Wednesday 29 February 2012

Zombies go global

From Wikipedia
Also posted at OoL.

Climate science designed to foster the UN equality agenda has often been described as zombie science. It may be as dead as a dodo but it won’t lie down.

Of course the reason the apocalyptic CO2 corpse won’t lie down is because it is still propped up by UN treaties plus EU and national laws and policies. So it won’t expire properly while there is still enough funding for it to lurch around spewing putrid nonsense.

The same applies to the IPCC which is busy casting the runes for another report (AR5) on the state of our climate with the same policy agenda as the four previous reports. What will it say? Hardly anyone seems to care. The number of people who know it to be an international fraud grows year by year, yet still it blunders on trying to scare the pants off the gullible and their children.

But the problem of zombie bureaucracy is wider than the IPCC and its brain-dead antics. Too many bureaucracies relapse into a zombie state decades before they are closed down. If indeed they are ever closed down. They survive as the undead by promoting their own funding rather than doing something useful.

The UK is infested with zombies, the BBC, NHS and state education to name only three. Reorganization isn’t the answer because we end up with the same people pursuing the same zombie agenda.

In many ways this is what free enterprise is all about. It’s about maintaining a certain dynamism where the zombies are actually laid to rest. Free enterprise has its problems, but the dead hand of zombie bureaucracy poses greater dangers.

Because the zombies have gone global.

Looping back to the IPCC and behind that the UNFCCC, we have two major zombies in dire need of cremation. They are costing the global economy hundreds of billions in absurdly misdirected energy and environmental policies, yet we have no means of killing them off. Poking holes in the science has become too easy and in many ways misses the point because the science is zombie science propped up with funding. The undead don’t generally respond to even the most telling criticism.

What to do? The only option I see is to draw back from our hopelessly naive foray into too many binding international treaties, particularly with the EU and UN. To have any chance of achieving that, we have to vote more radically. The three main UK political parties joined the legions of the undead years ago and it’s time to wake up and smell the stench.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Speedy Gonzales in La La Land

From Wikipedia

As most folk probably know, Speedy Gonzales is a cartoon Mexican mouse dating back to the nineteen fifties. Speedy is the fastest mouse in Mexico and our grandson loves his cartoon capers which are available on Warner DVD for him to enjoy. But there's an issue with Speedy which Wikipedia puts like this:-

In 1999, the Cartoon Network ceased to air Speedy Gonzales. In an interview with Fox News on March 28, 2002, Cartoon Network spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg commented, "It hasn't been on the air for years because of its ethnic stereotypes." This is widely believed to refer to Speedy's fellow mice, who are all shown as being very slow and lazy, and sometimes even appear intoxicated.

Intoxicated? Well the Waybuloo characters are off their heads as far as I can see. Actually the mice in Speedy Gonzales are also depicted as easy-going, poor and downtrodden by petty tyrants in the form of fat cats. The world of Waybuloo by contrast, is a tyrant-free zone of politically correct imbecility. No surprises there then.

The Speedy cartoons are simple but typical hero stories, which as a type of fiction dates back at least as far as Homer. But as part of the DVD intro, Warner has this notice:-

The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the WB view of society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as to claim these prejudices never existed.

Yet the DVD is classified U, which according to the British Board of Film Censors includes this requirement:-

No discriminatory language or behaviour unless clearly disapproved of.

So Warner's notice is a way of complying with UK film censorship provisions. Such are the ways of human silliness I suppose.

Monday 27 February 2012

Windows 8 to be more caring

Sunday walk

We went for a superb walk yesterday. About twelve miles, so just right for a fine day. We set out from Hathersage in Derbyshire

...and from there climbed up to Stannage Edge under a blue sky

...then past the Redmires Reservoirs where the water level seemed low to me.

Then it was moorland walking past the Ox Stones

...on Burbage Moor and back down into Hathersage to the evocative call of curlews. I have to admit that when absorbing some truly beautiful views, there were times when I wondered why I choose to spend precious time in front of a computer screen.


Sunday 26 February 2012

It doesn’t even have to be true

Most of us are aware of the power of narrative, particularly in politics. Narratives compete mainly within mainstream media and the winner is hard to dislodge because it defines where the debate starts and the issues round which it revolves. But most of us also know the dominant narrative doesn’t have to be true.

It just has to dominate.

There are areas of life where narratives compete and truth has to sit on the sidelines as a lowly spectator. Anyone who joins a mainstream political party for example, must commit to a series of narratives some of which they may know to be untrue, or more likely, meaningless. It goes with the territory, with the fact of commitment to the mainstream narrative game.

Yet joining political parties is very much a minority interest. People vary a great deal in their attachment to narratives. Those of us who want a society based on principled liberty find it difficult to compete with the emotional claims, exaggerations, lies and distortions, the simple crowding out of principles by dominant, paid-for narratives.

Because dominant narratives are usually bought - it’s how politics works and power is maintained in spite of blatantly obvious failures. Failure often does no lasting damage to dominant narratives. They are merely adjusted, rephrased or even simply repeated more often until the failure lies safely behind us.

Principles are a positive hindrance because they clarify the debate and open the door to moral rather than political imperatives. Power must have its dominant narratives and the more authoritarian the society, the more dominant its narratives must be. Dominant but not necessarily true, because even nonsense will do.

The concept of harm.

Environmental narratives paid for by big government and pseudo-charities are designed to skew a whole range of debates in favour of more and ever bigger government. Environmental narratives are popular with big government because of their emotional appeal and flexibility with respect to policy.

Environmental narratives have also been used as a covert way to introduce new and previously unfamiliar ideas. These are disguised as principles using the ancient concept of harm. Many people have been induced to extend the concept of harm to the natural world, obscuring the fundamental difference between harm to humans and harm to non-humans.

So we end up with familiar notions of harm applied to the natural world and mingled with exaggerations and lies which are difficult for the unreflective to resist. Environmental narratives based on distorted notions of harm are easy for children to grasp too, because many are inherently childish, their appeal stemming from a naive view of the natural world.


Economic narratives are more complex and seem to be deliberately confusing. Narratives constructed to hide responsibility and waste, deliberately mingling cause and effect. One might almost suspect economic theory of being disjointed by design - as a way of introducing plausible nonsense into official policies, both overt and covert. Because in the end, it is difficult to see how big government would gain any advantaged from economic clarity - so we don’t get it.


Paid-for narratives exert a powerful influence over our lives, many people believing them to be true, or at least acceptable by virtue of their consensual status. We all know how difficult it is to persuade somebody that they are mistaken, to persuade them that it may be better to believe nothing rather than the official narrative.

It remains to be seen whether blogging will damage mainstream narratives or whether money and power will in the end prevail. Climate change is a good example of an obviously false mainstream narrative damaged by persistent blogging. The damage seems to be irreversible, the lies and distortions impossible to maintain, yet we still have climate change laws and policies in place and the BBC has yet to tell the truth about climate.

So tell it as it is and never give in. It’s the only way.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Airborne wind power

A new type of wind-powered generator for aircraft has been developed by boffins attached to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. As the aircraft moves through the air, these wing-mounted turbines will generate enough electricity to power the aircraft's main kettle. Free hot drinks all round. 

Another first for the government's green technology policies!

False memories

Elizabeth Loftus
The work of American psychologist professor Elizabeth Loftus has been controversial but enlightening. Her work on the misinformation effect and false memories is what she is famous for, particularly her uncovering of false memories of child-abuse implanted by so-called therapists.

This has been an extremely controversial area as anyone may soon discover by following the above links, yet her work fits very well with Skinner's behavioural psychology. Our memories are fragile as Sam Vega observed in a comment on an earlier post.

Maybe we see a car pass by while walking down the street, a trivial event we may soon forget, but if it is suggested to us that the car was blue, then we are likely to remember it as blue, even if it was actually white. Of course this is less likely if there was some reason to take note of the car, such as it being unusual in some way.

Memories are not fixed records, but aspects of an overall picture which will be modified as we adjust the new circumstances. It may well be that memories are supposed to be mutable, their mutability being a key element of social cohesion. In part, it's how we reach agreement.

One of Elizabeth Loftus' most famous cases was that of George Franklin who in 1990 was suddenly accused by his daughter Eileen of raping and murdering her best friend twenty years earlier. Loftus was brought by the defence to testify on Franklin's behalf, specifically on the unreliability of so-called repressed memories reported by his daughter.

However, the jury didn't accept Franklin's defence and he was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Fortunately for Franklin the verdict was overturned on appeal.

The booklet experiment.
This experience led Loftus to design experiments where she would implant false memories under controlled conditions. She recruited twenty four subjects and with the help of each subject's family members designed a small journal with four written accounts of past incidents in family life, one of which was false.

The subjects were then given their own family journal and asked to elaborate on the four incidents from their own memories. If they had no memory of the incident, they were instructed to write I don't remember this.

What Loftus found was that the false incidents were "remembered" with remarkable clarity and in great detail, subjects going on to elaborate them far beyond what was written in the jounal. One subject (shown in the above clip) "remembered" being lost in a shopping mall as a small child and wrote out details such as how scared he was and how an old man with glasses had come up to him in the mall.

But none of this ever happened. It was implanted via the journal and the three family incidents which were true. They authenticated the false incident and a repertoire of other memories supplied the detail.

Friday 24 February 2012

Prison work

A quote from William Thackeray’s novel Men’s Wives published in 1852. At the time, Thackeray was almost as highly regarded as Dickens, but Dickens could never have written this, or ever made such a comparison :-

Mr Dickens, in his Americal book, tells of the prisoners at the silent prison, how they had ornamented their rooms, some of them with a frightful prettiness and elaboration. Women’s fancy-work is of this sort often – only prison work, done because there was no other exercising-ground for their poor little thoughts and fingers; and hence these wonderful pincushions are executed, these counterpanes woven, these sonatas learned.

Why Ed?

Why did the Labour party elect Ed Miliband as leader? Did he sneak up on one of their many blind sides? He doesn't look impressive or sound impressive, so surely that counts for something. 

Well maybe not - evidence is evidence - so it didn't count.

Does that imply political parties are now too small to throw up [sic] worthwhile leaders, let alone a worthwhile government? The BBC published these figures here last August. 

2011 party membership
Conservative 177,000 
Labour          190,000
Lib Dem          66,000

I make that 433,000 overall, or about 2.2% of an adult population of 20 million between the ages of 30 and 59. I'm assuming candidates to be unlikely outside this age range, because those over 59 usually don't give a toss anyway.

So Ed was selected from about 1% of the 20 million, Dave from about 0.9% and Nick from about 0.33%.  

The numbers say it's a clique and if the clique becomes state-funded we'll end up with many more like Ed, Dave and Nick - but worse. 

So that's good news isn't it?

Thursday 23 February 2012

Dumping opinions

No – not opinions about dumping. We all have opinions – at least in my opinion – but how useful are they?

I’ve just been trawling through some comments on an Independent piece about Jeremy Clarkson. Apparently he made some comment comparing the size of a new Japanese car with people who have growths on their face.

Something like that anyway. The comments were more interesting than the original article, which in my limited experience of the Independent is no surprise at all. Most seemed to hate Clarkson for some reason. Presumably they watch his shows for long enough to find that out, so one could ask why they even bother, but maybe they need to be offended.

My interest was centred on opinions, because most comments expressed what we usually call opinions and the holders of said opinions were sufficiently outraged to type them into the comments box. Normally I'd treat this to a mental shrug and move on, but one of my recurring opinions is that in the end, opinions do us no good.

My ideal would be to have no opinions at all – apart from that one of course. It avoids being wrong and in my opinion (oops that’s another) being wrong is to be avoided, even at the expense of withholding judgement, so missing out on the chance of being right.

Clarkson does what he does and his BBC show is pretty infantile - but so what? He didn't go to war, lose billions or chuck away a democracy.

They grow - we shrink

As I’ve posted before, many aspects of life are a matter of scale. We live our lives and do what we do while the world around is just keeps on getting bigger. By that I mean big government and big business just keep on growing. As they get bigger, in relative terms we get smaller and therefore less important to them.

It’s been going on for centuries of course, but does it matter? Well maybe it does matter if we little folk are the cogs in the machine. Maybe there is a limit beyond which big business and big government cannot go without losing contact with the cogs. Unfortunately we never seem to find out that contact has been lost until it actually has been lost.

Because how else would we know?

The scale-insensitive elite don’t hold with such ideas of course. They have their endless stream of laws and regulations, their micro-management with which they think cogs can be kept whirring. But maybe it isn’t so.

If there is an optimum limit to the scale of human organisations, then it may of course be influenced by technology, particularly communication. The Romans held together an empire, not just by the sword, but with good roads, bureaucracy and an inclusive policy with respect to non-Roman citizens. Even so Rome eventually fell.

I know the problem of scale is a vague and rather nebulous idea, but there may be merit in it. Scale may well be important in the sense that organisations of whatever type can grow too big, too difficult to manage. In the public sector it is certainly true. The UK National Health Service has probably been too big to manage for decades. Its perennial problems may be that simple.

I suspect the EU is too big too. In which case, current instabilities will not be resolved by greater central control of economic policy. Matters may be patched up by central control, but political instabilities will soon take over from the economic issues. The cracks and fissures don’t seem ready to heal themselves and why should they?

It may be a case of forget peak oil – that’s not the worst of our worries. Peak scale could be worse. Globalization could be a step too far.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Arctic sea ice

Arctic sea ice extent is currently just above the 2006-2007 average according to NSIDC. In other words it has not changed over the past five years. 

If humans are not rational

Waterfall - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Suppose humans are not always rational. It isn’t a wildly improbable assumption is it? We just have to look around the world, consider the things that happen which rational beings wouldn’t get involved with. I’ll not labour the point because only an irrational person would disagree.

So what are the consequences? Well of course, as we all know, it depends how rational or irrational people are, but there’s no measure of irrationality, so we can’t say exactly.

We only identify irrational behaviour when we come across it, either in real life or in fiction. But if you come across it in real life and tell an irrational person they are behaving irrationally, they don’t understand why. 

Because if they understood you they’d be rational.

The same logic applies to a society as to the individual. An irrational society can’t tell it is has become irrational and can’t be told why or do anything about it. This is a simplification of course, but enough I think to establish a point of exploration.

So in a social sense, irrationality could become something like an epidemic. It could become contagious because human behaviour is largely imitative. Of course one could say the same thing about rationality, but not quite. 

There is a difference.

One aspect of rational behaviour is where we identify irrational behaviour and avoid imitating it. There is no corresponding avoidance mechanism for irrational behaviour.

Oh dear...

Tuesday 21 February 2012

A rambling old mansion

This guest post is from a superb comment by rogerh in response to Knowing and thinking. Concerning our political elites...

Ignore them, prattling about them only tickles their egos. Get on with something interesting, translating from a dead language, or growing cauliflowers - anything.

As I see it the public inhabit a rambling old mansion (Britain) and at some time hired staff to answer the door and clean the windows. The blighters found the keys to the cellar and the deed box and now charge us rent to live in the stables.

As I said translation or cauliflowers - it's the only antidote.

Blog comments

If you leave comments on Blogger blogs like this one, you'll know that word verification has changed to the above pain in the arse format. One option is to use OpenID and get rid of word verification, but for that you need an OpenID. Let me know if this would be a problem. 

Knowing and thinking

There seems to be a difference between knowing stuff and thinking it through so it sort of hangs together.

An example of what I mean is how we know our political elites are no good. We know they tend to be vain, greedy arrogant liars – sometimes all of those things in one person. Sifting through this knowledge, trying to stitch it together with theory or reason, or trying to elevate what we know to the more exalted status of what we’ve deduced - well I’m not entirely convinced there is a point to it.

We know those ghastly toads and we know their ways. For all I know, everybody knows what they are apart from the weird ones who join their parties. Maybe even they know.

Yet these elite bunglers are the main reason we don’t really make a good job of the simple business of living. They stick their silly fingers in, taking while pretending to give - prattling at us rather than learning from us. Learning not to prattle would be a start - but no, we'll not get that any time soon.

So we end up with a society which is okay if you don’t look too hard or insist on some principles from on high. We end up with comfort instead of principle, plus killing, destroying, pointless games, paperwork or whatever ghastliness slips in and out of fashion.

Live and let live we don’t do so well.

Monday 20 February 2012

New book of short stories

My new book of short stories has just been published on Amazon Kindle.

BBC skews booze news

State TV has a programme on alcoholism tonight. It's another of their low-brow Panorama offerings, no doubt entirely unconnected with Cameron's recent attack of the vapours on alcohol consumption. Almost exactly a year ago, State TV told us alcohol consumption is falling.  

A maladaptive species?

To date, species evolution and social and economic progress have been all about consequences. If any organism from a bacterium to an elephant is either unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or makes a serious mistake, then there are consequences.

So the bunglers have to learn life’s lessons or run the risk of their genes not being at the top of the list for the next generation. It’s how all species lose bunglers. In human terms, serial bungling isn’t supposed to drag everyone else down – just bungler and co.

Or something like that. The details vary, but it’s mainly the fact of there being consequences that matters. We need to make mistakes to recognise them as mistakes and learn lessons. Pretending mistakes are not real mistakes though – that’s a really big mistake. It screws the anti-bungler mechanism – the one thing we are really not supposed to screw up.

Because unfortunately, in our pursuit of fairness, equality, a just society or whatever other euphemism we use to flatter our imbecility, consequences have to work themselves out. A bungler’s actions, and for that matter inactions, must have consequences appropriate to said bungle. Otherwise there is a rather massive risk weaving its way into our future – the risk that we’ll turn human progress around.

In other words, there is a real danger of making ourselves into a maladaptive species. It’s not so much a genetic hazard, as a social and cultural one. Civilisations decline because they become maladaptive. They forget how they arose and what their strengths were, how they learned from mistakes. As a direct consequence they lose internal support and become vulnerable because they have forgotten the blood sweat and tears, the trial and errors and the consequences of those errors.

Today, particularly in the developed world, the less reflective among us seem to think we can devise a way of living without serious consequences.

It isn’t going to happen.

There will be consequences; we just don’t know what they are yet. The more we try to design them out for bunglers, the bigger they will eventually be for all of us.

How big? I don’t know – obviously. But we may well collapse socially, culturally and economically into some other social, cultural and economic state. History suggests it won’t be comfortable.

Has it begun? Well has it?

Sunday 19 February 2012

Kulula Airline

From Paul R via email

Antarctic Sea Ice

Antarctic sea ice extent is currently significantly greater than the 1979-2000 average according to NSIDC

Monthly horoscope - Pisces

Pisces (February 19 - March 20)

Magical birthstone - Coffinite.
Lucky phrase         - Don't answer it.
Lucky dictionary    - Oxfod English.

Pisceans have a hard-headed, no nonsense approach to almost everything but real life. This can be a disadvantage, but the Piscean's natural charm and unfailing good nature usually make up for it. I'm thinking of last year of course, when too many Pisceans simply would not heed my warnings about mauve wallpaper. Still, enough of that because it's the future we are all interested in now. At least I hope so.

Now then - to more serious matters. What are we going to do about the Olympics? Because the stars insist you haven't a prayer in the long jump and as for synchronised swimming - well we'd better not go there - which of course you won't. Not with that attitude anyway. Is a gold medal in synchronised swimming a laughing matter though? I don't think so.

Neptune cavorting around the fifth quadrant suggests there may be some good news due on the origami front. In fact craft work generally looks favourable - anything creative on wood, nice fabrics or even ice-cream strangely enough. The only thing the stars advise you to avoid here are big ideas, especially relating to industrial quantities of Play-Doh.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Brings back memories

The STAG report

The Safer Toast Advisory Group (STAG) has produced its preliminary report on the hazards of domestic toast production. The report will eventually be incorporated into the forthcoming EU Advisory on the safety of domestic food preparation.

Dr Jez Anstruther, STAG chief scientific adviser takes up the story:-

People generally tend to underestimate the risks of domestic toasting activities. Apart from the main climate change gas CO2, we have found a whole range of chemical compounds, smokes and other particulates are released into the domestic atmosphere even when something as simple as toast is being produced.

When asked to elaborate, Dr Anstruther continued:-

Within the toasting cavity of your typical domestic toaster, the starches in bread break down under intense thermal stresses, sometimes with surprising, even catastrophic results. A range of possibly  toxic or potentially carcinogenic compounds are released into the domestic atmosphere where of course they may easily be inhaled by young children. Really, it's no better than passive smoking, so we definitely see old-fashioned toasting as a serious potential danger.

We are working closely with toaster manufacturers to design an EU-approved range of toasters which will produce a new kind of toast resembling lightly heated bread, whatever the toaster setting. It's actually much nicer that old-fashioned crusty toast which sprays crumbs all over the place. I see this as a real step forward. Approved design is the STAG approach, because in the end that's what works. After all, we have no wish to ban toast or anything draconian like that.

Friday 17 February 2012

People with soft hands

Our burden is the silly people with soft hands - impractical hands they wave about as if to weave dishonesty into the very air we breathe. They lack practical experience, judgement and even the ability to speak with conviction or passion, simply because of their limitations which in the end are down to the limited compass of their lives.

Yet they succeed in a personal sense, destined as they are to live in comfort among those of their own kind. Once they are found wanting or the political fun has faded, there will be lucrative offers to smooth the way to an easy, soft-handed life. Abetting these comforts will be the pleasant fantasy of achievement, even if all they ever did was use their feet to good effect, treading perhaps on more able people in their mad scramble to the top.

The delusions of the soft-handed loons are not easily tackled, simply because those that might do the tackling are too often disinclined to enter the fray, to be lied about and belittled whenever they disturb powerful interests. And really our problems stem from the way our soft-handed leaders are bought up wholesale by those same interests because that's where the power of money comes from, where illusions are fabricated, narratives are spun and deals done.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Bird cake for Chris

A tasty reminder of all those windmills with their speeding* blades.


Kindle self-publishing

It has suddenly occurred to me to do a post on Kindle self-publishing. After all, I initially set up this blog with the intention of promoting my Kindle books, because that is what those who know advise. Unfortunately, the blogging elbowed out the writing. Ah well, I suppose blogging is a form of writing and I certainly enjoy it. For one thing, it's much less lonely than novel writing.

So first some history. A year ago, I had two completed novels which I was touting round literary agents and publishers. I had some very encouraging comments sent back too, but for me the problem was time. These people, at least in my experience, take ages to reply to a submission and usually it’s just a standard rejection slip. Even the comments are extremely brief.

For a while I’d been interested in self-publishing as a way round this problem, but then I bought a Kindle, liked it and stumbled across Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So I tried publishing the Amazon way and find it suits me and what I do very well. The reasons I went down the KDP route were:

  • I already had a Kindle and liked it very much.
  • KDP is free.
  • And it’s easy.
The strongest reason though was that it allowed me to move on. I needed to write something else, but I have this strong tendency to fiddle around endlessly with what I’ve already written even if I know I've given it my best shot. So I gave the Kindle route a try.

If you fancy self-publishing in this way, then you need an Amazon account and a reading device with a Kindle app – it doesn’t have to be the Kindle itself. Your book needs to be some suitable format such as MS Word and you need a cover picture. You don’t need an ISBN, although if you have one you can add it. Drop me an email if you want the benefit of my limited experience.

The other thing I’ve recently discovered is - if your book is free you get lots more downloads. Hmm.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Life after death

Life, Death and Time
by Philippe de Champaigne (17th century)
From Wikipedia
Do you expect to continue in some way after death? I'm not asking how that might come about, the question is - do you expect something else to occur to what you think of as "me" after breathing your last?

I expect total personal extinction, which of course is not an expectation at all because it is akin to expecting nothing – just total cessation of me. Like a kind of dreamless sleep, but rather deeper than usual I suppose.

I find this view comforting because extinct is how I prefer to think of loved ones who are now dead. I would not like this clean and unambiguous state of total extinction to be muddied with other possibilities. I certainly prefer it to a kind of transmutation into another state where we are ourselves but at the same time are obviously no such thing.

In the end, I suppose these are personal matters, because inevitably we apply them to those we once knew and loved - at least I do. Matters sometimes worth articulating perhaps, but not often and not stridently, because they tend to be fixed points in our lives. It really isn’t worth disturbing these fixed points for the sake of controversy, even if disturbance of something so personal was at all likely.

After all, there are more than enough concerns on this side of the grave for us to worry about what may lie beyond. Extinction suits me - but perhaps not yet.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Free Kindle books

From today and for the next five days, my Kindle books The Pillbox and Green Bread can be downloaded free. It's not a big deal because I've kept the price low anyway, so there isn't a huge saving, but it's an Amazon game so I may as well play. Click here for my books blog.
Crikey - I've just checked and I've "sold" over 150 copies since this morning. That's more than usual by the way - near enough 150 more.

Inside our heads

From Wikipedia

From the National Science Foundation we have an interesting abstract of a paper on the neural basis of metaphor published in September last year.

Metaphors are not just ossified expressions in grammar books. Rather, they are living, evolving expressions that pepper our language far more heavily than one might think. Many expressions that we take for granted are actually metaphorical, that is, they represent one concept by referring to another. For instance, the sentence 'He was feeling down' actually involves metaphorical usage of the spatial word 'down.'

The researchers are studying links between areas of the brain that process aspects of the physical world such as colour, texture and spacial location and our use of metaphor. For example, is the same area of our brain activated when we touch something rough and when we use the metaphor rough?

I find this kind of research mildly interesting, but I'm never quite convinced of the practical implications - or applications for that matter. Long-term knowledge-building I suppose we might call it, yet these brain activities always have to be calibrated against what we already know.

We already know there is a physical basis for many of our metaphors and the additional knowledge that we may link this to specific forms of brain activity may add something extra, but I'm not sure how much, or how important it may turn out to be. 

I suppose what bothers me is that findings such as this will eventually be turned around and some scientists and their backers will lay claim to arcane knowledge about what is really going on in our heads. We of course will already know what is going on, but if history is any guide, somebody in a white coat will one day claim to know more.

In a sense, this is the assumption behind psychotherapy - that the therapist understands you better than you understand yourself. It isn't expressed in that way of course, but claimed or implied access to arcane knowledge has been a feature of most human societies, so we shouldn't be surprised when we come across it. So it seems to me that arcane knowledge is exactly what therapists must lay claim to, however covertly they do it.

Maybe it's a problem we ought to sort out before we let people loose on the inside of our heads. Not so much because of what they may find, but what they may claim. 

Monday 13 February 2012

Blogland stroll

When I take the occasional stroll around blogland, looking for sites with something new or different to say, I often stumble across one of the seriously popular ones. No surprise there, in view of the way the internet works.

Anyhow, many of these popular sites have posts which regularly attract comments well into double figures and sometimes hundreds. When I read through the comments though, the quality of the original post is not always maintained. Why is that?

It’s not that the comments are of poor quality, although some are, but it’s more a problem with people missing the point or wandering away from it. I write a very minor blog and get good relevant comments, but many big blogs attract some strange stuff indeed.

It seems to me that blog posts have to be taken as a moment in time, a current standpoints on an issue, range of issues, event or whatever. After all, a blog post is closer to a first draft than a first edition. It is always possible, and I do mean always, to add something worthwhile or advocate some other standpoint and many comments do exactly that - of course they do.

Fine – no problem.

But then the original blog writer or another commenter feels they have to jump in with both feet to refute something they don't like. Then another commenter jumps in – then another. And so on and so on. So we get comments about comments about comments which quickly become quite heated – but why?

Why indeed. To my mind blog posts and comments should be seen as exploratory – nothing more. Offerings if you like but not to be taken too far. That can come later – in another post and with luck we’ll get somewhere.

Even so, I enjoy the blogging game, particularly the comments and disagreements. It all tells you something if you stand back and allow it to without feeling that corrosive need to take your own views too seriously.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Global warming in Switzerland  has a great story on Pascal Prokop of Switzerland. Pascal has ingeniously tackled the current episode of severe global warming by installing a wood-burning stove in his car.

This is Pascal Prokop. Pascal drives a 1990 Volvo 240 station wagon, which he has, uh, improved, with the addition of a real wood-burning stove. According to the captions on the photos, which are credited to Reuters, Mr. Prokop obtained an operating permit for his stove-car from the Swiss Technical Inspection Authority, making it perfectly legal to operate. We're sure it's perfectly safe. Apart from the fire.

If it doesn't float my boat...

I recently had a brief exchange with regular commenter Sam Vega vaguely connected with Marxism. It left me wondering how long it is since I read much Marx and I soon realised I don't know - decades possibly. A similar example for me is Chomsky who is cited quite regularly across the web. Not surprisingly, Google searches for Marx and Chomsky give millions of results :-

Marx 24,000,000
Chomsky 4,560,000

So both men are important in terms of past and current thinking, yet at different times in my life I have dismissed Marx and Chomsky as not worth the effort - or to be more accurate, not worth much effort. Because if certain ideas don't float my boat, then on the whole I veer away from them after a brief but disappointing dalliance, not wishing to spend more time on them than necessary.

It has to be like that though, doesn't it? We can't make an exhaustive study of ideas we are not really attuned to because there isn't time. The ideas we get on with take long enough. The trouble is, particularly when browsing the web, there are controversies that interest me, but they involve thinkers whose ideas I have already rejected, possibly years ago. So it isn't always easy to join the debate without a certain amount of superficiality creeping in.

In my experience this problem isn't something we usually admit though. We use tactics such as emphasising the stuff with which we are familiar, steering the debate away from shaky ground, skewing the discussion perhaps. Not a huge sin of course, but an issue I think.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

From Paul R by email.

The iron law of chaos

Henry Fuseli's painting of Odysseus
facing the choice between 

Scylla and Charybdis. 
From Wikipedia
If you take a handful of Cornflakes and throw them all over the kitchen floor instead of into your breakfast bowl, then you've made a bit of a mess. It's the kind of thing I do all the time, being a clumsy cove, always thinking of other things rather than the task in hand. Not that I actually eat Cornflakes, even before they've been on the floor.

Anyway, back to messes. We all know there are far more ways for things to end up messy rather than tidy. Tidy is an abnormal situation, as are neat, well-run, reliable and useful. Messy, badly-run, unreliable and useless are easy to achieve. Do nothing or do something badly and there you are. Job done - or rather undone.

In a sense, harmful and damaging situations sit there waiting for us to drift into them, simply because there are more of them. It's a statistical thing and very often the path of least resistance too. Like Scylla and Charybdis, messy, unclear and damaging situations will trap the unwary and if we have the unwary leading us then we really are stuffed aren't we?

The iron law of chaos is just that. Chaos will come knocking if we don't smarten up and run our complex world in a simpler and less furtive way, more transparent way. If we don't give people the liberty to adapt or fail because that is how we learn to steer a course through the vicissitudes of life.

Yet a caring society is the modern trend, caring without a thought that we might be taking away the need to  learn. We have to learn life's lessons, but how are we to do that without trial and error? A grown-up society needs its hard edges where there are knocks and setbacks and even tragedies, but lessons are learned and  digested and genuine progress is the result.

Otherwise the iron law of chaos takes a hand and that's something we really shall find difficult to cope with. In fact we already are.

Friday 10 February 2012

Trotsky on intelligentsia

Leon Trotsky - from Wikipedia

The idealists and their almost deaf and blind disciples, the Russian subjectivists, thought that mind and critical reason moved the world, or in other words that the intelligentsia directed progress. As a matter of fact, all through history mind limps after reality.
Leon Trotsky. Literature and Revolution

Trotsky was only partly right. We rationalise after the fact but theories often come before the facts that eventually support them. Otherwise there would be no progress.

Kant on beauty

Immanuel Kant - from Wikipedia

The beautiful is that which pleases universally without a concept.

If we judge Objects merely according to concepts, then all representation of beauty is lost. Thus there can be no rule according to which any one is forced to recognise anything as beautiful. We cannot press upon others by the aid of reasons or fundamental propositions our judgement that a coat, a house, or a flower is beautiful.
Immanuel Kant - Critique of Judgement

In other words, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There is nothing to be gained by trying to fit beauty into a conceptual framework of its own - it belongs in cultural frameworks.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Pantomime notes

Widow Twankey
Hmm - there seems to be an error in the picture caption. Not a good start is it?
I'll sort it out later.

Tyrannical trifles

Edith Wharton - from Wikipedia
An Edith Wharton quote from The Age of Innocence, her 1921 Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

The young man, as he followed his wife into the hall, was conscious of a curious reversal of mood. There was something about the luxury of the Welland house and the density of the Welland atmosphere, so charged with minute observances and exactions, that always stole into his system like a narcotic. The heavy carpets, the watchful servants, the perpetually reminding tick of disciplined clocks, the perpetually renewed stack of cards and invitations on the hall table, the whole chain of tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next, and each member of the household to all the others, made any less systematised and affluent existence seem unreal and precarious.
Edith Wharton - The Age of Innocence

The novel portrays upper-class New York society in the 1870s. Here, the main character Newland Archer enters the home of his wealthy in-laws. I particularly like this phrase - the whole chain of tyrannical trifles binding one hour to the next. 

Working life can be like that, an endless series of futile exactions, particularly in the public sector.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Eco blog

Here at Haart labs, we've been working hard to make this blog entirely vegetarian, multi-cultural and carbon-neutral with 100% recycling, lots of diversity and no artificial colours. To that end we've moved away from fossil fuels to a caring, sustainable operation based on purely vegetable-derived input - bio-alcohol.

So it's to be alcohol-powered blogging from now on.

A K Haart - Proud to be eco-green.

Situation 3

This is the third and final post about viewing things slightly differently via situations. The first post is here and the second here.

Situations have two aspects, a physical aspect and a logical aspect. When situations change or evolve, new situations may be generated with different physical and logical aspects. In other words, natural laws may evolve and change as the logic of situations evolve and changes. Natural laws applied to complex situations such as social trends, are not so much inexact as variable, possibly even unique.

People are said to be broad-minded, tolerant or sceptical when they understand the complexity and range of linked and embedded situations encountered in real life. People are said to be narrow-minded, intolerant or gullible when they take too few situations into account.

Analysing real life via situations is what we actually do, but our personal situations differ, often markedly, so we are unable to analyse all situations in exactly the same way and equally unable to reach exactly the same conclusions.

Similarly, we are not able to analyse all the situations enfolding another person with precision, simply because we ourselves are enfolded within different situations to which different logic may apply.

Political life is about promoting some situations over others with the aim of causing them to become dominant. As already touched on in the David Cameron example, the issues to be analysed are the comparative stability of social and cultural situations and the resulting trends.

Situations, their stability and their changes are what we experience as evolution, in its broadest sense biological and possibly non-biological.

That’s it. All I wished to do in these three posts is to demonstrate how easy it is to view things from a very slightly different viewpoint – and maybe how necessary. Success or failure is not the point – the point is to explore - and it surely isn’t difficult.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Fish flake fun

From the book Advanced in Food Research by C. O. Chichester:-

Alginates are useful polysaccharides extracted from, among other sources, seaweed. I don't know if this technique is still used, but at one time fish fillets may have looked okay, but were not necessarily what they seemed.

As the book says, the flake-like appearance of whole fish can be simulated using fish mince and alginates. Yet consider the traditional fish and chip shop - those places health fascists want to go out of business. There you see real fish being dipped in batter before frying. What you see is what you get.

Situation 2

This is the second of a series of posts about viewing things slightly differently via situations.  The first was here.

Change and irreversibility
Situations change, depending on their stability and on linked or embedded situations. For all macroscopic situations, change is not exactly reversible. Change has direction and this is what we experience as time, as well as using regular, repeating situations as measures of time.

Situations A, B and C generate situation D.
Situation D decomposes to A1, B1 and C1
Situations A1, B1, and C1 generate situation D1.
Situation D1 decomposes to A2, B2 and C2 – and so on.

So the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts and reductionism may fail as an explanation. A complex situation cannot be identical to the sum of its parts - otherwise the whole would not be a situation at all, because it would not have its own logic. A molecule is not identical to its component atoms - water is not a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.

Situations have boundaries which are commonly inexact because all situations are linked to or embedded in other situations. Artistic productions for example are always embedded in cultural and often financial situations.

We understand situations via our ability to do what if analysis. We imagine possible or even impossible situations and compare them to known situations. It may be that this is a basic feature of social life - both human and animal – comparing situations and communicating those comparisons.

Imaginary stimulus + imaginary response = imaginary situation.

So entertainment is similar to analysis as imaginary situations are involved in both - politics too. 

Science is most successful where situation boundaries are narrow and clearly defined and where other situations offer minimal interference. These situations are contrived by scientists to facilitate their studies.

However, for any scientific work, there are always at least two major situations - scientist and situation being studied. The two cannot always be usefully separated because there is no situation where they are not linked.

Climate science has failed at a scientific level, because there are too many linked physical situations and because of interfering political and funding situations. Currently, it is common for technical scientific situations to be embedded in political, institutional, cultural and funding situations. In fact it is rare for things to be otherwise.

Monday 6 February 2012

Who is she?

A mystery clothing model from the 1930s features in Bakewell Today. I can imagine a short story or even a novel based loosely on a real-life discovery like this.

They may be over 80 years old, but a collection of stylish photographs are causing some intrigue at a famous clothing company in Lea.

Workers at John Smedley Ltd at Lea Mill are researching its archive and have unearthed stills of a beautiful model for which they are appealing to Mercury readers for information.

The professional black and white pictures are thought to have been taken sometime in the 1930s and there are hopes that details of the woman can be pieced together.

Sloe day

A slow day today, so I bottled the sloe gin. Tastes good, but I have to leave it for another six months according to Janet, whose recipe it is. Thanks Janet - looking good so far!

Actually there's some left over so it's sloe gin and dark chocolate this afternoon. Either that or clump through brown slush to the shops.

Decisions, decisions.

Situation 1

This is the first of a series of three posts about viewing things slightly differently. It certainly isn’t original or a new philosophy or anything grandiose, it’s just something I do when trying to untangle complex issues. I thought of calling the series Maverick, because I think we need more genuine mavericks to shake us up, but in the end I left it as it is.

Anyway, here is a simple and perhaps a slightly different way of looking at things. Many people must do this already but maybe call it something else. Make of it what you will.

Situations are basic to what we are as observers. The universe is real enough, but we know it as a super-complex, dynamic froth of linked situations. Our basic interaction with reality is a reaction to a stimulus.

stimulus + response = situation.

Everything from an atom to a galaxy may be seen not just as an object with properties, but also as a situation with properties, always involving the observer in some capacity and to some degree.

Yet situations are only our commonsense way of looking at things, the way we protect ourselves from the elaborate language of academics, which may suit their situation, but not ours. Situations are what matter to us, especially their similarities and differences.

There is a reality out there, but we must observe as a complex of situations. Reality may be divorced from situations, but is often more clearly understood through them.

A government minister is a situation.
His or her ministerial post is another, separate but linked situation.
An atom is a situation – a particular atom is a particular situation.
A galaxy is a situation – a particular galaxy is a particular situation.

There are no isolated situations - situations are always linked to some other situation or embedded within bigger situations. So situations are complex – often far too complex for future situations to be predicted with any accuracy.

A basic property of all situations is their stability. Unstable situations change into other situations, the rate of change being a measure of their stability. Stability may vary between similar situations if they are linked in different ways - the situation of the situation. One situation may prey on another, absorb it, link to it, or destroy it.

Situations link together by overlapping. I call it overlapping as a way to bring out the way linked situations involve themselves with each other, changing their mutual logic. Another kind of overlap is embedding, where a minor situation is entirely contained within a bigger situation. An atom in a molecule for example.

So linking is rather like joined soap bubbles and real life is a super-complex froth of bubbles of varying size and stability.

As quick example of seeing things through situations will do for one post.

Consider the UK Prime Minister. This is a stable, long-term situation with David Cameron MP temporarily linked to it. I find it misleading to view David Cameron as the UK Prime Minister. I prefer to view him as a situation in his own right, temporarily linked to an older and more stable political and cultural situation we call Prime Minister.

As a situation, Prime Minister (PM) has numerous pre-existing linked and embedded situations which do not depend to any great extent on the temporary and comparatively unstable linked situation David Cameron (DC). For example, PM is strongly linked to the large and complex situation we call EU.

DC himself is linked to many situations such as the Conservative Party (CP) and personal relationships which have various degrees of influence on him. The resulting complex of situations depends largely on the logic and relative stabilities of EU, PM, CP and DC as well as many other linked situations.

Because situations PM and EU have evolved into very complex interlinked networks, we cannot expect the temporary situation DC to have a significant effect on them. DC is a temporary situation within PM and EU with little permanent causal relevance to either.