate. This was done immediately and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was created as a consequence. The League of Nations said the British could not create separate countries within their Mandate, but they could suspend the Mandate, which suggest a temporary solution.

From 1925 the Jews were left with what is now Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza (see map above), with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland. After WWII, the newly created General Assembly of the UN sent fact finders to the area in 1947 to propose a solution – the GA Partition Proposal. They recommended cutting what was left of Israel into 6, giving the West Bank (plus some), Gaza (plus a bit), Jaffa and the Golan heights to the Arabs with Jerusalem, which was deep in Arab territory, as an international city policed by the Canadians, and the rest, which were 3 pieces that barely touched, to the Jews. However, fighting kicked off before the Canadians could arrive.

Legally, the GA Partition Proposal has no standing in international law, as:
  • it was a General Assembly proposal and thus only an opinion and not legally binding, and 
  • there’s an article in the UN charter that forbids the UN changing people’s rights under a Mandate. 
Jewish leaders, however, accepted the GA Partition Proposal – the Arab leaders said no. Had the Arabs said yes, then it would have become binding international law, as international law is created by the agreement of countries - a treaty. It is said that Israel was recognised in 1947 by the GA Partition Proposal, but Israel was already recognised legally by the League of Nations Mandate. Far from recognising Israel, the GA Partition Proposal was chipping away at the Mandate.

Note that there was a British proposal in 1937 which gave the Jews a thin sliver of territory in the north of what is now Israel, which the Jews accepted, but to which the Arabs said no.

Five Arab armies (some led by British officers) invaded Israel in 1949 but, in a miraculous turn of events, Israel won the war, having lost some territory, and armistice lines were drawn, roughly approximating to the Israel of today and brought into existence The Green Line, which was the point to which the Jews had pushed the Arabs back from Israeli territory as mandated by the League of Nations.

The Green Line did not exist as a demographic, historical or topographical boundary – is was an armistice line, which is why it goes through a city. An armistice agreement is not a border agreement or a peace agreement, it’s a line at which hostilities ceased by mutual agreement. The very document that crated those lines – the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement states that they are not political or territorial boundaries and should not be regarded as an ultimate settlement of the Palestinian Question. To this day it is referred to as a de facto border, which means that it exist in pragmatic reality, even if not legally recognised by official laws.

From 1949 to 1967, these ‘disputed areas’ were under Arab occupation – Egypt and Jordan, respectively. No resolutions have come from the UN condemning this occupation – in the case of Jordan, an annexation rather than an occupation. Only two countries in the world, and certainly not on the basis of international law, recognised Jordan’s claim to the West Bank – Britain and Pakistan. To say that Israel’s rights are limited or suspended within the Green Line, retroactively legitimises the Arab occupation of 1949. In 1949, no-one thought Jordan was entitled to take the West Bank.

In 1967, Israel goes to war again when Egypt tries to close off shipping to Israel and makes fantastic territorial gains by taking Gaza and the entire Sinai Peninsula, as well as the Golan Heights and the entire West Bank - a lot for 6 days. Israel’s claim to Sinai and the Golan Heights are now different, and weaker, than its claims to Gaza and the West Bank, as they are based on conquest and not included in the Mandate. The West Bank and Gaza, however, were that part of the British Mandate legally reserved for a Jewish homeland and therefore Israel had a very good claim to those territories in International Law.

As said previously. those territories either belonged to no-one, or they belonged to Israel and Israel was taking them back – there are no other possibilities in International Law. The Sinai was indisputably Egyptian territory. However, that’s not to say Israel was without a basis in International Law to hold on to Sinai and the Golan Heights, notably ‘defensive conquest’. In International Law you are forbidden to acquire territory by aggressive conquest (unless, inexplicably, you are Arabs trying to conquer the West Bank and Gaza, China conquering Tibet, North Vietnam conquering South Vietnam or Russia conquering whatever country takes its fancy). It is forbidden by the UN Charter – which is why Saddam Hussein was kicked out of Kuwait.

Article 52 of the UN Charter has one exception to the above; self defence. So a defensive war is legal. The 1967 War was almost universally regarded as a defensive war against Arab aggression. The fact the Arabs were almost wiped out was a highly unexpected outcome. If the conquest of territory is gained legally – i.e. through defence – then the law against holding on to conquered territory should not apply. However, ask any international lawyer as to whether defensively conquered territory is held legally, they would say no, because aggressors could claim self-defence to mask aggression (Russia is a prime proponent of that tactic). However, if you can’t tell self-defence from aggression, then a mockery is made of the whole UN peace system, it is incoherent and the Charter has some basic problems. While Israel’s claim to Golan is weaker, it’s less controversial.

Now, Israel was bolstered by the USA while the Arabs were supported by Russia and to prevent a superpower stand-off, the UN Security Council came up with Resolution 242, which stated: Preamble: “…Emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war... Calls for i) the withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; ii)Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for acknowledgement of the sovereignty; territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats of acts of force….”

As a UN Security Council Resolution, having the force of International Law, this becomes the basis for all future documents. The words; “from territories,” rather than; “all of the territories,” was a diplomatic fudge to prevent the UN looking stupid if Israel refused to give up, for example, the Temple, which it was bound to do. Remember this was before countries regularly ignored UN Security Council Resolutions. However, Israel eventually withdrew from 99% of the territory captured, that’s to say, Sinai, Gaza (fully in 2005) and much of the West Bank, despite having a valid legal claim in International Law. There is no other case anywhere where a defensive conquest has been called illegal. Sinai and Gaza were part of the Egypt / Israel Peace Treaty and therefore had validity in international law.

It cannot therefore be said that the 'occupied territories' of today are occupied by Israel - they are either Israeli (as per the split Mandate that created Jordan) or disputed and there is no other interpretation in international law. They are certainly not Syrian or Jordanian. It was the Arab armies that occupied what was Israeli land in 1949.

To summarise:

  • 1919 Treaty of Versailles – British Mandate – international law – League of Nations – whole area (which included what is now Jordan) allocated as Jewish homeland. 
  • 1925 Britain partitions its Mandate and creates Jordan and Trans-Jordan, in line with conditions of Mandate. Jews were left with what is now Israel, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. 
  • 1937 British offer Jews a sliver of land in the north of what is now Israel – Jews say yes, Arabs say no.
  • 1947 General Assembly suggests GA Partition Proposal – no force in international law – Jews say yes, Arabs say no. 
  • 1949 Arab armies invade Israel – Israel pushes back – Green Line armistice line comes into existence - no validity in international law as it was a cease-fire line. 
  • 1967 war breaks out again – Israel takes Golan, Gaza and Sinai.
  • 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 – international law - Israel to withdraw 'from territories’ and complies with Sinai, Gaza and much of West Bank, although Gaza took till 2005 and was under the Egypt / Israel Peace Treaty, again international law.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Protection Rackets

I was having a discussion yesterday with a Brexiteer. He gave his voting Leave as being influenced by his experience of immigrants forcing down wages to the detriment of British workers. I countered with the argument that most immigrants perform menial work at the minimum wage, which can't be depressed.

He said he was forced out of his business by Polish immigrants who had set themselves up as competition in the plumbing sector. He had employed some 5 people in his business and, gradually, had to let them all go and give up himself.

So, legitimate competition - the Poles too have business expenses and wages to pay plus, possibly, sending some of the proceeds home. In some ways, their overheads would be in excess of my antagonist, yet they manage to do the job at a lower cost. Quality of the work is another matter, but that wasn't discussed.

I have been in the export business most of my life and was once made redundant by a South Korean manufacturer entering the market with a competitive product we could never hope to match in price. I didn't demand protection from the British government - I couldn't, as my customers were global and my product was Israeli. It's what we in the export market experience on a daily basis, yet the chap I was arguing with wanted special protection while simultaneously arguing that the EU is protectionist.

My neice's new husband set himself up as a plumber some years ago on returning to the UK from Australia, having no previous experience. He put himself through a course and entered the business. Now he works in Merseyside, an area with a relatively large Polish population, and I dare say a few of those will be plumbers. He seems to have no problem competing against them and his business is thriving.

It strikes me that the chap I was arguing with wanted a scapegoat for his business failure. It might be more complicated than this, but that's the prima facie reading of the situation. Perhaps he was simply charging too much (which is not exactly unknown in the plumbing world) and was living a lifestyle that couldn't cope with a reduction in what he charged. The fact the competitor that put him out of business was Polish is immaterial - it could as easily have been my neice's husband who, on entering the market, decided to set his prices below the established competition.

New entrants to a market are always at an advantage, as they can easily discover the hourly rate of the established operatives and undercut them, ensuring their expenditure doesn't rise above a certain amount, commensurate with their hourly charge and business volume. Established operatives will, with time, get a bit bloated and lax and won't have the necessary drive to cut costs. We're all aware of the, possibly apocyphal, stories from not so long ago about plumbing being a path to untold riches due to scarcity of operatives.

Welcome to the cut-and-thrust world of export sales, where cheap competition is par for the course...

Thursday, 10 May 2018


I head some pundit on Radio 4 yesterday morning talking about Christie’s sale of 19th- and 20th-century works from the collection of the late Peggy and David Rockefeller, where Henri Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias (1923) went for $80.8 million, a record for a work by the artist at auction. He was going on about an increasing appreciation of art, but this has bugger all to do with art appreciation - it's all about investment strategies.

If some of this vast and obscene amount of money filtered down to support burgeoning artists, then it wouldn't be so bad, That's not such a bad idea - a tax on art sales over a certain price to support bursaries and scholarships for artists. Say 10%.

However, then there are the practicalities - where would the tax be levied and on whom? The buyer or seller - logic dictates the recipient of the proceeds, but purchasers also pay taxes on bought items in the form of VAT. Would it be levied in the country of the seller/purchaser, or the country where the sale takes place? If the latter, you'd find sales taking place in tax havens. Difficult to implement, as the rich are adept at avoiding taxes.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Watery Wedding

Is holy water just homeopathy?

What with the royal wedding fast approaching, I wonder if anyone has ever done a PhD on media royal correspondents? It's a job that has always struck me as a bit of a backwater or a position that one gets after having screwed up in some other field of reporting.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Wisdom of Crowds

On the recommendation of a friend, I've been reading a book called Super-Forecasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, which is an antidote to Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The thrust of the book is that it has been proven with trials that there are people who have a certain way of critical thinking that consistently makes them wizards at predicting outcomes of events.

The book goes on to explain that in probability theory there is a certain validity in the wisdom of crowds - the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. This has spurred me into ordering The Wisdom of Crowds by James Suroweicki from Amazon (delivered yesterday).

While there are certain categories of question that the Wisdom of Crowds is unsuited to, using the result of the referendum, the chances of Brexit being a success are 52% for and 48% against. Given that most of the reasons given in support of Brexit are based on emotional arguments - or lies, as we experts call them - even the best estimate of success can be no more than 50/50. The question is, on the basis of a 50/50 chance of winning a bet, would you risk your house on what is in essence the flip of a coin? I’d need something more like 80/20, or higher, to risk all, which is probably why we normally have supermajorities in referendums, especially ones with such profound consequences.

Brexit may just be one of those questions that crowd wisdom is not suited to, but I'll only know once I've read the book.