Monday, 20 February 2017


Today we made one of our rare trips to Derby, taking the car in order to share our NOx emissions. As if anyone really cares.

For lunch we enjoyed a hot pork sandwich and I risked my teeth on some delicious crackling. Haven’t tasted crackling for years and maybe today will have to be the last time because it proved rather taxing for the old choppers.

As I chewed my way through the crackling I reflected on how divided life can be. Life goes on because ordinary people just get on with it. All the complexities are sorted because people sort them, because they stick to the job and get it done. And so a delicious piece of crackling lands on my plate next to the hot pork sandwich and a cup of coffee and life goes on.

All the wailing and doom-mongering, all the political spite and faux despair of the media - that isn’t real life. It may be for a handful of unlucky souls but for the vast majority of us it isn’t. For the vast majority of us, real life is doing the things which need to be done. 

Fake news is what the mainstream media have been pumping out for decades, they just don’t like it when others muscle in on their territory and they like it even less when their games are exposed for what they are.

And nobody cares about NOx emissions.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The old world is gone

An interesting essay from aeon reminds us of more serious issues than the latest Trump spat.

Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s alone, the likelihood of having a classmate with a food allergy increased by 20 per cent in the United States. In fact, over the past five decades, the incidence of all allergies and autoimmune diseases – caused by your body attacking itself – has skyrocketed. What could explain our sudden hypersensitivity to our surroundings and ourselves? Since evolution operates on the timescale of millennia, the culprits lie not in our genes but somewhere within our environment.

One thing that has changed in public health is our awareness of germs and how they spread. In response to that insight, over the past half-century our implementation of hygiene practices has spared us from debilitating infections and enormous human misery. But the new vigilance might have altered the development of our immune system, the collection of organs that fight infections and internal threats to our health...

...We are forced to conclude that the explosion of allergies and autoimmune diseases results from a mismatch between genes selected by pressures of our evolutionary past and the reality of modern life. While we have adapted in the past, we might not be able to adapt again by relying on biology alone. There is no going back – the old world is gone. 

It may be age or a coincidence, but during a working life spent handling contaminated water samples I hardly ever had a day off work. Since retirement I seem to have had far more minor illnesses than I ever had while working.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Blair enigma

You know nothing about people. Those who are interested in people do not get as rich as you have.

Sherwood Anderson - Like a Queen (1933)

Tony Blair is a weird creep isn’t he? Telling the British people they ought to rise up over Brexit can be viewed in a number of ways, but to my mind the idea is faintly senile. It isn’t going to happen and his intervention isn’t likely to be welcomed except perhaps by a small group of nostalgic nutters. He should know that but apparently not.
Tony Blair has said it is his "mission" to persuade Britons to "rise up" and change their minds on Brexit.

Speaking in the City of London, the former prime minister claimed that people voted in the referendum "without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit".

He urged "a way out from the present rush over the cliff's edge".

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the comments were arrogant and undemocratic but Lib Dem Nick Clegg said he "agreed with every word".
So Nick Clegg agrees with him - strewth, there's an endorsement to be wary of. The Middle East and WMD did for Blair and screwed up whatever place in history he thought he may have earned. There is no way back from that. Apart from which he only has numbers; number of elections won, that kind of thing. Plus his erstwhile talent for manipulating the media I suppose. Doesn’t go far now. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Taste and decay

We visited Hardwick Hall yesterday, one of our local stately homes. It's an interesting enough place but as with so many National Trust properties the life of it has long gone and its absence seems to permeate every aspect of the place. Acres of worn and faded tapestry teeming with obsolete allegory do nothing to bring the place back to life. Just the opposite.

As ever with such buildings, there is a sense of cans being kicked down the road. How long will Hardwick be maintained and for how long will the National Trust keep at bay those relentless processes of decay? Centuries? Currently work is being done to repair part of the roof. After that it will be something else, then something else.

There is still a touch of life in the rooms occupied up until the mid twentieth century by Evelyn, Duchess of Devonshire, but apart from that there are few echoes of Hardwick's long history.

Among its treasures is the so-called Sea-Dog Table above.

This elaborate table, supported by four finely carved winged dogs with fishes' tails, was one of the original acquisitions for Hardwick Hall made by Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury.

A marble-inlaid walnut 'drawing table', or draw-leaf table, France, probably Paris, circa 1575, of extremely fine quality and one of the most important pieces of sixteenth century furniture to survive in England.

How anyone ever saw merit in such a hideous piece of furniture I don't know. To my mind this is what Hardwick suggests most strongly, the astounding ugliness of elite Tudor taste.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Trouble with Confidence

Daniel Kahneman on the prevalence and the problem of overconfidence. The issue is obvious when celebrities support social and political narratives from a position of profound ignorance yet do so with the most ineffable confidence. Somehow they know they are not idiots in spite of all the evidence. That’s confidence.

How about HS2, the next big government IT project, the next housing policy initiative, defence spending, green energy or the latest education policy? 

Yet in many cases confidence is not necessarily misplaced because those responsible will be long gone by the time the brown stuff hits the fan. If it ever does. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

A chronic state of mental inaccuracy


...they lived in a chronic state of mental inaccuracy, excitement and inertia, which made it vaguely exhilarating to lie and definitely fatiguing to be truthful.
Edith Wharton - The Mother's Recompense (1925)

Wharton's is a strangely modern observation - analysis requires considerably more mental effort than instinct. The extra effort can be observed - it is a neurological fact, an important way to minimise the effort of thinking. 

With a well-defined political outlook it is possible to dispense with analysis altogether as Ken Loach has done. The UK government may be many things, but it is not brutal. For brutal Loach should look elsewhere. Here is another example of his chronic state of mental inaccuracy.

The director has previously clashed with Business Secretary Greg Clark about the film, in an episode of BBC One's Question Time.

"Your film, Ken – it is a fictional film," the Conservative minister said, prompting groans from the Gloucestershire audience.

But Loach shrugged off Clark's criticism with an impassioned reply. “When you’re sanctioned your life is forced into chaos, and people are going to food banks," he said. "How can we live in a society where hunger is used as a weapon?"

No, hunger is not used as a weapon. Loach is lying. Why do it, why not dispense with the rhetoric and stick to some kind of analysis? Presumably because he cannot, his instincts crowd out any possibility of analysis and so he demeans the cause he purports to support.