Thursday, 30 April 2015

North begins at Crich

Crich Stand

From the Guardian we learn that the north of England begins at Crich in Derbyshire.

People find it very hard to agree on the exact point where the north of England begins. This is one of the north’s defining characteristics: it doesn’t matter which part you come from, there’s always someone more northern to tell you what a soft southern moron you are. In my mind, the north starts at the village of Crich, in Derbyshire. 

In which case I must be a southerner as I can see Crich Stand (not Tower) by gazing roughly due north from the end of our street. Or I could until a new storage shed blocked the view. Now I have to walk a little further.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The key of their prison cells


Santayana’s neat and pointed explanation as to why knowledge cultures need breadth. Science as usually understood is incomplete in this respect, as are all specialisms.

A consequence of this incoherence in experience is that science is not absolutely single but springs up in various places at once, as a certain consistency or method becomes visible in this or that direction.

These independent sciences might, conceivably, never meet at all; each might work out an entirely different aspect of things and cross the other, as it were, at a different level.

This actually happens, for instance, in mathematics as compared with history or psychology, and in morals as compared with physics. Nevertheless, the fact that these various sciences are all human, and that here, for instance, we are able to mention them in one breath and to compare their natures, is proof that their spheres touch somehow, even if only peripherally.

Since common knowledge, which knows of them all, is itself an incipient science, we may be sure that some continuity and some congruity obtains between their provinces. Some aspect of each must coincide with some aspect of some other, else nobody who pursued any one science would so much as suspect the existence of the rest.

Great as may be the aversion of learned men to one another, and comprehensive as may be their ignorance, they are not positively compelled to live in solitary confinement, and the key of their prison cells is at least in their own pocket.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Sunny interval

This post is intended to raise three questions.

A few months ago Paul Homewood wrote an interesting post on a possible link between UK sunshine, temperatures and air pollution. Because of our recent sunny weather, and long may it continue to warm my old bones, the issue is worth raising again.

Here we have a normalized graph of UK sunshine and temperature from 1929 based on data I recently downloaded from the Met Office. Obvious questions are :-

Is a link between UK sunshine and temperature worth pursuing?
Could air quality be a factor?
Do activists distort our perception of pollution?

Monday, 27 April 2015

A shrug and a cross

A possible approach to elections is to vote for the person rather than the party. It’s not easy because our knowledge of candidates tends to be sketchy and distorted by party machines, but I’ve tried to assess our local general election candidates without reference to their respective parties.

In descending order of capability I rate them:-

Lib Dem

* the dashed line indicates a substantial gap.

So although I’d prefer to vote UKIP as a quixotic protest, the two best candidates seem to be Conservative and Labour. Only a personal view gleaned from online information, social media etc, but I don’t see much difference between the two. Not only that, but locally we are likely to see a two horse race between them so a vote for either is worth more than a vote for the other three.

It’s a dilemma because I really don’t want to vote mainstream, but the other three candidates seem weak, including the UKIP candidate unfortunately. How I’ll vote I don’t yet know so I’ll probably wait until I’m actually in the voting booth hoping for some inspiration. Enthusiasm is too much to expect so it's probably a shrug and a cross for me.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Gone in thirty-five seconds

'Temporary field hospital behind the second Prussian parallel at Duppel:
scene in the amputating-hut - from a sketch by our special artist’,
Illustrated London News (May 7 1864)

Zola’s novel La Débâcle has this grim description of the surgical removal of a wounded soldier’s arm in an improvised field hospital during the Franco-Prussian war. Many would not have survived the operation for long.

Lisfranc’s method, which surgeons never fail to speak of as a “very pretty” operation, something neat and expeditious, barely occupying forty seconds in the performance.

The patient was subjected to the influence of chloroform, while an assistant grasped the shoulder with both hands, the fingers under the armpit, the thumbs on top.

Bouroche, brandishing the long, keen knife, cried: “Raise him!” seized the deltoid with his left hand and with a swift movement of the right cut through the flesh of the arm and severed the muscle; then, with a deft rearward cut, he disarticulated the joint at a single stroke, and presto! the arm fell on the table, taken off in three motions.

The assistant slipped his thumbs over the brachial artery in such manner as to close it. “Let him down!” Bouroche could not restrain a little pleased laugh as he proceeded to secure the artery, for he had done it in thirty-five seconds.

Émile Zola - La Débâcle (1892)

Friday, 24 April 2015

The reign of committees

Committees under whatever name, clubs, syndicates, &c., constitute perhaps the most redoubtable danger resulting from the power of crowds. They represent in reality the most impersonal and, in consequence, the most oppressive form of tyranny.

The leaders who direct the committees being supposed to speak and act in the name of a collectivity, are freed from all responsibility, and are in a position to do just as they choose. The most savage tyrant has never ventured even to dream of such proscriptions as those ordained by the committees of the Revolution.

Barras has declared that they decimated the convention, picking off its members at their pleasure. So long as he was able to speak in their name, Robespierre wielded absolute power. The moment this frightful dictator separated himself from them, for reasons of personal pride, he was lost.

The reign of crowds is the reign of committees, that is, of the leaders of crowds. A severer despotism cannot be imagined.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

Government power sits in a vast number of committees, most members of which are unelected, many being outside the UK even though their deliberations affect our lives. Even if we drag ourselves to the polling booth in May, even if we persuade ourselves it is worthwhile, we still have such realities contend with.

To vote as effectively as possible we should probably vote for whoever promises to be the best committee member, the person most likely to sit on lots of them and say something sensible every now and then. In which case, political parties are best ignored – vote for the person most likely to be a moral and boringly enthusiastic committee member.

Moral? Strewth, where did that word come from?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Those deliberate illusions

Sometimes her ardent imagination concealed things from her, but never did she have those deliberate illusions which cowardice induces.
Stendhal - La Chartreuse de Parme (1839).

An extremely pointed quote. Have you ever explained your own behaviour in a way which is far too lenient towards your motives? I have. It’s one of those deliberate illusions which cowardice induces.

It’s probably a factor in voting too. I vote ConLabLib because... Perhaps we are just too cowardly to sustain a worthwhile democracy.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015



What then is good? The knowledge of things. What is evil? The lack of knowledge of things.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

One thing I notice about web commentary is how professionals can be somewhat reserved about their professions. It is far from being universal, but I often sense a degree of caution or reticence when it comes to matters closely linked to professional background.

Teachers for example. There must be a vast amount they could say about a centralised curriculum, bureaucracy, political correctness, inspections, paperwork, parents, politics and child welfare. Teachers are hardly silent on these issues, but somehow I feel that this most central profession doesn’t say what needs to be said.

As a grandparent I have the impression that all is not well with education. The supposed problems are not news to anyone, but political froth and partiality muddy the waters for those of us on the sidelines.

No doubt part of the problem is a need to protect the identity of individuals, but I’m sure there is still much to say and I’m not convinced we hear it.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A sound mind

No man is able to borrow or buy a sound mind; in fact, as it seems to me, even though sound minds were for sale, they would not find buyers. Depraved minds, however, are bought and sold every day.

Nothing much changes in the ebb and flow of human futility does it? Life is far less harsh and far more comfortable than it was in Seneca's time, at least in the developed world, but we have similar ethical problems. A strikingly similar inability to resolve them too.

Monday, 20 April 2015


The photo was taken at Topsham. Somehow the derelict boats on the other side of the Exe are not eyesores, at least for me. Neither is the Vigilant, a once derelict Thames barge being restored nearby.

Dereliction is like that. A derelict Austin Seven is probably more acceptable to many than a derelict Austin Allegro. Both have a certain glow of nostalgia, but the Allegro’s would we weak and tinged with memories of British industrial incompetence.

Derelict castles and manor houses are fine. English Heritage thrives on them and carefully preserves their dereliction for us to admire. A derelict castle on the skyline can be a thing of beauty. I well remember walking barefoot along the sands of Embleton Bay towards Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland. A fine sight and a memorable experience.

Derelict stone barns are mildly picturesque - we see them all over the Derbyshire hills. Derelict cranes, steam engines and bits of rusting industrial heritage may lack the same charm but they are at least interesting if not too recently abandoned. Perhaps abandonment is a factor here. It must not be too obvious or recent.

Derelict houses are not so good unless old and interesting. Even slight hints of dereliction are unwelcome in most neighbourhoods. Yet a Tudor ruin or a few pillars and some trefoil stonework from some long lost priory are positively prestigious, tearooms and eye-watering property prices almost guaranteed.

I suppose nostalgia casts its golden glow over some things and not others. How do derelict democracies fare?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Equally ignorant


With regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

Something happens when we try to get closer and closer to the more complex aspects of human life. Somehow we seem to lose focus, the overall picture fragments into lots of vignettes. What we want from more detailed scrutiny is the limpid clarity of unclouded understanding. What we often end up with are reasons why the other lot keep getting it wrong.

As time goes by problems multiply, wrong conclusions pop up, exaggerations creep in, useless predictions infest debates, celebrities muddy the waters, charlatans gather in the gullible. In short, it is often unclear if anything worthwhile has been achieved apart from an enormous amount of activity. Paid activity at that.

It’s as if complex human issues have an optimal focus. Get too close and the thing becomes blurred and fragmented, stand too far back and important features disappear.

Economics seems to be like this. For non-economists it is a matter of finding someone to trust because the alternative seems to be standing on the sidelines forever. Yet a suspicion remains that the sidelines are where one has the best view.

I think many political people, know this perfectly well. They know there are few firm conclusions to be had in the ebb and flow of human complexities. They also know that this gives them scope for a secure political standpoint where with a dash of luck, only the most glaring failure will sink their boat.

Meanwhile we voters tend to ignore the debates and vote by habit or instinct. Nobody is ever likely to tell us where the optimum standpoint is anyway. That’s not how politics works.

So maybe useful analysis cannot flourish in political debates because the optimum standpoints are too obvious, too easily grasped for anyone to claim as their own and make political capital from them.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The last illusion

The philosophers of the last century devoted themselves with fervour to the destruction of the religious, political, and social illusions on which our forefathers had lived for a long tale of centuries. By destroying them they have dried up the springs of hope and resignation. Behind the immolated chimeras they came face to face with the blind and silent forces of nature, which are inexorable to weakness and ignore pity. 

Notwithstanding all its progress, philosophy has been unable as yet to offer the masses any ideal that can charm them; but, as they must have their illusions at all cost, they turn instinctively, as the insect seeks the light, to the rhetoricians who accord them what they want. Not truth, but error has always been the chief factor in the evolution of nations, and the reason why socialism is so powerful to-day is that it constitutes the last illusion that is still vital. 

In spite of all scientific demonstrations it continues on the increase. Its principal strength lies in the fact that it is championed by minds sufficiently ignorant of things as they are in reality to venture boldly to promise mankind happiness. The social illusion reigns to-day upon all the heaped-up ruins of the past, and to it belongs the future. The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. 

Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.

Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

Maybe global planners aim to promise mankind happiness in the form of a global consumer culture. Perhaps their plans are sound and a micro-managed consumer culture offers a facsimile of happiness most people would settle for.

A few may mourn the death of freedom, dignity and fulfilment, but do we currently have enough to fill the coffin?

Friday, 17 April 2015

The statue

This is another excerpt from my aunt's memoirs describing her childhood in the back streets of Derby almost a century ago.

Empire Day. 
We prepared by walking the evening before to the field with the pond in the centre and there picked red tipped daisies. Behind the churchyard we’d find bluebells or birds eye and at home, made button holes to pin to our frocks. I can’t recall a wet Empire Day. One year it was so hot that, singing in the playground, one girl fainted from the heat. To the accompaniment of a piano brought into the playground for the occasion, young voices sang with gusto Flag of Britain, Land of Hope & Glory, Rule Britannia and many more. We’d end with the National Anthem and then troop home for the rest of the day.

A great number of small incidents come to mind, after all most of life consists of trivial events which we either enjoy or if unpalatable, try to accept with as much equanimity as possible. For obvious reasons I’m sticking pretty much to the former. In any case, isn’t it better to bear in mind the happy times rather than bemoan the sad?

Cohen’s Bazaar
My friend Glad and I were about ten or eleven I suppose, we’d run errands, saved the ha’pennies until we’d sixpence each. Just before Christmas we went to Cohen’s Bazaar in St Peter’s Street, a forerunner of Woolworths.

I can’t remember what Glad bought but my choice was an open fluted glass dish the colour of dark topaz for my mother. I was thrilled with my purchase. It was of course wrapped in newspaper, nothing so extravagant as brown paper at Cohen’s and walking home (there was no money left for tram fare) I was terrified lest my prize should slip through my fingers. Dripping wet but with the goods intact we got back. I hid my present in the bedroom, managed to find a square of reasonable paper to wrap it in. Mam kept that dish for years, long after I was married.

The statue
If I went into town on an errand for Mam I sometimes was given enough to pay the tram fare and if so, chose the open top deck when possible. The tram stopped at Bloomfield Street. Sitting on the left hand side I could see over the wall and into the garden of one of the big houses. Impolite it might have been but that garden rapidly drew my eyes. Flagged path, old fashioned flower borders and shrubs, trees, immaculate lawn. And to cap all this loveliness a statue of a chubby boy. I fell in love with that grey still figure and always looked for him.

Ever since, the ambition to own a statue has never diminished though my taste has changed and I would if I could, choose something for my garden with a more classical beauty. After my husband retired – he was seventy – he went to sales galore to try and get me a statue but no success. Eventually, being a stone mason, he said he would carve one for me himself. Alas he became ill and unable but I can still see in my mind’s eye that little chubby boy amongst the roses and lavender.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Puppy power


The political temperature seems to rise and rise again as each party scrabbles for votes. Ed Balls is an angry man, he recently slammed David Cameron’s plan to give a puppy to every family on minimum wage.

“This is yet another example of the Tories shamelessly stealing our policies and presenting them as their own,” said a furious Mr Balls in a TV interview.

“As everyone knows, we have already pledged to give a goldfish to low income families,” he added. “It is a much more practical idea than puppies. For a start, goldfish emit far less greenhouse gas than puppies - adorable though puppies are of course. But we are thinking of the environment while the Tories are just desperate for votes.”

Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems has declined to enter the fray even though his party is committed to giving out a million free ant colonies, one to each child who correctly guesses what Mr Clegg will do after the election.

UKIP have sensibly steered well clear of this particular hot potato, but the most vociferous critic of all is Natalie Bennett of the Greens. Her party originally intended to present all new members with a packet of grass seed to grow their own lifestyle.

Unfortunately many Green party members misunderstood the scheme and have been cancelling their membership in order to rejoin and claim their free grass seed. Sadly the scheme had to be abandoned.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Totalitarian genes


Suppose our genes have opted for a global totalitarian regime as the only alternative to permanent war or nuclear annihilation.

Or suppose they have opted for the role of global peasants as the only alternative to unsustainable development.

In which case our genes may be taking evasive action against perceived threats. The threats don’t have to be real of course. As long as a majority of genes believe they are real. Perhaps the twisted sods have no principles...

...our genes that is.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The things which weigh heavily

The things which weigh heavily upon my mind are these—failure to improve in the virtues, failure in discussion of what is learnt, inability to walk according to knowledge received as to what is right and just, inability also to reform what has been amiss.

The things which weigh heavily for me are the three stooges above. Confucius hit the nail on the head twenty five centuries ago, so are we slow learners or just thick? Too easily persuaded I suppose.

After twenty five centuries we may as well accept that Confucian wisdom isn't likely to enter politics any time soon. Peace, a functioning economy and the rule of law are the best we can hope for. Voting won't change anything because the only real power is the power of money.

Collectively we voters have lots of money but we allow too much of it to be stolen by the state and spend too much of the rest on Sky television, mobile phones and suchlike. There is no sign that this will ever change and quite possibly that's the best outcome we can hope for. 

Monday, 13 April 2015


Elections are all very well, but each one seems a little less sane than the last and the current charade seems to be the worst of the lot. Even the acting is crap. Although charades are not supposed to be taken seriously we are surely entitled to a touch of sparkle from the political furniture - or candidates as we tend to call them. 

I’m sure we are losing the democratic plot here. Or maybe, ghastly thought,  this is the plot. Of course plotting is what democracy is all about, but we are where we are and due vote democratically are we not? Apart from the electoral fraud, gerrymandering and rigged voting system of course.

Made-up-on-the-hoof promises seem to be all the rage at the moment but people keep making fun of them. MarkMac and Demetrius have posts on this most popular and topical comedy.

These soundbite-sized promises are mostly... or should I be calling them pledges?  Don’t political poseurs refer to their promises as pledges or has that word been tossed overboard because it reminds everyone of furniture polish?

Anyhow, nobody but a party loon would believe their promise/pledges and even then he or she would have to be a fringe loon. Imagine being a fringe loon. Cut off from the cynics at the centre, cut off from the great mass of uninterested normal folk, cut off from everything that makes life worth living. Crikey it’s a grim thought isn’t it? There should be a charity for them.

Speaking of charity, I’m hoping someone will promise free marzipan for pensioners. Something seasonal to go with the winter fuel allowance we are forced to spend on Christmas booze in order to kindle some inner warmth and maybe even a hint of goodwill. It’s not that I’m particularly fond of marzipan, but it has that distinctive seasonal aroma of almonds - or cyanide as we chemists often call it.

So what will the loons promise next I wonder, because I really don’t have high hopes for a cornucopia of marzipan. Cracking down on bad things, pouring money into good things and generally avoiding anything which might tax... oops, wrong word... and generally avoiding anything which might cause political offence.

So what could cause political offence apart from almost any serious discussion on any subject?

...nope I’m struggling with that one.

Storytellers both


Although it is useful and even essential to make distinctions where they are real, it can be equally useful to set conventional distinctions to one side.

For example, take the distinction between scientists and journalists. Conventionally these are distinct and even morally distinct professions, but there are a number of obvious similarities.

Many scientists must publish or die.
So a good story may be better than an accurate one.
And a rehash is easier than something new.
And consensus is easier than radical.
And genuine investigation is expensive, the outcome uncertain.

Overall conclusion? Aiming to offend neither paymaster nor expectations is a sound policy for journalists and scientists - or anyone else for that matter. Should we be surprised if science has interesting similarities to journalism?

We see the similarities in numerous areas such as nutrition, health, the environment, psychology, sociology, cosmology, materials science, battery technology, novel fuels and nuclear power. The line between science and the storyteller's art becomes blurred, often disappearing altogether.    

Both scientists and journalist tell stories of variable quality, originality and integrity, in part due to similar pressures. On the whole our society doesn’t see it that way, but the pressures and the consequent parallels are striking. There are differences of course, but what if the pressures converge and the similarities become even more significant?

As with journalism, science generates a range of output from high quality reporting of the natural world to its own version of the gutter press, wallowing in scare stories, personalities and general clamour where the paymaster is king and nothing else matters.

The trick is to tell one from the other.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

So I lie to myself and to him

Where can I find an image of myself? Ah, in the poor, in my poor neighbour labouring in the grip of an unjust system of capitalism. Let me look at him, let my heart be wrung, let me give myself to his service.

Poor fellow, poor image, he is so badly off. Alas and alas, I do love my neighbour as myself: I am as anxious about his pecuniary welfare as I am about myself. I am so sorry for him, the poor X. He is a man like me. So I lie to myself and to him. For I do not care about him and his poverty: I care about my own unsatisfied soul. But I sidetrack to him, my poor neighbour, to vent on him my self-pity.

D H Lawrence – Study Of Thomas Hardy (1914)

Friday, 10 April 2015

Gripped by election fever

While we are all gripped by election fever... we are gripped by it aren’t we? Hanging on to every word?

Oh well, maybe not but it is still worth reminding ourselves about glib tongues and what they tell us. Confucius expressed it well.

Sz-ma Niu asked the like question. The answer he received was this: "The words of the man who has a proper regard for his fellows are uttered with difficulty."

"'His words—uttered with difficulty?'" he [Sz-ma Niu] echoed, in surprise. "Is that what is meant by proper regard for one's fellow-creatures?"

"Where there is difficulty in doing," the Master replied, "will there not be some difficulty in utterance?"

It’s an interesting quote, quite apart from its relevance to the electoral games we currently have to endure. Confucius is saying that if a chap has a proper regard for his fellows, then he or she takes them into account in what is said so there is always some difficulty, some need to find most appropriate words. 

By implication, the glib speaker doesn’t have the same level of regard for his or her auditors so the words come more easily. They are more formulaic. Admittedly this is a common enough experience, but as with many bits and pieces of practical wisdom it gets lost in the clamour of glib debate.

TV only seems to make the problem worse, creating an immediacy favouring the slick riposte over the considered, often more hesitant answer. We fall for it though - or too many of us do.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Ministerial fatuity

Let us go back, dear friend, and play at ministerial fatuity with all freedom and without reserve; it may be the last performance that we shall give in this town.

Stendhal - La Chartreuse de Parme (1839)

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Lost bomber

We were walking in the vicinity of Ecclesbourne Valley today, well-known locally for its heritage railway. The area is mostly rolling farmland rather than the limestone hills we prefer, but pleasant walking on a lovely sunny day.

Not far from the path on Bullhurst Hill is a memorial to the crew of a Whitley Mk V twin-engined bomber which crashed there in 1944. It's a sombre sight set in a large field with no obvious reason why the aircraft might have crashed. A reminder of just how young the airmen were too. From Peak District Air Accident Research

The crew had flown a night cross country navigation flight and were returning to their home base at Ashbourne when the aircraft dived into the ground only a few miles short.

Following the crash three of the crew could not be accounted for and were assumed by No.42 OTU to have "disappeared with the aircraft which went fifteen feet into the ground". On the 1st August the vicar of St Saviour church in Ashbourne, Canon Farrow, took the memorial service for those who had died after which he held a committal service at the crash site.

Sgt William Smith was buried at Ashbourne cemetery only a few miles from the crash site and Sgt Maurice Lyon was buried at St Helens Cemetery in Lancashire.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Victorian poverty


From the BBC we hear that teachers are concerned about Victorian poverty in our inner cities.

Teachers say they are seeing "Victorian conditions" with pupils arriving at school hungry and not wearing the right clothes needed for the weather.

"Children in 2015 should not be hungry and coming to school with no socks on and no coats - some children are living in Victorian conditions - in the inner cities," said one unnamed teacher.

It is not easy to be sceptical about hardship even when we know how often it is used to press home a political agenda, even when the story emerges within weeks of a general election. As a society we have largely expunged the unemotional in favour of the emotional - hence the exaggeration. 

So here is a description of genuine Victorian poverty from a writer who actually knew.

Starving boys and girls lurked among the costermongers' barrows, and begged piteously on pretence of selling cigar-lights and comic songs. Furious women stood at the doors of public-houses, and railed on their drunken husbands for spending the house-money in gin. A thicker crowd, towards the middle of the street, poured in and out at the door of a cookshop. Here the people presented a less terrible spectacle—they were even touching to see.

These were the patient poor, who bought hot morsels of sheep's heart and liver at a penny an ounce, with lamentable little mouthfuls of peas-pudding, greens, and potatoes at a halfpenny each. Pale children in corners supped on penny basins of soup, and looked with hungry admiration at their enviable neighbours who could afford to buy stewed eels for twopence.

Wilkie Collins – The Fallen Leaves (1879)

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A strange, subterranean battle


Every now and them something bright, clean and optimistic seems to show itself through the shifting fogs of repressive nonsense. Sometimes the ugly honking of professional liars dies down. For a while real life takes over. As it should of course.

It has become so easy to ignore the liars and find things out for ourselves. Or at least identify those many areas of uncertainty which the liars claim to be certain. Isn’t it easy to find worthwhile comment on virtually any issue? Isn’t it noticeable how rarely many of us go to the mainstream media for worthwhile comment?

So what does it all mean?

I don’t know.

Then what is the point of this post?

Simple – you can go elsewhere can’t you? Click. I am not a guru and neither are you. We don’t need them do we - you and I?

That’s the point – we are breeding vast numbers of savvy people, far more than we ever had before. Folk who don’t always have the facts and the arguments at their fingertips, but in one sense they know far more than most people knew only twenty years ago. Not only that, but they know how to flesh out anything of interest with a click or two.

This quiet upheaval seems to have upset the old paternalistic way of doing things, the assumptions about managing people, about politics, democracy, who tells and who listens. Who tells these days? Who listens?

Old style class rule with its unidirectional media cannot deal with it. Millions of savvy people are now collectively smarter than the elites because they are connected, interested, experienced and capable. The elites don’t have time to be interested or capable. They only have time to suck the teat of their sponsors. They think savvy can be dealt with by opinion surveys.

They muddle through by listening to a host of special advisers who do have the time to become passably savvy, but there are only a few of them while there are vast numbers of savvy folk out there – a host of virtual polymaths unrestricted by national boundaries.

Out there on the web are millions of years of personal experience. Think about that for a moment – millions of years of personal experience all available for sharing.

The old ways are creaking and the elites and their sponsors are furiously attempting to wind back the clock with a plethora of prohibitions, narratives, entertainments and controlling policies. Anything to keep the virtual polymaths at bay. It’s a strange, subterranean battle.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Favouring shadows

There is sometimes in the social order a favouring shadow thrown over iniquitous trades, in which they thrive.
Victor Hugo - L'Homme qui rit (1869)

Once one sets out to identify modern iniquitous trades and their favouring shadows, the sheer number of them becomes a little daunting. It isn't merely trade either. All professions cast their favouring shadows as a matter of policy, often sheltering charlatans and bunglers as a matter of policy too.

One might begin with banking, many national charities, professional sport, the IOC, climatologists, wind turbine subsidy-seekers and so on, but the list soon becomes overwhelming and ethically complex. The trade in health nostrums from pharmaceuticals to herbal remedies for example.

When I first envisaged this post, I thought a modern list might short. It isn’t.

An utterly unstable line of conduct

In the past, and in no very distant past, the action of governments and the influence of a few writers and a very small number of newspapers constituted the real reflectors of public opinion. To-day the writers have lost all influence, and the newspapers only reflect opinion. As for statesmen, far from directing opinion, their only endeavour is to follow it. They have a dread of opinion, which amounts at times to terror, and causes them to adopt an utterly unstable line of conduct.

Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895)

An utterly unstable line of conduct eh? That's encouraging isn't it?

Thursday, 2 April 2015


We've whizzed off for a short break where WiFi may or may not be usable, so blogging may or may not be light for a few days.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Tories to give away free building plots

David Cameron has pledged a free building plot for all first time buyers if he wins the general election. Each plot will have unrestricted planning permission too, a radical departure from UK planning regulations.

As Mr Cameron said to cheering supporters at a party rally in Sheringham. 

We are the party of home ownership. Make no doubt about it, this new offer applies to all first time buyers. It is our way of giving you your place on the property ladder.

Situated on Mars, each plot will include a Certificate of Authenticity with deckled edges. A small annual holding fee will be payable to Political Pledges LLP in the Cayman Islands.