Sunday, 31 March 2013

Plan A

From AlanH

The art of intelligence

No doubt I am far from unique in being convinced that intelligence is a somewhat misleading idea, even though it isn’t easily avoided.

Apart from the IQ bit, there are social aspects too. One of the most interesting to me is how intelligence seems to be something of an art, which like any other art may be pursued with varying degrees of skill and enthusiasm and from various motives. Also, as with any other art the proficiency achieved is commensurate with effort expended. 

No doubt that there may be such a thing as inborn cognitive talent supposedly measured by IQ testing, but to my mind IQ is limited, misleading and by no means uniformly applicable across the intellectual arena. Some professors seem to be comparative dunces outside their speciality – making them a fertile source of government advisors.

Putting IQ to one side, it seems to me that if we devote time to some intellectual pursuit, we acquire the art of being intelligent, or of of seeming intelligent. There is no real difference.

It's a complex and diffuse effect and gains are not confined to our chosen pursuit, but intelligence is an art. There are a number of obvious reasons too.

Firstly and most obviously, if we count reading as an intellectual pursuit, and it is difficult to see why we would not, then we account for the commonplace observation that a well-read person is almost invariably regarded as intelligent. 

In addition, intellectual pursuits such as reading tend to have diffuse boundaries, so other social skills are acquired. Linguistic dexterity seems to be one of the most important.

Intellectual pursuits also put one in contact with other people with the same interests but their own range of ancillary interests, a social effect which hones the art of intelligence. It even works for politics in that otherwise stupid or inexperienced people may still acquire the art of intelligence.

Stupid and intelligent are not mutually exclusive. It is possible and indeed quite common to apply the art of intelligence to any number of stupidities.

So unfortunately, the art of intelligence can be taken too far. Even if only pursued as a hobby, is the art of intelligence always a Good Thing? For example :-

  • Does intelligence cause serious social and political errors via delusions of a knowable future? 
  • Does intelligence cause even more errors through extreme social and political complexity?
  • Does intelligence sometimes hide malign intentions?
  • Does intelligence sometimes hide amoral behaviour?

Of course it does.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

What is Kim Jong Un up to?

Piles of comment and analysis of the North Korean sabre-rattling at the moment. Here, here and here for example.

It would be interesting to know the advice being given to our leaders, speaking of which, I wonder how much sniggering there is over Kim Jong Un’s military capabilities as compared to the rhetoric. Behind closed doors - quite a bit  I suspect.

Maybe he is being led by the nose into a face-losing debacle because some of those around the throne don’t fancy another fifty years of him. Maybe the North Korean leadership is demanding to be taken seriously. Who knows?

Without an informer inside the Kim regime, we are in the dark as to motives and all we can do is set out possibilities. Somebody may well have that informer on the inside. China or South Korea seem to be the most likely possibilities here.

What are North Korea’s military options? I’m a military novice, but I don’t see how they can have any. Do they want their pathetic infrastructure and chunks of military capability to disappear overnight in a hail of cruise missiles? 

I don’t think they do. 

They don't care what their own people think at any level, but losing face is not an option. They may also be mad of course. That's always a worry.

All our own work

David Miliband’s recently announced departure from UK politics has been widely summed up as good riddance. Julia Gasper is one of many telling us why.

Yet his South Shields constituency party selected him as their candidate and the voters of South Shields duly voted him into Parliament.

So although our MPs are by and large a venal shower of duplicitous self-serving toads, anyone who tries to make sense of these matters must wonder why they were ever elected. Are we voters to dimwittedly tribal that we vote for a useless, inexperienced nothing such as Miliband rather than abstain or vote for someone at least marginally less ghastly?

Yes we are – obvious conclusion.

So unfortunately it isn’t a puzzle at all. We really do get the shower of wasters we deserve because we voted for every single one of them and there are only slight indications of a feeble but distinctly minority willingness to upset the apple cart. Even that puny gesture seems to be mostly hoovered up by UKIP.

So who are the loons in all this? We are.

We allow them to tax the pants off us and fill the boots of their cronies.

We allow them to lie to us about climate change while old people die of cold.

We allow them to boss us around, spy on us, interfere with our children’s education, force us to pay for state television and so on and so on.

It’s our fault – it really is. We’ve allowed a system to evolve which naturally attracts professional liars and done nothing about it. We vote tribally and they use our stupid tribalism against us.

It’s all our own work.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Beginner's barrier

From AlanH

Do MPs cause vomiting?

Is the fabled Harman Honk genuine? Do some people actually throw up when Harriet Harman and other nauseating MPs pollute our screens? Here’s Mev Crisp of The Laptop Fixit Guys :-

We didn’t think anything of it at first. I’d heard of the Harman Honk of course, but until our guys began to find bits of carrot in laptop keyboards brought in for repair, I thought it was, you know - an urban myth thing.

Urban myth? Maybe or maybe not – the evidence is spattered but it’s out there. For example, I recently had to type Tim Y*o’s name into a blog post, causing me a certain amount of expected spiritual pain, but there was more – much more...

Horrible images flitted across my mind as I typed the ghastly words Tim Y*o. Huge pale maggots crawling up slimy walls, dripping with nameless fluids, viscous, thick as the drool of a diseased dog.

Dungeon floors strewn with rotting detritus, bones and shapeless filth dredged from leprous charnel pits. The stench of decay, poisonous fungus sprouting from every crevice and over it all the pale phosphorescence of death.

Is this reaction unusual do you think? After all, I only typed the name Tim Y.........

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Green House gas

Do as I say, not as I do.

Blueberry gin

By the way, the blueberry gin is excellent. Not so fruity as the raspberry, but very smooth and drinkable. I only made one bottle, but I'll certainly make more.

As with the raspberries, I allowed the blueberries to infuse into the gin for three months, then I filtered out the blueberries through a nylon mesh. After bottling we sampled it as soon as the sediment had settled.  

The power of stories

Sometimes it is useful to take a metaphor and push it harder than usual. Metaphors are important and pushing them can be interesting. 

For example, suppose we say that most of our so-called intelligence lies in our ability to weave stories. Which is all very well, but stories have to be woven around plots which may be real or imaginary and usually both.

Because stories are so central to our social interactions, we tend to leave our storytelling abilities in the background, hiding it in words such as narrative, explanation, rationale, theory or policy.

Of course we know all about our storytelling culture, but a feature of all stories is suspension of disbelief. Disbelief spoils the story.

So it is inevitable that storytelling is rather closer to what we do than we are able to admit. Narratives, explanations, rationales, theories and policies are stories, but we can’t say so without interfering with suspended disbelief – which of course may not be suspended in the first place but that’s another issue.

So if we openly admit to telling stories, then we spoil them as stories because the plot is changed by the disclosure. It would be like a health warning on films where the message only make-believe is flashed on the screen every five minutes throughout every film.


Science was always supposed to be a distinct genre where key plot devices must be repeatable experiments. Peer review is supposed to ensure the purity of the genre.

However, that was never going to happen. A problem with our storytelling culture is that stories need to be memorable if we are to absorb their messages. To be memorable they need some kind of hook into our memories, such as a drama.

Drama is also the stock in trade of journalists and politicians, but these storytellers are notoriously lax about plots based on reality. They need that drama.

As far as I can see, and it’s a diffuse issue, the more scientists involve themselves with journalists and politicians, the more likely they are to insinuate drama into their stories.

Hang on – should we mingle stories, plots and science in this way?

Why not? What else is peddled by all those science programmes on TV, popular science books and comics such as New Scientist?

The only real difference is the plot. All stories have a plot and really that’s the main difference between science, history, astrology, religion and politics.

It’s all stories, plots and genres.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013



I cannot suppose I completely
Comprehend the last Lecture I’ve read;
Can one pack “four dimensional” neatly
In a poor three-dimensional head?

Though the world be not made by a tinker-
Some botcher, malicious or blind-
Though a pure mathematical thinker
Conceived it-the first of its kind-

Can “continuums” fully content us-
All our high aspirations supply-
Has the Mind that conceived all things meant us
To live but in thought, and there die?

Is all nothing, of nothing compounded?
Nil, Nihil; in vacuo set;
Are we nowhere, by everywhere bounded,
Whilst nunquam and semper have met?

Is the Firmament all an illusion,
Formed of Nothingness added to Naught?
Is the Earth, is the Moon, an intrusion
Into mixed mathematical thought?

Should the Universe be but a thought, I
Am puzzled to tell if I am;
Whether some folk be good folk, some naughty-
And if anything matters a damn.

Lord Darling (1849–1936)

Note - from Wikipedia:-
The book was denounced by the Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, because "Jeans has written a book called The Mysterious Universe and I loathe it and call it misleading. Take the title...I might say that the title The Mysterious Universe includes a kind of idol worship, the idol being Science and the Scientist."

A virtual school

Derbyshire County Council have a wizard idea for a virtual school, complete with a virtual head teacher.

HELPING CHILDREN IN CARE SUCCEED: We're appointing a virtual head teacher to help children in care do better at school. They will be responsible for establishing a virtual school to include well-trained 'designated teachers' in every Derbyshire school to provide bespoke support and mentoring. We're doing this ahead of Government changes because we know that a robust leader for children in care is the way forward. They will act as a champion with schools to seize opportunities and drive forward innovative ideas to help children in care succeed. 

Will the school take on virtual children and teach them the virtual skills to pass virtual exams?

It's virtually interesting isn't it? 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Boeing Dreamliner

There's an interesting pdf here from Boeing about the Dreamliner battery problem which now seems to have been resolved. Essentially Boeing appear to have made a range of improvements to the battery itself, changed the charging system and put the battery in a stainless steel box vented outside the aircraft.

The faulty battery was quite a mess judging from the picture below, taken from Boeing's pdf. It's not a process with which I'm familiar, but Boeing seem to have been pretty upfront about the episode.

Low carbon housing

Early adopters could be all those MPs inclined to support or promote energy policies based on climate change. It would be a form of practical leadership from which we would all gain inspiration and possibly some new ideas on green lifestyles.

As you see from the picture, it would be neither difficult nor expensive to have the idea up and running in time for next winter - 2013/14.

Chris Huhne has other accommodation at the moment, but the nauseating slimeball Tim Yeo springs to mind as a suitable long-term inhabitant.

Realities that don’t exist

Many people of the pontificating persuasion seem to have an ambivalent attitude to what counts as real and what doesn’t, what exists and what doesn’t. It isn’t an easy question of course, which is why philosophers have had a fine old romp around it for several thousand years.

Definition of exist
verb [no object]          

  1. have objective reality or being: dossiers existed on almost everyone of prominence there existed no organization to cope with espionage
  2.  occur or be found, especially in a particular place or situation: two conflicting stereotypes of housework exist in popular thinking

A stereotype is a familiar example of something existing in a social, abstract sense, but not in a material sense. Logic, moral values, numbers, equations and scientific laws may be other examples.

Is it useful to say these aspects of reality exist, but not in the same way that the Moon exists, or is it better to reserve the word exist for the material world?

It seems to depend on one's personal philosophy.

To my mind the word exist is best kept for the material world. It leaves us with aspects of reality which are real but don’t exist, which may seem odd but at least it leaves the word exist with a much clearer meaning. All one has to swallow is that some realities neither exist nor need to exist.

Otherwise we have problems with, for example, scientific laws, because unlike stereotypes, they are not supposed to be human constructs. Scientific laws are supposed to be aspects of reality in the sense that allowing for developmental differences, an alien intelligence would see reality via the same scientific laws we do.

So some aspects of reality don’t need to exist in a material sense and we have to make them up, discover them or simply find them useful – it isn’t always clear which. Another oddity noted by philosophers such as Spinoza is that some of these realities are not time-bound.

Spinoza called them eternal, not in the sense of lasting forever but in the sense that time is not relevant to what they are - time is not germane to their definition as he might have said. Pi for example.

We use our language in one way or we use it in another, but our aims tend to be much the same. We wish to understand reality in a personally satisfying manner.

So in some ways, the problem of materialism is a decision – am I a materialist or not? What are the pros and cons? Which works best for me? Both positions have advantages and disadvantages because both are incomplete, as are all personal philosophies.

For example, take Santayana’s description of truth. To my mind, one cannot easily be a hard-line materialist and also go along with Santayana, yet it is surely an attractive and appealing view.

The eternity of truth is inherent in it: all truths—not a few grand ones—are equally eternal. I am sorry that the word eternal should necessarily have an unction which prejudices dry minds against it, and leads fools to use it without understanding. This unction is not rhetorical, because the nature of truth is really sublime, and its name ought to mark its sublimity.

Truth is one of the realities covered in the eclectic religion of our fathers by the idea of God. Awe very properly hangs about it, since it is the immovable standard and silent witness of all our memories and assertions; and the past and the future, which in our anxious life are so differently interesting and so differently dark, are one seamless garment for the truth, shining like the sun.

It is not necessary to offer any evidence for this eternity of truth, because truth is not an existence that asks to be believed in, and that may be denied.

It is an essence involved in positing any fact, in remembering, expecting, or asserting anything; and while no truth need be acknowledged if no existence is believed in, and none would obtain if there was no existence in fact, yet on the hypothesis that anything exists, truth has appeared, since this existence must have one character rather than another, so that only one description of it in terms of essence will be complete ; and this complete description, covering all its relations, will be the truth about it.

No one who understands what is meant by this eternal being of truth can possibly deny it ; so that no argument is required to support it, but only enough intensity of attention to express what we already believe.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Gardening emails

I've received a few emails about my Gardening Notes post and it comes as no surprise that all of you raise a similar concern - how do I snow mow?

My lawn is currently under nine inches of snow, but this is the time of year I always give it a first cut. However I'm not sure which mower to use. I have a Flymo and a traditional Bosch cylinder mower for leaving a perfect striped effect which for some reason the neighbours find so amusing. What do you suggest?
Mr B F of Buxton  

Snow on the lawn is certainly a common problem in certain areas of the country. It is a consequence of global warming as we all know, but that doesn't resolve the ticklish issue of correct mowing, does it?

This afternoon I tried my Flymo on our lawn, which like that of Mr B F in Buxton was covered in nine inches of snow.

The effect was really quite surprising - an almost total whiteout as you may gather from the picture taken by my wife when my Flymo snowstorm was nearing its height. Luckily she always makes sure she has the camera ready whenever I try one of my "experiments".

Unfortunately I couldn't see a thing and managed to lose the trusty old Flymo into the bargain. In fact to begin with I had a problem locating the house.

Luckily mine is one of Flymo's excellent range of mains electric machines with a bright orange cable. When the snowstorm settled I was able to follow the mains lead and recover the mower at one end and the house at the other.

No harm done in the end! I've no idea where the grass got to - if indeed I managed to cut any.

Strictly speaking I ought to have given the old cylinder mower a try at this stage, but I was a little tired, dishevelled and even somewhat disorientated.

My wife tried to make me a cup of tea but she was sitting on the kitchen floor laughing so immoderately at some private joke that I had to "brew up" myself.

Gardening notes

Ah - spring has officially arrived at last! The birds are singing and fine weather is just around the corner, so perhaps it's time to get outside and turn our thoughts once more to the delights of gardening.

Winter pansies - past their best.

For example, this pot of winter pansies seems to be a little past its best, so for me the big question is - what should I plant for a glorious summer display? With global warming in full swing, I think we all have to bear in mind the rather dry or even arid conditions all those climate scientists have been predicting for our gardens. Succulents spring to mind immediately of course, but cacti are worth bearing in mind too.

Bird bath - full to the brim!

While we're on the subject of dry conditions, it's a good idea to keep a sharp eye on the bird bath. This time of year there is often enough precipitation to keep it topped up naturally. Ours is now full to the brim as you can see from the picture, so our feathered friends are not forgotten!

Magnolia - all ready to burst into flower

Speaking of which, the magnolia is one of our old friends too. Doesn't it look healthy, with all those buds just ready to burst into flower? Not long now before we see it in its full glory and I for one can hardly wait!

All set for a glass of wine!

Of course it isn't all toil in even the best kept garden, so now is the time to dust off the patio furniture in preparation for those sunny days when all we want to do is relax and sip a cup of tea. Or even something a little stronger! Mind you, I draw the line at whatever those climate scientists are on!

Toodle-oo till next time.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Don't ask

From PaulR

Bleaching the ivories

As parodied by John Cleese in Rat Race

What’s this thing celebrities have about brilliant white teeth? Teeth should be the colour of ivory, not my ceiling. The eerie white glow spooks me every time they open their mouths - like long fingernails being dragged down a blackboard.

Physically attractive celebrities open their mouths and - ugh - is there something mechanical in that strangely glowing hole? Are they so frightened of the dark that they must banish it merely by smiling? 

Not that there is anything too demeaning about being afraid of the dark, but why are they so relentlessly shallow with it? Why so thoughtlessly addicted to fluffy causes with a totalitarian flavour? Why speak in Cliché or Moron - what's wrong with English?

Imagine a world where celebrities have interesting, even radical opinions to offer. I don’t mean the cheap jibes we hear ad nauseam from routine shows such as HIGNFY, but one or two flickers of imaginative depth would be a welcome change. The subject doesn't matter - interesting would be more than enough. A miracle even.

Calling Cameron a numpty is all very well, but even his friend must have done that to death. How about some insight for a change? Of course anyone may easily ignore celebrities, but their ubiquitous presence in the public arena is a kind of announcement:-

Stupid is here to stay - get used to it dude.

Now that may be quite true and not a bad, if depressing aphorism to carry around at the back of one’s mind, but being hit over the head with it all the time is a tad unsatisfactory...

...mind you, I found myself admiring tweed jackets the other day. With leather patches on the elbows.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Whoever is praying for snow

From PaulR

In the loop

We've all heard the curiously telling phrase, in the loop, meaning in the know. The ironic aspect of being in the loop is that loops don’t lead anywhere. Moreover, one may have to be out of the loop to see why.

It wouldn’t matter if our loopy elite were not so keen on spending all their time in the loop. Real life lies beyond the loop even if it isn't clearly visible through their steamy windows, so surely Dave, Nick and Ed would benefit from a trip outside every now and then.

If they should ever seek directions to the world beyond the loop, an unlikely eventuality in itself, they won't find anyone who knows. All they ever meet are other loopies who think the loop is the whole universe apart from the bits in the sky Brian Cox goes on about. 

If Dave, Nick and Ed could leave the loop for even a day they might see the problem, but then they would be in some danger of discovering a world beyond the loop and the loop would vanish in a puff of white smoke.

If they ever do visit people outside the loop, loopies turn their visits into strange rituals. Publicity they sometimes call it, although curiously enough the public pay almost no attention to their publicity because it's all going on within the loop.

These events are a nightmare, paradoxical world where loopies are allowed to pretend they have strayed beyond the loop if only they agree to remain within.

It’s easy enough to spot loopies because they have a special loopy language and special loopy behaviour. Here’s an example:-

I am determined to deal with the problem of cut-price alcohol sold by supermarkets.

That one was emitted by Dave. It couldn’t have been Ed, because it’s not his job to deal with anything. It could have been Nick, but he’s generally more furtive and oblique. Not that it matters either way because such matters are controlled by the EU.

The EU is a larger and more important loop than the Westminster loop, which is a kind of interior sub-loop. A route to nowhere within a larger route to the same nowhere.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Climate train wreck

There are now two kinds of people with some understanding of climate science, sceptics and liars. The climate change scam is turning into a train wreck and everyone keeping the score knows it.

The most delightful thing about the climate train wreck is that it is happening so slowly. Global temperatures have not risen for about fifteen years which is not quite as predicted. Even worse, people are losing interest as the wild-eyed threats lose their potency.

Even George Osborne has decided to back shale gas in spite of some loud and predictable squealing from fellow travellers still inside the wreckage, still hoping their tickets are valid. Tickets paid for by us incidentally.

One by one, Mother Nature hoists the liars by their own petard, but she isn’t rushing at it like an amateur. Oh no – this is a finely honed professional job. Her knives are sharp and the day is long.

She is taking her time, season by season, year by year. Clearly in no hurry, one might almost think she is enjoying herself. I certainly am.

Her cruelty is the stuff of legend – red in tooth and claw and all that, but I never thought she would sink her mighty talons into the plump, quivering flesh of climate alarmists - not in such a deliciously heartless way.

Her subtle, dispassionate screwing of their silly predictions would be much less fun if she screwed them quickly. Reaming them slowly by increasing the pressure over fifteen years has a certain natural justice to it.

It’s positively artistic.

Of course train wreck spectators must temper their enthusiasm with a touch of caution in case Mother Nature turns her icy stare in our direction.

So applaud her softly and enjoy the show. We’ve earned it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

It's bloody cold these days

When out walking on Sunday, we were togged up in what was almost full winter walking gear even though it was the middle of March. Páramo jackets, Meindl boots, buffs, woolly hats and gloves. Pretty much what we wore while walking in the snow in January. It may be March, but it was still too cold to shed layers.

We were warm enough while walking even though there were still odd patches of snow in the shelter of dry stone walls, but I came to a long-delayed conclusion.

It's bloody cold these days.

Sometimes we analyse things to death and fail to reach a conclusion, but a gut reaction still says there is a conclusion to be reached. Temperature data does not suggest either a warming or a cooling trend, but the past few winters feel like cooling to me. This winter especially.

Something tells me the climate has decided on cooling and we may as well get used to it. I can't defend it scientifically and I may be mistaken, but walking out on the hills tells me there is something different about the weather. Toasty it isn't.

What effect this will have on the climate scam I have no idea. Once upon a time I would have looked forward with great pleasure to an indignant outburst of public anger, but I don't see that happening somehow.

The narrative is too controlled, people too incurious.

However, this kind of gut-based analysis told me again what I already knew. Originally, many climate scientists sitting in their cubbyhole offices had a similar gut reaction which told them the global climate was warming and CO2 might be responsible.

Unfortunately, the UN smiled its wicked smile and directed their gullible gaze to a wonderland of funding, international travel and enthusiastic students.

Maybe all is not lost though - apart from their reputations. They could take a break and try walking in the hills.

It's bloody cold these days.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Enjoy your stay

Due to the rising frequency of human-lion encounters, the Ministry Fish and Wildlife, Inhambane Branch, Mozambique is advising hikers, hunters, fishermen, and any motorcyclists that use the out-of-doors in a recreational or work related function to take extra precautions while in the bush.

We advise the outdoorsman to wear little noisy bells on clothing so as to give advanced warning to any lions that might be close by so you don't take them by surprise.

We also advise anyone using the out-of-doors to carry 'Pepper Spray' with him or her in case of an encouter with a lion.

Outdoorsmen should also be on the watch for fresh lion activity, and be able to tell the difference between lion cub sh!t and big lion sh!t. Lion cub sh!t is smaller and contains lots of berries and dassie fur. Big lion sh!t has bells in it and smells like pepper.

Enjoy your stay in Mozambique.

From PaulR

The Nine Ladies

On Sunday we walked up to Stanton Moor and paid a fleeting visit to the Nine Ladies

Stanton Moor is in a fine position overlooking both the Derwent and Wye valleys. Possibly it is for this reason that it was chosen as a centre by the Bronze Age inhabitants of the area, who have left so many traces of their occupation upon the moor.

The moor contains at least 70 barrows as well as stone circles, ancient enclosures and standing stones and is of such interest to archaeologists that the whole area is now protected. However, don't go expecting anything on the scale of Stonehenge, or even Arbor Low - most of the monuments and remains are very small-scale and overgrown with heather.

The best known monument is the Nine Ladies Stone Circle, which lies at the centre of the moor - a low circle of worn gritstone blocks in a lovely location. Just to the south is a small standing stone - the King's Stone - and these are probably only a small part of what was once some sort of ceremonial area.

Most of the other famous stones around the moor are natural in origin - the Cat Stone, Cork Stone and Andle or Aingle Stone (which lies down to the west, below the moor) - but this has not prevented colourful legends accumulating about their origins or uses - mostly linking them with Druids, despite a complete lack of archaeological evidence.

We've visited the Nine Ladies quite a few times over the years. Some seem to find the monument symbolic of something or other - modern druids having rather taken to the place. I saw a few bunches of what looked like sage tied to the branches of a nearby tree.

Others think the Nine Ladies are evil and were the site of human sacrifice - virgins of course being a speciality. Some claim to have seen a variety of ghosts lurking in its eerie penumbra.

However, no matter how hard I try to fathom the purpose of this ancient circle of stones, I get nothing back. The thing is a mystery - we simply don't know why it was built.

Its size is unimpressive, especially when one thinks of Stonehenge. As we moved on to finish our walk, I wondered if it might be an ancient community service project.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Flat-pack regulation

Although Dave, Nick and Ed are claiming some kind of agreement over press regulation, there appears to be uncertainty as to whether or not it will be statutory.

Allegedly brought on by phone hacking, this measure seems to be more about inserting some screws in and around press freedom. As with flat-pack furniture, the screws can be tightened later. The elite classes, both political and bureaucratic, are quite happy with such incremental gains.

They play a long game and this feels very much like one of their key moves. An important move, but only a move.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Weather warnings

The UK is now so hot due to global warming that the Met Office has issued warnings for more thing of the past over the next few days.

The situation is entirely consistent with climate models and with spending trillions to cause even more cold weather using large electric fans dotted around the countryside.

The need for action on climate change seems to have wide support from experts such as Vivienne Westwood and Tracey Emin.


A few years ago, I was speaking to someone who knew a local specialist furniture manufacturer. Their speciality was making furniture for show homes.

They would make beds, bedroom furniture, tables and chairs which looked like modern furnishings but were smaller than standard sizes. Beds would be narrower and shorter for example.

It was to make the rooms in the show-homes look larger of course and it's a reasonably well-known trick - children's furniture sometimes being used instead of adult. Even so, I was mildly shocked that anyone should do such a thing.

Naive of me wasn’t it?

Yes it was, but on the other hand it's not something I can imagine doing myself. It's almost as bad as... oh I don't know... almost as bad as exaggerating the statistical significance of global temperature trends I suppose.

Yet although I can't imagine doing the furniture wheeze, I can easily see how climate scientists were drawn into their particular scam. Science and bureaucracy being areas with which I'm much more familiar. So I suppose that's the lesson I have to absorb here - it is easy to be naive about the unfamiliar...

...and it's a rough old world. 

Saturday, 16 March 2013


The latest Climate Audit post is one of the most astounding climate posts I've ever read. The Marcott-Shakun Dating Service by Steve McIntyre isn't yet complete, but on the face of it, a recent and widely promoted paper on temperature reconstruction seems to be based on key data where published dates for ocean cores have been altered.

Why, nobody knows at this stage and there may be an explanation, but for those interested this one is well worth following.

Scientifically, it's jaw-dropping.

Cameron, ennui and...

I'd like to post more frequently on David Cameron, who apparently is our Prime Minister - at least he is according to Wikipedia - so it must be true.

However, I have a problem.

I don't know what it is about this guy, but he wearies me, sucks the vitamins from my soul. I try to take an interest in his antics and the things his speechwriters emit from his mouth, but somehow it's difficult to wind the enthusiasm all the way up to tepid.

The guy is so dire, so lacking in... in whatever.... Lambasting him is like stamping on a slug in your best shoes - nobody really wins.

Is it deliberate? I think it is, or at least I think it is an evolved political strategy. Leaders are not acceptable to the political elite in the old sense of the word leader. Someone who inspires a significant section of voters is seen as a loose cannon. An enemy of the state even.

Inspiration is lacking because it has been excised from the body politic. It doesn't suit the gilded global bureaucracy to which Cameron and his ilk aspire. Ed will be much the same.

Is the other guy's name Ed?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Car accessory

From PaulR

Blog reads

A few links to posts that clicked with me for all kinds of reasons.

Nobody will be inundated with hits from this list, because this is a tiny blog, but I like to acknowledge at least a sample of what I've enjoyed, however erratically I get round to it.

The Financial Crimes - great spoof ad.

Dark Buzz on causal completeness.

A Brief Encounter with an interesting dissection of UKIP.

Barnacle Bill on dry stone walling and the Joy of Sex.

Duff and Nonsense on shitty shoe problems.

EK on swingers - no, not what you might think.

Mark Wadsworth on the myth that there is a free market in land.

Nick Drew on the coming EDF subsidy debacle

Longrider on the cynical compo culture.

New Nostradamus on communist thinking within the EU.

Witterings from Witney on E10 - an EU green fuel.

nourishing obscurity on Flint the failed biscuit snatcher.

Macheath on The Silence of our Lembit

Angus with one of his inimitable mixes - I can't even begin to describe it.

And finally Scrobs with the funniest video I've seen for quite a while.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Okay Ralph

From PaulR

Weird weather

global warming, climate change or just weather?

As we all know, global warming morphed into climate change to give fewer hostages to fortune, but now all but the most die-hard apocalypse fans know the climate isn’t warming.

Oddly enough we have been told many times that climate is not weather. However, over the past few years the climate is not weather message seems to have been dropped and it isn't difficult to see why.

The reason for the change in emphasis is reasonably well known but worth reiterating. Suppose we imagine the world divided up into 200 countries and further imagine 5 weather metrics for each country.

  1. Max temperature.
  2. Min temperature.
  3. Snowfall.
  4. Rainfall.
  5. Drought periods.

So if each of those 200 countries records 5 weather metrics, then assuming normal distribution, a 100-year record in at least one metric in one country will be broken 10 times a year.

200 x 5 = 1000 total metrics.
1000/100 = 10 hundred year records broken each year.

There are far more metrics than this of course and the distribution won’t be a normal distribution, but however artificial they are, the numbers highlight why record-breaking weather is bound to be a popular way to scare people about climate change. 

It's all there is left.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Japanese energy coup?

I tend towards the view that we have enough conventional and unconventional fossil fuel to keep us going for centuries. Partly it's because I still have faith in human ingenuity and partly because stories such as this one from the Washington Post just keep on coming.

Apparently Japan has successfully extracted methane from undersea gas hydrates.

On Tuesday, Japan announced a major new breakthrough. For the first time, a team aboard the drilling ship Chikyu had successfully extracted gas from a layer of methane hydrates 1,000 feet below the seabed in the Sea of Japan.

What are methane hydrates? Methane hydrates are essentially cage-like lattices of water molecules that contain methane, the chief ingredient in natural gas. They can be found either beneath the seafloor or underneath Arctic permafrost:


How much energy are we talking about? Potentially, a staggering amount. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that gas hydrates could contain between 10,000 trillion cubic feet to more than 100,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Some of that gas will never be accessible at reasonable prices. But if even a fraction of that total can be commercially extracted, that’s an enormous amount. To put this in context, U.S. shale reserves are estimated to contain 827 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Of course these stories have to be treated with due caution. Costs and technical difficulties may make the whole thing uneconomic, but there is no doubt that the stuff is there. 

As ever, I suspect the main problem with energy supply is political. Those countries with favourable political environments will gain at the expense of those without.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Changing politicians

From PaulR

The art of the Correct Response

I’ve often wondered how our elites learned to be what they are. What basic lesson was absorbed by those tender little minds? From seeing rather too much of the mature product, I suspect they all learned to put an enormous amount of faith in the correctness of their responses to the outside world and whatever it might throw at them.

Of course we are all judged on our responses - to each other, colleagues, social events and situations. Yet I suspect our political elites have absorbed the lesson in a somewhat fundamentalist way.

They seem to believe that their response must always be the appropriate response in all situations and all circumstances. They seem to see it as the supreme social skill, the only one of any importance. So their only real strategy is to do it fluently and confidently. They seek to be not just politically correct, but totally correct.

They have absorbed the ancient art of the Correct Response and there are only two lessons to be learned :-

Identify the Correct Response.
Issue the Correct Response as the only possible response.

Dinner party, public engagement, private chat – they all have a repertoire of Correct Responses, although in each setting the response may be different even if one responding to the same thing.

I think this is why our elite classes seem so curiously limited in spite of their generally fluent and confident response to almost all situations. They have learned to seek and issue the Correct Response in any and all circumstances.

So it would be deemed an unnecessary distraction and even a little gauche for a minister to analyse policy rather than simply issue the Correct Response. A minister  may consult officials, advisers, friends and colleagues, but only in order to choose the Correct Response and issue it effectively.

What they do not do is examine the possibility that the Correct Response is wrong or even absurd. A Correct Response cannot be absurd because it is the Correct Response.

There is nothing remarkable in this of course. Stimulus, response and reinforcement form the basis of behavioural psychology. Having a repertoire of suitable responses is the most basic of social skills. Almost any repertoire of responses also has a selective aspect. We do not select the same responses for children, other adults, police officers, when meeting the Queen and so on.

The ballot box was supposed to allow voting populations to distinguish between appropriate responses to national political issues, but really the whole business was one of selection by social class and not a matter of choosing the best national response to a given national situation.

Now our political elites are selected from much the same social class and so are the senior bureaucrats. So the inevitable result is that they all have much the same idea of Correct Response.

The problem is we never really took politics beyond issues of social class. We never invented a more nuanced version of politics where the Correct Response might be arrived at in a more rational and transparent way.

Even worse, we now have huge bureaucracies all the way up to the UN, where the Correct Response is a matter of committee decisions and of settled policy. Budding bureaucrats cannot even get a foothold on the career ladder unless they are inculcated with an ingrained tendency to seek out and issue the Correct Response.

You and I may favour alternatives to the Correct Response, but there is no mechanism by which our versions may be heard. They aren't Correct for one thing.

How could they be?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Huhne-Pryce game drawn

So the Huhne-Pryce game was drawn – eight months each.

I have no sympathy for either protagonist and as a politician I loathed Huhne, so the result is politically satisfying.

Yet I find a small voice inside me isn’t quite satisfied. Perverting the course of justice was their crime so they have duly received a custodial sentence. Fair enough. Or is it?

I’m not a legal bod, but that small voice is insistent, because what they actually perverted was the course of three speeding points. Justice seems a rather grandiose take on that to me, even though I understand well enough why the legal tumbrel takes that particular route in these cases. The law shall not be mocked.

Although again, these two people were not mocking the law, but trying to avoid three speeding points. Nobody was actually harmed and nothing real or abstract was actually mocked.

A harsh outcome in my view. Not that I’ll lose any sleep over it.

Red Nose Day

So here it is again - Red Nose Day infesting my peripheral vision. It's that time of year when I can't set foot in Sainsbury's without the Comic Relief junk disturbing my tranquility.

All I want from Sainsbury's is to get in out of the cold, load up with groceries and find a bit of culinary inspiration. I don't want a red plastic nose thanks very much. Neither do I want to feel curmudgeonly for not joining in. Thanks for that one too.

There is something about the whole caper which rubs me up the wrong way and that's quite an achievement because I'm not an uncharitable person.

In my book, charitable giving is a private and usually anonymous business. It's one of the few areas left where we have complete discretion - because that's the point of charity. Take away the discretion and it isn't charity - to my way of thinking it really is that simple.

It's not as if Comic Relief is a genuine charity. Being part-funded by the BBC, I'm giving to Comic Relief on an involuntary basis anyway. Involuntary charity - now there's a modern, caring idea if ever there was one.

From Wikipedia :-

The July 2010 accounts for charity registration 326568 show grant payments of £59 million pounds, net assets of £135 million pounds, with an investment portfolio held in a range of managed pooled funds and fixed term deposits. The average full-time staff was 214, with 14 staff paid over £60,000 with remuneration for the year, excluding pensions, for Kevin Cahill, Chief Executive of £120,410.

Critics of Comic Relief and other BBC charity events say that the BBC is diverting funds from well established charities and smaller charities, there is no accountability for who decides on where the money is held or spent, and the main beneficiary is the BBC – goodwill and free programming – the bankers who hold the funds – and especially the celebrities promoting themselves on prime-time TV for free.

The critics are right, although I don't really class myself as one in spite of this post. I just find it distasteful. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Huhne-Pryce game

From the beginning of the Huhne-Pryce affair, I've seen it through the metaphor of a chess game. Although chess over-simplifies the story, viewing it as a game has shaken up my notions of competent tactical and strategic game-playing. 

Firstly the two protagonists, Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, were extremely successful by most standards, handling the tactical and strategic aspects of their careers particularly well. Far better than the vast majority of us anyway. I'm sure Huhne wasn't liked, but he was successful and would be successful today if he hadn't blundered it away. 

Yes, it’s easy enough to weave stories around their mutual lapse and one or two high fliers plummet to the ground every now and then, but if we see it as a metaphorical game of chess, this affair is the result of a number of startlingly bad moves. Any one of them could easily have been avoided or mitigated.

  1. 1999 - Huhne is caught speeding.
  2. He persuades Pryce to say she was the driver.
  3. 2010 He dumps Pryce, his wife for 26 years.
  4. 2011 evidence emerges that Pryce wasn’t driving in 1999. 

Moves 1, 2 and 3 seem to be where it all went wrong, although no doubt there are numerous nuances, not all of which are in the public arena.

In a game of chess played by professionals, even one bad move may lead to a player’s position steadily becoming untenable. Often the dud move which caused all the problems is glaringly obvious. Yet the Huhne-Pryce game was a series of obvious blunders made by supposed professionals. That is if their earlier careers are any guide to their status as players.

So I find I’m left with the sense of a game played by professionals, but the blunders strongly suggest a pair of beginners. Not only that, but sticking with the chess metaphor, the game seems to have been played in a wildly aggressive manner. There is precious little quality safety play to be seen and not a lot of strategic nous either.

No doubt aggression is a clue, otherwise it doesn’t add up and much more importantly it doesn’t inspire our confidence in those still left in the game. Surely the rest of them aren't this prone to make obvious blunders and aren't so wildly aggressive?

Are they?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

We are not amused

When reading comment threads, I often encounter quite heated arguments where various rhetorical ploys are flung around in a frustrated effort at slapping down that supreme impertinence - contradiction. 

Usually it’s simple abuse such as calling the other person a racist. In fact that ploy seems more common than genuinely racist abuse, but that’s another story.

A particularly feeble and overused put-down is affecting to be amused by the person who dares contradict one's views. An old ploy in the art of gamesmanship it’s probably been around since the ancient Greeks looked down their noses at each other, but why it is still used eludes me.

As with most rhetorical tactics, it doesn’t work, in this case because it seeks to win the argument by establishing a kind of spurious social or intellectual superiority. So it’s a disguised version of the long discredited argument from authority, or argumentum ad verecundiam. That of course is yet another ploy - the well-known and modestly effective bung in a bit of Latin ploy.

Intended victims of the faked amusement tactic may even use it themselves as a counter, in which case each side ends up pretending to be highly amused by the other. Well at least it's a non-violent standoff I suppose.

For me there is something very British about it too, although I'm sure that's not really the case at all. But there is something of the flushed cheek, curled lip and self-righteous annoyance dredged from shallow waters.

Imagine! One’s views are contradicted by persons of the oik persuasion! How infinitely amusing!

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Mafia and the Fascists

I have a little book of essays and poems written by eminent lawyer, politician and High Court Judge, Lord Darling after he retired from the bench in 1923. Published in 1933, the material originally appeared in a variety of newspapers such as The Times. 

Interesting snapshots of a bygone world, one is a report of a conversation he had in Italy about the impact of Italian Fascism on the Mafia -  In The Conca D'Oro.

Near Palermo is a little village named Mondello, and on the balcony of the club there I sat with the one man left of a party who had lunched together.

“You may well be proud, Marchese, of the beauties of your island,” said I, looking from the sea in front to the hills about us, and back to the walls of the ruined castle on the headland.

“Yes, here ‘the tints of the earth and the hues of the sky, in colour though varied in beauty may vie,’ as your Lord Byron wrote,” he replied.

“'Tis the ‘land of the sun. Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done’?"  I continued. “But tell me now of the Mafia, Marchese. Its associates meant well in the beginning, didn’t they, and stood up against the tyrants of old time?”

“Merely to become the worst tyrants themselves – and that long ago, when there were great ones. But thanks to our present Prefetto, their days are done. We may speak freely.”

The two men continue their talk, the Marchese attributing the current, much more law-abiding times to Fascism.

“Now that is all changed, and to Signor Mori and to the Duce, who sent him here, is due the credit. It is but a few weeks since at Termini Immerse, and near here, about one hundred and fifty Mafiosi were tried and convicted of crimes which they had committed – some long ago – before the Fascisti had arisen to inculcate a love of ‘the liberty of wise restraint,’ upon whose merits, unknown till now, hundreds of murderers, robbers, and blackmailers are now reflecting in the ample Carceri of Palermo, and on various islands.”

In a final burst of enthusiasm, Lord Darling's companion adds -

“Signore, I hold that the lesson of devotion to the State, along with iron discipline to ensure it – which is Fascismo – will soon be learned, and will altogether supplant that lawless egoism which is Mafismo. With good teachers – and now we have them – to learn must be easy.”

It was another world. Lord Darling died in 1936, before World War II shattered the hopes and illusions he and the Marchese shared that day. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Father Brown

G K Chesterton’s Father Brown stories were published in five books from 1911 to 1935. A little while ago, fellow blogger Demetrius alerted me to a new Father Brown BBC TV series. There were to be ten episodes each about 50 minutes long broadcast on successive days, so I put them on to series record.

However, as Demetrius warned me later, this new TV version of Father Brown had strayed a very long way from the original.

Re TV Father Brown, took a look. At 50 minutes it is clearly destined to be satellite scenic retro tosh. Chesterton it isn't nor is it much at all. Also, it seems to be relocated to possibly the Cotwolds and advanced fifty years. It did not resemble much though the Cotswolds I knew in the 1950's. It had a very large dollop of 21st Century correctness and it was the poor old Anglican vicar who was the one with a bad dose of religion. The locomotive was right for the 1950's but not the coaching stock. Also, plain clothes detectives inspectors of police were not in village police stations or chasing about in routine car patrols.

Yes – I won’t argue with that. We found them just about watchable for winter afternoons with nothing else to do. However, the TV series prompted me to read the original stories again. I’d read some of them, but so long ago I could barely remember them. It may even have been during my teens.

The entire collection of Father Brown stories is available on Kindle for 77 pence which by any standards is a real bargain. I'll repeat that for Kindle doubters - 

all five books for 77 pence.

To my surprise I find I like them and can’t stop reading them. I’m already well over half way through the entire series, even though I’m not a huge Chesterton fan. Although he wrote fluently and had a great imagination, I find he looms behind his works like a great hairy, didactic presence.

Father Brown is no Sherlock Holmes either in spite of Chesterton’s imaginative plots. Brown’s character is somewhat flat and shadowy and the stories are written in the third person, which doesn’t help warm him up. Conan Doyle wrote almost all the Sherlock Holmes stories in the first person from Dr Watson’s viewpoint and that brought even Holmes’ austere character to life.

Conan Doyle doesn’t loom behind his stories as Chesterton does. For example, Chesterton can’t resist digs at atheism and science which don't blend well into what little we are told of Father Brown's character. He carries it off mainly because he is a fluent writer. Mind you, I think this quote is rather good.

“What we dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare.”
G K Chesterton – The Head of Caesar

In spite various jarring notes, I like the stories very much. I don't count Chesterton as a great writer, but he weaves a thoroughly delicious, Gothic atmosphere such that even when Father Brown walks down a street there is a strange and eerie influence lurking in every shadow. And of course there are many shadows.

An otherworldly sense of mystery, romance and frustrated fates circle round Father Brown's blameless life in a way I find most refreshing after the clunking routines of modern drama.

So all in all I much prefer the Father Brown books to the TV series. The TV series is tosh as Demetrius says, but not wholly unwatchable tosh if you are ill or have a cream cake to get through. Father Brown's character is much less of a blank than the books too, but I won't bother with the next series.

Chesterton's clever plots and the glorious, creepy gothic atmosphere of Father Brown's world – the TV series just can't touch it.

They entered the churchyard slowly, the eyes of the American antiquary lingering luxuriantly over the isolated roof of the lynch-gate and the large unfathomable black growth of the yew looking like night itself defying the broad daylight. The path climbed up amid heaving levels of turf in which the gravestones were tilted at all angles like stone rafts tossed on a green sea, till it came to the ridge beyond which the great sea itself ran like an iron bar, with pale lights in it like steel. Almost at their feet the tough rank grass turned into a tuft of sea-holly and ended in grey and yellow sand; and a foot or two from the holly, and outlined darkly against the steely sea, stood a motionless figure.

G K Chesterton - The Curse of the Golden Cross.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Optimistic pessimism

 I have been called many names – pragmatist, poet, intellectual, dualist, mystic, epiphenomenalist, phenomenalist, brutish materialist, atheist, papist, amateur – but no one, I believe, has yet called me an optimist.

There are ways to be optimistic and ways to be pessimistic and to my mind it isn’t easy to choose between the two when it comes to adopting general attitudes. Because there are aspects of British life which if observed too closely are grim reminders that too often, pessimism is realism and optimism isn't.

Political life in particular.

I can certainly understand why many leave it alone and many more prefer to be deluded into supporting one of the major brands of professional lying. Joining is always some kind of shelter isn't it?

Yet for those of us outside the shelter, political correctness, floods of unnecessary laws and regulations and increasingly overt immorality and even criminality by our elite classes don’t inspire much in the way of optimism.

So why do we bother? Or do we? Many don’t bother if the prevalence of the low information voter is any guide - which I think it is. Many opt for ignorance, platitudes and superficiality and maybe for some that's another shelter. It shelters one from having to admit that political reality is as awful as it seems.

Ties, habits, mortgages and familiarity also help to keep our eyes averted and our noses to the grindstone even though we know public life should be more honest and involving.

And yet...

A pool of sunlight on the table, early morning birdsong, a good book or good conversation – these essentially spiritual satisfactions help make up for it - if only temporarily.

So effective are such pleasant distractions, that I often wonder why I don’t just switch off, go for long hill walks or sit in comfort and follow my literary tastes with a glass of wine at my elbow and some early jazz on the music box.

Well why not?

It’s either that or keep facing up to a world where the elite classes are grasping liars, where the tax system is rigged to bribe vested interests. A world where government bribery is by far the largest business, a world lies are the first port of call in any public communication.

And yet...

Maybe it is actually rather enjoyable to puncture the pomposity of the elite even though they are not listening. Our Prime Minister is a lightweight fool, but there is satisfaction to be gained from knowing it and saying so publicly.

Yes there is satisfaction there - no doubt about it.

Not necessarily grim satisfaction either, not when we have sarcasm, satire, ridicule and laughter among our weapons. Maybe it’s why the buggers never manage to grind us down.

We enjoy not being ground down.