Harry’s Last Stand

Harry Smith was 91 when he published this book. Born in 1923 he lived in poverty in the Yorkshire towns of Barnsley and Bradford. He experienced an older sister dying of tuberculosis and his father dying of destitution after a mining accident left him unable to get another job. He joined the RAF during WWII and experienced the security of a job, the camaraderie of working us others to achieve something important whilst seeing the horror of warfare. He  notes how he hated all Germans when he arrived in Holland and saw the starving children who reminded him of his own childhood destitution, but turned from that hatred when he arrived in Germany and again saw  starving children. At a time when it was forbidden to fraternize with the enemy he had a secret relationship with a German woman he met amid the destruction of Hamburg whom he later married when that became legal again in 1946. All the details of his early life give us insight into what a country is like without ‘society’. He witnessed the transformation brought about by the welfare state created by the Labour government post 1945 with the National Health Service and workers’ rights and unemployment support.

Harry emphasizes that people today cannot know what it is like without this real big-society state-organized mutual support. He despairs that the current government is in the process of taking this down. He makes a plea that, like him, people argue for keeping it and vote for keeping it. This is not against change, but for change to help the majority.

I found the book inspiring.


Cholesterol disinformation

I read this report Statins could help reduce women’s risk of breast cancer.

I don’t in anyway criticize doing the study; this is what big data sets are good at, they give hints about what to investigate. But the spin on it is disgraceful, although those doing the study say that there is a lot more specific work to do before asserting that high cholesterol leads to increased breast cancer. However, I worry that the companies manufacturing statins will be on to this and will say that although the assertion is not certain yet why take the risk when you can take the safe statins.

I thought that I would like to give a short explanation of what the cholesterol test means. Can I write something in less than 500 words without confusing jargon to clarify how I interpret this research? I find the disinformation on cholesterol outrageous. The outline is not too difficult for people to grasp but I think that this obscuring of fact has been allowed to persist because it gets people onto statins. It was the same with tobacco.

Statins inhibit a precursor of cholesterol as well as of various steroids like sex & stress hormones. Cholesterol sulphate is converted to Vitamin D3 in the skin by sunlight, which is another thing most people in the UK are deficient in. An irony here is that vitamin D is believed to be important in preventing breast cancer; look up Dr Cedric Garland who has done many studies of vitamin D deficiency and disease. Vitamin D deficiency also correlates with development of diabetes; look up Dr Frank Garland (deceased brother of Cedric) on this. There is a good story about the serendipitous nature of scientific insight related to a lecture on the geographical distribution of cancer rates that the brothers attended in 1974. I have been following their work for some years.

In the study I assume that the standard cholesterol blood test was used. This measures total cholesterol in a sample and the bit in the so called HDL. Then the HDL bit is subtracted from the total to give so called LDL cholesterol. The reason for doing this is that it is easy (low cost) to separate the HDL for measurement. LDL is often labelled “bad-cholesterol” quite wrongly. It cannot be bad in itself because it transports fats and cholesterol to where they are needed and we need a lot of fat and cholesterol to be healthy and function. What are these HDL & LDL? They are lipoproteins (High Density & Low Density) that themselves contain cholesterol as a component (which is why they are measured). They are wrappers for fats because fats are not soluble in water and therefore not in blood either. The outside of these lipoproteins attracts water and so dissolve in blood and can be transported with contents via the blood stream to where it is needed; this is like canals were used for the transport of goods; the lipoprotein is the barge. LDL transports its cargo to cells that need the cargo, HDL picks up cargo not used or doscarded and returns it for disposal or reprocessing. The size of the lipoprotein particle depends on the contents. Saturated fats end up in large size lipoproteins. Where is the killer? – it’s sugar – the fructose in sugar is converted by the liver into a kind of fat that ends up in small size lipoproteins. These small LDL, often labelled vLDL are the potential bad ones. So the standard cholesterol test does not distinguish the vLDL from the big LDL. If high cholesterol is correlated as in the report, I suggest that it is eating too much sugar that is the real problem. Sugar is also a great food for cancer cells. People who eat comfort foods with lots of sugar are likely to be stressed, which in itself lowers immune response and may lead to cancers growing that would otherwise have been destroyed.

In all studies of this kind I ask: was there a proper measure of LDL factions, and what other things are people eating (a very difficult thing to know with useful exactness)?

The only unfamiliar jargon word may be lipoprotein. Just as barges are made of steel and wood an brass etc, lipoproteins are made mostly of proteins and fats (lipids) and cholesterol which is a steroid.



The Energy of Nations

Jeremy Leggett has three threads in this book [ISBN 978-0-415-85782-2]: Peak oil, global warming and unregulated capitalism.
The text swaps from giving an overview of the development of understanding of of the three threads (that will be familiar to anyone who is concerned about climate change and our casino economics) and records of meetings he has attended with government and business leaders where climate change has been marginalized and the issue of peak oil denied.

Jeremy is geologist turned solar entrepreneur, and is a big proponent of solar power. Although I agree that we should invest in solar power and passive insulation & cooling, I am a proponent of nuclear power that he is against. Although solar photovoltaic panels seem benign (though see Solar projects placed along ‘Pacific Flyway’ major migration paths are burning wings of birds) storage may have big environmental problems.

Jeremy’s view is that there will be an oil crash that will then focus thought onto renewable energy technologies. That means a lot of suffering first.


The comments on meetings are his recollection and were not transcribed from recordings, but do follow the pattern of those we experience ourselves or read about from other commentators.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

page 114. “As we file out of Number Ten, it strikes me that watching Cameron and Osborne in action has been like reviewing a certain kind of undergraduate project. I saw many of these in my days as an academic. Bright and enthusiastic students, usually from public schools, who are good at talking, but who haven’t really done much preparation work at all.” [Meeting in November 2010]

page 213. ” … a study by a team from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley demonstrates that wind, water and solar technologies could provide 100% of the world’s energy as soon as 2030. This could be done, crucially, without mobilising any one technology any faster than technologies have already been mobilised historically”

page 214. “What is the cost of re-engineering the global energy system to low- or zero-carbon?  The first point to make is that the cost is going to be viewed through different lenses after the oil crash.  … As for energy efficiency, and its ability to force-amplify renewables and renewable fuels, the guru of that discipline Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute team were arguing compellingly that it was cheaper to save a barrel of oil than to produce it as long ago as 2004 ”

It’s sad that we can’t get on with it now. We could start immediately with building regulations for passive housing and training builders and installers, which would give worthwhile jobs for people throughout the country and the payback would start immediately in terms of lower costs, more comfort and diminishing reliance of imports for energy (not forgetting a skilled and happier workforce).


Mental ambiguity

Sometimes one sees something on the ground that looks special, only to find on checking that someone has discarded a candy wrapper. Another example is the crafted pictures that can be interpreted in two ways, as very different portraits.

I had a similar sense of ambiguity in seeing this sign. This is verbal meaning ambiguity, partly a result of the plate being the same design as other street signs in the area. The two possibilities overlap like the superposition of quantum states. In the shadows is also the question of what is private anymore?

Private Lane

Climate change, opinion change

This is not so much climate modelling as climate fact:

Provisional Statement on Status of Climate in 2013: Continuing high temperatures globally and many climate extremes worldwide

At last it seems people in a place one least it expected are accepting facts:

Majority of red-state Americans believe climate change is real, study shows

Here are the Texas results:

Public Opinion on Global Warming in Texas: 2013

I always wondered about the inconsistency of the global warming skeptics in criticizing the measurements of warming trends by many climate scientists but still using the measurements, published by these same scientists, that seemed to show there was a ‘pause’ in surface temperature rise. It seems that the pause is itself an an artifact of the way measurements were interpolated, though it was never a pause anyway but just a lower rate of increase.

Global Warming Since 1997 Underestimated by Half

What this emphasizes is that trends over short time-periods, like 10 to 20 years, are not reliable indicators of long term trends.


I thought this was an excellent analysis:

HS2 … the high-speed train route with the same old staggering fares

I am not affected by HS2: I would not be living near it, I don’t commute, and I don’t pay much tax any more. For me it just seems the wrong priority. We need well insulated homes for people. Workmen on normal wages build them. People on the same normal wages should be able to buy them. At the same time the current mess of a dis-integrated rail system should be fixed before moving on – the East Coast train operating company seems a successful model to build on. Really, let’s work first on a properly integrated transport system. Both of these would mean lots of work distributed all over the country. Let’s start training people now; there is years of useful work. Isn’t that the main need – jobs for the many? When all these workers start improving their local economies, other businesses will be tempted to move into those areas creating more local jobs and diversification especially as local commutes to work will become pleasanter. We should be commuting less and using 21st century electronic technology rather than 19th century transport.


Bechstein 83353

I have a Bechstein Model B, number 83353, manufactured in 1908 – the year my parents were born. I bought it in 1975. I went to Mrs Gordon’s warehouse in London and picked through some worn-out pianos. This one had a fine sound even in its dilapidated state. I chose it, and it was refurbished before delivery.

It got well hammered over the years and the action, which I never felt had been very well done, was getting totally worn with springs breaking, dealt with by my fixes. I realized it needed another refurbish and pondered doing it myself as in my youth I always fixed and tuned my pianos. I decided anyway that I needed to be able to practice quietly and bought a Yamaha Clavinova. The Bechstein remained forlorn as I procrastinated over how to get someone good enough that I could trust to do it. Then I met Joseph Taylor of Taylor Pianos and booked him for the job as I had played some pianos that he had tuned and tweaked. It took about a year before he could start on it, and then some months more. But, now it has a new action (improved, roller instead of spring & loop), and is even better than in 1975.

Here is the machine during repair in Joseph’s workshop –




Fine adjustments after I have given it some workout –

Adjusting the backstop


Voicing the hammers


Tuning the strings


and – the instrument back together


Growth, the absurdity of GDP

I have been a fan of Bandana Shiva for a long time.
This is a concise summary by her of the disaster of most current economics:
How economic growth has become anti-life

Growth has become a magic word, something that must be good without asking what is growing. This is like reform, as in –  “to allow the current state of <fill in the blank>  to continue is not an option, we need this reform“, without allowing for various possibilities of change to be considered.


The Cholesterol Myths

Many years ago I read The Cholesterol Myths, published in 2000, by Uffe Ravnskov. You can find Uffe’s work here: The Cholesterol Myths.

It was a stunning analysis that changed my food habits, and which I know has made me healthier and more energetic. I found friends, with whom I discussed the diet changes that I had made, skeptical because of the well-promoted, supposed link of saturated fat & cholesterol to cardiovascular disease.

Now I see the benefits of saturated fats may be about to become a more mainstream view: Butter and cheese better than trans-fat margarines, says heart specialist


British security

I felt impelled to comment on two items in The Guardian newspaper today.

George Osborne in China – wide-eyed, innocent and deeply ignorant

Will Hutton says he feels ashamed of the deals done with China. My view:

I felt rage rather than shame. The UK was at the forefront of nuclear power originally. As with all innovation, first attempts are not so successful, and R&D should follow leading to better designs. Indeed we gave it away and now have to buy back. What happened to the special relationship, could we not have better sourced the systems from the US? Why go on about being under EU control when the real economy is being sold off as fast as possible at knock-down prices to be controlled by non-British entities that operate in ‘tax efficient’ ways – that is, little to us? You can bet that the Chinese PLA will soon be copying everything that GCHQ collects without us knowing. I am not anti-Chinese, but I would like our part of the democratic world to cooperate better together to preserve our patch. Instead of building British innovation and skills this government seems intent on making Britain the upcoming sweat-shop for China. How can George Osborne say we’re an aspiration nation, when it is selling off any possibility of being so?

The GCHQ scandal is not about the Guardian. It is an insult to parliament

Jonathan Freedland is commenting on MPs ignoring this issue of unaccountable spying. My view:

The MPs realise that GCHQ also has information on them, For example, I guess GCHQ has a lot more on Liam Fox & Adam Werritty than is generally known. I leave to the readers’ imagination what that could imply, and I only mention Liam Fox because he seems to be the one most wanting to distract from the out-of-control data collection. But I repeat my previous comment on past posts: that the GCHQ data & systems are a gift to criminals and other governments with malicious intent. Don’t think we are so much cleverer than anyone else. This total data collection will lead to a disaster not security.