Wednesday 30 April 2014

Cameron firm on truth referendum

Prime Minister David Cameron is standing firm on his promise to hold a "truth referendum" if the Tories win the next election.

David Cameron has promised to quit as Prime Minister if he is unable to deliver a yes-no referendum on telling the truth by 2017.

He promised he would not “barter away” the referendum in new coalition negotiations, as an angry Conservative activist told him the public do not believe he will deliver on his promise to give the British people a chance to hear nothing but the truth from government ministers.

New EU Smoke Directive

Smoke - from Wikipedia

The EU plans to control certain domestic and commercial smoke emissions which for once have nothing to do with tobacco or fossil fuels. From the EU preamble we are told :-

Certain materials with high carbohydrate content are liable to char and emit a complex range of atmospheric smokes when exposed to levels of radiant heat beyond their design parameters. Processes where this occurs are often indoor environments of a domestic or commercial nature.

The key to effective control of potentially harmful indoor smoke is threefold.

a) Controlling the radiant heat source.
b) Controlling the degree of carbohydrate exposure.
c) Standard instruction manuals and training requirements.

In addition to these three control measures, the EU intends to investigate the possibility of changes to carbohydrate formulations, specifically water content, in order to minimise the emission of potentially harmful smoke.

So that’s damp bread and low wattage toasters. I’ll post more detail on the new EU toast-making regulations as they become available.

More details here.

A place for scholars?

In the early days of the internet, I sometimes asked myself if such a vast repository of information would lead us towards a love of learning for its own sake. Would we all become scholars? Okay I wasn’t quite that starry-eyed - but I did wonder. I still do at times.

I have a tendency to see scholars as dry, academically-minded folk with a hawk-eyed hatred of error and little time for anyone not cast in the same mould. It’s a stereotype of course and a somewhat old-fashioned and misleading one at that, but there have been such people and still are today.

Around the blogs for example. It seems to me that there are those who wish to confirm their biases and those who wish to understand. I know the distinction is a somewhat diffuse generalisation, but I find it useful enough.   

Perhaps the modern scholar tends to be rather more human than my stereotype, but whatever their personal quirks we have much to thank them for. Catastrophic climate science would not have been challenged effectively without scholarly dissection of the alarming claims plus a rather less scholarly vivisection of the activists behind them.

Outrageously cavalier attitudes toward obvious sources of uncertainty would not have come to light without the tireless efforts of those for whom science is essentially a scholarly activity. Nothing seemed to stop them in their determination to examine the data for themselves. No amount of stalling, obfuscation or outright lying seemed to have discouraged them.

In my view it was the scholar’s brusque disdain for the argument from authority which really sealed the intellectual fate of climate science. In the public domain, this was almost the only argument one ever saw. It would come wrapped in some specious claim about melting ice, sea levels, droughts or whatever, but the core argument was always the same, always liable to arouse suspicion.

I think this is what piqued the interest of so many people around the world, especially those with scholarly inclinations coupled with the technical skills to dissect such obviously extravagant claims.

For apocalyptic climate scenarios were and still are absurdly extravagant, which is not the scholar’s way. Like loud music in a crowded supermarket, it grates and brings to the surface a barely dormant dislike of all that is brash, shallow and showy.

How the whole disgraceful fraud will be viewed by future historians I have no idea. It all hangs on the climate itself. If global cooling sets in then maybe the verdict will be damning, but if the climate warms, then as ever history will be written by the winners, however unworthy they may be.

Maybe scholars may not take too much notice as theirs is mostly the satisfaction of a job well done. What if nobody applauds their efforts? Well that’s not the point and we are all the better for it.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Zephyr powered Britain

Wind power currently running at an impressive 0.64% - sorting out that pesky CO2 problem so we can all sleep soundly.

Monday 28 April 2014

It’s the philosophy, stupid...

...but with apologies for the snowclone.

Science is a philosophy – natural philosophy. As such it is in permanent conflict with older doctrinal philosophies – the conceptual swamps where religion and politics ply their trades.

To my mind it is unfortunate that the terms natural philosophy and natural philosopher were sidelined in favour of science and scientist in the nineteenth century because the essential philosophical basis of science is apt to be forgotten.

As a result, too many scientists come across as poor philosophers, not seeming to understand clearly enough why effective science cannot have the same philosophical outlook as politics or religion. They seem to know that natural philosophy works but do not explicitly link its practical success to its non-doctrinal approach. 

For example, Baruch pinoza was an early natural philosopher, although he is now classed as a philosopher not a scientist. Yet I doubt if Spinoza would have accepted the distinction. He was a lens-grinder by trade, with a keen interest in the rapidly growing field of scientific optics. He also carried out experiments such as the hydrostatics experiment he illustrated in a letter to his friend Jarig Jelles. He was a natural philosopher.

From Spinoza’s letter to Jarig Jelles, September 1669

The distinction between science and philosophy seems to have led us into a situation where too many people confuse, mingle and otherwise conflate doctrinal philosophies with natural philosophy. They seek to bolster their scientific ideas with doctrinal authority even though scientific success obviously requires a non-doctrinal approach.

In my view this is why CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) seems so similar to religion or politics. Why the science seems so weak and disjointed when set against its confidently catastrophic claims. The similarity arises because CAGW is a doctrinal philosophy - not natural philosophy.

Again this is why official climate change doctrine is virtually immune to the observed complexities of climate behaviour and and the failure of climate phenomena to occur as predicted. The issue is one of authority, not natural philosophy. So the public domain is dominated by doctrinal quotes, often repeated verbatim by the faithful:-

Peer review...
97% of scientists...
The Royal Society...
The vast majority of scientific papers...
The latest computer models...

Journalists, CAGW activists and too many professional scientists understand doctrinal philosophies rather better than they understand natural philosophy. They understand authority and power. They see the world through the presumed authority of their sources, not the non-doctrinal uncertainties of natural philosophy.

Certainly it is clear to me after reading too many sterile reams of CAGW text that the binding climate change rationale is a doctrinal philosophy, a search for authority rather than non-doctrinal natural philosophy.

Of course science uses doctrinal authority for well-established theories and for educational purposes, but institutions such as the Royal Society seem to have imbibed the trappings of authority too well. Awarding Nobel Prizes is well-meaning no doubt, but is it a good idea to confer doctrinal authority on natural philosophers in this way? I’m not sure that it is.

I suppose the status of natural philosophy as a successful and prestigious knowledge culture was bound to attract those with an authoritarian bent. As soon as it became conspicuously successful, it was probably doomed as a philosophy of knowledge. Political exigencies insinuated a kind of mission creep which has been going on for decades – possibly longer.

So maybe it should have come as no surprise that scientific wings are being clipped by global authoritarians of which CAGW is a major exemplar.

We are not speaking of rational versus irrational here, but of different philosophies of what constitutes rational behaviour. 

A bow to power or a bow to nature.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Monster wine glasses

We've been looking for a set of wine glasses. I've managed to reduce our set of six, bought some decades ago, to three, so we're in the market for replacements.

After all, when guests come round one has no wish to serve the wine in three glasses and a teacup. Even the best china teacup doesn't quite offset the social embarrassment of not having a full set.

There is a problem though - modern wine glasses tend to be huge. These Waterford Elegance Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Glasses from John Lewis hold 790ml of wine - more than a bottle.

Now maybe a fastidious wine trougher needs the whole bottle, but some of us have less formidable requirements. Anyhow, at £50 a pop, surely a pack of straws would be cheaper.

This stunning stemmed glass has an enlarged bulb - designed to enhance the flavour of the full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon variety of wine, by encouraging oxidation.The Elegance collection from Waterford is exquisitely made from lead-free crystal*. 

*Or glass as it's often called.

Fortunately 790ml isn't yet the standard size, but wine glasses generally seem much larger than they were a few decades ago. 350ml is not uncommon and that's almost half a bottle. 

Saturday 26 April 2014

Bob Crow's ghost

According to the Telegraph, more strikes are planned for the London Underground.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out for 48 hours from 9pm tomorrow and for three days the following week despite continuing talks over plans to close all ticket offices on the London Underground.

Discussions this week have failed to avert the strike, although both sides said they were prepared to continue meeting ahead of the action.

It has been claimed that RMT hardliners, who are vying to replace their former leader Bob Crow, are behind the action.

So in spite of the media focus on him, it wasn't just Bob Crow but his comrades too. Which we knew already but it's nice to have it confirmed.

I expect the tube will be automated eventually - no drivers, no comrades, no strikes. I suppose they may as well squeeze what they can from the job while it lasts.

Friday 25 April 2014

Who’s in charge around here?

The Fat Controller

Who is in charge, leaders or led?

When a comedian has a live audience rolling in those metaphorical isles, the cliché says he has them in the palm of his hand, but who is really controlling whom? The audience demands laughter, so the comedian must provide. Who started it all?

Chicken and egg come to mind.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the comedian’s lot is not necessarily a happy one either. Expectations are high, the slightest slip drooled over in pitiless detail. Fancy a drop to keep the gremlins at bay old chap? There’s an audience for that too.

So maybe we should see politics as bidirectional rather than unidirectional. Of course we do that anyway – the audience rolls around laughing and the comedian responds with another perfectly timed gag. The thing is bidirectional. We know it well, but do we apply it?

Have you heard the one about ending up with the government we deserve?

Another tired old joke? Maybe, but we elected the expense fiddlers, house-swapper, liars and serial trouser-droppers. We elected all of them.

All those useless, venal, bungling MPs most of whom only want to hand the whole sorry mess to EU bureaucrats so they can get on with the serious business of swindling and shagging. We elected them and shall do so again.

So it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Dave, Nick and assorted Eds are dishonest because we made them dishonest, furtive because we made them furtive, thick because we go along with thick, there because we put them there.

Nobody is in charge. Instead we have a complex self-referential process with no starting point, no primary cause, no primary responsibility and no solutions.

We applaud our politicians simply by putting them where they are, applaud their dishonesty by doing nothing about it, applaud their lies until we bring the House down.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

The origin of life – is it in your water?

Layers of EZ (exclusion zone) water next to hydrophilic material
From Prof Gerald H Pollack's TED lecture

Sackerson recently emailed Professor Jerry Pollack with a number of questions about his discovery of light-driven exclusion zones in water. Professor Pollack’s replies were both prompt and interesting enough to prompt further posts.

Here’s one obvious possibility. Highly speculative I agree, but surely too fascinating to ignore.

Question. The H3O2 layers suggest that their construction liberates hydrogen gas. What happens to it - does it bind with dissolved oxygen in seawater? If using pure distilled water in a non-oxygen atmosphere, would it generate hydrogen gas?

Prof Pollack’s answer. We're not so sure about hydrogen has. Certainly EZ buildup generates protons. Whether those protons normally collect to form hydrogen gas remains uncertain. On the other hand, the fact that salt water bombarded with RF/microwave radiation can catch fire (see book) implies that hydrogen has could, at least under certain circumstances, be generated. One thinks also of Brown's gas.

So when light shines on water in contact with a hydrophilic surface, a proton gradient across the exclusion zone is created automatically. Now proton gradients are associated with a range of basic energy-related biochemical processes. 

The proton gradient can be used as intermediate energy storage for heat production and flagellar rotation. In addition, it is an interconvertible form of energy in active transport, electron potential generation, NADPH synthesis, and ATP synthesis/hydrolysis.

The electrochemical potential difference between the two sides of the membrane in mitochondria, chloroplasts, bacteria, and other membranous compartments that engage inactive transport involving proton pumps, is at times called a chemiosmotic potential or proton motive force (see chemiosmosis). In this context, protons are often considered separately using units of either concentration or pH.

Suppose we imagine Earth’s surface before life evolved. No microorganisms, no plants and certainly no animals. But there is water and sunlight. Picture a shallow pool of water in contact with a hydrophilic surface such as clay particles. As yet there are no organic compounds in the water, let alone organic life.

The sun shines down on that pool of water to create exclusion zones at the surface of the clay particles. The exclusion zones form proton gradients, a ready-made energy source for many chemical reactions.

So even before organic molecules have a chance to combine and recombine into the building blocks of life, an inexhaustible energy source may have been waiting, ready to go.

If so, then proton gradients within our biochemistry are an unimaginably ancient inheritance. Not merely from our earliest biochemistry, but before biochemistry even existed here on Earth. Before even the simplest organic molecules had begun to take advantage of the subtle properties of water.

Note. As far as I am aware, this speculative possibility has not been raised by Professor Pollack, but his work is comparatively new to me and I may be wrong.  

Tuesday 22 April 2014

iClegg is go!

In the run up to next years's general election, Lib Dem strategists plan to relaunch the career of party leader Nick Clegg, branding him as a vibrant, technically sophisticated leader for the digital age.

Dubbed iClegg by his young team of tech-savvy PR minders, Mr Clegg will feature in a series of cutting-edge promotional YouTube clips such as the one above.

Here, the narrative has him on his smartphone arranging an important global meeting with world leaders Kofi Annan, Nicolas Sarkozy and Haile Selassie.

Monday 21 April 2014


Bamburgh Castle

We're up in Northumberland for a few days, so blogging may be light. 

As I sit here sipping champagne, I can see Holy Island through one window and as dusk falls I can just make out the Cheviots through the other window. 

Sunday 20 April 2014

The Fourth Phase of Water

I've come across exclusion zones in water before. It's a fascinating subject, highlighting the subtle and complex properties of this apparently simple compound.

A Citroën by any other name...

When the Derbyshire Times does a puff piece for Citroën , spelling the name correctly would be a fine place to start.

Saturday 19 April 2014


Political language is weird.

For example, what on earth is a “conservative” supposed to be? From Wikipedia we have this as a broad definition.

Conservatism as a political and social philosophy promotes retaining traditional social institutions. A person who follows the philosophies of conservatism is referred to as a traditionalist or conservative.

Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others, called reactionaries, oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were"

Fair enough, but almost all of us are deeply conservative in one way or another. Some who do not count themselves as conservative appear to have extremely conservative ideals. Their means may not be conservative but their ends most certainly are.

I'm thinking of that fake middle-class radicalism which aims to overturn certain social structures as a means to an end, the end being an unchanging micro-managed utopia where nothing changes ever again. 

For instance, the belief that we must do something to avert catastrophic climate change has to be the most pathologically conservative notion ever dredged up from the murky depths of the human psyche. Even the climate must be managed and subject to legal restraint. An obviously bonkers aspiration, yet I’m sure the whole crazy mess is seen as radical by its ultra-conservative proponents.

Climate mitigation is radical, but only in a profoundly conservative sense where the end result is UN-controlled energy policies across the entire globe. I suppose one could call that radical in its means, but fanatically conservative in its desired ends.

On the other hand, some of those who claim to be conservatives often seem intent on conserving their privileges at the expense of the rest of us. I'm thinking of wealthy conservatives, so nothing new there.

Yet further down the social scale we find de facto conservatives filling the ranks of both the traditional left and right. Political colours seem to make little difference. The means vary but the ends are profoundly conservative.

It's no surprise of course. Many of us have some degree of financial security in which we have invested or intend to invest a huge chunk of our working lives. Naturally we want to conserve what we already have, including our expectations. 

So the controlling classes invent an endless stream of scare stories to maintain a permanent sense of unease in the bowels of those of us without the security of wealth.

They are happy for us to remain deeply and irredeemably conservative and for our radicalism to be even more conservative. The political brand we favour, the cross we make in the ballot box, none of that matters to them.  

Modern political games are bankrolled by conservatism - ours.

Google humour

I haven't seen this example of Google humour before. Does it always appear?

Friday 18 April 2014

The Bureau of Sabotage

From Wikipedia

As older science fiction readers will know, the Bureau of Sabotage was a fictional government entity invented by science fiction writer Frank Herbert. It came into being as a means of slowing down the pace of government lawmaking, allowing people time to reflect on what was being enacted. 

From Wikipedia

In Herbert's fiction, sometime in the far future, government becomes terrifyingly efficient. Red tape no longer exists: laws are conceived of, passed, funded, and executed within hours, rather than months. The bureaucratic machinery becomes a juggernaut, rolling over human concerns and welfare with terrible speed, jerking the universe of sentients one way, then another, threatening to destroy everything in a fit of spastic reactions.

Founded by the mysterious "Five Ears" of unknown species, BuSab began as a terrorist organization whose sole purpose was to frustrate the workings of government in order to give sentients a chance to reflect upon changes and deal with them. 

First a corps, then a bureau, BuSab gained legally recognized powers to interfere in the workings of any world, of any species, of any government or corporation, answerable only to themselves. Their motto is, "In Lieu of Red Tape."

Threatening to destroy everything in a fit of spastic reactions?


Thursday 17 April 2014

Class war

Maybe we need a new definition of class if we are to have a proper class war. Political class rather than social class. Social class has become outmoded and confusing, which may be deliberate but that’s another story.

So maybe we should keep things simple and begin with the political upper class and the political lower class.

Upper class denotes the franchised, those who vote directly or exercise direct influence on matters of policy, lawmaking, regulation etc.

Lower class denotes the disenfranchised, those who are allowed to vote at elections, but exercise no direct or even indirect influence on matters of policy, lawmaking, regulation etc.

The two classes may as well include everyone. Highly artificial I know, but these are inclusive times and anyway ideas are merely tools, not laws of physics. So a doctor and an unemployed layabout may be in a different social class, but politically they are both lower class.

The class war still feels real enough but has become bogged down by the middle class mess we still tend to refer to as politics. The old narratives have been kept on because the upper class finds them politically useful, not because they are still relevant.

Who is lower class in this new political dichotomy, apart from doctors and unemployed layabouts? Well I certainly am and so are you because members of the upper class do not read blogs. Not mine anyhow.

Who is upper class? It’s a varied and diffuse mix from senior EU and UN bureaucrats, senior celebrities, senior executives of global companies and so on. Even Dave, Nick and Ed are upper class, although they only just make it and that may change. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are lower class of course - and destined to remain so.

Names eh? Good ones are never around when you need them.

Beautiful woman

And yet a spirit still and bright
Walked the length of our street,
A golden, shining, superior type
Of person with whom to meet

I crossed the road, nodded to her,
Gave a friendly little smile,
But she scarcely noted my overture,
Made me feel quite small for a while

I saw her again on Thursday night
As EastEnders neared its close,
So I knew she wasn't a TV fan,
More cultured I supposed.

What was her name I asked myself,
Was it cool romantic and rare?
A golden name of soft delight
A name to go with her hair?

I later heard she was Kylie Brown
From a street just off Park Road,
She had two kids by a married man
Whose name was Barry Snoad.

What's in a name, I mused when I knew,
And a couple of kids on the side?
What's inside matters far more,
Such as warmth and beauty and pride.

But Barry Snoad was a bit of a prat,
So what did that make Kylie Brown?
I simply had to talk to her,
I’d begun to feel let down.

One evening as darkness began to fall
I stopped her in the street,
To ask what kind of life she led
But she turned as white as a sheet

"Piss off" was all I heard her say
As she ran off in a bit of a lather.
After that she changed her route,
So what did she see in old Bazza?

Wednesday 16 April 2014


My log store

It's that time of year again - when I finally give the woodburner a well earned break until those deliciously chilly autumn evenings return. It's also the time of year when I stock up on a fresh load of logs. Even though they are supposed to be seasoned, I like to give them another year in the log store.

The pic above shows the interior of my log store after restocking yesterday - and this is only part of it. For some reason I buy more and more logs each year that goes by. I'll never manage to burn this lot unless we have a super severe winter lasting from October to March.

It's a grand sight though.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Derbyshire banana threat shock

Derby Telegraph reports on fungal problems with the Cavendish banana, the western world's most popular banana developed in Derbyshire. No I didn't know that either.

A VARIETY of banana created in Derbyshire and eaten around the world is in danger of becoming extinct because of a deadly disease.

The Cavendish banana was first grown at Chatsworth House by gardener Joseph Paxton in 1835.

It is now thought to be the most popular variety in the western world, accounting for 95% of the bananas shipped to export markets, including the United Kingdom.

It is a trade worth £5.4 billion. But scientists have warned that it is under threat from Tropical Race 4 (TR4), a fungus which has already destroyed Cavendish crops in Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Monday 14 April 2014

The Monty Hall Problem

I enjoy problems like this. They remind us that probability can be counter-intuitive.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Car park snugglers


My wife and I call them snugglers - a term which came down to us from Yorkshire. You park your car in an almost empty car park, but when you return it is quite common to find a snuggler has parked next to you in spite of all the empty spaces. Why is that?

One possibility is that some people use another car to guide them into the parking bay. They can't see the lines and don't have the spatial awareness to park without lining themselves up with something visible such as your car.

Are there other possibilities?

Friday 11 April 2014

Henry VIII’s body odour

From Wikipedia

Imagine you have a time-machine to take you back to Tudor times. The possibilities are exciting enough, but quite naturally your first thought is to check out Henry VIII’s body odour. Were those Tudors as smelly as their rather basic lavatorial technology might suggest?

Time to find out - so into the time machine.

All goes well and you arrive at Henry's court without mishap. Disguised as a courtier, you sidle up to him during a convivial evening, taking a deep but unobtrusive sniff. Don’t want Henry to get wind of what you are up to do we?

What kind of odour would you expect? Well the wealthy Tudors were supposedly quite clean in their habits and it may be that spicy aromas would predominate around Henry such such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Maybe there were hints of rose water or lavender too.

Suppose you manage to get close to Henry, close enough to see the fine stubble on his chin, the colour of his fingernails, close enough to catch the sound of his voice, its depth and timbre, his accent and way with words, his use of them to command, control and signify approval. 

Imagine that you have stumbled on that most significant occasion when he first claps eyes on Anne Boleyn. You even catch that first, fatal glint of interest in the royal eye as it roams the hall.

To my mind, intimate details such as this divide the human race into two. 

Some people are interested in Tudor cleanliness, manners and habits. They are prepared to make informed but often unverifiable guesses based on what we know.

Others are more interested in how ephemeral and generally inaccessible this kind of information can be. In an important sense we don’t know the intimate details because we weren’t there, many are unrecorded and others were too fleeting and personal ever to have been publicly accessible anyway.

As for that flicker of interest at the sight of Anne Boleyn, what was going on there? Was it mostly a stir of interest in the royal member or something more cerebral? Did the English Reformation begin with a twitch of desire behind the royal codpiece rather than Henry’s desire for a male heir?

Obviously, even with the benefit of our time machine we can’t get inside his head to find out, let alone other more intimate aspects of whatever triggered the affair. Did such a huge upheaval in English history begin with biology?

However much we sift and analyse what we know of such matters, there are always these fleeting ephemera of human nature. The biology, the intimate psychology, the ebb and flow of hormones, subtle impressions we can never capture simply because nobody ever did or ever could have captured them.

Even Henry himself may not have been aware of them on that fateful occasion. As for Anne Boleyn – who can tell?

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Bennett on growing old...

...but first Doris Day

The really frightening thing about middle age is the knowledge that you'll grow out of it. 
Doris Day

Frightening? During his late thirties, after his move to Paris, Arnold Bennett used his fictional characters to make a number of somewhat gloomy references to human mortality. Maybe he feared the onset of old age. However he died of typhoid aged 63, which certainly adds a poignant footnote to this :-

Yes,’ he sighed; ‘she contracted typhoid fever in Paris. It’s always more or less endemic there. And what with this hot summer and their water-supply and their drainage, it’s been more rife than usual lately.
Arnold Bennett – Hugo (1906)

Yet he moved to Paris. Maybe he was trying to escape the stifling atmosphere of middle class life. Or maybe it was in other people where he saw a need to escape the tick of the clock.

Poor tragic figure! Aged thirty-eight! An unromantic age, an age not calculated to attract sympathy from an unreflective world. But how in need of sympathy! Youth gone, innocence gone, enthusiasms gone, illusions gone, bodily powers waning! Only the tail-end of existence to look forward to!
Arnold Bennett – Whom God Hath Joined (1906)

‘How old are you, Diaz?’ ‘Thirty-six,’ he answered. ‘Why,’ I said, ‘you have thirty years to live.’
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

You may ask what right a man aged fifty odd has to talk of a life’s happiness — a man who probably has not more than ten years to live.
Arnold Bennett - Teresa of Watling Street (1904)

Sometimes Bennett also seemed to fear the wisdom of old age, as if disheartened by the prospect of understanding too much too late. I’m beginning to understand this one.

At seventy, men begin to be separated from their fellow-creatures. At eighty, they are like islets sticking out of a sea. At eighty-five, with their trembling and deliberate speech, they are the abstract voice of human wisdom. They gather wisdom with amazing rapidity in the latter years, and even their folly is wise then.
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

Tuesday 8 April 2014

More subsidy please

Bloomberg Businessweek tells us how difficult things are for US wind turbine operators since the shale gas boom took hold.

Wind power in the U.S. is on a respirator.

The $14 billion industry, the world’s second-largest buyer of wind turbines, is reeling from a double blow -- cheap natural gas unleashed by the hydraulic fracturing revolution and the death last year of federal subsidies that made wind the most competitive of all renewable energy sources in the U.S.

Without restoration of subsidies, worth $23 per megawatt hour to turbine owners, the industry may not recover, and the U.S. may lose ground in its race to reduce dependence on the fossil fuels driving global warming, say wind-power advocates.

Consider that gas averaged $8.90 a million British thermal units in 2008 and plunged to $3.73 last year, making the fuel a cheaper source of electricity for utilities. Congress allowed the wind Production Tax Credit to expire last year, and wind farm construction plunged 92 percent.

While here in the UK we have PPE graduate Ed Davey keeping a benign eye on our energy policies. What could possibly go wrong?

Tips on North Korean travel

Juche Travel Services offers a few tips for those wishing to take a holiday in North Korea.

All tourists to the DPRK, whether you visit as a group or private tour, whether you book your tour with us or another company, will be accompanied by two KITC guides, who will escort you at all times from the moment you arrive in the country until you leave. This applies whether you are in a group or just a single traveller. You are not allowed to travel independently around the country.

The DPRK possesses a unique social and political system, and travellers to the country are asked to respect this. Regardless of your own views, the people of the DPRK hold the eternal President Kim Il Sung and his son and present ruler General Kim Jong Il in extremely high regard. Any outward criticism, sarcasm, or negative comments about either individual will not be tolerated.

You will find your guides are sometimes quite sensitive about photography, especially if it is of something deemed to 'misrepresent' or paint the country in a negative light.

For personal expenditure in the country, we recommend taking Euros in cash. US Dollars and Yuan are also permitted, but Euros are preferred. Be sure to take small denomination notes with you, as change is often not available for larger notes. Credit cards are NOT accepted and there are no ATMs in the country, therefore please bring sufficient cash to last for your stay. Tourists are not permitted to use the local currency (Korean Won).

If you are a journalist and wish to travel to the DPRK, I am afraid we are not the people to help you. We are a tourist organisation and consequently are permitted to take only genuine tourists to the country. If you are a journalist, we suggest you contact your local DPRK Embassy to help arrange your visit. If you are a journalist, please, PLEASE do not try and sneak your way in to the country by pretending to be a tourist. It will create all sorts of problems for yourself, for us, and worst of all, for your Korean hosts.

Monday 7 April 2014

City of vast and restless melancholy

Portland Place, London, 1906

Lawrence did not greatly love London. It appealed to his imagination, but in a sinister way. To him it was the city of vast and restless melancholy.

And though there was nothing of the sentimental in his composition, he despised the facile trick of fancy which attributes to cities, heroically, the joys and griefs of the unheroic individuals composing them; London did nevertheless impress him painfully as an environment peculiarly favourable to the intensification of sorrow.

Whenever he went to London it seemed to him to be the home of a race sad, hurried, and preoccupied; the streets were filled with people who had not a moment to spare, and whose thoughts were turned inward upon their own anxious solicitudes, people who must inevitably die before they had begun to live, and to whom the possession of their souls in contemplation would always be an impossibility.
Arnold Bennett – Whom God Hath Joined (1906)

Over a century later I find I’m no fan of London either. For me there is something weird about the place. I prefer small towns, open spaces, hills, valleys and high moorland where the call of a curlew speaks to that poetic spark lurking in all our souls.

Maybe you have to be a Londoner.

Maria Miller was peer-reviewed

For those of us interested in behaviour and language, the ghastly and demeaning Maria Miller affair also has another interesting aspect. Her activities were supposedly peer-reviewed by a committee of MPs. It comes as no surprise that the independent parliamentary watchdog doesn't think peer-review by MPs is a good idea.

Iain Duncan Smith was speaking after the independent parliamentary watchdog said MPs should "no longer mark their own homework" on ethics.

It comes after a committee of MPs overruled investigators probing Culture Secretary Maria Miller's expenses.

There is no real alternative to personal integrity. Peer-review is no guarantee of anything and isn't restricted to dodgy scientists.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Is Maria gobbling their credibility?

The ghastly and demeaning Maria Miller affair rumbles on as these things do. Mostly because our leaders are far too thick to realise when the game is up. Iain Duncan Smith's comment puts the dimwit problem in an inadvertent nutshell.

MPs should do "whatever it takes" to stop rows over their expenses "eating away at the credibility of Parliament", a cabinet minister has said.

Eating away at the credibility of Parliament?

If dear old IDS thinks there is any meat left on that particular bone then he's not really paying attention.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Blobby shower gel

The respectable portion of the male sex in England may be divided into two classes, according to its method and manner of complete immersion in water. One class, the more clashing, dashes into a cold tub every morning. Another, the more cleanly, sedately takes a warm bath every Saturday night.
Arnold Bennett - A Great Man (1904)

I suppose things have changed since Bennett’s day. The daily shower is now something of a ritual. Or so one might assume, but what about the vexed question of shower gel?

Mine is deep blue, described as body wash and supposedly aimed at men, but it has what I consider to be a significant defect – it falls off. Unlike creams, the gel is liable to shed blue blobs of neat gel onto the shower tray.

It doesn't matter what technique I devise - somehow blobs of the stuff always fall off. It sometimes ends up on the shower door or leaves blue streaks down the tiled walls. How that happens I've no idea, maybe it's the laws of physics taking a break.

Having a suspicious cast of mind, I sometimes wonder if this wasteful gel formulation is deliberate. Does the manufacturer want me to waste as much as possible so I’ll soon be back for more? Is it aimed at men even clumsier than your humble blogger? I don’t know but I can’t see canny manufacturers missing out on such a cunning plan.

I’d change brands or move to a more creamy, stick-on-till-lather-forms version, but ironically the gel I use is cheap enough when on offer, so a few wasted blobs don’t matter. I still wonder if the blobby formulation is deliberate though. 

It’s something to think about while showering.

Friday 4 April 2014

Are you dynamic?

Idleness, then, is so far from being the root of all evil that it is rather the true good.
Søren Kierkegaard

Are you dynamic, bone idle or somewhere in between?

I’m certainly not dynamic but not quite bone idle either – well not all the time. I’m not sure where human dynamism comes from, but I don’t have it. Or want it if I’m honest.

Yet success seems to be closely related to a certain kind of dynamism. Not necessarily hard work, although that comes into it, but ferocious self-centred, persistence usually dressed up as something else.

It seems to be a matter of goals and effort, although the effort may well be largely networking, sucking up to the right people, cultivating the image, softening a regional accent, personal appearance, the right point of view, an urbane manner, the arts of delegation, knowing the value of anger and politically correct disdain, artistic flim-flam, a second language, name-dropping, credentials, a suitable partner and so on.

It all sounds too much like hard work though doesn’t it? Presumably it is, or grossly time-hogging if not physically demanding.

No – it’s not for me.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Moving home

Although we’ve had modular houses for a long time, somehow the advantages never seem to make it into the political arena to any serious extent. The wartime UK prefab served its purpose and was discarded, although some have lasted for decades. My aunt and uncle lived in one in Derby.

Grade II listed Phoenix prefabs
Wake Green Road, Birmingham
From Wikipedia

 Yet today it is presumably even more feasible to mass-produce all the bits and pieces that go to make up a comfortable and energy efficient dwelling. So why don’t we do it and get rid of the housing shortage forever?

Caravans for example. Modern caravans are produced on factory production lines and a big one can cost as little as £20-30k. Comfortable, easy to heat in winter and needing little maintenance, what’s not to like about them? They can even be quite posh.


Caravans are easy to move of course, so if we all lived in them, moving house would merely be a question of towing the thing from one plot to another. Hook up the utilities and job done. If anyone needs more living space I’m sure they could be designed to attach extra modules.

A big advantage is cost. Caravans are comparatively cheap, so the whole idea might highlight the cost of each plot of land. Maybe we could simply rent plots from the local authority, even making this the main tax base for the whole country. Westminster wouldn’t like it, so that’s another benefit.

We’d get rid of a load of other taxes and pensioners would just tow their homes to a cheaper plot of land on retirement, leaving city life to younger people with jobs and families.

The roof of the caravan could be an array of solar panels and because caravans have batteries, they could even be reasonably effective in a low-power caravan environment. In fact caravans with 12v lighting and gas cylinders for cooking and heating might cope quite well with intermittent power from wind turbines.

The practical stuff is easy enough for anyone to work out for themselves, so why don’t such ideas find their way into the political arena? After all, it's hardly a new or original notion.

Okay I know we aren't at all likely to go down this road. There are lots of reasons – there always are. Maybe the global warming brigade will push it, but somehow I don’t think it is close to their middle class hearts.

Thirty percent?

From AlanH

Wednesday 2 April 2014

The sunny side of climate change

We spend our entire lives in one climate or another, so we may all claim intimate familiarity with climate behaviour even when we know little about the science.

Climate is a major factor in holiday destinations too. We we often toddle off in search of sunshine and higher temperatures - which oddly enough we don't regard as catastrophic.

This is a recent picture of our somewhat scrubby lawn after a frosty night. As you may be able to see, the morning sun has melted the frost apart from an area still in the shadow cast by our garage roof.

We’ve all seen something similar where night frosts are reasonably common, but what do we make of it apart from enjoying the ephemeral beauties of a sunny morning?

Well - first let's add another common experience.

Here in Derbyshire we recently had two consecutive days with the same temperature but different levels of sunshine. The first day was sunny and warm, the second was less sunny and felt less warm even though the air temperature was about the same for both days.

The house was warmer on the first day too, with all that sunshine streaming through the windows. So sunshine affects temperature without necessarily having an exact correspondence with air temperature.

Yet sunshine is important to plants, soil temperatures, soil moisture, shallow waters, oceans, forests, grassland and many animals. It isn’t only air temperature.

So why don't we hear more about sunshine in the CAGW  (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) narrative? Is it :-

1. A paucity of reliable long-term sunshine records?
2. The poorly understood dynamics of cloud formation?
3. The problem of generating alarm about a bit more sunshine?

I'll go for all of them - particularly number 3. Long-term surface temperature records are available and they suit the CAGW narrative, so that big hot thing in the sky is quietly buried in the bowels of climate models. Yet simple observations such as frost on the lawn suggest a much more nuanced and complex story.

This is a non-technical post, not about solar effects on our climate, but human behaviour. It merely suggests how easy it has been to build an alarming climate narrative partly by leaving out a complex, yet familiar and generally welcome aspect of daily life - sunshine.

Do susceptible folk notice the significance of that frosty lawn once the CAGW narrative has dulled their critical faculties?

I don’t suppose they do.

Frozen blossom


I see the chattering classes are still willing to spout the latest IPCC fairy tales.

Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts” warns the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Meanwhile, in the real world some people still have to make a living. ArmeniaNow reports on the damage caused to fruit crops by unusually heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

A powerful cyclone that penetrated Armenia and was accompanied with a sharp temperature drop, hail and heavy snow has caused huge damage to the country’s agricultural sector.

Apricot, cherry, peach, plum orchards in the Ararat valley and low-lying parts of the foothills in which trees had already been in blossom were affected by the onslaught of the cold front over the weekend.

The Ministry of Agriculture has not yet published information on the scale of the damage caused by the weekend weather event.

Gyulnara Avetisyan, meanwhile, says the latest snowfalls and freezing temperatures are the hardest in her memory.

“I don’t remember such heavy snow and a drop in temperatures by 10 degrees,” she says.