Monday 31 December 2012

New Year resolutions


As 2013 looms into view, now may be a good time for some new blogging ideas. There are lots of possibilities and one that occurs to me immediately is that I have yet to use the words stochastic, nethermost or metempsychosis. Still, that’s an omission I’ve already rectified.

So what else it there to say about words? Obviously blog posts use a lot of them – too many in some cases. How about padding things out with some made up words such as cleggsnout, crumeron or millyband?

New phrases could be useful to. How about Socratic blunder, mist bucket or dream it while you can? For all I know they aren’t even original, but it’s easy enough to think them up. Is it worthwhile though? Does it reformulate the narrative, or is it merely a mist bucket?

Naturally enough, thoughts such as these lead one to fondle the possibility of writing about modern management with all its multifarious possibilities for fun and gambolling in delightful wordy pastures.

I’m rather attracted by the high frivolities of management speak, but would people see through it? Would I betray my lack of genuine expertise by a snigger in the subtext?

Maybe not, because there is surely a high degree of safety to be found with infecund jargon. Anyway, a few imaginative words or phrases judiciously misapplied will surely add some heavyweight lustre to my usual meanderings.

It’s certainly a thought and thoughts are always welcome as I’m sure the Lib Dems are only too well aware as they wonder if Cleggy had any while digesting the sixpence in his Christmas pud.

How about inventing a whole new management theory? It doesn’t matter too much what the theory says about the real world, as long as nobody can pin it down to specifics – as with all high-impact, multi-edged management theories.

Intermarginal Robustness Theory for example – or IRT as we newly minted management experts call it. It may only be an acronym at the moment, but that can easily be changed with a few case studies and a chart with arrows on it.

Of course one has to be wary of adding links to such intangible writings, but for rather obvious reasons there are no links in this post anyway.

Happy New Year.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Way to go

Yesterday I noticed one or two reports on the death of Professor Archie Roy. I'd never heard of him, but for some reason, the reports of his life, brief though they were, made me sit up and take notice.

Professor Archie Roy, the astronomer who dedicated much of his career to investigating the paranormal and life after death, has died aged 88.

The Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow was a a consultant to Nasa as it prepared to send a man to the Moon in the 1960s.

However, he was more famous for his lifelong interest in the paranormal. He founded The Scottish Society for Psychical Research in 1987 and wrote many scientific papers and books on the subject.

So, he was a distinguished astronomer, a novelist and a dedicated researcher into the paranormal.

During his long career at Glasgow, Professor Roy published 20 books, including six novels, as well as scientific papers and scores of articles. In 2004 he was awarded the Myers Memorial Medal for outstanding contributions to psychical research by the Society for Psychical Research.

Not only that, but he was pretty successful at the bookmaker.

In 1964, he placed an £11 bet, at 150-1 against, that the Americans would land on the moon by 1971. When they did, he collected £1200, which at the time was enough to pay half of the cost of a semi-detached house in Kelvindale.

With a TV and radio career to keep him from being idle.

The books, and Roy's appearances on TV and radio, did much to popularise interest in psychical research and phenomena. He worked as a consultant on the 1970s BBC Scotland drama The Omega Factor, about a government body that investigates paranormal powers, and later was the inspiration for the Bill Paterson series Sea of Souls.

Even though I know no more of the good Professor than I've read in these reports and a few other links, I warmed to him immediately. I find it truly heartening to have come across him, if only via the reports of his death.

Yes, I think he was probably wasting his time on paranormal research, but so what? That's not for me to decide, because the whole point of a scientific ethos is that we exclude nothing. Nothing is settled. 

Whatever one thinks of astronomy, the paranormal, novel writing or betting, surely his was a life well lived.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Climate insanity still with us

When writing for people who may not have a scientific background, it isn’t easy to explain quite how grotesque the climate change fraud has turned out to be. A fraud is so gross, so appalling, that I’m sure many don’t really get it.

At ClickGeen, we have a report of a new UK database of sites suited to storing CO2. Carbon Capture and Storage it is called – CCS. It took a few weeks for me to post on this depressing piece of news, because the only word suited to such an enterprise is insane.

Sane people have pointed out over and over again that even if we assume the CO2 theory is valid, the UK cannot possibly make any difference to global temperatures - not even by reducing its 1.75% contribution to zero.

Presumably the idea is to make fossil fuels, particularly gas and even more particularly shale gas as expensive as possible. As far as I can see, there is no other conclusion.

People do not generally embark on a scientific career with the idea of committing fraud, with the intention of making up results or adjusting them to fit theories, with the intention of lying to the public, of trying to undermine or even ruin the career of any scientist who steps out of line.

I suspect that many non-scientists, even now, don’t quite realise how bad things are in climate science – how so many media headlines are simply false – wild exaggerations so far off the mark that they should never have seen the light of day.

I’m not a particularly emotional chap, but having spent nearly forty years as an environmental scientist, there are times when I gaze on the beauties of the natural world and I’m almost moved to despair by the abject wreck that modern environmental science has become.

Because the self-serving lies of politically-inspired climate scientists have infected all areas of environmental science. Everything, every change in the natural world is liable to be tagged with the climate change mantra if that is the way to secure more funding. Swallow the lie and you get the funding - the science simply doesn't come into it.

Of course other areas are grim too. The anti-smoking lies and exaggerations, the anti-alcohol lies and exaggerations, but the massive one for me, the truly tragic one which will affect our well-being for decades to come, is climate.


Yes I think it is. Where it will take us I don’t know, but when our capacity for rational thought breaks down in such a pitifully abject manner, then nightmare seems to be the only possible outcome.

Friday 28 December 2012

Crushed soul


There is an essential indefinite aspect to what we know. We try to draw boundaries, aiming to become familiar with what’s inside, but the boundaries are so often problematic – too definite.

To my mind, it pays to remain at least mildly receptive to some views with which one disagrees. Otherwise those boundaries weave their insidious way around our thoughts, snipping off important caveats, possibilities and the ability to reach a deeper understanding.

Yet modern politics is representational rather than impressionistic. It hasn’t absorbed the lessons of uncertainty, the idea that concepts may only have a partial utility. Bits work, bits don’t and they aren’t always the same bits. That won’t do for politics.

Political exigencies require answers not uncertainties, weaving those fatal boundaries into law and regulation as if wise heads have identified the limits of our ignorance with unfailing perspicuity.

Unfortunately we are also drifting towards a world where personal responsibility is no longer suited to the requirements of our gigantic bureaucracy. Because of course personal responsibility contributes to social flexibility - a constant tweaking of those pesky boundaries.

Unfortunately it isn’t just our UK bureaucracy we have to contend with these days, but transnational bureaucracies such as the EU and UN.

We seem to be drifting towards a situation where the real world of endless ambiguity is nudged aside in favour of global bureaucratic demands which make no concessions to the complexity of particular situations. In the bureaucratic world, there are no particular situations - so no need to judge them.

Naturally it doesn’t work. These overarching delusions never do, but it seems we now have to trudge through them until multiple failures run out of tick-box solutions.

It could take a while and I don’t see it being pretty.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Flash blue

As you watch this nerdy video clip, how does it affect you? I'm sure nobody is strongly affected one way or the other, but do you detect a slight sense of weariness? Not understandable boredom, but a sense that this is one of the more tedious aspects of modern life? Maybe you don't, but that's how it affects me.

Grandson used to be enthralled by the sight of a blue flashing light and the nee-naa, nee-naa of a police or paramedic siren. Although it isn't nee-naa these days is it? He's not nearly so fascinated now though – it’s too common to be worth more than a passing glance.

What is it about the emergency services? Are there so many emergencies? I don’t recall anything like it when I was Grandson's age, when all we heard was a jangling bell on the front of a black Riley or an ambulance. So what has changed, or have I blotted it from my memory?

My thoughts.

I think certain public services are somewhat more self-important than they used to be. Nothing dramatic you understand – they don’t strut around in high leather boots, wearing a monocle and brandishing a swagger stick. Not in public anyway.

Of course there is a certain practical necessity in getting through the traffic quickly when responding to an emergency. There is no point arguing with that, because if I or a loved one was an accident victim, I'd want rocket-propelled attention.

As always in human affairs though, these things have a less worthy aspect, the one we often don’t care to admit.

What are they like, the people behind the wheel, hurtling along well above a speed limit? After all, these limits are supposedly designed for our safety and we are required to observe them under penalty of the law and the unsympathetic eye of the speed camera. Unsympathetic to us that is - not the emergency services. 

Is it indicative of something, this drive to sweep aside other road users in such a lordly way? Is breaking the speed limit a necessity, a high-handed pleasure or a bit of both, depending as usual, on the individual?

Would it make much difference if they stuck to the speed limit in all cases where there is no police pursuit? Does their behaviour indicate an unhealthy, even oafish tinge to what is supposedly a public service? Is it something we'd do well to address before it gets out of hand?

Or is it far, far too late?

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Baby beer

As I remember, it's only a few decades since beers such as Mackeson were said to be a nourishing addition to the diet of young mothers and those recuperating from certain illnesses. 

Even if the physical effect was purely mythical, I suspect it did some good and was surely a less harmful myth than the anti-alcohol propaganda we are expected to swallow today. Next time I'm ill I must remember to try it out of sheer perversity. Although I prefer a pint of bitter.

Print your own books

We recently used Blurb to print a book of short stories dreamed up by Grandson. It works well and if it's the kind of thing you are looking for, then it may be worth a try.

The first thing to do is download the free Blurb software. This allows you to design your book within a range of templates which may be different for each page. The system seems to be aimed mainly at illustrated books, or annotated books of photographs, although it could be used for text only. The software is easy to use and very intuitive.

Once you have your book designed in the software, you upload it and pay for however many copies you decide to order. The price you pay depends on factors such as book size, hard/softback, paper quality, number of pages etc, but it is all transparent.

The main attraction for us was the free software which allows us to get a feel for the final product before we had committed to anything. What was the final book like? Very good indeed - indistinguishable in quality from commercially produced books.

Sunday 23 December 2012

The tapeworm diet

From AlanH. 

Slippery Socrates

From Wikipedia

Aristippus asked Socrates whether he knew anything good, so that if he answered by naming food or drink or money or health or strength or valour or anything of that sort, he might at once show that it was sometimes an evil. 

Socrates, however, knew very well that if anything troubles us what we demand is its cure, and he replied in the most pertinent fashion. ‘Are you asking me,’ he said, ‘if I know anything good for a fever?’ 

‘Oh, no,’ said the other. 

‘Or for sore eyes?’ 

‘Not that, either.’ 

‘Or for hunger?’ 

‘No, not for hunger.’ 

‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘if you ask me whether I know a good that is good for nothing, I neither know it nor want to know it’

Xenophon - Memorabilia. 

Saturday 22 December 2012

Senile agitation

From AlanH

Santayana on aesthetics

Disproportionate interest in the æsthetic. 

The first paragraph is less clear than it could be, but it's plain sailing after that, and well worth it in my view. A powerful contrarian view of the value we place on common experiences.

The fact that value is attributed to absent experience according to the value experience has in representation appears again in one of the most curious anomalies in human life—the exorbitant interest which thought and reflection take in the form of experience and the slight account they make of its intensity or volume. 

Sea-sickness and child-birth when they are over, the pangs of despised love when that love is finally forgotten or requited, the travail of sin when once salvation is assured, all melt away and dissolve like a morning mist leaving a clear sky without a vestige of sorrow. 

So also with merely remembered and not reproducible pleasures; the buoyancy of youth, when absurdity is not yet tedious, the rapture of sport or passion, the immense peace found in a mystical surrender to the universal, all these generous ardours count for nothing when they are once gone. The memory of them cannot cure a fit of the blues nor raise an irritable mortal above some petty act of malice or vengeance, or reconcile him to foul weather. 

An ode of Horace, on the other hand, a scientific monograph, or a well-written page of music is a better antidote to melancholy than thinking on all the happiness which one’s own life or that of the universe may ever have contained. 

Why should overwhelming masses of suffering and joy affect imagination so little while it responds sympathetically to æsthetic and intellectual irritants of very slight intensity, objects that, it must be confessed, are of almost no importance to the welfare of mankind? 

Why should we be so easily awed by artistic genius and exalt men whose works we know only by name, perhaps, and whose influence upon society has been infinitesimal, like a Pindar or a Leonardo, while we regard great merchants and inventors as ignoble creatures in comparison? 

Why should we smile at the inscription in Westminster Abbey which calls the inventor of the spinning-jenny one of the true benefactors of mankind? Is it not probable, on the whole, that he has had a greater and less equivocal influence on human happiness than Shakespeare with all his plays and sonnets? But the cheapness of cotton cloth produces no particularly delightful image in the fancy to be compared with Hamlet or Imogen. 

There is a prodigious selfishness in dreams: they live perfectly deaf and invulnerable amid the cries of the real world.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason

Friday 21 December 2012

Global warming deaths


Russia is enduring its harshest winter in over 70 years, with temperatures plunging as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Dozens of people have already died, and almost 150 have been hospitalized.

The country has not witnessed such a long cold spell since 1938, meteorologists said, with temperatures 10 to 15 degrees lower than the seasonal norm all over Russia.

Across the country, 45 people have died due to the cold, and 266 have been taken to hospitals. In total, 542 people were injured due to the freezing temperatures, RIA Novosti reported.

The Moscow region saw temperatures of -17 to -18 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, and the record cold temperatures are expected to linger for at least three more days. Thermometers in Siberia touched -50 degrees Celsius, which is also abnormal for December.

This voice was made for shouting

The other day I passed a young man shouting loudly into his mobile phone. Nothing unusual about that I suppose, but I couldn’t make out a word he was saying and I could hardly ask him to turn up the volume.

It’s a poor do when one can’t eavesdrop one half of a shouted conversation, but the reason I couldn’t make him out was his appalling diction. The guy could not emit a single sentence of reasonably well articulated words. He slurred everything into an incoherent, staccato mess of exclamations and expletives. I'm not even sure about the expletives - that's how bad it was.

Maybe he only needs his voice for shouting, but I wondered if anybody had ever tried to pass on to him the lifelong value of verbal fluency.

Verbal fluency seems to be one of those social skills taught largely by parents and the general social milieu, yet we don’t seem to place a high value on it. Or at least we do place a high value on it, but we seem to do it in a somewhat covert way. It's rather like not farting in lifts - you work it out for yourself from various social cues.

I don’t recall being taught verbal fluency in school for example. English, yes, but not fluency. It was somehow assumed that one would acquire fluency along with an appreciation of literature and a knowledge of grammar and sentence construction. It wasn't explained quite how important fluency would be - far more important than knowing how to identify an object clause for example.

So nobody ever told me how essential it is to be verbally fluent. I just knew, or worked it out, or maybe my mother told me at some point. It’s possible that she did and I’ve forgotten, because it was one of those things she would certainly have understood herself.

That young man will go nowhere without it. Shouting is only half the battle. Ask Gordon Brown.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Political evolution 2

Roger's angle on the previous post.

A thought-experiment. What kind of ideal leader would be able to make a difference - to magic new industries out of thin air. To identify, throw out and keep out all the vested interests. To turn the most lumpen citizens into models of hard working intelligent knowledge workers pulling in billions in foreign exchange. 

Er that's a no then.

So is business plotting to bleed us all cash-wise, treating us like financial farm animals? Quite possibly. Therein lies the nub, once upon a time politicians and wealth-creators were part of the same class. Globalisation changed that and politicos are stuck running piddling little patches of land and earning chump change for their pains.

The business answer is mergers & acquisitions. The snag is paying off the redundant board of directors, the blighters have delusions of grandeur. 

A secret for you, I have identified an ideal takeover target with a weak board of directors desperate for cash. Needs a good clear-out and the electrics are a bit ropey - know where I mean?  

Obviously the 'redundant board of directors' must be changed or taken over more subtly than in previous primitive eras. Otherwise people might come over all nationalistic

Merry Christmas everyone.

Political evolution

From Mad magazine

Wikipedia shows us that our three main party leaders are somewhat inexperienced, which we already knew because it's a common enough criticism :-

David Cameron. He became Director of Corporate Affairs for Carlton from July 1994 to February 2001, making it his only professional excursion beyond the cosseted world of Westminster - as Wikipedia puts it.

Nick Clegg. Between 1992–1993, he was employed by GJW, which lobbied on behalf of Libya. He was later sent to Hungary, where he wrote articles about the mass privatisation of industries in the former communist bloc. In April 1994, he took up a post at the European Commission.

Ed Miliband. In 1992, after graduating from Oxford, Miliband began his working career in the media as a researcher to Andrew Rawnsley in the Channel 4 show A Week in Politics. In 1993,Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Harriet Harman approached Rawnsley to recruit Miliband as her policy researcher and speechwriter.

So it has come to this. Our three leading UK politicians are rank amateurs, with no background in a technical or scientific profession, almost no experience in business, the armed forces or industry and consequently nothing to recommend them to the intelligent voter.

It's often worth sticking to the simplest explanation in these situations. So Dave, Nick and Ed seem to be grossly over-promoted because they have been grossly over-promoted.

Are they stooges?

Well maybe that's a bit Kafkaesque, although I'm not entirely sure the thought is out of place in these complex times. Sticking with simple explanations probably leaves us with stupidity and cupidity. Even so, it's surely worth repeating the oft-asked question - how did it come to this?

These dopes can't even muster a decent CV between the three of them. Do voters check these things? Do they study the candidates before they lumber into the voting cubicle, grab that pencil so thoughtfully tied to a length of string and make their mark on the ballot paper?

Apparently not.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Santayana on caste

Aristocracy logically involves castes. But such castes as exist in India, and the social classes we find in the western world, are not now based on any profound difference in race, capacity, or inclination. They are based probably on the chances of some early war, reinforced by custom and perpetuated by inheritance. 

A certain circulation, corresponding in part to proved ability or disability, takes place in the body politic, and, since the French Revolution, has taken place increasingly. Some, by energy and perseverance, rise from the bottom; some, by ill fortune or vice, fall from the top. But these readjustments are insignificant in comparison with the social inertia that perpetuates all the classes, and even such shifts as occur at once re-establish artificial conditions for the next generation. 

As a rule, men’s station determines their occupation without their gifts determining their station. Thus stifled ability in the lower orders, and apathy or pampered incapacity in the higher, unite to deprive society of its natural leaders.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason

I particularly like the last paragraph. Amateur posh boys spring immediately to mind. Plus photogenic young ladies parachuted in over more experienced heads. 

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Methadone fix

I went to pick up a prescription at Boots this morning - fairly early. An addict was just knocking back his methadone prescription, his hooded mate looking on, hands in pockets. Both were young white men, in their twenties at most.

The duty pharmacist was a Muslim lady - at least I assume so from her name badge and headscarf.

These little incidents are nothing in themselves, but you can't avoid noticing and filing them away.

Dreams, labels and tragedies

The other night I had a dream about a wardrobe in a junk shop. The front of the wardrobe was heavily carved in a Chinese style which gave it a rather exotic appearance.

However, when my wife and I examined it more closely, it seemed to be made of chipboard. The back was particularly flimsy – almost like paper. It flexed easily when I pressed it with my finger. Also in the shop was a young neighbour who liked the wardrobe too. The junk shop owner hovered in the background as a hazy figure.

So – not a very interesting dream, but where did it come from?

I think it was a mix of recent events triggering generic labels. As I see it, the labels went something like this, although I’m sure there are subtleties and complexities missing from the list :-

Chinese / Exotic / Carved Wood.
Junk Shop.
Young Person.
Dodgy Person (junk shop owner).
Poor Quality / Chipboard / Furniture.

We visit lots of junk shops and one we recently visited had a heavily carved table which we liked - not Chinese though. We like Chinese antiques, although we don’t buy them and I have a thing about chipboard furniture as the epitome of modern crap. Been there, done that, never again. It's a strong aversion.

We also have new neighbours, although I wouldn’t call them young. However, Son and Daughter-in-Law have visited recently with Graddaughter – so that may have blended Young Person into my dream.

To my mind, dreams contain clues about the generic labels we use to make sense of the world with what is often a broad and impressionistic brush. However I suspect we can't really label the labels as I've suggested in my list. They are too fluid and impressionistic, too liable to be moulded by events, too liable to have subtly different versions for different yet similar events.

Imagine though, if our labels go wrong in real life, if the broad brush is too broad or we apply it in an irrational way.

Suppose Dodgy Person is applied to one who is really Trustworthy.

Suppose Adult is applied to one who is really Child?

Suppose Guilty is applied to one who is really Innocent.

Suppose Dodgy Person is falsely applied to Neighbour or Colleague.

It’s not too difficult to see how someone could screw up very badly indeed. It may be odd, weird and rare to screw up to a life-threatening degree, but by no means incomprehensible. I think we see how in our dreams and our imaginings.

Take someone such as Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of that appalling Connecticut shooting of young school children and their teachers.

Many people say the guns did it, but clearly they did not. It was Adam Lanza and now we hear he was assigned a psychologist. What a can of worms that opens up.

Monday 17 December 2012

Microwave or toaster

From PaulR

The Ruum

From Wikipedia
The Ruum is an entertaining short science fiction story written in 1953 by Arthur Porges. Briefly, the Ruum is an indestructable robot left behind on Earth by aliens during the age of the dinosaurs, but never retrieved because the aliens were destroyed in a battle. It job is to collect specimens of living creatures weighing 145 to 175 pounds and keep them in a state of suspended animation. 

Millions of years later, Jim Irwin, a uranium prospector, stumbles across the machine's collection of specimens which includes a stegosaurus, still living but in suspended animation. Irwin is detected by the Ruum and after a long chase during which his attempts to destroy it all fail, it finally catches up with him.

The Ruum picks up Irwin, weighs him, puts him down again and rolls away. We are to assume that during the pursuit, Irwin lost enough weight to fall outside its sample range.

The Ruum is the unstoppable machine where the only escape is to be beyond its parameters.

Moving on to 1992 during the general election battle between Neil Kinnock and John Major, which Major unexpectedly won, I well recall asking myself where Kinnock saw the limits of state control. Why I picked on Kinnock I don't know, some hint of the future maybe, although I'm not pretending to have been at all prescient.

Anyhow, I clearly recall coming to the conclusion that neither Kinnock nor the Labour party would never acknowledge any genuine limits to state control over the individual.

Three years later, Kinnock moved on to become an EU Commissioner - his reward for what I don't know, but by then my suspicions had solidified into certainty. There is no stopping the machine. There is no shortage of Ruums and never will be. 

Of course it isn't just the Labour party. None of the major UK political parties have ever acknowledged any abiding limit to state control over the individual. The Ruums would claim otherwise if asked, but nothing specific would ever materialise. 

So what's the defence against modern Ruums, how do we move beyond their parameters? How do we avoid a permanent state of suspended animation? Well of course, unless we emigrate or become rich or famous we can't, because those are the escape parameters.

  1. Rich.
  2. Famous.
  3. Expat.

So that's simple enough isn't it?  

Sunday 16 December 2012

Christmas greeting

From AlanH

Archbishop on elderly stereotypes

The Archbishop of Canterbury says the elderly are victims of stereotyping – as he himself is stereotyped no doubt.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has appealed for an end to damaging stereotypes of older people, which he says have created a climate in which they suffer abuse.

In his final speech in the House of Lords, Dr Rowan Williams said attitudes of "contempt and exasperation" towards the ageing population were contributing to a range of abuse, from patronising and impatient behaviour to physical mistreatment.

I don't yet class myself as elderly, but presumably I shall reach that stage one day. No doubt I'll have my concerns, but I'm not convinced that being stereotyped will be high on the list.

Health - yes.
General welfare - yes.
The price of potatoes - yes.
Being stereotyped - no.

I find ideas such as the Archbishop's difficult to assess. There is a huge temptation to class them as typical of Guardian-reading pillocks - but that's a stereotype too. For all I know, the Archbishop doesn't even read the Guardian. 

How do you prove or disprove stuff like this? In many ways it simply comes across as a somewhat bald assertion, although I suspect it’s not and no doubt there are surveys and studies behind it. However, modern studies and surveys usually have a promotional angle, so one is reluctant to rely on those which aren’t mostly graphs.

The Archbishop says :-

"We tolerate a very eccentric view of the good life or the ideal life as one that can be lived only for a few years between, say, 18 and 40."


I don’t see things that way. The years between 18 and 40 can be both exhilarating and difficult – it depends. Embarking on careers, relationships and finding a personal philosophy or a house can be a breeze or a nightmare. As with all other periods of life, it varies from individual to individual.

Physically we are at or around our peak between 18 and 40, but at 40 we still have about 25 years or more of working life. This prospect may be wildly exciting or it may not.

In my case, retirement has been good, but comparing it to other periods in my life is comparing apples and pears. Bringing up the children was good too, a real privilege in some ways, although it didn’t always feel like it at the time, because parents worry don’t they? And teenagers give them reasons to worry don't they? But it passes.

So what about the elderly, those the Archbishop thinks are victims of stereotyping? Well we have to define the state of being elderly don’t we? There are some negatives to being elderly, so our language needs general terms if we are to identify these issues.

The elderly people I knew well, such as my parents, have all died, but I don’t see any of them as victims of stereotyping. Old age is certainly problematic for many, but this has become almost inevitable when so many of us live well beyond our physical and mental resources.

That’s not stereotyping – that’s a reality of modern life. Stereotyping may even help deal with it – as best we can which currently isn’t impressive, but that’s surely not down to stereotyping per se. 

Until the serious decline sets in though, life can be good for the junior elderly at least. As I write this, I've just tossed another log on the fire and I have an after dinner coffee which may be followed later by a glass of something warming. As for tomorrow – probably a walk along the Monsal Trail followed by coffee in Bakewell. Next week will be Christmas with the family.

What’s not to like?

Saturday 15 December 2012

Vintage mobile phone

Cameron isn't the spider

I’m sure it is a mistake to see David Cameron as Prime Minister in a traditional sense. His role could usefully be translated as Area Manager (UK).

It is his primary role to oversee a complex and evolving process whereby the UK meets a vast and rapidly evolving network of transnational obligations deriving from treaties, international law and international standards.

It's a continually evolving web where Cameron isn't the spider.

From defence to climate change, from international banking to road signs, from internet standards to human rights and thereby to social norms, there is virtually nothing beyond these obligations for Cameron to pursue. So they are almost all he pursues. Even where there is apparent latitude, such as tax policies, vested interests set the rules.

His role as Area Manager (UK) is virtually his only role, the role he signed up for, the role he probably knew he was signing up for and the role he intends to carry out. His successor will do the same.

Transnational obligations stem primarily from the EU and UN, but there are many others too, such as NATO and the ECHR. It seems to me though, that the crucial point is the rate at which these obligations have grown over a matter of a few decades. Today, they are so complex and numerous, that it is impossible for one individual to understand, or even research them effectively.

A further complexity entangling what used to be the Prime Minister’s role are a huge number of lobbying groups from fake charities to trade bodies with directorships and consultancy sinecures in their back pockets. Their role is both to maintain established narratives and to ensure governments do not go off-message or get carried away by a party manifesto or any other wild promises.

As for the future, it will be more of the same because there are certainly no countervailing trends. On the whole, the obligations Cameron manages directly are few – he has ministers and the civil service for that. In that, he is much the same as other recent Prime Ministers and the next will be much the same as Cameron. Hairstyle may change, but little else.

The issue is so complex and the forces perpetuating it so powerful, that nothing we do as voters makes the slightest difference. Pointing these things out as best we are able may be balm to the soul, but is not an effective call to action as most voters still vote for the current trend by voting for one of the big three parties. As far as I can see, only disaster will trigger genuine change.

By the next UK general election, the UK network of obligations will be even more extensive and even more complex and limiting on the Prime Minister's sphere of action, simply because this is what the EU and UN do – what they have the power and the funds to continue doing.

Friday 14 December 2012

Santayana on character

I'm reading George Santayana's The Life of Reason. For me, this section on character is such a powerful piece of writing that I had to post it in full. I particularly like what he writes about that creep Rousseau. In 1776 James Boswell seduced Rousseau's mistress, Thérèse Le Vasseur while supposedly escorting her from Paris to England. I blame Rousseau's general ghastliness.

"It is a mark of the connoisseur to be able to read character and habit and to divine at a glance all a creature’s potentialities. This sort of penetration characterises the man with an eye for horse-flesh, the dog-fancier, and men and women of the world. 

It guides the born leader in the judgments he instinctively passes on his subordinates and enemies; it distinguishes every good judge of human affairs or of natural phenomena, who is quick to detect small but telling indications of events past or brewing. As the weather-prophet reads the heavens so the man of experience reads other men. 

Nothing concerns him less than their consciousness; he can allow that to run itself off when he is sure of their temper and habits. A great master of affairs is usually unsympathetic. His observation is not in the least dramatic or dreamful, he does not yield himself to animal contagion or re-enact other people’s inward experience. He is too busy for that, and too intent on his own purposes. 

His observation, on the contrary, is straight calculation and inference, and it sometimes reaches truths about people’s character and destiny which they themselves are very far from divining. Such apprehension is masterful and odious to weaklings, who think they know themselves because they indulge in copious soliloquy (which is the discourse of brutes and madmen), but who really know nothing of their own capacity, situation, or fate. 

If Rousseau, for instance, after writing those Confessions in which candour and ignorance of self are equally conspicuous, had heard some intelligent friend, like Hume, draw up in a few words an account of their author’s true and contemptible character, he would have been loud in protestations that no such ignoble characteristics existed in his eloquent consciousness; and they might not have existed there, because his consciousness was a histrionic thing, and as imperfect an expression of his own nature as of man’s. 

When the mind is irrational no practical purpose is served by stopping to understand it, because such a mind is irrelevant to practice, and the principles that guide the man’s practice can be as well understood by eliminating his mind altogether. 

So a wise governor ignores his subjects’ religion or concerns himself only with its economic and temperamental aspects; if the real forces that control life are understood, the symbols that represent those forces in the mind may be disregarded. 

But such a government, like that of the British in India, is more practical than sympathetic. While wise men may endure it for the sake of their material interests, they will never love it for itself. There is nothing sweeter than to be sympathised with, while nothing requires a rarer intellectual heroism than willingness to see one’s equation written out."

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905-6)

Thursday 13 December 2012



Sometimes in moods of gloom-like mist
      Enswathing hill and wood-
A miracle of sunshine breaks
      Into my solitude.

In scattered splendour burns the dew;
      Still as in a dream, the trees
Their vaulted branches echo make
      To the bird's ecstasies.

What secret influence was this
      Made all dark brooding vain?
Has then the mind no inward sun?-
      The mists cloud down again:

Stealthily drape the distant heights,
      Blot out the songless tree:
Into cold silence flit the thoughts
      That sang to me.

Walter de la Mare (1873 - 1956)

Question Time

I recently watched a slice of the BBC programme QuestionTime. I had the TV sound off as usual, because I was checking the teletext weather forecast for good walking weather and don’t like background babble. This time the babble happened to be Question Time.

For some reason I’ve stumbled across a number of Question Time slices in this way. Although I haven’t watched it for years with the sound on, I do quite like to watch bits of it with the sound off.

Body language and facial expressions vary enough to be watchable, especially with the babble screened out by the mute button. Some people make extensive use of hand gestures which do not always look habitual. Maybe TV causes them to be more emphatic than usual – slightly more dramatic and camera-conscious.

From short chopping motions of the hand to shrugs and various expressive waves denoting quite a range of emotions and attitudes – it’s all there in a rather British, understated manner.

Finger-wagging seems to be generally avoided as a no-no everyone has learned – a behavioural cliché nobody wants to be caught out making. Well – not quite nobody. It can be effective if someone knows how to use it without looking foolish. A good actor could use finger-wagging, or a comedian - but most seem to avoid it.

Facial expressions vary a lot and the panel of pundits who sit at the front are often quite accomplished, although behavioural cliché creeps in here too.

The sympathetic nod, the raised eyebrow, the frown and the judiciously pursed lips. Many facial expressions appear contrived to me - suggesting quite strongly that the person isn’t really listening. Maybe that’s deliberate – the behavioural snub we've all seen.

Many Question Time participants don’t seem to find the experience all that enjoyable if their facial expressions are any guide. Strong disagreement can be interesting, because of its similarity to expressions of pain. Facially, some people do behave as if in physical pain when someone says something with which they strongly disagree. As if a tooth is being extracted without enough anaesthetic.

In a sense of course, disagreement is pain. I’m reminded of the ancient Greek pleasure/pain principle used to account for human actions – taken up so effectively by Spinoza.

I’m sure the giving and receiving of social pain accounts for one of the programme’s attractions, although I've watched far too little to be sure. For all I know it's usually a riotous comedy. If I ever watch a whole programme with the sound on, maybe I’ll find out.

No... that’s definitely a step too far.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Piss for brains

Cells found in urine

From DailyTech :-

Researchers have found a new way of producing neurons for those with neurodegenerative conditions: taking cells from our urine.

A team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led by Duanqing Pei, have found a way to extract ordinary cells from human urine and reprogram them into functional neurons that can assist in the study and potential treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Cameron and democracy

One source of indignation about David Cameron’s gay marriage crusade seems to be down to it not being on any political manifesto. It isn’t something any voter signed up for. Not that many of us read manifestos.

Maybe that’s partly because UK democracy is close to becoming a thing of the past. Maybe it’s electorate laziness, yet life goes on for now and the loss of our democracy hasn’t aroused any great political indignation. Why is that? Does it matter?

Well firstly we have to say what democracy is, so to start things off I’ll give the version I use.

Democracy is a market in political ideas/services, where the key point is not what is on sale or who buys what, but the transparency the market provides. Yes I know how imperfect both democracies and markets are in this respect, but that’s what democracy is – a market.

This is why those who are not in favour of free markets are the same people who subvert democracy.

They just don't like markets.

So although democracy doesn’t necessarily deliver good government, it doesn’t matter too much if we have an open political market. Markets correct themselves if buyers and sellers have enough information and if the market isn’t rigged too blatantly.

At a practical level it may even be a good idea to leave government to professionals, but only so long as the professionals operate in a passably transparent political milieu – that political market we call democracy.

Unfortunately the three mainstream UK political parties are rigging the market. They are colluding and failing to offer genuine alternatives. As the gay marriage issue highlights rather well – they don’t even feel the need to tell us what they intend to do while in office.

They are rigging the market in political ideas, but we have no regulator to make them compete, because in a democracy the regulator is supposed to be the electorate.

Ultimately, voters can vote out all the mainstream parties and that possibility could regulate the behaviour of all concerned. However the parties worked out a long time ago that this is an empty threat, so the market in political ideas has ceased to be a market.

You didn’t believe the sales brochure did you? No, I didn't think so.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Cameron and gay marriage

Many of us are baffled as to how gay marriage in church became a mainstream issue for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is after all leader of the Conservative party. This we tend to feel, should ensure he steers clear of matters which do not require government action. Not a fashionable attitude for governments to take these days I admit, but still worth a mention.

So why gay marriage? I’m sure there are three significant strands to the issue, none of them particularly encouraging.

Firstly, Cameron must have been assured that the move is a good one politically, either internally within his party or externally with the electorate. Or both.

Unfortunately he is not one to commit political suicide, so in his view this issue isn’t suicidal. The advice he has undoubtedly been given may even be interesting, but at the moment we don’t know what it is. However risky we might think the issue is, I am sure Cameron and his advisers think otherwise and their thinking may well be based on some kind of research or political soundings.

Or just a light chat over lunch after a pleasant morning's ride over the moors. I'm sure he wouldn't split his party casually, but who knows? One can never be sure how soundly based these things are.

A hoped-for political gain could be a nod and even a frosty smile from the chattering classes, which in Cameron's eyes would surely be enough to offset any possible criticism from the lower decks. Although democracy has been called a tyranny of the majority, the aphorism is more myth than substance. Minorities run democracies.

Secondly – legacy. The gay marriage issue may be one of the few areas left where Cameron feels he can make some impact during his far from sparkling tenure as PM. Maybe his reasoning goes like this.

  • I’ll make no lasting impact because of f***ing Clegg.
  • Gay marriage in churches will one day be commonplace anyway.
  • I’m not actually forcing churches to conduct gay marriage services.
  • I'll be remembered for pushing it through in the UK.

Thirdly - Cameron and his advisers may be fools - hardly an improbable possibility. After all, this guy failed to win a majority when up against the tired and tottering government of Gordon Brown.

We often have to guess at these matter, because honesty is not woven into our political cloth, but all of these factors may be significant. Whatever advice Cameron has received and however sound the research behind it, the issue still has obvious political risks - such as splitting his party just when UKIP is getting uppity. Yet the very fact that he is seen to take that risk may also be a political positive for him.

The legacy issue is more speculative, but powerful people are motivated by a need to live on, a desire not to be extinguished from the pages of history as so often they deserve to be. How far Cameron is motivated by this I have no idea, but I suspect it is not insignificant. Do such thoughts cross his mind late at night, as he sits by the bed in his Chuggington pyjamas - wondering what people will think of him in the years to come?

As for traditional conservative or Conservative values – I don’t think they come into it apart from their role as variables in a political calculation.

Monday 10 December 2012

George Santayana

From Wikipedia :-

Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known as George Santayana (1863 – 1952) was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist.

He appears on my radar as a man who valued Spinoza and knew William James. His writing style is easy yet penetrating in a way only genial people seem to manage. Not only that, but the genial temperament is  something Santayana seems to value as an aid to good reasoning - when married to a habit of sympathetic yet detached people-watching.

He is also very quotable, even though his philosophy seems to have faded from the scene. Possibly because his opinion of professional philosophers was not high.

To covet truth is a very distinguished passion. Every philosopher says he is pursuing the truth, but this is seldom the case. As Mr. Bertrand Russell has observed, one reason why philosophers often fail to reach the truth is that often they do not desire to reach it

Yet although his philosophy is largely forgotten, many people have come across Santayana even if they didn't know it - because of this famous aphorism :- 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

His style resembles prose rather than hardcore philosophy, which makes him difficult, at least in my view, to sum up. The way he writes, the flavour and texture of his attitudes are at least as important as his reasoning. He really has to be read rather than summarised. 

This is why he is on my to-do list. I know him through a commentary on Spinoza, some essays and other bits and pieces, but I've also known for a number of years that I need to delve deeper. Here are a few quotes which may help explain why :-

Life is running turbid and full; and it is no marvel that reason, after vainly supposing that it ruled the world, should abdicate as gracefully as possible, when the world is so obviously the sport of cruder powers—vested interests, tribal passions, stock sentiments, and chance majorities. Having no responsibility laid upon it, reason has become irresponsible.
For an idea ever to be fashionable is ominous, since it must afterwards be always old-fashioned.
Finding their intelligence enslaved, our contemporaries suppose that intelligence is essentially servile; instead of freeing it, they try to elude it. Not free enough themselves morally, but bound to the world partly by piety and partly by industrialism, they cannot think of rising to a detached contemplation of earthly things, and of life itself and evolution; they revert rather to sensibility, and seek some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy in which to wander. 

I particularly like some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy, because if that doesn't get to the heart of the modern malaise, I don't know what does. 

Sunday 9 December 2012

Making a Fire

Following on from the last post - a fire-lover's poem from Walter de la Mare - suggested by Sam :-

Scatter a few cold cinders into the empty grate;
On these lay paper puffed into airy balloon,
Then wood - parched dry by the suns of Summer drowsy and sweet;
A flash, a flare, a flame; and a fire will be burning soon-

Fernlike, fleet, and impetuous. But unless you give heed,
It will faint, fade, fall, lose fervour, ash away out.
So is it with anger in heart and in brain; the insensate seed
Of dangerous fiery enkindling leaps in horror and rout;

But remaining untended, it dies. And the soul within
Is refreshed by the dews of sweet amity, pity's cool rain.
Not so with the flames Hell has kindled for unassoiled sin,
As soon as God's mercy would quench them, Love, weeping, lights them again.

Walter de la Mare (1873 - 1956)

If the killing snows come

With heavy or early snowfalls already reported in China, Canada, USA, Sweden the UK and many other areas of the northern hemisphere (where most climate babble originates), we may be at a political turning point in the climate change game.

If the coming northern hemisphere winter (2012/13) is severe, with unusually heavy snowfalls and low temperatures, however we choose to define these measures, then the cold winters are mounting up.

“Look at this! This is just hard to believe. I just want too, again, people get a little nervous when I start talking about the climate aspect of this, but this is how the Little Ice Age began. In Europe there was an attack of one cold winter after another. This is the fourth one in a row that severe to record-breaking cold has entered Europe.”

In which case, if the northern hemisphere winter of 2013/14 turns out cold too, then we could see major political upheavals as current energy policies are finally seen for the foolish scams they are.

This could even begin just over a year from now – not long to wait. Of course the climate is unpredictable and we don’t know how coming winters will pan out, but how will the climate establishment change its game if severe winters become the norm? If people die?

Because surely the critical political point here is that global cooling would be another golden opportunity for them. An opportunity ripe and ready for exploitation, apart from having to adjust the warming mantra we’ve been hearing over the past few decades.

So, if we do get a few more severe winters, how will they hop nimbly from warming to cooling? Because they will.

Fudging the climate models seems to be the best bet as it has worked well so far, but surely switching from warming predictions to cooling predictions would be a little too cheeky, wouldn’t it? Yet the climate scientists and their useful idiots aren’t going to slink off into the snow. Not after pushing the climate scam this far.

Of course we don’t know what the climate will do, but if global cooling becomes obvious even to climate scientists? If the killing snows come while we are still building windmills and haven’t even begun fracking? Then what do we do?

What we actually do will depend partly on what the climate does and how quickly. If asked to guess between warming and cooling though - how would I guess? Well given all the caveats and given that I’d really prefer warming and given that it is just a guess anyway, my guess would be...


Saturday 8 December 2012

Pssst - wanna buy some research?

Greenbang asks us a rhetorical question :-

How could shipping expenses, carbon emissions and time wasted in traffic all be reduced at once? One expert believes the answer lies with high-capacity vehicles, or HCVs.

We might call them “extra-long trucks” or “super lorries,” but — whatever you call them — they could help to make a meaningful dent in the number of commercial vehicle journeys on the road, according to David Leach, a transport and logistics expert at the University of Huddersfield.

“I think that in the right circumstances, for companies that transport lightweight goods in large quantities, from distribution site to distribution site, HCVs would be an undoubted benefit and would lead to a reduction in carbon emissions,” Leach said.

So carbon emissions are in there right at the start. However, Greenbang does feel constrained to mention that this is sponsored research.

Perhaps it should then comes as no surprise that Leach’s research was sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, known for lightweight personal-care products like facial tissue, toilet paper and disposable diapers.

Friday 7 December 2012

Christmas inessentials

All Roads Lead to Calvary

Jerome K Jerome is best known for his comic novel Three Men In A Boat. It was his third published work and unfortunately for JKJ, easily his most successful. He peaked early. From Wikipedia :-

Finally, in 1885, he had some success with On the Stage — and Off, a comic memoir of his experiences with the acting troupe. Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, a collection of humorous essays, followed in 1886. In 1889 he wrote Three Men in a Boat which became an instant success and is still in print. Its popularity was such that the number of registered Thames boats went up fifty percent in the year following its publication, and it contributed significantly to the Thames becoming a tourist attraction.

Out of interest I recently downloaded all his work onto my Kindle and ploughed through his novel All Roads Lead To Calvary (1919). It’s easy enough to read, but whether or not I’ll ever read another JKJ novel, I don’t know. It isn’t great writing. Good but not great. Quotable though.

Mr. Airlie, picking daintily at his food, continued his stories: of philanthropists who paid starvation wages: of feminists who were a holy terror to their women folk: of socialists who travelled first-class and spent their winters in Egypt or Monaco: of stern critics of public morals who preferred the society of youthful affinities to the continued company of elderly wives: of poets who wrote divinely about babies' feet and whose children hated them.

What is interesting is the way JKJ’s socialism shines through. Essentially the novel is the story of a young woman, Joan Allday, who becomes a successful campaigning columnist for a major newspaper proprietor. Genteel left-wing one might call her, from the days when some of the upper middle classes took up socialism.

The naive optimism of the times, the idea that government could, should, must help the masses towards a better life after the horrors of the First World War is for me the most interesting aspect of the novel. These people really did believe in what they were doing, really did believe in the efficacy of their good intentions professed so earnestly around the dinner table. Often as not with servants hovering in the background.

"It's the dinner-table that rules in England. We settle everything round a dinner-table."

Whether JKJ believed these ideas to be feasible is another matter. To me, the next quote feels like JKJ’s deep cynicism about the social role newspapers - expressed through Greyson, one of his characters.

"I am paid a thousand a year," so Greyson read to them, "for keeping my own opinions out of my paper. Some of you, perhaps, earn more, and others less; but you're getting it for writing what you're told. If I were to be so foolish as to express my honest opinion, I'd be on the street, the next morning, looking for another job." "The business of the journalist," the man had continued, "is to destroy the truth, to lie, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, to sell his soul for his daily bread. We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping-jacks. They pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities, our lives are the property of other

Here it is again through Joan Allday.

She had lost her faith in journalism as a drum for the rousing of the people against wrong. Its beat had led too often to the trickster's booth, to the cheap-jack's rostrum. It had lost its rallying power. The popular Press had made the newspaper a byword for falsehood. Even its supporters, while reading it because it pandered to their passions, tickled their vices, and flattered their ignorance, despised and disbelieved it.

Greyson again - proposing a United States of Europe. It’s an old idea.

Greyson spoke with an enthusiasm that was unusual to him. So many of our wars had been mean wars--wars for the wrong; sordid wars for territory, for gold mines; wars against the weak at the bidding of our traders, our financiers.

"Shouldering the white man's burden," we called it. Wars for the right of selling opium; wars to perpetuate the vile rule of the Turk because it happened to serve our commercial interests. This time, we were out to play the knight; to save the smaller peoples; to rescue our once "sweet enemy," fair France. Russia was the disturbing thought. It somewhat discounted the knight-errant idea, riding stirrup to stirrup beside that barbarian horseman.

But there were possibilities about Russia. Idealism lay hid within that sleeping brain. It would be a holy war for the Kingdom of the Peoples. With Germany freed from the monster of blood and iron that was crushing out her soul, with Russia awakened to life, we would build the United States of Europe. Even his voice was changed. Joan could almost fancy it was some excited schoolboy that was talking.

I'm sure JKJ himself was no blinkered idealist, but it's a pity his novel doesn't bring this out in a more vibrant or humorous way.

He would not put up again for Parliament. He was thinking of going back to his old work upon the Union. "Parliament is played out," he had written her. "Kings and Aristocracies have served their purpose and have gone, and now the Ruling Classes, as they call themselves, must be content to hear the bell toll for them also. Parliament was never anything more than an instrument in their hands, and never can be. 

What happens? Once in every five years you wake the people up: tell them the time has come for them to exercise their Heaven-ordained privilege of putting a cross against the names of some seven hundred gentlemen who have kindly expressed their willingness to rule over them. After that, you send the people back to sleep; and for the next five years these seven hundred gentlemen, consulting no one but themselves, rule over the country as absolutely as ever a Caesar ruled over Rome. 

What sort of Democracy is that? Even a Labour Government--supposing that in spite of the Press it did win through--what would be its fate? Separated from its base, imprisoned within those tradition-haunted walls, it would lose touch with the people, would become in its turn a mere oligarchy. If the people are ever to govern they must keep their hand firmly upon the machine; not remain content with pulling a lever and then being shown the door."