Monday, 31 March 2014

The plagiarism of ourselves

But what we call experience is merely the revelation to our own eyes of a trait in our character which naturally reappears, and reappears all the more markedly because we have already brought it into prominence once of our own accord, so that the spontaneous impulse which guided us on the first occasion finds itself reinforced by all the suggestions of memory. The human plagiarism which it is most difficult to avoid, for individuals (and even for nations which persevere in their faults and continue to aggravate them) is the plagiarism of ourselves.

Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu

Of course Proust is merely noting how subjective our notions of experience can be, how quickly we lapse into habitual responses. Hardly unfamiliar territory, but do we make use of such insights?

Well surely Proust's point is that we generally don't - it is too difficult. Even nations don't and these days we may add bureaucracies to the list.

So political promises about reforming the EU from the inside are empty for this reason. External events may cause habitual responses to be changed, but it is almost impossible for internal events to initiate similar changes. 

As Proust says - this isn't how we are made.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Fatty the Third

According to the The Fiji Times, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has attracted the nickname "Fatty the Third" in China.

NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong-un strikes fear into some hearts, but photos of a Chinese street food vendor with a distinct resemblance to the Pyongyang strongman have fuelled online mirth.

Thousands of Chinese internet users commented on the images, with many referring to Kim by the nickname "Fatty the Third", a reference to his weight as well as his inheritance of his position from his father and grandfather.

I suspect "Fatty" is not a common nickname for North Koreans.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Queen and country

I've often wondered what the Queen thinks of the EU. After all, she has been the reigning monarch while successive governments handed her country to a bunch of unelected EU bureaucrats and assorted political scrotes. No only that, but she did it without so much as a publicly raised eyebrow. Total silence.

I don't really enjoy criticising the old dear though. I'm no monarchist, but I've no faith whatever in presidents and anyway it isn't easy to be too hard on her in the face of such dedication to the job - which must be an appalling grind at times. Here I sit in comfortable retirement and she's still at it.

What with the prospect of bequeathing Charles the Loon to us as our next king, the whole Diana business, and a bunch of grisly Prime Ministers to put up with - well in all fairness one can't say too much.

Maybe the Queen sees Europeans as cousins and can't see the harm in snuggling up to them politically, even if it does mean chucking away centuries of comparative independence.

Or maybe she thinks that as we voted for a bunch of lying, sneaking, lickspittle europhile bastards over many decades we have no cause for complaint.

If so she has a point.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Speed-reading with Spritz


I am a reasonably fast reader, but I often skip potentially interesting blog posts and online articles simply because they seem too long. I've half persuaded myself that anything worth saying can be said briefly, but I also know this could be wishful thinking.

Spritz is a soon-to-be-released app for reading text on small screens - and reading it much more rapidly than we’re accustomed to.

So I recently tried the Spritz speed-reading demo, easily managing 600 words per minute. Do I wish to read like this though? I'm not sure. The effect is an impressive demonstration of how fast we can take in written information, but somehow it isn't satisfactory - at least for me.

What about graphs, diagrams, illustrations etc? Maybe it's a question of familiarity, but an article from the Association for Psychological Science explores what seems to be the biggest problem with Spritz - the inability to backtrack.

The results, reported in an article to appear in the journal Psychological Science, clearly demonstrate the importance of eye movement control to understanding. When readers are kept from going back to re-read words—with the trailing mask in this study, and more generally with the RSVP technique—they have poorer comprehension of the material. Notably, this is true for both difficult and simple sentences. These findings provide powerful evidence that that reading without the ability to re-read parts of the text, when necessary, diminishes understanding.

Row over EU crayon law

A row has broken out over new EU data protection laws which also cover manually recorded data. The new regulations require all writing implements to produce indelible marks which last for a minimum of ten years, including crayons and felt-tip pens designed for children.

“All marks made by manual writing implements are data and as such should not be erasable,” said an EU spokesperson. “This proposal is simply a housekeeping measure to clarify the position of manually transcribed data marks previously known as writing.”

Daz Bright, leader of the newly formed Campaign for Real Crayons blasted the proposed laws as “senseless meddling gone mad in my opinion.”

“What about cases where kids draw rude words on another kid’s face?” Mr Bright demanded at an angry public meeting in Matlock, Derbyshire. “As parents know, this can happen so how are we supposed to wash it off if the stuff is totally undelible?”

When challenged to prove that this really is a significant problem, Mr Bright gave a personal example.

“My youngest, DK-Maxxi, recently came home with a very rude word scrawled on his face. I’d complain to human rights, but I’m sure it’s wasn’t one of the teachers even though little Maxxi can be a bit of a handful. But if kids in the playground do this kind of thing we can’t rub it off afterwards can we?”

Nobody from the EU was available for comment.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Abortion switch

One issue on which I changed my mind only a few years ago is how we should describe abortion. Although it has never affected me directly or indirectly, I always tended to see abortion as some kind of unfortunate necessity of the modern world.

For me it was a matter of words. I joined no debates and rarely read the writings of either side, yet I was happy enough to use words such as abortion and foetus. I absorbed the progressive meme, happy enough to veer away from issues such as when this tiny scrap of humanity becomes a baby and oh so inconveniently human.

I can’t claim to have had any kind of Damascene conversion, but eventually modern verbal contortions over the issue became - well they felt absurdly furtive. Even somewhat silly if I’m to plumb the depths and admit all of it. I felt I’d been foolish in going along with such a transparently evasive narrative.

Abortion involves killing unborn babies.

I know it seems a little thin and bloodless to see the abortion issue as a matter of verbal behaviour, but to a great extent these highly-charged issues are exactly that. We must have our justifications whatever our sins, so we are obliged to analyse them, but too often we don't.

It was strangely refreshing to discover I’d changed my mind, especially on a socially significant issue. As I say, it was no Damascene conversion so I can’t put my finger on exactly when I made the switch. It must have seeped in into my mind over a number of years because it was never an issue I gave much thought to.

But there we are. Abortion is killing unborn babies – currently numbered in the millions. Yes there are special cases where impossibly difficult moral choices shake almost anyone’s principles, so I want nothing to do with any fanatical pro-life lobby.

So for me it is not a crusading issue, but verbal behaviour is important. Even morally important because this is how we are morally deceived. We usually begin by deceiving ourselves - as I did.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Two out of ten for cheek

A number of dodgy science stories caught my eye recently. This for example from the ever unreliable BBC.

River pollution could be increased by wetter winters

A research team from Lancaster University concluded that increased, more intensive winter rainfall is likely to wash more fertiliser out of soil and into rivers.

This could artificially nourish plants, including toxic algae.

The research team is now embarking on a project to help predict and ultimately mitigate agricultural pollution.

This nutrient runoff issue has been well understood and closely monitored for years. The toxic algae issue became prominent in 1989 when several dogs died after drinking water from Rutland storage reservoir. The increased rainfall claim is standard climate bollocks.

So what's the score for this research? Two out of ten for cheek?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Yet another climate classic

Steve McIntyre has produced another humdinger of an investigation into the validity of the University of Western Australia ethics investigations into a weird climate conspiracy theory paper by Prof. Lewandowsky.

You will need some background to this, but basically what McIntyre seems to have uncovered is that the conclusions of the ethics investigation were not written by a university investigation or university official but by Lewandowsky himself.

The mendacity is mind-boggling.

EU charging point rules

From Click Green we learn how determined the EU is that we should go electric on our roads. 

European law-makers have reached a deal to boost the take-up of alternative fuels in transport that will mean the UK will have to install 70,000 EV charging points by 2020.

All EU countries will have to ensure that enough refuelling and recharging stations are available to enable cars, trucks and ships using alternative fuels, such as natural gas and electricity, to move freely on EU roads and waterways, under an informal agreement reached by European Council and Parliament negotiators today.

Maybe this explains Nick Clegg's recent support for the Go Ultra Low campaign. He knew it was coming.

The UK Government remains committed to electric cars and there is “no date in the diary” for stopping subsidies to make them more affordable. That was the message from Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, as he helped to launch Go Ultra Low, a £2.5 million campaign to promote the benefits of electric and plug-in hybrid cars to buyers.

Clegg was speaking at an event held at the Ace Café in north London, where he also announced the government will invest £9 million to install more rapid charge-points to make motorway journeys by electric car feasible.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

My first public execution

From Vice News, the appalling story of Kim Joo Il who served eight years in the North Korean army. :-

I was ten when I saw my first public execution. I sat there thinking, "He committed this crime, he threatened our paradise, he should be punished." The man was my classmate’s brother-in-law. They said he’d been to China and stolen something from a Chinese museum. The whole school had to witness it. Everyone had to go to public executions, so they’d do them in big stadiums.

One idea the government keeps pushing is that, in North Korea, no one dies of starvation. As a captain, I had to report soldiers’ deaths, but I couldn’t say they’d starved. We wrote that they'd had acute colitis—an inflammation of the colon that can lead to weight loss, fever, and bleeding, among other symptoms—on their death certificates. A lot of female soldiers died, and a woman's hair will fall out before she dies of starvation. So when they died, they would be bald and totally flat chested, meaning you could no longer tell by looking at [the bodies] whether they were women or not.

Biofuel bust

Quelle surprise! The Telegraph tells us of a new UN report trashing biofuels as harmful.

The United Nations will officially warn that growing crops to make “green” biofuel harms the environment and drives up food prices, The Telegraph can disclose.

A leaked draft of a UN report condemns the widespread use of biofuels made from crops as a replacement for petrol and diesel. It says that biofuels, rather than combating the effects of global warming, could make them worse.

The draft report represents a dramatic about-turn for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

One is left wondering how many people had to starve to death while this entirely obvious conclusion wormed its way through numerous UN meetings before finally slithering into the light of day via a leak.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

False proximity

In 1996, Princess Diana died in a car crash. As an extremely glamorous member of the British royal family, she was a major celebrity whose death was followed by an enormous amount of grief expressed by many who never knew her personally.

Mostly simulated one assumes, but why grief?

Surely we feel no genuine grief at the death of a celebrity we don’t know. Yet presumably many people felt close to her – a false proximity nurtured and encouraged by the media and by Diana herself.

False proximity seems to be an extremely common illusion, applying to abstractions as well as people. Celebrities are part abstraction of course. The Diana virtually all of us knew was mostly a glossy image nurtured, refined and endlessly fascinating to millions...

...Knock, knock, knock.

Two members of the Labour Party came to the door in the middle of writing this post. Canvassing for the EU elections no doubt. I waved them away and shut the door. I don’t want real proximities to mess up a post on false proximity do I?

Yet those two political toilers were presumably motivated to bang on my door by a false proximity to both people and political abstractions. Ed Miliband even! Plus equality, fairness, a just society and suchlike. Proximity to a Cause on my very own doorstep but no thanks – that’s not how detachment works.

Our ancestors were heavily influenced by a false proximity to God, ghosts, demons and even the local priest or vicar. Although I tend to wonder how common even that level of piety really was among horny-handed drudges with little to look forward to apart from a mug of sour ale at the end of  a long day.

Now we foster a sense of false proximity to everything from the latest teen idol to holiday destinations. What else is an exotic holiday but the illusion of false proximity to a more interesting or desirable location?

We foster a sense of false proximity to celebrities of course, but that about other abstractions? Royalty, honesty, integrity, intelligence, social class, other cultures, professional standards, science, the arts, places, the boss, style, football clubs, disasters, human suffering, conflict, the supernatural, the environment, whales, dolphins, furry animals, trees, forests and even the whole universe.

False proximity sells myths.

Even simile, metaphor and simple comparison may create a sense of false proximity between one idea and another, one situation and another, one event and another, a historical figure and one from the present day.

The distorting lens of the media presents unusual people as being fascinatingly closer than they really are. We get the same beguiling effect of false proximity when the media present us with rare events such as terrorist bombings or freakish murders.
  • A community is in shock after a young man was shot…
  • The film premiere was held last night - the stars were…
  • Armed police chased him across this road… 

It all adds up to a dramatic but distorted version of what is going on in the world. False proximity stirs up emotional confusions and sidelines detachment.

Which of course is the whole idea.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Positively negative


How manipulative is language? Recently I was thinking of how common it is to use positive words for social assent. On the other hand, maintaining our individuality against the social tide is often expressed in negative terms.

For example

Assent, dissent.
Agree, disagree.
Approve, disapprove
Loyal, disloyal.
Patriotic, unpatriotic.

Much revolves around the first example - assent and dissent. We give our assent to socially approved norms, but withholding it in favour of our own point of view becomes dissent. It isn’t easy to express dissent in a positive way.

We see it in catastrophic climate propaganda where certainty is good and uncertainty bad. It’s a hard grind trying to argue even the most obvious merits of uncertainty when faced with such powerful linguistic habits.

Much of it is a matter of being the first to construct a narrative which is why the political classes are so keen on promoting a narrative as opposed to arguing a point of view. With a narrative they automatically grab the positives built into our language.

Once a narrative is established in the mainstream media, dissenters are automatically saddled with negative language of dissent.

A good alternative is to laugh at the absurdities instead. A pint or two of Tim Taylor’s Landlord helps.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Monday, 17 March 2014


I'm taking a brief holiday this week, so posting may be light to absent.

...I don't mean light in tone and absent in terms of not paying attention to what I'm writing. Cogency, structure and so on... it's more a case of not being here...


Sunday, 16 March 2014


Many years ago I knew a guy who could not tolerate views contrary to his own. Not an uncommon experience, but this chap took it further than most.

He had his comfort zone and anything presenting even the slightest challenge to it made him conspicuously uneasy. His anxiety could be painful to watch - sometimes breaking out into barely controlled hysteria.

To my mind a dispassionate search for truth often causes a huge amount of unease commonly dealt with by avoidance. Boat-rocking subjects are simply avoided – folk just don’t want to know and make it more or less obvious that they don’t want to know.

So we approve of free speech in principle but definitely not in practice. Our natural tendency is to suppress free speech via a host of social cues. Once we have our comfort zones we are not natural truth-seekers but truth-dodgers and the reason is not hard to find.

But human power is considerably limited and infinitely surpassed by the power of external causes, and therefore we have not absolute power of adapting things which are outside our usage.
Benedict Spinoza - Ethics (Boyle translation)

As Spinoza and many others have observed, human behaviour is heavily influenced by external circumstances. There may well be such a thing as free will, but we are not free in any but a somewhat theoretical sense. So truth-seeking can be hard work while truth-dodging isn’t.

This leaves us with a major problem in that we cannot be truth-seekers without some understanding our own avoidance behaviour - obviously. Yet the path of least resistance is the avoidance behaviour itself – again obviously.

Maybe truth-dodging is in our genes as the social strategy requiring minimum effort.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Happy clappy nappy chappies

With barely a raised eyebrow, we learn from the Worksop Guardian that Derbyshire County Council has involved itself in the purchase of nappies (diapers).

Derbyshire County Council is celebrating its 2000th real nappy cashback claimant.

Hannah Elliott is the 2000th parent to claim the £25 cashback incentive under the scheme. New parents can claim £25 cashback from Derbyshire County Council when they spend more than £50 on real nappies.

The cashback scheme was set up in 2005 to encourage parents to switch to real nappies. In Derbyshire, 100,000 nappies are thrown away every day. That’s 10,000 tonnes a year, which costs Derbyshire council tax payers £1million each year in landfill costs on nappies alone.

So 2000 parents have taken advantage of the scheme over the past nine years. A little over two hundred per year. Something tells me, call it cynicism if you will, but something tells me that Derbyshire County Council has received some kind of nudge relating to some kind of target.

I was not in the least surprised to learn that there is a Real Nappy Information Service and a formidable array of pressure groups all concerned to put us onto the path of nappy righteousness.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The strangeness of teeth

This afternoon we were shopping in Derby. The day was pleasant for March with blue skies and warm sun. Even Derby can be tolerable in fine weather. A drunk weaved towards us clutching his can of lager.

It must be strange to 'ave teeth, he mumbled as he lurched past.

Oddly enough we’d both been to the dentist that morning. Coincidence of course, but maybe we’d blinded him with our freshly-polished teeth.

Must be a short story in there somewhere.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Professional trouser hunters


An acquaintance of mine, a North Korean refugee currently living in South Korea, told me how, in the early 2000s, she broke a bone. The incident happened one afternoon when she was on the way home. A few streets away from her house she encountered a patrol of regular police and militia, and she instantly knew she was in trouble because she had done something seriously improper. She had no choice but to run, and while trying to get away from her pursuers she broke a bone in her feet. But she still escaped the hand of law.

What was the crime she had committed? She was wearing trousers while walking the streets of a major North Korean city.

This story might seem strange. As every visitor to North Korea can testify, there are a great number of women clad in trousers on the streets of major North Korean cities. Nonetheless, a theoretical ban on women wearing trousers has existed since the late 1970s. Its enforcement has, however, been rather patchy at best.

My acquaintance did not blame her pursuers for the above-mentioned incident, instead she blamed herself. She knew that patrols of professional trouser hunters could be encountered only in certain parts of the city and only at certain times of the day, and she believes she was foolhardy to venture into such a high-risk area dressed in such an “indecent” way. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Soft fascism

What is soft fascism? A Google search for “soft fascism” only yields about 8000 results, so it isn’t a mainstream term. Although the word “fascist” is often used as political abuse, a more nuanced term such as “soft fascism” could have its uses.

Most UK politicians overtly or covertly support government control over all aspects of daily life including the economy, while leaving business in nominally private hands. It's not fascism because the racism, extreme nationalism and militarism are absent.

However, the totalitarian control, intolerance of dissent, finger-pointing, official lies, political pressure on language, pressure to conform and the grotesque malice of activist supporters – these are not absent.

BRITAIN appears to be evolving into the first modern soft totalitarian state. As a sometime teacher of political science and international law, I do not use the term totalitarian loosely.

There are no concentration camps or gulags but there are thought police with unprecedented powers to dictate ways of thinking and sniff out heresy, and there can be harsh punishments for dissent.

Hal G P Colebatch - 2009

Maybe “soft fascism” serves well enough as a tag to label a bundle of malign social and political trends.

Soft but pervasive censorship.
Soft but pervasive policing.
Soft but pervasive propaganda.
Soft but pervasive behavioural controls.
Pervasive aggression toward internal enemies (*).
Pervasive promotion of useful idiots.

* It isn't all soft, as the Colebatch piece suggests.

For example, there is a pervasive undermining of scientific integrity wherever a situation arises where official policy demands scientific advocacy. Health advice, drug policies, energy and environmental policies are just four areas where soft fascism has a controlling influence.

In the UK, political party leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg lead parties with a diffuse yet powerful allegiance to soft fascism. Politicians from the traditional left, right or centre now owe much more to soft fascism than their outdated party traditions.

However, soft fascism seems to have learned from the tragedies of totalitarian government in the twentieth century. Three key lessons appear to have changed authoritarian thinking such that even stable democracies such as the UK have been subverted.

Firstly, universal welfare is a prerequisite for undemocratic but stable government. Put crudely, a warm hut, full belly and big telly will do it.

Secondly, a key lesson of behavioural psychology is that reward is more effective and predictable than punishment when it comes to controlling behaviour. This lesson has been thoroughly learned.

Thirdly, prosperity is needed to fund the first two lessons. This requires a moderately successful, if heavily controlled business sector. Communism won’t do.

These three linked lessons are being used to build totalitarian but stable government in the erstwhile democracies of Europe and elsewhere. Even the USA is not likely to be immune.

Unlike communism, soft fascism acknowledges the essential role of business in creating the wealth required for universal welfare. However, the soft fascist version of free enterprise is not laissez faire capitalism. Government and corporate offices have many connecting doors.

This is perhaps the biggest weakness of soft fascism. Constant government interference in commercial activity is in the long run likely to be both ineffective and damaging enough for soft fascist businesses to be vulnerable to outside competition.

The response has been to try to get rid of outside competition via a complex web of international and global regulations and treaties, but the weakness still stands. At the moment soft fascism appears to work. Whether it continues to work as it tightens its grip on daily life remains to be seen.

Whatever your political allegiance, it will mould your behaviour.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Through a glass darkly

From Wikipedia

The delightfully batty Click Green informs us of a wizard idea for generating electricity via our windows.

Scientists have developed ultra-thin solar panels that could be attached to windows to generate electricity without blocking out the light.

Super - but how does it work? If the light isn't blocked then how does it generate the electricity? 

Because the PV panel is so thin, 95% of the light just passes through – but a tenth of the remaining five percent, which are absorbed by the material, are converted into electrical power. Therefore, the internal efficiency is quite high.

A tenth of five percent is 0.5%. Doesn't sound such a wizard idea after all. Maybe heaps and heaps of subsidy will sort that out... but wait a minute...

...even the minute amount of absorbed light is helping to warm the interior of the house. Presumably that could be a problem - especially if these new windows actually create a net energy loss to the house which could be the case here in the UK.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Lying by omission

A man does not sin by commission only, but often by omission.
Marcus Aurelius - Meditations

Incomplete accounts are a fundamental aspect of human communication. We can’t say everything so we only ever give a partial view of things.

We aren’t necessarily lying of course, but if we don’t make it clear that our account is incomplete, what else should we call it? Well we often don't need to call it anything if the incompleteness is explicit, or at least not covert. Even so, it's a strange and inherently misleading backdrop to much of what we say.

This convenient problem is vitally important for political life, PR, advertising, propaganda, selling junk, selling dreams, selling culture, selling journalism - and important for bloggers. We can’t say everything so we have to choose what to say and what to leave out.

If our opponent does it we call it cherry-picking. If we do it we call it something else, but everyone has to pick and chose. Even the most noble, high-minded and disinterested bloggers have to select quotes, choose sources, present one argument rather than another.

Even this post has to be a partial view of partial views. How could it be otherwise?

So there is not clear dividing line between a truthful account and lying or misleading by omission. It’s a huge, diffuse and dodgy swamp. Children seem to learn this quite early in their social development. Bigger children see the unlimited potential and build their careers on it.

To my way of thinking, this is why complex subjects are so problematic. Complexity lets in the liars, charlatans and idiots and always will. Look at economics, climate science, politics. As complexity increases the problem will become worse.

Have I missed anything such as the games played by the BBC and the media? Well yes I have, I've left out a vast amount, but that’s it – a partial view of lying by omission.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Ethical finance


The Co-op Bank customers outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

With apologies to George Orwell

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Grass safe to eat say experts

Now that sugar has turned out to be so lethal, even when completely hidden inside a cream scone (pronounced scone) a ray of sunshine comes along to warm our sweet-toothed despair.

Experts from the Institute of Nutritional Flagellation (INF) have produced a report claiming that after extensive studies, there is a safe food for humans.


However, the INF boffins warn that this most welcome finding doesn’t mean you should rush out and gather a snack of lawn clippings. Their advice is that harvested grass must be washed and pasteurised before it is safe to eat. Major supermarket chains are expected to market ready to eat packs of fresh or dried grass.

According to the INF, dried grass, or “hay” as it was often called in the past, may be reconstituted simply by adding boiling water to make a lo-cal broth.

Numerous grass recipes are being devised by official health experts, but my favourite is a thick and juicy seared grass-steak devised by our unhealthy ancestors and still enjoyed today.

Take one calf, fatten it up on lots of nutritious grass, kill it, hang the carcase for twenty eight days then cook and eat the steaky bits.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Elections North Korean style

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un laughing with female pilots as he
inspects the Korean People's Army (KPA) Air and Anti-Air Force Unit

North Koreans must trudge off to the polls on Sunday. They have to elect members for the Supreme People's Assembly. They don't choose between candidates as there is only one per district. The vote is merely Yes or No and guess which is the more advisable.

As the SPA is purely a rubber-stamp assembly, these elections seem to be aimed at checking the entire population via periodic mass mobilisations. Jerking the strings to see which ones are broken I suppose. It also provides outsiders with clues as to who is favoured by the regime and who is not.

From National Post :-

“When officials are not renominated, this points to them falling out of favour,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in South Korea. “The sudden appearance of a new person points to the opposite.”

“To the best of my knowledge,” he said, “not a single SPA member has ever voted against a bill or motion introduced by the government.”

Thursday, 6 March 2014

UKIP and low information voters

They have been called low information voters or LIVs, people who vote but know next to nothing about political trends, issues or possibilities. People who don’t even know the names of major cabinet ministers or the role of the EU in making UK law.

Yet they vote.

In my view and no doubt quite a few others, the main function of the EU has been to sideline all voters simply because the governing classes regard us as too thick and politically idle to be allowed into policy-making.

Whatever its original purpose, the EU clearly intends to sweep away the untidiness of democracy and smarten things up with a makeover of professional policy-makers. Nothing must be left to chance or the whim of voters in the fanatical pursuit of extreme, micro-managed political tidiness.

Anarchy is the enemy of liberty, and so, at its highest pitch, is mechanical efficiency. The good life can be lived only in a society where tidiness is preached and practised, but not too fanatically, and where efficiency is always haloed, as it were, by a tolerated aura of mess.
Aldous Huxley – Themes and Variations

We used to refer to extreme political tidiness as fascism, communism, totalitarianism or whatever. Take your ideological pick. Soft fascism melds well with modern trends.

Whatever we choose to call it, the EU has created a situation where the main function of national politicians is the covert implementation of EU policy. This leaves them plenty of spare time to waffle their way through faux public debates on unimportant, preferably non-EU issues.

So is democracy worth saving and is UKIP the party to give it the kiss of life here in the UK?

Well UKIP is hardly likely to resolve the LIV issue even if against all the odds it makes inroads into EU domination. So we may as well face the possibility that LIVs don’t give a toss about democratic principles because they don’t analyse political issues beyond their own superficial and largely inflexible allegiances.

It takes a lot to shift us out of our comfort zones because here in the early twenty first century those zones are voluptuously comfortable. Especially when compared to living standards of only a few generations ago.

We don’t take to the streets, agitate for general strikes or vote for a dwindling number of folk who actually want to make democracy work. Life is simply too comfortable to be bothered with all that reading and thinking malarkey.

So LIVs vote for the mainstream every time. Democracy is on the way out and what the future will usher in as its replacement is not easily guessed at. The change will be slow though, so LIVs won’t notice until it is too late.

Maybe it’s too late already and UKIP is no longer relevant apart from being a repository for protest votes – but LIVs don’t do protest votes.

Reaping for Dummies

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Luck of the draw


Do you count yourself as lucky? I do, but I suppose it mostly depends on the comparisons we make or fail to make.

I was lucky in all kinds of obvious ways from the time and country of my birth onward. In the developed world there are millions of us living our comfortable lives with worries previous generations would have treated to a tubercular splutter of disbelief.

We have our ups and downs of course, but materially most of us are lucky. We have our personal tragedies too because death comes to all and is so often untimely or painful. Yet in spite of the omnipotence of death we are lucky compared to earlier generations.

So are some people more lucky than others? David Cameron was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but do we count this as luck? I think we do.

What about Blair? Bonkers in my view, but lucky enough to be charming in a way I’ve never quite fathomed. Maybe if I’d met him I’d know.

I’m sure luck plays a major part in our lives. I’m lucky to have made a reasonable career decision when I discovered I was passably good at chemistry. I could have given chemistry a miss and opted for something with deeper appeal, but I didn’t yet the choice turned out reasonably well.

However I wasn’t well equipped to make the choice anyway – there was a hefty element of luck. Maybe my parents buying me a chemistry set for Christmas had a hand in it. A proper fifties chemistry set it was too, one where you could discover the combustible delights of sulphur and iron filings.

The books and comics of the time were stimulating too and my parents believed strongly in the educational value of regular reading. Another stroke of luck – I was born at a time when books were available to borrow free of charge from public libraries.

Looping back to political careers - are politicians such as Cameron and Blair talented, lucky or a bit of both? Which is the more powerful asset? Impossible to say of course, but I think with a enough talent, politicians are often able to twist lady luck around their little fingers.

Doesn’t say much for the present lot though does it?

Monday, 3 March 2014

The rise and rise of stupidity

As the world becomes more and more complex, we are presumably obliged to become more intelligent in order to cope. Otherwise, relative to a general increase in social, political and economic complexity, we might expect to see a corresponding rise in stupidity.

Oh dear!

Intelligence is supposedly dictated by genes and upbringing – good old nature and nurture. We can’t yet improve on nature, so how does nurture respond to steadily increasing complexity?

I think the simple answer is that it doesn’t. Intelligence is a social construct and when social complexity increases, the bar is raised. As the bar is raised, we understand less and less about our own society. In relative terms we become less intelligent - less able to devise rational responses to complex situations.

To my mind this is why modern politicians seem so stupid. Increasing complexity has raised the bar beyond their capabilities. Their best bet is to look after number one as the complexity of political and economic problems takes viable solutions beyond their intellectual reach.

To some extent this is offset by more accessible sources of information, but checking sources and comparing narratives still takes time and many can't because there is already an official narrative. Political leaders and senior bureaucrats for example.

They must rely on official sources and official narratives plus the opinions of their pals and paymasters. They don’t have the time to check any of it, so the bar rises and leaves them floundering. Misinformation, irrelevance and outright lies are their inevitable coping strategies. 

Reducing complexity is a much better coping strategy, but complexity creates powerful vested interests leading to even more complexity as its beneficiaries line their nests. So what can we do about a rising tide of complexity?

Not much. It is possible to glean insights from those people who find ways to describe aspects of complex situations without pretending to have all the answers. Insights can be found anywhere, from the Simpsons to a philosophical analysis and they do give some relief from endless streams of futile narrative.

Apart from a few genuine insights, it is still possible to locate good sources of information. Another way to cope with that rising bar is a sceptical and even cynical personal philosophy. Yet how many of us have one of those?

And tomorrow the bar rises again.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Little green men

From Wikipedia

As soon as I caught wind of global climate czar Pofessor Felix Knutta's interest in SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life, I immediately phoned for an interview.

After a few false starts I finally managed to track him down in a greasy spoon not far from his observatory. While munching his way through a Big Trukka all-day breakfast he expounded on his latest climate theory – the Cosmic Climate Catastrophe.

‘As you must know,’ Professor Knutta began as he gulped down a huge mug of trucker’s tea, ‘there has been no success in contacting alien life on other planets. None at all – a total zero - zilch.’

‘Yes I heard that,’ I replied impatiently, keen to unearth the Professor’s angle on SETI.

‘Originally I thought of transmitting the story of climate change to the rest of the universe. We could inform the whole cosmos about the science being settled - make sure they don't listen to deniers. Other carbon life-forms might welcome the information but there’s a snag.’

‘No interested aliens out there?’ I hazarded.

‘Exactly - and don’t you find it a little odd?’ The Professor’s gaze wandered furtively around the cafe as if on the lookout for denier spies among a thin scattering of truckers.

‘Odd, Professor?’

‘Yes... very odd indeed... unless...’

‘Unless what?’

‘Well consider this,’ the Professor mumbled through a mouthful of Jumbo sausage. ‘We agree that the hunt for intelligent aliens has been a big fat zero after decades of searching. So what does that tell us with unprecedented certainty?’

‘I’ve no idea.’

‘It tells us that there are no advanced aliens out there sending messages to us. None at all. The universe is empty of energy-consuming intelligent life... apart from humans of course - for the time being.’

‘No aliens?’

‘No, because climate change wiped them out as soon as they began burning fossil fuels. That’s my new theory of the Cosmic Carbon Footprint... or clawprint or whatever’

‘Is that the inevitable conclusion though Professor?’ I asked. ‘Surely some alien intelligences would have moved over to sustainable energy to survive the catastrophe.’

‘Ah – but sustainable energy is a total crock isn’t it?’ Professor Knutta replied, a triumphant gleam in his eyes clearly visible behind spots of congealed bacon fat on his academic spectacles.

‘You mean aliens who try to adapt to global warming by building wind turbines and suchlike -’

‘Are totally and utterly stuffed,’ laughed the Professor. ‘That’s why we may be accidentally correct to call them little green men. Having to rely on sustainable energy means they don’t have enough energy to cook a proper breakfast, let alone piss about transmitting radio signals to other planets. That’s why they are little you see – cold and undernourished. Little green runts we should call them.’

‘Ah... So the lack of contact...’

‘Proves conclusively that climate change affects the whole universe, not just human beings here on Earth,’ the Professor replied, mopping his plate with a thick piece of bread.

‘What about nuclear power?’ I asked.

‘Eh?’ The Professor dropped a sausage on the floor, absently picked it up and wiped it on his sleeve.

‘What about nuclear power?’ I asked again.

‘Oh shit... You mean the little green bastards might be a ghastly bunch of smartarse atom-heads? I didn’t think of that.’

Saturday, 1 March 2014


My wife and I were talking about Stella the other day. Stella isn't her real name of course, but she is a real person. We come across her socially every now and then but don't know her well and don't even know her surname. A very casual and somewhat infrequent acquaintance.

Stella is gregarious and very chatty so everyone ends up chatting with her at some time or another. She even chats with us occasionally and we are not particularly gregarious - at least I'm not. But Stella is easily garrulous enough for two.

Yet she is pleasant, never spiteful about others and as harmless a body as one could wish to meet. Maybe rather dull if one is inclined to be a little unkind, which people hardly ever are with Stella.

The trouble is, there is a fly in Stella's ointment.

She only talks about herself and her personal situations. Usually at some length and in considerable detail. She might ask you where you live, but only as an intro for telling you where she lives and how she came to live there and what it's like living there and... and...

She might ask you about your holiday plans but only as an intro for telling you all about her own holidays in minute detail, including tales about people you've never met and never will meet. Yet she speaks of them as if you knew all about them and their holiday experiences and... and....

Yet we say Stella is a nice person and so she is, but the line she treads so well and with such delicacy is surely a fine one.