Saturday 31 January 2015

That forlorn orchestra


He belonged unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra to whose piping no one dances; he was one of the world’s lamenters who induce no responsive weeping.
H.H. Munro (Saki) - Dusk (1914)

Thursday 29 January 2015

Withheld assent

...experience seems to teach us especially clearly, that we are able to suspend our judgment before assenting to things which we perceive ; this is confirmed by the fact that no one is said to be deceived, in so far as he perceives anything, but only in so far as he assents or dissents.
Baruch Spinoza - Ethics

Karl Friston thinks our brains are wired to seek a state of fewest surprises. It’s a least action idea where the brain does as little work as possible while processing sensory data.

In short, we sample the world to ensure our predictions become a self-fulfilling prophecy and surprises are avoided. In this view, perception is enslaved by action to provide veridical predictions (more formally, to make the freeenergy a tight bound on surprise) that guides active sampling of the sensorium. 
Karl Friston

It seems to me that Friston’s idea works well enough, but doesn’t explain why some people are inclined towards scepticism, the awkward squad who see no merit in following the consensus merely because it is the consensus. Social pressure tends to create situations where not following a consensus surely requires more brainwork than following it. So what drives scepticism?

Suppose some people see fewer surprises outside a particular consensus. Or suppose they see fewer surprises in simply withholding their assent because the consensus seems flaky. If so, then there may be brainwork benefits to withheld assent even if the majority don't see it.

As an aside - maybe the majority do see the benefits of withheld assent. Maybe it is mostly the chattering classes who assent too readily to fashionable consensus. As this isn't the least action approach their brains overheat.

Withheld assent feels similar to detachment if we see detachment as perpetually withheld assent. We've known about detachment for centuries - where some people seem to prefer to remain outside the easy brainwork of consensus. 

Detachment or perpetually withheld assent may lead to fewer surprises anyway, especially in areas which are so complex that a number of interpretations always seem to be viable. Until they go wrong that is.

All of which seems to fit modern life quite well.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Plugged up


Are you the kind of person who eats bananas with a blotchy brown skin? According to this piece, that's is the best one to eat - no 7 in the picture. Only ripe bananas have broken down resistant starches into sugars.

When a banana is picked for the grocery store, it is picked and shipped green (unripe). In this stage the banana is comprised of a type of resistant starch for which the human body lacks the enzyme to break down. This banana (#1-5) will plug you up. Plus it has that awful “dry” texture that makes you want to spit it out.

I'd go for no 7 too - possibly no 6 but that's it. A banana should taste like a banana.

Monday 26 January 2015

Two windmills

We were out walking through Carsington Pasture today. It’s a somewhat barren landscape above Carsington Water, pockmarked with old mines and spoil heaps and now home to four huge wind turbines which can be seen for miles. You may be able to judge their size from the trees and the ruined stone windmill in the foreground.

The sound made by these things has been the subject of much debate, but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. In the stiff breeze we had today, they make a low thrumming noise rather similar to the sound and the rhythm of a dishwasher. I wouldn’t want to live nearer than a couple of miles though; the sound must carry at night.

Big wind turbines are an impressive sight, especially up close on a windy day. What strikes me is the power behind the technology, the power of greedy and ambitious men. Women too no doubt, but let us leave the main responsibility where it belongs.

One is left with an acute reminder of the formidable realities of power, the ability to manipulate and persuade, the power to promote unworthy causes and harness worthy people to them. Voting will never change that.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Bashir bashing


The story of pinball MEP Amjad Bashir rumbles on.

Mr Bashir, a former Conservative, was elected as a UKIP MEP last year.

Before the defection was announced, UKIP suspended him and said he was being investigated for matters including "unanswered financial and employment questions" and "interference" with candidate selection processes.

I see no problems with our elected representatives swapping parties. Kicking against party discipline is no bad thing, but sadly I don't see in Mr Bashir a trend towards more independent political principles.

A reminder from Wikipedia:-

Amjad Mahmood Bashir (born 17 September 1952) is a Member of the European Parliament for the Yorkshire and the Humber region for the Conservative Party. He was elected in 2014 for the UK Independence Party and defected to the Conservative Party on 24 January 2015. Earlier on the same day, UKIP announced that they had suspended his membership and that he is under a continuing investigation over various allegations of impropriety.

Whether or not Cameron should have welcomed him back is one for the pundits. On reflection and taking everything into account I think I'd have told him to f**k off. 

For a more considered analysis try Adam Collyer and Witterings.

Saturday 24 January 2015

What’s your price


It’s a cynical old saying that we all have our price. It is not one we care to use about ourselves though. Yet we do have our price because that’s partly why millions of crap jobs exist. The industrial revolution was built on some exceedingly crap jobs, on people with a price low enough for dark satanic mills to be profitable.

Perhaps there is also a variant of the Peter Principle where people aim to rise through an organisation until they reach their perceived value to the great wide world. The incompetence arises when a chap’s notion of personal value is rather higher than it should be.

In the public sector a decent salary, good working conditions and an index-linked pension have bought a significant degree of mildly cantankerous but essentially solid loyalty from millions. I saw it and was part of it.

A complicating factor is that people seem to have widely different notions of how much is enough for a satisfactory lifestyle. These notions do not seem to be strongly correlated with ability either. During my career I came across and heard about a number of able people who appeared to be quite happy with less than I’d be happy with, or less than I’d be happy with if I’d had their ability.

A good example of this was a guy my father told me about. He worked for Rolls Royce in the sixties, a heavily-bearded computer whizz who came to work on an old motorcycle and sidecar and ambled around the corporate corridors wearing sandals and no socks. All he did was solve computer problems but that was enough.

Rolls Royce was smart enough to make him into a one man department but never paid him anywhere what they would have given if he’d ever demanded it. Sublimely content with what he had, he just solved problems and took his family for jaunts in the motorbike and sidecar.

Modern bureaucracies seem to prefer a kind of grudging loyalty to unconventional talents. They buy it with money and security and certainly don’t want talented beardies with no socks wandering around the place. The closest they come to innovation is through their PR people – who also have their price.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Chilcot to be published now

After much criticism of the earlier decision to delay publication until after the general election, David Cameron has announced that the Chilcot report is to be published immediately.

“This government has nothing to hide,” Mr Cameron said to assembled journalists, “we publish now.”

We understand that the report is to be published as a partwork consisting of sixty monthly issues. Specialist partwork publisher DeLaye has been engaged to deliver the project on time and within budget.

Each issue will cost £4.95 including postage and the first will include a free cutout model of a WMD - see illustration above. A range of tasteful binders will be available, one binder having space for twelve monthly issues. 

As a special incentive, the final summary and list of recommendations will be given away free to all subscribers at the end of their subscription period. Publicity, marketing and related Twitter feeds are being handled by upmarket consultants Obskuranti.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

White rhino


According to the BBC and David Shukman the northern white rhino is teetering on the brink of extinction. Although it doesn’t look white to me. More grey than white. Shukman seems concerned though. Even more worried than the rhino but that’s what he does – brow-furrowing concern.

In an age when mankind can send robots to look for life on Mars, why can't science stop so many forms of life from being wiped out here on Earth?

The question comes amid the loss of species on such a relentless scale that conservationists call it the Sixth Mass Extinction - the fifth being the asteroid that killed the large dinosaurs. This one is driven by human activity.

It seems to me that there is a scale of possible reactions to this story.

From: Arm-waving we-are-destroying-the-planet, something must be done, it’s all our fault or rather your fault for being a thoughtless consumer bastard.

To: Indifference.

I’m firmly in the indifference camp – I really don’t care if northern white rhinos become extinct. I’m happy enough for other folk to try saving them, happy enough for substantial sums of money to be spent in the attempt - Shukman's salary for example. So go for it David - save them. 

I’m not prepared to pretend it really matters to me in any meaningful sense though. That would be cant. Johnson was good at spotting cant, especially in Boswell.

You tell a man, ‘I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.’ You don't care sixpence whether he is wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society: but don't think foolishly.”
James Boswell's  Life  of  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D.

The BBC does cant rather well, it’s the fashion and has been forever, but Johnson’s advice was sound. It even applies to northern white rhinos which aren't actually white.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Are climatologists liars?


As we enter the umpteenth year with no global warming the short answer is a rather obvious YES if scientific theories are still falsifiable by physical evidence. Uppercase indicates shouting by the way.

In this UK election year, catastrophe-driven climatology seems more and more like political number-waving than traditional experimental science. A science of paid middle class advocates where political exigencies have placed a block on falsification and the advocate scientists couldn't care less because it's a noble cause. As are all their causes no doubt.

As the years slip by it has become painfully clear that the catastrophic narrative cannot be falsified under any but changed political circumstances such as an embarrassing number of frozen pensioners. Trashing the science may be fun, but it doesn't achieve much.

We see the issue most clearly in the abject failure of hugely expensive climate models to predict global temperature trends. The science and the scientists have failed miserably but the policies continue. Falsification is not allowed and never will be unless the political situation changes. It's like finding the school bully during a game of hide and seek. Really there is no point - better leave him hidden. Or indeed her.
There are other failures too, such as the failure polar sea ice to melt on cue and the untimely health of polar bear populations, but these are secondary to the primary failure - the lack of a any detectable temperature rise caused by troposphere COconcentrations.

If we class climatology as advocacy rather than traditional science then these failures are easily explicable in terms of politics, money and human behaviour - particularly middle class behaviour. The nonsense morphs into yet another dishonesty of daily life.

For example, one of the most problematic aspects of climatology has been the willingness of climatologists to lie by omission – to cherry-pick. Lying by omission may be common enough in normal discourse and compulsory in politics, but in years gone by one did not expect to find it in science. Tweed jackets yes - lying no.

Yet in climatology, lying by omission is very common indeed. It seems to function as a kind of Masonic handshake for climate initiates. Without it there would be no catastrophe narrative and therefore no rationale for political intervention. Political intervention being the whole point – obviously.

However if climatology is merely advocacy, then lying by omission is explained as a commonplace tool of international politics. The climate is poorly understood and unpredictable, but orthodox climatology must continue to suggest otherwise - so it does.

Catastrophe-based climatology is not a science and its practitioners are not scientists in any worthwhile sense. They are merely paid advocates and what is advocated is best viewed in that light. Orthodox climatology provides security, middle class status, a good income and a good pension. What is that worth? A human soul is what it’s worth.

Many would-be immigrants risk their lives for much less.

Monday 19 January 2015

Where not to eat in Derbyshire

Derbyshire Times has a long list of food outlets with low hygiene ratings. Some even have a rating of zero.

Four food outlets across Derbyshire were given a zero-star hygiene rating in 2014, it can be revealed.

The damning scores – based on the latest inspections by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) – mean “urgent improvement” is necessary.

Ratings are based on how the food is handled, the condition and cleanliness of the premises and the management of the business which includes good record keeping.

All very interesting for those of us who sometimes eat out in Derbyshire, but we'd rarely touch a place with less than a five star rating anyway. These things are insidious though. There was a time when the general appearance of a place was enough, those tiny and not so tiny clues which scruffy folk seem unable to hide.

Now we look for the rating and I'm not sure it's an improvement. Not only that but one naturally goes on to wonder if such schemes will ever move on to other aspects of official nutritional approval. Should we expect a lettuce rating to arrive in due course?

Sunday 18 January 2015

Snow on the hills

Went for a short walk in the hills and moorland above Chatsworth today. Only a light covering of snow - less than an inch I'd say. Perfect for winter walking.

Blue sky and snow - so beautiful it was a delight to be out there. Lots of others were out too with many a "good morning" because these things lift the spirits don't they?

Swiss Cottage - Chatsworth Estate

Emperor Lake - Chatsworth Estate

Saturday 17 January 2015

All the material for rejoicing


Des glaneuses by Jean-François Millet 

Near by him, I felt sure, would be lying a large and late vegetable marrow, and its largeness and lateness would be a theme of conversation at luncheon. It would be suggested that it should grace the harvest thanksgiving service; the harvest having been so generally unsatisfactory, it would be unfair to let the farmers supply all the material for rejoicing.
H.H. Munro (Saki) - Judkin Of The Parcels (1910)

We lost a delightfully irreverent mind when H H Munro was shot by a German sniper during the Battle of the Ancre in 1916. He says so much in so few words. 

The harvest thanksgiving must go on whatever the state of the real harvest, out there in the fields where so few members of the congregation ever set foot.

As delicious as a glass of old port.

Friday 16 January 2015

The 2015 election

I usually manage to squeeze a drop of excitement out of general elections but this year the well is pretty dry. In the past I’ve stayed up into the early hours to catch the emerging trends but I can’t see me doing that again. Unless UKIP seems likely to kick the whole decrepit system up the arse perhaps.

Dave, Nick and Ed soured it for me – especially after that interminable dose of Blair and Brown. Now it's as if some dreary committee selected our leaders with the sole intention of sucking away the last few drops of sour juice from our ailing democracy. It’s as if their bland and devious idiocy was designed to bore us into a state of catatonic assent.

Well it certainly worked with me.

Dave is as slippery as a buttered eel and Ed hasn’t even noticed how the climate game was rigged by the UN. Nick is a substandard Lib Dem - which is an achievement I suppose.

I’m so bored with ultra careful politically correct posturing that I’d welcome some real talk, some character and passion even if I don’t agree with it. Strewth – we are supposed to be civilised adults. Surely we may disagree without our world falling apart.

A less xenophilic narrative perhaps. Less of the servile abasement before politically active minorities. More robustness and a less supine attitude to faux outrage. Even a willingness to promote outrage, a desire to explore what people actually think. Democracy even. Gosh – what an idea.

As a topical example, many folk must be uncomfortable with Islam taking root in this country. I’m not particularly concerned but some obviously are, so we should say so instead of allowing their views to seep underground. Surely we can be robustly civilised about these things?

A little more patriotism would be welcome too. Not flag-waving jingoism nor empty politically correct sentiment, but something that does at least acknowledge our need to belong, to have a collective history, to have a reason to put down roots when having roots is the preferred way of life.

Unfortunately there are numerous issues where the official narrative swamps the debate, where fears about social trends and anxieties about the future are not heard because the chattering classes don’t think they should be heard.

Yet from cosy arrangements with major corporations to public sector waste to conflicts of interest and outright corruption, from political lies to vote-rigging to gerrymandering, from excessive legislation to undermining family life, from endless official nagging to fake charities to stolen tax revenues there is much to debate.

We won’t hear much genuine debate in this election though. Probably even less in the one that follows. 

Thursday 15 January 2015

Ice spikes

Last March a triangular ice spike appeared on our bird bath.  I was reminded of it by Roy Spencer's recent post on ice spikes he has observed in Alabama. He also links to this laboratory study which used ice cubes in a tray, but presumably the mechanism is similar.

In the case of an ice spike forming in an ice cube tray, water first freezes at the surface, starting at the edges the cube, and the ice subsequently expands laterally until only a small hole in the ice surface remains. Then the continued freezing of water beneath the surface forces water up through the hole, where it freezes around the edge of the hole to form the beginnings of a hollow tube. Continued freezing forces water up through the tube, where it freezes around the rim and lengthens the tube. At some point the tube freezes shut and growth stops. 

As you can probably see, there was snow on the ground and the bird bath is quite shallow which seems to help. Wikipedia has more info.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Climate on the buses


Our people-watching bus driver has noticed a sharp reduction in climate change comments made by his passengers. Bus drivers see many thousands of people and a good number of them offer a comment or two as they get on or off the bus. Or they indulge in audible discussion while on it.

We didn’t get this kind of weather before that global warming did we

Once commonplace, our driver has noticed that comments such as this have virtually disappeared while a smattering of sceptical comments have taken their place. Not so long ago, sceptical comments were never heard at all.

It makes for an interesting survey because the comments and conversations of bus passengers are not prompted by interested parties. Commuters, shoppers and bus-pass pensioners travel by bus but the chattering classes probably don’t, in spite of promoting buses as environmentally friendly.

Also interesting is that an attempt to carry out a more formal survey would remind bus passengers of the climate issue, suggesting it still is an issue – otherwise why would anyone bother with a survey?

Maybe the weather bomb ploy will get folk worrying again.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

A difference of opinion

Grandson (aged 7) told me about the new school food regulations today. He thinks the idea is stupid.

On the other hand Nick Clegg (aged 48) thinks it's a good idea.

Nick however, is an unreliable authoritarian tit so I'm with Grandson on this one.

Monday 12 January 2015

Let's hack the coffee table

Better or worse?


This is Nottingham from the east ca. 1695, painted by Jan Siberechts. Idealised of course, but still just about recognisable and startlingly different to the Nottingham I commuted to for two decades.

The post title "Better of worse?" is not a question to take too seriously. I have no great wish to return to the late seventeenth century, not even this fairytale version. Commuting would have been easier though.

Yet even discounting Siberechts' fanciful eye and the rose-tinted mist of nostalgia, there remains a certain sense of loss. Nothing is for nothing as they say and we certainly gave something away during the industrial revolution.

Three centuries ago England would have seemed achingly beautiful even to our jaded modern eyes. A country of winding lanes, clean air, clean rivers, thatched cottages, small towns, tiny villages and buildings all built to a human scale.

Best seen from a distance no doubt but still beautiful.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Two wooden legs

However, after all, whether you have the one or the other, it is only putting the same plaster on a wooden leg.
Emile Zola - La Terre (1887)

I was reminded of this quote by Sackers' recent post on a Lab-Con coalition.

Ridge tiles

We seem to be remarkably good at choosing houses where ridge tiles are likely to be blown off in high winds. Lost another three in the recent winds. One landed on the garage roof, smashed about six tiles but the ridge tile itself is unscathed.

Ah well, at least it missed the car.

Friday 9 January 2015

Chesterton’s Bind


But there can be little doubt, I think, that if some form of Collectivism is imposed upon England it will be imposed, as everything else has been, by an instructed political class upon a people partly apathetic and partly hypnotized.

The aristocracy will be as ready to “administer” Collectivism as they were to administer Puritanism or Manchesterism; in some ways such a centralized political power is necessarily attractive to them.
G. K. Chesterton – What’s Wrong With The World (1910)

Chesterton was right, the political class don’t care which system they administer as long as they are the administrators. The political class is an environment, a niche. As with any other niche it selects those best adapted to it.

So there is no point in expecting a political party to change the niche, rebuild it into something more democratic, spoil it for the current occupants. Why would they? They merely want to occupy it. Such an appealing niche too, and a staging post for so many others equally attractive.

We could call it Chesterton’s Bind - a centralized political power is necessarily attractive to them. Not an easy nut to crack.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Neil Moss

I recently stumbled across the story of Neil Moss while browsing through some Derbyshire history. It must be one of those events that lie dormant in the memory for decades because I recall quite vividly being horrified by it at the time.

Neil Moss (full name Oscar Hackett Neil Moss, (1938 - March 22, 1959) was the victim of a famous caving accident in England on Sunday, March 22, 1959. A twenty-year-old undergraduate studying philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, Moss became jammed underground, 1,000 feet from the entrance after descending a narrow unexplored shaft in Peak Cavern, a famous cave system in Castleton in Derbyshire. 

Initial attempts to haul him free failed because the rope broke several times. When he lost consciousness as carbon dioxide from his own respiration built up in the base of the shaft, he was unable to assist further rescue attempts made with a stronger rope. More rescue efforts were made: June Bailey gave up after six hours, "driven back by foul air," and caving veteran Bob Leakey, in a frogman suit, could not get to him. He never regained consciousness and was declared dead on the morning of Tuesday, March 24, after the final rescue attempt had failed.

His father, wishing to avoid further injury or loss of life in an attempt to retrieve his body, requested that it be left in place, wishing no one else to risk life or limb. The fissure was sealed with concrete and an inscription was later placed nearby. This section of Peak Cavern is now known as Moss Chamber.

It's not my thing, caving. I still find it horrific, the idea of dying like that. Yet expiring as a result of his own exhaled carbon dioxide would have been quite painless. It's the thought of it, his inability to struggle against that unimaginable weight of rock.

The stuff of nightmares.

Wednesday 7 January 2015


We took Granddaughter to one of those soft play centres today. It gives her a chance to run around when the weather is miserable.

Being a weekday, the place was full of pre-school toddlers enjoying themselves. Two boisterous little boys were particularly noticeable, running around everywhere letting off steam. They were fine though - too little to be doing any harm.

The parents or grandparents, sit around drinking coffee and every now and then the little ones persuade them to join in the fun for a while.

Those two little boys never seemed to do that. I never saw them touch base with an adult. Not even a glance or a look at me, although I could have missed one or two of those.

I don’t think so though. As far as I could see they were ignored for two hours and showed every sign of being used to it. Sooner or later a primary school teacher will be dealing with that.

Monday 5 January 2015

Three birds with one stone


Sometimes it is a good idea to stand back and take another look at familiar issues. For example we could ask ourselves why the UK electorate has a tendency to vote for lying poseurs as their MPs. People who were recently discovered to have fiddled their expenses, lied about their main residence, employed family members on their official staff and tried to hide the whole sorry mess when it all came out.

Thinking laterally, maybe that’s the real point of electing them. After all, their expenses scams were somewhat petty in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the electorate has been electing useless lying poseurs as a cunning plan

Hmm - so what cunning plan would that be Baldrick?

How about this.

The general idea is to pass the job of government to professionals – the permanent officials whose job it is to make sure government actually works. Thus taking it away from the sticky fingers of party hacks, loons, thieves, trouser-droppers, insane harridans and all those who only see the job as a route to better things.

So we prefer bloody useless bureaucrats to bloody useless politicians do we Baldrick?

It’s a tough choice, but given the paucity of options maybe we do prefer bloody useless bureaucrats. Why not? The growth in international standards covering everything from road signage to food standards to reptile imports has led to a marked decline in the work available to politicians. Much of it is beyond their ken anyway because of its complexity and technical detail.

This sounds the death knell for democracy, but at least the professionals, whatever their numerous shortcomings and inefficiencies, at least they have to keep the show on the road if only to retain a firm grip on their salaries and pensions.

It is far from being a satisfactory trend and things are likely to go very sour indeed, but perhaps it is better than relying on all those ghastly, know-nothing freaks propping up the House of Commons bar. They have no intention of doing anything useful under any circumstances and maybe voters have wised up to that...

Or maybe they haven’t wised up to anything Baldrick. They simply plod off to the polling station, scrawl their cross based on the party they hate most and that’s the real attraction of UKIP. Three birds with one stone. 

Sunday 4 January 2015

The Coming Ice Age

One of a series of three videos from the seventies worrying about a new ice age. The usual suspects are all there - visual drama, doom-laden commentary, tame experts and a celebrity - in this case Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame.  The other two videos are here and here. h/t Gore Lied.

The third video features the late Stephen Schneider who later switched to predicting global warming and according to the same Gore Lied post had this to say to Discover magazine in October 1989.

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

To my mind these are the words of an ethically naive man rather than an out and out liar, but even as I write those words I wonder if I'm being naive too.

Saturday 3 January 2015

The City of Prosperous Obscurity


An Old Politician and a Young Politician were travelling through a beautiful country, by the dusty highway which leads to the City of Prosperous Obscurity. Lured by the flowers and the shade and charmed by the songs of birds which invited to woodland paths and green fields, his imagination fired by glimpses of golden domes and glittering palaces in the distance on either hand, the Young Politician said:

“Let us, I beseech thee, turn aside from this comfortless road leading, thou knowest whither, but not I. Let us turn our backs upon duty and abandon ourselves to the delights and advantages which beckon from every grove and call to us from every shining hill. Let us, if so thou wilt, follow this beautiful path, which, as thou seest, hath a guide-board saying, ‘Turn in here all ye who seek the Palace of Political Distinction.’”

“It is a beautiful path, my son,” said the Old Politician, without either slackening his pace or turning his head, “and it leadeth among pleasant scenes. But the search for the Palace of Political Distinction is beset with one mighty peril.”

“What is that?” said the Young Politician.

“The peril of finding it,” the Old Politician replied, pushing on.

Ambrose Bierce - Fantastic Fables (1899)

Ah - the City of Prosperous Obscurity. A fable for modern times, as so many fables are. I wonder if Clegg or Cameron know where it is? I suspect they do.

Friday 2 January 2015

The still, cold hands of Power


For, after all, this deity of his, like the deity of every other man, was but his temperament exaggerated beyond life-size and put in perfect order — it was but the concretion of his constant feeling that nothing could be trusted to behave, freed from the still, cold hands of Power.

He had never trusted himself to act save under the authority of this peculiar deity, much less, then, could he feel that others could be trusted. This lack of trust — which was only, perhaps, a natural desire for putting everything and everybody in their proper places — had made him from a child eligible for almost any post of trust.

And Nature, recognising this, had used him a hundred thousand times, weeding him out from among his more irregular and trustful fellows, and piling him in layers, one on another, till she had built out of him in every division of the State, temples of Power. Two qualifications alone had she exacted; that he should not be trustful, and that he should be content to lie beneath the layer above him, until he should come in time to be that upper layer himself.
John Galsworthy - A Commentary (1900)

A fine fictional take on a real and intractable problem – the process-driven bureaucrat. Erosion of trust is not a new problem. People in positions of authority who cannot trust others, don’t value trust, don’t believe in trust. This is where our increasingly fanatical and repressive micro-audit culture comes from.

It is out of control.

Thursday 1 January 2015

Toast is not an aphrodisiac

Scientists at Fradley University in Staffordshire have proved conclusively that toast is not an aphrodisiac. It may be eaten in comparative safety with little or no risk of unwanted attentions from MPs, the Daily Mail or small dogs.

Dr Baz Broxtowe has taken time out from his bio-energyresearch to settle once and for all the sexual role of toast. I met Britain’s most energetic researcher over coffee in the university cafeteria.

“Was toast ever thought to be an aphrodisiac?” I asked, with my sceptical jounalist's hat firmly in place.

“Consciously no, but you would be surprised how many people have a slice of toast before going to bed or who wake up in the night craving toast,” Dr Baz explained.

“That was your clue to an unconscious sexual link?” I asked.

“Absolutely, although the main thrust of our research came from computer-based nutrition models where toast stuck out as an unexplained parameter. We couldn’t see the point of it except as an edible marmalade platform.”

“Or jam?”

“Or indeed jam.”

“So this is what prompted you to test the aphrodisiac properties of toast to see if it serves a deeper purpose than a mere marmalade platform? How did you go about it?”

“Firstly we gathered together a group of toast-neutral subjects who had not consumed toast for at least thirty days. Secondly, and this is the important point, we knew we had to magnify the potential effect to make it detectable. If there had been an aphrodisiac element in toast we knew it would be quite small.”

“So your test subjects had to consume more than the usual amount of toast to enhance any effect?”

“Absolutely. We gave half our subjects a standard dose of twenty slices of Warburton’s Thick Sliced, lightly toasted and consumed dry with a little water to aid consumption. We refer to them as the Warburton Group. In that way we aimed to enhance any possible aphrodisiac effect while screening out all confounding parameters.”

“Parameters such as butter and marmalade or a nice cup of tea?”

“That’s it.”

“I see – and the other group?”

“They were the control group. We allowed them to eat anything they wished apart from oysters.”

“And did it work?” I asked.

“It worked extremely well. None of the Warburton Group exhibited any signs of an aphrodisiac effect at all. Just the opposite in fact."


"Yes. We tested for certain biochemical markers in the blood and compared to the control group the negative effect was quite marked. Unfortunately we can’t actually do any follow-up tests because the Warburton group have all disappeared. They seem to have changed their mobile phone numbers too – which is odd.”

“It is odd. So do you intend to repeat the experiment with another group?”

“Probably not,” Dr Baz mused after a long hesitation. “Although there are some loose ends such as a number of subjects from the Warburton Group who vanished before the experiment was completed. Nevertheless we’ve demonstrated what we set out to demonstrate.”

So that's that. Another urban myth demolished thanks to the tireless efforts of scientists such as Dr Baz.