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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Embarrassing video of 2015



Sen. Cruz Questions Sierra Club President Aaron Mair on Climate Change.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The man in the high caste

While browsing thorium-related issues I came across this piece from India. 10 Areas In Which India Beats Even The Most Powerful Countries In The World.

Journalists are fond of silly lists so nothing new there. I skipped down to the comments and this one jumped out at me. 

Almost all the reasons given to be proud are stupid (and somewhat incorrect) but I still love India, I don't need a reason. I think it's the best place for me to live. But I think if I was of lower middle class from a low caste, my attachment might not have been so unconditional.

The EU came to mind. It isn't difficult to see it separating into castes.

Waste of time

Short walk today. Stopped off at the National Stone Centre. Outside there is a small raised pool where kids can pretend to pan for gold. A grandmother and grandchild approached.

“Oh look, war’aa,” said grandchild, skipping towards the panning pool.

“It’s called water,” said granny, stressing the “t”.

Granny was probably wasting her time.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Quote of the year 2015

I've seen this quote from Christiana Figueres all over the place, but it's worth revisiting in case there is anyone left who thinks climate policies rely on science.

At a news conference last week in Brussels, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of U.N.'s Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism.

"This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution," she said.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Suffragette Wall


Yesterday we visited Shipley Park where I took this photo of the Suffragette Wall. Alfred Edward Miller Mundy, the last squire of Shipley Hall supposedly had it built to keep out marauding suffragettes.

It's a commonly repeated local story, but as for its plausibility I'm not so sure. Anyone reasonably active could scale the wall, especially with a little help or something to stand on. Suffragettes were surely resourceful enough, even if encumbered with those long Edwardian skirts.

Not only that, but the wall isn't particularly long and only protects a small section of the hall grounds. Those fearsome ladies could have strolled round it.

To my mind, a more likely possibility is that the story originated from somebody with suffragette sympathies who visited the hall. Somebody fashionably radical might drawl a simple observation such as "I suppose your wall was built to keep out the suffragettes." It becomes a family joke, the servants hear it and soon enough that's why the wall was built.

Or maybe the local suffragettes were really scary but not very tall or resourceful.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Dork of the Year 2015

source

The sheer number of candidates has made choosing Dork of the Year (DotY) particularly difficult for 2015. Not that the problem is new because each year there seem to be even more Qualifying Dorks than the year before. Yet in spite of these difficulties and after much analytical deliberation, the DotY committee has come up with a winner – Ed Miliband.

Ed has achieved this accolade partly because he is such an obvious dork but primarily because he has not one, not two, but three Qualifying Dorkworthy Achievements.

Firstly we have the Climate Change Act. On 16 October 2008 Ed Miliband as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced that the Act would mandate an 80% cut overall in six greenhouse gases by 2050. Using UK law to change the weather of the entire planet is an act of stupidity beyond adult comprehension. Perhaps that's the clue.

Secondly as leader of the Labour Party, Ed managed to secure a clear general election victory for David Cameron, the leader of a coalition government which never achieved popularity. How Ed managed this feat is a matter for historians of comic politics, but lose it he did.

Thirdly Ed changed the rules for choosing the next Labour party leader. This final masterstroke allowed an infantile party membership plus quite a few mischief makers to elect Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader.

So well played Ed – Dork of the Year 2015.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas



Merry Christmas to you and yours and thanks for dropping by.   

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Walls

All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding they themselves have built, and most: men die in silence and unnoticed behind the walls. Now and then a man, cut off from his fellows by the peculiarities of his nature, becomes absorbed in doing something that is impersonal, useful, and beautiful.

Word of his activities is carried over the walls. His name is shouted and is carried by the wind into the tiny inclosure in which other men live and in which they are for the most part absorbed in doing some petty task for the furtherance of their own comfort. Men and women stop their complaining about the unfairness and inequality of life and wonder about the man whose name they have heard.
Sherwood Anderson – Poor White (1920)

This was one of Anderson’s themes, our inability to scale the walls of misunderstanding we ourselves have built. He saw it as an ineradicable feature of human nature when faced with the flux of interests and social convention in which we find ourselves so firmly enmeshed. Powerful interests know it well and build more walls by fostering even more misunderstanding.

One might have supposed that Anderson’s view would become dated, that the walls would be at least partly demolished by modern communication, but it doesn’t appear to be so. If anything the situation is worse now that it was almost a century ago because we have more powerful forces intent on building walls designed to suit their interests.

As always the most pernicious walls are those between elite classes and everyone else. David Cameron builds such walls, building them with care from obfuscation, misdirection and endless petty dishonesties.

Rats and mazes come to mind, but who is the master builder?

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Ofsted inspection

A delightful story from regular commenter Sam Vega.

About ten years ago we had an Ofsted  inspection at the college where I was working. As these things lead to riches and glory for college principals, no effort had been spared in preparations. As well as all the forged paperwork and the lies drilled into staff, the buildings and equipment had been polished. Litter picked up, clutter removed, graffiti expunged, and new posters and faked student work pinned to noticeboards.

I had been assigned an inspector, and was giving him a preliminary guided tour. I was wearing my best suit and a professionally obsequious manner. We paused in the main reception hall. From out of nowhere, the biggest rat I have ever seen scuttled across the hall behind him, and paused about six feet away. Scaly tail, questing whiskers, and a very glossy coat; clearly well fed and confident.

The inspector picked up my surprise, and obviously wanted to turn round, but didn't, out of politeness. I continued my rehearsed lines about our wonderful new buildings and our stringent Health and Safety, while the bloody thing sat up on its haunches and did ratty things like scratching with its back foot and combing its whiskers with both paws.

It ambled off before he could see it. I sometimes wonder if it had been disgusted by what it saw us doing.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Elite scientists

Sackerson sent this interesting link about elite scientists and their tendency to retard the evolution of new ideas until they peg out.

Max Planck — the Nobel Prize–winning physicist who pioneered quantum theory — once said the following about scientific progress:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,     but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Shorter: Science is not immune to interpersonal bullshit. Scientists can be stubborn. They can use their gravitas to steamroll new ideas. Which means those new ideas often only prevail when older scientists die.


The piece goes on to demonstrate the validity of this claim via patterns in published work. It comes as no surprise of course. Scientists are human; they have families to support, mortgages to pay, status to earn and maintain.

To explain what is going on here we could adapt an idea from Wittgenstein – the distinction between symptoms and criteria. Acolytes may present the opinion of Celebrity Scientist as a criterion of valid science. Celebrity Scientist says X, therefore X must be scientifically valid. Celebrity Scientist has become a criterion of sound scientific opinion.

In reality Celebrity Scientist's opinion may not be a criterion of sound science at all. It may have been once upon a time, but perhaps other possibilities are emerging within Celebrity Scientist's field. Celebrity Scientist's opinion may have become a symptom of hierarchy, personal vanity and the inability to accept new thinking.

Confusing symptoms with criteria is very common. For example, is an Ofsted report a criterion of educational excellence or a symptom of educational malaise? Both perhaps. Symptoms and criteria are often mingled.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is another example. Widely known to be a misleading metric, GDP could be seen as a symptom of political mendacity rather than a criterion of economic health.

GDP purports to measure economic activity while largely divorcing itself from the quality, profitability, depth, breadth, improvement, advancement, and rationalization of goods and services provided.

UK general elections seem to have have become a symptom of democratic decline rather than a criterion of healthy democratic government. Which is why useful reform is unlikely.

One could go on and on because elites often confuse symptoms with criteria. Even elite scientists may find it useful once perched atop the greasy pole.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Flippancy

One of the great changes over my lifetime has been the spread of flippancy into every corner of life. There is hardly any subject which cannot be treated flippantly and hardly any person who lacks the capability to be flippant. It isn’t new but along with being conspicuously offended it seems to be one of the great social trends of our age. Fortunately one cannot be flippantly offended although many poseurs seem willing to give it a go.

I am often too flippant and almost all of my generation are capable of being flippant in virtually any social situation. To my mind television must shoulder most of the blame with its endless diet of comedy, light entertainment and general dumbing down of everything it soils with its attention. So what is the point in encouraging an entire population to be flippant?

A clue seems to be the obvious link between flippant and infantile behaviour. Acceptable flippancy has created a pervasive superficial miasma, a semi-serious public domain where the infantile viewpoint is barely distinguished from serious commentary. In other words it facilitates a superficial take on even the weightiest matters because it is easy and acceptable.

I’m certainly conscious of the problem with flippancy as a double edged sword. On the one hand it allows one to dismiss hordes of poseurs, political worms, celebrities and other assorted trash.

On the other hand it is not easy to take seriously those genuinely malign trends which take away our freedoms brick by brick, stone by stone.

Coming full circle one might also say that flippancy is an enabler. It saves time and allows full rein to the bon mot, the flippant dismissal which too often is all an issue deserves. So where does that leave us in the maze? The same place as usual – nowhere - he mused flippantly.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Watch



I've been looking for a new watch, but these are out of my league. I don't think I'd buy one even if I had the money. Impressive as a feat of micro-engineering, but so are the silicon chips inside a cheap quartz watch.

For example, I recently bought a new camera plus a 30Gb SD card. The SD card was just over a tenner and to my mind that's a much more amazing feat of engineering. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

That’s a rat that is

I’ve been ill for a couple of weeks now, but I'm just about over it. Nothing serious, but an apparently endless cough tends to depress the vital forces somewhat. So what has this to do with rats?

It goes like this. Not so long ago while out walking we saw a great big rat scuttle across the Cromford Canal towpath. Not an unusual sight but unmistakable and that’s the point – rats are unambiguously ratty. That’s a rat that is.

Being mildly ill made me think of that rat because when a chap muses away the day, certain things tend to pop through the mental haze with enormous clarity. The more gloomy aspects of life can become stark and wonderfully clear. Not so much a case of enhanced consciousness as having the time and inclination to dwell on these things. There is no need to trawl around for suitable words because things are as they seem to be - that’s a rat that is.

The sheer wanton crappiness of the BBC for instance. The humongous unbridgeable gulf dividing what the Beeb is from what it ought to be. Considering the vast sums of moolah it has to spend, the iron grip it had for decades on UK mass media and the resources at its disposal, the BBC falls far short of where it ought to be. As with rats, BBC deficiencies are unmistakable.

Cameron’s untrustworthy tactics on the EU referendum are the obvious wriggling of a political spiv faced with the oafish intransigence of an EU which doesn’t give a rat’s arse about the reform hole he managed to dig for himself. He’ll get what he’s given and knows it. We know it too because the whole unedifying game is as obvious as a big fat rat scuttling along the political gutter.

It’s no mystery. Rats look like rats. As yet we haven’t been conditioned to mistake their ratty nature by calling them something less uncompromisingly ratty. 'Sewer pixies' for example. No doubt if we’d been conditioned by politically correct pressures to refer to rats as 'sewer pixies' we’d become horrified by the word 'rat'. Calling someone a rat could even become a hate crime to be tut tutted over by the BBC, the Guardian and unattractive intellectuals with soft hands and softer heads.

It probably is a hate crime already, but until I see a flashing blue light through the curtains, Cameron is a rat, the BBC is full of them and the EU is where they build their nests.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Kim's pants

No not that Kim, this one.

For those few hardy souls who wish to continue, DailyNK tells us about the fastidious habits of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.

The source also conveyed to Daily NK the interesting tidbit that Kim Jong Un allegedly only "uses items once before throwing them in the trash and acquiring new ones." This includes everyday necessities such as towels, toothbrushes, and even underwear. Handling the items that have touched the leader’s skin directly is considered to be work of "the utmost delicacy."

“Mishandling such treasured items can result in being labeled a reactionary until the end of your days, which is why each item is incinerated immediately upon completed use,” he concluded.


Must be pretty grim... no I don't care to speculate further. I need a coffee with a tot of rum.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A bold mouse



Modern men and women who live in industrial cities are like mice that have come out of the fields to live in houses that do not belong to them.

Now and then a bold mouse stands upon his hind legs and addresses the others. He declares he will force his way through the walls and conquer the gods who have built the house. "I will kill them," he declares. "The mice shall rule. You shall live in the light and the warmth. There shall be food for all and no one shall go hungry."

Sherwood Anderson – Poor White (1920)

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Seasonal sentiments

Source


In a disorderly haphazard world hatred is as effective an impulse to drive men forward to success as love and high hope. It is a world-old impulse sleeping in the heart of man since the day of Cain. In a way it rings true and strong above the hideous jangle of modern life. Inspiring fear it usurps power.
 Sherwood Anderson - Marching Men (1917)

As the season of goodwill is in the offing perhaps it is time to dwell on the thorny issue of enemies. Who are they and do we loathe them with sufficient venom?

I don’t think we do. Politics is all about identifying enemies and inventing laws, regulations and excuses to shaft them. It’s an unedifying spectacle, but when it comes to our own governments shafting the ordinary citizen we have to wonder why we keep ending up in the crosshairs. Are we the enemy?

Yes we are. Harming people is probably a survival trait, especially if it can be done safely from behind a well fortified principle or political class. Those who harm potential enemies reduce their ability to inflict harm even if there is in reality no such intention. A key difference between democracies and totalitarian regimes is how they treat their internal enemies - or citizens as they often call us.

Totalitarian - citizens can’t vote so they are shafted by the elite.
Democracy - citizens can vote so they are shafted by the elite.

However, there is an important difference. Democratic elites realise they can shaft more deeply if their citizens are more prosperous. Totalitarian elites are stupid and fail to realise the full shafting potential of their citizens. So their elites have to be smaller and therefore more precarious. North Korean elites probably have armed guards while they tuck into a succulent dish of roast dog in case the delicious aroma sends the outside rabble wild.

Elites generally see citizens as potential enemies, always ready and willing to make elite lives less comfortable if allowed to do so - which they very rarely are. So it no surprise if we find ourselves responding in kind by hating the elite classes even when we pretend to be indulging in civilised debate about the pros and cons of yet another ludicrously restrictive measure.

Come on! Christmas is almost upon us. Let us dwell for a moment on the elite classes, the movers and shakers of this world. Let us take this festive opportunity to admit how much we loathe the sight and sound of the lying bastards.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Paris agreement

The Paris COP21 draft agreement about which there will be endless disagreement is here. Read it if you have the stomach for it. After a preliminary scan I didn't bother although a reference to holding future global temperature increases to 1.5 °C is interesting.

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.

You know what? I don't think they expect to see a dramatic and possibly not even a significant global temperature increase at all. They know the science is bollocks.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

More on thorium



Lars Jorgensen gives a presentation on how thorium technology company ThorCon sees the future of nuclear power and its inevitable battle with coal. How anyone came up with the name ThorCon I can't imagine but the video explains what their project is all about. While remembering that the presentation is a sales pitch, here are a few bullet points.

The ThorCon system is a modular off the shelf system which can be built by existing shipyards using automated ship-building technology.

The system uses thorium and uranium and is designed to be  “walk-away safe”. If it goes wrong the liquid fuel falls harmlessly into a containment vessel. Nobody needs to shut it down, the laws of physics take care of things.

The system is designed to be cheaper than coal.

Indonesia is already interested, but as ever we'll have to wait and see if ThorCon sinks or swims. There is no way we can usefully guess what new technologies will emerge over the next few decades but thorium seems promising. When will the world run out of thorium? These things are as much guesswork as anything, but 1000 years may be conservative.

Meanwhile here in high tech Britain we build windmills and convert power stations to burn wood. Presumably dried dung is our next big energy idea.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

New camera


As mentioned in the previous post I have a new camera, a Nikon S7000. It had to fit into my pocket while out walking and have a reasonable optical zoom without costing too much. 

I haven't done much with it yet, but the above photo is a teal seen at Carsington Water taken on maximum zoom - 20x. Without the zoom it would have been a tiny brownish blob out on the mud. Not David Attenborough standard but I'm pleased with it. Here's a squirrel on the lawn, also at maximum zoom.


Submerged in little things

We go each of us through the treadmill of our lives caught and caged like little animals in some vast menagerie. In turn we love, marry, breed children, have our moments of blind futile passion and then something happens. All unconsciously a change creeps over us. Youth passes. We become shrewd, careful, submerged in little things.
 Sherwood Anderson - Marching Men (1917)

I intended to write something about Anderson’s words, but I have to nip off to Sainsbury’s to recycle some batteries and pick up a few bits and pieces. There are Christmas cards to write, a Mastercard statement to check, info from our gas and electricity supplier, our Ramblers membership renewal and I need some time to fiddle with my new camera to see what I can do with it...

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Spell-check for hate

The BBC reports

Technology companies should work on tools to disrupt terrorism - such as creating a hate speech "spell-checker" - Google's chairman Eric Schmidt has said.

Hardly a surprise, these things evolve in small steps. The form they eventually take is a matter of conjecture, but not particularly difficult conjecture. Terrorists today, grumpy old cynics tomorrow. If you have anything to say then say it now seems to be the message.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The EU and low-energy voters

We all seem to have a collection of comfort zones where experiences are aligned not with the real world but with one of our comfort zones. A comfort zone is where we go for our opinions, our world view and our personal philosophy. It is much easier than brain work, just ask a Cabinet Minister.

There are political zones, religious zones, family zones, comedy zones, sport zones, pub zones, employment zones, book zones, environment zones, music zones, art zones, blog zones and so on and so on. There are even imaginary comfort zones reserved for other people such as enemy zones, often populated with imaginary people.

All these zones offer the subtle and strongly addictive comforts of low-energy thinking. In return we give our allegiance to the zone together with its myths, stories, truths, lies, language, social benefits and important ambiguities. In real life nobody actually has to do much brain work – it isn’t compulsory. We all have the low-energy option of comfort zones.

If answers have already been supplied and accepted into a comfort zone then not thinking is more efficient than thinking. This is how we would expect our brains to work, efficiently. Brain work is work, the energy has to come from somewhere. From a survival point of view we would expect our brains to use as little energy as possible consistent with survival. This is how the natural world works, through the path of least energy.

A great deal of human thought may be drivel, but if it is low energy drivel, does not threaten survival and attracts a socially significant consensus then the net survival effect may be strongly positive. Consensus promotes social cohesion which in turn promotes survival.

So we may worship the most ludicrous gods, but if doing so promotes social cohesion then the overall survival effect may be positive. In which case it pays to worship the gods and explain the natural world through their supposed actions. Even the most abject drivel can be socially effective by creating and maintaining social bonds. 

Our leaders have always understood the value of low-energy drivel designed to appeal to low-energy voters. The pro-EU campaign for the UK’s forthcoming referendum will rely on herding low-energy voters into what the EU has become, a low-energy comfort zone. There is no real defence against it either. The low-energy voter was bound to be the Achilles' heel of democracy.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

1916 Detroit Electric car



A century ago we already had practical electric commuter cars. From Wikipedia

The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles (130 km) between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles (340.1 km) on a single charge. Top speed was only about 20 mph (32 km/h), but this was considered adequate for driving within city or town limits at the time.

I like this little car, it reminds me of an Amish buggy and a simpler, more rational life which was always within our grasp but we never grasped it.

Imagine a similar car made from modern materials used purely for shopping or commuting. For twenty years I commuted across Nottingham and only on a Sunday morning would I ever do better than an average speed of 20 mph. Usually it was well below.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Christmas, pumpkins and climate

Much has been written about COP21, the latest climate circus, but there is one aspect pointing to a less than desirable future as global processes bite into our freedoms.

COP21 will fail – China and India are not interested.
Everyone has known this for years.
Ditto COP22.
Ditto COP23.
Ditto COP999.
The science is garbage.
The negotiations are political fantasies.
Few people care anyway.
The whole thing is a process.

That’s the point and the scary aspect of climate change. COP21 is merely a global process. Nobody is in charge, nobody is responsible, there are no achievable goals, nobody cares.

Christmas is a process too. Christmas involves lying to children about Santa Claus and no doubt many parents aren’t so keen on that, but the lies are part of the process so they are widely told. Halloween is another process. Many of us in the UK saw it start from nothing but one started the job is done, possibly for decades, possibly centuries. Think of that – trick or treat for centuries.

Once established a large-scale process tends to go on and on because the number of beneficiaries is correspondingly large. Lies, evasions and misinformation trigger few moral sensitivities if they are part of the process. Everyone does it so it can’t be wrong, that’s the unspoken formula.

Achievements, failures and moral ambiguities are not necessarily relevant, the only relevance is gain. Do beneficiaries gain? Christmas and Halloween are funded by punters. Government-sponsored processes such as COP21 are also funded by punters but without consent. Inevitably they tend to be funded until a scandal or two render them politically whiffy.

Obvious lying, general silliness and an absence of global warming do not constitute a scandal for COP21 and won’t for COP22, COP23 or COP999 unless people within the process suddenly become significantly more moral. Sadly evolution doesn’t work that quickly.

There’s the rub. Government-sponsored processes such as COP21 don’t have to be honest, truthful or make sense. They don’t have to confer benefits on anyone outside the process. As long as they confer benefits on those inside the process, which may be as trivial uncritical peer review, as cut and paste reporting or an annual jamboree, then reasons will be found for business as usual. Unless something big such as another ice age diverts our attention of course but then it may be too late. 

That’s the scary part. It doesn’t really matter whether we see global warming, cooling or neither. Hardly anyone inside the process actually cares. Prince Charles possibly, but he is a figure of fun these days.

Friday, 4 December 2015

I told 'em - Oldham

Actually I didn't. Anyone who can't remember the source of the title, it's explained here.  As for yesterday's Labour by-election victory, it is unwise to base much on a single result, but anyone is bound to wonder, at least momentarily, if Jeremy Corbyn has a point.:

Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour’s decisive byelection victory in Oldham is proof that his party is a broad church with deep-rooted support across the country.

Certainly Labour support is very deep-rooted, we already know that. Whether an oddball political poseur such as Jeremy can mobilise and benefit from it remains to be seen, but I doubt it. We also have this reaction from politicalbetting.

The default assumption when parties talk about “internal polling” should be that they are lying

A cynic might add that it's the default position when parties say anything at all about any subject under the sun but that's another issue. The main issue is whether or not Jeremy is rather more popular with voters than he is with the media or his MPs.

Too early to tell but probably not in spite of the Oldham result. For example, recent polling does not suggest that he is seen as economically competent. Perhaps Oldham had a good candidate in Jim McMahon who comes across as personable and capable, in which case the result may not be so good for Jeremy after all. Personable and capable are not really what he wants on the benches behind his back.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Bloody war

Isn’t Middle East policy going well? Nobody really wanted to start from where we are now, not after a long series of wrong moves. Was the world a better place for us with Saddam, Gaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad keeping the lid on things? These conjectures are beyond analysis but it is very tempting to think so.

As far as I can see there are still lessons to be learned, especially since the Russian intervention. Oddly enough Putin seems to have highlighted our failure to look to our own culture, value it and energetically preserve what was in our national interests to preserve. 

For too long we have been told that the world is multicultural and to see it in any other way is reactionary and xenophobic. Sadly that wasn’t a good move when playing the game of real life. These things have to evolve at their own pace. If indeed they ever do evolve,

Putin has also highlighted our failure to look to our national interests and pursue them with deviously unyielding rigour. The same degree of rigour imposed by the laws of evolution - survival of the fittest. We have allowed ourselves to be less than fit.

As for the latest bombing campaign, it seems foolish to assume that our leaders know what they are doing, know what their goals are and how to achieve them. It even seems foolish to assume the intelligence they rely on is indeed reliable.

Closer to home it has allowed Hilary Benn to make what appears to be a move on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Crappy furniture

A stock of clothes may last several years; a stock of furniture half a century or a century;
Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations

Half a century? Not if you buy it from one of the big retailers matey. We recently wasted quite a few hours looking for a pair of armchairs which are both comfortable and likely to be reasonably durable. What an experience that was.

Most modern armchairs and sofas are crap displayed in vast soulless sheds. Ergonomically they are so poorly designed that most are not even worth trying. No head support, no lumbar support, no attempt to fit the human form, no attempt to inform potential customers about materials, springing or durability. Only glaring lies about amazing special offers which aren't amazing and aren't special.

As for quality, Adam Smith’s half a century is long gone. We even tried DFS as we found ourselves driving past the horrible place. Why anyone would go twice is a mystery. We won’t. If too many customers accept rubbish then rubbish is what we’ll get from the faceless corporate bean-counters. When it comes to furniture we certainly do accept rubbish, mountains and mountains of rubbish. It’s the same with politics but we never learn.

In the end we found some locally made furniture which looks promising. Lots of info on the materials and no hard sell. Expensive but not much more expensive than the crap so I think we’ll give the crap a miss. It isn’t simply a desire for a modicum of quality, but an equally strong desire to stick two fingers up at corporate indifference.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

An energy myth

With the climate faithful assembled in Paris perhaps it is time to think about saving energy. A few years ago we replaced our old central heating boiler with a new efficient energy saving model. We also added another layer of loft insulation to take it up to whatever is the approved depth these days.

As far as I can tell and admitting that these issues are inherently uncertain, we are saving significant amounts of gas. Consequently we tweak up the heat to enjoy a slightly warmer house and I don’t think we are alone in doing so. So no energy saving, but suppose we decide to be more disciplined and end up making a genuine energy saving of say £200 per year. Does that work?

I’m sure many others have pointed this out and it is no more than common sense anyway, but we are almost certain to spend that saved £200 on something produced using energy. We could spend it on extra fuel for the car because we choose to go out more often. We could put it towards new walking boots but they require energy for manufacture, distribution and ultimate disposal. We could spend it on trips to the theatre but they represent energy too.

Money and energy may not be exactly commensurate, but it is impossible to consume without consuming energy, impossible to spend without spending on energy in some form or another. So is it possible to save energy? Certainly it is possible to store energy via hot water, batteries or hydroelectric systems, but as ordinary consumers do we really save energy when we follow the energy mantras being hammered out in Paris?

One paragon of energy saving is cycling which is why we have all those cycle tracks. Cycling saves a large amount of energy compared with a car but saved energy ends up as saved money which has to be shoved under the mattress or spent on other forms of energy. Bicycles, cycle tracks and Lycra for a start. Not necessarily equal amounts of energy but for most people saving energy is just another way of consuming energy because money is always involved.

Perhaps masses of complex energy calculations would show genuine savings but I’m not so sure. As far as I can see the only practical way to preserve the energy represent by my original £200 worth of gas saving is to walk to the nearest ATM, draw out £200 and burn it. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Dining out

I have no wish to send ripples of envy through the blogosphere, but today we dined out for lunch. Before shopping we nipped into the Tesco cafe for coffee and a mince pie. It’s called style – some of us have it and some of us don’t.

For under a fiver it wasn't bad, so no need to have words with chef either.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Wrong moves


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the crowds gathered in central London for a march against climate change that they had a message for the politicians gathering in Paris for talks next week - "Do what you are sent there to do."
Source

Decades ago I was playing a league chess match somewhere in Coventry, can’t recall exactly where, can’t even recall who I played for.

Anyhow, there came a point where my opponent took one of my pawns with his knight and at the same time threatened my rook. Chess is very psychological; players sit almost head to head and inevitably body language plays its part. My opponent took my pawn with a tiny flourish, clicked the chess clock and sat back with a look of muted but perfectly obvious satisfaction. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t actually a good move.

I ignored the threat on my rook, pushed a centre pawn onto the sixth rank and the game was effectively over. My opponent’s sense of shock was painfully obvious, even more obvious than his satisfaction had been about a minute earlier.

As in chess, so it is in life. There is no going back once a wrong move has been made. Inevitably there are consequences and although the complexities of real life always offer up new opportunities, they are never exactly the ones we had before the wrong move.

Was Jeremy Corbyn’s election a wrong move? Of course it was – the possibilities stemming from a capable Labour leader are gone. Now it is too late because he has to be ousted in some way and that problem is down to another wrong move – Ed Miliband’s changes to the Labour leadership election rules.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband is facing calls to apologise for the "disastrous" voting system being used to elect his successor.

Mr Miliband changed the system under which he was elected to "one member one vote" and allowed the public to take part for a £3 fee.

Source

There are only so many wrong moves any individual, institution or country can afford to make. The Labour party has made two in quick succession. The sense of shock is still painfully obvious but Labour has lost more than a game of chess and so have we.

It's less than three months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader but already newspapers address talk of a "plot" to stage a "coup" within the party.

The i and its sister publication, the Independent, report the calls of four backbenchers for Mr Corbyn to step down, with one saying the party is in a "terrible, terrible mess". Meanwhile, the Times says some senior figures have been consulting lawyers over a way to both unseat him and ensure he cannot be re-elected.

Source

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Is Prince Charles a plonker?

The little-known Theory of Plonkerdom tells us that being a plonker is often a useful social asset. So much so that plonkerdom is one of our most important lifestyle choices, an essential aspect of social and political life. Why this is so and why many ambitious people are attracted to plonkerdom is easily illustrated by two examples.

1. Volcanoes are caused by huge mutant moles
This is the easy one, a gentle introduction to basic plonkerdom. The only question we need to ask is – “how do different people respond to the above statement?”

Firstly, anyone not versed in plonkerdom would treat the idea as either ridiculous or the prelude to some Pythonesque comedy.

Secondly, anyone versed in plonkerdom would first ask “is this a popular idea and if so popular with whom?” The obvious answers are “no” and “nobody” but only after this initial query does the answer become “ridiculous”. Plonkerdom academics often refer to this initial query as the “preliminary plonkerdom scan”.

2. High house prices are good for the economy.
Still easy but fractionally less ridiculous than no. 1. An introduction to more advanced plonkerdom where plonkerdom strategies start to become important. As with the first example there are two standpoints, one outside plonkerdom and one inside.

Firstly, anyone not versed in plonkerdom understands the advantages of lower costs, so cheaper houses would be good for the economy, not expensive houses. Their answer might be “wrong, high house prices are a mean-spirited burden on young people”.

Secondly, anyone versed in plonkerdom would first ask “is this a popular idea and if so popular with whom?” The obvious answers are “yes” and “home owners plus many other influential sections of society”. Only after this initial query does the answer become “correct, high house prices are good for the economy.”

The invisible hand of plonkerdom
I hope these two simple examples are sufficient to show how useful it is for an ambitious person to assume the mantle of plonkerdom. Having the opinions of a plonker can be very advantageous; one might almost say essential to social and political life. 

So the key point of plonkerdom is this: it is important to hold opinions which give one a social advantage and naturally enough those are opinions held in common with the right kind of people. 

People outside the charmed circle of plonkerdom are often frustrated by what appears to be an utterly mysterious social and political force – the invisible hand of plonkerdom.

Many people who don’t understand plonkerdom see Prince Charles as a plonker when in reality he is a modestly adroit practitioner of plonkerdom. Not an expert such as David Cameron perhaps, but one should not underestimate his expertise.

Friday, 27 November 2015

How thick are celebrities?

Why do so many celebrities feel a need to support dodgy causes?

Björk, David Bowie and a host of musicians, actors, artists, novelists and leading figures in the creative industries have called on negotiators at next week’s climate summit in Paris to reach a deal that staves off dangerous global warming.

The letter to the French foreign minister and the UN climate chief in charge of the talks is signed by a selection of A-listers from the British cultural scene, including actors Steve Coogan and Emma Thompson, musicians Damon Albarn and Guy Garvey, and writers Ian McEwan and Philip Pullman.


Do they not see how diminished they are in the eyes of a significant number of people? All publicity isn’t necessarily good publicity – look at the endless ridicule Bono has attracted over the years.

As professional artists they are just the kind of people who ought to see the human weaknesses, folly and ambiguities behind most promoted causes. Keen human insight ought to come with the artistic territory.  Yet as far as one can see it doesn’t and many professional artists appear to be completely oblivious to these things, often seeing far less than ordinary folk who might otherwise admire their achievements.

The climate game isn’t anywhere near to being a major public concern in spite of the endless hustling and the colossal sums spent pushing the narrative. At a personal level celebrities cannot be genuinely worried because they are cushioned from even the most dire of predicted disasters. Neither are they really concerned about the fate of unknown people in a distant future. Nobody is - such a remote and theoretical altruism isn't an aspect of human nature.

In their position I’d prefer to leave my ignorance in the background and perhaps most celebrities do that. Perhaps it is a statistical effect and all we are seeing are a small percentage - a few dedicated poseurs who close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears if a chosen cause isn’t quite kosher. Like clockwork toys they strut their stuff because once wound up they cannot do otherwise.

Or maybe the ludicrous plonkers are simply thick.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The poisoned average

When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are... now how do I put this without offending anyone? How about this? When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are shit.

Yes that’ll do.

Excellence, by its very nature, isn’t average. Excellence is what we aspire to if average won’t do which it usually won’t. Unfortunately globalisation is bound to promote average over excellent. How could things be otherwise? Global policies where one standard fits all cannot aspire to anything but standardisation around the average, around what is feasible. So excellence doesn’t get a look in.

Globalisation has to promote globally attainable standards acceptable to the average shitty government and reluctantly tolerated by the average punter. We won’t refer to the latter group as voters because from a global perspective the average voter is merely a punter with no political influence. So punter became the global standard and voter was quietly defenestrated. Not that we seem to have missed it yet - democracy that is.

In which case we should expect a trend towards globally averaged political and commercial integrity, globally averaged education, globally averaged credulity, honesty, cultural values and so on. Maybe it’s time to put some folding money into a bribery fund - in case the day comes when we need an official to do their job properly, when those with brown envelopes always seem to be at the front of the queue.

Come to think of it we could prepare kids for an average life by future-proofing their party games. Pass the parcel could be pass the envelope. Monopoly could be updated so that players hide their money in a variety of off-board schemes. Although Monopoly already fits the trend quite well – you either own land or you are stuffed.

Anyone who aspires to be above average, who expects their culture to exhibit above average levels of integrity, humanity, intelligence, artistic achievement and honesty – well dream on as they say.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Winter deaths

The BBC is concerned about the rise in excess winter deaths last year.

There were an estimated 43,900 excess deaths in England and Wales last winter, the highest number since 1999, figures show.

The report suggests most of the deaths involved people over 75.

Many people attribute these deaths to the cold weather but there is a more obvious explanation – television. As nights become longer and days become shorter, elderly people with impaired mobility are likely to watch more and more television and therein lies a serious but unsuspected risk. Imagine the scene - 

Outside it is cold, wet and dark. An elderly person switches on the television expecting to be cheered or entertained but Strictly Come Prancing is on yet again. Or the news is spewing out anxiety, or one of those interminable property shows with dull folk wandering around houses they aren’t going to buy because they can’t really afford them and only wanted to see their silly faces on telly.

Wouldn’t that have a depressing physiological effect on any viewer, let alone a frail and elderly viewer who needs cheering up on a cold winter evening?

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Eastenders again.

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen for a tot of whiskey to perk up that cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Question Time again.

So we see how the long hours of winter television could easily depress a person’s vital forces, their natural resistance to bodily decline. It’s okay for someone my age. I can demostrate this by switching on the television without undue risk because for my age I’m reasonably fit and heal

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coming up for air

Sometimes I browse the internet and I’m overwhelmed by the volume of material which is too good to miss but I don’t have the time because there is far too much of it. Yes much of it is dross, but the dross is easily avoided. The good material is radical too and that’s the point. Having it so easily available is like coming up for air after a lifetime spent underwater swimming through the murk and rubbish.

Much of it comes down to language, pointed, witty, accurate, iconoclastic language. Yet the problem with language is that we can’t have our own private version. Wittgenstein pointed this out although it is obvious enough. So we can’t possess language, can’t think in our own personal language, can’t use anything but the tools we have in common, the tools which evolved to channel our thinking to make it easy, automatic and thus efficient.

As we know, this why all totalitarian societies control language. Control language and you control thought. It might be expected that North Korean would be a ferment of covert dissatisfaction but it probably isn’t anywhere near as radical as one would suppose. Control permissible language and to a significant degree you control that covert language we call thought.

Yet things are obviously changing. To my mind, since the arrival of the internet the public domain has become far more varied, interesting, probing and amateur. Not amateur as in inferior to professional, but amateur as in unpaid, unscripted and uncontrolled by big business or big government.

Amateurs with relevant experience, abilities, nous and the ability to express themselves as if they too have come up for air and are enjoying every minute of it. Loose cannon in best, most productive, most interesting, most fascinating sense of the term.

We still see lots of professional radicalism, especially on the BBC, but the establishment radical seems to be on the wane. Amateur internet radicals are smarter, wittier and much more in tune with the causes of our many problems. They have stories to tell, know how to tell them and the establishment wilts in the face of their blunt and pithy honesty.

Look at the way Prince Charles flounders around trying to speak his mind on issues he does not understand. Too old, too hidebound, no exposure to the best of the internet – that’s my impression of him. So he sinks and sinks again, becoming a figure of fun, contempt, an icon of the old ways, a lost soul.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vomit pot for sale


Hemswell Antiques has a nice Victorian pearlware vomit pot for sale just in time for Christmas. A snip at £60. Of course there are no modern features such as an instruction booklet, official containment certification or a long list of safety advice but I'm sure most people can operate it safely enough.

It would make a fine present for the festive season and may even establish your reputation as someone who comes up with something different.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Not enough tedium say campaigners

From Tedium Central

Emergency doctors and safety campaigners are calling for a national home-visiting scheme to help prevent injuries to toddlers.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) say it would make a "huge difference".

Modern life is rather like aimless wandering through a strange mixture of fog and treacle, but wandering safely thanks to people such as the good folk at RoSPA. The obvious question is whether or not human beings are evolving a tedium gene. The extraordinary value of such a gene is obvious enough. 

A bureaucratic world needs people who are genetically adapted to a uniformly tedious life, a dreamlike state where nothing is ever achieved, where all goal-directed activity is frustrated by a plethora of intervening forces, but thanks to the tedium gene it doesn't matter. Fog and treacle are good, even doubleplusgood.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

I have no absolute evidence for anything.



‘One of the problems in this country, and the reason the children’s sector hasn’t really improved since Victorian times, is because those who deliver services don’t challenge the civil servants. The power and the money is in the hands of civil servants. They’re very clever people but they’re not wise, and they’re not life-experienced.’ She pauses. ‘Look, I have no absolute evidence for anything...
Camila Batmanghelidjh

A wildly extravagant claim about Victorian times. Maybe she also thought she could do without evidence such as... oh I don't know... receipts?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Brutally simple

Some aspects of life are brutally simple, so simple that they have to be obscured in mountains of waffle. Vast sums of money are spent simply to keep us confused. It’s why the BBC exists, why the Guardian became a propaganda rag.

‘Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?’ he questioned, carrying the war into my camp.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Pity!’ he ejaculated.
‘I’ve often heard that it’s a very good paper,’ I said politely.
‘It isn’t a very good paper,’ he laid me low. ‘It’s the best paper in the world. Try it for a month — it gets to Euston at half-past eight — and then tell me what you think.’
Arnold Bennett - The Grim Tale of the Five Towns (1907)

Maybe the Guardian was never that good, but take just one well known example of a brutally simple idea which hardly ever takes hold of any modern debate however relevant it might be:

Matt Ridley thinks human civilisations are based on transactions, the freedom to trade something for something else and the consequent freedom to specialise. It works from the Neolithic to the present day and at all levels from kids’ playground trading to international deal-making.

The idea isn’t new of course and is so obvious it barely needs justifying, not because we see the effects of it, but because we see how much effort goes into abusing it, how many people, businesses and institutions take vastly more than they give. And for dessert we have the endlessly convoluted justifications.

Both sides of the political spectrum are at it via different methods.

The right wants to screw the voter in favour of big business.
The left wants to screw the voter in favour of big government.
The EU wants to screw the voter in favour of even bigger government.

It really isn’t difficult. Institutions aim to screw everyone on the outside in favour of everyone inside. Landowners want to screw everyone. This is where professional loyalty comes from because deep down in our visceral being where lurk the bottomless pits of self-interest, we know all about the screw or be screwed dichotomy. It’s in our genes and given a furtively presented choice we take furtive advantage of it.

Our core moral stricture, do as you would be done by, is an equally visceral recognition that this brutally simple balance is all that stands between order and chaos. This is the problem with overweening bureaucracies and de facto oligopolies. Both create problems which are not only political and commercial, but moral too. Give and take is a moral obligation simply because it is the logic behind stable and productive human interaction. Exchange should be equitable, including political exchanges such as votes.

So those who stand to gain by distorting such a simple message are the same ones who also make sure vast sums of our money are spent to persuade us that we gain more than we lose. Except we don’t gain more than we lose and it’s obvious because the lopsided workings of give and take are obvious.

The problem is, simple ideas are easily abused in favour of more complex narratives spun by all takers since a brand new flint axe was swapped for a few beads. So we can’t easily teach it to children, can’t explain how universally powerful it is. They might learn something brutally simple. Even worse, they might use it in later life.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Dangling parcel


The other day we returned home to find one of those Parcelforce notes they leave when unable to deliver a parcel. As there was an instruction to leave the thing in the porch we were not pleased.

However, on reading the note it turned out that the delivery guy had contrived an elastic band cradle and suspended our parcel on the other side of the locked gate at the side of the house.

Perhaps it's a common enough ruse for light parcels but we haven't seen it before and were well impressed with the simple ingenuity of it.

The photo is a dramatised reconstruction using the original parcel and elastic band cradle. After taking it down I couldn't work out how he'd done it so I bodged it using the bolt as you can see.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A horrible hunger

The god of the aristocrats is not tradition, but fashion, which is the opposite of tradition. If you wanted to find an old-world Norwegian head-dress, would you look for it in the Scandinavian Smart Set?

No; the aristocrats never have customs; at the best they have habits, like the animals. Only the mob has customs. The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side of what is called Progress.

They have always been up to date, and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now. Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all, are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape, with a horrible hunger, for the future.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

A curiously interesting quote. Chesterton may be stating the obvious but it isn’t something we usually account for. The rich and powerful have it all, so naturally enough they tend to be bored with the present and look to the future for their schemes, plans and entertainment.

In which case progress is substantially driven by the rich and powerful trying to keep boredom at bay. I’m not sure if I agree with the idea, but professional football, the art market and grand infrastructure projects may suggest Chesterton was at least partly right.

Is the EU a symptom of boredom among the rich and powerful?

It could be - we already know about the brats.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A change of soul

You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

As we draw near the Paris climate circus, here are four quotes from the Working Group 1 contribution to IPCC AR5. They illustrate just a few of the uncertainties in climate physics - in case circus folk forget to mention it during the performance.

Uncertainty about the lack of warming
In summary, the observed recent warming hiatus, defined as the reduction in GMST trend during 1998–2012 as compared to the trend during 1951–2012, is attributable in roughly equal measure to a cooling contribution from internal variability and a reduced trend in external forcing (expert judgment, medium confidence). The forcing trend reduction is primarily due to a negative forcing trend from both volcanic eruptions and the downward phase of the solar cycle. However, there is low confidence in quantifying the role of forcing trend in causing the hiatus, because of uncertainty in the magnitude of the volcanic forcing trend and low confidence in the aerosol forcing trend. Almost all CMIP5 historical simulations do not reproduce the observed recent warming hiatus.
TS.4 Understanding the Climate System and Its Recent Changes

Uncertainty about clouds
Cloud formation processes span scales from the sub-micrometre scale of CCN, to cloud-system scales of up to thousands of kilometres. This range of scales is impossible to resolve with numerical simulations on computers, and this is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.
7.2.2 Cloud Process Modelling

Uncertainty about models
Although it is possible to write down the equations of fluid motion that determine the behaviour of the atmosphere and ocean, it is impossible to solve them without using numerical algorithms through computer model simulation, similarly to how aircraft engineering relies on numerical simulations of similar types of equations. Also, many small-scale physical, biological and chemical processes, such as cloud processes, cannot be described by those equations, either because we lack the computational ability to describe the system at a fine enough resolution to directly simulate these processes or because we still have a partial scientific understanding of the mechanisms driving these processes. Those need instead to be approximated by so-called parameterizations within the climate models, through which a mathematical relation between directly simulated and approximated quantities is established, often on the basis of observed behaviour.
FAQ 12.1 | Why Are So Many Models and Scenarios Used to Project Climate Change?

Uncertainty about uncertainty
In proposing that ‘the process of attribution requires the detection of a change in the observed variable or closely associated variables’ (Hegerl et al., 2010), the new guidance recognized that it may be possible, in some instances, to attribute a change in a particular variable to some external factor before that change could actually be detected in the variable itself, provided there is a strong body of knowledge that links  a change in that variable to some other variable in which a change can be detected and attributed. For example, it is impossible in principle to detect a trend in the frequency of 1-in-100-year events in a 100-year record, yet if the probability of occurrence of these events is physically related to large-scale temperature changes, and we detect and attribute a large-scale warming, then the new guidance allows attribution of a change in probability of occurrence before such a change can be detected in observations of these events alone. This was introduced to draw on the strength of attribution statements from, for example, time-averaged temperatures, to attribute changes in closely related variables.
10.2.1 The Context of Detection and Attribution

Monday, 16 November 2015

Paris

The horrible events in Paris appear to tell us a number of things about certain puritanical aspects of Islam and the relentless nature of modern global culture. Relentless? Yes, modern culture is relentless, that’s how it arrived here, why we can’t do anything about it but watch and learn. We also have to look at the medium to long term and avoid personalities. They don’t count.

ISIS appears sincere in its determination to go back to a seventh-century religious, cultural and legal environment. Insane nostalgia with a Kalashnikov in one hand and early medieval literature of dubious provenance in the other. How does that vision stand up to a multi-trillion dollar global economy armed with cruise missiles, military satellites and multi-billion dollar surveillance technology? The short answer is that it doesn’t.

We seem to be witnessing the tragically painful demise of an ancient puritanical sect unable to cope with the modern world and all that it requires - because the modern world has its requirements and they are not optional. The emancipation of women for one. Not optional.

Something has to give and the irresistible power of global bureaucracy, business and consumer culture suggests it will not be the modern world. The puritanical soul of Islam will be sucked dry and recast into the approved norms - a hunger for jobs, houses, cars, smart clothes, entertainment and all the usual goodies. For many it has already happened because accommodation is so easy, so appealing. 

Even worse barbarism may be waiting in the wings before we are done, but the seventh century has gone and isn’t coming back.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Low energy bulbs are crap



Pictured above is the miserable corpse of a low energy, planet saving light bulb. We have a light fitting which takes three of them and in the past four years all three have failed. They failed after roughly two, three and four years so that works out at an average life of about three years for bulbs which are supposed to last ten. 

Soon, as well as light bulbs which don't work as advertised we'll have green electricity which doesn't work as advertised either. Maybe the bulbs will last longer without electricity, but I wouldn't bet on it. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Evolution of Everything

I recently finished reading Matt Ridley’s book The Evolution of Everything : How Ideas Emerge. I rarely read books with an overarching social theme because they usually push their theme too far, but this one is good. The blurb gives the book’s message well enough.

We are taught that the world is a top-down place. Acclaimed author, Matt Ridley, shows just how wrong this is in his compelling new book.

We are taught that the world is a top-down place. Generals win battles; politicians run countries; scientists discover truths; artists create genres; inventors make breakthroughs; teachers shape minds; philosophers change minds; priests teach morality; businessmen lead businesses; environmentalists save the planet. Not just individuals, but institutions too: Goldman Sachs, the Communist Party, the Catholic Church, Al Qaeda – these are said to shape the world.

This is more often wrong than right. ‘Tear Down the Sky Hooks’ is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch, the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Top downery is the source of most of our worst problems in the past – why Hitler won an election, why the sub-prime bubble happened, why Africa lingered in poverty when Asia did not, why the euro is a disaster – and will be the scourge of this century too.

And although we neglect, defy and ignore them, bottom-up trends still shape the world. The growth of technology, the sanitation-driven health revolution, the quadrupling of farm yields so that more land could be released for nature – these were largely emergent phenomena. So was the internet, the mobile phone revolution and the rise of Asia.

In this wide-ranging, highly opinionated non-fiction narrative, Ridley draws on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy and examples drawn from the scientific literature, from historical narratives and from personal anecdotes.


The book’s message is that many things evolve, not just plants and animals. Ideas evolve too. The world is a gradual and relentless unfolding of adjacent possibilities. As new possibilities become realities then a whole new web of further possibilities move closer to becoming realities until they too are accepted or rejected by evolution, by the survival of the fittest.

So from this perspective one might see David Cameron as a clearing house for evolving pressures rather than a leader who exerts and directs those pressures. More puppet than mover and shaker. Once we take into account a vast array of events, pressures and contributing factors, then there are very few if any movers and shakers. The world is largely governed by the enormously complex and powerful evolution of new realities - not particular individuals.

Celebrities, leaders, kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents are our largely incorrect top down way of attributing causes to powerful people. It's the Big Man myth and it has been with us since the dawn of time. Ridley’s book is a sound antidote.

What one does with it is another matter. We tend to think and argue in top down terms and if we try to change things via a more realistic evolutionary approach then we are likely to find ourselves on the edge of the debate. However, today’s edge may evolve into tomorrow’s mainstream. 

You never know. It would certainly upset a few people.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Abigail comes lumbering in

source

From your tabloid BBC

Every school in the Western Isles and Shetland will be closed to pupils on Friday because of the expected arrival of Storm Abigail.

Nearly 60 primary and secondary schools will be affected.

No doubt the point has been made before, but naming storms feels like yet another little surrender to the endless incursions of the nanny state. Giving a spot of bad weather the name Abigail is aimed to heighten our awareness, link it to hurricanes and tropical storms, infect our memories with officially sponsored dross, sneak into our peripheral vision. 

The corruption of a culture can arise from a multitude of small surrenders like this one. Innocuous enough in itself, but part of a malign trend eating away at our capacity to be unconcerned by the facts of life like wind and rain and the natural ups and down of actually living a life in the real world.

What next? we ask, because there will be something, and something after that and after that. In part we should blame the loons who responded with naming suggestions but that may be unfair. If nobody had responded they would have rounded up some schoolchildren to do the job. It's how they operate.

Earlier this year the Met Office asked the public for suggestions for names for storms.

Abigail is the first storm to be officially named by the weather forecasting organisation.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Blush at nothing

For there are two main obstacles to the knowledge of things, modesty that casts a mist before the understanding, and fear that, having fancied a danger, dissuades us from the attempt. But from these folly sufficiently frees us, and few there are that rightly understand of what great advantage it is to blush at nothing and attempt everything.
Desiderius Erasmus - In Praise of Folly (1511)

If one is technically literate, is that socially inferior to being literate? Some people are both, but a significant number are not. Many politicians appear to be neither.

Is this one reason why we are where we are? Do technically-minded people have modesty that casts a mist before the understanding? I think they often do, although it may be fading. We have not given up or even moderated our love of drama, our penchant for mystification, our tendency to emote rather than think, our regard for celebrities who never do anything useful, never say anything worth listening to.

A more widespread technical outlook on life could go some way towards getting rid of the dross, but then much of the colour and the passion would go too. Perhaps it's worth the loss. Perhaps technically-minded people should be more inclined to blush at nothing and attempt everything.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Blog enhancing drugs



In view of the Russian athletics drugs debacle, I feel obliged to confirm that this blog uses no performance enhancing substances of any kind. 

Monday, 9 November 2015

Blog Shock Horror

A lesson blogging hammers home home fairly quickly is the appallingly facile yet horribly effective nature of mainstream journalism. We always knew it but now we know it with a bleak and fatalistic certainty. Pages must be filled on schedule and with the right word count. Advertisers must not be upset and the rich and powerful must have their say.

The clockwork essence of it shows,
Why clunk, clunk, clunk it always goes.
Why suck, suck, suck the suckers suck,
At tits and bums and illicit...

Blogging is easier. I post when I feel like it which is roughly once a day but often enough it isn’t and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how long the posts are either, although I tend to go for short. If I can’t say it in a few hundred words I give it a miss because to my way of thinking language should be concise. No doubt that’s the scientist in me – or the idle sod.

Apart from which... no that’s it I’m almost done.

Mainstream media churns out drama, pap and screwing because drama, pap and screwing sell, sell and sell again. And because the space has to be filled on schedule and drama, pap and screwing are available in vast quantities. Peak Pap or Peak Screw anyone? No I don’t think so either.

Drama comes down the wire from news services such as Reuters or from press releases. An unskilled cut and paste job. Pap comes from press releases. Another unskilled cut and paste job. News of the screws may require some legal input - so to speak.

As for blogging... no I’m done.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Risk

Time for something mildly speculative after all that Yorkshire ale.

During my working life I attended about three million meetings. I think it was close to that kind of number although my memory may be adjusting things a little. Something to do with autonomous aversion therapy I expect.

Anyhow, probably the most starting thing I discovered during all those meetings was how extremely risk-averse people can be. I use the word ‘startling’ because at the time it was. People are not particularly rational – I knew that but in my younger days I had not yet seen just how irrational folk can be when personal interests are in the air.

Many people are sensitive to the smallest shadow of risk, the faintest ephemeral hint of even the most improbable threat when it comes to their own situation. It makes them irrational and very, very determined. Whatever the overall benefits, however sensible a change might be, such people will oppose it for all eternity unless their own situation is certain to be enhanced or two hundred percent secure.

During those three million meetings it soon became obvious that perceived risk could be the most significant driver of human affairs. In which case, intelligence, progress and rational thought are myths, part of the risk machine’s endlessly subtle mechanisms for spinning a rationale for building consensus, for following the low risk route. That’s how the risk of knowing too much is dealt with – stick with consensus and avoid knowing.

Clearly a vast amount of modern life revolves around risk in all its many forms. Things could hardly be otherwise in view of our overall survival imperative. It fits well with what we know of behaviour reinforcement and with seeking out the route of fewest surprises.

Even living in the UK is a risk because the mild winter cannot sustain human life without our life-sustaining technology – clothes, shelter and power. That may change of course. Yet many risks do not threaten our survival at all, even though we take enormous pains, go to great lengths and spend huge amounts of money to avoid them.

It is almost as if our big brains do not represent the evolution of intelligence, but the evolution of risk awareness. We are not so much intelligent as super-subtle risk assessors. We use this ability to populate almost every niche on the planet, including the oceans. We use tools and behaviour to moderate the risks of potentially hostile environments and we populate them. 

In which case we are not so much tool-makers as manipulators of physical risk. Tools from spanners to skyscrapers, from bricks to bridges are all designed to reduce risk or adapt to risk – that is their only purpose.

Yet accurate risk assessment goes wrong and when it does we get a range of consequences from war to social collapse, from totalitarian government to dubious dietary advice. Perceived risks are vast in scope and subtlety and the scope for serious error is correspondingly vast.

Complexity increases risk so we take complex steps to mitigate it even if we don’t fully understand it. That’s one advantage of prejudice – it narrows the range of acceptable possibilities, reduces complexity and thereby reduces risk. Prejudice may have its own risks which institutions and governments try to eliminate, but eliminating one kind of risk many create others simply because complexity has increased in unforeseen ways.

Politics is all about perceived risk, often with facile attempts to reduce it by placating some pressure group which only wishes to reduce its own risks. Or outright loons try to create ideal political structures, a deluded political stasis where there can be no risk because all risks have been designed out by the loons, cast into that outer oblivion where demons lurk.

Except the demons are inside. They always are.