Saturday 30 November 2013

S Korea tweaks school history

Bangkok Post tells us :-

South Korea's Education Ministry has ordered revisions to a number of high school history textbooks, part of a long-running ideological battle over the narrative of modern Korean nationhood.

In a statement Friday, the ministry said the publishers of seven government-approved textbooks had been ordered to revise 41 instances of "obscure and unbalanced" descriptions of history.

Failure to do so would result in publication of the books being halted completely, the ministry said.

The 41 corrections demanded by the ministry involved writings on subjects ranging from civilian killings during the 1950-53 Korean War, territorial disputes with Japan and North Korean human rights abuses.

Friday 29 November 2013

Where do you fit in?

What do the middle classes do to earn a crust these days? Lots of things I suppose, but over a few decades vast numbers seem to have drifted into the public sector. I certainly did and drifted is the right word as far as I'm concerned.

There are of course plenty of middle class careers outside the public sector, but how secure are they? How many are likely to be replaced by increasingly sophisticated IT systems? How many are so heavily embraced by EU and national governments that the public/private dividing line disappears?

It’s tempting to see a back to the future world of aristocrats, clerks and peasants evolving here, so is the EU trend essentially medieval apart from the jousting and leprosy?

If so, then maybe we’d have

An EU Court with its courtiers.
EU Regional (erstwhile national) Courts with their courtiers.
A Privileged clerical class.
A Privileged professional class of lawyers, doctors and accountants.
Commercial guilds.

Where do you fit in?

Spiderman caught streaking

From PaulR

Thursday 28 November 2013

Kenya backs away from wind

From Bloomberg we hear Kenya is finding wind power too expensive :-

Kenya suspended issuing new licenses for wind farms and solar plants until 2017 as it prioritizes development of cheaper fuel-based sources to help cut electricity prices, Energy Secretary Davis Chirchir said.

The East African government plans to add at least 5,500 megawatts of power supply in the 40 months from September, more than quadrupling output from current installed capacity of about 1,700 megawatts mainly from rain-fed hydropower plants.

About 80 percent of that additional output will be tapped from facilities powered by coal, liquefied natural gas, and geothermal, Chirchir said in a phone interview on Nov. 25 from Nairobi, the capital. Wind and solar power will contribute a maximum of 15 percent of new supplies and projects already under way have filled that quota. Hydropower and diesel-fired sources will comprise the remainder, he said.

“The planned energy mix is what will give us the tariff and reliability of supply we want,” Chirchir said.

Energy Secretary Davis Chirchir has acted swiftly, at least compared to our lot here in the UK. Back in April when he was appointed to the post, Mr Chirchir said:-

Kenya is a country of great opportunities. We can’t be competitive if the cost of power is what it is today,” Mr Chirchir said Thursday after his nomination. “We shall ensure the power we give to Kenya is cheaper for them to be competitive.”

So - how do we swap Ed Davey for Davis Chirchir when the transfer window comes round? Obviously the UK would have to pay a substantial transfer fee, but how much? One hundred million sounds reasonable to me - cheap even.  

Wednesday 27 November 2013

NHS to ban winter

The NHS has been told to ban winter outside hospitals, due to the huge number of deaths caused each winter by global warming.

Last winter 30, 000 more people died in England and Wales than would have been expected—an increase of 29% on the previous winter’s excess death toll—reveal figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

One of the UK’s largest unions has branded the figures “a national disgrace”

I think I have the story right. It's so hard to tell with statistics isn't it? 

Monday 25 November 2013

The weirdness of unreason II

Another World - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Have you ever tangled with the vexed problem of obviousness? Are some things so glaringly obvious as to leave you baffled when someone transcends the bounds of reason by taking a view contrary to your own? 

Do you occasionally find this kind of thing a little odd – even weird? We are after all, the same species. One might think we'd respond to reality in much the same way.

So in true Hollywood style, this is the second post of my weirdness of unreason franchise. By the way, why is a cinematic rehash called a franchise?

Anyhow, the first post was a kind of write-it-and-see test to see if reasons, concepts, ideas, explanations and arguments can be equated to allegiances. I think they can is the sense that something useful emerges from the idea even though our allegiances are bound to get in the way of knowing that useful something.

I suspect we cannot form ideas without framing them within some kind of validating allegiance.

Take politics for example. Those people with no particular allegiance to political abstractions will find it difficult to frame political opinions. Their vote will be dictated by other allegiances, however frustrating that may be for those who happen to have political allegiances.

Similarly with climate change. It isn’t so much a technical or scientific issue, as an issue about allegiance to abstractions within which the debate is always framed. Those who don’t share those allegiances tend to sit on the fence and see the issue as too complex for them to resolve. Maybe they merely lack framing allegiances.

So let us keep the focus on our allegiance to abstractions because they already have a well-known framing role.

We obviously have allegiances to numerous abstractions such as science, logic, equality, honesty, justice, peace, politics, beauty, reason, education, style, fashion, social mores, religion, what Mum always said, politeness, aesthetics, the rule of law and so on.

Unfortunately many claimed allegiances are false as we all know too well. Ideas supposedly bolstered by some authoritative allegiance but framed within in a different, covert allegiance designed to hide our endless primary allegiances to the usual suspects.

My career.
My inner circle.
My outer circle ...these are a few of my favourite things!

A good example is David Cameron’s strikingly crude offer of an EU referendum after the next election. His idea is far too obviously framed by allegiance to his future career while claiming a false allegiance to democratic ideals.

Claimed allegiance to abstractions is where the prim, prissy, supercilious, devious, dishonest and shamelessly unworthy frameworks of so many manipulative debates come from. Those we have to cope with every day of our lives.

As ever, behaviour highlights the deceit. As ever it isn’t enough if the deceit has powerful backing as we so often know to our cost.

A life not dominated by allegiances is an ideal never realised in the grit and grind of the real world. Maybe a life without allegiance would be akin to nirvana. Or maybe it would offer a glimpse of the eternal as Spinoza envisaged a blessed state of purely disinterested knowledge.

Unfortunately, in daily life every idea we have is framed by some allegiance or other. Including this one.


Quite batty but it made me smile.

Sunday 24 November 2013


Why is it that when certain waffle-mongers feel a pressing need to say something portentous, they have to put the word arguably before their piece? What is it supposed to add?

Surely the whole world knows this as a waffle-monger's thumb print, so why give the game away at such an early stage?                      

Seasonal short story

I've posted a seasonal (well almost) short story called Fairy Godfather over at my Haart Writes blog. As usual it can be accessed from the Short Stories tab.

Right but ineffectual

A major risk for all thinking people is being right but hopelessly ineffectual. If society doesn’t care about your version of the human condition, then however brilliant it may be, the effort of explaining it could be wasted.

So let us suppose your version of the human condition is all done and dusted with only minor edits outstanding, but still nobody wants to know. What’s the next step? 
  • A hobby to take your mind off things?
  • Some kind of spiritual activity?
  • Yoga?
  • Stamp collecting?
  • Bouts of incandescent rage? 

Allow me to suggest idleness as a remedy. There is a lot to be said for it even though it doesn’t attract the plaudits so unfairly bestowed on physical activity.

Firstly, idleness is a low-emission inactivity. Less CO2 is emitted by the idle than by bike-riders and other show-offs.

Secondly, idleness is good for the green economy because the idle are consuming fewer resources. Apart from those who go on holiday to eat more pizza of course.

Fourthly, idleness stimulates the mental whatsits.

If these five points don’t persuade you to consider idleness as a genuine lifestyle alternative, preserving the brain against premature over-use, then there’s no hope. You’ll just end up worrying about the collapse of civilisation and stuff like that.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Wind turbine blades falling off

ClickGreen tells us that wind turbine blades have been falling off again. Good news or bad? Hard to tell really.

Wind turbine makers GE has confirmed it has launched a “thorough investigation” into one of its flagship models after a series of blade failures.

The latest mechanical breakdowns occurred last week when 48.7m-long blades fell off TWO separate GE 1.6-100 wind turbines at different locations in the US in the space of just four days.

A third blade failure was reported the previous week at another wind farm and now GE customers in the UK are being contacted with news of the investigation.

The company has installed over 20,000 wind turbines worldwide and has received several orders for the high performance 1.6-100 turbine in the UK. To date, GE has supplied or is under contract to supply more than 163.10 MWs of wind turbines to the UK.

Friday 22 November 2013

A passive disciple

A bear, who had worn himself out walking from one end of his cage to the other, addressed his keeper thus: 

“I say, friend, if you don’t procure me a shorter cage I shall have to give up zoology; it is about the most wearing pursuit I ever engaged in. I favour the advancement of science, but the mechanical part of it is a trifle severe, and ought to be done by contract.”

“You are quite right, my hearty,” said the keeper, “it is severe; and there have been several excellent plans proposed to lighten the drudgery. Pending the adoption of some of them, you would find a partial relief in lying down and keeping quiet.”

“It won’t do — it won’t do!” replied the bear,  with a mournful shake of the head, “it’s not the orthodox thing. Inaction may do for professors, collectors, and others connected with the ornamental part of the noble science; but for us, we must keep moving, or zoology would soon revert to the crude guesses and mistaken theories of the azoic period. 

And yet,” continued the beast, after the keeper had gone, “there is something novel and ingenious in what the underling suggests. I must remember that; and when I have leisure, give it a trial.” 

It was noted next day that the noble science had lost an active apostle, and gained a passive disciple.

OAP dies when ambulance keys lost

The Burton Mail tells us of an OAP who died when paramedics lost the keys to their ambulance.

A PENSIONER was left for dead after paramedics were unable to take him to hospital after he suffered a heart attack when they lost the keys to the ambulance, it has been revealed.

The 87-year-old man collapsed at a golf pavilion in Derbyshire, and despite ‘advanced life support’, he could not get to hospital in time and later died.

This was just one in a number of ‘serious incidents’ reported by East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) – which serves people living in South Derbyshire – in a risk summit following a catalogue of issues for the NHS organisation.

Men with weary eyes

Ford Madox Ford

What fatal things are all human institutions, what evil passions they all breed, and what an accursed being they have made man in the eyes of Nature and the God who framed her. 

Everywhere around us are men with weary eyes running upon futile errands, who snatch from one another futile things that human institutions permit them to retain until someone less weary-eyed can be found to snatch them away.

Ford Madox Ford - The Simple Life Limited (1911)

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Kim Il-sung at 120

From the Irish Independent we hear that former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung aimed to reach his 120th birthday.

Kim Il-sung, the founder and "Eternal President" of North Korea, ordered his doctors to find a way to make him live to the age of 120, according to his former personal physician.

The first remedy the doctors attempted was to make Kim laugh more often.

"We invited a stage actor to perform a comedy and got 5 and 6-year-olds to do adorable things," Dr Kim said.

Any of the performers who was able to make Kim laugh five times a day was rewarded with the title "meritorious actor."

I wonder how many present day leaders are thinking along the same lines?

Sketchy Duel

Sparrowhawk kill

Spotted on the lawn this morning, a sparrowhawk standing in the remains of its breakfast, probably a dove.

Not a great picture, but I only have a cheap camera. 

Monday 18 November 2013

North Korea chic


From Elle magazine

North Korea Chic

Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring.

What does one say? Are they taking the p*ss?

Missing Merino

Great - Decathlon appears to have 100% Merino wool T-shirts for women...

...except they aren't 100% Merino wool.

I suppose the lesson is to read carefully. The wool is 100% Merino, the T-shirt isn't.

Selecting the shameless

Is it the case that only shameless spivs and crooks are able to withstand the intense, manipulative scrutiny of the internet age?

If so, is the internet weeding out principled people in favour of the shameless?

Maybe by our endless, web-enabled scrutiny of public life we are deselecting anyone with an ounce of moral awareness or a scintilla of self-knowledge. They are too wary of the ghastly, furtive dishonesty of it all.

The hide of a rhinoceros and the moral compass of a rattlesnake may not be what we want from our leaders, but perhaps the internet is ensuring we get exactly that. Or more than we had before at least.

The subtle power of a web-enabled selection process could have dangerous consequences if we don’t sharpen up in time for the dwindling number of meaningful elections we have left.

How many is that by the way? One? Two?

Sunday 17 November 2013

Death Fails

Maybe it needs a saddle

Chekhov on petty analysis

The trouble is that youth makes its demands, and our philosophy has nothing in principle against those demands, whether they are good or whether they are loathsome. One who knows that life is aimless and death inevitable is not interested in the struggle against nature or the conception of sin: whether you struggle or whether you don't, you will die and rot just the same.

Secondly, my friends, our philosophy instils even into very young people what is called reasonableness. The predominance of reason over the heart is simply overwhelming amongst us. Direct feeling, inspiration--everything is choked by petty analysis. 

Where there is reasonableness there is coldness, and cold people--it's no use to disguise it--know nothing of chastity. That virtue is only known to those who are warm, affectionate, and capable of love. 

Anton Chekhov - Lights, a short story published in 1888

Saturday 16 November 2013

Hull prepares for horror winter

The Hull Daily Mail tells us:-

BOSSES at East Yorkshire’s two authorities say they are ready to tackle whatever the predicted "horror winter" throws at them. As Britain braces itself for what is expected to be the coldest and longest winter in modern history, Hull City Council and East Riding Council have been preparing for it since the summer.

East Riding has also bought 26 mobile snow blowers to treat their busiest pathways while Hull City have added three snow blowers to their seven-vehicle gritter fleet and 5,000 tonnes of salt. Unlike Exacta Weather, the Met Office can only give forecasts of up to ten days.

Do they believe long range forecasts I wonder? With enough confidence to spend other people's money? Haven't they heard of global warming?

Bonking Gaia

I recently had an unexpected encounter with radical climate expert Professor Felix Knutta, just returned from an IPCC conference on "The Climate of Persuasion".

We bumped into each other quite by chance at a local swimming pool. Although not prepared to give me a formal interview in such moist surroundings, he did have time for a chat on his latest ideas which sadly didn’t quite make it into the final version of AR5.

‘As you must know,’ Professor Knutta began as we sipped a Fairtrade coffee by the poolside, ‘the climate change message is going through a sticky patch. The way the climate is behaving at the moment is absolutely deplorable.’

‘Because it isn’t warming as predicted you mean?’

‘Too right - even the Arctic is playing hard to get and refusing to melt on cue. We should nuke the place in my view - right up the Northwest Passage. Warm things up a bit wouldn't it?’

‘Nuke the Arctic Professor? May I quote you on that?

‘Not bloody likely - I'll deny it anyway,' the Professor laughed. 'But the whole global warming message has to be sexed up to blazes or we'll come across as a bunch of whinging pillocks wetting ourselves over nothing.’

‘Really? Sexing up the message hasn’t worked too well in the past,’ I replied, unable to think of anything better for the moment. A common problem with Professor Knutta I find.

‘Well I intend to beef up a lot more than the message; so this time we’ll see a result. Climate science has never been all that stimulating anyway, at least not in any red-blooded physical sense, but thanks to my latest research into what I call climate droop that may change. At least I hope so.’

‘In what way Professor?’

‘Well now, I see it like this. We climate experts are passionate about our work – perhaps too passionate for our own good. Unprecedentedly passionate I might say.’

‘A few of you certainly are...’

‘But our passion should surely attract some kind of reward for all our unprecedented discoveries and selfless toil,’ Professor Knutta explained while fiddling with his Speedo swimming trunks. They seemed a little tight to me. Somewhat revealing too - for a middle-aged chap with a midriff shaped by the international conference circuit.

‘So do you mean a kind of physical reward when you talk about the sexing up the message?’

‘In a somewhat roundabout way I suppose I do mean that.’

‘An eco-brothel?’ I hazarded. I threw it in more to distract him from those blasted Speedos than anything else.

‘Umm... hardly that...’ the Professor mumbled, still fiddling. ‘Although presumably eco-brothels accept carbon credits of which I happen to have an unlimited supply. Blow me – what a splendid idea.’

‘So are you suggesting,’ I ploughed on while wondering what on earth he actually was suggesting. ‘You are suggesting that those people who support radical action on global warming should promote climate change from a more stimulating angle?’ One or two people were staring at us so I tried to look nonchalant and non-pervy as possible.

‘Not exactly,’ Professor Knutta eventually mused. He was now scratching himself in an area which polite society usually leaves unscratched. ‘It’s all to do with our attitude to Gaia which I’m sure is far less intimate than it should be.’


‘Indeed yes – far less intimate than is healthy in my view. We climate pioneers may as well admit that what keeps us going in spite of the climate playing the fool is that we are physically attracted to the environment in the person... in the delightful person of Gaia herself.’

‘Err... physically attracted to Gaia?’ I was floundering at this point. Briefly I considered asking the Professor if he meant some kind of intimate contact with trees, but couldn’t quite put the words together. The images were clear enough unfortunately. Luckily he finally finished scratching and came to the point.

‘I’m not suggesting anything improper here you understand...’

‘Such as bonking Gaia?’ I couldn’t help adding. Somehow it just slipped out.

‘Such as bonking Gaia... which sadly appears to be technically impossible... as far as one can tell at the moment,’ the Professor mused for a long moment with a strange look in his eyes - perhaps even the glint of a tear.

‘...and what a very great pity that is,’ he mumbled with a huge subterranean sigh. He began fiddling with his Speedos again so I nipped off for something much stronger than Fairtrade coffee.

Friday 15 November 2013

Council blocks payday loan websites

From the Derbyshire Times we learn:

A decision to block payday loan websites from all of a council’s 7000 computers has been met with approval.

Anyone trying to access lending sites from any of Derbyshire County Councils computers will instead be re-directed to sources of safe, affordable loans such as Credit Unions, financial support services and welfare rights advice.

The move will affect all of the computers owned by the council across the county including those in libraries and those used by its employees.

Well they are council-owned computers so it's up to them what they allow and what they block even though they are blocking access to a legal activity. 

Even so, I've no problem with it per se. It's the mission creep I don't like. It never ends, slithering into every nook and cranny of daily life.

Thursday 14 November 2013

The weirdness of unreason

Another World - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Have you ever been in a meeting where certain people seem absolutely set on dredging up every irrational argument they can think of?


And apart from the frustration, do you ever find irrational ideas a little weird? How do we explain them for example - how do we picture what is going on in the irrational head?

Instead of thinking in terms of rational and irrational ideas, suppose we think in terms of allegiance - a personal allegiance to some social situation, trend, norm, cause or whatever. That something could be allegiance to a person, social group, project, profession, institution, fashion or any one of countless other possibilities.

It may be an allegiance to Arsenal Football Club, holistic therapy, quantum theory, yoga or a political party. There is no difference – it is all allegiance.

So there are no rational or irrational structures inside our heads. Reasons are essentially tactical and strategic. Beliefs may feel like a nexus of rational ideas but are nothing of the kind. Our beliefs and ideas are merely our allegiances expressed in all their infinite variety.

We are not rational, but merely complex, subtle, resourceful and often covert in expressing our allegiances. Reason is how we raise, gauge and foster support for those allegiances, but that’s all. There is no structure to reason other than the structure of allegiance. That’s why your reason can be my unreason.

We have differing allegiances – that’s all.

So we don’t think rationally or irrationally, but merely offer our allegiance to different social norms, situations and events from the trivial to the essentials of daily life. The central influences over these allegiances are numerous, from language to our personal welfare and the welfare of family, friends, business interests and so on and so on.

However, when it comes to less central concerns, many of us do not seem to have strong allegiances and are willing to probe them. Yet this probing, this apparent vacillation can seem odd and obstructive to those with a strong allegiance to a particular narrative or agenda. In my view this explains human intransigence quite well where the notion of reason and unreason does not.

Maybe this is the value of those of us who mistakenly see ourselves as rational. We are not so much rational as able to see the allegiances others skate over in their pursuit of an agenda. By not having strong allegiances ourselves, we are able to weigh their various claims, especially where popular allegiances are neither as beneficial nor as harmless as commonly assumed.

So rational behaviour is not so much an ability to apply reason, whatever that might be, as a reluctance to offer one’s allegiance without weighing the consequences. Often not even then.

Bus ad II

Bus ad

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Aqueduct Cottage

Aqueduct Cottage by Brian Cass

By the side of Cromford canal in Derbyshire is Aqueduct Cottage, a derelict canal keeper’s cottage occupied until the late fifties or early sixties.

The location is attractive, but there is no nearby road, no water, sewage services, electricity or gas supply. In other words, the cottage isn’t worthless because it is derelict, but derelict because by modern standards it is has become worthless.

In bygone times, the canal keeper who lived in Aqueduct Cottage would probably have used candles for lighting and logs from nearby woods for cooking and heating. He may also have bought supplies from passing boats and his water may have come from the nearby river. I don’t know about sewage disposal though – the canal?

Now the boats are gone and picturesque as this mode of life might be, it only appeals from the safe distance of modern comforts.

While out walking I’ve seen one or two derelict stone cottages in a similar condition and with similar problems. They became derelict because they are now worthless, not worthless because they are derelict.

It underlines how much the value of our homes depends on those essential services. Remove them and the value disappears as completely as it did for Aqueduct Cottage. Here it is in 1905 looking like a chocolate box idyll.

From Friends of Cromford Canal/Julie Simpson

Geri's game

Monday 11 November 2013

Halls of residence for MPs

The Derby Telegraph reports:-

Derby North's Chris Williamson has called for all MPs to live in halls of residence so accommodation expenses could be axed. Paul Whyatt reports.

IT'S the story that will not go away – MPs and their expenses.

Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett is among the latest to come under fire, after it emerged she claimed £3,960 for gas and electricity at her Derby home.

The claim – over a 12-month period – was the fifth highest out of the 650 MPs at Westminster. While MPs are allowed to claim for energy bills on second homes, question marks were raised at how much she racked up.

Speaking to the Derby Telegraph, Mrs Beckett blamed the high bill on a fault with her heating system. She added a family illness meant the property was being occupied for longer.

But that explanation did not go down well with readers who looked at the story on our website, with one calling for MPs to be put up in halls of residence.

Asked whether he agreed, Mr Williamson, who claimed £229 for his energy bill, said: "I wouldn't disagree with that.

Haystacks and needles

Everybody professes to know that it would be difficult to find a needle in a haystack, but very few reflect that this is because haystacks seldom contain needles.

Ambrose Bierce

Sunday 10 November 2013

A false memory

The other day I found out that an old memory from my schooldays was false. I thought I’d known somebody at school, but there is no way I could have known them because we were not there at the same time.

It wasn’t someone I thought I remembered knowing personally by the way – I’m not that far gone. It was more like a disembodied factoid hovering around my school memories. I only discovered it to be false accidentally – it wasn't something I checked out deliberately.

Coming across a false memory is odd and quite a surprise. Now it is turning into a memory of having had a false memory - the original false memory already fading away.

Suppose I had another childhood memory where I went shopping for my mother and came back with butter, bread and eggs. However although this memory is an old one and I have no way of confirming its accuracy, it sticks in my memory for some reason. Maybe I dropped the box of eggs and broke one.

As my mother is no longer with us there is no way I can check what really happened. As far as I know it may be inaccurate or false in that it happened to someone else. Surely this is one of the pitfalls of memories – they need some kind of confirmation if they are to be relied on. Even then there may be inaccuracies.

Is it possible that memory becomes less and less reliable over time but it doesn’t matter because it cannot be checked? Or does it become unreliable because we make less use of it?

How about attitudes? Do you remember earlier versions of your attitudes as they change over the years? Or have your attitudes never changed? Or do you fail to remember the change because you no longer have those attitudes?

Maybe the electronics revolution and social websites are destined to change all that. Eventually we won’t need a memory at all because everything we need to know about ourselves is stored online. If they aren’t confirmed online, memories will be seen as false and will fade away.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Great God! this is an awful place

Do Captain Scott’s words chime with you? They certainly do with me. I can’t read anything about the Antarctic without being reminded of his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Beryl Bainbridge wrote a fine novel about it called The Birthday Boys. Worth reading if you come across a copy.
From Wikipedia

For this and other reasons, Antarctic sea ice extent is one of the parameters I keep an eye on in my fruitless desire to anticipate the global climate’s next move.

So this chart of Antarctic sea ice extent concerns me a little, but it’s an emotional concern all concerns must be. As you see, Antarctic sea ice has been spending quite a bit of time well above the 1981-2010 average.

Is it a herald of anything? Well for me there is something awesome and scary about the Antarctic, much of it deriving from Scott’s words and what we know of that tiny tent where he finally succumbed only eleven miles short of One Ton Depot and safety. Defeated by hunger, exhaustion and the implacable cold of the Antarctic.

My head says it doesn’t mean much in terms of climate change and it probably doesn’t, but my heart says keep an eye on it all the same.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Pedestrian power

Video of a driverless Nissan Leaf being tested in the UK. The stated aim is to test it on public roads if permission is granted.

Note how the car reacts when a pedestrian walks into the road. Changes the balance of power between motorist and pedestrian doesn't it? Cyclists too presumably.

Chekhov on teaching

How can we undertake to bring up the young? In old days people were simpler and thought less, and so settled problems boldly. But we think too much, we are eaten up by logic.

The more developed a man is, the more he reflects and gives himself up to subtleties, the more undecided and scrupulous he becomes, and the more timidity he shows in taking action. How much courage and self-confidence it needs, when one comes to look into it closely, to undertake to teach, to judge, to write a thick book.

Anton Chekhov – Home (short story published in 1887)

Adjusting the temperature

For some time, Steve Goddard at Real Science has been highlighting a curious problem with US surface temperature data as compiled by NASA. The issue isn’t new but worth another airing because of the wider implications for official data, especially now global cooling is a serious possibility.

The US surface temperature graph below was first published by NASA in 1999. Source. It shows quite clearly that US temperatures exhibited no overall trend since the 1920s. Note the 1930s peak when John Steinbeck wrote his Dust Bowl novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

However, NASA has since managed to adjust the environment of Steinbeck’s novel, cooling it relative to more recent temperatures, including those published in 1999. The US surface temperature chart below is the current version published by NASA. Source.

I wonder who carries out this vital work for NASA? Winston Smith springs to mind. If global cooling begins in earnest, then the message is simple – buy your own thermometer.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Lost words

There are things we can’t say concisely and with sufficient emphasis because too many words have been softened by political familiarity.

A good word for authoritarian politics is one we could do with as a matter of some urgency. We have communist, Marxist, Stalinist, Maoist, fascist and one or two others but we already know them to be inadequate. They fail to capture the acute political danger of centralising all decisions. They fail to get behind the fluffy velvet glove.

Communist and Marxist have been shorn of their terrors by cartloads of fellow travellers infesting western politics and academia. Somehow, the human horror of killing innocent people by the millions has left no seriously indelible mark on our language. How convenient that is for modern central planners - but surely not a healthy situation for the rest of us.

As for Stalinist and Maoist I think the same problem applies. Many people of a certain age once knew self-professed Maoists and comfortable middle class faux radicals with Soviet sympathies. They were those for whom Stalin and Mao were no more than over-enthusiastic in their ruthless application of industrial scale murder.

As for fascist, it has evolved into little more than a term of abuse, although very often it is all we have. So we drift towards a kind of soft fascism because even our language has betrayal woven into its threadbare and endlessly ameliorative fabric.

What else can one say – without better words?

Tuesday 5 November 2013

North Korean girls settle a dispute

Weird North Korean video. I don't really know what the point is, but maybe I don't want to.  

You could be a writer or a journalist. Just imagine writing in the Newspaper of the Workers.. or writing a thick novel!

No she must carry on her dad's work. He owes a debt to the State, and his daughter must pay for it. 

Is it as ghastly as the Greenpeace video though? 

I don't think so. The miasma of evil intent is not comparable to the Greenpeace stunt, although both were produced by fascist nutjobs trying to use young people to stamp on the human spirit.

WWF has a new church

I see Sir David Attenborough has opened the new WWF church.

Monday 4 November 2013

Chekhov on smoking

“By the way, Yevgeny Petrovitch, I should like to ask you to speak to Seryozha. To-day, and the day before yesterday, I have noticed that he is smoking. When I began to expostulate with him, he put his fingers in his ears as usual, and sang loudly to drown my voice."

Yevgeny Petrovitch Bykovsky, the prosecutor of the circuit court, who had just come back from a session and was taking off his gloves in his study, looked at the governess as she made her report, and laughed. "Seryozha smoking... " he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I can picture the little cherub with a cigarette in his mouth! Why, how old is he?"

"Seven. You think it is not important, but at his age smoking is a bad and pernicious habit, and bad habits ought to be eradicated in the beginning."

"Perfectly true. And where does he get the tobacco?"

"He takes it from the drawer in your table."

"Yes? In that case, send him to me." When the governess had gone out, Bykovsky sat down in an arm-chair before his writing-table, shut his eyes, and fell to thinking. He pictured his Seryozha with a huge cigar, a yard long, in the midst of clouds of tobacco smoke, and this caricature made him smile; at the same time, the grave, troubled face of the governess called up memories of the long past, half-forgotten time when smoking aroused in his teachers and parents a strange, not quite intelligible horror.

It really was horror. Children were mercilessly flogged and expelled from school, and their lives were made a misery on account of smoking, though not a single teacher or father knew exactly what was the harm or sinfulness of smoking. Even very intelligent people did not scruple to wage war on a vice which they did not understand.

Yevgeny Petrovitch remembered the head-master of the high school, a very cultured and good-natured old man, who was so appalled when he found a high-school boy with a cigarette in his mouth that he turned pale, immediately summoned an emergency committee of the teachers, and sentenced the sinner to expulsion.

This was probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and coarsely it was attacked.

Anton Chekhov – Home (short story published in 1887)

Sunday 3 November 2013

Greenpeace expert speaks out

This lovely Greenpeace video dates from 2007.

Climate change is changing our world. Within the lifetimes of children being born today, it may challenge our survival as a species. 

The Earth is hotter than it has been for at least one thousand years. By the end of this century, if current trends continue, the temperature will likely climb higher than it's been at any time in the past two million years. The consequences of this drastic rise, caused by burning fossil fuels, are likely to be catastrophic: mass extinctions, droughts, hundreds of millions of refugees ...

 A comical litany of absurdities, but perhaps the most delicious thing of all is that this kid hasn't actually seen any global warming.

I wonder what the dear little mite thinks of it now?

Saturday 2 November 2013

Freedom – a parable

A wild horse meeting a domestic one, taunted him with his condition of servitude. The tamed animal claimed that he was as free as the wind.

“If that is so,” said the other, “pray tell me the office of that bit in your mouth.”

“That,” was the answer, “is iron, one of the best tonics in the materia medica.”

“But what,” said the other, “is the meaning of the rein attached to it?”

“Keeps it from falling out of my mouth when I am too indolent to hold it,” was the reply.

“How about the saddle?”

“Fool!” was the angry retort; “its purpose is to spare me fatigue: when I am tired, I get on and ride.”

Friday 1 November 2013

Intelligence and smarties

Let’s concoct a new theory of intelligence. It’s about time we had a new one because the old version looks as flaky as a Lib Dem policy. Just take a look at current energy policies if you don’t believe me - Lib Dems are in favour.

Right ho - to rectify this lamentable situation I’ve spent fifteen precious minutes dreaming up the basic building block of intelligent awareness called... wait for it...

The smartie.

It’s not an original use of the word, but what do you expect for fifteen minutes? A workable energy policy?... Hmm, bad example... anyway, here is the smartie theory in all its conceptual glory.

In essence, the more smarties you have and the wider your range of smarties, the smarter you are - in a genial kind of way because I think a nod to Santayana is somehow appropriate for smarties. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read him and acquire a whole shed-load of smarties.

So throughout daily life we have the option of acquiring more smarties - vitamins of the mind. Smarties come in numerous colours, shapes, flavours, sizes, sweetness, price and brands so those who collect only one flavour or those who focus on brand are not as smart as those who collect lots of different smarties. Especially the home made smarties, of which smartie theory itself is just one example!

For example, Nick Clegg only collects Nick Clegg and EU smarties, which makes him smart on these subjects only. He knows how the EU is likely to benefit Nick Clegg and virtually nothing else. There are no Lib Dem smarties by the way.

Those eccentrics who love nuances and breadth of vision also love all kinds of smarties and collect loads of them. This gives us the Smartie Rich or SR quotient – a much needed antidote to IQ. So a person with a high SR is smarter than Nick Clegg which we now know isn’t saying much but it’s progress of a kind. Progress Nick knows nothing about of course.

The elite classes only collect elite smarties, a narrow range of all the smarties on offer. So they never become smart - because they can’t. Prince Charles is a good example. In his position, with all that travel and cultural contact he should have a huge SR, but his social position narrows the possibilities before he even gets to choose. He only likes green smarties anyway.

Prince George will have the same problem – except he won’t even know because he won’t have a sufficiently wide range of smarties to tell him it’s a problem.

So it is with the political elite who only collect the smarties offered to them by lobbyists, flunkies, and smartie advisers who are in exactly the same smartie-delimted boat.

Smartie collecting is an essentially serendipitous activity driven by the sheer joy of discovery and the substantially lesser joy of changing your mind occasionally.

Smarties are usually minor discoveries such as nuances, aspects alternative emphases or poetic insights, but they are all grist to the smartie mill and raise one’s SR to quite dizzying heights of pure fancy.