Monday, 25 July 2016

Wished away

Some do honour to their post, with others ’tis the other way. It is no great gain if a poor successor makes the predecessor seem good, for this does not imply that the one is missed, but that the other is wished away.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Something for nothing

Greg Clark, our new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said:

"I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change."

However, as has been widely reported Mr Clark was once instrumental in promoting homeopathy, a something for nothing alternative therapy.

Greg Clark’s acceptance by scientists may not be helped by the fact that he was among 206 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion in 2007 calling on the government to support homeopathic hospitals, which it describes as “valuable national assets”.

The motion says complementary medicine “has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic, difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome”.

Perhaps Mr Clark is scientifically broadminded. Is that the right word? I don't know, but in a similarly contrarian vein, how about this idea:

Imagine an enormously long tube which stretches from the surface of the earth into outer space. A phenomenally difficult technical achievement to be sure, but consider the enormous benefits.

Once built, huge quantities of outer space could be pumped down the tube to the surface and stored in enormous chambers until required. To extract energy from stored space all one has to do is feed air into the chamber via a turbine which in turn would generate electricity. Once the space has been used up, the chamber is refilled via the space tube.

Good eh? The only outstanding question is how to approach Mr Clark with the idea.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Support your local curmudgeon

...for they were either politicians or reporters, which, of course, comes to the same thing.
Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier (1915)

Almost every morning I use the  iPad to run a quick check on news headlines. I used to rely on Ceefax for my daily fix but those days are gone forever. I don’t usually read past the headlines apart from an occasional yen to get some detail, but an outline is usually enough.

I also find myself skipping from headline to comments and if there are no comments I move on. In other words, I’m hardly ever interested in what the average journalist has to say about a story. Only if the story is written by a tough-minded curmudgeon am I likely to read it and there aren’t many of those around, especially in the mainstream media.

Which finally leads to the point of this post, because in my experience there is something important about unyielding scepticism. We are stuck with a major social dilemma where mainstream opinion has to be – well mainstream. Otherwise it could not fulfil its social function, its need to suck up to the establishment and foster political correctness. Fear shapes behaviour, which is why the news is mostly alarmist. Doom and gloom rules the newsroom. Always has.

As a species we are not particularly intelligent and accept the most absurd garbage if it is socially acceptable to do so. A sharply critical outlook is required to detect the garbage but here’s the rub. Detecting garbage ought to be a positive and respected social skill, a welcome addition to the tools of social discourse. Unfortunately it isn’t, because it can’t be, because socially cohesive consensus would flounder if critical analysis were to be valued as a welcome corrective to the garbage and to the establishment viewpoint.

Support your local curmudgeon.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The five ills

Ridiculous people! They want to free you of every squirming, torturing, nagging question mark.
Yevgeny Zamyatin – WE (1921)

I see Jeremy Corbyn has identified himself with the politics of lists. Probably a good idea when a chap lacks the divine spark of inspiration.

Speaking at the UCL Institute of Education the embattled Labour leader laid out the "five ills" of 21st century Britain - inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice, and discrimination. Echoing the five “giant evils” identified by the social reformer William Beveridge in the 1940s, the Labour leader claimed that throughout his leadership campaign he would match each of these ills with a policy solution.

Policy solutions eh? The real world doesn’t believe in policy solutions but that won’t stop Jeremy and his band of swivel-eyed acolytes. Although he probably has no real acolytes. He’s a means to an end.

Oh well, it we’re doing lists then how about integrity, transparency, scepticism, intelligence and opportunity? Took me about ten seconds to compile, but do we exclude them, or are they unimportant?

Rhetorical question of course. Jeremy’s political philosophy seems to be the bleak uniformity of some totalitarian dream from the seventies. I met plenty like him in those days but I thought they had all grown up and learned the painful lessons of life by buying an Austin Allegro. Evidently we have one left over. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Monday, 18 July 2016

A kingdom within a kingdom

Most who have written on the emotions, the manner of human life, seem to have dealt not with natural things which follow the general laws of nature, but with things which are outside the sphere of nature: they seem to have conceived man in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For they believe that man disturbs rather than follows the course of nature, and that he has absolute power in his actions, and is not determined in them by anything else than himself. They attribute the cause of human weakness and inconstancy not to the ordinary power of nature, but to some defect or other in human nature, wherefore they deplore, ridicule despise, or, what is most common of all,  abuse it: and he that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is beheld by his fellows as almost divine.

Baruch Spinoza – Ethics (1677)

Phew what a scorcher

“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun — or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)