Reading 2016 (June)

tauzeroTau Zero by Poul Anderson (1970). This is an interesting yarn. Your heart does sink when you read inside the front cover how many tens of books Poul Anderson wrote. But Tau Zero is considered a ‘hard’ SF classic, meaning that it is scientifically accurate (here in terms of knowledge in the late 1960s). Based on relativity, tau refers to proper time that is time as we know it, i.e. measured by a clock, and tau zero being approximate to the speed of light (I think that this is right). Set in a post-holocaust new world order (the “Covenant” a sort of Swedish social democratic yet authoritarian empire bent on the colonisation of the galaxy), the latest starship – the Leonora Christine – with its multinational crew of scientists sets off. But already some way into the future the colonialist quest goes awry when the starship collides with a nebula cloud – and stuck in a space-time continuum – eventually and at great speed arrives at the collapse of the universe passing through the subsequent Big Bang, thereafter the plucky explorers happily recommence life on a new Earth. Phew. For all the science this is as much a boy’s own adventure plus the softest of sexual fantasy – including a Dr Strangelovian abandonment of so-called monogamous sexual relationships… again  a sacrifice required for the future of the human race.

Among Others by Jo Walton 2010. This is a great read. And not least because it is paean to (perhaps the lost world) of public libraries and dedicated to librarians throughout the world.

Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilisation… libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the kindness of their hearts

It is a rites of passage story, as told in her diary by a troubled teenager Moamongothersrwenna Phelps, whose family has endured a degree of insanity, or at very least an other world experience of magic, fairies and witches, living with damaged minds and bodies. Mori is a prodigious reader, with a staple diet of fantasy and SF novels It’s a relief to recognise some of the authors and titles in her canon. I’m not a fan of SF in general: I disliked the LOTR and The Hobbit as a teenager, but enjoyed the John Wyndham´s The Day of the Triffids, Frank Herbert´s Dune and Ursula le Guin’s The Dispossessed.

Among Others has such a positive outlook on life plus it is a celebration of the joys and solace of reading.

feetchainsFeet of Chains by Kate Roberts (published in Welsh as Traed Mewn Cyffion in 1936), translated by Kate Gramich in 2012.

An everyman tale of the family and times of Jane and Ifan Gruffydd in rural northern Wales from the 1880s to the 1920s.  Ifan is a labourer in a slate quarry and the family lives in a one-room cottage and with a smallholding, and Jane describes their efforts to make ends meet as their children to make their own way in life through education and migration and war. One son, Twm, is killed in the Great War (a war that “… no one in Moel Arian knew what to make of it really”). Realism and fatalism collide. At the end the surviving son Owen declaims:

It was the time for someone to stand up against injustice. To do something about it. Thinking about it, that was the trouble with his people. They were heroic in their capacity to suffer, and not in their capacity to do something to oppose the cause of their suffering.

Reading 2016 (February)
Reading 2016 (March)
Reading 2016 (April)


New Old Sarum

Donald Trump has been mouthing off about the upcoming elections claiming that they are a set up:  “… stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election”.

There is an element of historical truth about the crookedness of US elections, but on both sides of the political aisle.

lbjLBJ muscled himself into power, gaining his seat in the Senate by 87 votes in 1948 in part using dead voters, and repeated the ballot-stuffing in 1960 to ensure Kennedy won Texas, the South and the presidency. From the the review in the LRB of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power by Robert Caro:

Johnson brought to the ticket his well-honed skills in vote rigging (the skill being not so much the rigging as the getting away with it)


The Bush family and the Republicans got away with it in Florida in the 2000 elections for the 43rd President. Butterfly ballots, discarded ballot papers, Bush v Gore, a suppliant Supreme Court, and the refusal to allow a recount are dissected in a John Nichol book Jews for Buchanan. Did You Hear the One About the Theft of the American Presidency? 


Once in the Oval Office Johnson ensured that the Civil Rights Act (1964) passed, along with the Social Security Amendments Act (1965), which introduced Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act (1965), to correct racial discrimination in voting – not least voter registration. Johnson predicted that this act would in effect deliver the South to the Republicans as former white conservative democrats switched party and newly enfranchised minorities registered as democrats.

Voter’s rights have been under threat ever since. Much of this is basic racial and local political gerrymandering.

These restrictive laws and practices, all invoked by Republicans, have the purpose and effect of reducing turnout disproportionately among racial minorities and the young, populations that are more likely to vote for Democrats.

And some appears to be nothing less than an elite or corporate attempt to undermine representative democracy, whose legitimacy is in any case weakened by widening inequality.

The approach has been to turn the rotten borough concept inside out; the voting process is apparently democratic, but the majority vote is used by the corporate patron(s) in their interests. Since the Chartists the propertied class have been horrified with parliamentary democracy. But as Bukharin foresaw the state has became ‘the executive commitee of the ruling class’ but one constantly looking over their shoulders. This commitee is subject to periodic changes (elections). But they remain really worried about resistance from below: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a similar free-trade deal between Canada and the EU, are now both in doubt (& President Obama unexplained support for such deals does much to besmirch his achievements). It is better that Hillary Clinton wins but is it more than a sideshow?



How to Rig an Election


Nate Silver is describing the current state of the US presidential election as a blowout, with a pronounced gender gap in voting intentions.

Clinton leads Trump by 15 percentage points among women while trailing him [Trump] by 5 points among men.

But the contest has been one-sided from the start with Clinton´s chances of winning widening continuously as shown by Predictwise.


With more Republican (24) than Democratic (10) seats up for grab in November, and many of the former seen to be vulnerable, a Trump effect could lead to Democrats regaining control of the Senate (a 72% possibility). The 30-year trend from 1985 (the 99th Senate) to 2015 (the 114th) is shown below.


The current balance in the Congress is 246 Republican and 186 Democratic voting members. A swing to Clinton should translate to more seats in the Congress helped by net Republican retirements but muted by some gerrymandering of Democratic seat boundaries. It might depend on how much Republican congressional hopefuls can distance themselves from Trump´s misogyny. But a substantial reduction in a Republic majority would make Clinton´s job much easier than that faced by President Obama during his two terms.


But what would or could a President Clinton do with this apparent advantage?

Misogyny is one – albeit especially nasty –  feature of rising economic inequality and insecurity, exclusion and public disengagement, driven largely by the neoliberal orthodoxy over the past 30 years, and by a political and business elite in the US as in Europe that are seen to have lost their legitimacy. A new social contract that demonstrably reduces poverty and injustice is needed. Can the Clinton Presidency put together such a new deal coalition?


Football´s market failures

england-manager-sam-allardyce-press-conferencePoor Sam Allardyce. The Brexit manager who crashed landed on take-off. Poor both in terms of judgement (but at least he immediately quit, sparing us some nonsense about a game of two halves or moaning about the referee), and also his managerial record. Sam has form, 24% (with 4/17 honourable mentions) in the 2007 Stevens Report, somewhat less than his 39% career “winning” success rate during his managerial career, which -always on the decline – was achieved with seven clubs (Blackpool, Bolton, Notts County, West Ham, Blackburn, Newcastle and Sunderland), and included winning the old third division and two promotions during the past ten years. Not that there is anything wrong in being a steady journeyman professional, nor working with some fine English clubs. But the lack of any international experience should perhaps have shown up in the England manager selection criteria…

The Guardian´s Simon Jenkins makes the point about self-regulating autonomous global sporting associations´ poor governance fueled by TV money.

I cannot take seriously sports I used to love when I cannot trust what I see before my eyes. I was baffled at the reason for last-minute player substitutions in football matches, until I was told these were fee-sharing deals. Cricket’s dropped catches and no-balls turned out to be paid for. British cyclists who suddenly won gold medals had superior equipment to other competitors. How did Qatar get to hold a summer World Cup, or Russia a winter Olympic games? You can guess. Are we soon to learn that referees are bribed for the inexplicable penalties that decide most rugby matches?

Is the root of the game´s problems actually the clubs´ ownership of players? What other business owns and trades its employees? In professional European football restricting the free movement of players is justified in order to ensure fair competition, but in practice the increasing value of transfer fees is resulting in a monopoly in terms of sporting success by elite clubs (see The Economic and Legal Aspects of Transfers of Players). English football has a problem given its corruptible and corrupting nature. It has even given the English language its own word for bribes, a bung – payments by football agents to managers. The bribes also reflect the lack of transparency of the business model, shielded by owners´self-interest, and in turn the clubs´ banks, tax-advisers and accountancy firms plus their shareholders´ indifference. England´s interim manager, Gareth Southgate, puts it well. “There’s lots about the industry of football that I don’t like but it’s a sport I love“. It is about the fans, the majority of whom are working class supporters  who love the game.

Solutions: first, for professional football clubs, scrapping player ownership and replacing them with fixed contracts with transfer details registered (preferably online, including agents´fees, etc.); second, for the England job, let´s go radical. Let the fans pick the squad and the team. 500,000 football supporters selected their best England XI before the Euros and for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. There are 3.9m players of the Fantasy Football League alone. There can be crowd sourcing for the manager too, note that here the lamented Sam was the third choice…

Alternatively, the best-qualified person for the job could be appointed.

And that would be Hope Powell. She played in four FA Women’s Cup finals plus winning a League and Cup double in 1996. She  was capped 66 times as a player, including the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup, scoring 35 goals as a midfielder. She was the youngest coach of any English national football team, and led the national team at the 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013 UEFA Women’s Championships, including the final in 2009 where they lost to Germany, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup in 2007 and 2011, and the Great Britain women’s Olympic football team in 2012. Plus she was the first woman to obtain the UEFA pro licence in 2003. Commitment and success.

UPDATE – Oct 13 

The latest England selection (with both the previous captains dropped).