Monday 30 November 2015

Dining out

I have no wish to send ripples of envy through the blogosphere, but today we dined out for lunch. Before shopping we nipped into the Tesco cafe for coffee and a mince pie. It’s called style – some of us have it and some of us don’t.

For under a fiver it wasn't bad, so no need to have words with chef either.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Wrong moves

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the crowds gathered in central London for a march against climate change that they had a message for the politicians gathering in Paris for talks next week - "Do what you are sent there to do."

Decades ago I was playing a league chess match somewhere in Coventry, can’t recall exactly where, can’t even recall who I played for.

Anyhow, there came a point where my opponent took one of my pawns with his knight and at the same time threatened my rook. Chess is very psychological; players sit almost head to head and inevitably body language plays its part. My opponent took my pawn with a tiny flourish, clicked the chess clock and sat back with a look of muted but perfectly obvious satisfaction. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t actually a good move.

I ignored the threat on my rook, pushed a centre pawn onto the sixth rank and the game was effectively over. My opponent’s sense of shock was painfully obvious, even more obvious than his satisfaction had been about a minute earlier.

As in chess, so it is in life. There is no going back once a wrong move has been made. Inevitably there are consequences and although the complexities of real life always offer up new opportunities, they are never exactly the ones we had before the wrong move.

Was Jeremy Corbyn’s election a wrong move? Of course it was – the possibilities stemming from a capable Labour leader are gone. Now it is too late because he has to be ousted in some way and that problem is down to another wrong move – Ed Miliband’s changes to the Labour leadership election rules.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband is facing calls to apologise for the "disastrous" voting system being used to elect his successor.

Mr Miliband changed the system under which he was elected to "one member one vote" and allowed the public to take part for a £3 fee.


There are only so many wrong moves any individual, institution or country can afford to make. The Labour party has made two in quick succession. The sense of shock is still painfully obvious but Labour has lost more than a game of chess and so have we.

It's less than three months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader but already newspapers address talk of a "plot" to stage a "coup" within the party.

The i and its sister publication, the Independent, report the calls of four backbenchers for Mr Corbyn to step down, with one saying the party is in a "terrible, terrible mess". Meanwhile, the Times says some senior figures have been consulting lawyers over a way to both unseat him and ensure he cannot be re-elected.


Saturday 28 November 2015

Is Prince Charles a plonker?

The little-known Theory of Plonkerdom tells us that being a plonker is often a useful social asset. So much so that plonkerdom is one of our most important lifestyle choices, an essential aspect of social and political life. Why this is so and why many ambitious people are attracted to plonkerdom is easily illustrated by two examples.

1. Volcanoes are caused by huge mutant moles
This is the easy one, a gentle introduction to basic plonkerdom. The only question we need to ask is – “how do different people respond to the above statement?”

Firstly, anyone not versed in plonkerdom would treat the idea as either ridiculous or the prelude to some Pythonesque comedy.

Secondly, anyone versed in plonkerdom would first ask “is this a popular idea and if so popular with whom?” The obvious answers are “no” and “nobody” but only after this initial query does the answer become “ridiculous”. Plonkerdom academics often refer to this initial query as the “preliminary plonkerdom scan”.

2. High house prices are good for the economy.
Still easy but fractionally less ridiculous than no. 1. An introduction to more advanced plonkerdom where plonkerdom strategies start to become important. As with the first example there are two standpoints, one outside plonkerdom and one inside.

Firstly, anyone not versed in plonkerdom understands the advantages of lower costs, so cheaper houses would be good for the economy, not expensive houses. Their answer might be “wrong, high house prices are a mean-spirited burden on young people”.

Secondly, anyone versed in plonkerdom would first ask “is this a popular idea and if so popular with whom?” The obvious answers are “yes” and “home owners plus many other influential sections of society”. Only after this initial query does the answer become “correct, high house prices are good for the economy.”

The invisible hand of plonkerdom
I hope these two simple examples are sufficient to show how useful it is for an ambitious person to assume the mantle of plonkerdom. Having the opinions of a plonker can be very advantageous; one might almost say essential to social and political life. 

So the key point of plonkerdom is this: it is important to hold opinions which give one a social advantage and naturally enough those are opinions held in common with the right kind of people. 

People outside the charmed circle of plonkerdom are often frustrated by what appears to be an utterly mysterious social and political force – the invisible hand of plonkerdom.

Many people who don’t understand plonkerdom see Prince Charles as a plonker when in reality he is a modestly adroit practitioner of plonkerdom. Not an expert such as David Cameron perhaps, but one should not underestimate his expertise.

Friday 27 November 2015

How thick are celebrities?

Why do so many celebrities feel a need to support dodgy causes?

Björk, David Bowie and a host of musicians, actors, artists, novelists and leading figures in the creative industries have called on negotiators at next week’s climate summit in Paris to reach a deal that staves off dangerous global warming.

The letter to the French foreign minister and the UN climate chief in charge of the talks is signed by a selection of A-listers from the British cultural scene, including actors Steve Coogan and Emma Thompson, musicians Damon Albarn and Guy Garvey, and writers Ian McEwan and Philip Pullman.

Do they not see how diminished they are in the eyes of a significant number of people? All publicity isn’t necessarily good publicity – look at the endless ridicule Bono has attracted over the years.

As professional artists they are just the kind of people who ought to see the human weaknesses, folly and ambiguities behind most promoted causes. Keen human insight ought to come with the artistic territory.  Yet as far as one can see it doesn’t and many professional artists appear to be completely oblivious to these things, often seeing far less than ordinary folk who might otherwise admire their achievements.

The climate game isn’t anywhere near to being a major public concern in spite of the endless hustling and the colossal sums spent pushing the narrative. At a personal level celebrities cannot be genuinely worried because they are cushioned from even the most dire of predicted disasters. Neither are they really concerned about the fate of unknown people in a distant future. Nobody is - such a remote and theoretical altruism isn't an aspect of human nature.

In their position I’d prefer to leave my ignorance in the background and perhaps most celebrities do that. Perhaps it is a statistical effect and all we are seeing are a small percentage - a few dedicated poseurs who close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears if a chosen cause isn’t quite kosher. Like clockwork toys they strut their stuff because once wound up they cannot do otherwise.

Or maybe the ludicrous plonkers are simply thick.

Thursday 26 November 2015

The poisoned average

When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are... now how do I put this without offending anyone? How about this? When it comes to integrity, many areas of the world are shit.

Yes that’ll do.

Excellence, by its very nature, isn’t average. Excellence is what we aspire to if average won’t do which it usually won’t. Unfortunately globalisation is bound to promote average over excellent. How could things be otherwise? Global policies where one standard fits all cannot aspire to anything but standardisation around the average, around what is feasible. So excellence doesn’t get a look in.

Globalisation has to promote globally attainable standards acceptable to the average shitty government and reluctantly tolerated by the average punter. We won’t refer to the latter group as voters because from a global perspective the average voter is merely a punter with no political influence. So punter became the global standard and voter was quietly defenestrated. Not that we seem to have missed it yet - democracy that is.

In which case we should expect a trend towards globally averaged political and commercial integrity, globally averaged education, globally averaged credulity, honesty, cultural values and so on. Maybe it’s time to put some folding money into a bribery fund - in case the day comes when we need an official to do their job properly, when those with brown envelopes always seem to be at the front of the queue.

Come to think of it we could prepare kids for an average life by future-proofing their party games. Pass the parcel could be pass the envelope. Monopoly could be updated so that players hide their money in a variety of off-board schemes. Although Monopoly already fits the trend quite well – you either own land or you are stuffed.

Anyone who aspires to be above average, who expects their culture to exhibit above average levels of integrity, humanity, intelligence, artistic achievement and honesty – well dream on as they say.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Winter deaths

The BBC is concerned about the rise in excess winter deaths last year.

There were an estimated 43,900 excess deaths in England and Wales last winter, the highest number since 1999, figures show.

The report suggests most of the deaths involved people over 75.

Many people attribute these deaths to the cold weather but there is a more obvious explanation – television. As nights become longer and days become shorter, elderly people with impaired mobility are likely to watch more and more television and therein lies a serious but unsuspected risk. Imagine the scene - 

Outside it is cold, wet and dark. An elderly person switches on the television expecting to be cheered or entertained but Strictly Come Prancing is on yet again. Or the news is spewing out anxiety, or one of those interminable property shows with dull folk wandering around houses they aren’t going to buy because they can’t really afford them and only wanted to see their silly faces on telly.

Wouldn’t that have a depressing physiological effect on any viewer, let alone a frail and elderly viewer who needs cheering up on a cold winter evening?

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Eastenders again.

So our elderly person goes off to the kitchen for a tot of whiskey to perk up that cup of tea, trying to spin it out until the next show, hoping for something a little better, a little more cheering or stimulating. Even something with a modicum of intellectual quality...

...It’s bloody Question Time again.

So we see how the long hours of winter television could easily depress a person’s vital forces, their natural resistance to bodily decline. It’s okay for someone my age. I can demostrate this by switching on the television without undue risk because for my age I’m reasonably fit and heal

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Coming up for air

Sometimes I browse the internet and I’m overwhelmed by the volume of material which is too good to miss but I don’t have the time because there is far too much of it. Yes much of it is dross, but the dross is easily avoided. The good material is radical too and that’s the point. Having it so easily available is like coming up for air after a lifetime spent underwater swimming through the murk and rubbish.

Much of it comes down to language, pointed, witty, accurate, iconoclastic language. Yet the problem with language is that we can’t have our own private version. Wittgenstein pointed this out although it is obvious enough. So we can’t possess language, can’t think in our own personal language, can’t use anything but the tools we have in common, the tools which evolved to channel our thinking to make it easy, automatic and thus efficient.

As we know, this why all totalitarian societies control language. Control language and you control thought. It might be expected that North Korean would be a ferment of covert dissatisfaction but it probably isn’t anywhere near as radical as one would suppose. Control permissible language and to a significant degree you control that covert language we call thought.

Yet things are obviously changing. To my mind, since the arrival of the internet the public domain has become far more varied, interesting, probing and amateur. Not amateur as in inferior to professional, but amateur as in unpaid, unscripted and uncontrolled by big business or big government.

Amateurs with relevant experience, abilities, nous and the ability to express themselves as if they too have come up for air and are enjoying every minute of it. Loose cannon in best, most productive, most interesting, most fascinating sense of the term.

We still see lots of professional radicalism, especially on the BBC, but the establishment radical seems to be on the wane. Amateur internet radicals are smarter, wittier and much more in tune with the causes of our many problems. They have stories to tell, know how to tell them and the establishment wilts in the face of their blunt and pithy honesty.

Look at the way Prince Charles flounders around trying to speak his mind on issues he does not understand. Too old, too hidebound, no exposure to the best of the internet – that’s my impression of him. So he sinks and sinks again, becoming a figure of fun, contempt, an icon of the old ways, a lost soul.

Monday 23 November 2015

Vomit pot for sale

Hemswell Antiques has a nice Victorian pearlware vomit pot for sale just in time for Christmas. A snip at £60. Of course there are no modern features such as an instruction booklet, official containment certification or a long list of safety advice but I'm sure most people can operate it safely enough.

It would make a fine present for the festive season and may even establish your reputation as someone who comes up with something different.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Not enough tedium say campaigners

From Tedium Central

Emergency doctors and safety campaigners are calling for a national home-visiting scheme to help prevent injuries to toddlers.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) say it would make a "huge difference".

Modern life is rather like aimless wandering through a strange mixture of fog and treacle, but wandering safely thanks to people such as the good folk at RoSPA. The obvious question is whether or not human beings are evolving a tedium gene. The extraordinary value of such a gene is obvious enough. 

A bureaucratic world needs people who are genetically adapted to a uniformly tedious life, a dreamlike state where nothing is ever achieved, where all goal-directed activity is frustrated by a plethora of intervening forces, but thanks to the tedium gene it doesn't matter. Fog and treacle are good, even doubleplusgood.

Saturday 21 November 2015

I have no absolute evidence for anything.

‘One of the problems in this country, and the reason the children’s sector hasn’t really improved since Victorian times, is because those who deliver services don’t challenge the civil servants. The power and the money is in the hands of civil servants. They’re very clever people but they’re not wise, and they’re not life-experienced.’ She pauses. ‘Look, I have no absolute evidence for anything...
Camila Batmanghelidjh

A wildly extravagant claim about Victorian times. Maybe she also thought she could do without evidence such as... oh I don't know... receipts?

Friday 20 November 2015

Brutally simple

Some aspects of life are brutally simple, so simple that they have to be obscured in mountains of waffle. Vast sums of money are spent simply to keep us confused. It’s why the BBC exists, why the Guardian became a propaganda rag.

‘Do you ever see the Manchester Guardian?’ he questioned, carrying the war into my camp.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Pity!’ he ejaculated.
‘I’ve often heard that it’s a very good paper,’ I said politely.
‘It isn’t a very good paper,’ he laid me low. ‘It’s the best paper in the world. Try it for a month — it gets to Euston at half-past eight — and then tell me what you think.’
Arnold Bennett - The Grim Tale of the Five Towns (1907)

Maybe the Guardian was never that good, but take just one well known example of a brutally simple idea which hardly ever takes hold of any modern debate however relevant it might be:

Matt Ridley thinks human civilisations are based on transactions, the freedom to trade something for something else and the consequent freedom to specialise. It works from the Neolithic to the present day and at all levels from kids’ playground trading to international deal-making.

The idea isn’t new of course and is so obvious it barely needs justifying, not because we see the effects of it, but because we see how much effort goes into abusing it, how many people, businesses and institutions take vastly more than they give. And for dessert we have the endlessly convoluted justifications.

Both sides of the political spectrum are at it via different methods.

The right wants to screw the voter in favour of big business.
The left wants to screw the voter in favour of big government.
The EU wants to screw the voter in favour of even bigger government.

It really isn’t difficult. Institutions aim to screw everyone on the outside in favour of everyone inside. Landowners want to screw everyone. This is where professional loyalty comes from because deep down in our visceral being where lurk the bottomless pits of self-interest, we know all about the screw or be screwed dichotomy. It’s in our genes and given a furtively presented choice we take furtive advantage of it.

Our core moral stricture, do as you would be done by, is an equally visceral recognition that this brutally simple balance is all that stands between order and chaos. This is the problem with overweening bureaucracies and de facto oligopolies. Both create problems which are not only political and commercial, but moral too. Give and take is a moral obligation simply because it is the logic behind stable and productive human interaction. Exchange should be equitable, including political exchanges such as votes.

So those who stand to gain by distorting such a simple message are the same ones who also make sure vast sums of our money are spent to persuade us that we gain more than we lose. Except we don’t gain more than we lose and it’s obvious because the lopsided workings of give and take are obvious.

The problem is, simple ideas are easily abused in favour of more complex narratives spun by all takers since a brand new flint axe was swapped for a few beads. So we can’t easily teach it to children, can’t explain how universally powerful it is. They might learn something brutally simple. Even worse, they might use it in later life.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Dangling parcel

The other day we returned home to find one of those Parcelforce notes they leave when unable to deliver a parcel. As there was an instruction to leave the thing in the porch we were not pleased.

However, on reading the note it turned out that the delivery guy had contrived an elastic band cradle and suspended our parcel on the other side of the locked gate at the side of the house.

Perhaps it's a common enough ruse for light parcels but we haven't seen it before and were well impressed with the simple ingenuity of it.

The photo is a dramatised reconstruction using the original parcel and elastic band cradle. After taking it down I couldn't work out how he'd done it so I bodged it using the bolt as you can see.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

A horrible hunger

The god of the aristocrats is not tradition, but fashion, which is the opposite of tradition. If you wanted to find an old-world Norwegian head-dress, would you look for it in the Scandinavian Smart Set?

No; the aristocrats never have customs; at the best they have habits, like the animals. Only the mob has customs. The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side of what is called Progress.

They have always been up to date, and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now. Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all, are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape, with a horrible hunger, for the future.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

A curiously interesting quote. Chesterton may be stating the obvious but it isn’t something we usually account for. The rich and powerful have it all, so naturally enough they tend to be bored with the present and look to the future for their schemes, plans and entertainment.

In which case progress is substantially driven by the rich and powerful trying to keep boredom at bay. I’m not sure if I agree with the idea, but professional football, the art market and grand infrastructure projects may suggest Chesterton was at least partly right.

Is the EU a symptom of boredom among the rich and powerful?

It could be - we already know about the brats.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

A change of soul

You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate.
Seneca - Epistulae morales ad Lucilium c. 65 AD

As we draw near the Paris climate circus, here are four quotes from the Working Group 1 contribution to IPCC AR5. They illustrate just a few of the uncertainties in climate physics - in case circus folk forget to mention it during the performance.

Uncertainty about the lack of warming
In summary, the observed recent warming hiatus, defined as the reduction in GMST trend during 1998–2012 as compared to the trend during 1951–2012, is attributable in roughly equal measure to a cooling contribution from internal variability and a reduced trend in external forcing (expert judgment, medium confidence). The forcing trend reduction is primarily due to a negative forcing trend from both volcanic eruptions and the downward phase of the solar cycle. However, there is low confidence in quantifying the role of forcing trend in causing the hiatus, because of uncertainty in the magnitude of the volcanic forcing trend and low confidence in the aerosol forcing trend. Almost all CMIP5 historical simulations do not reproduce the observed recent warming hiatus.
TS.4 Understanding the Climate System and Its Recent Changes

Uncertainty about clouds
Cloud formation processes span scales from the sub-micrometre scale of CCN, to cloud-system scales of up to thousands of kilometres. This range of scales is impossible to resolve with numerical simulations on computers, and this is not expected to change in the foreseeable future.
7.2.2 Cloud Process Modelling

Uncertainty about models
Although it is possible to write down the equations of fluid motion that determine the behaviour of the atmosphere and ocean, it is impossible to solve them without using numerical algorithms through computer model simulation, similarly to how aircraft engineering relies on numerical simulations of similar types of equations. Also, many small-scale physical, biological and chemical processes, such as cloud processes, cannot be described by those equations, either because we lack the computational ability to describe the system at a fine enough resolution to directly simulate these processes or because we still have a partial scientific understanding of the mechanisms driving these processes. Those need instead to be approximated by so-called parameterizations within the climate models, through which a mathematical relation between directly simulated and approximated quantities is established, often on the basis of observed behaviour.
FAQ 12.1 | Why Are So Many Models and Scenarios Used to Project Climate Change?

Uncertainty about uncertainty
In proposing that ‘the process of attribution requires the detection of a change in the observed variable or closely associated variables’ (Hegerl et al., 2010), the new guidance recognized that it may be possible, in some instances, to attribute a change in a particular variable to some external factor before that change could actually be detected in the variable itself, provided there is a strong body of knowledge that links  a change in that variable to some other variable in which a change can be detected and attributed. For example, it is impossible in principle to detect a trend in the frequency of 1-in-100-year events in a 100-year record, yet if the probability of occurrence of these events is physically related to large-scale temperature changes, and we detect and attribute a large-scale warming, then the new guidance allows attribution of a change in probability of occurrence before such a change can be detected in observations of these events alone. This was introduced to draw on the strength of attribution statements from, for example, time-averaged temperatures, to attribute changes in closely related variables.
10.2.1 The Context of Detection and Attribution

Monday 16 November 2015


The horrible events in Paris appear to tell us a number of things about certain puritanical aspects of Islam and the relentless nature of modern global culture. Relentless? Yes, modern culture is relentless, that’s how it arrived here, why we can’t do anything about it but watch and learn. We also have to look at the medium to long term and avoid personalities. They don’t count.

ISIS appears sincere in its determination to go back to a seventh-century religious, cultural and legal environment. Insane nostalgia with a Kalashnikov in one hand and early medieval literature of dubious provenance in the other. How does that vision stand up to a multi-trillion dollar global economy armed with cruise missiles, military satellites and multi-billion dollar surveillance technology? The short answer is that it doesn’t.

We seem to be witnessing the tragically painful demise of an ancient puritanical sect unable to cope with the modern world and all that it requires - because the modern world has its requirements and they are not optional. The emancipation of women for one. Not optional.

Something has to give and the irresistible power of global bureaucracy, business and consumer culture suggests it will not be the modern world. The puritanical soul of Islam will be sucked dry and recast into the approved norms - a hunger for jobs, houses, cars, smart clothes, entertainment and all the usual goodies. For many it has already happened because accommodation is so easy, so appealing. 

Even worse barbarism may be waiting in the wings before we are done, but the seventh century has gone and isn’t coming back.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Low energy bulbs are crap

Pictured above is the miserable corpse of a low energy, planet saving light bulb. We have a light fitting which takes three of them and in the past four years all three have failed. They failed after roughly two, three and four years so that works out at an average life of about three years for bulbs which are supposed to last ten. 

Soon, as well as light bulbs which don't work as advertised we'll have green electricity which doesn't work as advertised either. Maybe the bulbs will last longer without electricity, but I wouldn't bet on it. 

Saturday 14 November 2015

The Evolution of Everything

I recently finished reading Matt Ridley’s book The Evolution of Everything : How Ideas Emerge. I rarely read books with an overarching social theme because they usually push their theme too far, but this one is good. The blurb gives the book’s message well enough.

We are taught that the world is a top-down place. Acclaimed author, Matt Ridley, shows just how wrong this is in his compelling new book.

We are taught that the world is a top-down place. Generals win battles; politicians run countries; scientists discover truths; artists create genres; inventors make breakthroughs; teachers shape minds; philosophers change minds; priests teach morality; businessmen lead businesses; environmentalists save the planet. Not just individuals, but institutions too: Goldman Sachs, the Communist Party, the Catholic Church, Al Qaeda – these are said to shape the world.

This is more often wrong than right. ‘Tear Down the Sky Hooks’ is about bottom-up order and its enemy, the top-down twitch, the endless fascination human beings have for design rather than evolution, for direction rather than emergence. Top downery is the source of most of our worst problems in the past – why Hitler won an election, why the sub-prime bubble happened, why Africa lingered in poverty when Asia did not, why the euro is a disaster – and will be the scourge of this century too.

And although we neglect, defy and ignore them, bottom-up trends still shape the world. The growth of technology, the sanitation-driven health revolution, the quadrupling of farm yields so that more land could be released for nature – these were largely emergent phenomena. So was the internet, the mobile phone revolution and the rise of Asia.

In this wide-ranging, highly opinionated non-fiction narrative, Ridley draws on anecdotes from science, economics, history, politics and philosophy and examples drawn from the scientific literature, from historical narratives and from personal anecdotes.

The book’s message is that many things evolve, not just plants and animals. Ideas evolve too. The world is a gradual and relentless unfolding of adjacent possibilities. As new possibilities become realities then a whole new web of further possibilities move closer to becoming realities until they too are accepted or rejected by evolution, by the survival of the fittest.

So from this perspective one might see David Cameron as a clearing house for evolving pressures rather than a leader who exerts and directs those pressures. More puppet than mover and shaker. Once we take into account a vast array of events, pressures and contributing factors, then there are very few if any movers and shakers. The world is largely governed by the enormously complex and powerful evolution of new realities - not particular individuals.

Celebrities, leaders, kings, queens, prime ministers and presidents are our largely incorrect top down way of attributing causes to powerful people. It's the Big Man myth and it has been with us since the dawn of time. Ridley’s book is a sound antidote.

What one does with it is another matter. We tend to think and argue in top down terms and if we try to change things via a more realistic evolutionary approach then we are likely to find ourselves on the edge of the debate. However, today’s edge may evolve into tomorrow’s mainstream. 

You never know. It would certainly upset a few people.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Abigail comes lumbering in


From your tabloid BBC

Every school in the Western Isles and Shetland will be closed to pupils on Friday because of the expected arrival of Storm Abigail.

Nearly 60 primary and secondary schools will be affected.

No doubt the point has been made before, but naming storms feels like yet another little surrender to the endless incursions of the nanny state. Giving a spot of bad weather the name Abigail is aimed to heighten our awareness, link it to hurricanes and tropical storms, infect our memories with officially sponsored dross, sneak into our peripheral vision. 

The corruption of a culture can arise from a multitude of small surrenders like this one. Innocuous enough in itself, but part of a malign trend eating away at our capacity to be unconcerned by the facts of life like wind and rain and the natural ups and down of actually living a life in the real world.

What next? we ask, because there will be something, and something after that and after that. In part we should blame the loons who responded with naming suggestions but that may be unfair. If nobody had responded they would have rounded up some schoolchildren to do the job. It's how they operate.

Earlier this year the Met Office asked the public for suggestions for names for storms.

Abigail is the first storm to be officially named by the weather forecasting organisation.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Blush at nothing

For there are two main obstacles to the knowledge of things, modesty that casts a mist before the understanding, and fear that, having fancied a danger, dissuades us from the attempt. But from these folly sufficiently frees us, and few there are that rightly understand of what great advantage it is to blush at nothing and attempt everything.
Desiderius Erasmus - In Praise of Folly (1511)

If one is technically literate, is that socially inferior to being literate? Some people are both, but a significant number are not. Many politicians appear to be neither.

Is this one reason why we are where we are? Do technically-minded people have modesty that casts a mist before the understanding? I think they often do, although it may be fading. We have not given up or even moderated our love of drama, our penchant for mystification, our tendency to emote rather than think, our regard for celebrities who never do anything useful, never say anything worth listening to.

A more widespread technical outlook on life could go some way towards getting rid of the dross, but then much of the colour and the passion would go too. Perhaps it's worth the loss. Perhaps technically-minded people should be more inclined to blush at nothing and attempt everything.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Blog enhancing drugs

In view of the Russian athletics drugs debacle, I feel obliged to confirm that this blog uses no performance enhancing substances of any kind. 

Monday 9 November 2015

Blog Shock Horror

A lesson blogging hammers home home fairly quickly is the appallingly facile yet horribly effective nature of mainstream journalism. We always knew it but now we know it with a bleak and fatalistic certainty. Pages must be filled on schedule and with the right word count. Advertisers must not be upset and the rich and powerful must have their say.

The clockwork essence of it shows,
Why clunk, clunk, clunk it always goes.
Why suck, suck, suck the suckers suck,
At tits and bums and illicit...

Blogging is easier. I post when I feel like it which is roughly once a day but often enough it isn’t and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how long the posts are either, although I tend to go for short. If I can’t say it in a few hundred words I give it a miss because to my way of thinking language should be concise. No doubt that’s the scientist in me – or the idle sod.

Apart from which... no that’s it I’m almost done.

Mainstream media churns out drama, pap and screwing because drama, pap and screwing sell, sell and sell again. And because the space has to be filled on schedule and drama, pap and screwing are available in vast quantities. Peak Pap or Peak Screw anyone? No I don’t think so either.

Drama comes down the wire from news services such as Reuters or from press releases. An unskilled cut and paste job. Pap comes from press releases. Another unskilled cut and paste job. News of the screws may require some legal input - so to speak.

As for blogging... no I’m done.

Sunday 8 November 2015


Time for something mildly speculative after all that Yorkshire ale.

During my working life I attended about three million meetings. I think it was close to that kind of number although my memory may be adjusting things a little. Something to do with autonomous aversion therapy I expect.

Anyhow, probably the most starting thing I discovered during all those meetings was how extremely risk-averse people can be. I use the word ‘startling’ because at the time it was. People are not particularly rational – I knew that but in my younger days I had not yet seen just how irrational folk can be when personal interests are in the air.

Many people are sensitive to the smallest shadow of risk, the faintest ephemeral hint of even the most improbable threat when it comes to their own situation. It makes them irrational and very, very determined. Whatever the overall benefits, however sensible a change might be, such people will oppose it for all eternity unless their own situation is certain to be enhanced or two hundred percent secure.

During those three million meetings it soon became obvious that perceived risk could be the most significant driver of human affairs. In which case, intelligence, progress and rational thought are myths, part of the risk machine’s endlessly subtle mechanisms for spinning a rationale for building consensus, for following the low risk route. That’s how the risk of knowing too much is dealt with – stick with consensus and avoid knowing.

Clearly a vast amount of modern life revolves around risk in all its many forms. Things could hardly be otherwise in view of our overall survival imperative. It fits well with what we know of behaviour reinforcement and with seeking out the route of fewest surprises.

Even living in the UK is a risk because the mild winter cannot sustain human life without our life-sustaining technology – clothes, shelter and power. That may change of course. Yet many risks do not threaten our survival at all, even though we take enormous pains, go to great lengths and spend huge amounts of money to avoid them.

It is almost as if our big brains do not represent the evolution of intelligence, but the evolution of risk awareness. We are not so much intelligent as super-subtle risk assessors. We use this ability to populate almost every niche on the planet, including the oceans. We use tools and behaviour to moderate the risks of potentially hostile environments and we populate them. 

In which case we are not so much tool-makers as manipulators of physical risk. Tools from spanners to skyscrapers, from bricks to bridges are all designed to reduce risk or adapt to risk – that is their only purpose.

Yet accurate risk assessment goes wrong and when it does we get a range of consequences from war to social collapse, from totalitarian government to dubious dietary advice. Perceived risks are vast in scope and subtlety and the scope for serious error is correspondingly vast.

Complexity increases risk so we take complex steps to mitigate it even if we don’t fully understand it. That’s one advantage of prejudice – it narrows the range of acceptable possibilities, reduces complexity and thereby reduces risk. Prejudice may have its own risks which institutions and governments try to eliminate, but eliminating one kind of risk many create others simply because complexity has increased in unforeseen ways.

Politics is all about perceived risk, often with facile attempts to reduce it by placating some pressure group which only wishes to reduce its own risks. Or outright loons try to create ideal political structures, a deluded political stasis where there can be no risk because all risks have been designed out by the loons, cast into that outer oblivion where demons lurk.

Except the demons are inside. They always are.

Saturday 7 November 2015

We shall fight on the beaches...

Fraisthorpe Beach is a long sandy beach near Bridlington. Not particularly accessible but probably popular enough in summer. Not so popular on a foggy day in November but an excellent and almost deserted walking beach with miles of firm sand. The beach is littered with old tank traps, pillboxes and the remains of other concrete structures hurriedly erected during WWII. The picture above shows a line of concrete blocks disappearing into the mist.

Coastal erosion has undermined this pillbox and left it on the beach. Originally it probably stood on the low cliffs behind so erosion must be quite rapid here. The interior is littered with plastic bottles, a tribute to one of our greatest modern industries - sugared water.

These things are not an uncommon sight but Fraisthorpe Beach is very flat and vulnerable so it seems to have been quite heavily defended and consequently there is still much to see. 

Whether or not these preparations would have made much difference I don't know, but my non-military eye says not. Perhaps they were intended to promote preparedness and the reality of the threat rather than repel a determined heavy assault.

As far as I could see there was no information to tell younger people what the structures are, why they were built, what they represent . Defending a way of life is not longer politically correct, so maybe the official mind wanders off in other directions these days. 


Friday 6 November 2015


We're back from Bridlington and as you may be able to see, the beach wasn't excessively crowded. We weren't jostled by the teeming throng as we strolled up and down through the fog. 

WiFi wasn't much good so I didn't even attempt a holiday post but we had a fine old time. November can be very atmospheric. Yes - I'm sure that's the right word. Atmospheric.

I suppose I'll have to catch up on the news now. Is it a good habit, keeping up with the news? I'm not so sure - it's only fog. Life has more to offer.

Monday 2 November 2015

Beside the seaside

We are off to the east coast for a few days, hoping for lots of November sunshine so blogging may be light. Plenty of real ale in the vicinity too, so if blogging isn't light it may be a little eccentric. More so than usual that is.

Sunday 1 November 2015

A sweep's tale

Last spring I was chatting with our chimney sweep about wood burners and he told me a story about one of his customers. It’s always worth listening to tales about customers as you probably know,

Anyhow, our sweep told me of an old chap, by which I assume he meant someone even older than I am, who loves his wood burner and every year the chimney sweep sweeps his chimney and installs a brand new wood burner...

Yer what?

Yes, every year the customer has a brand new Clearview wood burner because the old one is knackered. He runs the burner at such a high temperature that the flue pipe glows red, the glass cracks, the body of the wood burner becomes distorted. How the hell he does it I don’t know but he must get through a deal of wood and Clearview stoves are not cheap .

So not only is the wood burner knackered each year, but there are a few cracked glasses to replace too. Of course the sweep warns him about chimney fires and repeatedly suggests the obvious remedy but to no effect.

People are odd aren’t they? Once a habit sets it, that’s it.