Monday, 31 October 2016

Pensioner's suicide

Dawn has a grim piece about a Karachi pensioner's suicide after shameful treatment by officials.

ONE can only imagine what it would take for an elderly man to commit suicide. The recent case of one such individual, who had been making the rounds of Karachi’s Civic Centre to obtain pension that he had reportedly not been paid for 13 months, leaves one reeling with anger. His family says he had been making repeated trips to collect what was his due, and the staff that he spoke to made fun of him and his efforts to collect his pension. The resulting depression, according to his family, led him to take the extreme step of jumping off the building, and not the lack of payment. The explanations given by KMC, where the man worked all his life and from where he expected his pension, and by Karachi’s deputy mayor, somehow do not ring true. They claim that pension cheques worth Rs740m “have been readied” and will be disbursed once the Sindh government releases the funds.

Apart from the obvious, what strikes one about this story is how the actions of those officials are now available for the whole world to see and deplore. A few years ago this would not have been the case.

The internet has tied that pensioner's callous treatment to Karachi, Karachi's Civic Centre and KMC, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. It may be too late for him but the world is changing. It could change for the better.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The money tree

 Back in 2014 thecollegefix ran a story about a strange and extremely expensive tree move.

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan has begun the process of relocating one 200-year-old oak tree in the way of a campus renovation project – a pricey, green-friendly effort expected to cost the university as much as $400,000 on a campus that is already home to an estimated 16,000 trees.

Regular commenter Wiggia knows about moving trees professionally. He takes up the story -

There is somewhere a group of people who have access to the till of life who spend all their time looking for projects with no benefit to anyone but in their strange world worthy of throwing other peoples money at, plus as usual for those sitting in committee rooms their sense of value is blunted by the soft cosy seats they occupy.

What I found astounding is not that what they were doing was pointless or the fact that they may have been spending within a set period à la public arena, but the sheer cost, I know how much that sort of tree moving costs as I made my living from designing and building gardens and mature tree stock etc was something I engaged in. 3 to 4 hundred thousand even dollars for that is so exaggerated it would have surely raised questions, apparently no.
This gives a rough guide to costs.

Not as big as the one in the article, which would involve root pruning a year before encasement and lifting, but even at that size with crane low loader etc I would say no more than 20-25 k and for less than that you can get a mature tree put in place which would be cheaper. Ridiculous quote for a stupid project.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Pink elephants

Scott Adams the Dilbert cartoonist recently posted a good take on pink elephants.

Here’s a little thought experiment for you:

If a friend said he could see a pink elephant in the room, standing right in front of you, but you don’t see it, which one of you is hallucinating?

Answer: The one who sees the pink elephant is hallucinating.

The whole post is well worth reading even though the basic idea has been expressed in a variety of other ways. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a somewhat similar analogy, but Adams’ version is an excellent modern reminder. Realities with additions are hallucinations and the additions were added intentionally.

If a crowd of people are pointing to a stain on the wall, and telling you it is talking to them, with a message from God, and you don’t see anything but a stain, who is hallucinating? Is it the majority who see the stain talking or the one person who does not?

Answer: The people who see the stain talking are experiencing a group hallucination, which is more common than you think.

In nearly every scenario you can imagine, the person experiencing an unlikely addition to their reality is the one hallucinating. If all observers see the same addition to their reality, it might be real. But if even one participant can’t see the phenomenon – no matter how many can – it is almost certainly not real.

However those who need their pink elephants cannot apply the idea to real life. It only works if you don't see the pink elephants in the first place. Depending on allegiances, a varied herd of pink elephants could look like this.

Multiple universes

Or how about more abstract pink elephants such as -

Social justice
Political integrity

And even -
The scientific method

Some of these evasive beasts are pinker and more elephantine than others – it depends on the strength of allegiances where allegiances, money and politics are closely related. Good as Adams’ analogy is, words rarely persuade. Pink elephants are here to stay.

Friday, 28 October 2016

The purpose of litigation

The Deceased and his Heirs

A Man died leaving a large estate and many sorrowful relations who claimed it. After some years, when all but one had had judgment given against them, that one was awarded the estate, which he asked his Attorney to have appraised.

“There is nothing to appraise,” said the Attorney, pocketing his last fee.

“Then,” said the Successful Claimant, “what good has all this litigation done me?”

“You have been a good client to me,” the Attorney replied, gathering up his books and papers, “but I must say you betray a surprising ignorance of the purpose of litigation.”

Ambrose Bierce - Fantastic Fables (1899)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Bloody Halloween

Holiday WiFi too slow for anything substantial but this one burst through somehow. While on holiday we visited Knightshayes, a house which has interested us for a while because of its Victorian Gothic-Revival interior.

On arrival we found that for some reason most of the ground floor was festooned with those huge theatrical cobwebs seen in Hammer Horror films. Furniture, mantelpieces, light fittings, all were treated to the seasonal Halloween look with lots of other additional bits and pieces of a ghoulish nature. Victorian Gothic interior somewhat spoiled. Upstairs inaccessible too for some reason. Maybe a National Trust loon was busy spraying more fake cobwebs all over the bedrooms.

Fortunately we are NT members and hadn't actually paid for this infantile farce, but what is it with Halloween? Are we reverting in some way? As a fake commercial festivity it has become even more odious than Christmas.

Okay - back to the holiday. Which is rather enjoyable so please forgive the outburst. It just had to come out.

Sunday, 23 October 2016


We are on holiday for a few days, so light blogging for the rest of the week if the hotel WiFi hasn't been beefed up since we were here last.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Share my car

Every now and then I browse the periphery of car world, mainly because cars reflect social and political trends at least as much as the technology under that glossy paintwork. The most interesting trend is control, cars are evolving into agents of political and social control. The days when Scott Fitzgerald could depict car ownership as a surge in personal power have faded into the dreams of petrolhead nostalgia.

An element of vast importance had made its appearance with the summer; suddenly the great thing in Basil’s crowd was to own an automobile. Fun no longer seemed available save at great distances, at suburban lakes or remote country clubs. Walking downtown ceased to be a legitimate pastime. On the contrary, a single block from one youth’s house to another’s must be navigated in a car. Dependent groups formed around owners and they began to wield what was, to Basil at least, a disconcerting power.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - He Thinks He's Wonderful (1928)

Take this piece on a new car to be produced by Chinese company Geely which owns Volvo. The new car is branded Lynk & Co and among various uninteresting features we are told.

A ‘share my car’ button on the touchscreen gives other drivers the opportunity to rent your vehicle, using a digital key. Visser expects it to be a popular feature. ‘Many traditional car buyers may not like the idea of sharing their car, but that’s changing. Today’s customer wants mobility, not necessarily to own a car.’ Younger people – unexcited by today’s cars – are a key target, adds Visser.

Nothing wrong with that, but it is significant that the option comes built-in. One to watch. Perhaps there is a suggestion behind it that you should share your car. It is your social duty, the caring thing to do. You are a caring person aren't you? 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Time to switch off the traffic lights?

While reading the Daily Mail in our dentist's waiting room, a piece about useless traffic lights caught my eye. I haven't found it in the online version, but here are two quotes.

It's absolutely true that this country is rapidly becoming gridlocked. But we can't heap the blame solely on cycle lanes and van drivers.The main cause of congestion is an overabundance of traffic lights.

This certainly chimes with me. For over twenty years I commuted to Nottingham, passing through dozens of sets of traffic lights. Yet whenever the lights failed, traffic seemed to move just as quickly and just as smoothly. The optimum traffic flow sorted itself out, possibly because most drivers were experienced city drivers who knew when to go and when to give way. The writer of the Mail piece has a similar but more dramatic story.

I work as an agent for a consumables company, driving about 600 miles a week. I drive about five days a week, but lose the equivalent of almost one day every week just sitting in traffic waiting for the lights to change. In the past year or so, most people will have seen or read reports about the flooding here in Cumbria. It meant a lot of problems for most road users - but the damage also caused most of the traffic lights to break down. 

This resulted in traffic moving swiftly around towns without any jams or delays. Motorists managed to arrive at work on time and managed to get home earlier than usual. I was able to call on more customers and increase my earnings. Tradesmen reported they had more time to complete more jobs because they could get around more easily.   

There is an interesting question one could ask with wider ramifications than traffic lights. Assuming the above story reflects a genuine problem with traffic lights, how likely is it that any UK government would ever do something as radical as switching them off? Government is certainly aware of the issue.

Andrew Jones, the Road Safety minister, suggested he has noticed that traffic "flows more freely" when traffic lights are not working in his constituency.

He said he will consider calls for a pilot on the idea after Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP, said that the move could relieve congestion.

But Mr Jones added the inevitable caveat -

"I will have a look at what you say but I think we should be very cautious about removing traffic lights because they're a key ingredient in road safety."

How did he know? His officials probably told him. As they do.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Kids in museums

An article in aeon by Brian Switek deplores what he sees as the infantilization of natural history museums. The desire to attract children inevitably introduces a childish ambience. Plus children of course.

Whenever I visit a natural history museum, especially if I’m intent on seeing the dinosaurs, I try to arrive early and race over to the exhibits before the school groups and strollers are set loose upon the floor. And I’m not alone in my concerns. As I’ve chatted with other museum-goers, the same lament has come up over and over again: as a culture, we’ve been steadily nudging natural history museums to become more like theme parks or the cartoonish restaurant chain Chuck E Cheese’s. (As Tiffany Jenkins has pointed out, the same problems plague today’s anthropology and art institutions as well, not to mention aquariums and zoos.) If visitors leave with even a chunklet of new knowledge, it’s a win.

As a paid-up curmudgeon I should agree with this but I don't. If museums manage to compete against Pokémon it's a win.

Museums were originally meant to be places of inspiration, literally the ‘seat of the Muses’. In our 21st-century interpretation, however, we expect them to function as providers of kid-oriented entertainment more than anything else.

Maybe so but on the whole they were not particularly inspiring. Inspiration was mostly imported by visitors, at least that's my memory of the museum experience. Do adults learn much from museums anyway?

One needs a fair amount of background knowledge to make the most of museums. Attracting kids may encourage a few of them to go away and acquire it. Not many perhaps, but at least as many as in more sedate but also duller times.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Drownded on Titanic

Part of a gravestone at St Mary's church, Tissington. It records the death of Frank Richard Allsop aged 43, a saloon steward on the Titanic.

Mr Frank Richard Allsop, 43, came from Devon England. When he signed onto the Titanic he gave his address as Obelisk Rd, Southampton (elsewhere recorded as Woolston, Hampshire). His sister, Mrs H. McLaren was a stewardess on the ship. 

Frank's death is recorded on his father's gravestone as his body was not recovered. 'Drownded' seems to be a dialect word, never particularly common although I've heard it a few times.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Our car has been nagging us for ages about getting it serviced. Yesterday we finally had the job done which stopped it flashing up a warning and treating us to an imperious beep every time we started the thing. It makes its own decisions too. If I switch on the windscreen wipers it turns the headlights on as if to say “you should have thought of that”.

Windows 10 nags me about all kinds of things. It keeps telling me that my copy of MS Office is out of date and do I want to upgrade? Although oddly enough, ever since I left a comment somewhere about moving to LibreOffice the nagging stopped for a while. Spooky that.

For some reason YouTube thinks I could be a fan of Abbott and Costello. I’m not and never was, but perhaps it thinks I should be to comply with my profile. Perhaps it’s a micro-nag. It will all become more pervasive of course - nudging and nagging.  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Whatever compromise we choose

It is a terrible dilemma in the life of reason whether it will sacrifice natural abundance to moral order, or moral order to natural abundance. Whatever compromise we choose proves unstable, and forces us to a new experiment.

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

As I sit by the fire and savour freshly-brewed coffee I detect a distinct personal fondness for natural abundance. It seems to be widely shared fondness if all those folk waddling around Derby are any guide. The human psyche has an abundant fondness for abundance.

In which case Santayana’s spectre of a new experiment in moral order looms close and large. Not the simple moral order of our forebears but a more modern, less rational version of compulsions and prohibitions. We see it already; we see it everywhere. A vastly growing tick-list – not something terse and reliable handed down on tablets of stone.

I sip my coffee again, pondering the moral order of a light supper

As the Clinton crone casts her spells
As the Middle East burns
As bloody Blair limbers up on the touchline
As May carefully sips her poisoned chalice
As the EU wallows in its ordure

As whatever compromise we choose proves unstable.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Times They Are A-Changin

It is not necessary to fathom the ground or the structure of everything in order to know what to make of it. Stones do not disconcert a builder because he may not happen to know what they are chemically; and so the unsolved problems of life and nature, and the Babel of society, need not disturb the genial observer, though he may be incapable of unravelling them.

He may set these dark spots down in their places, like so many caves or wells in a landscape, without feeling bound to scrutinise their depths simply because their depths are obscure. Unexplored they may have a sort of lustre, explored they might merely make him blind, and it may be a sufficient understanding of them to know that they are not worth investigating. In this way the most chaotic age and the most motley horrors might be mirrored limpidly in a great mind, as the Renaissance was mirrored in the works of Raphael and Shakespeare; but the master's eye itself must be single, his style unmistakable, his visionary interest in what he depicts frank and supreme.

Hence this comprehensive sort of greatness too is impossible in an age when moral confusion is pervasive, when characters are complex, undecided, troubled by the mere existence of what is not congenial to them, eager to be not themselves; when, in a word, thought is weak and the flux of things overwhelms it.

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

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Spitting out the bait

A delicious feature of the internet is what it shows us about the public arena - it isn’t chock full of people with a superior intelligence as we were once led to suppose. Looking back to earlier times, that assumption feels culpably naive, but in spite of cartoonists doing their best we were too naive about people in the public eye.

One problem is an obsessive mainstream focus on drama coupled with distaste for depth or contrarian viewpoints. Depth and lateral thinking are not easy to sell so the mainstream doesn’t bother. This makes for an extraordinary level of dishonesty, misinformation and outright lying. Has it always been so? Perhaps, but the lies and misinformation were less visible because less easily checked. In which case the internet is draining a vile and ancient swamp. Whether or not it continues for the longer term is another matter – probably not.

Browsing the internet is nothing like reading a newspaper in the bad old days. Reading only one newspaper and perhaps the occasional magazine now seems absurdly limited and old fashioned. Comparable to going on holiday by stagecoach armed with a brace of pistols in case of highwaymen.

No longer do we have to take newspaper stories on trust. We compare, contrast, research and trawl through additional information. This usually adds complexities and caveats which have been glossed over, ignored or actively denied by the mainstream. Which leads one to wonder how mainstream the mainstream media really are these days.

Some unknown proportion of mainstream readers must be folk who barely believe a word of what they are reading. They are assessing the mood of the day, not to pet their beliefs but to hone their talents for articulate ridicule and contrarian argument. Clickbait it may be, but how many clickers take the bait and how many do it for the simple pleasure of spitting it out again?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Our dumb intelligentsia

Adam Perkins has an article in Quillette - Elite Opinion vs the Wisdom of Crowds: The Intelligentsia’s Tendency to Get Things Wrong. Nothing we don’t know but a good summary of how the intelligentsia screws things up as a result of being too detached and insulated from the culture they purport to understand and diagnose. I'm not so sure about the wisdom of crowds, but the piece is worth reading.

The intelligentsia have a reputation for being out of touch and it’s easy to see why, given their stereotypical tendency to live in sheltered, affluent neighbourhoods. Therefore it should be no surprise if we turn on the TV news and see prominent, well-paid economists displaying a more relaxed attitude to uncontrolled, mass migration than those of us who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where the most dysfunctional migrants usually end up being accommodated. Likewise, it is only natural to expect heavily-guarded high court judges to have a more lenient attitude towards criminals than those of us who live in rougher, less protected localities.

But the detachment of the urban elite is more than just a matter of living somewhere posh — it is also a matter of culture, as noted by George Orwell in 1941: ‘This is the really important fact about the English intelligentsia — their severance from the common culture of the country’.

It all seems painfully obvious, a natural consequence of social detachment. Stimulus and response. Without the stimulus a competent response becomes difficult or impossible. Crowds may experience the stimulus where the intelligentsia do not. 

We have plenty of expressive language to nail the problem but language isn’t much of a stimulus either, not if it doesn't conform to expectations and comfort zones. Reason is rarely a reason to change one’s mind so we are perpetually saddled with influential people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk as one pithy cliché puts it. No point telling them though.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Dodging The Grim Reaper

More on personal NHS experiences from regular commenter Wiggia.


Little did I realise after my shortish piece on the current state of the NHS that shortly afterwards I would become a victim of the best and worst that the NHS has to offer. I don't want to dwell on my personal problems within this story but a short resume of the events leading up to my hospitalisation will be no shock to many who have had to go through similar trauma, if that is not too strong a word for what transpired.

Dodging The Grim Reaper
About six weeks ago I started to get a shortness of breath. As an asthmatic this is not unusual at certain times of the year depending on pollen and other agitators, but this soon went further and breathing after any exercise as simple as walking created a problem. After about four weeks and my wife telling me to make a doctor’s appointment it magically subsided and I put it all down to a severe asthma effect, not an attack but very uncomfortable.

After a couple of weeks the symptoms returned and got steadily worse, I was reluctant to contact the surgery as getting an appointment like so many others is a nightmare, but the situation developed to the point of no choice.

The initial call resulted in the usual nothing available for three weeks despite my pushing the issue, so I struggled on in increasing trouble, then phoned again, still no joy even when explaining in full what was going on and believing an asthma attack was imminent, the best they could offer was to turn up on Monday morning and try for an appointment that day. A rubbish solution but needs must, the problem being it was Friday so a couple of days to go.

In a worsening state I got up on Monday washed and started to feel unwell sat on the edge of the bed struggling to breath and feeling awful I then briefly passed out, my wife called the surgery, not the ambulance as we should have not wanting to load the A&E up with another patient. The locum diagnosed well, it was nothing to do with the asthma and got me into the acute ward post with, and the end of all the tests, x-rays and a scan it transpired I had large blood clots in both lungs and the arteries, without admittance the consultant openly admitted any more delay and I could have easily been dead.

A Lot To Be Thankful For
All is now I hope going well and my hospital treatment and the people involved at all levels were top class despite the pressures they are under, so I have a lot to be thankful for. With that out of the way I can relate the marked differences that are now the norm in the NHS. The old GP surgery where you could walk in on the day or phone and turn up is almost completely gone. Three to four weeks for an appointment is considered normal and even in urgent situations unless you make a big fuss in person little is different. It is a total failure at the first line of health defence and with other factors puts ever more pressure on hospitals to take up the slack.

Overloaded GP Surgeries
Even my old surgery that was excellent has fallen to the new low level as my adjacent patient in the ward who uses it related. 1500 new houses gone up there and no extra doctors, all the old ones retired or gone elsewhere and evermore female doctors with families, working part time, a story repeated throughout the country.

My current surgery has an extra two housing estates being completed over the road from it and is still taking new patients despite no increase in doctors to cope, so soon three week appointments will be four weeks, or perhaps next year who knows any more. It would be easy to fill pages with anecdotal stories like mine from almost everywhere and it has been done to death, we are all aware of the shortcomings.

More Openness In Hospitals
What I found different when in hospital on this occasion was the attitude of staff at all levels to these problems. Not many years back getting anyone to agree with an opinion about the NHS that was not congratulatory was met with a blank, it could not be criticised. That from this short stay is something that dramatically changed; staff at all levels were prepared to talk about the problems in a constructive manner and roundly condemned what was happening at GP surgeries.

From the moment I was put in the ambulance and an ECG was instigated, the crew after asking what had happened openly told me to ignore my GP surgery in cases like this and simply phone for an ambulance. They themselves had surgeries where appointments could not be had in similar circumstances. A senior nurse in charge of a hospital unit readily revealed she had had enough of her surgery and was at that moment about to change, though she admitted she was lucky that she had somewhere to change to and that the change would not guarantee all would stay well in the future.

Everyone will have their own vision of how the NHS should move forward, and reams could be filled with all the suggestions, but what did emerge was a consensus from the small sample of professionals for change in certain areas.

The NHS - A Very Different Animal
As with all things in this consumer based society money is at the heart of the problem, we spend less on health care in GDP than our contemporaries, the NHS is a very different animal to that started in '47 and expectations as to what it should provide have soared along with the bill to do so. From what I gathered another level of funding in the form of insurance as in France Australia and many other countries is inevitable, whatever form it takes. But all governments have for the simple reason of votes to stay in power put off ever doing anything meaningful in that area for fear of the backlash, but they and us can't have it both ways. It needs the courage to instigate change at the earliest opportunity in a new parliament so that the mud-slinging and recriminations can be weathered and the change accepted by the public and the vested interests can be held at bay,

PFI has been a disaster yet is still being used under the guise of a new deal. When money is at an all time low in borrowing terms there is no excuse for PFI simply to keep debt off government books. “Never again”, should be the mantra there.

Despite "official" pronouncements that health tourism is not a major drain on NHS resources it is none the less a bigger drain than admitted. It is difficult to believe official figures when there is a refusal to collect data on this at the coal face. The same goes for the non contributors who arrive here knowing they will be treated without even being asked for their details.

Again the government and the NHS themselves refuse to admit the scale that this activity has on resources and how much extra money the taxpayer is footing the bill. Going by figures released from countries not so coy on releasing these statistics the figure no doubt is enormous, with illegal migrants getting into the country at over 100k a year, all of whom can simply walk into a hospital and get care for nothing whatever their problem.

This has to be a major drain on resources especially in places like London. As someone said not long ago - "you can have unlimited immigration but you can't have welfare" as it will become unsustainable. Those who come here are fully aware of our NHS hierarchy’s opinion that all the world should be accommodated at the taxpayer’s expense and will continue to arrive ad infinitum, Whilst this attitude prevails, some drastic curtailing of moral principles at other peoples expense is called for.

At a lower level the usage of the NHS for trivia should be charged for. An example is the Friday Saturday night drunk fest. I was told this activity has reached the stage where those to pissed to get home now phone for an ambulance so that they can sleep it off in the comfort of a hospital bed, and that this is not an isolated practice. This and other similar wastes of public money should be charged for. Nowhere else can you get that sort of treatment, it simply is not available. Insurance could of course cover such activities, but opinion again is divided on whether or what insurance should cover.

The question of imported staff is another area of a short cut that is a Ponzi scheme, attracting nursing staff and doctors from third world countries. It is not difficult as the money they can earn here far outstrips what they could earn back home, yet many of these people trained here to be able to go home and make a difference. Morally the bribing of them to return here to fill vacancies we should be filling from our own people is not only wrong but a cheapskate solution. The cutting of training funds is one of the seriously stupid decisions made by any government and the recent announcement of more funding in that area will not scratch the surface as a solution to the shortfall.

Accountability, waste in the public arena is legend, other people’s money, and the ability to waste it is an art form for some individuals and organisations. I had a classic example shown to me during my visit. This it must be remembered is in a hospital that because of PFI is losing money at the rate of around 30 million a year. A new bar code portable scanner is being used that simply doesn't work properly, the old laser scanner was I am told quick efficient and always worked, but someone decided a new form of scanner was needed. A trial under perfect conditions was run and hey presto £800,000 is spent on something not needed and that doesn't work in a day to day environment. Next ! is all you will hear about it.

The drugs bill is stratospheric. Seeing what is dished out in hospital these days is mind blowing , yet despite never ending cases of the NHS trusts being ripped off for millions nobody is ever held to account and the same companies continue to supply. One cannot help but believe that as in football management and council contracts brown envelopes are involved. Our money once again fills the boots of the recipients.

A Lighter Side Of Hospital
But enough of the doom and gloom, what I have written here has been in various forms been written before with little effect, change will come but will probably be a forced change. Hospital is a world in a ward, the constant ebb and flow of humanity is and can be an eye opener, especially if you have not had the "pleasure" of being interned lately.

I was at first put in the acute ward, most stay only up to 24hrs for assessment before being moved to a more specific ward but I was there for two nights plus most of the next day so had a constant change of scenery. The staff on this ward were noticeably different, the variety of health problems and injuries etc attracts those who need more variety in their day to day work.

On the only full day I was there my companions consisted of a young chef who had not eaten for four days after ingesting something in Germany that made him vomit continuously, a thirty stone night club owner who had become ill with the same problem as myself and was also a diabetic, a young lad who was waiting for a liver transplant and was in the process of setting up a private ambulance business!, an old neighbour of mine from my last house that I never met who said very little but in the silence that occasionally broke out in the night would loudly say FO in his sleep? and a man who told jokes but one could never understand a word he said because of the awful rasping chest condition he had. One just laughed anyway and nodded, he seemed happy with that, bit like Dickens 'aged parent'.

Our main topic of conversation apart from the obvious what are you here for was the food. For reasons I have not fathomed the food in the acute ward was terrible compared with half decent in the rest of the hospital. Dishes such as sausage and mash should be and were avoided, the sausages I named Colditz sausages, ersatz is the German word that best describes them. 90% sawdust, no sign that a pig had ever been involved in the making.

The next up was anything with vegetables, all were stewed to an in inch of their life, and the petite carrots as my night club friend called them were obviously the minute thinnings from a carrot harvest. This awful vegetable pottage that it had almost become permeated with its smell everything near. The apple pie I had as dessert was the first I have ever had that smelt and tasted of broccoli. This was only surpassed by the rice pudding that was best described by someone else as "interesting".

On duty on the full day and later whilst in the acute ward was a wonderful Jamaican nursing assistant called Godfrey who got into the swing of things straight, in these PC days it is not on to describe him as a perfect stand in for Jack Benny’s butler but he was. The meal ordering followed a Michelin star restaurant mode when he came around with the 'menu' with requests for a half bottle of Chianti with the shepherd’s pie and 'can I see the à la carte' becoming the norm. He also had a little admirer which we cottoned onto, but all was taken with a laugh and good spirit.

Our very large night club owner had no night clothes as none would fit so went to the bathroom in his designer underpants and a towel that covered little. When half jokingly stopped by a nurse saying he couldn't go out like that he replied he had no choice and was only going out to get a quote for materials anyway, time flew in that ward and it was soon time to be moved after my scan upstairs.

But not before the first of several good doppelgangers appeared, the first being my consultant, an elegant in style Frenchman who was a slightly younger version of Sir Ian McKellan, he even spoke like him. So at 11 in the evening I was moved upstairs to cheering from those left behind.

The ward I was moved to was for chest cases. Not a lot funny in there at first as the patient beside me was not going anywhere but further upstairs soon and his neighbour had the misfortune to contract asbestosis when as an engineer pipe lagging was removed on a job he was working on years ago. No one should have to suffer like that on a continuous basis. His relief in hospital was marginal and he would be back soon and forever as the cure does not exist.

On the opposite side were two patients with respiratory problems whom I got to know quite well and the resident loony for whom no bed could be found elsewhere, apart from standing at the bottom of the beds with eyes like Jack Nicholson in the Shining and going walk about with his frame. He was harmless though not so sure about the one we had barnstorming the acute ward earlier. He burst through the closed doors in a surgical gown all beard and mad eyes with half of a roll up hanging from his lips. After a couple of circuits looking like he had escaped from the set of The Life of Brian he tried to open the window at the far end, I presume looking for another exit. Cries from my unsympathetic companions of ‘open the window’ (we were two floors up) went unheeded and he was ushered away by several nurses handlers and security men. Never a dull moment on that ward.

The forced visit finished with another couple of doppelgangers. The male doctor who came round with the consultant was George Chakiris. I fully expected a rendition of Everyone's Come To America to be burst into at any moment, and a nurse who was the spitting image from all angles of Suranne Jones the ex Coronation St actress, but the piece de resistance of the visit was the Nigerian nurse who looked like a black roly poly and sang for a large part of the time. I questioned her about her singing and she said she is a member of the Pentecostal church and during a rare lull in proceedings gave us a full of Don't Worry be Happy  with all the moves down the centre of the ward to much applause. She said she believed in the power of prayer, who was I to argue otherwise? When she had such an uplifting effect on all around her, perhaps, just perhaps that is the answer.

What the hell is going on at GP level?
That should have been it, but this morning I returned to the hospital for a blood test. Whilst there the senior nurse phoned my surgery to arrange the next tests to be done there. Having no hotline she had to wait as everyone else does for the phone to be answered, an appalling waste of very busy peoples’ time. Once through the receptionist had no idea what she was talking about and said we are not equipped, for a single finger prick, she then passed someone else to the phone who after being told what was required said that I could not be accommodated. My nurse replied that she the answer unacceptable, that it was appalling and she had never heard anything like it before and would be complaining to the appropriate authority. A minute later the appointment was made. What the hell is going on at GP level?

I don't believe this snapshot of my stay is anything out of the ordinary. The fact it is now almost normal re GPs is more than worrying it is scandalous that the first line of defence for peoples’ health is now almost certainly killing people.

Miranda Hart

Just as an aside - when I went back to the hospital I saw the senior nurse who is changing her doctor again as she is head of the coagulation unit, lovely lady in the true sense. What I failed to mention was that she was the spitting image of Miranda Hart. I can't help myself with doubles they fascinate me and in so many cases the physical similarities obviously have an effect on the voice which often follows in its similarity with the original. Keeps me amused.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Should have read his book

I agree with the first comment - "At the risk of sounding realistic" is a line I will be using.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Good enough for China

From aeon comes an interesting piece on what in China is referred to as chabuduo - close enough.

Chabuduo implies that to put any more time or effort into a piece of work would be the act of a fool. China is the land of the cut corner, of ‘good enough for government work’.

In our apartment in central Beijing, we fight a daily rearguard action against entropy. The mirror on my wardrobe came off its hinges six months ago and is now propped up against the wall, one of many furnishing casualties. Each of our light fittings takes a different bulb, and a quarter of them are permanently broken. In the bedroom, the ceiling-high air-conditioning unit runs its moisture through a hole knocked in the wall, stuffed with an old cloth to avoid leakage, while the balcony door, its sealant rotted, has a towel handy to block the rain when it pours through. On the steps outside our door, I duck my head every day to avoid the thick tangle of hanging wires that brings power and the internet; when the wind is up, connections slow as cables swing.

The apartment is five years old. By Chinese standards, it’s far better than the average.

Read the whole thing - it is a fascinating alternative slant on China as a global industrial powerhouse. It may be an industrial powerhouse, but perhaps there are growing pains too. Severe ones if this piece is any guide.

‘There’s a Tianjin-level explosion every month,’ a staff member at a national-level work-safety programme told me, asking for anonymity. ‘But mostly they happen in places that nobody cares about.’ Careless disasters are buried all the time; when a chemical plant exploded in Tangshan in March 2014, a friend there told me of the management’s relief after the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing the next day, swallowing up all other news and making sure nobody but them noticed, save for 13 widows.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Is software getting worse?

An interesting piece in The Register asks Is Apple's Software Getting Worse Or What?

Comment For over a year, Apple's software has been the subject of more derision than might be expected for a company of its size.

Developer Marco Arment took Apple to task early last year, arguing that OS X (recently rebranded macOS) is full of embarrassing bugs and that the company is trying to do too much on unrealistic deadlines.

Arment subsequently disavowed his post because of the widespread media attention it received. But there was blood in the water and the feeding frenzy has continued at Apple's expense, at least in part because controversy, manufactured or not, drives online traffic.

It continues to this day. On Tuesday, one fiction writer – who asked us to keep him anonymous – voiced his dissatisfaction, eliciting agreement from a few others. "I just need things that work, and that I can rely on working," he lamented. "I say this with the utmost regret, sadness, and no small sense of betrayal: Apple doesn't seem to make those things anymore."

The comments suggest it isn't only Apple churning out buggy software in the rush to add bells, whistles and intrusive data-trawling within excessively tight timescales. How many users want the bells and whistles anyway? 

"I just need things that work, and that I can rely on working". So do I and on the whole we get it, but have we reached peak software utility for home users? One comment which chimes with me is this.

little to do with apple

The fail fast fix fast mentality of software development is insane. (Have worked with software dev teams for 16 years now). Sounds fine if you are working on some new thing. But should not be used on core products. Whether it is apple (not a customer so can't say from personal experience ), Microsoft struggling with their updates, MANY others as well.

The focus has been shifting towards faster delivery of lower quality stuff because they believe they can just fix it later. Though in many cases later never comes because they move onto something else new and shiny.

It is possible of course to release things often but it requires more care than just doing it.

Too often agile is used as an excuse to ship faster and not need quality control.

Windows 10 seems to be turning into the largest scale agile fail in the history of software.

Companies like apple and MS have absolutely no excuses each having 10s of billions of dollars in the bank.

Friday, 7 October 2016

A God, unknown

A God, unknown at present, seems to be developing, growing, and revealing Himself from time to time. In the intervals, so it seems, He leaves the world to itself, like the farmer, who lets the tares and wheat grow together till the harvest. Each epoch of revelation shows Him animated with new ideas, and practically improving His methods. Thus Religion will return, but under new aspects, for a compromise with the old religions seems impossible. We do not await an epoch of reaction, nor a return to out-worn ideals, but an advance towards something new. But of what sort? Let us wait!
August Strindberg - The Inferno (1897)

The Inferno was written during a period when Strindberg appeared to suffer from depression or some other mental ailment, although he may also have exaggerated his problems for dramatic effect. He was also drinking heavily, particularly absinthe, although he may have exaggerated that too.

Did he foresee a genuine social trend though? It is difficult to say with any confidence, because if his new god was unknown in Strindberg’s day, then it also seems to be unknown today. Yet there are many clues suggesting that our usual distinction between politics and religion is misleading. In both cases people take belief beyond the evidence and into the realms of political control.

Other clues are to be found in the righteous nature of modern progressive attitudes to social norms; in attitudes to the environment, equality, economics, race, immigration, education, social uniformity and moral behaviour. Political correctness sums up much of it, but is there a god lurking in the righteous recesses of political correctness? A cult perhaps - but a god?

Suppose we go with cult for now. 

Suppose we take hold of the idea that a global cult is evolving within the shallow souls of susceptible social progressives. To begin with the cult could be called socialism even though at first sight socialism may have too much historical baggage to serve as a peg on which to hang this particular shroud.

Yet socialism has always had a strongly righteous air beyond a natural desire to correct social wrongs. These righteous overtones are significant enough to warrant treating socialism as political cult if we are to understand the modern world. We see frequent associations between socialist politics and the incremental enforcement of uniform behaviour using propaganda, harassment, ostracism and legal restrictions on free speech.

It may be going a little too far to paint socialism as a secular religion but there are interesting parallels once we focus on behavioural control and blur the distinction between politics and religion. Socialism has its priesthood, evangelists, taboos and possibly sacred texts. The Communist Manifesto for example. It may not be a church but it has a collection plate where even the unrighteous have to cough up their compulsory donations, compulsion being essential to progressive ideas.

As a somewhat entertaining example we also seem to have a home-grown socialist saint in Jeremy Corbyn. Since his elevation to the Labour leadership, the cult name ‘socialism’ is allowed to circulate again. Clearly the name is seen as important to believers, totemic even.

During the dark and unenlightened days of Tony Blair the name of socialism was suppressed in the pursuit of secular respectability. Since St Jeremy cleverly isolated the wicked majority of Labour MPs, believers are now free to use the sacred name once more.

Maybe Strindberg was right in one sense at least. We seem to have a progressive socialist cult and perhaps we have a god to go with it. If socialism is worth defining as a secular political cult then maybe its god is a cloud of somewhat nebulous ideals with Marx as an important prophet. The religious parallels are certainly there.

Religions may disappear, but religious feelings will always create new ones, even with the help of science.
Emile Zola - Rome (1896)

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Problem One

Failings of the intelligence are incorrigible, since those who do not know, do not know themselves, and cannot therefore seek what they lack.
Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

The thinking behind this Gracian quote is both well known and well disguised because of the difficulty we have admitting what may be our number one human problem. Apart from things we know we don't understand, we cannot know what we don’t know because we cannot know that we don’t know it. Otherwise we’d know it wouldn’t we?

This is why so many people are equipped with crap blinkers. I don’t mean blinkers bought off eBay that don’t work, but blinkers which obscure the crap.

There is so much crap out there but people don’t see it, or they see this little pile over here but not the great steaming heap in their back yard. Even humongous piles of crap fade into the background when those who do not know, do not know themselves. We cannot see what we cannot see because we cannot see ourselves not seeing it.

Move along there - nothing to see.

Or maybe not. Perhaps we see ourselves more clearly now social media are such an important aspect of our lives. If so then the future may be much brighter than we tend to assume. We may be learning to know ourselves better than the political classes assume and the consequences of that could be profound indeed. Brexit may be more than an isolated victory.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Two Trumps

Here are two interesting attempts to ease Donald Trump into some kind of explanatory narrative.

Firstly we have Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams who sees Trump as a master persuader.

Economies are driven by psychology. If you expect things to go well tomorrow, you invest today, which causes things to go well tomorrow, as long as others are doing the same. The best kind of president for managing the psychology of citizens – and therefore the economy – is a trained persuader. You can call that persuader a con man, a snake oil salesman, a carnival barker, or full of shit. It’s all persuasion. And Trump simply does it better than I have ever seen anyone do it.

Secondly we have James Williams who sees Trump as an undeserving master of clickbait attention seeking.

Trump is very straightforwardly an embodiment of the dynamics of clickbait: he is the logical product (though not endpoint) in the political domain of a media environment designed to invite, and indeed incentivize, relentless competition for our attention. In fact, Trump benefits not only from the attention and outrage of his supporters, but also that of his opponents. So you already are, in a sense, ‘voting’ for Trump every time you click that link to see what zany antics he’s gotten himself into in today’s episode. (Yes, I am aware of the ironic implications of the previous sentence for this article as a whole — more on that shortly.)

Of the two I find Scott Adams more convincing, but that’s mainly because I tend to find him moderately convincing anyway. At least he seems to think through his ideas and tries to remove personal biases.

Yet if the election turns out to be close then presumably both Trump and Clinton are master persuaders and both are master clickbait populists. There is no significant predictive power to either position. One goes with them or one doesn’t. It is merely a matter of taste yet the feeling persists that it shouldn’t be.

However - try this from Adams. To my mind this is genuine insight - not a common feature of the Trump Clinton battle.

Pacing and Leading: Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump look scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him.

Monday, 3 October 2016

The death of the individual

The great striving of our time: division of labour benefits the species but sentences the individual to death.
August Strindberg - The Red Room (1879)

A chilling quote. If any shred of optimism is to survive, one is compelled to dismiss it and hope for the best. Or perhaps we will adapt to life without individuality. After all, it seems to be what globalisation has in store for us. Not all of us of course.  

It is not only division of labour, but the concomitant rise of process and process-driven people who devote their lives to chipping away at what we like to think is our individuality. Standards are not necessarily our friends.

Yet the world is evolving a maniacal preference for the standard, for people as reasonably well-defined economic and political entities living lives which are reasonably well-defined economic and political processes. It doesn’t feel exciting somehow. If feels like... yes Strindberg was right... it feels like death.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

It's How It Usually Begins

Night life in Poland in 1930s: Henryk Gold's Orchestra plays Bo to się zwykle tak (It's How It Usually Begins) 1935.

I find this video extraordinarily poignant. Impossible to watch it without dwelling on the shadow of what was to come.