Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Lark Ascending

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardour, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d,
Impell’d by what his happy bill
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renew’d in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him rais’d,
Puts on the light of children prais’d,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,
Though nought be promis’d from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.

For singing till his heaven fills,
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labour in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.
Was never voice of ours could say
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink:
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.

Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve and pass reward,
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aƫrial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings. 

The great alcohol cover-up: how public health hid the truth about drinking

The text below is the basis of a talk given by Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, at the Spectator annual health debate 2016. The debate was entitled: ‘Can we trust health advice?’
Before answering the question of whether we can trust health advice we must first ask: ‘Which health advice?’ It varies so much over time and between countries. In 1979, the government advised men to drink no more than 56 units of alcohol a week. This was later reduced to 36 units, then 28 units and then 21 units. Last month, the Chief Medical Officer reduced it once again, this time to 14 units. Upon announcing this, she also asserted that there is no safe level of drinking and that the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption were ‘an old wives tale’.
Male drinking guidelines vary enormously around the world, from 52 units a week in Fiji to 35 units in Spain, all the way down to seven units in Guyana. There is no other country in the world that has the same guidelines as the UK. The day after Sally Davies released her report, the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism announced the results of its review of alcohol guidelines and maintained the recommendation for men of up to 25 units per week. This government organisation estimates that 26,000 deaths a year are prevented by moderate alcohol consumption thanks to reduced risk from heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In America, the guidelines for women are lower than they are for men, as they are in all but a handful of countries worldwide. Britain is now one of the few.
Therefore, in order to trust this latest piece of health advice from our Chief Medical Officer, we must believe not only that every previous Chief Medical Officer got it wrong but that every other country in the world has got it wrong. That requires a degree of patriotism that I am unable to summon up, particularly since the current advice bears no relationship whatsoever to the scientific evidence.
graph_small
The graph represents the relationship between alcohol consumption and mortality. It is, I think, well known that the relationship is J-shaped. This particular J-curve is based on 34 prospective epidemiological studies which collect data on how much people drink and then follow them over a period of years with a view to seeing if they die and what they die of. As this graph shows, the risk of death declines substantially at low levels of alcohol consumption and then rises, but it does not reach the level of a teetotaller until the person is consuming somewhere between 40 and 60 grams of alcohol a day, which is to say between 35 and 50 units a week.
This J-shaped association was identified decades ago and has been repeatedly shown in studies from around the world. There are people in the temperance and ‘public health’ lobbies who do not want to accept the benefits of alcohol consumption. As a result, this epidemiological finding has been subject to more scrutiny than anything else in the field of alcohol research. It is precisely because it has been subjected to the greatest scrutiny that we know it to be robust.
It has been suggested, for example, that some of the teetotallers in these studies are former heavy drinkers who are inherently less healthy because of their old drinking habits. To test this, studies have been conducted to compare people who have never drunk with people who drink moderately, but the association remains — the teetotallers still tend not to live as long.
It has also been suggested that teetotallers lead unhealthy lives in other respects, thus confounding the results. However, it turns out that lifelong teetotallers tend to lead healthier lives than drinkers, being less likely to smoke and more likely to have a better diet, so that doesn’t stand up as an explanation either.
The only real pitfall in this kind of research is the problem of people under-reporting how much they drink. The amount of alcohol sold in the UK is about twice the amount that people claim to drink, so unless we throw away a huge amount of booze, it is certain that people either forget about how much they drink or they deliberately lie to researchers. In either case, we can assume that the people who say they consume two drinks a day are probably consuming three or four drinks, in which case the amount that you have to drink to assume the same level of risk as a non-drinker is even more than this graph suggests.
What is a safe level of drinking? Sally Davies says there isn’t one. In so doing she is encouraging the public to believe that the only safe level is zero. But that is not what the epidemiology shows at all. It would appear that you can drink significantly more than 14 units a week — or two units a day — and have a lower mortality risk than a teetotaller.
Why would she misrepresent the evidence? I think there are two reasons.
If I may illustrate by analogy, when I first started secondary school at the age of 11, the teachers told us that we would be expected to do three or four hours of homework a night. Even at the time, this struck me as being optimistic on their part. I doubt that any of us were so conscientious. Speaking personally, I recall half an hour being the average, perhaps up to an hour on occasion.
Looking back, I think the teachers knew that we wouldn’t do three or four hours. I think they would have been very happy if we did one or two hours. They were doing something that behavioural economists call ‘anchoring’ — putting an unrealistically high number in our minds in the hope that we would settle for a lower number, but that the number would still be higher than the number we would have come up with if left to our own devices. If they had said we should do an hour, we might have settled for 20 minutes. If they had said half an hour, we might have settled for ten minutes.
That, I suspect, is what health authorities are doing when they tell us to have no more than seven drinks a week, or to have no more than seven teaspoons of sugar a day. We will probably exceed those guidelines, but we might think twice about exceeding them by two or three times — and those are the kind of levels at which health could genuinely be impaired.
If that’s what they’re doing, I think it’s a problem. Manipulating school children into doing their homework is one thing. Lying to adults about scientific evidence is quite another. The health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption are not an ‘old wives’ tale’, as Davies claims. They are supported by a huge body of evidence, but she doesn’t want us to be able to handle nuanced information. In public health, things are either good or bad, and she wants to portray alcohol as bad, hence the need to downplay the benefits and the rhetoric about there being ‘no safe level’. It’s nonsense, but it is a clear message and that’s what counts.
Second, there is a distinct possibility that these guidelines are not really aimed at us at all. The number of people who exceed the weekly drinking guidelines has been falling for years. By lowering the recommendations for men, Sally Davies has pulled two million more hazardous drinkers out of her hat. Similarly, although most people exceed the old sugar guidelines, sugar consumption has been falling for years. Now that the guidelines have been halved, it is almost impossible not to exceed them. By moving the goalposts, the problem is inflated, panic ensues, and the political agenda of the ‘public health’ lobby, with all its taxes, bans and gruesome warnings, is given a shot in the arm.
There is a telling comment in the minutes of one of the meetings held to reassess the drinking guidelines. It says that it is ‘important to bear in mind that, while guidelines might have limited influence on behaviour, they could be influential as a basis for government policies’. Influencing government policy is the real aim of the game. They don’t trust us to handle accurate information. As a result, we can no longer trust them to give us it.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Thursday, 21 June 2018

DIY

Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan. 
- Hilaire Belloc

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Statues of Buckingham Palace

One day, old lion, we will stir ourselves,
shake off the bronze and be flesh.

The sash across my breast is blue I think, my hair
the dirty blonde of your pelt.

First we will look over our shoulders - I'll smile
shyly at the young men who've lounged a century

by the pool, then, without comment, you'll
roll your great shoulders and pad down onto the Mall.

I'll keep my hand warm in the rough tangle
of your mane. We walk past straight-backed generals

dusting the last of the black paint from their coats, while
the gentlemen of state adjust their breeches and steel

swords, clear their throats, and scramble down to the grass.
Along the Embankment we're joined by a few nervous
poets and the occasional nurse. The light is flat, Apollos
blink their olive eyes and begin to tune their lyres;

the muses and graces group with soft calls
to touch each other's pale new skins

with their fingertips. Mythical beasts lope beside us
and the Thames is full of mermaids in pearled scales.

We turn up towards Trafalgar Square, joined
by a Jesus or two, who have clambered

down from the fronts of churches. A little bemused, they rub
their palms and shiver. The military gentleman give them
overcoats,

clucking under their waxed moustaches. The Jesuses bob
their heads in thanks, feel in the pockets for tobacco.

Then everyone goes to watch as you and I, old lion, climb the
      steps
to the Gallery and whisper steeply at the key hole, waking the
      pictures.

Imogen Robertson (1973 - )




Monday, 23 January 2017

Thirst for beer

ARCHY INTERVIEWS A PHARAOH

By Don Marquis
From “archy and mehitabel,” 1927
boss i went
and interviewed the mummy
of the egyptian pharaoh
in the metropolitan museum
as you bade me to do
what ho
my regal leatherface
says i
greetings
little scatter footed
scarab
says he
kingly has been
says i
what was your ambition
when you had any
insignificant
and journalistic insect
says the royal crackling
in my tender prime
i was too dignified
to have anything as vulgar
as ambition
the ra ra boys
in the seti set
were too haughty
to be ambitious
we used to spend our time
feeding the ibises
and ordering
pyramids sent home to try on
but if i had my life
to live over again
i would give dignity
the regal razz
and hire myself out
to work in a brewery
old tan and tarry
says i
i detect in your speech
the overtones
of melancholy
yes i am sad
says the majestic mackerel
i am as sad
as the song
of a soudanese jackal
who is wailing for the blood red
moon he cannot reach and rip
on what are you brooding
with such a wistful
wishfulness
there in the silences
confide in me
my perial pretzel
says i
i brood on beer
my scampering whiffle snoot
on beer says he
my sympathies
are with your royal
dryness says i
my little pest
says he
you must be respectful
in the presence
of a mighty desolation
little archy
forty centuries of thirst
look down upon you
oh by isis
and by osiris
says the princely raisin
and by pish and phthush and phthah
by the sacred book perembru
and all the gods
that rule from the upper
cataract of the nile
to the delta of the duodenum
i am dry
i am as dry
as the next morning mouth
of a dissipated desert
as dry as the hoofs
of the camels of timbuctoo
little fussy face
i am as dry as the heart
of a sand storm
at high noon in hell
i have been lying here
and there
for four thousand years
with silicon in my esophagus
as gravel in my gizzard
thinking
thinking
thinking
of beer
divine drouth
says i
imperial fritter
continue to think
there is no law against
that in this country
old salt codfish
if you keep quiet about it
not yet
what country is this
asks the poor prune
my reverend juicelessness
this is a beerless country
says i
well well said the royal
desiccation
my political opponents back home
always maintained
that i would wind up in hell
and it seems they had the right dope
and with these hopeless words
the unfortunate residuum
gave a great cough of despair
and turned to dust and debris
right in my face
it being the only time
i ever actually saw anybody
put the cough
into sarcophagus
dear boss as i scurry about
i hear of a great many
tragedies in our midsts
personally i yearn
for some dear friend to pass over
and leave to me
a boot legacy
yours for the second coming
of gambrinus
archy

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