Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Like twilight on a harsh landscape

Routine comes down like twilight on a harsh landscape, softening it until it is tolerable. The complexity is too subtle, too varied; the values are changing utterly with each lesion of vitality; it has begun to appear that we can learn nothing from the past with which to face the future — so we cease to be impulsive, convincible men, interested in what is ethically true by fine margins, we substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity, we value safety above romance, we become, quite unconsciously, pragmatic.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

Behind the endless debates and controversies of the public arena there is a cold and passionless reality. We experience the complexity of it all as intelligence, reason, debate, honesty, dishonesty, integrity, lies, errors, laughter, tears, jokes, tragedies and so on and so on. This is the joy of living, of discovery, of understanding that harsh landscape which is the only one we'll ever know. Apart from those invented to deceive us of course.

As Baruch Spinoza knew, a defence against deception is our ability to observe the workings of natural law. We observe and are influenced by what we see and feel. Those influences feel like intelligence, curiosity, decision making, choice, debate, compromise and options but they are all of these things and yet none of them. They are the effects of natural law.

Only when we understand natural law do we get closer to that harsh landscape because by understanding it we adapt to it and come to know and even love it. Our understanding is an integral factor in its passionless workings, even down to the long forgotten trajectory of a flint tipped spear. That is all the freedom we have but it is enough. In spite of all our limitations it has dragged us from that spear to where we are now.

Elites know all this at an instinctive, grasping, predatory level. They know that if they limit our curiosity and our consequent understanding of natural law then they also limit our freedom and our ability to participate in the way things are and the way they have to be. They limit our ability to distinguish true from false.

To my mind this is why the public arena has become so peculiar, so riddled with emotional blackmail and obvious drivel. Reason has finally become inconvenient, a hindrance to government by elites. They need to preserve their social distance but for some time natural human curiosity has been eating away at the mystique on which their puny Olympus sits.

So they substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity.
And they encourage us to value safety above romance.
And we cease to be impulsive, convincible men.

Monday, 30 May 2016


Which of the following statements is the most outrageously untrue?

  1. Tulips are best grown in uranium mulch.
  2. Charles Dickens invented clockwork toothpaste.
  3. Pastry is a powerful aphrodisiac.
  4. David Cameron is an honest man.
  5. Climate change is caused by strawberry jam.
  6. The Austin Allegro was the epitome of seventies cool.

 As in life, there are no prizes for being right.

Collectors' piece

I like Clarke and Dawe. It's a pity we don't have anyone to match them in the UK, but we don't really need anyone do we? Much of their satire applies across the world, especially the developed world.

Satire is frequently global in its application because governments and official institutions are crappy the whole world over. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A bound girl

I remember now that she was a bound girl and did not know where her father and mother were. Maybe she did not have any father. You know what I mean. Such bound children were often enough cruelly treated. They were children who had no parents, slaves really. There were very few orphan homes then. They were legally bound into some home. It was a matter of pure luck how it came out.
Sherwood Anderson - Death in the Woods (1933)

Although we know such things went on in the past, within the public arena it does not have the same status as slavery. This could be due in part to numbers and the horrific nature of slave trading, but there were other horrific issues too and for those the guilt seems to have abated.

The issue of child bondage is still moderately familiar partly because of media stories about far off sweat shops and partly because famous writers such as Zola, Hugo and Dickens have made it so to those who care to read them. Memes such as chimney sweeps sending little boys up chimneys have also become embedded in popular Victorian imagery. But novels, sweat shops and popular memes merely highlight the issue in a strangely offhand way, they do not give it depth. To some extent they also tone it down because the wider issue of bondage is not nurtured it in the same way that historical slavery is still nurtured.

Take Litton Mill in Derbyshire for example.

By 1830 everyone had heard of Litton Mill. It was one of the most notorious workplaces in England where child slaves were starved and tortured. There had been suspicions that all was not well as early as 1811 but it was not until 1828 that the horrific treatment of child apprentices there became common knowledge. 

The mill still stands and even today one cannot pass it without thinking of those long dead orphan children. Many were carted up from London slums to work in what would then have been a bleak nightmare of a place in the middle of nowhere. Ghosts of those children were said to haunt Litton Mill and I can see why. This is a fairly well known local story, but still we only have one patch in the patchwork. The horror and sadistic depths of it are not impressed into our cultural awareness to anything like the same extent as slavery. The level of slavery guilt seems to block out other, wider considerations. It certainly does so politically.

Maybe that is because we have it about right in terms of the weight we put on the two issues, but I don’t think so. We have bypassed the horrors of child bondage in our history and in so doing we have also bypassed the wider issue of personal bondage. To what degree are modern people bound by circumstances not of their own making and how tightly are they bound?

We can’t call it slavery and bondage now has other connotations, but the situation is real and not well represented in the public arena. It is more than alienation and much less than slavery but perhaps more widespread and damaging than we care to admit.One might almost see the whole thing as partly deliberate. If political leaders are willing to foster a crushing level of guilt about slavery, then milder yet still iniquitous forms of bondage barely reach the public arena. Apart from the hysterical memes spewed out by political correctness of course.

Yet mass bondage seems to be the whole point of current global political trends. Oddly convenient somehow.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

An Ecosexual Wedding

From ClashDaily

Earlier this month, a professor at Santa Monica College led students in an ‘EcoSexual Sextravaganza’ in which participants ‘married the ocean.’

Amber Katherine, a philosophy professor who helped organize the May 14 event, explained to Campus Reform that the purpose of the “wedding” was to bring about a deeper love for the planet through “ecocentric passion and even lust.”

Flash ducks

A pair of mandarin ducks we recently spotted on the river Derwent near Froggatt. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Leave or Remain - the contempt is the same

To my mind, the strongest EU referendum Remain argument says our UK political circus is so inept that we may as well stay in the EU. 

However, the most sinister aspect of the debate is the general quality of Remain arguments which are little better than a constant stream of silly exaggerations and tiresome posturing. Especially when we remind ourselves that Remain is the official government position supposedly reached after mature and experienced consideration at the highest level. 

None of this is sinister in the usual sense, but it is sinister in what it tells us about voters' intellectual abilities and how the elite see those abilities. We may be used to political contempt, but too many Remain arguments are chilling in their calculated indifference to adult narratives and plausibility.

From what I see and in spite of their natural cynicism, voters still don't grasp how disturbingly deep that contempt must be. Whichever way the vote goes, the contempt is surely something to ponder. Not that we ever would of course.

I don't know who they are

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Step by step

Foxconn have been working on this for some time. From the Independent we hear

60,000 workers at Apple supplier Foxconn have been replaced with robots, according to reports.

The figure comes from a local government official, who said employee numbers at one of Foxconn's factories in Kunshan, near Shanghai, have been drastically slashed in recent months.

Perhaps the Chinese government has an expanding role for all those dumped workers.

The Chinese government plants 488 million fake comments every year

Harvard Study based on leaked email archives reveals massive astroturfing operation

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Relax. I'll get it.

Burt Kwouk, the actor best known for playing Inspector Clouseau's manservant Cato in the Pink Panther films, has died age 85.

Monday, 23 May 2016

AI drama

From alphr comes a story about the literary exploits of Google's foray into artificial intelligence.

One of the reasons why the Turing Test continues to be such a steep bar for AI to clear is because artificial intelligences just don’t talk like normal people. Artificial chatter is often grammatically sound, but feels stuffy, formal and just not quite right. Getting artificial intelligences to sound human has been a tough old nut to crack.

Google has an interesting solution to this, and has posted a paper outlining how it taught its artificial intelligence a flair for the dramatic by what I can only describe as cruel and unusual punishment. Inspired, no doubt, by the seemingly endless streams of Mills and Boon style romance novels cluttering up charity shops around the country, Google fed a neural network model 12,000 ebooks, some 2,865 if which were of that much maligned genre.

Here's an example of its output.

“this was the only way. it was the only way. it was her turn to blink. it was hard to tell. it was time to move on. he had to do it again. they all looked at each other. they all turned to look back. they both turned to face him. they both turned and walked away.”

Not impressive, but what if the researchers eventually succeed and we can't tell the difference between human and machine output? I'm not sure, but take another look at the example above. With a few adjustments and a few key words it could easily be turned into an EU referendum argument because the standard is not high is it? 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Time to blow the whistle

From the Independent we have another example of modern madness

A primary school has introduced a ban on whistles on the grounds that the “aggressive” noise can scare children.

St Monica’s Catholic Primary School in Milton Keynes has said instead of using whistles at the end of playtime, staff must raise their hands to tell pupils when it’s time to stop.

Hmm - hand waving - there is something horribly appropriate about that. 

However, I suggest installing a small playground cannon instead of a whistle. The noise will be similar to the sound effects in many of the little mites' computer games so they won't be unduly disturbed unless they are playing around it during discharge. This problem could be resolved by reducing the amount of gunpowder to a bare minimum. Obviously a cannon ball would be omitted due to modern sensibilities.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Empty Brain

This essay from aeon is worth reading.

Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or 

store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer

No matter how hard they try, brain scientists and cognitive psychologists will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the brain – or copies of words, pictures, grammatical rules or any other kinds of environmental stimuli. The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does – not even simple things such as ‘memories’.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The luvvies' Brexit letter

Simon Jenkins on the luvvies' letter.

The luvvies’ letter, like those on both sides from sportsmen, scientists and cheap-jack employers, merely shows what we know: that most people vote with their wallets. Political argument is easier when couched, not in facts or predictions, but in fears and favours. We search the news for signs of comfort, not for reasons. When Montagues and Capulets meet at the street corner they do not swap statistics. They puff up their finery. They boast their allies and show their muscle.

Do the luvvies think it makes a difference? Presumably they do, but acquiring names for these traditional antics must be a routine process and its significance correspondingly slight. Does anybody care what celebrities think when they stray beyond their rather limited domain? Probably not.

Rounding up celebrities to support a cause seems to be a tradition rather than a means to sway the undecided. Like sticking leaflets through letterboxes, it serves no purpose beyond reminding folk that a political dispute rumbles along - oh and the date. It reminds folk about the key date should they be interested enough to take note.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Not welcome in Russia

According to The Moscow Times

Russia is rated the least welcoming country to refugees, according to a survey commissioned by Amnesty International and conducted by consulting firm GlobeScan.

The survey, published Thursday, created a Refugees Welcome Index that ranks countries on a scale from zero to 100, where zero means that all survey respondents would refuse refugees entry to their country and 100 means that all respondents would accept refugees into their neighborhood.

Russia was given an index score of 18, the lowest. China was the most welcoming country for refugees — scoring 85. The median index score was 52.

I wonder if it really matters - do refugees flock to Russia?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Big Match

“Hi Maz.”

“Hi Baz. Good match we have in prospect here.”

“Indeed it is Maz. Another round of StonkaBrain™ with teams from a number of top planetary systems across the galaxy. This evening we are thrilled to have two teams from planet Earth competing for the title of StonkaBrain 2200. On my left is Team Human aiming for the top of the intellectual tree while on my right we have the underdogs, Team Amoeba. Not easy to call this one, eh Maz?”

“It’s certainly a tricky one Baz and if I’m not mistaken we have the first scenario coming up right now... and oh dear Baz, the Scenario Dealer seems to have dealt a tricky one right out of the box for Team Human.”

“As you say Maz, it’s a doozy for Team Human because here is the first scenario of tonight’s match.

Hundreds of millions of humans have lost their lives in pointless warfare.

Those guys from Team Earth need to respond quickly Baz, but they seem to be hesitating and... oh heck... times up that’s one to Team Amoeba.

Humans 0 Amoebas 1.

“So Baz, Team Amoeba slips into an early lead without even stretching a vacuole and no sooner does Team Human get over that first strike we have another potentially disastrous scenario coming up right now.

Humans have a long history of inventing imaginary beings to keep the general population under control. Gods, demons, witches, ghouls, ghosts and anything which goes bump in the night.
Humans 0 Amoebas 2.

“Not good is it Maz? Team Human is already two nil down and the match has barely started.”

“Indeed Baz and the Team Human supporters were banking on a really good result here. People have been saying that if they can’t beat the Amoebas then Humans are staring galactic relegation in the face – but hold on we have another scenario.”

Apart from lethal violence and imaginary beings, humans also invented lying as another way to control, deceive and take advantage of their fellow humans.

Well Maz, at least Team Human should be able to defend that one with some rhetoric and a few sophistries.

“You’d think so Baz, but I don’t see any good defensive moves from their side and... yes that’s it, time’s up again and that’s another scenario for Team Amoeba.

Humans 0 Amoebas 3.

“Oh my goodness Maz, that’s three down and we haven’t even reached half time. Team Human is in complete disarray. All that training and they let in three early scenarios and if that one isn’t enough here comes an absolute stinker.”

North Korea, Mao’s China, Stalin’s USSR, and Pol Pot’s Kampuchea were all human creations.

“Ooh Baz, that’s a nasty one and no mistake. I think Team Human may let that one go and rely on a few advantageous scenarios popping up. Yes... yes they’ve conceded already Baz.

“I’m not surprised Maz”

Humans 0 Amoebas 4

“Well Baz, admittedly Team Human keeps scoring own goals while those annoying Amoebas just sit in a puddle of pond water doing nothing. If only humans could get their act together and find a way to keep the scenarios out of their own net we might see a more even match. Team Human fans are bound to blame the manager after a result like this.

“They are indeed Maz. Nobody mentioned the EU yet? Could get worse.”

Sunday, 15 May 2016

An absolute subjection of the individual

Just over a century ago, George Santayana wrote about a growing illiberal trend among those who claim to be politically liberal. To my mind this is what Brexit is all about - finding some way to reverse the trend Santayana describes so elegantly.

Liberalism had been supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still call themselves liberal now advocate is control, control over property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements, and in a truly advanced country like France control over education and religion; and it is only on the subject of marriage (if we ignore eugenics) that liberalism is growing more and more liberal. 

Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality; how many people read and write, or how many people there are, or what is the annual value of their trade; whereas true progress would rather lie in reading or writing fewer and better things, and being fewer and better men, and enjoying life more. 

But the philanthropists are now preparing an absolute subjection of the individual, in soul and body, to the instincts of the majority—the most cruel and unprogressive of masters; and I am not sure that the liberal maxim, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," has not lost whatever was just or generous in its intent and come to mean the greatest idleness of the largest possible population.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine: Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)

Saturday, 14 May 2016


From the video description.

The ghost town of Pyramiden is located on Svalbard Islands, at 79° North. It's an old soviet mining settlement, abandoned in 1998. A surreal landscape, where the dimension of time seems to expand beyond its own borders.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Screaming kids

The other day we encountered yet another screaming kid in Sainsbury’s. I don’t mean a crying baby, but one of those pre-school kids who seem to go into complete meltdown over some real or imagined frustration. They aren’t prepared to tone it down either. It’s a wonder their dear little lungs don’t give out.

It’s part of life of course, but it seems to me that wildly hysterical kids in public places are more common than they used to be. I’m not sure why and I’m half inclined to put it down to grumpy old age but that’s what my experience tells me.

Perhaps parents dare not admonish the hysterical ones in anything but a hopelessly ineffective manner because they are afraid to step out of line and bring some horrendous life-changing child abuse accusation down on their heads. However unlikely, the fear must be there.

Or maybe we are teaching some kids to be hysterical because on the whole it works. Perhaps some wise parents are steering their little ones towards a me, me me career because that's all there is.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The very core of life

It seemed to him that the essential element in these men at the top was their faith that their affairs were the very core of life. All other things being equal, self-assurance and opportunism won out over technical knowledge; it was obvious that the more expert work went on near the bottom — so, with appropriate efficiency, the technical experts were kept there.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

I would widen Fitzgerald’s technical experts to include anyone who has acquired any kind of expertise. From a Shakespeare scholar to a designer of silicon chips, expertise is where the social and economic benefits are created but not appropriately rewarded. How could they be if these men at the top are to maintain their superior status and pursue what they see as the very core of life?

Genuine expertise usually has to steer well clear of mainstream media, political prominence and the allure of celebrity status because it here where expertise is exaggerated and corrupted by those who rely on self-assurance and opportunism. 

This is one of my sneaking concerns about Brexit. I see no indication whatever that the British establishment values technical expertise more highly than the EU values it. Apart from the expertise required for money laundering, asset-stripping and tax avoidance of course, but the EU probably values those quite highly too. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Pope "fantastically keen on Catholicism" Cameron tells Queen


From the BBC

David Cameron has described the Pope as "fantastically keen on Catholicism" in a conversation with the Queen.

The PM was talking about the forthcoming religious summit when he made the comments.

In a far less controversial vein Mr Cameron also suggested that Nigeria and Afghanistan are the most corrupt regimes in the entire universe. Her Majesty was seen to respond with the faintest hint of a shrug.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Brexit to where?

This piece in the Guardian reminds us of something we already know, that there is more to national independence than leaving the EU.

Hinkley Point: UN says UK failed to consult over risks

UN Economic and Social Council says Britain has not met its obligations to discuss the impact of nuclear accident with neighbouring countries.

The Guardian piece links to this UN document.

Economic Commission for Europe 
Meeting of the Parties to the Convention
on Environmental Impact Assessment
in a Transboundary Context

Shaking off the EU is only part of the story. There are UN tentacles too. Ultimately it may be necessary to accept that the world is changing and national self-determination is and probably always was a romantic dream. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

I’d have resigned

Good thing no one knows how unimportant he is. We need earnest men—got to have ’em. Who’ll run the show if we don’t get that kind?
Sherwood Anderson - Dark Laughter (1925)

As so often, it is possible for most political parties to pick through the recent UK election results and find some crumbs of comfort here and there. Labour losing second place to the Tories in Scotland though - that’s not a good electoral baptism for Jeremy Corbyn.

As I’m almost the same age as old Jeremy, I have a certain fascinated interest in what makes him tick because he is obviously not cut out to be a party leader. Even faced with an unpopular government and a devious and unpopular Tory leader in David Cameron, he is far from convincing.

At his age he should know this. I’d know in his place. It’s all very odd. I don’t like the man’s politics or his party and I think his dreary Parliamentary record speaks for itself, but a career ending in abject failure is on the cards and that’s a pity. Is that a whiff of sympathy for a contemporary? It may be, but it won't stretch very far. In his position I’d have resigned by now.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Voting time

Well we voted in the local elections as we always do. Duty done and all that, but was it worthwhile? I don’t think it was. Nothing significant will change because elections are all about marketing our political system rather than changing it.

So why do we do it? Many don’t bother, especially in local elections and I see their point. For us, each vote is only about forty minutes from our lives, but I don’t think a vote is even worth forty minutes. Oh well, I’ve spent the time now. I wonder what it will buy?

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Group Three

Richard Lindzen divides the climate issue between three groups of people, one of which is far more interesting than the other two. His first two groups are scientists with comparatively minor differences about what makes the climate tick. His third group is composed of politicians, environmentalists and media.

To my mind Lindzen’s third group is a major global problem going well beyond the climate debate. This is the problem of paid liars and their useful idiots who seem to infect all areas of public debate from alcohol to house prices, from global warming to racism to gender politics and all points north of pragmatic sanity.

Paid liars in the political classes and the media are not so much paid to lie as paid to support a narrative, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not. In one way or another group three people derive some personal benefit from a narrative even if it is only the benefit accruing to a dull media hack. Often the benefit is social, such as the virtue signalling celebrities and amateur poseurs are so fond of.

Financial benefits and virtue signalling seem to act as moral anaesthetics. Group three people benefit from misinformation and seem willing enough to spread it without compunction or caveats. Many even seem willing to believe what they say and write, but most seem to block it out if there is some kind of benefit to be had. The climate narrative is not a one-off.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Dodgy cancer research

If you give money to a cancer research charity, how much of it is likely to fund useful and reproducible research? Not much is my conclusion after reading this article in PSI.  

The U.S. government spends $5 billion every year on cancer research; charities and private firms add billions more. Yet the return on this investment—in terms of lives saved, suffering reduced—has long been disappointing: Cancer death rates are drifting downward in the past 20 years, but not as quickly as we’d hoped. Even as the science makes incremental progress, it feels as though we’re going in a circle...

...The deeper problem is that much of cancer research in the lab—maybe even most of it—simply can’t be trusted. The data are corrupt. The findings are unstable. The science doesn’t work.

To anyone with a scientific background the problem of irreproducible research is entirely believable. Laboratory research can be a messy business where every detail is not recorded and even the people may change over time.

...In other words, we face a replication crisis in the field of biomedicine, not unlike the one we’ve seen in psychology but with far more dire implications. Sloppy data analysis, contaminated lab materials, and poor experimental design all contribute to the problem...

...Begley blames these failures on some systematic problems in the literature, not just in cancer research but all of biomedicine. He says that preclinical work—the basic science often done by government-funded, academic scientists—tends to be quite slipshod. Investigators fail to use controls; or they don’t blind themselves to study groups; or they selectively report their data; or they skip important steps, such as testing their reagents.

The whole article is worth a read even if you don't have a scientific background. Scientific research can be so complex that the person who records absolutely everything is the exception rather than the rule. Yet shoddy and irreproducible research still has to be paid for. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Life without Tony

There are a couple of interesting numbers over at

Number of years since Labour last won a working majority without Tony Blair - 50

Number of years since Labour last won a majority without Tony Blair - 42


Ken Livingstone said he regretted sparking a storm over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party but insisted it was a "nonsense" stirred by "embittered Blairites" to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.