On Shane Warne, And Evolution

I am enjoying the ridicule Shane Warne has attracted with his comments on evolution. The former Australian cricket international claims to think we were helped to develop into intelligent creatures by aliens, and not as a result of evolution.

His argument is that we evolved and the monkeys we evolved from didn’t. If it had been evolution, both would have developed intelligence. No idea how seriously he takes all this.

Set aside the fact that we did not evolve from monkeys, but both of us evolved from a common ancestor. The idiotic idea that because not all animals evolved, none can have done so is easy enough to refute.

People do have difficulty with evolution, don’t they? Do we still retain the Victorian belief that it is somehow demeaning to have evolved from more primitive beings?

Or do people just not understand science? How many times have you heard someone, often quite intelligent, say, well Einstein’s/Darwin’s/whoever’s theory is just a theory, isn’t it? It’s not like it’s been proved yet.

This is the result of linguistic confusion. Scientists use the word theory for any construction of ideas that explains all the facts. No one sensible doubts Darwin or Einstein.

In common parlance, though, “theory” is often used disparagingly, as in “crackpot theory”.

Anyway, Warne is to evolutionary theory what Richard Dawkins is to spin bowling. Though Dawkins is, I read, quite knowledgeable on cricket.

PS: Warne’s comments are the daftest I have heard since someone opined on Twitter the other day, in all apparent seriousness, that the recent floods in the UK were not down to excess rainfall but all those immigrants, whose additional weight was causing the UK to sink.


On Antibiotics

Thank God for antibiotics.

I am four days into a course of them for a chest infection that, in earlier centuries, would have hung around for a lot longer and could possibly have killed me.

I know all about the threat of growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics because of their overuse. If they are diagnosed too often, they come into more contact with pathogens, providing more opportunity for the latter to develop immunity.

This is simply a matter of evolution, and the fewer such opportunities are given, the fewer the chances for resistant bacteria to evolve.

I did the proper thing, and waited four weeks before I approached my doctor. He said it was usual to wait two or three weeks to see if the infection was viral, and would clear up by itself, or had developed into a bacterial one which needed penicillin.

The problem of immunity is getting worse. According to the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, about 25,000 people in Europe die every year from resistant disease strains, which seems an extraordinarily high figure.

The incidence of resistance varies widely between different countries, which indicates that some are more sensible in doling out antibiotics than others. In Germany, resistance to a treatment for food poisoning is growing because something similar is widely used there in poultry farming.

The notion that we should be in future succumbing to super-bugs because greedy farmers are raising their production by feeding their stock antibiotics as a precaution is a truly shocking one.

Three suggestions. You and I should not go to the doctor demanding a pill for every cough and sniffle. Doctors should not hand out antibiotics to get annoying patients out of their surgeries. Many already do not.

Farmers should not feed them to livestock – and we should not buy their produce if they do. East less meat, and buy free range or organic every time.

End of lecture.

On The Independent

The late, great journalist James Cameron once likened the death of a national newspaper to the demise of an elephant. The stricken beast would sink to its knees, then onto its side, and the others in the herd would gather around to offer what succour they could, and then gradually drift away, realising that nothing could be done.

The Independent and its Sunday sister look like being the latest in the herd to succumb. I am not sure if a paper that can only persuade 40,000 people to hand over the full price each day can be seen as a national contender. But it was born three decades ago amid great idealism with the intention of providing readers with a viewpoint they could not get elsewhere.

An example: a royal wedding was once reported something like this: Traffic in central London was disrupted yesterday by the wedding of Captain Mark Phillips and Anne Windsor.

I interviewed there once. Though I didn’t get the job, it led, indirectly, to my current one. And the Indie was responsible for one of my favourite corrections ever. It appeared one February, and it ran, and again I paraphrase: Some readers have asked us to point out that the tree pictured in last week’s story about global warming is a winter-flowering cherry.

You can almost hear the teeth grinding in the newsroom as they were forced to put that one out.

On Music, Again

I have been asked recently why I send out links on Twitter to music I am listening to. I have an awful lot of followers, not all of whom, it seems, are interested in my views on price earnings ratios and dividend yields. Some follow me for this blog, and posts and tweets on music seem to elicit the greatest response.

I listen to music, and tweet out links, in the evening. I post on this blog when I cannot sleep, as now, early in the morning.

Music is terribly important to me. As I have written here before, it was a route out of a fairly repressed adolescence towards personal freedom. Especially free jazz from the 60s, much of which had freedom as a theme. Freedom Jazz Dance. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.

There are some pretty obvious socio-economic reasons why freedom and emergent black American culture in the 1960s should meet somewhere. What it meant to a white, public school educated teenager from the London suburbs is another matter. Though I am reminded of Delta and Chicago blues music, and an earlier generation of white, suburban teenagers.

To me it was, you mean the sky is THAT big? You really can do ANYTHING! Out there!

Freedom. A theme which, I realise, runs through this blog.

Anyway, here is the current list. You don’t actually have to listen to any of this, you know. But you might be glad you did.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes/Hot Coals: I keep coming back to this. Apparently they are a US folk/indie band, and this jazzy, piano-driven, falsetto voiced shuffle is atypical. And none of them is called Edward Sharpe.

Ryan Hemsworth/Snow In Newark: Achingly sad song about being separated from the one you love. “To a hotel room/And you’re a million miles away.” If you can listen to this and not be moved, you need to check your heart is still beating.

Jay-Jay Johanson/Drowsy/Too Young To Say Goodbye: Swedish trip-hop, though don’t let that put you off. “Somewhere between Chet Baker and Portishead” says one critic, and I can’t do better than that.

Sun Kil Moon/Among The Leaves: Another desperately sad song, about a homeless woman he can’t help. Or daren’t. “She sleeps downstairs.” The band are named after a Korean boxer, btw. No idea why.

And some jazz:

Brad Mehldau/Everthing In Its Right Place: The best improvising piano trio on the planet meets Radiohead. What could possibly go wrong? Try his Still Crazy After All These Years, too. also off the CD Anything Goes.

Bob Reynolds/ Autumn In New York: Introduced to this by a dear colleague at work. Straight down the line sax/piano/bass/drums but none the worse for that.

And some roots:

Brooklyn Funk Essentials/The Creator Has A Master Plan: Right out of my comfort zone. A well known jazz tune, funked up with some rap. Like I say, not really me, but pretty infectious.

The Toure/Raichel Collective/Azawade: Acoustic west African folk. Pretty as hell.

Brigitte Fontaine/Le Goudron: Know nowt about her. Blues, French obviously, north African tinge. Driven.

Rhiannon Giddens/She’s Got You. Country, apparently originally by Patsy Cline. You know how you first hear someone and you think, yes, you are going to be with me for a long time? She played London this week, and my own newspaper described her Tomorrow Is My Turn as one of the CDs of the decade. Not inclined to disagree.

That’s enough music now. And no, as I say, you don’t have to listen to any of it.


On Brexit, And Teenage Idealism

I appreciate that in some circles today this will be as popular as admitting an earlier interest in paedophilia, but I campaigned in favour of the UK joining the EU ahead of the June 1975 referendum.

Aside from the clear business benefits of an open market, I had two main reasons for doing so. One, the French had been blocking us for years, in what looked like either spite or a bid to protect their own inefficient markets.

Two, the Communist Party, active at my university, was dead set against it. “No to the bosses’ Europe” was their slogan. I thought that if the Kremlin didn’t want a more united Europe on its doorstep, a more united Europe we should have.

Since then, to misquote Emperor Hirohito, the European project has worked out not entirely to our advantage. We did at least avoid the euro.

This summer’s referendum will lead to a vote to remain in, just as did the Scottish referendum, and for the same reason. Referenda tend to be carried by people who do not want change, rather than those prepared to risk it. We are at heart a cautious people.

This has led to the unattractive sight of many of our elected politicians being prepared to subsume their principles to their political ambitions. No big Conservative figure has stepped forward to lead the out campaign, even though they wish to leave, because they know this is going to lose, and they do not want to risk any further advancement to their careers by upsetting Number 10.

Perhaps if they were not so confident that the next election will see a Labour defeat, so prolonging those careers, they might be more prepared to make a stand. Politics is full of such grubby compromises.

Next time one of those shy Outers, and we know who they are, uses in a speech the word “principle”, bear this in mind. They don’t have any.

And I do hope this is the last thing I have to say on the subject.

On Marianne Faithfull

There is something deeply unedifying and ridiculous about a 70-something prancing around on stage in tight-fitting Spandex acting like a teenage bonobo. I mention no names. But it is possible for a musician to grow old gracefully.

The other night we went to see Marianne Faithfull perform at the Roundhouse. I had vaguely been expecting an evening of chansonnier-style cabaret. She came on with a band less than half her age.

She is 70 this year and not, it must be said, in the best of shape. Emphysema, hip problems – she had to sit down a lot. The performance was halted while someone found her glasses. She referred often to a lyrics prompt sheet. She sounds like a matriarch from the Raj, swears like a trooper, vapes regularly – the real thing not being allowed on stage any more – and swigs occasionally on a cup of tea. At one stage she threatens the audience with her walking stick.

She can’t sing, not that she ever could really. Her voice is a grating alto. She has a great back catalogue – Sister Morphine, As Tears Go By, Broken English, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. She has seen a lot in an at times troubled life and is not afraid to talk about. Her onstage chat is worth the price of admission.

It was an occasion more than a musical event, seeing a living legend from two rows away. Though there were those songs. I was reminded of Leonard Cohen’s last tour, the same understated manner, the same obvious affection towards her younger musicians at the start, relatively speaking, of their careers.

She went off, with some difficulty, after Lucy Jordan and did not appear for an encore. Who knows if we will see her again.

PS: at least one reader has assumed my first paragraph refers to Marianne. Quite the opposite; she is one of those who has grown old gracefully, rather than continuing to look ridiculous on stage. Her performance showed us this, the entire point of my piece. So no offence meant.

On Debt Collection

Read this and see if it makes you as angry as it does me.


The process of debt collection by councils, I read elsewhere, has largely been outsourced to outside agencies. And this is how they behave to the most vulnerable in our society.

As it happens, I have had experience of dealing with such agencies at one remove, on behalf of someone who was also vulnerable and was put, through an accident, at their mercy. The debt was not owed to a local authority but to a credit card firm, which had hired a debt collecting agency. Believe  me,  these people are vile and there is no scummier way of making a living.

In this  case, the writer appears to have been able to communicate with them. That was more than I managed, when I was trying to help. They refused to talk to me. “Data protection”, one man  sneered down the phone to me. And they continued to hound their victim.

Evil, evil bastards.