Thursday, 27 February 2014

That double-faced companion

Above all things he feared imagination, that double-faced companion, friend on one side and foe on the other – friend in so far as one distrusts it, and enemy if one goes trustfully to sleep to the sound of its sweet murmur.
Ivan Goncharov – Oblamov

Spinoza distrusted imagination, seeing it as the primary form of defective and deceptive thinking. However, both his view and Goncharov’s may have been influenced by the absurdly superstitious worlds in which they found themselves.

These days we value our imagination, often equating it to creativity. Yet I think Spinoza and Goncharov had a point and we should distrust its sweet murmur. It seems to me that vast swathes of political reasoning are little more than the sweet murmur of imagination swirling around some more or less nebulous utopian core.

Impossibilities dressed up as possibilities, like a dream where we swoop and soar through fluffy clouds supported by nothing better than the power of the unconscious mind to pooh pooh physics.

One day there will be an app for people who hanker after a more active imagination. An app which knows our habits and limitations will trawl the web to find some imaginative yet personalised possibilities complete with bespoke ads and special offers...

...and that’s enough imagination for one day.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Turbine visible from Birmingham

One of the wind turbines in Spondon

From the Derby Telegraph

A GROUP of villagers say they will fight a forthcoming planning application to erect a 252ft wind turbine which they believe could be seen from Birmingham.

Residents in Cubley are in talks to form a group called Cubley Against Wind Turbines (CAWT) to raise awareness of a planning application due to be submitted to Derbyshire Dales District Council next month.

They have my sympathy. We visited a favourite Derbyshire viewpoint today only to find it spoiled by a bunch of enormous wind turbines built after the Planning Inspectorate overruled the local councillors.

These things can be visually dominating, they radiate an unmissable message that we ordinary people don't matter, our landscapes don't matter, our lives don't matter because when it comes down to it we don't count for much.

A number of wind turbines have gone up across Derbyshire in recent years. Most prominent are two 130-metre structures in Spondon, which are six times taller than the Angel of the North.


For those of a certain age.

From PaulR

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Where our enemy hides

In my view a significant proportion of the public sector generates junk. This is largely achieved by ignoring efficiency and by gold-plating regulations.

The private sector also generates junk via market logic – if the customer can be persuaded to accept it, then junk it is.

So we end up with two broad types of junk and have been conditioned to accept both. This is politically convenient because it generates an endless source of misdirection over those we see as the political good guys and those we see as bad. Good junk versus bad junk.

In order to form an idea of an unknown situation our imagination borrows elements that are already familiar.
Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu

The real problem seems to be one of power – obviously. If governments, bureaucracies or global companies have too much power then they abuse it by filling our lives with junk. They don’t necessarily abuse it because ratbags are running the show, although that’s often the case, but because there is no adequate opposition. We are insufficiently junkphobic.

So we have far too many regulations, far too many constraints on individual freedom and vast global companies buy their way into the corridors of power and our lives. These trends are obviously not desirable, but the surest way to misunderstand them is to present modern politics as an antiquated left/right dichotomy.

There is no left/right dichotomy except in our political traditions which have long outlived their usefulness. The same applies to traditional political parties.

The only political issue is who has the power, what they are doing with it. If those with the power collude as they now do, then we have power structures which cannot be effectively opposed from a traditional left/right standpoint.

So the only political reality is global trends in political and economic power. The old left/right dichotomy doesn’t even come close to an adequate narrative.

This is not where our enemy hides.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Ripley Rattlers

A Ripley Rattler in Upper Parliament Street
waiting to begin the 15-mile trip to Ripley

D H Lawrence knew all about the tram service from Nottingham to Ripley in Derbyshire. Largely because of the gradients it had to negotiate, it was reputed to be the most dangerous tram route in England. The trams were known as the Ripley Rattlers.

There is in the Midlands a single-line tramway system which boldly leaves the county town and plunges off into the black, industrial countryside, up hill and down dale, through the long ugly villages of workmen's houses, over canals and railways, past churches perched high and nobly over the smoke and shadows, through stark, grimy cold little market-places, tilting away in a rush past cinemas and shops down to the hollow where the collieries are, then up again, past a little rural church, under the ash trees, on in a rush to the terminus, the last little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond.

This, the most dangerous tram-service in England, as the authorities themselves declare, with pride, is entirely conducted by girls, and driven by rash young men, or else by invalids who creep forward in terror. The girls are fearless young hussies. In their ugly blue uniforms, skirts up to their knees, shapeless old peaked caps on their heads, they have all the sang-froid of an old non-commissioned officer. With a tram packed with howling colliers, roaring hymns downstairs and a sort of antiphony of obscenities upstairs, the lasses are perfectly at their ease. They pounce on the youths who try to evade their ticket-machine. They push off the men at the end of their distance. They are not going to be done in the eye—not they. They fear nobody—and everybody fears them.

D H Lawrence - Tickets Please (1919).

Or more prosaically from Wikipedia:-

The original Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Company Bill of 1902 was an ambitious application which proposed the building of 79 miles (127 km) of track to link together the tramway systems of Nottingham, Derby and Ilkeston. 

However, when passed the following year the Act only authorized the construction of 39 miles (63 km) of route, of which only 11 miles (18 km) were laid, the section from Ripley to Cinderhill. This was the beginning of the service known locally as the Ripley Rattlers.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rubbish theatre

Chad tells us of an exciting development in rubbish theatre.

A new generation of Derbyshire residents are being taught the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling rubbish with the help of a theatre production.

Derbyshire County Council has commissioned the Gibber Theatre Company to bring The Waste Watchers to Derbyshire secondary schools.

Year 7 or 8 pupils in 35 secondary schools will see an exciting 50-minute interactive performance which uses humour, music, multimedia and popular culture to capture the importance of key environmental themes such as food waste and the benefits of putting unwanted items to good use.

It all sounds dreadfully passive to this crusty old cynic - passive for the kids that is. It serves as a reminder that words don't really measure up when it comes to instilling a political message - which must be instilled because that's the only way to get those boxes ticked.

Not that I have any strong objections to reducing waste and even recycling where it is worthwhile, but this kind of thing has the unmistakable whiff of sanctimony. An invitation to join a self-righteous crusade rather than anything resembling objective appraisal. 

It's a covert nudge for kids to harangue their parents too I suppose - which many undoubtedly will. Trainee prigs for a brave new world.

I wonder if environmental themes such as flooding and land drainage will attract a topical mention? I hope not. Somehow I'm pretty sure what that message would be.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The thoughts of other people

I always find this quote a little spooky - Proust's assertion that our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. 

Most of us I suspect would prefer to keep something in reserve, some aspect of our social personality for which we alone are responsible. Megalomaniacs insist on it.

But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people.

Even the simple act which we describe as ‘seeing someone we know’ is, to some extent, an intellectual process.

We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principle place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognize and to which we listen.

Marcel Proust – À la recherche du temps perdu

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Breaking windows

From Wikipedia

The broken window parable has interested me for years, because much of what we do seems akin to breaking windows.

Much of what we do seems :-

Designed to fail so we can do it again.
Designed to fail so we can buy another one.
Designed to fail so we need regular maintenance.
Designed to fail so we need regular policing.
Designed to fail the vagaries of fashion.
Designed to be laborious so we need more staff.
Designed to be complex so we need more consultants.

And so on and so on. It seems to be a feature of almost any society - promoting wasteful activity once we have a full belly and a warm hut. When we can afford some illusions to keep reality at bay.

Even a Dark Age village may have been able to feed a travelling story-teller in return for a night or two of entertainment - to keep reality at bay.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The tool-maker

Men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection; and so gradually mounted from the simplest operations to the making of tools, and from the making of tools to the making of more complex tools, and fresh feats of workmanship, till they arrived at making, complicated mechanisms which they now possess.

 So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.

Benedict Spinoza – On the Correction of the Understanding (1662)

To my mind, Spinoza’s analogy is a powerful one. In fact I’d go further and suggest that all we really do with our supposed intelligence is hone our tool-making skills. Particularly if we allow Spinoza’s point about abstract tools – the intellectual instruments he refers to.

I suppose language is the primary intellectual tool, but how do we know we are making the best use of it? Maybe it’s the tool-like qualities of our ideas – our intellectual instruments. In that case, intellectual instruments could be rather like directions, advice, rules or instruction manuals. Or indeed a personal philosophy.

Science includes tool-making of both types – physical and intellectual. However, unless a scientific investigation ends up with a new physical tool it isn’t always easy to see why we should classify it as science. 

A tool in this sense might be as complex as a biochemical process for making a new drug, but it would still be a physical tool. Scientific intellectual instruments might be atomic theory or the periodic table whose tool-like qualities seem pretty clear.

So I think it is legitimate to ask any scientist – what have you built, what does it do, can I buy one, how do I use it? Of course the answer may be I haven’t made anything yet – give it time. Fair enough, but at some point a useful tool, physical or intellectual, has to make an appearance. Otherwise a cynic might suspect some scientists of being little more than remunerated gossips.

What tools have psychology, sociology and economics come up with? Intellectual instruments such as informed practical advice? Advice with some relevance to the real world even if that relevance is only seen in human behaviour?

These activities do seem to straddle the divide between philosophy and science, generating intellectual instruments rather than physical tools. Yes, there are psychoactive drugs, but I think the distinction is valid.

Not remunerated gossip? Not necessarily, but they have to work hard to create genuinely useful intellectual instruments and as far as I can see often don’t.

To take another example, multiverse theories and string theories appear to have produced no new physical tools or new uses for existing tools – nothing to collect new data from observable physical reality. Maybe they are intellectual instruments. Maybe, but their apparent lack of tool-like qualities is interesting.

Climate science has developed computer models which could have been scientific tools apart from the fact that they don’t work. So where does that leave them as physical tools? Maybe they need more development time. 

Would you buy a climate model?

Is some science little more than remunerated gossip? Well there is certainly a lot of it about and the key point about remunerated gossip is – it’s remunerated.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Gi’ em what they want

Eighteenth century creamware teapot

A few decades ago we tried our hand at antiques dealing. Those were the days when every leisure centre and church hall held an antiques fair at least once a month and they were usually full because people had seen lots of antiques on the telly.

We were nervous about our first fair because we weren’t sure what to expect on the dealer’s side of the stall. Would the other dealers turn out to be supercilious experts? Well we already knew that was unlikely because we’d been to so many as browsers and occasional buyers.

Our stall was next to a guy who just sold bric-a-brac, anything from vinyl records to toys to bits and pieces of tat nobody could possibly want. Except they did want it and he was busy all day.

“I just gi’ em what they want,” he said almost apologetically after running a doubtful eye over our stall.

It was our first hard knock and a timely one too. It isn’t just a case of buying well, but of buying what people want at a price well below what they might be prepared to pay. It’s no good following your own tastes either – you have to buy what the market likes.

All this is obvious stuff and nothing we didn’t know at the time, but somehow it isn’t as easy to do as it sounds. I found it very difficult to put my interests and preferences to one side. It’s no good finding a piece of china with a rare mark if it just looks like a cruddy old teapot. To the market that’s what it is.

Cruddy old bits of china don’t sell unless there is something seriously special about them such as turning out to be early Ming. Even then it might be a fake and who can tell these days without expensive scientific tests?

It’s a strange and fickle market. For example, today you can buy good solid antique furniture for peanuts. Furniture which will easily last a hundred years.

But it isn’t as fashionable as junk from IKEA made from chipboard or lumpy furniture which looks as it was made by taking a chainsaw to some old railway sleepers. Or faux antique shabby chic which costs as much and is less well made than the real thing.

Gi’ em what they want – it's almost a philosophy.

Monday, 17 February 2014


Salammbô by Alfons Mucha (1896)
from Wikipedia

I recently finished Gustave Flaubert’s novel Salammbô published in 1862. The only other Flaubert novel I’ve ever read is, inevitably, Madame Bovary. Salammbô is not at all like Madame Bovary.

Wikipedia describes it as largely an exercise in sensuous and violent exoticism which is about right. It is set in Carthage during the Mercenary Revolt triggered when Carthage failed to pay its mercenaries after the First Punic War.

Flaubert researched the period in great detail, using Polybius as his main source and the novel simply oozes fascinating detail. It almost makes one want to rush off and imbibe the history of this exotic city.

The main characters are Salammbô herself, a fictitious Carthaginian priestess, her father Hamilcar the Carthaginian general and father of Hannibal, plus two mercenary leaders Matho and Spendius.

While reading the book I had to look up what Dickens was publishing at the time - by way of a cultural comparison. It turned out to be the serialised version of Great Expectations completed in 1861, highlighting the vast gulf between Salammbô and Dickens' typically sentimental tale.

A single example of the exoticism in Salammbô will probably suffice. It concerns Hanno, a rich Carthaginian general suffering from an incurable and highly unpleasant skin disease :-

From time to time he would rub his limbs with his aloe-wood spatula, or perhaps he would break off to drink a ptisan made of the ashes of a weasel and asparagus boiled in vinegar from a silver cup handed to him by a slave; then he would wipe his lips with a scarlet napkin and resume:

For me, a key feature of this impressive work is its depiction of an ancient yet complex society with its tangled themes of casual violence, abject superstitions and sensuous decadence amid the most grotesque inequalities.

Crucifixion and torture are commonplace yet almost understandable in a society driven by a constant, nagging fear of bloody conquest where the victor takes all and the vanquished may count themselves lucky if merely killed quickly with a clean sword thrust.

Even dogs howl at their peril, with no RSPCA to look after their canine rights.

He awoke her before daylight. The dog was howling. The slave went up to it quietly, and struck off its head with a single blow of his dagger. Then he rubbed the horses' nostrils with blood to revive them.

At one point, the mercenaries' siege of Carthage, the situation becomes so dire that the citizens resort to sacrificing children, burning them alive within a huge hollow brass effigy of the Baal Moloch.

Then the faithful came into the passages, dragging their children, who clung to them; and they beat them in order to make them let go, and handed them over to the men in red.

The instrument-players sometimes stopped through exhaustion; then the cries of the mothers might be heard, and the frizzling of the fat as it fell upon the coals.

Far removed from the death of Little Nell isn't it?

In the end, Hamilcar is victorious. After a series of skirmishes, sieges and battles such as the grisly Battle of "The Saw", Matho ends up captured and tortured to death while Spendius is crucified. The mercenary army is destroyed, its remnants no longer of any account. For the Carthaginians, Moloch has been satisfied. 
For now.

When night had fallen yellow-haired dogs, those unclean beasts which followed the armies, came quite softly into the midst of the Barbarians. At first they licked the clots of blood on the still tepid stumps; and soon they began to devour the corpses, biting into the stomachs first of all.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dead Dysons

From Wikipedia

We took our defunct Dyson vacuum cleaner to the local dump recycling centre today. As I added our contribution to a folorn little huddle of dead vacuum cleaners, I noticed five out of six were Dysons. The outsider was a lone Vax.

The sample is too small for stats of course, but I've noticed before that people seem keen on chucking them out. We've had a few Dysons and I can't claim they were worth the extra money. They work fairly well and you don't have to buy bags, but ours didn't last any longer than previous non-Dyson cleaners and I'm not so sure about their performance.

Bags may loose their suction as they fill up, but I'm sure our Dysons have not given us a more dust-free house. We now have a Miele with a bag and so far it seems superior to the Dysons in that it actually does what a vacuum cleaner is supposed to do. It sucks up the dust and keeps it in that bag - all of it as far as one can tell.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Is blogging dead?

Here's an interesting piece posted by Jason Kottke at the end of 2013.

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

I'm sure he's right - people have so many ways to pick up links that blogging is bound to decline, at least relatively and probably in absolute terms too. Here's the Google Trends graph for the term blog.

Not a huge decline, but it has been going on since about 2010, so isn't a new trend. What does the future hold for blogging? Well the decline looks real and is easy enough to understand because of the proliferation of alternatives and social media fashions. Even anecdotal evidence suggests there are a large number of defunct blogs out there.

What will be will be, yet blogs played a major part in exposing the shonky science behind the climate change scam and there is still much to do. Will other forms of social media take on this kind of work should it become necessary?

I don't know, but we live in interesting times.

Friday, 14 February 2014

What does the internet think?

There's an odd site called It's been around for a few years as far as I can tell.

Enter a search term and it tells you how "popular" the term is on the internet. Quite what it is supposed to be doing behind the scenes to generate internet "popularity" I've no idea. Presumably it's hit count, but which hits are being counted? The thing is a little sparse with explanations. It also allows the comparison of two terms.

For example, it says flooding is much more popular than Nick Clegg. Well I'm not one of Nick's few fans, but the result seems a little unlikely even to me. Maybe it's that word "popular", but if it's just hit counts why not just say so? We can get that from Google.

It even claims that flooding is more "popular" than strawberry jam. I'm not sure how many people would align themselves with that one, but it can't be a vast number. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

I like ice cream

From Wikipedia

Back in the seventies when Big Questions were generally sorted out at the pub over a game of darts, a philosophically-minded friend said something to me I’ve always remembered.

“In the end you have to say I like ice cream.”

What he meant was obvious enough – we have our preferences and allegiances and in end we have to admit that’s all they are. We usually pad it out with reasoned argument but may as well admit what’s behind it all – a liking for our own conclusions.

Most of us are not open to verbal persuasion and although the arts of argument can be good for the soul, it is worth remembering why we like ice cream. Or whatever else takes your fancy.

I like that cheap synthetic swirly stuff with a chocolate flake shoved in. I’m not so keen on proper ice cream full of genuine dairy products.

A piece of human soliloquy

A quote from Santayana on the systems framing our ideas.

No system would have ever been framed if people had been simply interested in knowing what is true, whatever it may be. What produces systems is the interest in maintaining against all comers that some favourite or inherited idea of ours is sufficient and right.

A system may contain an account of many things which, in detail, are true enough; but as a system, covering infinite possibilities that neither our experience nor our logic can prejudge, it must be a work of imagination and a piece of human soliloquy. It may be expressive of human experience, it may be poetical; but how should anyone who really coveted truth suppose that it was true?

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion

My reading of this is that experience is one thing, but framing into some kind of congenial narrative is another, much more problematic matter.

On the whole I am a data man. The data of experience may not be entirely trustworthy, but generally it is often more trustworthy than data framed by some prior allegiance, especially those covert allegiances of self-interest.

Not only that, very often the art of life lies in allowing the data of experience to tell its story, especially where the subject is complex. Unfortunately, as complexity increases so does the commercial, institutional and political value of those framing narratives. Leviathans to which we hand over our allegiance without so much as a whipped whimper.

Yet there are many times when data does tell a story if we are prepared to listen. Many folk seem to know this instinctively. They live life from day to day, being wary of confusing the data of experience with airy speculations.

I can’t help thinking it’s a good policy, but then another airy speculation comes along and off I go a-framing.

Monday, 10 February 2014

What is climate science?

One of my minor ambitions has been to settle on a promising area of climate science and study it in depth. Downloading papers, data, plotting my own graphs and calculating my own stats – that kind of depth. However a problem arose.

What to study?

The more I look at the climate sciences, the more convinced I become that we are not even close to articulating the main climate drivers with their timescales and uncertainties. Well maybe we are getting to know more and more about the uncertainties, but that's the problem.

Although we are accustomed to speak and write of climate science and climate scientist, there are no such beasts. We use the terms as established norms of verbal behaviour, but in my view they do more harm than good. Our global climate is far too complex to be studied within a single discipline and it's time we acknowledged it.

In much the same way we speak of chemistry and chemists when what we really have are specialist chemists working in related areas we place under the umbrella of chemical science.

Unfortunately, sticking with the chemistry analogy, climate science has yet to discover its periodic table. Without something of the kind, some overall theory to justify the term climate science, there is not enough coherence to stitch the various climate sciences together. It is also possible that some climate sciences such as dendroclimatology may become obsolete.

I think a good deal of confusion has arisen from a perception that the climate is a cluster of known scientific laws so the stitching together is already done by those laws. There seems to be a largely covert assumption that all will become clear if only climate scientists select the appropriate data and build models to encapsulate known scientific laws.

This is essentially philosophical assumption – that it must be possible to resolve climate behaviour into known physics. However, with numerous failed climate predictions and the current warming hiatus, it is obviously not so. The current state of the game is that climate behaviour cannot be resolved into known physical laws.

So I haven’t found an area promising enough to be worth studying in depth because so far there isn’t one. That may be one reason why the public domain is saturated with embarrassing falsehoods, emotional rhetoric and appeals to authority. For those who must persuade and those who must be persuaded, there is nothing else on which to base the arts of persuasion.

The climate is fiendishly complex on all timescales. We need much more data and a huge flash of inspiration, but in any event there are no experts with a grasp of the whole subject.

As yet there is no such thing as climate science.

Carbon-free blogging

This post demonstrates a new carbon-free technology where individual green blog posts can be entirely powered by wind turb




                                            turns out.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

False gods

From Wikipedia

For some of us without a belief in God, it may be disappointing that so many false gods have slipped into the godless vacuum that is modern society. At least a belief in God tended to highlight the worship of false gods, bringing out the fact that they were gods, were worshipped and were false.

Take whales as a crazy example. Study the ecstatic faces of those who observe their first whale – after all it’s something we see on TV often enough. Why ecstatic? Have whales been promoted to minor deities? Ludicrously enough, yes they obviously have – for some. The environment appears to be a zoo of minor deities apart from its human denizens. Humans seem to be the demons in this strange new Godless but god-riddled world.

The great and somewhat covert myth of western secularism was that social control would somehow turn out to be less rigid and oppressive than during our predominantly Christian social evolution.

Yet what is a person in our brave new secular world? As far as ruling technocrats and global corporations are concerned, a person seems to be no more than a pattern of behaviour. Not a mind, not an individual, not a free citizen with spiritual values, moral standards or any of those old-fashioned notions, but simply a pattern of behaviour.

So how wide is this range of person-defining behaviour? Well surely the first and most obvious question is – what range of behaviour might be acceptable to our puppet masters – given what we already know of them?

So that’s a narrow range of behaviour isn’t it?

The only important behavours are probably political and social timidity combined with naive shopping habits. That’s it – that’s probably all that is required of ordinary citizens.

Truth is one of the most obvious casualties, truth so often being inimical to manipulative narratives. So a politician’s job is not truth-driven and politicians are not truth-seekers. Why would they be in a secular society wholly based on manipulative narratives designed behind the scenes? It wouldn’t work.

A truth-seeking culture would screw up all those manipulative narratives. In a secular society, political and commercial dishonesty always have this covert yet wholly essential rationale.

So secular society has not proved to be the brave new rational world many secular folk may have dreamed of – and in many cases worked for. What was overlooked is that a secular desire to control behaviour in pursuit of political security and commercial advantage has no reason to stop at any particular juncture other than economic and technical feasibility.

So the only limits we have on attempts to control behaviour are economic and technical – not moral or spiritual. Control cannot be halted by any countervailing moral or spiritual force because to an increasingly large extent there isn’t one. We secular folk rejected it.

Christian religious traditions on the other hand, whatever faults and corruptions may have occurred over the centuries, were rational attempts to make moral and spiritual sense of the human condition. Our shift towards a more secular society leaves a moral hole inevitably filled by political correctness simply because that’s the biggest game in town. Promoted to that position by secular indifference and outright stupidity.

That is certainly not to say that one society is to be preferred over another. I don’t hanker after Victorian morality, but those of us with a secular outlook have a problem we seem reluctant to acknowledge. The defects of secular society may at the moment be tolerable to many, but much of that tolerance may be due to little more than physical comfort. Food, shelter and entertainment have subverted us – or too many of us at least.

Should our physical situation become less comfortable, then the defects of a secular society may well become startlingly apparent. Startling to those who missed what was going on any rate.

The Lone Ranger

From Wikipedia

I still have the remnants of a cold, so yesterday we decided to spend the evening watching a film. I braved the chill winds to search out a DVD in Sainsbury’s – anything even vaguely watchable was the brief.

After peering a row after row of dross I settled on The Lone Ranger, partly because I watched the TV series as a child in the fifties and partly because the film was a flop and the critics generally panned it. I hardly watch films, but anything panned by the critics must be worth a look.

Well it’s rather long at 143 minutes, but I thought it was fine. Good guys, bad guys, lots of gore, lots of action and plenty of knockabout humour.

Apart from the gore, special effects and humour, it’s a fairly straightforward western with runaway trains, a whorehouse madam with a shotgun hidden in her false leg, Johnny Depp with a dead crow on his head and a somewhat reluctant Lone Ranger.

I won’t give anything away in case you haven’t seen it, but although a little long, I found it to be watchable fun. What else is a film supposed to be?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Does the web think?


It is obvious that most politicians do not see truth-telling as a helpful career option. To my mind this has always been the case. Our comparatively recent access to a huge mass of information via the web has simply made their lying disturbingly blatant.

Lying to the punter is how political business is done and as far as I can see it has never been any different. What has become startlingly different in recent years is how those lies are more easily spotted via the web. They stand out because they don’t fit a web-centric public domain.

Yet the toads have no other way of doing business.

Putting the best spin on things and if necessary resorting to outright lies – hasn’t that always been the way of things? In other words, we don’t have honest politics because we never invented it. So will the political classes of the twenty-first century ever evolve another way of doing business?

Maybe, but I think they were unprepared for the web. So familiar were they with lying, spinning and dissimulation, that they never saw it coming. They never realised how the web would shine a cold blue light on their lies and evasions.

Maybe that cold blue light is far from perfect and maybe it will be attenuated by censorship and manipulation, but just possibly it may survive and flourish. There is another, more subtle aspect to the web though.

Does the web think?

Does it take a view on things? I think in a sense it does. We already know what it thinks of Tim Yeo, although as yet we aren’t clear how it works because web thinking is complex, multi-dimensional, contradictory and not always what we expect. Except in Tim's case of course.

It may be a weirdly ambivalent and mysterious network of competing narratives and possibilities, but if those narratives coalesce towards a conclusion, however tentative, subtle and nuanced, then in that sense the web is thinking.

If so, the conclusions it reaches may shape our lives.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Windows 8 is

An idea from coyoteblog. Various search engine completion suggestions for "Windows 8 is "




I do enjoy a nice graph

So about 99.6% of the UK adult population don't buy the Guardian - an overwhelming consensus. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Poor Tim – deselected by the web

When I’m chatting with my better half over a glass of port with the log-burner flickering away and the wind whistling round the chimney, she often has to look up bits and pieces of information on her phone.

Nothing unusual in that, but this tiny gadget gives us access to more information than we could ever have imagined just a couple of decades ago. What difference is it making to our lives?

A few centuries ago there were chained libraries and books with locks because books were expensive and not for the common people.

Today, the ancestors of the common people are able to access anything they please from an unimaginably vast repository of information, news, comment and entertainment. Most of it dross of course, but how many of us would care to read the contents of a chained library anyway?

It changes the balance of power in subtle and not so subtle ways.

We assess the capabilities of our political leaders more easily and don’t have to rely on establishment media to do it. We bypass the genteelly selective BBC and look around for sources we trust and visit them as often as we choose.

Social status is far less important as a route to sound information. A good example is how far behind the curve our leaders are on fracking. Many of us knew about the benefits long before they did, just as we have known for years that climate science is an unholy mess.

It’s impossible to be completely sure of all this, with our political class being so untrustworthy, but their mendacity is something we are aware of too. We don’t suspect – we know.

We know some of them are thick, some dishonest, some personally unreliable, some sexually deviant, some arrogantly aggressive and a few may be good eggs but the good eggs don’t usually get anywhere. We may know all this in some detail, where years ago it was all glossed over by compliant pundits.

Is it likely to make a difference though? I don’t see how it can fail. Narratives are multiplying and for every item of establishment pap there is a more reliable, less ameliorative source of information readily available.

We have reached a stage where no intelligent person takes the BBC as reliable on any subject with an establishment narrative. This is new and unless the BBC changes, its authority has gone for good.

The deselection of Tim Yeo may have had a number of causes, but one of them was surely the persistent wash of negative information telling us about the man, the games he plays and how effective he is as an MP.

It isn’t merely that the negative information on Yeo exists, but it is far more pervasive than it ever could have been in the comparatively recent past. The web seems to keep issues alive in a way which in pre-web days was rare.

Pressure could be brought on newspaper editors and stories would disappear if indeed they ever appeared in the first place. Now anyone may launch a story and if it spreads there is little others can do. Even court injunctions have been circumvented.

The world has changed and I’m sure we have yet to see the full consequences. Although Tim has had a taster.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Has Dave forgotten the droughts?

Old man tests drought control measures - from the BBC

From the delightfully unreliable BBC we hear Dave is concerned about flooding.

"Whatever is required ...this government will help those families and get this issue sorted."

Those words from David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions were the clearest possible sign that he knows that he needs to be seen to be getting a grip on the fallout of the floods and the storms.

So too his decision to take the chair of today's COBRA emergency committee and to find £100m more of taxpayers money to spend on flood defences.

This belated rush to look in charge was forced by some pretty strong words of criticism.

Has Dave forgotten that one major policy reason we don't need to spend much on flood defences is because of the expected droughts caused by climate change? Has he read this Defra report from 2002 about the risk to crops from said droughts?

The project will provide an assessment of the risk posed by increased incidence of drought conditions, due to likely climate change over the next 30 years, to production of two key UK crops: winter wheat and sugar beet.

Blimey - don't tell me they are making it up as they go along. That would never do.

Derbyshire worst at DIY

From wikipedia

According to Derbyshire Times,

Dales residents have hit back against claims that they are among the least practical people in the UK following results of a survey.

Results from aquestionnaire of 2,000 people show just 40 per cent of people in Derbyshire are able to fit a new wheel, 31 per cent can’t unblock a toilet and only 34 per cent of residents can speak a foreign language.

The study – which was carried out by conference call provider Powwownow – claims 18 to 24–year–olds are least able to carry out basic practical skills like changing a burst tyre or unclogging a loo.

Oddly enough, we are surrounded by people with a wide range of DIY skills. For example, the guy next door built his own house. Even I have my practical side. When the head of my axe broke off I soon fixed it by nipping round to Frank's to buy another one - easy.

While plumbing in our new dishwasher I noticed straight away how light it was compared to a washing machine. No spin cycle you see! Nothing gets past a Derbyshire DIY expert.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

N Korea copies Apple

Screenshot of Red Star - from

We learn from  that North Korea has changed the appearance of its official operating system from a Windows look-alike to more of an Apple flavour.

According to North Korea Tech, Red Star, North Korea’s homegrown, Linux-based operating system – yes, you read that correctly – has received a makeover as part of a version 3 update. The revamped interface ditches what was originally a Windows 7-inspired look, in exchange for an unmistakably OS X-esque appearance.

However we are not talking about a people's information revolution here - after all this is a socialist republic.

It’s extremely unlikely that the average North Korean will ever lay his or her eyes on either Red Star or Bright. And given that North Korean information technology appears to be quite limited at best, the revamped interface ought to be interpreted as a cosmetic change and not much else.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Electric cars - a long gestation

Arnold Bennett clearly liked electric cars. They must have been the coming thing and maybe they were also seen as a hint that the machine age could produce more than dark satanic mills. Here are a few quotes.

Richard’s car ran through the cutting — it was electrical, odourless, and almost noiseless.
He crept back to his own car, found it unharmed in the deep shadow where he had left it, and mounted.
Richard directed the car gently through the gate and then stopped; they dismounted, and crossed the great field on foot.
This vehicle, new and in beautiful order, and charged for a journey of a hundred and twenty miles, travelled in the most unexceptionable manner. The two and a half miles to the North-Western station at Dunstable were traversed in precisely five minutes, in spite of the fact that the distance included a full mile of climbing
Teresa of Watling Street (1904)

The electric brougham was waiting. I gathered up my skirt and sprang in.
 Oh, the exquisite dark intimacy of the interior of that smooth-rolling brougham! 
Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

Notice the reference to a range of a hundred and twenty miles. There are a number of explanations as to why electric cars were ousted by the internal combustion engine after an auspicious start, but are any of them satisfactory? 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Exit strategy

It has been obvious for some time that institutions and individuals peddling climate apocalypse may be in need of an exit strategy in case the temperature hiatus continues. Such an obvious lack of predicted warming is a serious hole in the CO2 theory. Well – another serious hole anyway.

As the temperature standstill continues, I sometimes ask myself how I’d react if happened to be a working climate scientist with no immediate prospect of retirement or an alternative career. I think I’d have two pressing issues to deal with.

Firstly I’d need to ensure that my adherence to the CO2 narrative was nuanced. Probably not a problem because working climate scientists will have their political antennae just like everyone else.

Secondly I would not want to miss out on some fascinating new lines of research merely because I still had the CO2 theory hanging round my neck like the Ancient Mariner’s dead albatross.

Of the two, I suspect the second motive may be less powerful than we might generally assume. Flogging a dead horse may be boring and frustrating and the grass may now seem a good deal greener on the other side of the fence, but only for some. I have no doubt that many a hack scientist couldn’t care less.

Even so, imagine the private conversations over lunch. Picture the boredom engendered by a theory that just doesn’t deliver, the lack of professional satisfaction, the thwarting of scientific curiosity – and worst of all the possibility that one might be drifting into a professional dead-end where the dread spectre of redundancy lurks.

Obviously I don’t know if such possible undercurrents are real or not, but I’d be astounded if something of the kind isn’t going on.

It would be unprecedented.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Weather games

Ngram Viewer for the terms "climate change" and "weather forecast"

The distinction between climate science and weather forecasting is a language game. If catastrophic climate change had been sold as radical weather forecasts, we’d never have believed a word of it. Even politicians might have been reluctant to engage in such an obviously flaky game.

How much difference would it have made :-

If climate change had been called radical weather trends.
If global warming had been called warmer weather.
If catastrophic global warming had been called much warmer weather.
If climate scientists had been called radical weather forecasters.
If wind turbines were justified by radical ultra-long weather forecasts.

I’m not being entirely serious here of course. We are where we are and we are stuck with the dominant language games, but in my view the point still has some merit. It is still possible to see the apocalyptic climate narrative as a language game and note with interest how players choose to use language in tackling a recalcitrant climate.

After all, language games and political radicalism are hardly unusual bedfellows. Social and political games promoted by manipulating the words we use, the phrases we are persuaded to imitate.

So it is easy enough to see how misleading the terms climate, climate science and climate scientist are compared to weather, weather forecasting and weather forecasters. Maybe in the early eighties it was seen as important to take the climate narrative into more authoritative territory. Maybe we are just too familiar with weather forecasters and their forecasts. 

This may also explain why the weird weather narrative isn’t pushed as hard as it might be. Too many people might tie climate change to weather forecasting and that would never do.