Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year !!!

Ruskin on prices

John Ruskin - from Wikipedia

There is hardly anything in the world that some man can't make a little worse and sell a little cheaper and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey.

It is impossible to miss a wealthy man’s disdain for competition here, his covert assumption that even if driving down prices raises the poor out of poverty, there may be worse things than poverty.

It might encourage the poor to clamour for more in some uncouth manner not at all commensurate with his absurd fantasy - the picturesque dignity of inefficient labour.

Yet on the other hand it is difficult to be entirely cynical about Ruskin’s distaste for the dehumanising aspect of industrial production and mechanical efficiency.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma and to my mind the people we have to fear most are those who claim otherwise. Especially if they have a firm grip on power and the means to manipulate popular sentiment.

Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 - twenty predictions

 1 Nick Clegg turns out to be an experimental android. The latest version of his software isn’t backwardly compatible but nobody notices.

 2 Ed Davey says people should store their electricity for winter use.

 3 Climate scientists officially adopt the phrase piss off when asked why global warming has stalled.

 4 Other scientists claim there are significant health risks for men with beards. 

 5 The possibility that beards pose a problem for facial-recognition security systems is denied by a beardy from the security industry.

 6 A Tory nobody has ever heard of claims beards are immoral anyway, triggering a storm of Twitter abuse and accusations of racism.

 7 The new wonder food is said to be white bread fried in salted butter.

 8 Scientists from Derby University produce a highly controversial report titled Alcohol Shrinks Yer Brane.

 9 Bombs go off in the Middle East. Innocent people, including children are blown to pieces. Twitter remains comparatively silent.

10 Al Gore claims to have invented fruitcake.

11 A new particle is discovered at CERN. It is named the zappon because it goes round zapping other particles. This is thought to confirm a theory that the universe is merely a computer game.

12 Governments continue to print money so people can spend it on junk.

13 Junk becomes more expensive.

14 A rational idea causes a huge outcry. 

15 Rational idea dropped.

16 Scientists produce a report claiming that dying from cold is a pleasant way to go, especially in winter. On the whole, dead people do not disagree.

17 Greenpeace researchers produce a report claiming that electricity produced from coal is dirty. They say it stains energy-saving light bulbs, causing them to go dim earlier than they should.

18 The Arctic fails to be ice-free again. The BBC fails to notice.

19 An untalented nobody becomes somebody via the miracle of television.

20 A few inhabitants of blogland notice the world has gone completely mad - consequently there is no mass panic.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

It is written

It is written of the very old that they shall pass, by virtue of their long travel, out of the country of the understanding of the young, till the natural affections are blurred by creeping mists such as steal across the moors when the sun is going down.

John Galsworthy - Fraternity (1909)

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Not altogether faulty

Ambrose Bierce - from Wikipedia

I do not hold that the political and social system that creates an aristocracy of leisure is the best possible kind of human organization; I perceive its disadvantages clearly enough. But I do hold that a system under which most important public trusts, political and professional, civil and military ecclesiastical and secular, are held by educated men — that is, men of trained faculties and disciplined judgment — is not an altogether faulty system.

Ambrose Bierce

A telling phrase that - important public trusts. It's a pity we drift away from such phrases because so often we are the poorer for it.

It seems to be a common feature of mainstream media - casually dumping useful bits and pieces of language as the elite shy away from everything but ambiguity.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Society is like the air

This is an interesting quote expressed with Santayana’s inimitable lucidity. He says there is more to social life than gregarious socialising which he sees as an essentially passive activity akin to breathing.

Gregarious sentiment is passive, watchful, expectant, at once powerful and indistinct, troubled and fascinated by things merely possible. It renders solitude terrible without making society particularly delightful.

A dull feeling of familiarity and comfort is all we can reasonably attribute to uninterrupted trooping together. Yet banishment from an accustomed society is often unbearable.

A creature separated from his group finds all his social instincts bereft of objects and of possible exercise; the sexual, if by chance the sexual be at the time active; the parental, with all its extensions; and the combative, with all its supports.

He is helpless and idle, deprived of all resource and employment. Yet when restored to his tribe, he merely resumes a normal existence. All particular feats and opportunities are still to seek.

Company is not occupation. Society is like the air, necessary to breathe but insufficient to live on.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason

I’m sure we’ve all come across highly gregarious people who only appear to want superficial social contact. They may be good company in the right surroundings, but somehow don’t relish anything deeper than good humoured chit-chat.

Perhaps this is where the emptiness of modern politics comes from. The ghastly charade of social empathy which seems so shallow. If Santayana is right, the shallowness may result from a doomed attempt to substitute the forms of gregarious behaviour for the warmth of genuine engagement.

After all, striding to the political lectern in shirt sleeves doesn’t convince anyone. Simply telling it as it is would probably work better. Not only because the shirt sleeves are unconvincing, but as Santayana says - in itself gregarious behaviour is insufficient to live on.

A dull feeling of familiarity and comfort is all we can reasonably attribute to uninterrupted trooping together. Yet banishment from an accustomed society is often unbearable.

Sounds like a political party conference to me. It isn’t surprising that the vast majority of us seek more genuine social engagement while party membership inevitably declines to a squabbling, anti-social core.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas turkey

I wonder if our insane energy policies will eventually deliver the most embarrassing power cut of all – self-inflicted cuts right in the middle of cooking the Christmas turkey.

Just imagine the outcry caused by a few hundred thousand under-cooked turkeys.

Could it happen as early as 2014 or 2015?  Nobody in the energy policy blockhouse appears to have any idea, least of all Ed “turkey” Davey.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas

To all my regular readers, 

I hope you both have a very merry Christmas 

and a truly splendid New Year.

Monday, 23 December 2013

No free massage Cameron says

Prime Minister David Cameron (47) has waded into a political minefield by insisting that the coalition government will not allow migrants from Eastern Europe to claim free massages from local authority welfare services.

My government intends to stand firm on this issue. I will not allow the British people to be dictated to on the matter of free massages for migrants he stated recently.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Vince Cable (70) has caused something of a furore by claiming that the coalition government actually has no power to deny free massages to EU migrants – or any other personal services for that matter. In a recent interview Mr Cable said :-

Migrants from Eastern Europe will get their massage entitlement I’m pleased to say. The government has no mandate and more importantly, no moral right to deprive EU citizens of their lawful massage

A number of international charities such as Massage Rights and the Green Massage Agenda have been criticising Mr Cameron’s stance for some time. Massage Rights chief executive Lily “soft hands” de Rigueur said :-

This is a red line issue for us – Cameron won’t get away with wholesale destruction of social massaging. The massage-poor have been with us for far too long and it’s time for reform. Society is ready for it. Cameron is just like Old King Cole trying to hold back the tide of massage reform.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

What’s wrong with Clegg?

Three MPs elected by some of our fellow citizens. Citizens who must be deranged but there it is - that’s pseudo-democracy for you.

For me, Balls is an opportunist nightmare, Yeo a slimebag, but in some respects Clegg is worse than either. There is a void in Clegg’s public persona and the visible bits outside the void don’t add up – at least for me they don’t.

We know he’ll move on when the Lib Dems realise he doesn’t give a hoot about their hopeless little party, but we’re used to self-serving cynicism. No, it still doesn’t add up.

We know he’s a rat who cannot be relied on to support even a moral stance if there is no personal gain or sanctimonious platform on which to stand, but we’re used to that. No it still doesn’t add up.

We know he knows nothing about climate science but is fully prepared to rubbish anyone who opposes the official line or dares to point out glaringly obvious absurdities, but we’re used to that. No it still doesn’t add up.

Maybe that’s the problem – Clegg doesn’t add up. What you see is all there is but it isn’t enough. I think that’s because he doesn’t care how events turn out. He expects to be eminently employable among his own kind for the rest of his life and sees no need to make a useful impact on anything or anyone beyond his social class.

Or maybe as Duffers would say – he’s a tit.

Friday, 20 December 2013

China tops CO2 emissions

Remind me - why are we building those windmills all over the place?

Source via the excellent sunshinehours blog.

Going viral

This post is merely a tot of pre-Christmas speculation.

Suppose a virus such as the common cold virus were to  mutate such that the symptoms it causes become generally less pronounced and less problematic for daily life.

The obvious advantage for the virus is that we are more likely to carry on mixing with other humans and so spread the virus more widely. Staying at home for a few days does not favour virus propagation so the new strain is preferentially selected by our behaviour.

Maybe this would lead to a more widespread general and persistent level of minor debilitation. Not enough to be noticed because symptoms are generally too minor to be presented to a doctor, but enough to cause general wellbeing to sag a little.

There is already a large amount of information on subclinical infections, but how would we deal with them if they became more prevalent and more subtle in their effects? An endless series of mass vaccinations? Probably not, because how would we know they were needed?

I’ve no idea if this is a significant issue or not, but suppose it is. What if it were to occur for a number of common viral and bacterial infections such that minor debilitation becomes endemic? What kind of symptoms might become more common?

Maybe we’d just sit in front of the TV and get fat.

Perhaps we’d think less clearly even though we are still able to get on with the daily routine well enough.

Perhaps we wouldn’t be as dynamic and decisive as we were a few decades ago, but the difference isn’t noticed because everyone else is subject to the same low-level infections.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Absence makes...

Have you ever known somebody whose absence from work was a blessing?

I don’t mean a complete dork who eventually gets the push or a promotion - I’m thinking of somebody who is reasonably reliable and conscientious but somehow and with the best of intentions just gets in the way.

The boulder in the stream – solid and dependable but not part of the flow.

The effect is best seen when the person concerned goes on holiday and things suddenly begin to run more smoothly. Even if the missing person’s work has to be dealt with, it falls into place more easily than if he or she had been doing it.

Dumbing down on free speech

Guardian folk have never been enthusiastic about free speech, but this piece is pretty bizarre even by their standards. It doesn't even need a much in the way of comment - people either understand or they don't.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

100 Years of Ships

Via a comment by Mercury on coyoteblog. Check out the post too - very interesting.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Two children freeze to death in Syria

euronews reports

Two children have frozen to death in Syria as wintery storms sweep across the Middle East.

Syrian activists told AFP a six-year-old baby had died because he was in a war-damaged home exposed to the weather.

Snowfall, heavy rain and freezing temperatures have also hit Lebanon – where they are Syrian refugee camps – Jordan, Eygpt, Israel, Turkey and the Palestinian Territories.

In Jerusalem weather experts said it was the worst storm to hit the city for 60 years, with snow reported to be 50cm deep in some areas.

Monday, 16 December 2013

In love with fines

Hospital waiting room. (Thomas McDonald for The New York Times)

The Derby Telegraph tells us :-

PROPOSALS to fine patients who fail to attend hospital and GP appointments are being discussed.

Their non-show locally is costing millions - money which is badly needed to run daily services at the city's hospitals.

But a leading Derbyshire doctor has said it should be a “last-resort” option for the NHS – as it could cost the system more to actually collect the cash.

Missed appointments have cost Derby’s hospitals about £3.7 million in the past year – with more than 42,000 people failing to cancel them between 2012 and 2013.

As one of the comments suggests, this possibly doesn't cost anyone anything, but merely reduces waiting times for those who turn up.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Snow in Cairo

A few days ago, we had quite a few reports of snow in Cairo, an event apparently rare enough to make the news. The above headline from the Mirror is fairly typical. Other examples are :-

Playing in Cairo snow a first in 112 years
Snow Falls In Cairo For The First Time In More Than 100 Years

Egypt Sees First Snow Storm In Years

As I'm mildly interested in snowfall I decided to check it out. I soon came across the more nuanced view below, although you wouldn't guess from the headline. 

From all accounts, snow in Cairo is exceptionally rare – although historical records are difficult to attain. Some reports suggest it’s the first snow in Cairo in over 100 years – although they are not substantiated.

New York Magazine offers this intelligence:

Claims that this is Cairo’s first snowfall in exactly 112 years seem to be sourced from a tweet by one local man who later admitted he was just guesstimating. Whatever the exact number is, though, the point is that it basically never snows in Cairo.

Yet this weather site has snowfall records from Cairo airport going back to 1943. It shows snowfall on at least one day in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1995, 2002, 2003 and 2004. 

Maybe the recent Cairo snowfall was uncommonly heavy or widespread, but if those figures are correct it was a long way from being the first in 112 years. Unless in the past it only ever snowed at the airport. Somehow I doubt that.

Friday, 13 December 2013


Kim Jong-Un is seen looking suspiciously at his uncle in July
From Sky News

What does that glance say to you? A portent of execution by machine gun? Well as we now know - that's how it turned out. 

Little Icarus

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Bible visit

Earlier today I had quite a long doorstep chat with two Jehovah’s Witnesses. Very unusual for me, but one of them seemed keen for a chinwag and he turned out to be pretty nifty at getting one going. In my experience they usually slope off at the slightest hint that you have better things to do.

The keen chap was about seventy years old while the other was a much younger man - less than forty I'd say. The younger chap tended to stand back, bible in hand while his older companion obviously knew it all by heart.

Their main angle was creation, so as I was getting ready for a walk I was able to bring up the tricky issue of the huge number of fossils in the limestone of Derbyshire's many miles of dry-stone walls.

The fossil angle didn't faze him in the slightest though. I suppose he'd heard it a million times before anyway. He much preferred to speak in general terms about science and the claims it makes about the natural world, so I told him I'd been an environmental scientist.

This seemed to perk them up, as if a proper argument was something they'd relish, although they kept within strict boundaries and seemed unwilling to venture far into the mysteries of DNA and human origins. Almost as if they found DNA a little distasteful. They were keen to present the idea that species are different and talked vaguely of a missing link in the evolutionary chain. It was all very basic though - with no great interest in detail.

During our friendly chat, and it was friendly, I had a sneaking suspicion that the whole thing was merely a game, with me on the side of the modern consensus with all the big guns which they were bravely determined to ignore.

With different backgrounds, could I have found myself on their side of the doorstep and they on mine? Difficult to imagine, but not impossible as far as one can tell. Unless these things are genetic I suppose.

When they finally called it a day, I wondered briefly why the CoE doesn't do this kind of thing. After all, it must be of some value for ordinary people to bat these things around on their own doorstep rather than leave it all to TV folk.

UFO detector from Amazon

If you are looking for that Christmas present which is a little different, then Amazon has this UFO detector

More than 1/3 of Americans believe in UFO's and one in 10 Americans believe that they have seen a UFO according to a study by National Geographic Channel. UFO sightings are reported all over the planet by thousands of people. The real question is whether UFO's are interstellar vehicles visiting Earth? Most UFO sightings can be classified as misidentified aircraft, planets or other aerial phenomena, but not all of them. There is a small percentage of UFO sightings that can't be explained by any known aircraft or natural phenomena. It is this small percentage of UFO sightings that create an exciting possibility. Over the years real UFO sightings have reported simultaneous electromagnetic disturbances. The UFO Detector is designed to sense these electromagnetic disturbances and signal their detection flashing 16 LED's simultaneously and beeping. The elegantly designed transparent plastic case is a handsome sculptured conversation piece that's allows one to see the electronics inside the case. Suitable for display on a desk, shelf or bedroom dresser. Size is approximately 3" dia. by 4.25" tall. Uses a 6V wall transformer 

The reviews are a little mixed.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

No satnav for Lalaland

But there is really no scientific or other method by which men can steer safely between the opposite dangers of believing too little or of believing too much. To face such dangers is apparently our duty, and to hit the right channel between them is the measure of our wisdom as men.
William James - The Will to Believe

One of my ideals is believe nothing. I could have called it a belief rather than an ideal, but even I can see the pitfall in that. 

Yet as James implies in the above quote, it isn’t actually possible to believe nothing. We need beliefs as conceptual frameworks to communicate socially – to live even. It is possible try putting the brain into neutral and merely observe, but we observe via language and that's something we have to borrow.

So what’s the point of trying to believe nothing? I think it reminds us to be wary of generalisations, sentiment, cultural norms and especially language. Yet as Wittgenstein showed, we can’t become intellectual hermits and invent a  private language to solve the problem.

One difficulty with a cautious attitude to belief is how we delve into matters too complex for data or logic to flash up convenient answers. Political discourse for example is easy enough to engage in but not so easy to analyse in a neutral way. Political arguments veer off so quickly into Lalaland.

This presents few problems for anyone who enjoys the fun of debate, because Lalaland is easily navigated via a host of special aids – political ideas framed by an allegiance to one’s favoured Lalaland region and written in the regional dialect.

However these regional allegiances are only clearly visible to those who don’t share them. Those with no wish to settle in Lalaland – those who are not prepared to adopt one of its seductive cultures or learn one of its many languages. Therein lies the real difficulty doesn’t it?

To see any political allegiance for what it is, we cannot share it.

We can’t easily engage in political debates as a neutral critic either, because almost any criticism is seen as an enemy allegiance. Debate grinds to a halt or becomes lost again in the endless highways and byways of Lalaland.

Of course, politically ambitious cynics often profess undying allegiance to a Lalaland region without ever going there in person. Their sights are set far beyond its borders even though they find the inhabitants useful. 

Nick Clegg is an example.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A comprehensive philanthropy

“I hate snakes who bestow their caresses with interested partiality or fastidious discrimination,”  boasted a boa constrictor. “My affection is unbounded; it embraces all animated nature. I am the universal shepherd; I gather all manner of living things into my folds. Entertainment here for man and beast!” 

“I should be glad of one of your caresses,” said a porcupine, meekly; “it has been some time since I got a loving embrace.” So saying, he nestled snugly and confidingly against the large-hearted serpent — who fled. 

A comprehensive philanthropy may be devoid of prejudices, but it has its preferences all the same.

Evening sky

It took this photo from an upstairs window during sunset last night. The photo doesn't do it justice, the colours far more vibrant than anything I could ever capture. So transient too.  

We see a real mix of skies in the UK, don't we? Sunsets, stormy skies and inky black nights with a sprinkling of stars are my favourites. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Ex uncle

Key 103 tells us that Kim Jon-un's uncle has already been purged from a North Korean documentary.

A North Korean television documentary about leader Kim Jong-Un has edited out the uncle who has reportedly "disappeared" after being apparently sacked from his roles in the regime.

The country’s official television channel has already aired the documentary nine times
(*) but for Saturday’s re-run Jang Song Thaek, appeared in different positions to make his face invisible and entire scenes were re-cut to remove him.

He was hidden or deleted from 13 scenes, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

* Popular stuff eh? Suck it up Beeb.

Thought for the day

History started badly and hav been geting steadily worse.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

In love with policing

Environmental crime – what does the phrase mean to you? During my years as an environmental scientist, one of the most interesting trends was a cultural shift from protecting the natural world towards detecting and punishing environmental crime.

The trend was a nuanced shift in vocabulary and attitude, but far from complete by the time I left. I came across one or two members of environmental crime units and they seemed to like the idea of being part of a crime unit, even if what they actually did was nothing new. A few years on it comes as not surprise to see environmental crime units springing up all over the place.

And in a similar vein:-

And so on and so on. I think a vast number of us love the idea of policing each other. After all, those who are policed are less of a threat than those free to do as they wish. It feels like a powerful survival trait to me. Do you want boring neighbours? Of course you do – it’s safer and doesn’t threaten house prices.

In a wider cultural sense, a great deal of modern human activity is akin to policing. Regulating, managing, setting targets, a host of licensing requirements, central planning - it’s all connected with policing human behaviour and most of us appear to accept it.

Do schools educate or do they police the evolving behaviour of children? Do children use what they learn to police their parents – just a little? It all depends on how we frame our ideas doesn’t it? How keen we are to tread that razor-fine line between analytical and conventional allegiances. 

It's not a nice, comfortable word though is it - policing?

Yet it seems to me that universal policing has been smoothing over political conflicts for decades. Yes I know there are many unresolved conflicts in the world, but after the horrors of the twentieth century there are numerous indications that global policing is seen as the only real alternative. Not just policing, but micro-policing at that.

A vast number of public sector jobs have some kind of policing function even if not acknowledged. Schools, planning, trading standards, HMRC, DECC, the EU, the UN - on and on into our brave new world. Even your new central heating boiler has to be registered with the local authority.

We have evolved a policing culture, in many ways epitomised by the dear old BBC. Because the preferred role of the BBC is cultural policing - it always was. We like policing each other because of the security it engenders and I’m not so sure we’d be particularly concerned if we knew how far it could go.

Orwell was wrong with his vision of 1984. What some of us have to fear is not so much brutal universal repression as benign universal policing which simply doesn’t need to be brutal. It’s cheaper for one thing.

Discard the brutality and most people will accept with equanimity the prospect universal policing as a secure background to their lives. Dull lives maybe, but dull is safe and in any event we have celebrities to provide a whole range of vicarious excitements.

Political differences are fading away as politicians of all persuasions fall in love with policing. Voters accept it as long as the velvet glove is thick and fluffy.

The traditional left has always been fond of policing and now the right has joined in too, because it works. It stifles dissatisfaction, limits horizons and provides guidance. Above all it offers that universal panacea for a basic animal need for which there is no possible substitute – it offers safety.

So if voters don’t want freedom, why offer it?

Friday, 6 December 2013

N Korea has huge rare earth deposits

Rare Earth Investing News tells us that North Korea has the world's largest deposits of rare earth elements (REE).

SRE Minerals, a private equity firm exploring a rare earths project in North Korea, in conjunction with the Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation, a North Korean entity, has announced the formation of a joint venture to advance rare earth deposits at Jongju, located 150 km northwest of the capital Pyongyang.

According to the press release, HDR Salva’s initial assessment indicates a potential 6 billion tonnes, including 216.2 million tonnes of total rare earth oxides comprising light rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and praseodymium. Around 2.6 percent of the TREO would be heavy rare earth elements, or roughly 5.45 million tonnes.

“The Jongju target would appear to be the world’s largest known REE occurrence,” said Dr. Louis Schurmann.

Rare Earth Investing News reported in 2012 on the mineral potential of North Korea, which by some estimates is worth $6 trillion including a large number of rare earth metals. However trade with the reclusive, adversarial north Asian nation has been restricted to all nations but China, which does not currently adhere to the US and United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

So much for sanctions then. I wonder who the North Korean authorities have in mind for the unpleasant job of extracting the rare earths? From Wikipedia :-

Mining, refining, and recycling of rare earths have serious environmental consequences if not properly managed. A particular hazard is mildly radioactive slurry tailings resulting from the common occurrence of thorium and uranium in rare earth element ores. Additionally, toxic acids are required during the refining process.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Alien spotted in Bulgaria

The Canadian tells us of a tall alien spotted by hikers in Bulgaria. Presumably this it what UKIP is so afraid of. I'm not sure why because they seem to disappear as soon as anyone spots one.

A tall alien-like entity appeared momentarily before hikers in Bulgaria, in Nov, 2013, as reported by UFO Sightings Daily. The website, UFO Sightings Daily, is coordinated by Scott C. Waring. He had been affiliated with the United States Air Force at SAC base (USAF flight line). He currently owns an ESL School in Taiwan.

In this report, Scott Waring has published images of the alleged alien, along with a YouTube video. He has also included a news report of the incident.

The news report describes where the image was taken.

“A group of young hikers insist they have photographed an extraterrestrial creature in a dense forest near Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Kids and guns sixties style

The world has certainly changed since those days.  

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Promote the crooked...

To a question put to him by Duke Ngai as to what should be done in order to render the people submissive to authority, Confucius replied, "Promote the straightforward, and reject those whose courses are crooked, and the thing will be effected. Promote the crooked and reject the straightforward, and the effect will be the reverse."

Confucius - The Analects

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Picture the scene if you will. Night has fallen, I’m reading my Kindle in front of a gently crackling log burner - all very pleasant.

Maybe I’ll have a glass of something later, but for some reason I check the digital thermometer. This little gadget tells me it is chilly outside, but a comfortable 22°C inside. Most satisfactory.

The digital thermometer has one of those radio-controlled clocks, supposedly accurate to the second. It claims the time is 10:05pm which is later than I thought. Rather odd too, because the grandfather clock ticking away in the corner of the room says the time is about 9.30. It doesn’t do am or pm, being about 250 years old.

So I sigh, get up from my chair and open the grandfather clock case to check the pendulum is swinging. Although I already know it must be swinging because I can hear that lovely peaceful tick – and it is – nothing wrong there.

Now in spite of the formidable accuracy of radio-controlled clocks, if an ancient grandfather clock goes wrong it tends to stop and that’s that - all pretty obvious. If the thing is ticking away like a good 'un, it is most unlikely to be wrong by as much as 35 minutes. Clockwork regulated by a pendulum just doesn’t tend to do that.

So I compare the digital thermometer clock to other clocks in the house and sure enough the grandfather clock is right and the digital thermometer wrong. Yet by the following morning it had corrected itself.

I’ll never know why of course. A modern gadget goes wrong – nobody knows why – chuck it away and buy another.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Avoiding alcohol and salt

I took M. de Courgivaux for his son; he looked younger and though he must have been past fifty, appeared to be no more than thirty. He had found an intelligent doctor, had avoided alcohol and salt and so had become thirty again, hardly even that because he had had his hair cut that morning.

Marcel Proust - In Search of Lost Time (1913 - 1927)

Alcohol and salt? I'm partial to both  and unlike M. de Courgivaux I look my age. Maybe more butter would help.

North Korea's erased killer

Business Standard has the story of Kang Min-chul, a North Korean assassin disowned and ignored by North Korea after his mission failed. It's only a short piece and worth reading, if only to highlight the lengths to which some North Koreans must go to mitigate the lethal consequences of failing the regime.

On October 9, 1983, Kang Min-chul and two other North Korean agents bombed the Martyrs' Museum in Rangoon, Burma, in a plot to kill the South Korean president, who was to have laid a wreath there. The bomb missed its mark - the president's car had been delayed - but 17 South Koreans, including four cabinet ministers, were killed.

Kang was consigned to oblivion. North Korea denied any connection with the attack. In South Korea, where the bombing was declared a North Korean atrocity, few cared to remember that a North Korean was languishing in a Burmese prison for it. In 2008, Kang died at 53. During 25 years in prison, he received not a single visitor from his homeland.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Christmas bonus - narks only

Chad tells us of a new incentive scheme for police informants in Derbyshire :-

Police in Derbyshire are asking residents to report drivers who they know have got behind the wheel after drinking - and could end up with a reward for doing so.

Derbyshire Constabulary is working with Crimestoppers for the force’s annual festive drink-drive campaign, which runs from tomorrow (Sunday 1st December) until 1st January.

Crimestoppers has offered a reward of up to £1,000 for information leading to the arrest and charge of a drink-driver.

The size of the reward depends on the nature and seriousness of the offence.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

S Korea tweaks school history

Bangkok Post tells us :-

South Korea's Education Ministry has ordered revisions to a number of high school history textbooks, part of a long-running ideological battle over the narrative of modern Korean nationhood.

In a statement Friday, the ministry said the publishers of seven government-approved textbooks had been ordered to revise 41 instances of "obscure and unbalanced" descriptions of history.

Failure to do so would result in publication of the books being halted completely, the ministry said.

The 41 corrections demanded by the ministry involved writings on subjects ranging from civilian killings during the 1950-53 Korean War, territorial disputes with Japan and North Korean human rights abuses.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Where do you fit in?

What do the middle classes do to earn a crust these days? Lots of things I suppose, but over a few decades vast numbers seem to have drifted into the public sector. I certainly did and drifted is the right word as far as I'm concerned.

There are of course plenty of middle class careers outside the public sector, but how secure are they? How many are likely to be replaced by increasingly sophisticated IT systems? How many are so heavily embraced by EU and national governments that the public/private dividing line disappears?

It’s tempting to see a back to the future world of aristocrats, clerks and peasants evolving here, so is the EU trend essentially medieval apart from the jousting and leprosy?

If so, then maybe we’d have

An EU Court with its courtiers.
EU Regional (erstwhile national) Courts with their courtiers.
A Privileged clerical class.
A Privileged professional class of lawyers, doctors and accountants.
Commercial guilds.

Where do you fit in?

Spiderman caught streaking

From PaulR

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Kenya backs away from wind

From Bloomberg we hear Kenya is finding wind power too expensive :-

Kenya suspended issuing new licenses for wind farms and solar plants until 2017 as it prioritizes development of cheaper fuel-based sources to help cut electricity prices, Energy Secretary Davis Chirchir said.

The East African government plans to add at least 5,500 megawatts of power supply in the 40 months from September, more than quadrupling output from current installed capacity of about 1,700 megawatts mainly from rain-fed hydropower plants.

About 80 percent of that additional output will be tapped from facilities powered by coal, liquefied natural gas, and geothermal, Chirchir said in a phone interview on Nov. 25 from Nairobi, the capital. Wind and solar power will contribute a maximum of 15 percent of new supplies and projects already under way have filled that quota. Hydropower and diesel-fired sources will comprise the remainder, he said.

“The planned energy mix is what will give us the tariff and reliability of supply we want,” Chirchir said.

Energy Secretary Davis Chirchir has acted swiftly, at least compared to our lot here in the UK. Back in April when he was appointed to the post, Mr Chirchir said:-

Kenya is a country of great opportunities. We can’t be competitive if the cost of power is what it is today,” Mr Chirchir said Thursday after his nomination. “We shall ensure the power we give to Kenya is cheaper for them to be competitive.”

So - how do we swap Ed Davey for Davis Chirchir when the transfer window comes round? Obviously the UK would have to pay a substantial transfer fee, but how much? One hundred million sounds reasonable to me - cheap even.  

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

NHS to ban winter

The NHS has been told to ban winter outside hospitals, due to the huge number of deaths caused each winter by global warming.

Last winter 30, 000 more people died in England and Wales than would have been expected—an increase of 29% on the previous winter’s excess death toll—reveal figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

One of the UK’s largest unions has branded the figures “a national disgrace”

I think I have the story right. It's so hard to tell with statistics isn't it? 

Monday, 25 November 2013

The weirdness of unreason II

Another World - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Have you ever tangled with the vexed problem of obviousness? Are some things so glaringly obvious as to leave you baffled when someone transcends the bounds of reason by taking a view contrary to your own? 

Do you occasionally find this kind of thing a little odd – even weird? We are after all, the same species. One might think we'd respond to reality in much the same way.

So in true Hollywood style, this is the second post of my weirdness of unreason franchise. By the way, why is a cinematic rehash called a franchise?

Anyhow, the first post was a kind of write-it-and-see test to see if reasons, concepts, ideas, explanations and arguments can be equated to allegiances. I think they can is the sense that something useful emerges from the idea even though our allegiances are bound to get in the way of knowing that useful something.

I suspect we cannot form ideas without framing them within some kind of validating allegiance.

Take politics for example. Those people with no particular allegiance to political abstractions will find it difficult to frame political opinions. Their vote will be dictated by other allegiances, however frustrating that may be for those who happen to have political allegiances.

Similarly with climate change. It isn’t so much a technical or scientific issue, as an issue about allegiance to abstractions within which the debate is always framed. Those who don’t share those allegiances tend to sit on the fence and see the issue as too complex for them to resolve. Maybe they merely lack framing allegiances.

So let us keep the focus on our allegiance to abstractions because they already have a well-known framing role.

We obviously have allegiances to numerous abstractions such as science, logic, equality, honesty, justice, peace, politics, beauty, reason, education, style, fashion, social mores, religion, what Mum always said, politeness, aesthetics, the rule of law and so on.

Unfortunately many claimed allegiances are false as we all know too well. Ideas supposedly bolstered by some authoritative allegiance but framed within in a different, covert allegiance designed to hide our endless primary allegiances to the usual suspects.

My career.
My inner circle.
My outer circle ...these are a few of my favourite things!

A good example is David Cameron’s strikingly crude offer of an EU referendum after the next election. His idea is far too obviously framed by allegiance to his future career while claiming a false allegiance to democratic ideals.

Claimed allegiance to abstractions is where the prim, prissy, supercilious, devious, dishonest and shamelessly unworthy frameworks of so many manipulative debates come from. Those we have to cope with every day of our lives.

As ever, behaviour highlights the deceit. As ever it isn’t enough if the deceit has powerful backing as we so often know to our cost.

A life not dominated by allegiances is an ideal never realised in the grit and grind of the real world. Maybe a life without allegiance would be akin to nirvana. Or maybe it would offer a glimpse of the eternal as Spinoza envisaged a blessed state of purely disinterested knowledge.

Unfortunately, in daily life every idea we have is framed by some allegiance or other. Including this one.


Quite batty but it made me smile.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Why is it that when certain waffle-mongers feel a pressing need to say something portentous, they have to put the word arguably before their piece? What is it supposed to add?

Surely the whole world knows this as a waffle-monger's thumb print, so why give the game away at such an early stage?                      

Seasonal short story

I've posted a seasonal (well almost) short story called Fairy Godfather over at my Haart Writes blog. As usual it can be accessed from the Short Stories tab.

Right but ineffectual

A major risk for all thinking people is being right but hopelessly ineffectual. If society doesn’t care about your version of the human condition, then however brilliant it may be, the effort of explaining it could be wasted.

So let us suppose your version of the human condition is all done and dusted with only minor edits outstanding, but still nobody wants to know. What’s the next step? 
  • A hobby to take your mind off things?
  • Some kind of spiritual activity?
  • Yoga?
  • Stamp collecting?
  • Bouts of incandescent rage? 

Allow me to suggest idleness as a remedy. There is a lot to be said for it even though it doesn’t attract the plaudits so unfairly bestowed on physical activity.

Firstly, idleness is a low-emission inactivity. Less CO2 is emitted by the idle than by bike-riders and other show-offs.

Secondly, idleness is good for the green economy because the idle are consuming fewer resources. Apart from those who go on holiday to eat more pizza of course.

Fourthly, idleness stimulates the mental whatsits.

If these five points don’t persuade you to consider idleness as a genuine lifestyle alternative, preserving the brain against premature over-use, then there’s no hope. You’ll just end up worrying about the collapse of civilisation and stuff like that.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wind turbine blades falling off

ClickGreen tells us that wind turbine blades have been falling off again. Good news or bad? Hard to tell really.

Wind turbine makers GE has confirmed it has launched a “thorough investigation” into one of its flagship models after a series of blade failures.

The latest mechanical breakdowns occurred last week when 48.7m-long blades fell off TWO separate GE 1.6-100 wind turbines at different locations in the US in the space of just four days.

A third blade failure was reported the previous week at another wind farm and now GE customers in the UK are being contacted with news of the investigation.

The company has installed over 20,000 wind turbines worldwide and has received several orders for the high performance 1.6-100 turbine in the UK. To date, GE has supplied or is under contract to supply more than 163.10 MWs of wind turbines to the UK.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A passive disciple

A bear, who had worn himself out walking from one end of his cage to the other, addressed his keeper thus: 

“I say, friend, if you don’t procure me a shorter cage I shall have to give up zoology; it is about the most wearing pursuit I ever engaged in. I favour the advancement of science, but the mechanical part of it is a trifle severe, and ought to be done by contract.”

“You are quite right, my hearty,” said the keeper, “it is severe; and there have been several excellent plans proposed to lighten the drudgery. Pending the adoption of some of them, you would find a partial relief in lying down and keeping quiet.”

“It won’t do — it won’t do!” replied the bear,  with a mournful shake of the head, “it’s not the orthodox thing. Inaction may do for professors, collectors, and others connected with the ornamental part of the noble science; but for us, we must keep moving, or zoology would soon revert to the crude guesses and mistaken theories of the azoic period. 

And yet,” continued the beast, after the keeper had gone, “there is something novel and ingenious in what the underling suggests. I must remember that; and when I have leisure, give it a trial.” 

It was noted next day that the noble science had lost an active apostle, and gained a passive disciple.

OAP dies when ambulance keys lost

The Burton Mail tells us of an OAP who died when paramedics lost the keys to their ambulance.

A PENSIONER was left for dead after paramedics were unable to take him to hospital after he suffered a heart attack when they lost the keys to the ambulance, it has been revealed.

The 87-year-old man collapsed at a golf pavilion in Derbyshire, and despite ‘advanced life support’, he could not get to hospital in time and later died.

This was just one in a number of ‘serious incidents’ reported by East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) – which serves people living in South Derbyshire – in a risk summit following a catalogue of issues for the NHS organisation.

Men with weary eyes

Ford Madox Ford

What fatal things are all human institutions, what evil passions they all breed, and what an accursed being they have made man in the eyes of Nature and the God who framed her. 

Everywhere around us are men with weary eyes running upon futile errands, who snatch from one another futile things that human institutions permit them to retain until someone less weary-eyed can be found to snatch them away.

Ford Madox Ford - The Simple Life Limited (1911)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Kim Il-sung at 120

From the Irish Independent we hear that former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung aimed to reach his 120th birthday.

Kim Il-sung, the founder and "Eternal President" of North Korea, ordered his doctors to find a way to make him live to the age of 120, according to his former personal physician.

The first remedy the doctors attempted was to make Kim laugh more often.

"We invited a stage actor to perform a comedy and got 5 and 6-year-olds to do adorable things," Dr Kim said.

Any of the performers who was able to make Kim laugh five times a day was rewarded with the title "meritorious actor."

I wonder how many present day leaders are thinking along the same lines?

Sketchy Duel

Sparrowhawk kill

Spotted on the lawn this morning, a sparrowhawk standing in the remains of its breakfast, probably a dove.

Not a great picture, but I only have a cheap camera. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

North Korea chic


From Elle magazine

North Korea Chic

Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.

What does one say? Are they taking the p*ss?

Missing Merino

Great - Decathlon appears to have 100% Merino wool T-shirts for women...

...except they aren't 100% Merino wool.

I suppose the lesson is to read carefully. The wool is 100% Merino, the T-shirt isn't.

Selecting the shameless

Is it the case that only shameless spivs and crooks are able to withstand the intense, manipulative scrutiny of the internet age?

If so, is the internet weeding out principled people in favour of the shameless?

Maybe by our endless, web-enabled scrutiny of public life we are deselecting anyone with an ounce of moral awareness or a scintilla of self-knowledge. They are too wary of the ghastly, furtive dishonesty of it all.

The hide of a rhinoceros and the moral compass of a rattlesnake may not be what we want from our leaders, but perhaps the internet is ensuring we get exactly that. Or more than we had before at least.

The subtle power of a web-enabled selection process could have dangerous consequences if we don’t sharpen up in time for the dwindling number of meaningful elections we have left.

How many is that by the way? One? Two?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Death Fails

Maybe it needs a saddle

Chekhov on petty analysis

The trouble is that youth makes its demands, and our philosophy has nothing in principle against those demands, whether they are good or whether they are loathsome. One who knows that life is aimless and death inevitable is not interested in the struggle against nature or the conception of sin: whether you struggle or whether you don't, you will die and rot just the same.

Secondly, my friends, our philosophy instils even into very young people what is called reasonableness. The predominance of reason over the heart is simply overwhelming amongst us. Direct feeling, inspiration--everything is choked by petty analysis. 

Where there is reasonableness there is coldness, and cold people--it's no use to disguise it--know nothing of chastity. That virtue is only known to those who are warm, affectionate, and capable of love. 

Anton Chekhov - Lights, a short story published in 1888

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Hull prepares for horror winter

The Hull Daily Mail tells us:-

BOSSES at East Yorkshire’s two authorities say they are ready to tackle whatever the predicted "horror winter" throws at them. As Britain braces itself for what is expected to be the coldest and longest winter in modern history, Hull City Council and East Riding Council have been preparing for it since the summer.

East Riding has also bought 26 mobile snow blowers to treat their busiest pathways while Hull City have added three snow blowers to their seven-vehicle gritter fleet and 5,000 tonnes of salt. Unlike Exacta Weather, the Met Office can only give forecasts of up to ten days.

Do they believe long range forecasts I wonder? With enough confidence to spend other people's money? Haven't they heard of global warming?

Bonking Gaia

I recently had an unexpected encounter with radical climate expert Professor Felix Knutta, just returned from an IPCC conference on "The Climate of Persuasion".

We bumped into each other quite by chance at a local swimming pool. Although not prepared to give me a formal interview in such moist surroundings, he did have time for a chat on his latest ideas which sadly didn’t quite make it into the final version of AR5.

‘As you must know,’ Professor Knutta began as we sipped a Fairtrade coffee by the poolside, ‘the climate change message is going through a sticky patch. The way the climate is behaving at the moment is absolutely deplorable.’

‘Because it isn’t warming as predicted you mean?’

‘Too right - even the Arctic is playing hard to get and refusing to melt on cue. We should nuke the place in my view - right up the Northwest Passage. Warm things up a bit wouldn't it?’

‘Nuke the Arctic Professor? May I quote you on that?

‘Not bloody likely - I'll deny it anyway,' the Professor laughed. 'But the whole global warming message has to be sexed up to blazes or we'll come across as a bunch of whinging pillocks wetting ourselves over nothing.’

‘Really? Sexing up the message hasn’t worked too well in the past,’ I replied, unable to think of anything better for the moment. A common problem with Professor Knutta I find.

‘Well I intend to beef up a lot more than the message; so this time we’ll see a result. Climate science has never been all that stimulating anyway, at least not in any red-blooded physical sense, but thanks to my latest research into what I call climate droop that may change. At least I hope so.’

‘In what way Professor?’

‘Well now, I see it like this. We climate experts are passionate about our work – perhaps too passionate for our own good. Unprecedentedly passionate I might say.’

‘A few of you certainly are...’

‘But our passion should surely attract some kind of reward for all our unprecedented discoveries and selfless toil,’ Professor Knutta explained while fiddling with his Speedo swimming trunks. They seemed a little tight to me. Somewhat revealing too - for a middle-aged chap with a midriff shaped by the international conference circuit.

‘So do you mean a kind of physical reward when you talk about the sexing up the message?’

‘In a somewhat roundabout way I suppose I do mean that.’

‘An eco-brothel?’ I hazarded. I threw it in more to distract him from those blasted Speedos than anything else.

‘Umm... hardly that...’ the Professor mumbled, still fiddling. ‘Although presumably eco-brothels accept carbon credits of which I happen to have an unlimited supply. Blow me – what a splendid idea.’

‘So are you suggesting,’ I ploughed on while wondering what on earth he actually was suggesting. ‘You are suggesting that those people who support radical action on global warming should promote climate change from a more stimulating angle?’ One or two people were staring at us so I tried to look nonchalant and non-pervy as possible.

‘Not exactly,’ Professor Knutta eventually mused. He was now scratching himself in an area which polite society usually leaves unscratched. ‘It’s all to do with our attitude to Gaia which I’m sure is far less intimate than it should be.’


‘Indeed yes – far less intimate than is healthy in my view. We climate pioneers may as well admit that what keeps us going in spite of the climate playing the fool is that we are physically attracted to the environment in the person... in the delightful person of Gaia herself.’

‘Err... physically attracted to Gaia?’ I was floundering at this point. Briefly I considered asking the Professor if he meant some kind of intimate contact with trees, but couldn’t quite put the words together. The images were clear enough unfortunately. Luckily he finally finished scratching and came to the point.

‘I’m not suggesting anything improper here you understand...’

‘Such as bonking Gaia?’ I couldn’t help adding. Somehow it just slipped out.

‘Such as bonking Gaia... which sadly appears to be technically impossible... as far as one can tell at the moment,’ the Professor mused for a long moment with a strange look in his eyes - perhaps even the glint of a tear.

‘...and what a very great pity that is,’ he mumbled with a huge subterranean sigh. He began fiddling with his Speedos again so I nipped off for something much stronger than Fairtrade coffee.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Council blocks payday loan websites

From the Derbyshire Times we learn:

A decision to block payday loan websites from all of a council’s 7000 computers has been met with approval.

Anyone trying to access lending sites from any of Derbyshire County Councils computers will instead be re-directed to sources of safe, affordable loans such as Credit Unions, financial support services and welfare rights advice.

The move will affect all of the computers owned by the council across the county including those in libraries and those used by its employees.

Well they are council-owned computers so it's up to them what they allow and what they block even though they are blocking access to a legal activity. 

Even so, I've no problem with it per se. It's the mission creep I don't like. It never ends, slithering into every nook and cranny of daily life.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The weirdness of unreason

Another World - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Have you ever been in a meeting where certain people seem absolutely set on dredging up every irrational argument they can think of?


And apart from the frustration, do you ever find irrational ideas a little weird? How do we explain them for example - how do we picture what is going on in the irrational head?

Instead of thinking in terms of rational and irrational ideas, suppose we think in terms of allegiance - a personal allegiance to some social situation, trend, norm, cause or whatever. That something could be allegiance to a person, social group, project, profession, institution, fashion or any one of countless other possibilities.

It may be an allegiance to Arsenal Football Club, holistic therapy, quantum theory, yoga or a political party. There is no difference – it is all allegiance.

So there are no rational or irrational structures inside our heads. Reasons are essentially tactical and strategic. Beliefs may feel like a nexus of rational ideas but are nothing of the kind. Our beliefs and ideas are merely our allegiances expressed in all their infinite variety.

We are not rational, but merely complex, subtle, resourceful and often covert in expressing our allegiances. Reason is how we raise, gauge and foster support for those allegiances, but that’s all. There is no structure to reason other than the structure of allegiance. That’s why your reason can be my unreason.

We have differing allegiances – that’s all.

So we don’t think rationally or irrationally, but merely offer our allegiance to different social norms, situations and events from the trivial to the essentials of daily life. The central influences over these allegiances are numerous, from language to our personal welfare and the welfare of family, friends, business interests and so on and so on.

However, when it comes to less central concerns, many of us do not seem to have strong allegiances and are willing to probe them. Yet this probing, this apparent vacillation can seem odd and obstructive to those with a strong allegiance to a particular narrative or agenda. In my view this explains human intransigence quite well where the notion of reason and unreason does not.

Maybe this is the value of those of us who mistakenly see ourselves as rational. We are not so much rational as able to see the allegiances others skate over in their pursuit of an agenda. By not having strong allegiances ourselves, we are able to weigh their various claims, especially where popular allegiances are neither as beneficial nor as harmless as commonly assumed.

So rational behaviour is not so much an ability to apply reason, whatever that might be, as a reluctance to offer one’s allegiance without weighing the consequences. Often not even then.