Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

Blimey it’s New Year resolution time again.

For 2015 I’m thinking of something genuinely improving or useful such painting the lawn a nice shade of cerise. Green is such a tacky colour these days isn’t it? I blame Greenpeace myself. I know it’s unfair of me but that’s another compelling reason to blame them.

Or how about taking more interest in celebrities? The other day I had to look up Kim Kardythingy because I’d no idea who she is. It’s not good enough is it?

I should know these things by a process of celebrity osmosis. Maybe mine is missing or blocked up. Anyhow, after extensive research I now know that Ms Kardythingy is famous for her rump. Seems odd butt there it is.

Moving on from pneumatic rumps, what political adventures may we look forward to in 2015? Well we have a general election coming up which should be as exciting as a special offer on Kleenex albeit markedly less profitable or exciting. What about the prospects though? Which bunch of liars is destined to occupy the golden sty this time round?

Before we begin our deliberations, perhaps we need a new word for people who think Ed Miliband would make a fine Prime Minister? Surely moron is inadequate here, although it fits Cameron voters well enough I suppose.

Even so, moron is unsatisfactory. It doesn't worm its way into all the nooks and crannies. The world cries out for a word which encapsulates a much more profound, much deeper and more slug-like level of imbecility. So there’s a task for 2015.

Maybe we should also personalise our political parties. In keeping with our modern taste for the infantile we could rename the three main parties Ed’s Crew, Dave’s Gang and Nick’s Off. Even morons might find a clue in there somewhere.

Well that’s not many resolutions herded together in time for the fireworks and champagne. Apart from the cerise lawn that seems to be it. Not enough to guide me to a new and brighter self as 2015 dawns. Ah well, maybe I’ll think up a few resolutions in time for next year.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Thorium car


A piece in iknowtoday pushes thorium as the nuclear fuel of the future by asking us to imagine a thorium-powered car which needs refuelling every 100 years.

The Thorium car relies on nuclear thorium lasers to fuel it. And here is the knocker… the engine only requires 8 grams of fuel every 100 years or so. According to what Charles Stevens, CEO and chairman of Laser Power Systems, based in Connecticut, has to say, just one gram of thorium can yield energy equivalent to 7.500 gallons of gasoline.

Hmm - as things stand this seems more than fanciful, a means to raise public interest perhaps. Even so, there seems to be considerable and growing interest in thorium. For example, the recent HoC publication Small Nuclear Power has this to say.

We heard that there are a number of advantages to switching to a thorium fuel cycle. The UK must remain an active participant in thorium research and development. We recommend that the Government commission a study to confirm the potential benefits of thorium in the longer-term and how any potential barriers to its use might be overcome.

Or take this report from The Times Of India on the Indian government's interest in assessing thorium and uranium deposits in Andhra Pradesh.

According to GV Ramesh of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), who is the chief project engineer of the proposed Kovvada nuclear plant in Srikakulam, research is going on to ascertain the viability of setting up thorium-fueled power plants.

"India accounts for over 32% of the estimated global thorium reserves of 63,55,000 tonnes and that too of high quality. Keeping this in mind, it may be best for India to explore thorium-fueled power generation in the coming years. However, currently no country in the world has thorium-fueled power plants as its viability is yet to be proved," Ramesh told TOI.

So the car is pure hype, but the message behind it seems real enough. Potentially there is a huge prize to be won with thorium - those who get there first may be onto a winner.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Beano

One of my Christmas presents was a copy of the Beano for April 23rd 1955 - price 2D. It's in good condition apart from some browning of the paper. As for the content it's much as I remember from almost sixty years ago. Biffo the Bear, Minnie the Minx, the Bash St Kids, Lord Snooty are all there plus a few I don't remember.

Private Eye are currently lampooning Cameron and his upper crust cronies via a take-off of Lord Snooty. It works rather well.

Two characters I don't remember are Red Rory of the eagles and Longlegs the desert wild boy

Both are more like the adventure stories I moved on to after the Beano. They seem out of place somehow, not quite the read it and toss it aside content I expected. 

Although I always retained a soft spot for the Beano, as I recall it there was nothing hugely amusing about the exploits of Minnie the Minx or Roger the Dodger. I never laughed out loud, or if I did it wasn't often enough to stick in my mind. 

They were just easily digested micro-stories with a tinge of improbable humour fitted into that narrow period between learning to read and wanting something more substantial than a comic. 

No doubt that was what Red Rory and Longlegs aimed to cater for but I think they may have disappeared not too long after this issue because I certainly don't remember them. 

Happy days? Yes they were.

I wonder what happened to Longlegs?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

High tech

I took this photo of my radio-controlled accurate-to-the-second clock which also measures indoor and outdoor temperatures.

You can see the exact time I took the photo - 16:05:29 on Thursday December 32nd

Isn't technology wonderful?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

A millionaires’ world


How many people base careers on the idea that only modest wealth is required to float above the common herd? Quite a few as far as I can see. So how much wealth is enough to get an ambitious chap airborne?

Surely a million or two is sufficient to live in modest comfort, have everything fixed which needs fixing and consign money worries to oblivion. With property prices as they are, that’s attainable for many via house price inflation. Add in a second home, a decent salary and some expenses and the job’s done.

Modest wealth has always been the only practical way for ordinary folk to float above the masses, to escape their daily need to survive. Make it, marry it or steal it - that was the choice. In former times the local clergyman, doctor or schoolmaster made enough to float above the yokels but not in all cases. Times could be hard for professional people who never quite cut the social mustard.

A constant nagging need to survive has virtually disappeared from the developed world, but floating above it all still has its attractions. Money does indeed buy happiness if happiness is comfort and a degree of  freedom from anxiety. Money buys other freedoms too and a modern attraction is that it has become a much more realistic prospect for ambitious folk on the wrong side of the glass ceiling.

It seems to me that a large slice of public life is the spectacle of wannabe floaters trying their level best to acquire their flotation aids. An MP’s salary isn’t particularly generous, but as we have seen in recent years, that’s no obstacle to getting hold of a modest million or two. Expenses are made to be fiddled. Doors open. Sinecures beckon.

And don’t they know it?

Friday, 26 December 2014

Recent reads

I don't do this often enough to recall more than a fraction of the posts I've enjoyed in the last few months, but here are a few that stuck in my leaky mind for long enough to make it here.

Macheath on why she is not a feminist.

Julia Gasper on the fifties - what we had and threw away.

Mick Hartley on a very harsh religion. Guess which one.

Sackers on robofascism.

Demetrius on the people and social forces that made Margaret Thatcher.

Mark Wadsworth on public v private.

Longrider on memoirs.

James on the triumph of hope over experience.

Duffers on the Looneyrama.

Scrobs has a delightful story about staircases.

Witterings on a storm in a teacup.

The Boiling Frog has been blocked by Carswell.

Ross asks "How Does He Know".

Mac warns us about a rough paint job.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Men and boys

It is inconceivable that these persons were ever boys, they have certainly not grown up into men; one cannot call them womanish—the women of our race are made of different stuff. They belong to no sex and it seems a pity that they should belong to any nation; other nations probably have similar encumbrances, but we seem to have more of them than we either desire or deserve.
H H Munro (Saki) - The Toys of Peace and Other Papers (1919)

I'm not doubting the biological masculinity of these guys. I'm sure they count their balls and come up with the traditional answer, but something about their public demeanor isn't quite manly.

Perhaps it's a reflection of political correctness, a fear of gender politics or something else, but our leaders seem to lack something any man should have if he deserves to lead.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but furtive, untrustworthy, ambivalent, sanctimonious, sycophantic and two-faced don't quite fit my idea of manliness. These creeps have nowhere near enough inclination to tell it as it is and take the consequences. We had a hint from Cameron with his reputed "green crap" comment, but a better man would say more and say it publicly. 

Even wit would be a pleasant change. Real men were allowed to be witty once upon a time.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Listeners

I'm reading a collection of de la Mare's short stories at the moment. I've read him on and off for years and never tire of  his extraordinarily subtle and spooky imagination.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tonic water tea leaf


Derby Telegraph reports on an opportunist thief who stole a bottle of tonic water.

POLICE are appealing for witnesses after a thief targeted a 93-year-old woman while she unloaded her shopping into her Derby home.

A Derbyshire police spokesman said a man entered the woman's kitchen and stole a bottle of tonic water while she unpacked her shopping.
Probably a scary experience for the old lady, but a bottle of tonic water? It sounds to me as if the thief changed his mind at the last minute, but who can tell? It's a strange world.

According to Wikipedia.
Under ultraviolet light, the quinine in tonic water fluoresces, even though it is present in a negligible concentration.

I'm sure Sherlock Holmes would have found a way of using that snippet of information to apprehend the thief. Not sure how, but I'm not the great detective.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Fake Britain

The BBC has a show called Fake Britain in which counterfeit products are exposed to the glare of publicity and much raising of censorious eyebrows. Fake Head and Shoulders shampoo for example.

Gosh - is a dandruff epidemic likely to be the closest we get to snow this Christmas? Yet as any fule kno there is much more to faking than shampoo.

For example, why doesn’t the BBC do a piece on our fake prime minister or our fake leader of the opposition? Or how about a piece on the fake nation we sometimes call Britain - or Brenda our fake monarch?

After all, there is no longer any nation called Britain, merely an EU region which for historical reasons is conterminous with the land we once called “Britain”. Similarly, “Britain” doesn’t have a prime minister, but merely a second rank EU official lurking in Number 10. The present incumbent is a chap called David Cameron. Next year he may be replaced by another EU official called Ed Miliband. It doesn’t matter either way.

The process used to rotate these EU officials is a fake electoral process called the “General Election” in which people get to choose between a limited number of candidates belonging to one of the three big EU parties – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem.  

It is still legal to vote for non-EU candidates, presumably because people generally don’t. In this way, hundreds of minor EU officials are elected to what is still called the “House of Commons”. Again the old name is retained for historical reasons. Eventually that too could change.

Oddly enough we still refer to these elected officials as “Members of Parliament” and they still pretend to be enacting "British" laws even though most of the laws they “enact” are sent from Brussels. Nobody knows why this odd performance still goes on although it is probably thought that the old titles and activities are good for tourism.

Anyhow, I’m surprised the BBC doesn’t see this type of fakery as more important than shampoo.

But my surprise is also fake.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Dork of the Year

An early front-runner for the coveted title Dork of the Year 2014 is Naomi Klein. Always a contender of course, but her recent performance shows she has both staying power and a sprint finish.

Naomi recently contrived to herd her meagre collection of neurons around the idea that failure to take climate ranters seriously is racist.

If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis.

This has to be a classic even within advanced dorking circles. Hardened professional dorks are left spluttering and gasping in her wake.

If a more adventurous dork makes it past Naomi before 2014 comes to an end I’ll be amazed, but there is still time. Russell Brand may give it a go, although I have the feeling that Brand’s stamina isn’t quite up to Naomi's relentlessly professional dorking.

h/t to Jo Nova

Head in the clouds


He was never present at the moment of an occurrence, but always appeared to come from a reverie to the realisation of what passed about him.
Émile Zola - Le rêve

Yes - I'm like that. Always one of the last to notice what is going on around me. Always surprised to be told at work that A and B are having an affair even though it appears to have been common knowledge for months. Never quite up to date with the arrangements.

"I've already told you..."

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Bread and circuses

source unknown

Imagine you are a fly on the wall listening to an informal chat among a few UN and EU bureaucrats. Over a quiet cup of coffee their conversation turns to education and what the world must do for its citizens.

“Obviously we need billions of highly educated people to solve numerous problems for humanity at large –“

“No we don’t.”


“We need peasants with only a basic education and without the wit to make trouble.”

“Too cynical - surely.”

“No - it's how things are. We have enough tech and we have enough science so we don’t need billions of educated people. A few million at most – say one percent of the global population. The rest are destined to be peasants so we may as well train them accordingly.”

“Well for one thing they won’t accept it.”

“They have no choice. We must educate the masses to be bystanders, which is what they are anyway. Bread and circuses – tried and tested and the only way it can be done. Should take a couple of generations max.”

“Too cynical.”

“Not really. What the hell will they do when the robots come, these billions of educated people? Watch movies all day? Do you paint your neighbour's house while he paints yours?”

“All the same –“

“We are not all the same though are we - you and I? We are not numbered among those billions. In reality the buck stops here so we have to do what is best for everyone, like it or not. I can’t say I like it particularly but I’m not prepared to duck my responsibilities.”

“I still say it won’t work.”

“Yes it will. There are only two basic policies any government can follow – war or bread and circuses. All governments must pursue one or the other so naturally enough a global government is stuck with bread and circuses. It’s our only option.”

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The real leviathan


This is a graph of global consumer spending produced in 2012 by ATKearney. As you see, the figure for 2010 was $28 trillion which is projected to rise to $40 trillion by 2020.

I’ve no idea if these figures are realistic or not, but what impresses me about them is the gargantuan size of global consumer spending. Not so long ago, the danger of rampant consumerism was a significant topic among the chattering classes. Now it seems to have died down a little, or maybe it has been replaced by other worries.

Yet a moment of reflection is all we require to see what a monster consumerism is. How is anyone supposed to resist or control it? Perhaps we don’t need to resist or control it, which if true is just as well because it looks far too big to my eyes. The hunter gatherer is now merely a gatherer and destined to remain so until something gives.

The yen for a consumer lifestyle is at least partly responsible for sucking women out the home, sweeping kids off the open fields and onto the TV couch, filling their bedrooms with unused toys, jamming our roads with cars, pouring wine down our gullets, sucking us into restaurants, fast food outlets, cruise ships, airliners, holiday destinations, clothes we don’t need and every time-destroying wheeze we can be suckered into buying.

Well it’s better than war of course, but what about that leviathan, that multi-trillion dollar consumption monster? Are we ever likely to oppose its apparently insatiable demands. Maybe there is a clue in that word insatiable. Perhaps we are becoming satiated.


All the ghastly tawdriness of Christmas has trundled round again and my cynical old eyes see no sign of any change - just the opposite if anything. Strewth it's horrible - at least Tesco was today.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Are Clegg's strings broken?


The other day I chanced on a TV interview where Andrew Marr was "grilling" Nick Clegg about the economy. I didn't take much notice of the interview content because professional liars are not one of my enthusiasms, but I'm sure I saw a hint of defeat in Clegg's demeanour.

Of course the guy is bound to land on his feet whatever happens to the Lib Dems. An EU sinecure is probably lined up somewhere in the background, but I think he knows the game is up as Lib Dem leader and I think he knows he has failed.

Perhaps he doesn't care and he'll move on without a backward glance and all I saw was a momentary hint of fatigue, lack of interest or simply lack of inspiration. After all, if he knows the game is over then his mind will be elsewhere.

Yet ambitious people such as Clegg need to believe they have succeeded, at least in their own terms. Clegg didn't strike me as someone who had that belief running full bore. He may have it now, because the mood may have evaporated, but I don't think he had it during that interview.

Such people have the hide of a rhinoceros and ludicrously rich supplies of self-belief so it isn't easy to read these things from their behaviour. Too often we have to ignore their potential human qualities because that is the only safe assumption. Too often the public persona of a modern politician doesn't have any significant human qualities anyway.

So maybe Clegg gave a slight hint of his private persona or maybe it was an act or maybe lack of genuine interest in the debate. One of many absurdities of politics is that we cannot really tell the difference.

Our leaders don't even do PR-puppet particularly well.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Zeus is bored

Zeus - not quite armless
Zeus is bored. His gaze wanders far beyond the Olympian clouds, forever confronted by teeming masses of humanity. “So many of the little twerps,” he muses, “in spite of everything; the wars, the pestilence. What is a caring god supposed to do about it all?” He sighs and takes a lethargic sip of nectar.

Suddenly Zeus has an idea. He calls an assembly of the gods.

“Is everyone here?” he asks when the lesser gods are finally gathered together after much jostling for a favoured position. “Right – here it is. I have an idea, a real peach this time.”

“Oh yes,” comes a voice from the back but nobody owns up to it.

“Yes - a real peach. I intend to confer on humanity a noble cause.” Zeus pauses to assess the reaction.

“Not another one,” comes a muted chorus from the celestial throng. “We’ve been doing noble sodding causes forever. Religion and war, war and religion... radical philately... plagues and pestilence... ”

“Silence,” commands Zeus, his great voice echoing and re-echoing through the clouds. “This time it isn’t a war and it isn’t pestilence so shut up and listen. Not that there is anything wrong with war but this time it will be different. Although pestilence is close to what I have in mind,” he adds as an afterthought.

“Oh yes different... we’re always doing different I don’t think... radical philately?’s about time we looked at ignoble causes for a bloody change... I think he needs a holiday... don’t we all... get away from these blasted clouds.”

“This time,” says Zeus. Stern of visage and stately of demeanour he demands their attention. “This time the noble cause will be catastrophic global warming.”

“Global warming... at least he still does stern and stately... droughts I suppose... and flood, don’t forget floods... I think you mean inundations, that’s the term we use round here... oh well I’m only trying to be less dated... speak for yourself... we’ve never done philately...”

“Silence,” commands Zeus again. “I have decided on an original twist to my noble cause. Humans will be told about catastrophic global warming by computers.”

Silence reigns for a long moment before a wave of approving sniggers bursts forth. “Strewth that’s good... computers indeed... ha ha ha... some fun at last... I really must watch them bow the knee before their computers... don’t forget you had the best cloud last time... that wasn’t a proper noble cause though was it...”

“And...” Zeus continues, his powerful voice quelling the sniggers. “And we shall stop the global warming as soon as they are convinced they are about to fry unless they turn off the central heating and freeze to death.”

“Oh you delightful old swine... he’s not been like that for ages has he? ...have to admire the old sod... all by himself too... I'm impressed...”

“Plus – and here is the best bit.” Zeus pauses again, evidently pleased with the reception of his latest idea. “The best bit is...”

He pauses again, gazing out over a sea of gratifyingly expectant faces. “...the leader of the noble cause, the political figure who bestrides the globe foretelling fiery doom and disaster will be...

wait for it...

Al Gore!”

The celestial applause is rapturous.

Friday, 12 December 2014



For the sake of something which no one loves, strife never arises, there is no pain if it perishes, no envy if it is possessed by someone else, nor fear, nor hatred, and, to put it all briefly, no commotions of the mind at all.

Baruch Spinoza - Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (1677)

Thursday, 11 December 2014



Is there a connection between Tony Blair's climate change charity, the world's largest aluminium smelter and a Russian oligarch?

Give up?

Try Paul Homewood's post

Green opium


From the BBC:

Catholic bishops from around the world are calling for an end to fossil fuel use and increased efforts to secure a global climate treaty.

Catholics, they say, should engage with the process leading to a proposed new deal to be signed in Paris next year.

The statement is the first time that senior church figures from every continent have issued such a call.

Monday, 8 December 2014

A noble cause

One of the best explanations of the passion behind climate orthodoxy is that believers see it as a noble cause. As with so many other noble causes, veracity is less important than inspirational myths and narratives and far less important than a pervading sense of righteousness. The tragedy of the human condition is that veracity itself is not particularly inspirational.

There are number of righteous causes in the orthodox climate narrative. They seem to be a loose and generally left-wing amalgam of egalitarian politics, anti-capitalism, environmental angst and a deep and abiding desire to get out from under the thumb of the rich – and maybe screw them into the bargain. 

There is a strong Malthusian element too. Too many people is an important but often covert subtext – possibly the most important of all. Yet oddly enough another important factor is the fashionable need to be caring.

So not so noble, but noble causes rarely are.

Okay I’ve left a tinge of sarcasm in there, but the noble cause is a pretty good explanation for the irrationally passionate behaviour we see from climate orthodoxy. To begin with it tells us why a protracted period without warming has yet to derail the cause. The cause is noble – it does not have to make sense.

That’s the useful idiots explained.

Another key aspect we need to explain is the corruption at the core of climate science. Why do people assert, albeit covertly, that climate scientists have built climate models with predictive skill extending over a number of decades.

Weather forecasts 5 days. Climate forecasts 30 years.

The assertion is so ludicrous, so wildly inappropriate for anyone purporting to be sane, let alone a scientist, so obviously false, so ridiculously exaggerated, so.... So why is it sitting there at the core of all climate catastrophe claims?

Because the cause is felt to be incorruptibly noble?

I think that’s it. There is serious mismatch between the science and the reporting of it, but that probably isn’t the emotional driver for most believers. The noble cause is a good explanation because it is a common explanation. It fits. It is what people have done throughout recorded history - they have subscribed to noble causes.

Noble causes have been the bane of human society for thousands of years. From religious wars to pogroms and persecutions, from wars of conquest to racial subjugation to religious subjugation, to every kind of mass oppression, much of our history is the dismal history of noble causes.

The causes may seem far from noble to our cynical eyes, but that’s how they were sold, how they attracted and held their acolytes, how they silenced sceptics, how they justified burning and butchering dissenters. A history of ends justifying means over and over and over again.

So what comes next? Noble causes don’t simply evaporate because they are not noble and certainly not because they fail to respect the rules of veracity. Veracity doesn’t count for anything if the cause is felt to be noble – that’s putting means before ends.

So the cause marches on.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Attenuated regret

H H Munro (Saki)

Reggie listened with the attenuated regret that one bestows on an earthquake disaster in Bolivia or a crop failure in Eastern Turkestan, events which seem so distant that one can almost persuade oneself they haven’t happened.
H H Munro (Saki) - The Toys of Peace and Other Papers (1919)

Every now and then one comes across a gem of a phrase which perfectly encapsulates an aspect of social behaviour. To my mind, one such is attenuated regret as Saki used it. 

Did he invent this delicious phrase? I don't know, but a Google search for "attenuated regret" only gives around 218 results which is appalling for something so delightfully precise.

TV news readers have special facial expressions for attenuated regret, used when reporting disaster or tragic misfortune.

I wonder if they practice in front of the mirror, adjusting their features to achieve the correct degree of attenuation while at the same time preserving a clear semblance of regret? 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Subtracting the job

Scrobs reminded me of this one.

An interesting aspect of retirement is how different people cope with it. Among those I know, some couldn't wait. They didn't waste a second in getting on with real life when freed at last from the daily grind. Others admitted to being at a loss when the world of work disappeared from their lives. I’m in the former group. Always knew I would be.

No one knew anything about her, because there was nothing to know. Subtract the shop-assistant from her, and naught remained. Benighted and spiritually dead, she existed by habit.
Arnold Bennett - The Old Wives' Tale

I've not encountered a case as bad as that, but presumably some people allow paid employment to be a much bigger aspect of their lives than others, more deeply wedded to concepts of self. Maybe for the high-flying executive or business owner that is to be expected and understandable, but for ordinary employees?

The world of work certainly absorbs a huge amount of time over a working life, but we don’t have to tune ourselves to it body and soul do we? Maybe it is also the wrench of ingrained habits being dropped so abruptly between one day and the next. Obviously work instills certain habits which become redundant or far less important as soon as one leaves for the last time. 

Bang! Suddenly it’s all gone as you drive away for the last time.

As the habits become redundant it is easy to see how this could feel as if the self has also become redundant. Part of it has - how could things be otherwise after all those decades? Yet for some folk such as the writer of this post, it seems to be a chunk of self I dropped with no ill effects whatever...

...strewth! What am I thinking of? That’s enough about work.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Life down’t pit


In his novel Germinal, Émile Zola creates a revealing contrast between nineteenth century French coal miners and their comparatively wealthy manager who is acutely envious of one of the miners’ few freedoms - casual sex.

The manager's material situation is extremely comfortable but he is trapped in a loveless, non-physical marriage. As he walks around the grim industrial wasteland that is the local mining village he sees casual sexual encounters. They have become the norm, sometimes pursued in the open air. To him the mining community is a sexual paradise and his life of comfort is nothing in comparison.

His desolate household, his whole wounded life, choked him at the throat like a death agony. Things were not all for the best because one had bread. Who was the fool who placed earthly happiness in the partition of wealth? These revolutionary dreamers might demolish society and rebuilt another society; they would not add one joy to humanity, they would not take away one pain, by cutting bread-and-butter for everybody. They would even enlarge the unhappiness of the earth; they would one day make the very dogs howl with despair when they had taken them out of the tranquil satisfaction of instinct, to raise them to the unappeasable suffering of passion.
Émile Zola - Germinal

Initially I found the comparison unlikely. It seemed to strike a false note in an otherwise excellent novel. Surely casual sex would not have offset the appalling conditions the miners had to endure?

A moment's reflection suggested Zola would not make such a mistake - that wasn't the point. He did a great deal of research for Germinal and quite possibly heard someone in a similar position to the manager expressing such views.

The manager’s overwhelming sexual frustration highlights his dismal failure to reach across the social divide. He doesn’t even see that casual sex is the miners’ only freedom, doesn't even see how appallingly ludicrous it is to view it as the tranquil satisfaction of instinct.

Neither does he see the animal nature of it, how this ultimate degradation is caused by the mine owners he works for, how the dreadful conditions have stripped miners and their families of even their right to human dignity.

Powerful stuff. I’ve lived in ex-coalmining areas for decades and never detected the slightest whiff of nostalgia for life down’t pit. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Walk In The Park

We've lived within easy reach of it for most of our lives. This is only a promotional video which leaves out the sheep dung, brambles, mud and unfortunately litter in the popular spots. It gives some indication of why we'll be staying though.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

CCTV is so last year

Knightscope offers the only security solution capable of analyzing historical crime data, real-time on-site data, and social media feeds to generate truly valuable crime predictions. Our ADMs are an eye-catching physical presence that serve as front line guardians - autonomously protecting lives and property with an advanced array of sensor technologies.

The technologies are not new, but as yet the possibilities are barely off the ground. This is just an example.

Source   More here.

Sources of sanity


What is the furtive toad Cameron up to? Trying to persuade us he’s radical on EU issues? Why does the man bother? He’s as radical as Cornflakes and everyone knows it. I'm sure he’d be better off not pretending. Surely nobody is fooled?

At least I hope not. Cameron has no intention whatever of changing anything significant in our relationship with the EU. As for loons Miliband and Clegg...

Yet as we peruse these tales of insanity, there are saner worlds to set things right. At such moments of reflection I often turn to The Compleet Molesworth for an uplifting quote.

Another form of torture for parents is the displa of country dancing on ye sham village green. The skool gardener is awakened from another sleep in the onion bed and skool piano wheeled from big skool revealing wizard patch of dust marbles dead beetles conkers and skeletons of boys who have crept away to die.

Gosh that's better, almost as bracing as a walk in the hills. There is a world of sanity and good sense after all, a world of dust marbles dead beetles conkers and skeletons of boys who have crept away to die.

Monday, 1 December 2014

In your own words


In an idle moment I recently checked when I last sent a letter. September 2011 seems to be the most recent – a little over three years ago.

I know because I compose my letters in MS Word before printing them off and signing them. At least that’s what I used to do. I’ve no idea when I last sent a hand-written letter - or if I’ll ever send another. Probably not.

As you probably know, MS Word is able to correct certain spelling errors and highlight what it thinks are grammatical infelicities, as well as picking up missing punctuation or the same word written twice in succession. Such as ho ho.

Imagine a situation where this kind of automated assistance becomes a little more intrusive throughout the embedded text editors of email and social media. As with a spell checker it could highlight inappropriate words and suggest alternatives. A word such as “shit” could become slightly more difficult to write unless the digital assistant is switched off.

Maybe the loss of “shit” is no big deal, but what if the text editing software becomes still more intrusive and fiddly workarounds are needed to write the word “shit” at all. Taking it a stage further, suppose alternative phrasing is suggested whenever we leave a radical comment in the social media.

It isn’t an issue of libel, racism or whatever. There are usually existing policies for those issues. What is suggested here is more speculative. It lies in the technology and possibilities of a proximate future. A future of endlessly tightened guidance by all kinds of embedded text editors as they are tuned to our habits and to social norms.

This could occur under pressure from government bodies, pressure groups, charities and all the usual suspects - including mainstream media of course. Step by step is usually the way.

So what if one day we find our words are no longer our own?

Many won’t notice because they don’t use social media to express themselves in a radical manner. Their idle chatter is likely to remain untouched apart from digital finger-wagging over the expletives and a raised digital eyebrow when the ramblings become particularly incoherent.

What do you think?

Feel free to comment.

For now.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Frost flower

Roy Spencer captures the growth of a frost flower using time lapse photography. Best viewed full screen. His earlier video is here.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Idea Of Nature

It surprises me how often people who are not scientists seem to view science as something apart, an area of human knowledge they are not competent to judge. Yet we show much less restraint with the humanities, being happy to wade in and spray our opinions around whatever our level of expertise. At least I am.

Certainly there is an enormous body of factual information and theory in science and that is certainly a barrier to entry. However, we are not necessarily concerned with barriers to entry.

For example, it is often easy enough for anyone to judge scientific work if consequences are part of the public domain. Solar eclipses and the health consequences of smoking for example. Scientific veracity becomes a matter of public record, part of our social history.

A scientific theory not only rests on certain historical facts and is verified or disproved by certain other historical facts; it is itself an historical fact, namely, the fact that someone has propounded or accepted verified or disproved, that theory.
R G Collingwood - The Idea of Nature (1945)

If you ever come across Collingwood’s slim volume in a bookshop it is worth a browse. He takes the reader through an interesting tour of human ideas about the natural world beginning with Greek cosmology. 

To my mind Collingwood makes a good point about the historical nature of science. Once scientists enter the public domain via their predictions, offering health advice, supporting official policy and so on, then the general public may judge their claims on the historical record. Whether the claims are right or wrong may be indeterminate, but that too becomes part of the historical record.

So today, when the Royal Society claims certain climate events will occur by 2090, then from Collingwood’s perspective the claim is not necessarily scientific. It depends on the history of similar predictions, on what the historical record says about their success or failure.

Has the Royal Society made similar long-term climate predictions which proved prescient? Obviously not, the RS has no track record whatever in this area. Neither has anyone else. So from Collingwood's perspective the Royal Society isn't being scientific, but something else. 

Nobody needs a scientific background to see it.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Black Friday

Bloggers fighting over a Wittgenstein post

As you must know, the madness of Black Friday is upon us so bloggers are suffering from a frantic demand for stories. Many of our usual suppliers of words, phrases and quotes had run out of stock by nine o'clock.

In desperation we tried "Dodgy" Dave Cameron - Cheapest Words In Town but it was no dice. Only a few dribbles from his back catalogue were available.

As for "Fast Eddy" Miliband he seems to be all at sea. Nothing original on offer and his prices have to be seen to be believed.

By midday we resorted to asking Lord Prescott for a quote or two, but all he came back with was "I don't talk to you bluggers."

Ah well - normal service will be resumed as soon as the madness dies down. Meanwhile why not pop out for a spot of shopping?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Orwell was right


Below is a quote from Quine, a single sentence with which you may agree, disagree or reserve judgement. To my mind the sentence is problematic for two reasons. The first is that if accepted as true, then it has a fundamental influence on one’s personal philosophy.

There are so-called logical connections, and there are so-called causal ones; but any such interconnections of sentences must finally be due to the conditioning of sentences as responses to sentences as stimuli.
Willard Van Orman Quine - Word and Object

The second problem is that Quine’s sentence is true.

Obviously that doesn’t mean everyone has to accept it as true. It is rooted in commonly observed human behaviour, but no doubt many people have other standpoints on which they prefer to secure their personal philosophy.

Yet from early childhood we develop mental causal networks where one sentence causes another to pop out of our repertoire of responses. We are trained to give normative responses in order to use language effectively, so naturally enough that is what we do for the rest of our lives.

Citizens of the monolithic and tightly controlled political culture envisaged by George Orwell in his novel 1984 find it difficult or impossible to stray beyond political norms because their repertoire of responses has been so ruthlessly limited by the regime.

Winston Smith only achieves a glimpse of what freedom might mean via his work on altering newspaper reports, his constant exposure to physical evidence that all available information is being made to conform to current political narratives.

Smith’s awareness that things have been different gives him a limited ability to see that there are alternatives to official narratives. Unfortunately for him, he only sees what may be a deliberately constructed alternative – Goldstein’s ideology of dissent.

Without Smith's exposure to physical evidence, we may assume he would never have strayed that far. Even without the full implementation of Newspeak, he would have had insufficient exposure to any standpoint beyond established political norms. He and his fellow citizens cannot think out of the box if the box is all there is.

So Orwell was right. In a monolithic totalitarian culture, Newspeak is not only possible, but may even be inevitable.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Alfreton in Derbyshire is causing a stir with the magnitude of its latest crime wave.

A thief was caught stealing a teaspoon from a Tesco store after he said he had been considering buying a cutlery set for his mother.

Chesterfield magistrates’ court heard on Monday, November 24, how Hayden Walker, 23, of Rodgers Lane, Alfreton, was seen removing the spoon and then dumping the cutlery set on another shelf.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Has the C dropped off?

As the catastrophic climate narrative slumps inelegantly beneath a prolonged lack of warming, where does it leave us? Bearing in mind that it is not easy to come up with a higher authority than the climate – not even Vivienne Westwood on a good day.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the C has come tumbling off CAGW, or Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming as it used to be known before options were quietly widened via the weasel word change.

So apart from a dwindling band of doomsday hopefuls we are presumably left with AGW. Even that seems to be quietly mutating to ACC – Anthropogenic Climate Change. Ho hum, I suppose even a furtive and long overdue change of emphasis is probably welcome.

Where this takes us I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure we aren’t due for a bout of institutional honesty and the sweet strains of mea culpa issuing from the BBC, Guardian, IPCC, Defra, Greepeace, Al Gore, Ed Davey, Ed Miliband, Lord Deben and a host of middle class poseurs of the green persuasion.

It is more likely that the new narrative will be stitched to the old as seamlessly as a dodgy temperature graph. The new narrative will imply that ACC is what was meant all along and AGW will turn up eventually and meanwhile every single weather outlier will be the weirdest weather since the last weird weather and anyone who says otherwise is some kind of flat-earth far-right nutcase denier in the pay of Big Oil...

...or whatever.

The irony is that most climate sceptics probably have no great problem with ACC because we could be affecting the climate in a number of ways from land usage to atmospheric nitrogen or sulphur pollution to airborne particulates. Most sceptics also think CO2 may have a minor effect, but nothing remotely like the calamity proclaimed for so long by the swivel-eyed activists.

The debate may even lurch towards something delightfully rational, where uncertainty is given its rightful place in the science... I’m not holding my breath for that one.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dead dog politics

I don’t support any of the three main UK political parties, although over the decades I’ve voted for all of them at one time or another. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a waste of time, but ho hum - onward and downward.

In spite of this, I have a sneaking tendency to see the Labour party as the major problem with UK politics. Not by a massive margin, but I see Labour as Top Problem. The reason is familiar enough – too many Labour voters do not seem to care how their MP and their party actually perform once in office.

When Labour MP  Denis MacShane was jailed for expenses fraud, the voters simply elected another from the same party. They didn’t seem willing to punish their party for harbouring an MP convicted of false accounting. The other parties are almost as bad, but in my view not quite as bad, not quite as insanely loyal. It's a fine distinction but real enough I think.

Suppose we call it dead dog politics.

Dead dog voters are happy to vote for their party even if it the candidate might as well be a dead dog towed around the streets by its enthusiastic agent. Okay, so dead dogs don’t actually kiss babies but as far as voters are concerned that doesn’t matter – the metaphorically deceased mutt belong to the right party so it’s a done deal as far as Mr and Ms Voter are concerned.

Unfortunately this weird level of loyalty leads to dead dog MPs being elected to the House of Commons. They support their party come what may. They don’t even have the detached point of view of a real dead dog... hmm... that’s something to ponder.

Dead dog voting is not so much a problem as a route to democratic disaster. Even so, I’m not sure the average voter cares about such theoretical clouds on the horizon. Democracy eh? Who needs it? If the dead dog has the right rosette pinned to its collar, then what’s the problem dude?

So on the whole I don’t think we were cut out for this democracy lark.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The mendacity of institutions

It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.
Samuel Johnson quoted in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Memories of my younger days suggest that institutions had more integrity than is the case today. The Post Office, the BBC, the AA, the police, the local council and even the government may have been stuffy and somewhat inefficient, but were not generally regarded as mendacious.

Today institutions have changed for the worse – they tell lies. Usually lies of omission, Johnson's carelessness perhaps, but still lies. I could be looking back through rose-tinted spectacles of course, but I’m not too sentimental, I don’t actually want to go back to driving an Austin A40. In any case, there is a reasonable explanation for the mendacity of modern institutions and that’s public relations.

A few decades ago, institutions may have had their press office to deal with newspaper reporters and even a rare visit by a chap from the BBC, but they were much less inclined to put out a message so dripping with positive spin that it may as well be a barefaced lie.

Modern institutions have their off-days, but are far more inclined to defend the indefensible, if necessary for years. They are far more inclined to put out press releases which don’t even tell half the story, manufacture stories from nothing and generally exaggerate, misinform and mislead.

That would be bad enough, but all this positive spin promotes institutional mendacity. That in turn promotes mendacity among employees. It attracts those who are more inclined towards shading the truth, influences career progression, seeps into the culture, infecting everyone without the integrity to resist.

Institutions were always an important part of our culture. The BBC, the police with their whistles, bicycles and truncheons, the local council and the local bank. Again it’s worth wiping those rose-tinted spectacles in case they are misted up with nostalgia for a more honest past, but I don’t think it is all nostalgia.

The mendacity of institutions is genuine and most of it seems to be down to PR. How are we supposed to build a culture on lying?

Friday, 21 November 2014

Dreaming of Boris


Fortunately I never dream of Boris Johnson, but the other day I had a kind of surreal daydream while musing on the various nutters determined to rule our lives. Maybe their nuttiness is infectious.

In my daydream, Boris was on a local bus so I sat next to him. I had to - there was nowhere else to sit. Some seats were occupied by glossy young people with iPads. All the remaining seats were cordoned off with some kind of red tape, so I “chose” the one by Boris.

‘Blimey, don’t take any notice of that – just treat it as a cheeky little nudge,’ Boris chuckled, pointing a pink finger at the tape. ‘It’s all Cameron’s idea, this nudging caper,’ he added. ‘I took it into my noddle to push it too its logical conclusion but it’s only a harmless jape to put you chaps at your ease.’

‘You chaps?’ I asked but Boris was off on another tack.

‘I’ve been busy today - buying some tremendously attractive and very reasonably priced oven-to-table ware,’ he went on as we drove by Denby pottery, ignoring a crowded bus stop. ‘Back at base they insist I should get out more if I’m to move on... not that I am moving on or have any ambitions in other directions beyond mayor of London which is of course my proudest.... proudest thingy.’

He gazed out of the bus window, suddenly listless. ‘So here I am not moving on... on a bus,’ he added after a few moments of silent contemplation. He mussed up his hair which had fallen into place as it so inconveniently does.

‘But why come here?’ I asked. ‘Why a bus - and why oven to table ware - specifically? What’s the policy angle on stoneware pottery?’

‘Oh I don’t know, I don’t use it myself. It was something to do during my tour of the North, part of the connecting with people idea I thought of in bed... in my bed I hasten to add.’ He laughed and wobbled.

‘This isn’t the North,’ I pointed out.

‘Isn’t – umm – isn’t your whippet allowed on the bus?’ Boris bent down to peer under our seat.

‘My whippet?’

‘You must know what a whippet is,’ Boris replied, his voice somewhat strained from bending down. ‘Skinny little dogs – run like blazes. Usually fed on tripe I believe.’

‘We don’t all have whippets and this is the Midlands, not the North,’ I informed him. I had to address his broad back because he was still peering under our seat.

‘Well this is North enough for me,’ he said, returning to a vertical posture, pink-faced after his prolonged underseat examination. ‘I’m not venturing beyond the tree line in a bus.’ He laughed again.

We said nothing for a while as the bus trundled on its way, passing bus stop after bus stop. Boris seemed worried, but I didn’t have enough sympathy to offer him. Anyway, one of the iPad crew was rolling up the tape so I assumed this phase of Boris’ connecting with people idea was fizzling out.

‘This is my stop,’ I said as we trundled through the outskirts of Derby.

‘Before you go...’ Boris grabbed my arm. ‘Why don’t people realise I’m just a regular guy with some terrific ideas who would always to his damndest for them... in the event of... well under changed circumstances... whatever they may be.’

‘Think about mendacious hairstyles and move on from there,’ I replied.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Creed

Everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed.
Baruch Spinoza - Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

Nice try Baruch old fruit, but we should be so lucky.

Political correctness, cultural ambiguities, middle class anxieties and an abundance of stupidity seem to have evolved into what looks like a global creed. We see its fingerprints all over the current obsession with fanatically detailed social control, so let us see where the notion takes us. First we have to give the Creed more width and depth than we see in political correctness. 

To begin with we need not assume that the Creed was designed by some evil cabal of international fixers. Once it had enough momentum, then moral stupidity and political cupidity were enough to make it fly. All it required was an endless supply of nudges from inadequate politicians and our willingness to be nudged. Willingness in the sense of crowding together with regular prods to keep us mooing along in the right direction.

So the Creed is merely an outcome of our prosperous silliness, cultural weaknesses and feeble political ambivalence. It revels in those weirdly sentimental pretensions to ethical integrity we see in the so-called liberal media. The BBC and the Guardian for example.

Creed angst – you are destroying the planet.
Creed angst - the rich and powerful will do bad things.
Creed angst – something must be done.
Creed sloth – something must be done.
Creed economics – tax the rich.
Creed equality – tax the rich.
Creed philosophy – what’s your label?
Creed politics – what’s your label?
Creed religion – what’s your label?
Creed diversity – the One Creed is the Only Creed.

And so on. Essentially the Creed appears to be an evolved form of global socialism with a pervasive sentimental fuzziness woven into every thread of its fabric. It has no formal structure because it doesn’t need one. Now it has taken root it simply spews out more and more laws, regulations, treaties and those sanctimonious nudges providing constant reassurance that Something Will Always Be Done.

Equally important is the rise of an ugly and vindictive hostility directed at non-Creed folk. The threat is real - the Creed is ferociously anti-intellectual. The endlessly subtle malice of ostracism and low-key malice are directed at anyone who is openly non-Creed. This is a powerful feature – everyone is free to be as sanctimoniously malicious towards infidels as they wish.

The Creed is promoted by the EU, the UN, a vast array of charities and tax-funded pressure groups as well as traditional political parties of the left or right although it tends leans heavily to the left. As with Freudian psychoanalysis, Creed memes and narratives are aimed at acolytes only. The opinions of outside critics are irrelevant, usually attributed to their aberrant non-Creed psychology.

As the Creed is globally promoted and backed by colossal political and financial clout, its memes, narratives and prohibitions will be a dominant feature of our lives for decades at least. Forever in practical terms.

We can’t ignore it and Creed imbecilities still have to be trashed. But it is rather like standing at the door arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sooner or later it is time to close the door and put the kettle on. There are better things to do, fragments of integrity to gather in and nurture against a long Creed winter.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The robots are still coming

“Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven”
Automatically captioned picture from Google

News stories often link themselves together in your mind. Two stories recently mated in my mind and you can make of that what you will. Remember my age though.

Firstly there was the BBC story on a comment made by the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership.

More than a fifth of UK jobs only require the educational level of an 11-year-old, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership has highlighted.

Sir Charlie Mayfield drew attention to figures showing 22% of jobs demand only primary school-level skills...

This dwindling of middle-ranking job opportunities - which can provide a stepping stone for people advancing their career, could limit social mobility "at a time when we need more of that, not less", he said.

He contrasted the picture in the UK with that in the US and Germany, where the proportion of jobs which can be performed with just primary school-level attainment is much lower, at 10% and 5% respectively.

The quoted numbers from the US and Germany might suggest that the UK simply has more low skill jobs than the US, but another story popped up which again suggest a much more intractable problem is on the horizon.

From the Google Research Blog we have:-

“Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven”
“A group of people shopping at an outdoor market”
“Best seats in the house”

People can summarize a complex scene in a few words without thinking twice. It’s much more difficult for computers. But we’ve just gotten a bit closer -- we’ve developed a machine-learning system that can automatically produce captions (like the three above) to accurately describe images the first time it sees them.

On the face of it the two stories are only very loosely connected in that we all know how technical advances can and do destroy jobs. However, if computers can accurately describe what they see then we move another step closer to two things we have feared for a long time.

In principle and potentially, this level of automated recognition does away with the need for the human function of keeping and eye on processes and people. It does away with one aspect of supervision - knowing what goes on.

In itself this is just another successful technical development, a piece in an evolving jigsaw, but that jigsaw also includes those observations by the chairman of John Lewis. It isn't necessary for computers to match human intelligence before they compete with us in areas we once thought were exclusively human. They merely have to make the best use of their intrinsic advantages.

Who else could use an army of intelligent, unwinking watchers?