Wednesday, 30 November 2011


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has just published its first global asessment of the world's land resources.

It finds that most of the potential agricultural land is already being farmed. Of that, 25 percent is assessed as highly degraded, 8 per cent as moderately degraded, 36 per cent stable or slightly degraded and 10 per cent as improving. The degradation takes the form of soil erosion, water depletion and degration, and biodiversity loss.

The dramatic increases in agricultural yields brought about by the 'green revolution' begun in the 1960s have now tailed off and in part the very farming practices introduced by it have themselves resulted in the land and water resource degradation.

Whoso list to hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Debt or taxes

An interesting post by Golem XIV that elaborates a point I made in my talk to the Northern Contemporary Furniture Makers. See the Talks and articles page of this blog.

Monday, 21 November 2011


Egg in the batter, egg in the batter!
We make cake and nothing's the matter.

(With apologies to Maurice Sendak.)

Whether it be Tony Blair justifying military attack on Iraq, the US administration describing the death of Osama bin Laden, or the Metropolitan Police accounting for the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper seller caught up in the G20 demonstrations, or, more recently, Mark Duggan whose fatal shooting by the police was the immediate stimulation of this year's London riots, the pudding recipe seems always to call for much egg. We are offered copious detail which, usually when things have quietened down a little (it may be days, it may be years) has to be withdrawn. Quite how it got there in the first place is never explained.

Truth will out; but it knows its place.


In the old days a person's address was usually a piece of public information, and one could send a letter to more or less anyone without thinking one had transgressed basic standards of civilisation. One might not get a reply, or it might not even get read, but that was a different matter.

Now that we are most of us on the internet, knowledge, or, worse, use of a person's email address without their explicit sanction is regarded as the most intimate kind of personal violation, even though an email can be consigned to oblivion with a single jab of a finger, whilst a letter had to be torn and thrust into the fire (preceded of course by an exhaustive risk assessment).

We should take a lesson from the eighteenth century, when they managed to combine a pronounced idea of the Polite with the most pointed kind of personal communication and remark, and decorum and scurrilousness could rub shoulders. It is perhaps because we nowadays have no real notion of politeness that we hem ourselves around with absurd protocols of appropriateness.

Perhaps in these times of unemployment we should all be enabled to recruit the kind of personal 'filter' that royalty has long relied upon: "Her Majesty desires me to convey..."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Greece and Germany

And this:,1518,769703,00.html

and this:,1518,797584,00.html

Making it up

I would recommend everyone to read this:

Silver Lining

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to the Northern Contemporary Furniture Makers in which I attempted to paint, in a very roundabout way, the changing world in which I think we find ourselves. I don't know how many were interested but it is posted now on the Talks and Articles page of this blog.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Fifteen-minute rule

The cabinet office minister, Francis Maude, has suggested that public sector workers protesting against cuts in their pensions should confine their proposed strike to fifteen minutes' duration.

This is an idea that should spread. I propose:

fifteen-minute jail terms for fraud and malfeasance in public office;

fifteen-minute jobs for the unemployed;

fifteen-minute mortgages for first-time house-buyers;

a fifteen-minute nuclear exchange between the United States and Iran;

fifteen minutes of fame for Mr Abramovich;

fifteen minutes of silence from John Cage

I might add to the list later.


The Church needs a firm hierachy and is forced to distrust such of her underlings as show a tendency to become too holy. It would be no less disquieting for a bishop to see his clergy setting themselves seriously to live in the imitation of Jesus Christ, than for a general to see his corporals drawing the inspiration of their behaviour directly from Napoleon. Virtue, merit and talent must be kept within decent limits.

Gabriel Chevallier, 1954

Addison and Steele and the gentlemen in the coffee house (and I expect Lord Digby, as he maintained the port of his quality) would have thoroughly approved.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

From eighteenth-century barrels to Global

James Man (1755–1823) was the founder of Man Group, the United Kingdom's largest alternative investment management business and a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. Born in Whitechapel and apprenticed to a William Humphrey as a barrel maker, James Man decided to establish his own business as a sugar-broker in 1783. In 1784 he secured a contract to supply the Royal Navy with rum. This business grew into Man Group, one of the largest investment management businesses in the world. He retired in 1819 and moved to Dartmouth, Devon where he died in 1823.

'MF Global a US-based futures broker that can trace its roots back to 18th-century London, yesterday [30 October] became the first major US casualty of the eurozone debt crisis by filing for bankruptcy protection, putting 3,000 jobs at risk after a rescue takeover failed to materialise.

'As Barclays did with Lehman in 2008, potential bidders may emerge to cherry-pick the best operations out of bankruptcy from a business that can trace its roots back to 1783 when sugar broker James Man – who provides the M in the firm's name – set up in the City of London. He also provided the name for Man Group, the hedge fund listed in London which spun off what was then Man Financial - later MF Global - in 2007 and sold out entirely in 2009. Man Group stressed yesterday that it no connection to the firm or any exposure.'

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau ... Olli Rehn

According to Wikipedia, 'The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept corresponding duties to protect themselves and one another from violence and other kinds of harm. Social contract theory played an important historical role in the emergence of the idea that political authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.'

Olli Rehn, well-known as a philosopher in his spare time from his role as European Union economic and monetary affairs commissioner, has developed the theory a little further:

Olli Rehn said that Papandreou's unexpected decision to call a referendum over the bailout agreement had been a "breach of confidence" that had thrown Greece's commitment to its fiscal adjustment programme into question.

"We now have to repair the social contract between Greece and the euro area which should be done in writing," he said, insisting that without written confirmation a critical €8bn aid instalment would not be released.


Until recently comment on the steady growth of non-democratic decision-making groups and practices in the handling of the European debt crisis has been mostly confined to free-lance comment such as that found on David Malone's blog. It is interesting to find the point now being argued very forthrightly by Larry Elliott in the Guardian

My debt is bigger than your debt

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Michael Roth, Europe spokesman for the opposition Social Democrats in Berlin, said Papandreou's move showed courage but he was "playing with fire".

By which he meant the exercise of democracy in times of financial crisis.