Sunday 30 November 2014

Frost flower

Roy Spencer captures the growth of a frost flower using time lapse photography. Best viewed full screen. His earlier video is here.

Saturday 29 November 2014

The Idea Of Nature

It surprises me how often people who are not scientists seem to view science as something apart, an area of human knowledge they are not competent to judge. Yet we show much less restraint with the humanities, being happy to wade in and spray our opinions around whatever our level of expertise. At least I am.

Certainly there is an enormous body of factual information and theory in science and that is certainly a barrier to entry. However, we are not necessarily concerned with barriers to entry.

For example, it is often easy enough for anyone to judge scientific work if consequences are part of the public domain. Solar eclipses and the health consequences of smoking for example. Scientific veracity becomes a matter of public record, part of our social history.

A scientific theory not only rests on certain historical facts and is verified or disproved by certain other historical facts; it is itself an historical fact, namely, the fact that someone has propounded or accepted verified or disproved, that theory.
R G Collingwood - The Idea of Nature (1945)

If you ever come across Collingwood’s slim volume in a bookshop it is worth a browse. He takes the reader through an interesting tour of human ideas about the natural world beginning with Greek cosmology. 

To my mind Collingwood makes a good point about the historical nature of science. Once scientists enter the public domain via their predictions, offering health advice, supporting official policy and so on, then the general public may judge their claims on the historical record. Whether the claims are right or wrong may be indeterminate, but that too becomes part of the historical record.

So today, when the Royal Society claims certain climate events will occur by 2090, then from Collingwood’s perspective the claim is not necessarily scientific. It depends on the history of similar predictions, on what the historical record says about their success or failure.

Has the Royal Society made similar long-term climate predictions which proved prescient? Obviously not, the RS has no track record whatever in this area. Neither has anyone else. So from Collingwood's perspective the Royal Society isn't being scientific, but something else. 

Nobody needs a scientific background to see it.

Friday 28 November 2014

Black Friday

Bloggers fighting over a Wittgenstein post

As you must know, the madness of Black Friday is upon us so bloggers are suffering from a frantic demand for stories. Many of our usual suppliers of words, phrases and quotes had run out of stock by nine o'clock.

In desperation we tried "Dodgy" Dave Cameron - Cheapest Words In Town but it was no dice. Only a few dribbles from his back catalogue were available.

As for "Fast Eddy" Miliband he seems to be all at sea. Nothing original on offer and his prices have to be seen to be believed.

By midday we resorted to asking Lord Prescott for a quote or two, but all he came back with was "I don't talk to you bluggers."

Ah well - normal service will be resumed as soon as the madness dies down. Meanwhile why not pop out for a spot of shopping?

Thursday 27 November 2014

Orwell was right


Below is a quote from Quine, a single sentence with which you may agree, disagree or reserve judgement. To my mind the sentence is problematic for two reasons. The first is that if accepted as true, then it has a fundamental influence on one’s personal philosophy.

There are so-called logical connections, and there are so-called causal ones; but any such interconnections of sentences must finally be due to the conditioning of sentences as responses to sentences as stimuli.
Willard Van Orman Quine - Word and Object

The second problem is that Quine’s sentence is true.

Obviously that doesn’t mean everyone has to accept it as true. It is rooted in commonly observed human behaviour, but no doubt many people have other standpoints on which they prefer to secure their personal philosophy.

Yet from early childhood we develop mental causal networks where one sentence causes another to pop out of our repertoire of responses. We are trained to give normative responses in order to use language effectively, so naturally enough that is what we do for the rest of our lives.

Citizens of the monolithic and tightly controlled political culture envisaged by George Orwell in his novel 1984 find it difficult or impossible to stray beyond political norms because their repertoire of responses has been so ruthlessly limited by the regime.

Winston Smith only achieves a glimpse of what freedom might mean via his work on altering newspaper reports, his constant exposure to physical evidence that all available information is being made to conform to current political narratives.

Smith’s awareness that things have been different gives him a limited ability to see that there are alternatives to official narratives. Unfortunately for him, he only sees what may be a deliberately constructed alternative – Goldstein’s ideology of dissent.

Without Smith's exposure to physical evidence, we may assume he would never have strayed that far. Even without the full implementation of Newspeak, he would have had insufficient exposure to any standpoint beyond established political norms. He and his fellow citizens cannot think out of the box if the box is all there is.

So Orwell was right. In a monolithic totalitarian culture, Newspeak is not only possible, but may even be inevitable.

Tuesday 25 November 2014


Alfreton in Derbyshire is causing a stir with the magnitude of its latest crime wave.

A thief was caught stealing a teaspoon from a Tesco store after he said he had been considering buying a cutlery set for his mother.

Chesterfield magistrates’ court heard on Monday, November 24, how Hayden Walker, 23, of Rodgers Lane, Alfreton, was seen removing the spoon and then dumping the cutlery set on another shelf.

Monday 24 November 2014

Has the C dropped off?

As the catastrophic climate narrative slumps inelegantly beneath a prolonged lack of warming, where does it leave us? Bearing in mind that it is not easy to come up with a higher authority than the climate – not even Vivienne Westwood on a good day.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the C has come tumbling off CAGW, or Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming as it used to be known before options were quietly widened via the weasel word change.

So apart from a dwindling band of doomsday hopefuls we are presumably left with AGW. Even that seems to be quietly mutating to ACC – Anthropogenic Climate Change. Ho hum, I suppose even a furtive and long overdue change of emphasis is probably welcome.

Where this takes us I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure we aren’t due for a bout of institutional honesty and the sweet strains of mea culpa issuing from the BBC, Guardian, IPCC, Defra, Greepeace, Al Gore, Ed Davey, Ed Miliband, Lord Deben and a host of middle class poseurs of the green persuasion.

It is more likely that the new narrative will be stitched to the old as seamlessly as a dodgy temperature graph. The new narrative will imply that ACC is what was meant all along and AGW will turn up eventually and meanwhile every single weather outlier will be the weirdest weather since the last weird weather and anyone who says otherwise is some kind of flat-earth far-right nutcase denier in the pay of Big Oil...

...or whatever.

The irony is that most climate sceptics probably have no great problem with ACC because we could be affecting the climate in a number of ways from land usage to atmospheric nitrogen or sulphur pollution to airborne particulates. Most sceptics also think CO2 may have a minor effect, but nothing remotely like the calamity proclaimed for so long by the swivel-eyed activists.

The debate may even lurch towards something delightfully rational, where uncertainty is given its rightful place in the science... I’m not holding my breath for that one.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Dead dog politics

I don’t support any of the three main UK political parties, although over the decades I’ve voted for all of them at one time or another. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a waste of time, but ho hum - onward and downward.

In spite of this, I have a sneaking tendency to see the Labour party as the major problem with UK politics. Not by a massive margin, but I see Labour as Top Problem. The reason is familiar enough – too many Labour voters do not seem to care how their MP and their party actually perform once in office.

When Labour MP  Denis MacShane was jailed for expenses fraud, the voters simply elected another from the same party. They didn’t seem willing to punish their party for harbouring an MP convicted of false accounting. The other parties are almost as bad, but in my view not quite as bad, not quite as insanely loyal. It's a fine distinction but real enough I think.

Suppose we call it dead dog politics.

Dead dog voters are happy to vote for their party even if it the candidate might as well be a dead dog towed around the streets by its enthusiastic agent. Okay, so dead dogs don’t actually kiss babies but as far as voters are concerned that doesn’t matter – the metaphorically deceased mutt belong to the right party so it’s a done deal as far as Mr and Ms Voter are concerned.

Unfortunately this weird level of loyalty leads to dead dog MPs being elected to the House of Commons. They support their party come what may. They don’t even have the detached point of view of a real dead dog... hmm... that’s something to ponder.

Dead dog voting is not so much a problem as a route to democratic disaster. Even so, I’m not sure the average voter cares about such theoretical clouds on the horizon. Democracy eh? Who needs it? If the dead dog has the right rosette pinned to its collar, then what’s the problem dude?

So on the whole I don’t think we were cut out for this democracy lark.

Saturday 22 November 2014

The mendacity of institutions

It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.
Samuel Johnson quoted in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Memories of my younger days suggest that institutions had more integrity than is the case today. The Post Office, the BBC, the AA, the police, the local council and even the government may have been stuffy and somewhat inefficient, but were not generally regarded as mendacious.

Today institutions have changed for the worse – they tell lies. Usually lies of omission, Johnson's carelessness perhaps, but still lies. I could be looking back through rose-tinted spectacles of course, but I’m not too sentimental, I don’t actually want to go back to driving an Austin A40. In any case, there is a reasonable explanation for the mendacity of modern institutions and that’s public relations.

A few decades ago, institutions may have had their press office to deal with newspaper reporters and even a rare visit by a chap from the BBC, but they were much less inclined to put out a message so dripping with positive spin that it may as well be a barefaced lie.

Modern institutions have their off-days, but are far more inclined to defend the indefensible, if necessary for years. They are far more inclined to put out press releases which don’t even tell half the story, manufacture stories from nothing and generally exaggerate, misinform and mislead.

That would be bad enough, but all this positive spin promotes institutional mendacity. That in turn promotes mendacity among employees. It attracts those who are more inclined towards shading the truth, influences career progression, seeps into the culture, infecting everyone without the integrity to resist.

Institutions were always an important part of our culture. The BBC, the police with their whistles, bicycles and truncheons, the local council and the local bank. Again it’s worth wiping those rose-tinted spectacles in case they are misted up with nostalgia for a more honest past, but I don’t think it is all nostalgia.

The mendacity of institutions is genuine and most of it seems to be down to PR. How are we supposed to build a culture on lying?

Friday 21 November 2014

Dreaming of Boris


Fortunately I never dream of Boris Johnson, but the other day I had a kind of surreal daydream while musing on the various nutters determined to rule our lives. Maybe their nuttiness is infectious.

In my daydream, Boris was on a local bus so I sat next to him. I had to - there was nowhere else to sit. Some seats were occupied by glossy young people with iPads. All the remaining seats were cordoned off with some kind of red tape, so I “chose” the one by Boris.

‘Blimey, don’t take any notice of that – just treat it as a cheeky little nudge,’ Boris chuckled, pointing a pink finger at the tape. ‘It’s all Cameron’s idea, this nudging caper,’ he added. ‘I took it into my noddle to push it too its logical conclusion but it’s only a harmless jape to put you chaps at your ease.’

‘You chaps?’ I asked but Boris was off on another tack.

‘I’ve been busy today - buying some tremendously attractive and very reasonably priced oven-to-table ware,’ he went on as we drove by Denby pottery, ignoring a crowded bus stop. ‘Back at base they insist I should get out more if I’m to move on... not that I am moving on or have any ambitions in other directions beyond mayor of London which is of course my proudest.... proudest thingy.’

He gazed out of the bus window, suddenly listless. ‘So here I am not moving on... on a bus,’ he added after a few moments of silent contemplation. He mussed up his hair which had fallen into place as it so inconveniently does.

‘But why come here?’ I asked. ‘Why a bus - and why oven to table ware - specifically? What’s the policy angle on stoneware pottery?’

‘Oh I don’t know, I don’t use it myself. It was something to do during my tour of the North, part of the connecting with people idea I thought of in bed... in my bed I hasten to add.’ He laughed and wobbled.

‘This isn’t the North,’ I pointed out.

‘Isn’t – umm – isn’t your whippet allowed on the bus?’ Boris bent down to peer under our seat.

‘My whippet?’

‘You must know what a whippet is,’ Boris replied, his voice somewhat strained from bending down. ‘Skinny little dogs – run like blazes. Usually fed on tripe I believe.’

‘We don’t all have whippets and this is the Midlands, not the North,’ I informed him. I had to address his broad back because he was still peering under our seat.

‘Well this is North enough for me,’ he said, returning to a vertical posture, pink-faced after his prolonged underseat examination. ‘I’m not venturing beyond the tree line in a bus.’ He laughed again.

We said nothing for a while as the bus trundled on its way, passing bus stop after bus stop. Boris seemed worried, but I didn’t have enough sympathy to offer him. Anyway, one of the iPad crew was rolling up the tape so I assumed this phase of Boris’ connecting with people idea was fizzling out.

‘This is my stop,’ I said as we trundled through the outskirts of Derby.

‘Before you go...’ Boris grabbed my arm. ‘Why don’t people realise I’m just a regular guy with some terrific ideas who would always to his damndest for them... in the event of... well under changed circumstances... whatever they may be.’

‘Think about mendacious hairstyles and move on from there,’ I replied.

Thursday 20 November 2014

The Creed

Everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed.
Baruch Spinoza - Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

Nice try Baruch old fruit, but we should be so lucky.

Political correctness, cultural ambiguities, middle class anxieties and an abundance of stupidity seem to have evolved into what looks like a global creed. We see its fingerprints all over the current obsession with fanatically detailed social control, so let us see where the notion takes us. First we have to give the Creed more width and depth than we see in political correctness. 

To begin with we need not assume that the Creed was designed by some evil cabal of international fixers. Once it had enough momentum, then moral stupidity and political cupidity were enough to make it fly. All it required was an endless supply of nudges from inadequate politicians and our willingness to be nudged. Willingness in the sense of crowding together with regular prods to keep us mooing along in the right direction.

So the Creed is merely an outcome of our prosperous silliness, cultural weaknesses and feeble political ambivalence. It revels in those weirdly sentimental pretensions to ethical integrity we see in the so-called liberal media. The BBC and the Guardian for example.

Creed angst – you are destroying the planet.
Creed angst - the rich and powerful will do bad things.
Creed angst – something must be done.
Creed sloth – something must be done.
Creed economics – tax the rich.
Creed equality – tax the rich.
Creed philosophy – what’s your label?
Creed politics – what’s your label?
Creed religion – what’s your label?
Creed diversity – the One Creed is the Only Creed.

And so on. Essentially the Creed appears to be an evolved form of global socialism with a pervasive sentimental fuzziness woven into every thread of its fabric. It has no formal structure because it doesn’t need one. Now it has taken root it simply spews out more and more laws, regulations, treaties and those sanctimonious nudges providing constant reassurance that Something Will Always Be Done.

Equally important is the rise of an ugly and vindictive hostility directed at non-Creed folk. The threat is real - the Creed is ferociously anti-intellectual. The endlessly subtle malice of ostracism and low-key malice are directed at anyone who is openly non-Creed. This is a powerful feature – everyone is free to be as sanctimoniously malicious towards infidels as they wish.

The Creed is promoted by the EU, the UN, a vast array of charities and tax-funded pressure groups as well as traditional political parties of the left or right although it tends leans heavily to the left. As with Freudian psychoanalysis, Creed memes and narratives are aimed at acolytes only. The opinions of outside critics are irrelevant, usually attributed to their aberrant non-Creed psychology.

As the Creed is globally promoted and backed by colossal political and financial clout, its memes, narratives and prohibitions will be a dominant feature of our lives for decades at least. Forever in practical terms.

We can’t ignore it and Creed imbecilities still have to be trashed. But it is rather like standing at the door arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sooner or later it is time to close the door and put the kettle on. There are better things to do, fragments of integrity to gather in and nurture against a long Creed winter.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

The robots are still coming

“Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven”
Automatically captioned picture from Google

News stories often link themselves together in your mind. Two stories recently mated in my mind and you can make of that what you will. Remember my age though.

Firstly there was the BBC story on a comment made by the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership.

More than a fifth of UK jobs only require the educational level of an 11-year-old, the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership has highlighted.

Sir Charlie Mayfield drew attention to figures showing 22% of jobs demand only primary school-level skills...

This dwindling of middle-ranking job opportunities - which can provide a stepping stone for people advancing their career, could limit social mobility "at a time when we need more of that, not less", he said.

He contrasted the picture in the UK with that in the US and Germany, where the proportion of jobs which can be performed with just primary school-level attainment is much lower, at 10% and 5% respectively.

The quoted numbers from the US and Germany might suggest that the UK simply has more low skill jobs than the US, but another story popped up which again suggest a much more intractable problem is on the horizon.

From the Google Research Blog we have:-

“Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven”
“A group of people shopping at an outdoor market”
“Best seats in the house”

People can summarize a complex scene in a few words without thinking twice. It’s much more difficult for computers. But we’ve just gotten a bit closer -- we’ve developed a machine-learning system that can automatically produce captions (like the three above) to accurately describe images the first time it sees them.

On the face of it the two stories are only very loosely connected in that we all know how technical advances can and do destroy jobs. However, if computers can accurately describe what they see then we move another step closer to two things we have feared for a long time.

In principle and potentially, this level of automated recognition does away with the need for the human function of keeping and eye on processes and people. It does away with one aspect of supervision - knowing what goes on.

In itself this is just another successful technical development, a piece in an evolving jigsaw, but that jigsaw also includes those observations by the chairman of John Lewis. It isn't necessary for computers to match human intelligence before they compete with us in areas we once thought were exclusively human. They merely have to make the best use of their intrinsic advantages.

Who else could use an army of intelligent, unwinking watchers?

Monday 17 November 2014

Armistice Day

A World War One National Kitchen

This is another chapter from my aunt's memoirs where she describes Armistice Day as she saw it from the back streets of Derby in 1918 when she was ten years old.

November 11th 1918
It was a raw November morning, just like any other day. Little did we think as we scrambled out of bed, hurtled downstairs to wash and dress in front of the kitchen fire, that it was going to be one of the most important days of our lives.

Dressed, we sat down to a dish of porridge followed by dry toast. The porridge was sweetened with treacle which we held above the bowl on a spoon, and dribbling it made patterns on the creamy surface.

The treacle was different from both the Golden Syrup we buy today and the tinned thick black stuff. It was, being neither one nor the other, an in-between of the two. Golden brown, runny, certainly not sickly. We’d take an empty jam jar to our corner grocer’s shop and a pound jar was filled from a barrel for fourpence halfpenny.

I loved to watch the treacle sluggishly flow when the tap was turned on. Mr Scott the grocer always caught the last little drop on his finger as he turned off the tap, and licking it would smack his lips. How lucky he was, I wished I were a shop lady!

Off to school and at mid-morning out as usual into the playground. We were puzzled as to why the teacher hadn’t come outside to ring the bell signalling the end of our break when a girl said to me,

‘Look, Sir Thomas Roe’s flag is flying.’

I looked up and there on the big house across the way, the Union Jack fluttered high on its pole. There wasn’t much breeze but enough to move it gently.

We became aware just then that all the teachers had trooped outside, headed by the headmistress. We all stood and stared and though there was hardly any need, she put her hand up for silence. In a voice which trembled slightly she announced,

‘Children, I have to tell you the good, the wonderful news. The war is over. An armistice has been signed. You can all go home and tell your mothers and you need not come back to school this afternoon.’

An excited buzz started. She raised her hand again, telling us that we must first say the Lord’s Prayer and then sing the National Anthem. So we stood, first humbly with heads bent, then poured our hearts out in ‘God Save the King’.

We scampered into school for hats and coats and our feet barely touched the ground on our way home. Mam was in the scullery stirring a large pan of soup when my sisters and I burst in.

‘Well,’ she said after the news had sunk in, ‘as it’s a special day I will treat you to a dinner at the National Kitchen.’

We could hardly believe our ears! Lizzie, one of the girls from next door joined us and we set off, feeling as if we were on our way to Buckingham Palace. The National Kitchen was attached to a factory not far away and I should imagine served also as a canteen for the workers, though I didn’t know that then. It was a big, bare place and we must have been early as very few people were inside.

We had to go to a counter to collect our dinner, the cost of the meal with pudding to follow being sixpence each. There was beef, potatoes and peas, spotted dick and thin custard. The beef was eatable but it was a good thing we had strong teeth. The potatoes, plain boiled, were a bit watery, the gravy thin and anaemic, the peas like bullets, practically uneatable. There was a sudden burst of laughter from my elder sister and Lizzie.

‘What are they laughing at?’ I whispered to my younger sister. I was overawed at eating in a public place.

‘I don’t know,’ she whispered back, ‘but I heard Lizzie say something about the peas and a good blow-off would almost certainly shoot the cat.’

It took a few minutes to sink in and when it did, my face went scarlet. Furtively I looked over my shoulder. Was anyone near enough to have heard?

The spotted dick was nowhere near as good as Mam’s and after getting a jug of celery soup for her (we’d taken a large jug as Mam suffered with her stomach, but they only half filled it for sixpence) we walked back home. It was the first time I had ever eaten ‘out’ and I have never forgotten such a momentous occasion but I certainly didn’t think much of it at the time.

As the days passed, the lamplighter came back – the biggest joy of all. One night in bed my sister suddenly burst out laughing and when I asked her to tell the joke, she spluttered,

‘I was just remembering Lizzie and those peas.’

‘Oh yes,’ I answered innocently, ‘how did the poor cat get on?’ With that we both guffawed and Mam put her head round the bedroom door with a stern warning about being fit for school in the morning.

Sunday 16 November 2014


Crich church from Crich Stand

We went for a short walk through Crich Chase today. Cold, very misty and damp. Muddy underfoot as well, yet deliciously atmospheric.

Quiet too. Heavy mist seems to do that - damp down sounds to shut out the rest of the world. There was still enough colour to enjoy though, enough leaves on the trees to glimpse the fading glories of autumn.

The pic shows Crich church viewed through the mist from Crich Stand. I had to use the zoom and balance the camera on my flask but it gives some idea of how atmospheric it was.

A little while later a light breeze cleared away the mist and showed us another grey day without the atmospheric charm. Good while it lasted. This is a pic of Cromford canal on the way back. Even in the lightest of breezes those leaves were falling like confetti.

Cromford canal

Saturday 15 November 2014

What matters?


Culture is what matters in the broader scheme of life, not politics or economics. Cultural needs are what we want politics and economics to address, but too often it gets lost in the mass forgetting that is modern life.

When we grapple with issues from immigration to drug laws, from care of the elderly to house prices, the things we want and need are cultural. What we usually get is a turgid mix of politics, economics and posturing - and narrative of course. Always narrative.

The trouble with cultures is that they change too slowly for the impatient rhetoric of social and political activists, too slowly for big business, too slowly for global bureaucrats. So culture comes in last as a political issue fit for the masses.

Take these two extracts from Wikipedia's view of culture. Firstly we have Cicero's cultivation of the soul.

Culture (/ˈkʌltʃər/, from Latin: cultura, lit. "cultivation") is a concept based on a term first used in classical antiquity by the Romanorator Cicero: "cultura animi" (cultivation of the soul).

Next we have a more modern version where the soul has mysteriously disappeared. Not that I believe in the reality of my soul, but it's a pretty good metaphor for something within me that I feel entitled to value. I'm not too keen on its apparent disappearance.

In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be directly attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings:

  1. the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and
  2. the distinct ways that people, who live differently, classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.

I suppose that what I really want to do is to preserve whatever old goodnesses there may be in the world. I am not in the least ashamed of being old-fashioned. There’s nothing whatever that even you could say that will make me ashamed of being old-fashioned.
Ford Madox Ford - The New Humpty Dumpty (1912)

No doubt many of us agree with Ford in that we wish to preserve whatever old goodnesses there may be in the world, but possibly not at the expense of being thought old-fashioned. Unfortunately, any well-established and valued culture is bound to be old-fashioned. It’s in the nature of the thing.

So with a kind of furtive inevitability the modern state drives welfare wedges between generations, between young and old between parents and children. The state needs to wipe its citizens clean, create Locke's tabula rasa to be written on by the official needs of the moment.

The state, global bureaucracies and global business need each generation to forget what previous generations knew until we end up with a culturally cleansed generation fit for global citizenship. One which knows nothing of the past and even less of a world beyond the narratives. One with no culture.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Bloated with malnutrition

An example of malnutrition
from the BBC

If too many mince pies, too much turkey, roast spuds, stuffing and all the trimmings followed by Christmas pud and lashings of cream are a little too much for you this festive season, then you may be comforted to know that your bloated feeling is a temporary bout of malnutrition.

From the ever-vigilant BBC we are reminded that obesity is also a form of malnutrition.

Dr Haddad, a senior research fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute, highlighted three areas that the report focused on.

"The first thing we did was to say that we were not just going to focus on undernutrition, which is closely related to hunger, but also overnutrition and obesity," he explained. "Malnutrition just means bad nutrition."

It makes a kind of sense I suppose because as Dr Haddad says, malnutrition is merely bad nutrition, but surely it was useful as a word for not having enough to eat. The NHS seems to prefer that usage. From 

Definition of malnutrition in English:


Lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat:over 40,000 children die every day from malnutrition and disease.

Well words shift and evolve I suppose and no harm is done once people become familiar with new usage. However, further down the BBC piece we gain a hint of the bureaucratic wheels grinding away, constantly seeking to expand the the Sacred Remit.

Dr Haddad explained: "One of the big messages is that just because globally we are off-track, do not get discouraged because there is some very significant progress being made by very significant countries, such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India.

"This is fantastic and if those countries are joined by some other countries then we can easily be back on to achieving global targets."

However, he lamented the quality of the available data: "We say that the state of the data regarding nutrition is terrible.

"We could only find three countries where we could actually find data that properly showed how much was being spent on nutrition.

"Accountability in the nutrition sector is weak because the data is not very good. It is not about naming and shaming, it is about what needs to be done in order to improve accountability."

What is meant by accountability here I wonder?

Wednesday 12 November 2014

P*ss off says China

We have yet another climate fudge where a sensible leader manages to tell a silly leader to p*ss off without the BBC noticing.

China and the US have unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions, as the leaders of the two countries met for talks in Beijing.

US President Barack Obama said the move was "historic", as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26%-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

Wednesday's pledge is the first time it has agreed to set a ceiling, albeit an undefined one, on overall emissions.

An undefined ceiling eh? Hmm... let's see... is that similar to no ceiling?

I think it is.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Adults in Need


As we drove home yesterday, a large truck in front suddenly braked and drew in to the side of the road so we stopped too. We couldn’t see what was happening for a while, but then an escort vehicle came into view travelling in the opposite direction, lights flashing like a demented Christmas tree. This was soon followed by a motorcycle outrider. Gosh – was it royalty?


It was a Children in Need stunt. Adults on bikes trundled in to view, one towing a big version of Pudsey Bear on some kind of trailer. We moved off, but the tailback behind the stunt riders was a good two thirds of a mile long. Why would anyone wish to hold up the traffic to support a celebrity charity gig? 

Do people enjoy being publicly sanctimonious? 
Do they care where the money goes?

I suspect it's yes and no

Sunday 9 November 2014

The hunter returns


infovore (English)
Origin & history
The term was introduced as a scientific term by neuroscientists Irving Biederman and Edward Vessel.
infovore (pl. infovores)
A person who indulges in and desires information gathering and interpretation.

As the information revolution drains the swamp of human iniquity we see what was always in there rotting away our good intentions, poisoning the springs of human decency. Because folk are mostly decent – the information revolution brings that out too.

As the swamp drains, the stink of it also wafts away some pretty unhealthy illusions about leadership, the elite classes, social mobility and the integrity of institutions.

In particular, many of us have become accustomed to do our own research. From checking out the reviews on the latest kids’ toy to punching holes in political speeches, to ridiculing the BBC we are becoming familiar with finding out for ourselves instead of being told.

We are becoming infovores – information hunters.

Until recently we were always somewhat isolated from sources of information. They existed, but hunting them down took far too long for any but the most committed infovore. This is no longer the case and it must surely change social and political relationships.

We are becoming more equal in the only area that really matters – our ability as knowledge hunters. We are not equal economically but we are becoming intellectually equal because knowledge is power and our leaders no longer have deference to plug the yawning gaps in their own knowledge. For example.

Global corporations need global customers.
Global bureaucracies need them too.
Global customers don’t need lying political fixers.
So which group is currently out of the loop?

It's only one perspective among many, none of which are right in themselves but some are useful some not. These days perspectives are easy to formulate, research, adjust, accept, reject, improve or shelve, much easier than they were in the relatively recent past. Much less dependent on authority too.

As for the word infovore - I came across it some years ago and looked it up as we do. Click, click and there we are. It makes a difference, probably bigger than we know.

Saturday 8 November 2014

Dirty fingernails.

Outstanding jobs. Currently we have three outside lights not working, a gas fire which doesn’t light reliably, a problem with the extractor fan in the shower, a bathroom radiator which needs replacing and a couple of double-glazed windows where the seals have gone. Oh and the car will soon be telling us it needs a service.

Some problems are due to be fixed shortly, others will be fixed eventually, none are desperately important. It’s how things are these days. Possessions are more numerous and far more complex than they were sixty years ago.

In the fifties we had no central heating, no fridge, freezer, dishwasher, tumble dryer, automatic washing machine, phone, TV, music player, computer, broadband, printer, scanner, camera, Kindle, car or double glazing. Technically life was far simpler and less liable to go wrong.

These days diagnosing faults, dealing with malfunctions, fixing things and getting them fixed are part of daily life. Not really a big issue because most things can be fixed or replaced easily enough, but it still needs doing and it never seems to stop.

So what effect does it have on us?

To my mind it keeps us grounded by reminding us over and over again that our primary reality is physical. Other things keep us grounded too, from traffic jams to sport to a drink in the pub, but many of these are also due to the physical complexities of modern life.

Yet our leaders don’t seem well grounded at all. They say silly things, do silly things and try to deceive us in silly ways which aren’t working. They seem to live in a world of words, insulated from daily contact with leaking gutters, freezers which need defrosting and a list of jobs which never gets any shorter.

Money and power seem to insulate people from mundane modern realities, offering instead a comfortable world of words and manners which may be congenial but doesn’t seem to keep people well grounded.

This apparent lack of contact with mundane physical complexities even seems to leave them a little dim, as if they haven’t quite matured. Not only that, but the information age is exposing both their lack of talent and the painfully obvious problem that many are so poorly grounded that they tend to come across as simply bonkers.

They think words are realities. It’s a lack of practical experience not helped by schmoozing their way from a PPE degree to a publicly funded non-job to politics without ever having designed anything, fixed anything, built anything, grown anything or even sold anything except words.

We need leaders with dirty fingernails.

Friday 7 November 2014

Miliband vote debacle

As we all know, concerns about a leadership voting error are swirling around the Labour Party. The question being posed at the highest level is whether the ballot papers used for the 2010 leadership election were the official ones.

Izzy Shiftie, a Labour Party insider has provided us with a specimen of the the genuine ballot paper above. The question now facing the party is when and how to put right such an embarrassing mistake and who will carry the can. 

Thursday 6 November 2014

Polar porkies?

From Wikipedia

An interesting post from polarbearscience suggests to this sceptical observer that we are still being dosed with propaganda when it comes to polar bears and climate change.

Activist polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta) may have gone too far this time. In an interview with Yahoo News,Derocher is quoted as saying:

“When I first started here about 30 years ago the population was about 1,200 bears and now we’re down to about 800,” team member Andrew Derocher, a biology professor at the University of Alberta, said in a phone interview from the tundra outside Churchill.” [my bold]

There is no peer-reviewed research published anywhere that gives a population estimate of ~800 bears for Western Hudson Bay — so is this number quoted by Derocher based on some of his secret research that hasn’t been published or did he just make it up? 

Make it up? Sounds like normal service to me.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Slow and lingering inflictions


Mrs. Deacon was a philanthropist, according to the modern school of philanthropy. She patronised slow and lingering inflictions.
William Thackeray (probably) - Elizabeth Brownrigge (1832) 

What could he mean? Was Thackeray predicting the rise of Harriet Harman? Being one herself, Hattie certainly knows all about slow and lingering inflictions.

With the intellect of a dishcloth and the charming tenacity of a... what comes next? One hesitates to use the phrase tenacity of a mantrap in case of distasteful misunderstandings. Unlikely I know, but there we are. In a superficial world one is obliged to be superficially polite.

What Hattie knows, as all successfully dim people know, is the value of hanging on to any opportunity like a starving alligator until brighter and more principled folk have given up and gone home for a cup of tea, or more probably something stronger.

I’m sure a tiresome manner is a great help here. It must be a distinct advantage if your opponents are wearied at the mere sight of you, when your presence is widely seen as akin to a near-death experience.

The other thing Hattie knows is how to leap nimbly aboard any passing bandwagon while creating the impression of having been there at its inception. How she does it is a mystery even Machiavelli would have admired.

The trouble is, people of Hattie’s persuasion really are there all the time, but maybe that is an illusion too. The Hatties of this world always manage to come up with nothing to say and always manage to say it at some length. It creates the illusion that there never was and never could have been a pre-Hattie epoch.

Monday 3 November 2014

Freud revisited

From Wikipedia

After some pondering I bought Kindle version of the Freud Files and ploughed through it in a few days. It’s a surprisingly easy read in spite of hundreds of notes and references.

So what does it say about Sigmund Freud? It is not possible to sum up such a mass of detail in a single blog post, but subtle charlatan and overdeveloped ego are a good start. Prurient and possibly bonkers are not far off the mark too.

He certainly seems to have faked evidence, implanted false memories in some of his patients and probably had sex with his sister-in-law too. However it is a complex story and others might reach different conclusions. Not dramatically different I suspect.

The book begins by describing how Freud and his followers pursued a policy of blackboxing psychoanalysis to promote the impression that Freudian psychoanalysis was the only legitimate psychological narrative and render it immune to criticism.

This is pretty much what they seem to have done for the rest of Freud’s life and for some time afterwards. During his lifetime, Freudian psychoanalysis became a business, a profitable enterprise worth defending, so defend it they did.

Not that the blackboxing of Freudian psychoanalysis was motivated by money - it probably wasn't. Freud's mysterious ego seems to have been the driver. After his death, the myths appear to have been nurtured by his devoted daughter Anna plus those fee-earning acolytes. 

Internal critics were not only ejected, but liable to be treated to the most obnoxious criticism, their apostasy often being ascribed to psychological causes. To give a comparatively mild example, take this comment on Ernest Jones' biography back in the fifties. Jones was one of Freud's most devoted followers. 

Ottawa Citizen – Feb 9, 1956

Not an unusual reaction by Freud, although he tended to clothe his denunciations in more psychological language than louse. It's a remarkably unconvincing retort, but somehow it passed muster in the fifties. To many an uncritical journalist, Freud was a scientific hero on a par with Darwin and Copernicus. Copy and paste has a long and inglorious history.

Even so, after reading the book I'm still not sure how Freud managed his reputation with such startling success. He was supposed to be a scientist following the scientific method so his secretive methods and untestable theories should have rung numerous alarm bells.

In many areas of the psychological sciences they did ring, but presumably not loud enough. Overall the book left me with the view that ruthlessly promoted narratives can be vastly more powerful than the truth, but these days we know that anyway.

Sunday 2 November 2014

The ugliest moron in Nottingham

Suppose you visit Nottingham city centre, pick out any well-built young chap who is also a stranger and say to him:-

Strewth you must be the ugliest moron in Nottingham, why don’t you piss off and get some plastic surgery?

I’m guessing here, but I think the response would be an example of what philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine called the interanimation of sentences. In other words your sentence would animate another sentence from that well-built young chap, probably quite a short one. Your sentence would be a stimulus to his response.

Of course the response may also be physical, so nothing said here should be construed as advice.

Willard Van Orman Quine was one of the most interesting philosophers of the twentieth century. His phrase, interanimation of sentences is typically neat and easy to understand. It reflects how sentences generate other sentences, as if they stick together, one drawing out another, often in a fairly predictable sequence. It’s a common feature of Guardian comments.

So as well as responding to the physical world we respond to sentences too, which we all know but tend to forget as we pretend to be rational. We are animated by sentences and our animation is a matter of previous conditioning - or learning as we tend to call it.

We have the ability to write, say and think all kinds of things which we’d never actually come out with except in a context where their use is socially permitted or encouraged. Not even in Nottingham.

In other words, we have a vast repertoire of things we could say and a much more limited repertoire of things we are ever likely to say in any realistic context. Context, social pressures and previous conditioning decide which is which.

So most of what we could say remains unsaid forever.

Political correctness aims to keep things that way.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Cut off like a doll

No chemise

In or out her chemise, however, doesn’ t make much difference to the modern woman. She’s a finished-off ego, an assertive conscious entity, cut off like a doll from any mystery. And her nudity is about as interesting as a doll’ s. If you can be interested in the nudity of a doll, then jazz on, jazz on!

The same with the men. No matter how they pull their shirts off they never arrive at their own nakedness. They have none. They can only be undressed. Naked they cannot be. Without their clothes on, they are like a dismantled street-car without its advertisements: sort of public article that doesn’t refer to anything.

The ego! Anthropomorphism! Love! What it works out to in the end is that even anthropos disappears, and leaves a sawdust manikin wondrously jazzing.

D.H. Lawrence  ...Love Was Once A Little Boy (1925)