what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

Visual and other Links I Liked

1. When enforced isolation makes internet text even more seductive, this article reminds us of the painting treasures which are now so easily available a mere click away. Curiously, it makes no mention of my favourite ArtUK - which teamed up some years back with the BBC to put much of the nation’s paintings online. Here’s a wonderful example from my home town of Greenock. The painting which graces this post is John Knox's famous 19th century view of Ben Lomond just across the river.....
Another site offers a selection of art available on the net
And this is a very instructive art almanac – offering vignettes of key dates in the lives of artists

2. Photography is another visual art – practised by such giants as Cartier-Bresson 
My friend Keith (before and after his retirement) has been a keen mountain walker and photographer - and his blog must by now be the richest source of Scottish mountain-scape photography. If I’m the King of hyperlinks, Keith is the King of Scottish mountain vistas photography
He has been blogging as long as I have – more than a decade – and each post records his every scaling of every Scottish peak over 3000 feet (known as Munros – of which there are 282) – replete with superb photographs which give an amazing sense of the wonderful world at that level which most of us simply don’t see and indeed are not even aware of……And this is a good example of the occasional political comment his blog makes

3. Talking of mountains, the Bergahn journal resource which they have just kindly made available to us all – temporarily of course but in the spirit of “Open Access” - revealed this nice article on the UK and Carpathians 1862-1914 in their Journal of Travel and Travel-writing      

4. And still on painting, I began to read a little book about John Berger by one Andy Merrifield and was sufficiently intrigued by the author’s writing style to want to see more of it – and duly discovered this little cache
One of the essays in that little collection is called Searching for Guy Debord -Debord being the author of the famous The society of the spectacle (1967) which railed – rather more philosophically than Jerry Mander and Neil Postman – against the social and political effects of the entertainment industry…..  

The spectacle has now “spread itself to the point where it permeates all reality. It was easy to predict in theory what has been quickly and universally demonstrated by practical experience of economic reason’s relentless accomplishments: that the globalization of the false was also the falsification of the globe.

Merrifield is so taken with Debord that he seeks out his widow, still living in the house with the special high wall Debord built to keep the world out. I can’t say I share Merrifiels’s enthusiasm for the book – with its 221 theses  and an equivalent number of explanatory notes which an editor has subsequently (and necessarily) added….It’s not my sort of writing

The integrated spectacle, Debord said, has sinister characteristics: incessant technological renewal; integration of the state and economy; generalized secrecy; unanswerable lies; and an eternal present. Gismos proliferate at unprecedented speeds; commodities outdate themselves almost each week; nobody can step down the same supermarket aisle twice. The commodity is beyond criticism; useless junk nobody really needs assumes a vital life force that everybody apparently wants.
The state and economy have congealed into an undistinguishable unity, managed by spin-doctors, spin-doctored by managers. Everyone is at the mercy of the expert or the specialist, and the most useful expert is he who can best lie. Now, for the first time ever, “no party or fraction of a party even tries to pretend that they wish to change anything significant.”

For gluttons for punishment Debord added, 21 years later, Comments on the society of the Spectacle

5. Visual Capitalist may not be the best of names but its great use of tables and visual warms my cockles. Here’s a typical example – 24 Cognitive Biases warping Reality
My readers will be bored by my emphasis on the importance of text being visually illustrated….

If you’re looking for an example of the poetic power of John Berger’s writing, read this! It’s a series of short essays sparked off by 9/11. The subtitle brought back memories for me of Albert Camus’ Resistance, rebellion and Death (1960) whose “Letters to a German Friend” moved me greatly when I first read them in the early 60s

7. Last month I posted an updated list of the English-language journals which I had tested with 5 demanding criteria - for having (i) depth of treatment; (ii) breadth of coverage (not just political); (iii) clarity of writing; and being both (iv) cosmopolitan in taste (not just anglo-saxon); and (v) sceptical in tone. 
The post analysed more than 30 journals - regretting the disappearance in 1990 of Encounter.
This morning an article arrived in my mailbox celebrating that selfsame journal – what it doesn’t tell you is that Encounter’s entire archives can be accessed here – courtesy of the quite amazing UNZ Review – an alternative media selection – “A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media”. 
And if you click “pdf archives” you’ll find a quite wonderful collection of journals inc The New Yorker from the 1930s to 2010!!

Finally, I am no great fan of George Galloway's - but his one saving grace is the clarity of his diction.....and here he is with another great communicator Dr John Campbell 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Critical Masses, Emperors and freebies

The last post ended with a question - picked up by my fellow-blogger Boffy whose reply (posted as a comment on my blog) deserves a spotlight –

It wasn't a conspiracy that led to Salem, and so on. Popular delusions and mass panics have their own dynamic….. Once a critical mass is achieved no one dare say the Emperor has no clothes, as Wobarg says (at the end of the video link)
In the past, I have written about the work of Milgram and others who showed how the natural human desire to conform - natural because it developed as a herd response so as to survive on the ancient grasslands - leads people to simply accept the current meme, no matter how insane. Its why people would accept and go along with the holocaust, or as Milgram showed why they would be prepared to administer fatal electric shocks to other human beings and animals, so long as an authority figure said it was okay for them to do so!

No leading scientist is going to stand out against the crowd in current conditions, because they would be crucified for doing so, and that applies equally to politicians who have been pressed into all channelling into the same course of action, which itself makes it all the more difficult for anyone to reject.
My guess is that, just as with 2008, there will in a couple of years time be plenty, however, who will write important articles in Medical Science and Statistical Journals saying how they were sceptical all along about what was really happening, and had in their own quiet way raised questions, and that if they had only had the grants they had previously asked for to conduct their epistemological studies they could have shown why what by then will be seen to have been a wholly avoidable crisis - both health crisis and economic and financial crisis - was indeed avoidable.

The point is well taken – I’m not a conspiracy theorist either. Actually Boffy’s reply starts on a note of appreciation for the “extensive, rational and supportive” nature of my last post - which had taken the trouble to copy and paste his 5 previous posts on Covid19 and then try to capture their essence. Clearly he has been the subject of some abuse for daring to challenge the prevailing wisdom on the subject.   

I would like to think that “Extensive, rational and supportive” captures the spirit of my blog. Particularly these days, tone matters – so does common decency and treating others with respect. Twitter has inflicted great harm on our discourse.

On a separate matter, Journals are offering some great bargains and freebies these days.
A week or so ago I took advantage of an offer from the famous FAZ newspaper for daily access during the next couple of months for only a dollar a month
World Literature Today showcases the all-too-often unappreciated work of translators and has just come out with a special offer of only 2 dollars a month - and the last 3 years’ archives
The New Yorker is on offer with the same deal and the entire archives - although my PC is having problems which didn’t allow it to take advantage of the offer. But I can access its special coverage of Covid19 which it’s making available free of charge

I had already mentioned that the UK Prospect mag has free access for the next month to its entire 25 year archive
And today I was notified by Bergahn Journals that all of their journals will be free for the entire duration of the shutdown. I’m on their mailing list because of the interest I had expressed in German politics and society and I see now that several other titles are of interest eg
Finally, Dr Campbell’s Friday video starts with a short video clip of a tearful Spanish doctor’s reaction to ventilators for older patients being switched off to emphasise the importance of the over 65s self-isolating

I’ve just been reading Chris Grey’s weekly Brexit Blog – which makes a link between “denialists” and

what is reported to have been the PM adviser Dominic Cummings’ initial response to coronavirus and his (and others’) ‘disruptor’ view of Brexit. Both seem to grow out of an idea that any shock to ‘the system’ is to be regarded as desirable simply for being a shock. Adverse consequences are just so much collateral damage to be ignored if not, indeed, welcomed.
That’s not quite the same as the ‘disaster capitalism’ idea, in which massive shocks such as this pandemic represent an opportunity for economic and political exploitation - it’s more a kind of adolescent infatuation with instability as ‘exciting’.
And it links to the wearisomely predictable ‘contrarianism’ of the peculiar, yet peculiarly influential, leftist-libertarian Spiked Online sect who have lashed out against the coronavirus restrictions and who, of course, tend to be ardent Brexiters. One might speculate on the affinities between such an infatuation and the psychology of the “misfits and weirdos” who are Cummings’ preferred hires.

Tim Martin is one of the relatively small number of leading business people who vocally supported Brexit, who has made simplistic pronouncements about the coronavirus crisis. It links no doubt with the deep-rooted English aversion to intellectuals, who make things complex when they need not be, and also to a perhaps related machismo so that Martin is “happy to take his chances” with catching the virus.
The same attitude is evident in the comments of Paul Bullen, former UKIP leader on Cambridgeshire County Council and Brexit Party candidate. He thinks “the majority don’t care” about coronavirus and wants to just “get back to normal”. It might be called a ‘hand washing is for sissies’ mentality (which could have important consequences for coronavirus spread (£) given the higher infection and mortality rates amongst men). Another variant on the same theme is, like Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, to condemn alarm about the virus as “scaremongering” just as she (and countless others) dismissed warnings about Brexit as ‘Project Fear’ (£).

I hold Chris Grey in very high respect but actually clicked the Spiked Online article and found it an eminently sensible piece - as is the Peter Hitchen’s extended analysis in the Daily Mail mentioned by one of the discussants of that piece.

Clearly accusations of exaggeration cut both ways….I don’t think it helps one bit in these times to label a journal a “wearisomely predictable… peculiar…. sect” 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Scepticism and “Moral Panic”

Here in Romania we’re effectively under Martial Law – which, most immediately, means that we have to justify our every journey with a signed form and that I, as someone of pensionable age, can only shop (with ID and that form) for the 2 hours between 11am and 13.00
Quite what the military hardware and soldiers now on the streets are supposed to contribute beats me – presumably the esteemed President assumes that everyone is as lawless as himself and the country would collapse in chaos without them. My partner is in Bucharest and saw no sign of the military in her journey to and from the open market which is still open

But I am deeply concerned by the licence which the military has now been given to ride roughshod over what is left of Romanian (and foreigners’) freedoms – not just of movement but of expression.
I was intending to drive to Lidl tomorrow lunchtime but the car has a Bucharest number plate which gives me a reasonable probability of being stopped - with explanations required for my certificate of residency having a Bucharest address! Under Martial Law the system can do anything to you and you have no redress…..So I may well just stay at home……

For the past 4 weeks, my fellow-blogger Boffy has been one of the very few voices to express some scepticism about what he called, on his Feb 25 post, a “typical moral panic”.

You can see why authorities want to stop the spread of the virus – but…… if 80% of those who contract the virus suffer no serious ill effects, let alone all of those that do not contract it, why on Earth is the global economy, and normal life being brought to a standstill because of it? 
There are likely to be far greater ill effects, and even deaths as a result of bringing the global economy to a standstill, by telling people who have no symptoms to self-isolate…. than there would ever likely be even with a pandemic.

Scepticism has a very honourable tradition – indeed my glossary of weasel words used by the state and politicians – Just Words – usually has that term in its sub-title
But the term has been tarred recently by its use by right-wing denial-ists – such as Trump and Bolsonaro.
Boffy is, however, a proud Marxist and his arguments have made a great deal of sense….namely that, as those of pensionable age were at greatest risk, they should have been strongly encouraged to self-isolate; and that the total shut-down is counter-productive ie could ultimately cause even more deaths if labour shortages lead to loss of power and sanitation….

He’s had some 5-6 good posts over the past 4 weeks – relating to statistical and economic issues for the UK. Let me start with his Covid19 by numbers post

What we know from Italy is that the reason it has such high mortality rates, despite having implemented a closing down of society, is that the virus appears to have got into the health system itself.
This is rather like the spread of MRSA in hospitals, in Britain, some years ago. Because those in hospital, or similarly in care, are, by definition, those already in the high risk groups, if you allow the virus to spread into these environments, you will get much higher mortality rates.
Not only do you get a spread from patient to patient, but you get spread of patient to health or care worker, and from them to other patients, unless the health and social care workers are provided with the adequate personal protective equipment, and every patient is adequately isolated from one another.
This does not appear to have happened in Italy, but we also know that health workers and care workers are not being provided with adequate PPE in Britain either. ….

The comments about Italy are borne out by this article in Open Democracy by an Italian
Last Saturday Boffy’s post dealt with the economic consequences of a total UK shut-down

UK government policy, in relation to COVID19, is leading quickly to economic, financial and social disaster on a scale not seen for at least a century. The UK government is not alone in that; the same is true for the policies being introduced in France and other EU countries, as well as in the US, Canada and elsewhere.

It is a populist response to a mass panic, and as with all such responses, it is ill-thought out, irrational and counter-productive. It is like the moral panics that have arisen in the past, for example, when crops failed or cattle died, which blamed it on witches, or failure to appease the appropriate gods, and thereby led to witch hunts like those at Salem, or led to increasing numbers of human sacrifices to appease the gods. …..

The idiocy of the government policy is that, as production and supply is unnecessarily brought to a halt, and as online deliveries cease, those of us in the 20% of the population who are actually at risk of serious consequences from the virus, and who would, therefore, place a burden on the NHS were we to be contaminated, are being forced to have to break our self isolation, in order to go to the shops to try to find food, and other vital supplies, as our own stock disappears! I have been in a better position than most to have prepared for self isolation, because I did have a stock in advance, but that stock is quickly dwindling. I expect that many pensioners, are already having to break any self isolation they might have wanted to exercise, simply in order to get the food they need to be able to live from day to day. …….

The fact that the NHS is being overwhelmed is not an indication of the particularly rampant nature of COVID19 infections, but is a direct consequence of the fact that the NHS itself is not fit for purpose, and compares badly with the socialised health care systems of much of Europe. It is top heavy, bureaucratic and inefficient with far too much money spent on expensive prestige projects, and not enough spent on primary care, and on medical and nursing staff and equipment, which is being demonstrated now in relation to the lack of ICU beds, of respirators, and of the staff to operate them. It has been made worse by 10 years of austerity, just as the NHS was laid low by 18 years of Tory government in the 1980's and 90's. 

His last long post explored why the UK health system seems to be breaking at the seams

In any year, we might expect that a part of the average 500,000 deaths are people who die at home, and are not themselves a drain on health services. But, by the nature of mortality, we would expect that the largest part of that 500,000 people are elderly people, or people who have some serious medical condition that eventually leads to their death, either directly or as a result of complications, secondary infections, and so on. Let's say that only half of the 500,000 people who die, were receiving hospital treatment at the time of their death. Then the actual current deaths of 422, represents an increase of 0.17%. That is such a small increase as to be statistically insignificant.

The obvious question all this raises is – who on earth would have an interest in panicking world leaders and their societies (apart from, for example, pharmaceutical and IT companies and weapons dealers)? 
Or is this an example of the networks I discussed a month or so ago creating something which noone in particular has any control over?

Musical Interlude

Earlier in the week, I shared some of the new musicians of whom I became fond during my travels in Central Europe and Central Asia between 1991 and 2010 – the discoveries being possible simply by virtue of the cheapness of the CDs – a fraction of the price I was used to in the UK.
Gavin Bryers  - composer and performer - was one of these and I offer today for your delectation
with the Hilliard Ensemble - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySGdLpZsJvA

George Scialabba is one of my favourite essayists and has just published a typical piece here – on George Orwell selecting this interesting excerpt 

”In the past every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown, or at least resisted, because of “human nature,” which as a matter of course desired liberty. But we cannot be at all certain that “human nature” is constant. It may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty as to produce a breed of hornless cows.
The Inquisition failed, but then the Inquisition had not the resources of the modern state. The radio, press censorship, standardized education, and the secret police have altered everything”.

Other Scialabba material -

And Dr Campbell’s Thursday video on what’s happening globally on Covid-19 

The next post will explore the question whether the world is in the grip of a “moral panic” and the role of sceptics 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On Perspective

1. The chart shows the trajectory of reported COVID19 cases - with the number of cases on one axis and the time taken to reach that point on the other. As Brad Long puts it, the US of A is indeed number one! The  background to their abysmal lack of preparedness and the prospects are analysed in one of a series on the pandemic which The Atlantic magazine is making available free on its  site

2. Another quote for my readers, from one of the thoughtful articles in the most recent magazine I’ve taken out a subscription for - “The Point”

Any fashion, ideology, set of priorities, worldview or hobby that you acquired prior to March 2020, and that may have by then started to seem to you cumbersome, dull, inauthentic, a drag: you are no longer beholden to it. You can cast it off entirely and no one will care; likely, no one will notice.
Were you doing something out of mere habit, conceiving your life in a way that seemed false to you? You can stop doing that now.
We have little idea what the world is going to look like when we get through to the other side of this, but it is already perfectly clear that the “discourses” of our society, such as they had developed up to about March 8 or 9, 2020, in all their frivolity and distractiveness, have been decisively curtailed, like the CO2 emissions from the closed factories and the vacated highways.

Our human exceptionalism has been, over these past centuries, the blunt and unwieldy pitchfork with which we sought to drive nature out. But it will always find its way back. At just this moment, when we had almost taken to using the secondary and recent sense of “viral” as if it were the primary and original one, a real virus came roaring back into history.
We created a small phenomenal world for ourselves, with our memes and streams and conference calls.
And now—the unfathomable irony—that phenomenal world is turning out to be the last desperate repair of the human, within a vastly greater and truer natural world that the human had nearly, but not quite, succeeded in screening out.

 4. And the other regular blogger whose posts I go to at the start of every day for the situation in the UK – Dr Richard North who wrote earlier this week

“The public health system in this country is so far degraded that it no longer had the resources or the capability to deal with an epidemic on the scale we are now experiencing.
Thus, with the most effective means of control – testing, quarantining, tracing - having been abandoned, we have a prime minister imposing draconian limits on our liberties in an attempt to control………”

………what Dr Campbell, quite correctly, consistently designates as the “invisible enemy” – invisible only because the government has chosen not to enforce testing and tracing 

5. And, finally, a comment on the casual UK government approachand how it can be improved

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Thought for the Day

With almost everyone, everywhere, now confined to home, consumer demand is collapsing and central banks are throwing money desperately into the system. Noone knows how long this will last – but some, like Adam Tooze in yesterday’s post, are beginning to explore what lasting impact this is likely to have. 
Rather than view this as a crisis of capitalism, it might better be understood as the sort of world-making event that allows for new economic and intellectual beginnings.
In 1755, most of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami, killing as many as 75,000 people. Its economy was devastated, but it was rebuilt along different lines that nurtured its own producers. Thanks to reduced reliance on British exports, Lisbon’s economy was ultimately revitalised.

But the earthquake also exerted a profound philosophical influence, especially on Voltaire and Immanuel Kant. The latter devoured information on the topic that was circulating around the nascent international news media, producing early seismological theories about what had occurred. Foreshadowing the French revolution, this was an event that was perceived to have implications for all humanity; destruction on such a scale shook theological assumptions, heightening the authority of scientific thinking. If God had any plan for the human species, Kant concluded in his later work, it was for us to acquire individual and collective autonomy, via a “universal civic society” based around the exercise of secular reason.

It will take years or decades for the significance of 2020 to be fully understood. But we can be sure that, as an authentically global crisis, it is also a global turning point. There is a great deal of emotional, physical and financial pain in the immediate future. But a crisis of this scale will never be truly resolved until many of the fundamentals of our social and economic life have been remade.

The calm tones of Dr John Campbell can be heard on his daily video briefings which reinforce the essential messages with a wonderful mixture of visual and verbal points – an object lesson in how to convey clear and effective messages in 20 minutes.
This is Monday 23rd’s briefing – and this is today’s (Tuesday 24 March)

But he slipped in, almost casually, a horrifying possibility – that a vaccine might not be available until March 2021 with wide availability only later in the summer…. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Links which appealed in Ploiesti

Another Monday! Doesn’t time go fast when you are enjoying yourself! 
I start not so much with a link as a complaint….

1. I was appalled last night to discover that one of the most popular Romanian television stations – ProTV – had chosen to show us at 10pm last night a gruesome film about a virus wiping out America (the rest of the world isn’t mentioned). The film stars Will Smith as a lone virologist still working in his home lab to find an antidote for testing on the zombies into which humans have (d)evolved. 
Totally inappropriate film at this moment - with the only uplifting element being the final scene's arrival at a barricaded  (Vermont) border of the vital antidote phial.
Needless to say, I watched it to the bitter end!!
The Politico website tells me that Holywood has in fact been churning out such films for quite some time – eg Outbreak (1995); and Contagion (2011). I’ve only seen one such film – Perfect Sense (2011) - which had an added poignancy for me, being filmed in Glasgow and starring my compatriot Ewan McGregor…..

2. It isn’t often we get freebies but, for the next month, the kind people at the UK Prospect magazine will let us have free access to the entire 25-year archives of the journal and have selected a few highlights to whet our appetite. 
I have occasionally bought “Prospect” and did include it in the list of journals I devised some three years ago – “rather too smooth” was my terse comment, by which I meant that it was a bit glossy and mainstream for my tastes…
But the taste I’ve had so far may change that view. It’s certainly very fine writing, starting with a brilliant Ivan Krastev essay from 2009 which looks back with Krastev’s usual insights at 20 years’ experience of countries like Bulgaria and Czechia; and continues with an essay from Fukuyama on Identity

3. A few weeks back, the Guardian started a very worthwhile initiative on strengthening its European coverage "This is Europe" which, so far, has given rich pickings

4. I’m always captivated by intellectual history – a curious topic I grant you but its attempt to explore how linguistic barriers allow distinctive ways of thinking and dialogue to develop seems to get to the heart of understanding a country. I’ve made the point here several times that Perry Anderson is one of the few people with the linguistic skills to be able to offer comparative thoughts on the matter in the English language.
An article in the New York Review of Books alerted me to the Reading the China Dream website which has been publishing English translations of key articles in a lively dialogue which the Chinese intelligentsia has been carrying out in recent times eg this one. For more on this see this post last year about the geography of thinking       

5. I listened this morning to the reassuring tones of Dr John Campbell in his most recent report - although this article indicated the scale of the opportunities which the British government has missed by its dithering. The economic historian Adam Tooze has an explanation for this odd policy -

Faced with all of this, the stupidity lies in not recognising promptly that we must act, that we must shut down, that even the most essential individual activity of the market age, public shopping, has mutated into a crime against society.
Economics is shaping the crisis. It is the relentless expansion of the Chinese economy and the resulting mix of modern urban life with traditional food customs that creates the viral incubators. It is globalised transportation systems that speed up transmission. It is calculations of cost that define the number of intensive-care beds and the stockpiles of ventilators. It is the commercial logic of drug development that defines the range of vaccines we have ready and waiting; obscure coronaviruses don’t get the same attention as erectile dysfunction.
And once the virus began to spread, it was the UK’s attachment to business as usual that induced fatal delay. Shutting down comes at a price. No one wants to do it. But then it turns out, in the face of the terrifying predictions of sickness and death, there really is no alternative.

Romania has this week technically been under emergency powers…...with the authorities particularly sensitive to the return of hundreds of thousands of Romanians from work in Italy (officially 1.2 million Romanians were working there – mainly casual and manual work). Only some 60,000 are officially quarantined since many chose to come via the Ukraine to conceal their status

On Friday I had a dawdle around the centre of Ploiesti – a city 60 km north of Bucharest which used to be Romania’s centre of oil production and which has been my home for the past 5 weeks. This a very short drone video of the city centre

The pedestrian and car flow were then not significantly reduced. All shops seemed open - the markets certainly. The only differences in the last few days are that the supermarket cashiers and shelf-packers are all wearing masks and gloves and that we wait at the cashdesk a metre and a half apart.
I might say that the supermarkets remain well-stocked - with no sign of the panic bulk-buying which has disfigured the UK. I visited Lidl late Saturday afternoon and it was quiet and well-stocked
My chemist does, however. have a limit of 3 customers only within the shop - with credit card only transactions. For the past few years Romania has had washable banknotes and I had that morning actually washed all the cash I had (a lot since for the past month I’ve been in for the long haul).
I'm one of these bolshie types who object strongly to the way we're being forced into a cashless system......In Romania such a policy, of course, would require the older generation to die off - which, of course, may happen faster than we all thought.

6. And I thought this was an important article to pinpoint the blame we must take for letting human civilisation encroach on the animal and natural world

Other eye-witness reports from those in lockdown

Music from my travels

Romania has a superb classical radio station – Radio Muzical – with a hall for live performances which are/were broadcast simultaneously. The station has been keeping my spirits up these past 5 weeks - but yesterday I felt it was time to take a trip along memory lane by dipping into the hundreds of CDs I have amassed during my travels around central Europe and Central Asia over the past 30 years. 
I have vivid memories of the variety of musical bazaars I would come across and of exciting new finds – particularly of the more popular sort which (apart from Queen) had never appealed.
Bonnie Tyler made a lot of guest appearances in central Europe in those days and Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton’s voices would accompany me on the car radio as I drove to and from the 2 bases I had in the early 90s for a couple of years in Eastern Hungary and indeed into Satu Mare, Romania.   
Later, in Uzbekistan, Santana and Russian pop (such as Alla Pukacheva – and a Yulia with a guitar) became favourites
So my faithful Philips CD radio which I had in Sofia for a decade has been pressed back into service for this purpose. There it was classical music I bought - at amazing prices, a fifth of what I would pay in the UK, allowing me the luxury of buying simply to taste...... 

And thus I came across the amazing voice of Lisa Gerrard on a CD called Immortal Memory with Pat Cassidy. Her full repertoire can be sensed here
It turns out that she was part of the Dead can Dance group which I remember coming across in the late 90s on my travels….probably in Central Asia. What I hadn’t appreciated was her link to the famous Bulgarian voices – which you can see and hear also here
If that arouses your interest then watch this recent performance from Lisbon and this youtube version of the CD I first heard in the early 2000s - The Serpent’s Egg

Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny and Ben Webster were other discoveries from those days – until then I knew only Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.  
But it was the ouds which fascinated me – Anouar Brahem is a great favourite, particularly Le Pas du Chat Noir. But all his CDs are in the mountain house – here is a longer presentation and an excerpt from a performance he did in Bucharest in 2012

In Azerbaijan I picked up some Rabih Abou-Khalil - here he is doing a fado in Lisbon