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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Appeal to authority

source

From powerline

SCENES FROM THE SCIENCE MARCH

The “March for Science” is underway today, featuring the usual mountebanks like Michael Mann and Bill Nye. Liberals sure are fond of marching. It is doubtful that this march represents a true cross-section of actual scientists, but you never know. In any case, the whole thing parodies itself, making our job easy.


How anyone could take the trouble to make that placard without grasping its import I've no idea. The inability to doubt must be in there somewhere.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Earth Day Laughs

Principia-Scientific has eighteen examples of predictions made around 1970 when Earth Day started. It is sobering but not surprising to see how absurd people can be when thrust into the public arena. All the predictions are worth reading, but here are my three favourites -

13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out. (Note: According to the most recent CDC report, life expectancy in the US is 78.8 years).

16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

We seem to have reached the point where we may as well dismiss as drivel any story about the environment published by mainstream media where there is an element of drama. It is not an unreasonable default position.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Blue sky



A recent photo. 

Can't imagine myself doing that. It's probably wonderful, but how one deals with a lurid imagination and all that empty air beneath the feet I've no idea.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Changing the story

This is interesting if you haven't already seen it.

WUWT has a post about the New York Times regularly editing stories after publication, sometimes substantially. A website called newsdiffs.org logs the different versions published by a few major mainstream news sources including the BBC, although no edits are currently logged against the BBC.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

May be crafty



So now we know, we are to have a general election on June 8th. All very interesting and almost exciting in a race to the bottom kind of way, but this voter isn’t keen having to vote Tory merely in the hope of keeping Brexit on course and the loons at bay. This is the party which harboured hard-core toads David Cameron and Tim Yeo, so it is more than disappointing to have one’s hand forced, but forced it is.

The trouble is, a chap has to vote against the absurd Corbyn and that hole on the political spectrum Tim Whatsit – you know, the one who tries to keep the Lib Dems afloat. UKIP no longer counts and the Greens are ludicrous so where does that leave us? Perhaps it's the invisible hand, the political one Adam Smith didn't write about. 

Unfortunately democracy has become a matter of voting against the dross rather than voting for something positive such as tackling corruption, pin-striped greed, bureaucratic oppression and general government incompetence. Pushing Brexit along is a positive of course, but we’ve voted for that. Apparently.

May of course is taking advantage of the situation. An opportunity has presented itself and she is making the best move she has available. It’s a good sign and may even indicate political astuteness. Or it may be the obvious move and that’s all there is to it. We'll see.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Food critics - and one or two in particular

An Easter holiday post from Wiggia


A good dining experience is about so much more than the food. There's a reason chefs always have a white cloth over their shoulder and cutlery is always polished before service begins, it's because presentation matters.

I lifted that opening statement from a recent restaurant review. What he says and goes on to embellish is true, to a point. What I really wanted to talk about was the review by Jay Rayner, son of the late Claire ! that has caused a bit of a furor and delight in different circles for different reasons, but I will return to that a bit later.

The role of food critics as with some wine critics has verged on going over the top in many cases for years and several of these reviews have indeed verged on the side of hyperbole, and even fantasy in the writing in an effort to simply make headlines and hopefully increase one’s salary pull.

None of this is new. I can well remember that the Daily Express had a motoring writer, whose name escapes me, who many years ago when given almost a whole page to review a car would confine the review to the last 25% of the article, starting with some anecdote about something else that somehow would become the lead in to the article. This went on for years yet at the time there were no obvious high profile equivalents.

Today is a very different world with often deliberate outrageous claims and statements being the meat and two veg of many articles in many genres. Of course if every critic simply said x is good y is bad it would be a very boring world and article, yet so much today as with everything else is almost another form of fake news. The likes of Rayner and his contemporary Giles Coren make a living out of this style of writing, though in neither case are qualifications of any sort deemed necessary for such a pleasurable route through life.

I'll explain. For years when abroad I used the Michelin guide for restaurants to book in countries like France Italy Spain and Portugal and others if I was holidaying there. A few good meals were part of the deal and the Michelin guide, if I was spending money or even not spending so much, was as reliable a tome as any. For years there was little else, hence its reputation.

Was it always right? The short answer is ‘no’, there is absolutely no way any publication can, with the sheer number of restaurants world wide in it’s guides that they can always be up to the minute accurate any more than personal taste will not always be catered for as described, owners change, chefs leave, standards go up and down in many cases overnight.

But overall, using it over many years, the accuracy was pretty good, though its British edition for reasons unknown has never been so reliable. All described in straightforward prose on the dishes and chefs’ specialities and the pricing and surroundings with a not so straight forward method of symbols and stars, but it worked in those pre-internet days and it carried on working despite increased competition from other publications and the printed word online and in the world of the restaurant critic.

But the world demands more than simple qualified information, so the critic reviewer resorts to ever more over the top techniques to grab the headline and make a name for himself whilst also promoting his subject at the same time.

What do I know about the subject? Well about wine quite a lot, with restaurants only those I have frequented over the years but enough to understand where the critic is coming from or not. Have I eaten in a Michelin 3* establishment? Yes on a few occasions, special occasions, and were they the best meals I have had? No, which brings me back to the opening line from the food critic. The overall experience at the top level is part of the experience, more so for someone not used to such places as against those who can afford to dine like that on a more frequent basis.

My first 3* dinner was at the Crillon in Paris a long time ago when it had three stars, the dining room is a version of Versailles hall of mirrors, quite stunning and to sit and eat at a place like that is an experience and one to be remembered, and a similar experience later at the Taillevent also in Paris when it too had 3*. Yet the best actual meals I have had were firstly in a 1* in the Alsace and others in the south of France and Italy and Spain that also never went above 1*, but none of them could provide that amazing feeling of an “event” that those top establishments gave, though they did give a wonderful glow of satisfaction.

So back to the review that caused all the furor the one by Jay Rayner in the Guardian. I only read it, proving that all publicity is good publicity, out of curiosity but could see where he was coming from. What I could also see was a writing style that was “adapted” in my view for his readership of the Guardian. The comments prove the point, his remarks about the enormous cost of eating in the Le Cinq were buffered by his statement that he nor the Guardian paid for the total sum.

That’s a new one on me as I never seen any reviewer say that before, but by doing that and implying he would never pay that sort of money for a meal, though I’m sure he has at similar places, he strikes a chord with all that readership allowing them to blast away in the comments in true Guardian readers’ fashion about “only capitalists” “who would?” “serves any one right” and on and on, so he certainly knows his readership.

What else he does in the piece is the more contentious, and in no way does this say he is wrong in his overall assessment of the Le Cinq. Firstly in the use of language that is used to justify his visit –

Irritated by reader complaints about the cost of eating out I decided to visit a classic Parisian gastro-palace, as a reality check.

And then by use of language to shock or show how right on he is, again with his captive audience with lines like this –

It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you.

Followed later by –

My companion winces. “It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s,” she says.

I find it difficult to believe anyone would trot out a line like that or if they did they have strange sexual preferences. The full review is here….

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/09/le-cinq-paris-restaurant-review-jay-rayner

He also makes a point about the photos of the meal supplied by the restaurant and compares them with those he took on his mobile. Now no table side photos with a mobile in available light are ever going to be the same as those taken by a food photographer in set conditions but he bangs on about this and produces the two sets of images……

http://www.jayrayner.co.uk/news/spot-the-difference-the-food-pics-supplied-to-the-observer-by-le-cinq-in-paris-as-against-mine/

But then goes on to say that the Guardian sends its own photographer to take similarly staged photos for the paper later after the critic has left, rather destroying his point.

For many this is all good fun, it’s Sunday paper in bed reading. It’s “did you see that restaurant article” at work on Monday and by Tuesday the article is in the waste bin. It really is not that important, except for one thing, the bending of facts may have been and is the trademark of numerous politicians political parties and various other factions of society these days, but does the same treatment of facts have to be included in all else? As with all there is a limit, perhaps it’s been reached.

The only thing I gleaned from the article was the pointed comment on a dish of lamb costing 95 euros and not being enough to fill a Big Mac, but you don’t have to go to Paris to get that on your plate. It has become almost universal in the “quality” restaurant trade and is one of the major reasons I do not eat out as much as I used to. The blood pressure that goes with receiving a plate of food consisting of more gel decoration than actual combustibles is not something I can cope with anymore.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Conspiratorial Corbynistas

Interesting article in Spiked about Jeremy Corbyn's problems with the media.

I give it six months until the Labour Party starts blaming the Illuminati for its consistently poor showing in the polls. In the meantime, Corbyn and Co will keep blaming the media. They are trying to persuade voters that Labour isn’t the hole-ridden ship we all think it is, but rather is a party that’s being slowly waterboarded to death by ghastly newspaper hacks.

Maybe so, but I don't entirely agree with this -

These crusades against the media spring from an existential crisis within Labour, and are a means of avoiding dealing with that crisis. Labour recognises that it is teetering on the edge of oblivion. With local elections looming, it looks set to lose key council seats. Its support among the working classes is plummeting. Its turmoil over Brexit reveals just how distant it now is from many of its traditional grassroots voters.

To my mind the party is hardly teetering on the edge of oblivion. However, the working class has changed and continues to change, if indeed it still exists. This seems to be a significant part of Labour's problem, the changing aspirations and expectations of voters.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Did they really?

Common black powder such as old women use to blow out the copper flues.
R. Austin Freeman - As a Thief in the Night (1928)

Apparently women sometimes did this when the washday copper was heated by a coal fire and sooty flues were a problem to be resolved without the expense of a sweep.

The intrepid ladies went out and bought little packets of gunpowder, threw a packet into the fire under the copper, slammed the door and – whoomph. The gunpowder blew a thick black cloud of soot out of the flue. Job done.

Different times, different ways.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Read all about it

They all, the young illustrators and the writers who gathered in the rooms in the evenings to talk—well, they all worked in newspaper offices or in advertising offices just as Bruce did. They pretended to despise what they were doing but kept on doing it just the same. “We have to eat,” they said.
Sherwood Anderson - Dark Laughter (1925)

Where does one go for a consistently reliable source of general news? I certainly haven’t found one. No doubt the answer is that there are no such sources, not in the sense that one or two may be relied on to the exclusion of all others. That is a sure route to misinformation.

As a chap who remembers reading a daily newspaper and who usually watched the evening news on TV, coming to terms with the unreliability of news sources is a lasting pleasure, because beneficial discoveries are pleasurable even when they come rather late in life.

The vast global range of modern news sources, our ability to compare different accounts of the same event with a few clicks - the importance of it all is so colossal we barely understand how it will affect our future. All we know is that one way or another it will. 

The endless prevalence of bias, exaggeration, guesswork and outright lies may be deplorable but to those of us who remember the old days these inherent flaws in human nature are also enlightening. News is generated for a purpose and that purpose is not altruism, never was. We know that now, better than we ever did before.

If there are no consistently reliable news sources, does it matter? Having so many of them allows us to compare one with another and assess uncertainties and possibilities instead of taking favoured sources as authoritative - as we used to do. Fringe news sources also give us a handle on wider possibilities and how important or unimportant the main stories of the day might be. So many events to choose from. Those which hit the headlines are not necessarily the most important.

In my case the expectation that one or two news sources should be sufficient is fading slowly. Forged by long habit and the long dominance of the BBC the slowness of it is hardly surprising but the change is certainly welcome.

As it becomes easier to assess the news from a sceptical standpoint, it becomes more likely that it will be assessed sceptically. The uncertainties behind mainstream narratives become more obvious, their bias clearer. The political mania for being seen to do something becomes more transparently self-serving. I like it.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Something Crazy This Way Comes

Stream has a piece by William Briggs on the forthcoming March for Science.

Last thing the March for Science needs, say some agitated folks, is Bill Nye the “Science Guy” co-leading the parade. Why?

Their complaint is not that he’s an error–prone non-scientist, though that’s true. See, Nye is white. And a man. And some organizers are concerned that onlookers will notice Nye is white, and a man, and project his male-whiteness onto science itself. That in turn will cause the gullible to figure science is mostly done by white men.

Which, historically and in many current fields, it was and is. Now this fact may be for good or for bad, but it is a fact. And it’s not likely those who say they are “for” science and reason would be pleased were the contributions from white men removed from science. So long, calculus!

Or maybe they would be. Because it seems organizers believe scientific results are less important than who is producing them. Diversity trumps science.


I'm not overwhelmingly surprised by all this - who is? Politics trumps science and diversity is politics. Towards the end of my career, diversity was being insinuated into the laboratory and there was no question about where it came from, it came from the top. Briggs' article is well worth reading if you can stomach this kind of thing. Try another quote to get a fuller flavour of the madness coming our way.

“I love Bill Nye,” said Stephani Page, a biophysicist at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who created the Twitter hashtag #BlackAndSTEM. Page was asked to join the march’s board in February after she tweeted criticism of its approach to diversity. “But I do feel comfortable saying to you what I said to the steering committee: He is a white male, and in that way he does represent the status quo of science, of what it is to be a scientist.”

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Boys and fire

source

Yesterday I introduced Grandson to the manly satisfactions of building a fire in the garden. It was only a small affair with kindling and a few sticks contained by bricks, but we were able to make toast and he soon learned how a waft of smoke leads to watering eyes.

He loved it and later in the day had a go at barbecuing sausages over charcoal. I enjoyed it too, so what is it with boys and fire?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Academia’s Intellectual Orthodoxy

Quillette has a piece on the invasion of the humanities by an intolerant political orthodoxy.

Over the last three or four decades, the humanities have witnessed a shift so massive that it is barely noticed anymore. What was once an upstart movement has achieved the status of a truly successful usurper—normality. The leather arm patched ancien régime has been exiled to the land of past things. Horn-rimmed glasses, tattoos, and dyed hair no longer occupy the periphery, but the center. It is a revolution so thorough that it has completely painted over the canvas of our mental imagery.

If you consider the stereotypical picture of a literature professor at a major university today, a myriad of images might come to mind—so many, in fact, that it might be impossible to conjure a single, coherent figure. However, what almost certainly won’t come to mind is a Byron-quoting septuagenarian in tweed.

This revolution has been political. Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in journalism and on social media. In some departments, the social categories of analysis—race, class, and gender—have attained complete hegemony.

Equally interesting is the first comment on the article which suggests an apolitical cause.

This outcome was foreordained when research surpassed teaching as an academic’s primary duty and function. A teacher needs to love an intellectual field and desire to convey its beauty to a new generation; a researcher needs to generate papers and get them reviewed and approved by peers. The latter is an inherently political activity, and it attracts people whose talent and passion are for assessing the zeitgeist–political, social, intellectual–of a particular community, catering to it, and winning a position of social status in it. It should surprise no one that such people share many traits, and are inclined to disdain–and use their political skills to exclude–those whose intellectual approach is very different from theirs. Nor should it surprise anyone that the research output of such people is of little use to anyone but themselves, and contributes only to their own career advancement.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Beyond their Ken

There is still much media kerfuffle over Ken Livingstone's claim that Hitler "did a deal with the Zionists". The BBC reports

Ex-London mayor Ken Livingstone faces a new investigation into his comments about Hitler, Jeremy Corbyn says.

The Labour leader said that since being suspended on Tuesday night, Mr Livingstone had "continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action".

These will now be considered by the party's ruling executive committee.

Mr Livingstone has continued to defend his comments about Hitler and Zionism and vowed to fight his suspension.


Inevitably one is reminded of the video below which apparently once adorned Jeremy Corbyn's YouTube page. An astounding party in so many ways.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The price of the wearer

source

Personally I detest diamonds. They are hard and showy. They give any young and lovely human creature an air of meretriciousness; and merely serve to disguise and conceal the old and ugly. They price their wearer, and only the evil come alive in their baleful company.

Walter de la Mare - The Lost Track (1926)

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The end of the pier show


From Wiggia

We are fortunate to live not far from the North Norfolk coast so short trips decided on the day and by the weather are a frequent event. Most of the coastal towns and villages from Hunstanton to Happisburg have been visited and many of the more inland destinations such as Holt Burnham and many others have also received our blessing !

The more obvious destinations such as Blakeney, Stiffkey, Cley next the Sea and Wells are all along with inland Walsingham and Castle Acre and the Broads villages to the south, have all been on the itinerary of many a trip. Which brings me to the one obvious place on this coast I have never, until now, visited at all, Cromer.

There are several practical reasons for this among st others, the main tourist area is centered round the pier is quite small and the main road goes through an area just behind that on a one way system and is a nightmare even out of season so is generally avoided. When I have been forced to suffer the one-way what one notices is that a large part of the town is run down and dirty. Shops seem to be of the charity variety or tatty gift shops, not all but enough to remind one of Great Yarmouth and what that has become. So no reason to stop, that is if you can find a place to park anyway.

So for no obvious reason other than a curious mind and a desire to see the one shining jewel that Cromer offers, its pier, I announced to a surprised and rather reticent wife we were going to Cromer as there was some sun promised and we could probably park easily as it is still out of season.

The initial impression started badly at the car park. It was market day and part of the main central car park is cordoned off for the weekly market. Don’t bother as with so many markets they seem to dwindle and slowly disappear and Cromer’s market is at that juncture. The fresh fish van summed it up with the owner so busy he was reading a newspaper and had his feet up. Lively it was not.

I could see the wife's face showing that “what are we doing here look” as we crossed the road making in a general direction towards the pier area. The short lanes leading to the pier area are all full of old Regency and early 19th century buildings. Most are listed and many are wonderful examples of the era when wealthy business people purchased seaside properties in what was then an easily reached by train fashionable seaside resort, but even many of these have not seen a paint tin for many a long year. Many are now flats and holiday lets, few seem to be owner occupied, certainly not in that part of town.

Cromer is unusual in that it has a shoreline with cliffs, not much seen north of here and it provides a view when you arrive at the pier from above. A relatively short pier with a theater at the end and then a rather state of the art lifeboat station with a “proper” lifeboat in situ, not one of those rubber versions. The visitor center built around the lifeboat is well worth a visit, with all the rescues since inception on the walls round the inside of the building and who and what they rescued inscribed there.

The little theater has a bar and cafe that was open so we had a coffee and watched the world go by for a while. It is obvious the pier is the only reason that Cromer staggers on. The end of the pier show brings in the punters and many must come not from Cromer but the enormous caravan parks just up the road at East Runton, a form of holiday that is still very popular but whose attraction bypasses me.

The pier has survived a couple of serious fires and severe storm damage not that long ago but to their credit the town’s main attraction has been restored back to its pristine state each time with care and haste so as to be ready for the season. Whilst having coffee I noticed the posters for forthcoming events, the one-nighters and noticed Marty Wilde for the beginning of April and a month later the Searchers none of whom I believed to be still alive !

The whole raison d’etre of this piece however is to highlight the fact that several of these places that were jewels in the Victorian time for rest and recuperation, first for the upper classes and with the coming of rail the working class are in steep decline. Looking back up to Cromer from the pier there is the Hotel de Paris built in 1820 for Lord Suffield. It was turned into a grand hotel in 1830 and closer inspection now shows a very faded lady with mismatched curtains and cheap furniture in the lounge and dining areas, so what has happened ?

The answer is all around you. Whilst on the pier having coffee people watching revealed maybe not all but a large part of the problem. It was a street photographers dream, the endless passing of strange characters, large ladies with small dogs being towed by same and small ladies dragging old infirm dogs with twenty foot expanding leads that wanted to stay at home. Mobility scooters abound, people in wheelchairs abound, down and out young couples abound, elderly people who look as though they are waiting to die abound, non-working punk couples loiter and so on.

The place is decaying with its population and one of the contributing factors that I know is fact because a friend of mine had a daughter sent there when times went into reverse for her and her husband, is that councils farm out benefit recipients of all colours to places like Cromer because they can get cheap lodgings for them. It has become an industry on its own.

Very little of this shows in the summer as the crowds they get swamp the unfortunates described to a large degree, but what a sad world we live in when people can be all lumped together like that, all knowing that the person they just met on the pier is there for the same reasons, and it takes no time standing on that pier to see exactly that happening.

Will Cromer ever get back some of its former glory? It has the buildings to make the change and it clings on to its one wonderful asset and cossets it, the pier, but it will take a different mindset for those who run the town to achieve that and maybe they are happy with it to trundle on into downmarket obscurity. Maybe it is simply the fact that people’s tastes have changed, but not really as Cromer has exactly the same frontage as many other resorts that are still successful and blooming.

As we left on the long uphill run out of the town, we passed a gentleman of the road trudging up the same hill with all his worldly possessions in various plastic sacks about his person and puffing on a cigarette butt. He had even obtained a zimmer frame for the most difficult areas of the climb but what was significant is that he was leaving. Not a good sign. All quite sad really.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Coping with life’s pricks

The BBC has a story about pricks.

When a new style of seat suddenly appeared on Mexico City's metro system, it was labelled as inappropriate, uncomfortable, humiliating and embarrassing.

It was supposed to be.

The seat, moulded to include a protruding penis and chest, was designed to highlight sexual harassment experienced by female passengers.

The explanation next to the men-only label read: "It is uncomfortable to sit here, but that is nothing compared to the sexual violence that women suffer on their daily journeys."

Taking measures to tackle sexual violence and harassment is obviously necessary in this case, but as so often that is not the whole story. To my mind this stunt is crude and blatant but also typically modern. Its crudity highlights those lesser accusations which have become such a generic aspect of modern life. This one effectively points the finger at all males from teenagers onward, that is the underlying message and one cannot dismiss the possibility that it is deliberate.

We see generic accusation everywhere. Not necessarily as in your face as this, but the finger-pointing has become universal. It isn’t new but it seems far more pervasive than in the past and far more extensive and accusatory than Keep Off The Grass or No Spitting.

We see it in notices about zero tolerance with the implied message This Means You, however meek, mild and tolerant one might be towards those pockets of incompetent insolence hiding behind the notice.

It is particularly virulent in modern minefields such as racism, sexism, xenophobia and environmental worship. Here we also see scattergun accusations coupled to the implied message This Means You, especially if one is not safely ensconced in one of the favoured minorities where This Doesn't Mean You.

Maybe this is an endlessly tiresome aspect of modern life which has fed into political upheavals such as Brexit and Trump. Perhaps many people are weary of all those implied accusations. Perhaps civilised people do not take kindly to preaching fingers constantly pointed in their general direction. Perhaps they are prepared to rock a few political boats as a way of venting their frustration. Beneath the hysteria surrounding Brexit and Trump there is surely an underlying current of quiet satisfaction.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Heard in the changing room

Funny how you get up one morning and look in the mirror and suddenly think – God I’m fat. It just happened overnight. I used to be size fourteen but now I’m size twenty.


Obviously not heard by me. Must add that. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Banking on AI

The BBC has a piece about a report into the way banks aim to use artificial intelligence as part of their customer interaction.

Artificial intelligence will be the main way that banks interact with their customers within the next three years, a report from consultancy Accenture has suggested.

Banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) are increasingly using chatbots to answer customer queries.

The report examined the views of 600 bankers and other experts.

Many, perhaps ironically, felt that AI would help banks create a more human-like customer experience.


A more human-like customer experience? Strewth, what does that say about their staff? Or their management for that matter. In our case the bank is mostly an ATM and online services, our banking interactions are largely conducted through computers anyway.

Where AI could be useful would be visits to our car dealership. We’re taking the car for its annual MOT check tomorrow and I’m sure our interactions with the service dept could be conducted via a computer. For example, an AI system might even remember to tell us that it had moved to new premises several miles away, a feature of the service we only found out recently and accidentally.

Monday, 27 March 2017

All animals are equal...

...but some are more equal than others.

George Orwell’s famous slogan in Animal Farm is still relevant today and perhaps it always will be, but what exactly do we expect from modern slogans about equality?

To begin with, allow me to make a minor discursion into the realms of blogging. The people responsible for the blogs in my blogroll and those who leave comments here and elsewhere are some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered. No that’s not flattery, it is an assertion about many educated people who have seen something of life and have drawn worthwhile conclusions.

I don’t necessarily have a personal allegiance to all those worthwhile conclusions, but as they are rooted in lives different to mine that isn’t important. What is important is that a decent education and a few decades of experience seem to produce many people worth listening to, far more than we ever come across in the mainstream media.

In a hierarchical society this feels odd, because the governing classes and their chosen experts are still supposed to hold the aces as far as informed thinking is concerned. The trouble is we know this is not the case. So much so that it has become somewhat embarrassing.

Equality is a political mantra which seems just as likely to prevent genuine equality as promote it. As in Animal Farm, the equality mantra can be subverted and used to promote inequality. One thing we have learned since the digital world shook up mass communication is how limited our governing classes really are. They should be smart but don't seem to have the time or the inclination. Or they leave it to tame experts who gave up on smart in favour of plausible because that is how the political winds blow.

An important driver for all this seems to be time. Many people seem to spend a considerable amount of time mulling over the infinite complexities of real life. Not in a concentrated session of deep thinking, but at odd moments throughout the day. Any pause in the flow of daily life and the musing self seems to wake up, pick up a thread and follow it until daily life resumes its sway. It may only be a few minutes, it may be longer and the threads may not join up, but it seems to be a common habit which over time adds up to a rounded point of view.

The joy of it is not to be found in new certainties, but new possibilities, not in joining a popular narrative but in standing apart to avoid the crap, not in some indecisive waffle but in insights which may be no more than finding a better word or phrase. Even these tiny steps are pleasing, encouraging enough to explore further and even make a slight shift in perspective. Sometimes that does happen, that shift in perspective. Gosh – how radical is that?

A grotesquely overweight man lumbers into the supermarket, a car brakes sharply, a van roars by, popular music blares from a passing car, another terrorist incident takes the media by the throat, the aroma of coffee stirs a memory, a child’s cry stirs another, a politically correct loon has yet another rant about something unimportant, a financial scandal erupts, a bee buzzes past the window and a politician says something silly - again.

All these mundane happening and countless others stimulate the musing mind and it is surprising how often the results are worthwhile. Surprising because we mainly hear from those who have less to say but a public platform from which to say it.

So what has that to do with equality? To my mind this issue has been growing for many decades. The internet has merely given it a good hard nudge. The covert message embedded in the political notion of equality is that even a whole lifetime of experience, knowledge, understanding and analysis is worth nothing if you are not on the official stage where some are more equal than others.

You are intelligent and you have a lifetime of experience to draw on. I know that and so do you, but the political game cannot accept it. The effects of mass education, mass communication and economic growth have outstripped our antiquated political ways. Not completely because a few people still read the Guardian and many more watch TV. In their obsolete world we still have our intellectual superiors and their ideas must outweigh ours because that is the very essence of hierarchy.

And yet many of us look on with ever increasing incredulity while those who are more equal than we will ever be strut their ignorant stuff on a profoundly unequal stage. 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Anecdotes from a spent youth

From Wiggia

Going back in time is not always easy as our interpretation of what remains in the old memory banks is not always as was, in the same way that images you remember can be seen in a different light colour and clarity by others and therefore the interpretation in the mind can be counter to one's own but not incorrect.

The reason I stated that was I was going to write a small piece on my motor racing days, but I was not minded to regale anyone with my fraught and very expensive time endeavoring to go fast. Sometimes I went fairly fast and most other times it was a case of retiring to the pits or worse, so we will gloss over that.

Delving back did give me cause to think about those varied forms of road transport I had after that period. Nothing before of note as all were various battered vans put to slogging round the country towing a trailer and causing small villages to be enveloped in smoke from an elderly engine driven too hard for too long.

My first car after the “debacle” was and still is my favourite. This was all at a time of empty roads and no speed limits, not that much could go above the limits to any degree when they came in.

Once I had sold all the car bits and devolved myself from the association I had with another race car and driver, a 50/50 partnership which was too late as I had almost run out of money, I decided to buy something nippy. Being still young at heart I fancied something a bit above a Cortina GT and after a bit of thought I went to Young’s Garage in Ilford.

Living in East London and having Essex connections, anything Ford was an obvious route as I knew the engines and could obtain various parts to go faster or improve Fords from a variety of sources, some it has to be said not legal. In fact at that time in motor racing the amount of illegal parts floating around from various manufacturers was quite astounding.

Young's was the home to the fastest of the Ford Anglias that were racing at that time. Mike Young drove a bored out 1500 Essex-engined, ( some selected engine blocks could be bored to around 1700cc), Anglia that was the most normal looking on the circuits but hid some serious work under the skin. I knew he sold already fitted big-engined Anglias for the road in various tunes and stages, but when I wanted one little was available other than a bog standard one with a new 1500GT engine. The price was right so I purchased that and started to further modify the car myself.

By that time I could take one of these relatively simple engines apart in my sleep, so the head came off and I polished ports and changed the profile of combustion chambers, copying a Cosworth template and valves and springs, put in another slightly more peaky cam and when reassembled, retuned the Weber carb and ran the car on a dyno to get it right settings wise.

I was tempted to go the twin sidedraught Weber route but whilst getting more power they drank petrol. The standard 1500 GT engine produced 78bhp but by the time this went on the dyno it was producing near to 90. A full race version had in the region in a Cosworth version 115, so a decent return for those days and 90bhp in a very small and light car was relatively potent for that era.

Next was the suspension - new lowered McPherson struts from Ford's rally program! With front discs to replace the drum brakes and wide wheels, 4 and a half inch fronts and 5 and a half rears, larger fronts required body modification and I did not want that obvious racer look, well wide for those days, and then the hunt for suitable tires. I originally got hold of some early Goodyear Blue Streaks a racing tire, but after spinning in the wet a few times and getting away with it on London streets, they were lethal within sight of any moisture, I reverted to Dunlops and all was well.

At the time a vinyl roof was de rigueur on certain cars and a friend who was an upholsterer suggested he did the Anglia roof as an advert for a sideline in these roofs he wanted to try, so I had the first and possibly the only vinyl roofed Anglia ever !

The interior was deliberately left as almost standard just a rev counter beneath the dash and an oil temperature gauge to go with the fitted oil cooler, and that was it for a time apart from some rejigging the beefed up rear suspension, and a new exhaust, not one that was obviously “race bred” but adapted from another Ford sports car that I have now forgotten the name of.

This car went to France and on the long auto routes going south its one prevailing limitation showed in spades. At home it didn’t matter that much but on those roads the car ran out of revs. It needed a different differential. Many a DS Citroen would come steaming up behind me to be left distant in the mirror on acceleration only to keep going and pass as I was at maximum revs at just over a hundred mph. The deed was done on return along with a Corsair gearbox and I had many happy months of driving in that car.

As a road car it was quicker than a Cooper S, a car that was the go-to at the time for a quick sporty road vehicle, but I always hated the bloody awful driving position, unless you were a dwarf, it had the room it was just the way you had to sit, and anyway they were two a penny at the time.

Problems - just two. In France I broke a front stud on undulating roads with the stiffened suspension and the car ate starter motors that continually vibrated loose, only fixed by wiring the nuts. Even Loctite didn’t work. The rest never missed a beat, that Ford 105E – 115E engine was probably the most successfully tuned engine in history, with later crossflow versions including twin cams as in the Lotus Cortina and my botched shared race car, dominated endless classes of motor racing for years and all from the humble Ford Anglia and the Cortina.

The car also took me to my wedding and then on honeymoon when my new wife decided something more Captain Sensible was required and so the worst car I ever owned was purchased, but that is another story and the beginning of a few years of an eclectic car ownership.

That Anglia was also the last time apart from a bit of restoration I ever got under a bonnet to do anything other than check the oil and I have never felt the urge to get my hands dirty again. Not because I didn’t enjoy the project at the time but it was simply another phase in my life that was done and dusted.

Was this retrospective assessment seen through eyes that still see the past with some sort of affection filtering out the downsides of the period perhaps? The good moments, whilst not the total of our memories of the past do tend to dominate, but that is not a bad thing. Leaving the dross sadness and disappointment in a dark recess is necessary for a positive way forward.

Now where are those old string-back driving gloves?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fish eat plastic like teenagers eat fast food

As the BBC put it last year

Or maybe they don't. 

From Sciencemag we have this fishy tale.

GOTLAND, SWEDEN—It's a cold, dreary day in early March, and Josefin Sundin is standing in one of the two aquarium rooms at the Ar Research Station on a remote corner of Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. "This is where it all happened," she says, while gazing around as if searching for fresh clues. Her colleague and friend Fredrik Jutfelt takes cellphone pictures.

Nine months ago, these two researchers triggered a scandal in Swedish science by accusing another friend and colleague of making up research supposedly done here. Now, they have returned to Gotland to discuss what happened—and how whistleblowing has taken over their lives. The station is deserted; the 2017 research season has yet to start. But the station manager, Anders Nissling, has made a pot of strong coffee and is happy to give a tour of the offices and laboratories where researchers come to study the creatures and ecosystems of the sea and a nearby lake.

At the heart of the case is a three-page paper that made headlines after it was published in Science* on 3 June 2016. It showed that, given a choice between a natural diet and tiny plastic fragments, perch larvae will consume the plastic "like teens eat fast food," as a BBC story put it. This unhealthy appetite reduced their growth and made them more vulnerable to predators. It was a dire warning, suggesting the plastic trash washing into rivers, lakes, and oceans was creating ecological havoc.

The study was also, Sundin and Jutfelt claim, "a complete fantasy." It was purportedly done at the Ar station in the spring of 2015 by Oona Lönnstedt, a research fellow at Sweden's Uppsala University (UU); her supervisor and only co-author, Peter Eklöv, did not work on the island. Sundin, a postdoc at UU, was working at the station at that time, too, and occasionally lent Lönnstedt a hand. But she saw no sign of a study of the scope and size described in Science.

Jutfelt, who like Sundin is Swedish but works as an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, also spent a few days at the station when the study supposedly took place, and didn't see it either. Lönnstedt wasn't even on the island long enough to do the study described in Science, the duo claims. Many other details were, well, fishy, they said, such as Lönnstedt's claim that part of the study's data was forever lost because her laptop was stolen 10 days after the paper was published.

Read the full story at Sciencemag.org

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mainstream media explained


The principle of least effort is a broad theory that covers diverse fields from evolutionary biology to webpage design. It postulates that animals, people, even well-designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or "effort". It is closely related to many other similar principles: see Principle of least action or other articles listed below. This is perhaps best known or at least documented among researchers in the field of library and information science. Their principle states that an information-seeking client will tend to use the most convenient search method, in the least exacting mode available. Information seeking behavior stops as soon as minimally acceptable results are found. This theory holds true regardless of the user's proficiency as a searcher, or their level of subject expertise

One might add to this and suggest that mainstream media must equate least effort with least cost. A simple copy and paste job from an external source suited to the known tastes of a reasonably well-understood readership. Tits and bums, celebrities and sport, gossip and prejudice. Naturally the prejudice can be high-minded if that is what the market demands.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Perhaps someone was making a point

Since the Labour party leadership debacle I've sometimes wondered if the party knows how many politically hostile people acquired the right to vote in order to elect the most useless candidate. Although the party seems to have a vetting process, I don't think they know.

During my occasional attempts to track down some credible numbers, I came across this article from August 2015. The comments at the end of the piece amused me. There are nine identical comments under nine different names, even though you supposedly have to log in or register to leave a comment. Perhaps someone was making a point.  

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Free Speech University Rankings

If you haven't already seen it, Spiked has ranked universities by their approach to free speech. Apparently many universities don't believe in it, so no surprises there.

The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) is the UK’s first university rankings for free speech. We survey British universities, examining the policies and actions of universities and students' unions, and rank them using our traffic-light system.

Friday, 17 March 2017

I mean... yeah




Edited for our entertainment of course. They can't all be like this.

Can they?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Road accident

This morning we were fretting over an unusual tailback of traffic before we realised it was due to an accident about fifty yards further on. A recent collision between a car and a motorcycle, both badly damaged and the motorcyclist still lying in the road.

It was broad daylight, dry and impossible to see who may have been at fault. Although road accidents are far more common than they ought to be, the sight of one is an extremely sobering reminder of perspectives.

From one perspective drivers often criticise the endless petty restrictions, prohibitions and warnings which are a part their lives. I certainly do. The criticisms are usually valid too, because much of the time driving is a frustrating, almost humiliating chore.

Yet from another perspective serious road accidents are personal disasters which ripple out from a moment of inattention and damage lives, sometimes permanently. The pressure to minimise them is entirely understandable. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Phil's handbrake turn

Philip Hammond’s decision to abandon his proposed NI increase for the self-employed is one of those political debacles I find slightly puzzling.

Philip Hammond has abandoned plans to raise national insurance for self-employed workers in this Parliament after admitting that it breached the "spirit" of the manifesto.

The Chancellor provoked a furious reaction from Tory back-benchers after using his Budget to announce plans to raise NI contributions for the self-employed by 2 per cent.


It was easy enough to foresee that Hammond's proposed change would be attacked by Conservative voters and probably by his own MPs too. In which case one might conclude that Hammond completely misread an obvious problem with his proposal and from that one might go on to dismiss him as a fool.

Maybe he is a fool or maybe he simply made a political blunder, but the budget is a team effort and however tight that team may be, such a simple blunder seems unlikely. Far from impossible, but unlikely.

A blunder is one explanation and perhaps the best explanation because unlikely events happen all the time, but another explanation is bad advice. Somehow Hammond was persuaded that the NI change was a good idea, or it was his idea and nobody managed to dissuade him. The possibility that he was badly advised is interesting. Somebody sticking the knife in by landing him with a wholly foreseeable political disaster?

That’s one of the problems with politics. We rarely know enough detail and tend to plump for the easy explanation which in this case may be right. Or it may not. The knives may be out for Phil.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Poo blighters

The BBC has a piece about doggy folk who don't quite get the point of bagging their mutt's poo.

Dog walkers are being urged not to bag up their pet's poo in the countryside - but to use a stick and flick it into the undergrowth instead.

Conservative MP Anne Main will advocate the method during a Westminster debate as a way of reducing the number of plastic bags blighting the countryside.

Mrs Main says better signage is needed at the entrance of parks and open spaces so dog owners know what to do.

She says poo-filled bags hanging from trees are a nationwide problem.


While out walking we see poo bags hanging in bushes by the path, but only heavily used paths and not enough to describe it as a nationwide problem. 

It is certainly a bizarre thing to do because dog poo in the countryside degrades quite quickly. Poo in plastic bags doesn't. Slugs love it, but if it is bagged up and hanging in the bushes out of reach, what are they supposed to do? Starve? 

Many of these bags are probably biodegradable because we don't see a steady accumulation of poo-festooned bushes. The slugs probably get their dinner eventually, but why make them wait?

Monday, 13 March 2017

A cornucopia of beans

Wandering through the political maze certainly doesn't do anything to cure a chap of rampant cynicism. For example, one of the biggest icebergs of political life is a hidden assumption that the future is tolerably predictable and policies can be made to work as planned. Our bean policy will lead to a cornucopia of beans – that kind of assumption. Unfortunately it is easy enough to point out the problem, but not so easy to eradicate it. Why is that?

It may be that all political faiths also require a concomitant faith in predictable futures, rosy futures where political schemes achieve fruition and good intentions reap their just rewards. The alternative seems to be a somewhat grimmer, apolitical attitude which accepts and even relishes the inevitable roles of uncertainty, luck and misfortune.

Unfortunately democracy has not evolved to acknowledge this distinction effectively. It seems designed to foster naive expectations that elected representatives will grasp the levers of power to confer predicable benefits on our collective future. We refer to those naive expectations as policies. Maybe it seems more dignified.

Yet the future, the hurly-burly of ever unfolding events remains largely unpredictable. The levers of power are not connected to a predictable future and quite often not connected to anything real as far as one can tell. Yet the traditional political game requires political parties to propose some kind of dubious policy alternative to counter the dubious policies the other lot are busy promoting.

This confrontational futility is what we constantly struggle to get out of, but the issue is not so much the confrontation itself as the inescapable necessity to confront in kind, to play the crystal ball game. The need to have a traditional political identity is the problem and from that there seems to be no democratic escape.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Boo to good advice

From the BBC we have a judges's warning about a familiar issue.

Judge Lindsey Kushner QC said women were entitled to "drink themselves into the ground" but their "disinhibited behaviour" could put them in danger.


Gosh - really? So young women tottering around late at night drunk out of their silly little minds are putting themselves at risk. Amazing. But - 

A female judge's warning that drunk women are putting themselves at greater risk of rape was "victim-blaming", a police commissioner has said.

Victim-blaming? Rape is a horrible crime but the entire world knows there is a risk to young women if they drink too much, whatever the situation. Yet still we have people who seem to think the judge's observation is inappropriate.

There is a notorious risk to young women during the weekend booze-fest but apparently we are supposed to tiptoe around the fact that they are putting themselves in danger if they drink themselves into the ground as the judge put it.

We must tiptoe around it because? Because politically correct reasons I suppose. There are always politically correct reasons. It's time we did something about that.

Friday, 10 March 2017

When we go public

40-50 Years ago you had so search hard to find really stupid people in the media, now they pop up all the time. What happened ?

The Badger - WUWT comment


If anything happened then perhaps it was inevitable. Many of us will know what an availability cascade is, but for those who don’t this is how University of Chicago Law School explains it.

An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse.

For an example of availability, suppose you are asked ‘who is the most beautiful woman in the world?’ It is likely that a range of celebrity candidates will come to mind and this is what is meant by ‘availability’. Our responses tend to cluster around what is publicly available.

A cascade is obvious, so an availability cascade occurs when an issue hits the headlines, becomes available to a large number of people and gains self-reinforcing traction. We select from what is available and the media create both the availability and the cascades because it is their business to do so.

Obviously availability cascades are an unreliable window on the real world but they dominate the media for equally obvious reasons - to have public debates we must direct our attention to the same issues. Unfortunately that requirement is wide open to manipulation and is bound to limit the range and quality of any public debate. Also obvious.

For example - as the BBC produces daily news shows it has to use availability cascades. Not entirely because it can slip in stories about shortages of elk meat in Siberia or a unicycling plumber, but in the main its news has to be drawn from what is available and currently cascading. Apart from a few exclusives it cannot report major news items which avoid availability cascades because to a large extent availability cascades are the news.

Whatever the BBC adopts as its ethical pretensions, this is bound to lead to biased reporting and worse. Availability cascades do not do nuances, uncertainty or detail because that would interfere with the cascade. Even basic veracity may interfere. News outlets are biased because they have to be, because bias is a feature of the game, because it embodies an aspect of what we are when we go public.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Healthy eating

The other day we went for a rather wet family walk and dropped into a cafe for lunch. I had a steak sandwich. It consisted of a tender slice of steak, slightly pink in the middle, black pudding and Stilton cheese - oh and some bread to hold it all together and make it into a sandwich. Plus a bowl of chips. Delicious!

That's what I call healthy eating. It made me feel good in spite of the mud and the rain and feeling good is surely healthy.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Every good mother

He could feel in her what he felt in his own mother—in every good mother—love of order and peace, love of the well being of her children, love of public respect and private honor and morality.
Theodore Dreiser – The Genius (1915)

Sometimes a quote leaps off the page. As an ideal it sets all kinds of guilty hares running.

Guilty?

I think so – yes.

Ideals are not realities because they don’t have to be. They remind us of many things, of standards we understand but don’t always observe. In Dreiser's day this one was widely seen as central to the single most important thing we do – propagating the species. As far as one can tell it isn’t coming back - we have political ideals instead.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Four months to go


Prince Charles: 100 months to save the world
The Prince of Wales is to issue a stark warning that nations have "less than 100 months to act" to save the planet from irreversible damage due to climate change.
Gosh, we now have only four months left till doomsday. Are we worried? Is anyone worried? Was anyone ever worried? Worried enough to do something?

A key feature of the catastrophic climate narrative is how so many people in the public arena are induced to make predictions of doom. Alarming celebrity briefings must be distilled from scenarios created by climate models, but we have known for a long time that climate models cannot make long-term predictions of future climate states.

In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modelling, we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.
IPCC Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, Third Assessment Report, Chapter 14.

In February 2016 climate scientist Dr. John Christy presented testimony to Congress demonstrating how climate models grossly exaggerate and overestimate the impact of atmospheric CO2 levels on global temperatures .

source


This year Judith Curry produced a lay overview of climate models for the GWPF. Among many other criticisms she wrote.

There are valid concerns about a fundamental lack of predictability in the complex nonlinear climate system.

Yet Prince Charles must have been firmly convinced that his climate predictions were scientifically plausible, likely to happen and not liable to be derailed by that fundamental lack of predictability. As far as one can tell he remains convinced to this day.

Let us move on from Prince Charles to Thomas Kuhn. It’s a substantial jump but I’m sure we can cope.

To the extent, as significant as it is incomplete, that two scientific schools disagree about what is a problem and what a solution, they will inevitably talk through each other when debating the relative merits of their respective paradigms. In the partially circular arguments that regularly result, each paradigm will be shown to satisfy more or less the criteria that it dictates for itself and to fall short of a few of those dictated by its opponent. There are other reasons, too, for the incompleteness of logical contact that consistently characterizes paradigm debates. For example, since no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines and since no two paradigms leave all the same problems unsolved, paradigm debates always involve the question: Which problems is it more significant to have solved? Like the issue of competing standards, that question of values can be answered only in terms of criteria that lie outside of normal science altogether, and it is that recourse to external criteria that most obviously makes paradigm debates revolutionary.
Thomas S. Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

If Kuhn was right, then perhaps we should ask a few questions based on criteria that lie outside of normal science altogether. Why did Prince Charles claim that we are doomed when the IPCC stated quite clearly that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible? He is not a celebrity poseur and does not appear to be virtue-signalling.

Who briefs him and with what object? Why does he still seem to believe that we are doomed? This is the kind of criterion we should focus on – the politics of manipulated behaviour.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Wave that shroud

The evidence of priming studies suggests that reminding people of their mortality increases the appeal of authoritarian ideas, which may become reassuring in the context of the terror of death.

Daniel Kahneman - Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)


From the BBC

Tens of thousands of people - including NHS workers, campaigners and union representatives - have marched in London to protest against "yet more austerity" in the health service.

Protesters on the #OurNHS march wanted to draw attention to plans which could see hospital services in nearly two-thirds of England cut back.

Union leaders say many NHS services "are on their knees".

The Department of Health says it is investing an extra £4bn in the NHS.


I have no strong views about the NHS, our experiences have been both good and not so good, but the latest bout of shroud-waving reminds one of how tiresomely self-righteous NHS supporters can be.

They may have a point and they may not, but surely many neutral observers will never know because they have heard it all before and the will to check these things evaporated years ago.

I see Corbyn addressed the faithful too. He would.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

An Afternoon in Diss

By Wiggia

Before our last house move, Diss was our nearest town for shopping, banking etc, so a weekly trip to this old market town was the order of the day during that period. A true market town with as mixed a population as one could find, no group nor class dominating, basically a Tory safe seat it none the less was for Brexit and that fits in with the area in general.

There is no doubt that this area of South Norfolk, known locally as “indian country” does have a leaning towards being a backdrop for the League of Gentlemen and in many of the retail outlets being asked “are you local” would not come as a surprise.

The town also has some interesting areas such as the Mere a large six acre lake in the middle of the town that when the council feel they have enough money has a spectacular (for Diss) water fountain in operation in the middle of the lake. It also has a comprehensive Tourist office, slightly puzzling as Diss is hardly the gateway to the east but they do get bonus points for trying.

It does have some fine buildings mostly with a Georgian or Edwardian facade and a 16th century oak beamed property on the town square called Dolphin House, formerly a rich wool merchants house then a pub and now home to several small businesses one being an Indian restaurant that was raided recently and several illegal employees arrested. That probably accounts for the extreme range of reviews on TripAdvisor the food quality depending on which staff they have managed to retain at any given moment in time. No one can call Diss dull !

Or maybe you could. The town joined Cittaslow in 2006, an Italian inspired movement based on the Slow Food movement to promote in the case of Cittaslow a better environment, alas obviously did not think it needed any international cooperation in that field and left shortly afterwards. The slow food movement might have been a better bet having so few decent eateries means there would have been little to argue about, but a slow town that is already operating at snail’s pace is rather pointless.

It has a railway station on the London – Norwich line and a main road through the town that is the standard bearer for the worst that town planners can inflict on their long suffering tax payers. Always an appalling bottleneck during rush hours, they managed to make it worse by allowing endless estate building on it, a supermarket with its own roundabout and several other businesses all of which mean that anyone arriving by train in Diss during the evening rush hour will take anything up to thirty minutes to exit the station car park and travel the hundred yards to join this road.

British Rail have also managed to make getting from one platform to the other an army field test, as there is no way to access the up line platform from outside. All passengers to and from Diss have to use the bridge over the tracks. When my 90+ old mum visited some years back that would have been a big problem getting over that bridge, but as the train was running late it did not stop long enough for her to alight (we did wonder where she had got to) so when a telephone call from Norwich from my sister who was accompanying her was received it was a blessing in disguise as traveling back from Norwich meant the train actually stopped this time so she could alight without the drama of the bridge crossing.

Ninety minutes late of course but at least we did not have to carry her over the bridge or alternatively she could have stayed on platform two for a short break, or even traveled the London – Norwich line ad infinitum on the non stop train. Despite public cries to remedy this obvious flaw, the bridge years later remains seemingly a test to the traveller’s speed and endurance capabilities, winter and icy steps bringing an extra frisson to the occasion.

There is also a museum on the market square. Bijou is the word that comes to mind, but at least they have one though as the opening hours are rather/very limited perhaps that is a moot point.

To the south of the log jam that dissects Diss east to west is a rather fine green, one of those very large spaces that abound in this part of Norfolk and Suffolk, and next to the pub on the green a little gem of a restaurant that we found some time ago by mistake. A bit sixties inside , unless they have updated, it actually serves real food at reasonable prices, almost extinct in this day and age and equally good cafe and fish restaurant opposite, no relation. A little gem in what is generally a culinary wasteland

Update the restaurant owner has purchased the pub next door and incorporated the restaurant. Ah well it was good while it lasted, but not having revisited it may still be good.

Leaving the town past the green one comes to the Redgrave and Lopham fens and some beautiful country houses, much is a public park and it is spectacular for colour in spring, a quite unique landscape with multi coloured lichen forming mounds among the gorse, and a little further out Bressingham Gardens created by the horticulturist the late Alan Bloom who in modern day gardening invented the use of island beds for use in the gardening world with this beautiful display garden that is still there alongside his extensive steam collection.

On open days Alan Bloom in later life could be seen taking various locomotives round his extensive circuit round the gardens, proving that when it comes to things that really matter gardens and steam trains are still a sanctuary from the world’s ills.

Back in the centre the Corn Exchange with its Doric columns has been saved from collapse and is now in full use again after several years of doom floating over it, and to the west of the town center is T W Gazes auction rooms, probably the most well known business in the town and an institution. I could never get over the sheer amount of auctions they have every week. Four is not uncommon and always the place is packed, it is also now a regular on the TV antique show circuit.

Famous people, not that I could find any, the sitting MP is Richard Bacon, an increasingly rotund figure. Sitting is probably what he does best as the likelihood of him losing his seat is on par with being struck by lightning. I suppose Rick Wakeman who lives just outside the town is the nearest claim to fame. I know he features in various local openings and the like though I am not sure if he has been asked to turn on the Christmas lights yet. Best not ask as they are the worst lights I and most of the inhabitants of Diss have seen anywhere. Mean doesn’t come into it and there has been a total failure to get local business to cough up for anything better. Spread thinly is the byword for the lights in Diss, even the decent Christmas tree plays spot the lights. Oh well !

Why I can imagine you asking are you writing about just another English market town? Well the truth is I quite like Diss, don’t really know why, just do. It’s quirky as only Norfolk can do, the solicitors in the main street in a rather splendid Georgian building has some rather colourful show chickens and roosters in its gardens that have to be circumnavigated to reach the front door. That’s pretty quirky.

But it all came flooding back when I visited a couple of weeks ago to go to the optician for my annual eye test. I only go back there because he is a very good optician and it makes a change to see that part of the world again. The optician is on the market square opposite the rather grand and large Post Office that flies the Union flag and not one of Palestine, which makes a change. Not that anyone here would know where Palestine is as a very large percentage have never left the confines of Diss never mind the county. Only local people would understand that ! So whilst my wife was having the first eye test I had a good half hour or so people watching.

Now this is where Diss comes into its own, the mix of the population, circa 9000 all goes through the town square at some time during the day or so it seems. Also sitting for a long period watching throws up certain demographics. Like most places these days single mums seem to be on the rise. The slightly bohemian element is still there in abundance, you know what I mean older men with pony tails and colourful jumpers. I saw Bob Flowerdew last year who fits that description to a tee plus he looked organic ?, Still don’t believe that is his birth name.

Lots of puffa jacketed matronly types, and two special classes that only Diss can supply in football fan quantities. The mobility scooter reigns supreme in this town only the rising population of perambulators can compete with them for pavement space. The pedestrianised main shopping street is a cross between a drag race for these silent marauders and an obstacle course with the pedestrian being the obstacle. Never stand still.

Flocks of them on occasion come swooping down the slight incline that leads from the market square into the main shopping street. They often congregate around the open area that leads to the Mere a sort of mobility scooter rallying center similar to the flocks of crows so prevalent in this area. They are especially active crossing the main road and then holding up the traffic by traversing the entrance road to Morrisons on the Zebra crossing. I’m pretty sure that some of them spend all day just crossing and recrossing with ever increasing frequency just to prove they can.

There is a central reservation on that crossing and I swear having got to the center certain scooter drivers wait for another car to appear before edging out and stopping the car. They then slowly cross waving their walking sticks or crutches or both, look no hands, in appreciation of having held up another car or by the time they have crossed a convoy. And in the mobility scooter parking area next to the store entrance where they can transfer seamlessly from their own scooters to those provided for shopping ! can be seen state of the art scooters with personal number plates. Some even have tassles on the handlebars like kids bikes ! FU2 has nothing on this lot.

The number of outlets in and around Diss selling mobility scooters reinforces my belief that Diss is the UK capital for this form of transport. My optician when I raised the subject disagreed and with a meaningful sigh he said Clacton was far worse after his observations on a visit there a short time ago. difficult to believe after today's showing but he knows better having been to Clacton and I take his word for it.

The other delight is one I have boggled at before. The optician is also opposite car parking that is sideways on to the road. There are only just over six spaces but they are directly in front of the shop so great delight can be taken in the utter failure of people to be able to park there without either having umpteen goes and thereby holding up everyone from both directions, or having to have the partner wave arms about as directions usually to no avail as the driver on most occasions from what I observed makes such a hash of it that they have to start again.

This went on for the duration of my wait with the pièce de résistance being a mother with a people carrier having the luxury of two empty bays to park in still taking in the region of seven to eight goes and making such a hash of it that she ended up with about six inches to spare on her side and couldn't get out. She then decided to exit on the passenger side and having achieved that realised her child in its carry cot was also on the wrong side and could not be retrieved, so she got in and started all again, I then got the call for my eye test so have no idea if she made it or drove off and found somewhere else to park that was less challenging. All this of course is NFN.

When I mentioned all this to the wife on our return trip, a return trip that showed large placards still in place stating LEAVE that might have a different connotation after all this time, she gave me that strange look one begins to appreciate as an indication you are not quite the ticket, and said ‘you are drawn to Diss for some reason aren’t you? You are becoming one of them.’ Quite what she was implying I am still not sure but I have a pretty good idea. Royston Vasey anyone !

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

...and a portion of fake news please

Fake news has been with us forever. Exaggeration, omission, bias, trivia, and even outright lies as long as they are easily digested and show media stakeholders in a good light or outsiders in a bad one. Celebrity gossip is another notorious example of fake news, but the interesting question is who generates the demand for it?

To my mind fake news is in part a chicken and egg situation, it emerges from the limitations of the reader and consequent limitations of the media which have to supply what people are prepared to read or click. The media have to satisfy other pressures but ultimately they have to keep readers on board because without them they are nothing. As the Guardian is discovering. Even bloggers need readers. A few at any rate.

There seems to be a common assumption that the media manipulate their punters but punters also manipulate the media. We get fake news because we are satisfied with fake news and the internet is becoming particularly attuned to those satisfactions. Most punters do not want the intellectual grind of investigation, research, fact-checking or analysis. In general they are happy with fake news.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Corbyn’s halo

An interesting aspect of Jeremy Corbyn’s ludicrously inept leadership of the Labour party is the halo effect. One could reasonably suggest that his leadership abilities are so glaringly deficient that the only honourable thing left for him to do now is resign, but he won’t. 

As things stand the Labour party seems likely to lose the 2020 general election by a wide margin even though the government has many exploitable difficulties. Brexit is currently top of that list, but as things stand a need to build good relationships with Donald Trump is likely to present opposition parties with lasting opportunities too.

Labour’s missed political opportunities do not matter to those who do not support the party, but we all need a capable opposition for the usual Parliamentary reasons. Not that one should elevate Parliamentary standards beyond their usual forlorn level, but we do need to keep hold of a few shreds of political dignity if we possibly can. Thanks to Corbyn’s inept performance we don’t have even that and are unlikely to see it until he goes, if then.

The damage Jeremy Corbyn is doing to his own party and to Parliamentary dignity is too obvious to need much analysis, but he clearly doesn’t see it like that so one may as well go further and say the guy is either remarkably stupid or remarkably malevolent.

Yet to my mind it isn’t particularly easy to see the man as stupid or malevolent. The interesting question is why not? His behaviour makes it clear enough that he is one or the other and quite possibly both. Behaviour is evidence and in this case, good evidence.

Unfortunately Corbyn seems to derive considerable benefit from the halo effect. With his beard, earnest manner, purported principles, and vaguely untidy appearance he looks and sounds like a college lecturer or an expert on rare books or an atheist clergyman. All stereotypes of course, but stereotypes are difficult or impossible to switch off however misleading they may be.

Jeremy Corbyn has a halo, somewhat tarnished now but still not easy to tune out. In my case, the non-attached part of my mind knows the man is a shit, but I cannot quite switch off his halo and see him that way.