Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A naive observer

I find the best thing about blogging is the way it makes me think. Sounds trite I know, but for me it does exactly that. It’s a little like organising things or packing a bag when I go on holiday – which incidentally will be tomorrow.

Actually I haven’t thought this post through, but that’s part of it too. Writing things down, roughing out an idea to see if it works then leaving it for a while because something just came up as it almost always does.

At the moment I’m in the study on the first floor. My window looks out over the garden with our big old magnolia dominating the foreground. Not now though, because the curtains are drawn to tone down a fierce early evening sun. The window faces west.

So where was I?

Back to thinking but I have to check the potatoes and get started on the sea bass and a salad so off I go and maybe the post will mature into something and maybe it won’t but that’s part of the enjoyment too because sometimes thoughts go nowhere and that’s good. It’s something we don’t always notice...

...okay where were we? The sea bass was excellent by the way. Far too much potato salad but we’re clearing out the perishables and what are those shoes doing on my desk? Ah yes I’m supposed to be cleaning them later. Cleaning them now actually - but later will do.

Right thinking... I see the sun has stopped trying to blast its way through the curtains. It’s almost cool now. Wonder if we’ll manage a dip in the sea? Probably not, it takes me about half an hour to venture in at the best of times.

But this is why I enjoy blogging. It marshals the daily mess, or at least part of it, into some kind of coherence, although you may disagree. It highlights the extraordinary vastness of what there is, what can be said about it and where we go wrong.

So where do we go wrong?

In my view we construct far too many narratives in a vain attempt to stitch together what cannot be stitched together. Obvious enough but sticking to the obvious is much trickier than one might suppose. Obvious often seems naive even when it isn’t.

So in a sense blogging allows one to become a naive observer and strangely enough that can be quite liberating.

Now for the shoes...

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The rise and fall of the gentleman


Do you know any gentlemen? Perhaps you do - perhaps you are even a member of that apparently dwindling band? For we chaps it's not an easy question is it - am I a gentleman

In my case the answer is a reluctant "no". It may not even be a practical proposition in the modern world yet I have a sneaking suspicion that those with no wish to be a gentleman probably aren't.

I may as well add here that I prefer not to pose a similar question our lady readers. If I may I'll stick to the gentlemen - to coin a phrase.

Pronunciation: /ˈdʒɛnt(ə)lmən

NOUN (plural gentlemen)
1 A chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man: he behaved throughout like a perfect gentleman

Historically a gentleman has been many things and chivalrous might be a tad tricky in most areas of modern life, but courteous and honourable shouldn't be too difficult surely? Our leaders could easily set the trend - leading  by example in fact...

...oh dear. I see this line of reasoning might compel me to say something ungentlemanly about our leaders. Which is something I usually enjoy but for the moment I'd better say nothing and move on to a less unsavoury subject.

In fifty years there will be nothing in Europe but Presidents of Republics, not one King left. And with those four letters K-I-N-G, go the priests and the gentlemen. I can see nothing but  candidates paying court to draggletailed  majorities.
Stendhal - Le Rouge et le Noir (1830)

When Stendhal wrote these words, the use of the term gentleman already seems to have begun its apparently terminal decline although there has been an uptick in recent years. Not exactly a hockey stick though and I'm sure the meaning has shifted anyway.  

Not that we should put too much weight on gentlemanly shoulders because at least some were mountebanks, seducers of virgin innocence and even bankers. Dickens created a few, such as the ghastly Pecksniff who certainly posed as a gentleman, albeit not one of independent means.

So coming back to our less than illustrious leaders as I suppose we must in these troubled times, how about our current crop? Are they gentlemen? Mr Putin? Mr Cameron? Mr Obama? 

Would it help if they were - or have we been seduced by the myths of realpolitik?

Monday, 21 July 2014

There’s gold in them thar complexities

There are two basic reasons for analysing complex phenomena such as economies, human health, societies, the environment and so on.

  1. To increase our knowledge.
  2. To increase our knowledge and decrease yours.
It all hinges on the phrase "our knowledge".

There is enormous value in many familiar complexities, but extracting it can be either altruistic (option 1) or selfish (option 2). The value extracted is obvious, being mainly professional, financial and political, but them thar complexities must stay complex or the gold runs out.

The value of complexity lies in the way it maintains barriers to entry. For most areas of professional life complexity is the barrier of choice. Complex language and dubious but complex rationales are the building blocks of choice.

The first move in the game is to gain control over some complex phenomenon such as human health. Here the controllers are big pharma, medical professionals, insurance companies, medical equipment manufacturers and so on. It’s a long list but we are all familiar with the big players.

We should add politicians and health bureaucrats too. Politicians can stay on the sidelines and facilitate or they can churn the complexities for political advantage as the UK Labour party does. It depends on political history, but politically the traditional left tends to extract as much value as possible from health complexities. No surprises there.

Sticking with politics, both the traditional left and right tend to extract value from economic complexities, but in different ways, although both pursue an option 2 strategy.  As far as I can see, almost nobody on the inside wants to discover economic policies that actually work. That would lose economic policy to option 1, so it isn’t going to happen.

Tax policy seems to be similar. Almost nobody on the inside wants transparent and easily managed tax policies which are fair and which promote economic activity. That would also lose tax policy to option 1 so it isn’t going to happen.

From drugs policy to speed limits, from education to agriculture, almost nobody is guided by option 1, particularly when it comes to government policy. Barriers to entry would crash to the ground like the Berlin Wall. There is too much gold to be lost.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Living in Wussland

Thunder, lightning and heavy rain as we drove Grandson back home this afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary as thunderstorms go, which as far as I know are not a new or even a recent phenomenon. 

It's been quite warm over the past few days too. Again, as far as I know warm days in July are not a new or even a recent phenomenon for the northern hemisphere. Yet look at the Met Office and its warning systems. 

Heat-health watch level 2 - Alert and Readiness.

As always there is probably a head-softening political angle related to climate change and energy policies, but sometimes I just think we're living in Wussland. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

EU energy security

It has long been my suspicion that for EU bureaucrats, the orthodox climate message is merely a sales pitch for energy security. Nothing whatever to do with science and the real climate except as a PR vehicle. It’s by no means the whole story behind EU climate orthodoxy, but for me there are four points worth considering. 
  • A totalitarian state such as the EU needs energy independence.
  • Too many oil-producers are unstable or potentially unfriendly.
  • Coal and nuclear have too many political hurdles.
  • In a warming world EU peasants should need less energy anyway. 

So it may well be that energy independence is to be purchased at whatever cost to the general EU population, but that cost is not perceived as excessive anyway. At least not to those who matter.

There has always been a problem in taking climate orthodoxy at face value. From the beginning its protagonists have exhibited political rather than scientific behaviour. In a world which failed to warm as predicted, EU climate policies are seriously weird unless climate orthodoxy is not really the political rationale behind them.

Surely we need a vastly more powerful political rationale to explain both the astronomical cost and the implacable way so-called green policies have been enacted. A few degrees of warming doesn’t come close as an explanation and the political classes are wholly uninterested in the projected timescales anyway. 

This degree of extreme political resolve is more characteristic of crazy totalitarian regimes than democracies. Massive projects intended to root out and change forever certain fundamental aspects of civil society. Soviet collective farms for example. Nothing can stop them whatever the cost, be it financial or social.

In which case, any human cost to the EU peasant is sure to be waved aside as collateral damage. Did you expect to be collateral damage one day? No – I suppose folk generally don’t.

The climate message, the extreme propaganda, the corruption of news media, the vicious malice directed at sceptics all point to a massive political project. A project which must be vastly more important than some obviously dodgy climate predictions about a future which lies decades beyond the political horizon.

Energy security fits the bill even if it isn’t the whole story. Blend it with a bungling bureaucracy and a totalitarian ethos and in my view a plausible picture emerges. The only real problem is that with current technology, aiming to power the EU by wind, solar, biomass etc is bonkers.

Why do we always end up with bonkers?

The Davey Lamp

Ed Davey has an opportunity to make his mark when the lights go out. He could lend his name to a simple non-electric lighting device – the Davey Lamp.

Made in China from recycled power station generators and lavishly plated in genuine Brassex, this retro style no-electric green lighting module is sure to add distinction to any benighted home.