Friday, 16 February 2018

What is missing here?

Obviously there are numerous unanswered questions in this video, from technical matters about water and sewage to questions about where the food comes from, why are those logs so neat and tidy? They aren’t growing the food, making their clothes, disposing of their own waste, so presumably money comes into it.

Nothing wrong with that, but what’s the deal behind it all, behind the sentimental environmental, good-life aspect? It doesn't lack a certain appeal, but as so often with presentations of this type, we aren’t given the full story and after even the most cursory analysis the appeal evaporates.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Neolithic News 2

The Weel Problem
By clan elder Jer Amikobin

Recently you may have heard about a fanciful contraption called the weel made by a couple of clan members who should have been working on something more constructive such as a formal innovations strategy, but let that pass for now.

Firstly I must deal with the so-called weel itself before we move on to more substantive issues. If you did not manage to catch a glimpse of it going round in circles, the weel was a round wooden abomination quite correctly consigned to the fire after a unanimous vote by the elders.

Since this entirely reasonable official action, it has been claimed that the weel would have allowed heavy loads to be moved more easily. This is quite obviously a ridiculous fantasy which a few minutes conversation at the Humpers and Draggers Hut would have dispelled. Humping and dragging is a skilled and honourable job. No amount of tinkering with wooden toys could possibly replace the efforts of such valued clan members.

Another claim made for the weel is that our brave warriors can actually be mounted on weels in a manner I will not deign to understand. It seems to involve horses, but beyond that I do not care to go. Hence, it is further claimed, they could defend our clan boundaries more effectively by charging around very fast.

Here again is must be pointed out that negotiations with the Honourable Den of Bowmakers will soon reach a satisfactory conclusion. Until then our valiant warriors have as many arrows as they need and are fully prepared to throw them really hard at any would-be attackers without the need to career around on weels. Be warned – we are on our guard. Camp Lookout is on the job.

However, the real problem with the late and unlamented weel is its complete lack of any kind of officially recognised Hut or Den, so even if this ridiculous device were ever approved there would be no way to maintain standards. Everything must have its approved standard, even things we haven’t yet invented, otherwise there would be no point inventing them.

As a footnote to this unfortunate development, the Dung-Moulders Midden has reached a preliminary agreement to explore more substantive grounds for further progress with the Honourable Den of Bowmakers. As you may know, the Dung-Moulders were using bows as part of their front line services, piling their skillfully moulded dung onto a mesh of woven bows to dry them. A highly imaginative and useful service with only a minor unresolved and temporary bow shortage issue which we intend to address at next year’s General Assembly.

Secondly – no I think I’ve covered that. Or at least if I haven’t I will have eventually.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Propaganda coup

Strange how the North Korean Winter Olympics propaganda coup arose. From the BBC.

How big a propaganda coup has the North scored?

Ms Kim and Mr Kim Yong-nam made up the most senior delegation from the North to visit the South since the Korean War in the 1950s.

The two states have never signed a peace treaty and are in a constant state of mutual distrust.

On Saturday, Ms Kim handed over a letter from her brother to President Moon, inviting him to visit Pyongyang. If the summit goes ahead, it will be the first meeting in more than a decade between Korean leaders.

For those of an entrenched anti-Trump persuasion it would be gall and wormwood to admit any connection between Donald Trumps’s hard line on North Korea and this apparently unexpected development. In which case the only viable alternative to a Trump link is to play it as an outreach coup orchestrated by those masters of the positive image, the North Korean government. Maybe it was simply bad luck that the move was not made during Obama’s reign. Or maybe it wasn’t.

Unfortunately for the triumphant coup narrative there are a number problems in playing events this way. For one thing it can become nauseating. This for example.

The regime's human face

By Laura Bicker, BBC News, Pyeongchang, South Korea

You could almost feel the ripple of excitement as Kim Yo-jong walked into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Necks craned and mobile phones were held aloft to catch a glimpse.

I found myself, along with others, leaning as far as I could over the balcony to try to see her in the VIP box below. The faces around the stadium all said one thing: she's here, on South Korean soil.

She has given the secretive regime a human face.

Obviously Ms Kim cannot be referred to as the mass murderer’s sister but perhaps these little foibles are excused by the higher goal of never letting up on the anti-Trump narrative. No doubt it would have been better if Ms Kim had been as photogenic as other members of Team Coup but every cake can't have its share of icing.

However, the whole business is certainly more enjoyable than the “sport”. As with the Oxfam debacle, it is revealing and revealing is good. It feels good too. 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Economists with physics envy

An interesting article in Aeon by John Rapley suggests - economics has always been an ethical and social exercise. In other words it ain't physics.

Two questions: is it good or bad that professional athletes earn 400 times what nurses do, and is string theory a dead end? Each question goes to the heart of its discipline. Yet while you probably answered the first, you’d hold an opinion on the prospects of string theory only if you’ve studied physics.

That annoys economists, who wonder why everyone feels free to join economic debates instead of leaving them to the experts, as they do with physics or medicine. What economists don’t usually admit is that, on a range of topics they examine, they often had an answer to the question before they began their studies. Scientists are supposed to reach their conclusions after doing research and weighing the evidence but, in economics, conclusions can come first, with economists gravitating towards a thesis that fits their moral worldview.

Mr Rapley also points out how economic behaviour is inextricably entangled with wider aspects of human behaviour and frailties. This cannot be news to anyone, but even today vast areas of public debate seem to assume that we are economically rational. 

Unlike in physics, there are no universal and immutable laws of economics. You can’t will gravity out of existence. But as the recurrence of speculative bubbles shows, you can unleash ‘animal spirits’ so that human behaviour and prices themselves defy economic gravity. Change the social context – in economic parlance, change the incentive structure – and people will alter their behaviour to adapt to the new framework.

The last paragraph is particularly interesting. 

Given this willful blindness, the current reaction against economists is understandable. In response, a ‘data revolution’ has prompted many economists to do more grunt work with their data, while engaging in public debates about the practicality of their work. Less science, more social. That is a recipe for an economics that might yet redeem the experts.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bag and glove excitement

It's product promotion time, so how about a Self-Pack Carry Bag as opposed to dull and unadventurous bags which don't self-pack and you don't have to carry them... that can't be right. Maybe you need a pair of Weather System Gloves as opposed to those boring gloves with no weather system... that can't be right either. Maybe we need an app to make them work.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Anna the slinger

What makes people like Anna Soubry tick?

The MP for Broxtowe argued that the economic necessity of preventing a hard break from the EU meant she was not sorry for suggesting that Theresa May should “sling out” ardent leave campaigners from the party.

In interviews with BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme and the Guardian, Soubry said her Brexit-supporting colleagues had used “really dreadful language” about Philip Hammond, the chancellor.

“Lets be very honest about this, mainly this is a group of people who will always put their own ideology first and foremost – bigger than any leader, bigger than any party – and they are determined they are going to get their own way,” she said in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday.

She added: “Perhaps for the first time ever in the Conservative party people are equally determined that they are not going to get their own way. I am prepared to compromise – they are not – and we are fed up.”

Without wishing to delve into the whole tedious Brexit circus, it is still worth raising the issue of a national strategy. Politically we are where we are, not somewhere else more in tune with Ms Soubry’s desires. That being the case we have to move on from where we are and going backwards is a most unattractive political option, if indeed it is an option.

Although it is easy enough to see politicians as cynical opportunists, Ms Soubry seems to be telling us very clearly that emotion has a strong role too. Maybe more so than we usually admit. Why make the issue into a public drama if not for emotional reasons?

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with emotional reactions, we need them to live, but within our human limitations they should not drive national strategic thinking. At this stage of the Brexit game the issues are largely technical, or should be. Again – we are where we are.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

A diet

The other day we were behind a chap at the supermarket checkout and as one does during these people-watching opportunities I ran an interested eye over his shopping.

About twenty tins of sardines.
A dozen tins of tuna.
A large pack of dog chews.
Three litres of whisky.

That lot came to a shade under ninety pounds and an obvious question springs to mind. What kind of diet does such a simple shopping list imply?

Tinned fish and dog chews for a small dog and whiskey for the owner perhaps. No – too straightforward.

Maybe the chap has no dog but enjoys snacking on sardines and a dram followed by a dog chew to keep the jaws active. It would be a diet to keep obesity away, that’s for sure. Variety would be introduced by substituting tuna for sardines.

Or maybe the chap has a small dog which enjoys a tin of sardines followed by a dram then a dog chew to keep its breath sweet. A pampered dog certainly, but not an impossible scenario.

Sherlock Holmes would have worked it all out at a glance. He would have spotted a lightly chewed shoelace on the chap’s left shoe or a telltale dog hair on his trouser leg just six inches from the floor.

A small dog Watson, probably a Yorkshire Terrier with a taste for the Cherry Blossom smeared on his shoelaces by hasty application occasioned by the fact that he is already late for the sardine and tuna party...

No that won’t do. I can’t follow the great detective any further. If only shopping could be that simple though.