Foreign Aid

I never usually watch such things, but I quite enjoyed watching the ITV Leaders’ Debate, and Question Time.  One topic which came up in both was the perceived need to cut the foreign aid budget.  It’s UKIP policy, and seems to have found a real resonance in the elderly population of Norfolk, where QT came from.  Nuttall (OMG, I’m reaching that age when these people are my contemporaries – how does he feel he’s got the maturity to govern?) said that the £12.1 bn spent on foreign aid would be much better spent on, well, almost anything.

Except he’s wrong.  Yes, of course there’s inefficiency, and even corruption, in foreign aid.  But the principle of foreign aid is sound.  Apart from Jonathan Bartley’s point that it’s a disgrace that the world’s fifth-largest economy can’t spare actually what is only a little of its income on some of the world’s poorer parts, there’s no logic to the cut-foreign-aid argument.

In fact, logic surely dictates the opposite:  if we help other countries develop well (fairly and sustainably), then we will de facto discourage emigration from those countries and immigration to our own.  Is this not obvious?

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A Taxing Problem

Listening to David Aaronovitch on the Beeb has made me think yet again about taxation.  According to a number-cruncher, we spend 30p of every £1 on social security, health 20p, education 10p, defence 5p, interest on national debt 5p, police 5p.  Of the rest comes everything else – including environmental stuff (it’ll be interesting to see this in thirty years’ time, when we’ve so screwed the environment that it’ll be our biggest expenditure).

Another number-cruncher said that 78% tax is paid by the highest household earners.  The top 1% of income tax payers pays 27% of tax.  That’s very generous of them.  However, they earn over £160,000.  At that gross salary (according to, you’d pay £57,800, which seems like a whack-loada-tax – and you have £6,724 NICs.  However, that still leaves a nice net pay of £94,476.  Leaving aside the fact that that is more money than I’ll ever earn gross (I’m not envious…), that is more than any individual actually needs to live a comfortable life on.

But we need to do something to plug the widening gap between tax revenues and expenditure.  Not house-based taxes, perhaps.  The last valuation was in 1991 – but to re-evaluate house prices would cripple lots of people (yes, including me) whose houses are in the South-East and who can only just about afford the mortgage.

The parties all have their suggestions for improvements.  My alignment, of course, is with the Greens.  But we need to go further – even to have a change of attitude.  We need a two-pronged attack on the problem of taxation.  First, we need to make taxation not something to avoid (or evade), but something to be enthusiastic about and proud of paying.   Secondly, we need to make how our taxes are being spent much more open.  Both of these things are possible with the internet.

A friend suggested that we could publish “taxpayer-of-the-week” – we could look on those who pay the most taxes as philanthropists, not fat cats; benefactors, not bankers.

Councils could also publish easy-reading version of their budgets and accounts, so we know how much they’ve spent on the police, the local schools etc.  The NHS ditto.

Here are some possibilities and problems from the Open Knowledge Foundation:

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Hard [sic] by a mighty pine tree

Hurrah for olde smutte.  (I heard this performed by TSSAI to the tune of the Friar and the Nun.)
It was my chance, not long ago,
by a pleasant wood to walk,
where I unseen of any one
did hear two lovers talk;
& as these lovers forth did pass,
hard by a pleasant shade,
hard by a mighty Pine tree there,
their resting place they made.

” In sooth,” then did this young man say,
” I think this fragrant place
was only made for lovers true
each others to embrace.”
he took her by the middle small,—
good sooth I do not mock, —
not meaning to do any thing
but to pull up her [smo..] block

whereon she sate, poor silly soul,
to rest her weary bones,
this maid she was no whit afraid,
but she caught him fast by the [stones] thumbs ;
whereat he vexed and grieved was,
so thai his flesh did wrinkle;
this maid she was no whit afraid,
but caught him fast hold by the [pintle – you can guess] pimple

which he had on his chin likewise; —
but let the pimple pass;—
there is no man hear but he may suppose
she wee]re a merry lass.
he boldly ventured, being tall,
yet in his speech but blunt,
he never ceased, but took up all,
and caught her by the [c***] plump.

And red rose lips he kissed full sweet :
quoth she, “I crave no succour.”
which made him to have a mighty mind
to clip, kiss, & to [f***] pluck her
into his arms. “nay! soft!” quoth she,
” what needeth all this doing ?
for if you will be ruled by me,
you shall use small time in wooing.

“for I will lay me down,” quoth she,
“upon the slippery segs,
& all my clothes I’ll truss up round,
and spread about my [legs] eggs,
which I have in my apron here
under my girdle tucked;
so shall I be most fine and brave,
most ready to be [f-] ducked

unto some pleasant springing well;
for now its time of the year
to deck, & bath, & trim ourselves
both head, hands, feet & gear.”

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The Hawkstour

The brace of Hawks are winging it (well, driving in an old Volvo) across northern Europe.  Read all about it here!




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Otto Dix at the De La Warr Pavilion

It was raining in Bexhill; nonetheless, the De La Warr Pavilion was promenading splendidly.  It’s a spacious and grand building, but inside it feels (and smells) rather municipal.  It suffers from too many blank walls, giving it an air of emptiness:  a few paintings (by artists and local school children) would make it busy and warm, and add to, rather than subtract from, its grandeur.  A few signs wouldn’t go amiss, either:  we found the Otto Dix exhibition through sheer perseverance (it was, rather ungrandly, next to the cafe-cum-restaurant).

The first and second Galleries were taken up with contemporary art of variable quality, with an exhibition name of stunning crassness:  ‘I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart.’  Yes, really.  Those who are familiar with the poem, and even more so with Butterworth’s amazing setting of it, will know how heart-rending and horrible it is.  In the gift shop there were for sale yellow t-shirts with – I kid you not – ‘I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart.’  Sack the person who thought of this:  they clearly have no soul, no understanding of poetry and little of life and death.

And now on to life and death.  When we finally found Otto Dix, he was 19 pictures of Great War hideousness.  19 was about the right number:  enough to illustrate all sorts of war horrors, but not too many to dilute them.  There were corpses from gas attacks, bombs, guns, hypothermia;  soldiers and civilians.  The pictures (aquatints and etchings) were crafted so that they took some looking at to let their full stories emerge.  The – from the distance – beautiful mountain scene was in fact a load of dead soldiers strewn over mud.  The abandoned trench was a sinking grave with rags turning into vultures and grim reapers.  The retreating soldiers were stepping on corpses, not ground.  Was the poor soldier sitting by a skeleton on a freezing mountain eating his lunch or spewing it up?

These images should be known to every pupil studying the First World War – not least as a reminder that the Germans had a foul time, too, and that the whole thing was utterly pointless and grim.

A slight disappointment was the accompanying leaflet.  It gave very little contextual information, and was in several instances rather confusing.  A woman asked me what the things were in the ‘Gefunden beim Grabendurchstich’ (translated as ‘Found while digging a trench’), as the leaflet had said ‘To this day, the ground along the Western Front is filled with surprises’.  She’d seen them as bodies, but thought from the blurb that it was a more optimistic picture.  It wasn’t.  They were bodies – as the German caption makes clear:  ‘Graben’ means ‘grave’.  This word featured in another caption:  ‘Zerfallender Kampfgraben’, translated as ‘Collapsed trenches.’ ‘Collapsing war-grave’ would be more accurate and less blandly neutral.  The ‘Appell der Zurückgekehrten’ (‘Roll call of returning troops’) was a line-up of mentally and physically wrecked soldiers, being called by a smartly-dressed, intact sergeant.  Presumably these troops were returning to the front line, and the point is that they should not have been.  The leaflet said ‘The war took a great toll on all its participants.  Here the living are barely distinguishable from the dead.’  What dead?  There are no dead in this picture.

Unfortunately, the leaflet was written by a moron.  The pictures, however, were drafted by a genius.


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It’s a mothtery

This is the loveliest time of the year.  Everything is bursting with life, and the moths have started flying.  I’m just getting into moths, thanks to Jon’s moth trap, which is a strong light with a basin underneath, in which you leave old egg boxes overnight.  In the morning, your egg boxes are covered with moths.

Then you spend the next three days trying to identify just which brown thing that one is.  A combination of the Lewington moth book, and Sussex Moth Group helps.  We’re sticking to the macro moths – micro moths are a whole other universe.

So far, in April and May, we have seen:

(April) Pebble prominent, Pale prominent, Spruce carpet, Hebrew character, Common Quaker, White ermine, Chocolate tip, Birch mocha, Yellow horned, Lunar marbled brown, Scorched carpet, Swallow prominent and several unidentified brown jobs.

(May) Great prominent, Cinnabar, White ermine, Chocolate tip, Poplar hawkmoth (aka Klingon Warhawk), Poplar grey, Ingrailed clay, Common (or possibly Powdered) Quaker, Flame shoulder, Miller, Muslin, Waved umber, Scorched wing, Blood vein, and several unidentified brown jobs.  

Here are some.

Here are some I can’t identify.

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The Tyranny of the Skirt

The British Army has declared that women can kill people just the same as men can.  More women are joining the Army; there are more female officers; women can now be submariners in the Navy.  Equality is making leaps and bounds.

On the other hand, the tragic story of Anne-Marie Ellement shows that there are still fundamental problems – problems not confined to the armed forces.  Part of the problem is that female soldiers still wear skirts.


This is not a trivial matter.  Skirts are restrictive of movement and therefore not practical army wear in any case.  (Kilts are different:  they are cut to allow great freedom of movement.)  Notice, in this picture, that one out of the three soldiers is kitted out fit for battle.  He’s the bloke.  Ideally you wouldn’t do battle in ceremonial garb, but he could; she and she couldn’t.  Joanna Lumley managed to do all sorts of stunts as an inappropriately-dressed Purdey in the New Avengers – but that’s telly.  A barrister friend said that at a case the other day, the small hearing room was strewn with suitcases full of briefs (the paper kind), and one Lady Barrister asked them to move the cases as she couldn’t open her legs enough to step over them, owing to a ludicrous ‘smart’ skirt.

More than this, however, is the fact that skirts differentiate the sexes on sight.  Surely soldiers are soldiers, whether they’re male or female?  If you’re going to allow them the same duties, and treat them the same in law and war, then you must allow them to wear the same uniform.  It’s called ‘uniform’.  Not ‘biform’ (see my post on school uniform for further ranting.)  Women in skirts are sexualised objects; women dressing different to men are different to men.

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