Saturday 31 December 2016

Happy New Year


Enjoyment was pretty general, and so much the more prevailed in being unhampered by conventional restrictions. Absolute confidence in each other’s good opinion begat perfect ease, while the finishing stroke of manner, amounting to a truly princely serenity, was lent to the majority by the absence of any expression or trait denoting that they wished to get on in the world, enlarge their minds, or do any eclipsing thing whatever — which nowadays so generally nips the bloom and bonhomie of all except the two extremes of the social scale.

Thomas Hardy - The Three Strangers (1883)

Friday 30 December 2016

A great common interest

A great common interest had welded these souls together, while they overheated themselves at the great fire of love, and worked themselves up to an overflowing omni-benevolence towards every living thing, pressed each other's hands and separated with blessings and congratulations that fate had brought together three good people, who would work unanimously for the good of humanity.

August Strindberg - On the Seaboard (1913)

Thursday 29 December 2016

Dork Of The Year 2016

As you must know, selecting Dork of the Year for 2016 has not been an easy task due to an unprecedented number of people with Qualifying Dorkworthy Achievements. After much deliberation, port and cheese the shortlist was whittled down to.

Mark Carney
Will Self
Hillary Clinton

All fine candidates I think you will agree, particularly Will Self described by Wiggia was watching the opening credits (before switching over) of QT that illustrated the rich pickings available by having one of the most annoying vindictive shits on the planet on the panel, Will Self, the name says it all.

Yes he is an annoying, vindictive shit, but is he a dork? Ah well, someone has to win and one candidate in particular has some distinguished supporters. Sam Vega writes

The humiliatingly complete failure of his economic predictions before the Brexit vote mark him out as a fool of the first order. Anyone can get things wrong. But for the person with the best data and greatest need for scientific impartiality to get it so utterly wrong is clearly an outstanding piece of work. He should have been neutral, but he was obtusely partisan. He should have been cautious, but was reckless. And then he compounded the error by not saying sorry, and this week blatted on with a series of breezy predictions about a "lost decade". So either an incompetent overpaid clown, or a venal placeman.

This standpoint is ably supported by eminent blogger Demetrius.

We have been told, no less, by the Guv' of the Bank of England, Calamity Carney, that the last decade's since 2006 missing growth and messy economics is the worst since the 1860's. Oh really?

First, before making comparisons, ensure what is being compared is comparable. Second, make sure that you do not stick to narrow estimates of figures within complex political and economic structures. Third, what the figures say and what was actually going on may raise other cogent questions.

Is he saying, for example, that the periods of 1910-1920 and 1940-1950 were far superior because no doubt of high levels of QE, government spending etc and economic activity? I have little doubt that those alive then might have cause to disagree.

So Carney has it for reasons listed by Sam and Demetrius. In his position he really should know better. Unfortunately this well-merited award entitles Mr Carney to present himself as Dk Mark Carney. In some quarters it might be mistaken for an academic qualification.

It isn't.

Royal Spat

I see Æthelred the Unready has accused Henry VIII of abusing the "divine rights of the power of kings". 

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Christmas miscellany

We went for a wander around an antiques centre today. Our visit was somewhat spoiled for me at times by the pop music. I didn’t quite walk out in disgust, but the temptation was certainly there. On the drive home Mrs H informed me that it was mostly George Michael being played. I'd assumed it was just the usual supermarket ear-bash. I’m not sure what that signifies though.

During our day on the road we saw a number of blue lights whizzing off to some emergency or other. At one point we passed what looked like a serious accident involving a number of crumpled vehicles. Tragic for those involved, but it isn’t all that difficult is it, adapting to fog and icy conditions? Doesn’t guarantee safe arrival though because not everyone bothers.

Oh well, it’s time to boil some spuds to go with the last bits of salmon. For some reason I enjoy finishing off the Christmas left-overs. It feels wholesomely frugal after all the excess, although we don’t really do excess these days.

Monday 26 December 2016

The Mind is Flat

Nick Chater again. Many people won't like the ideas he promotes here because they cast aside traditional notions of how our minds work. I find the framework convincing enough to have spent far more time on it than just this video. Chater's framework explains too much to be fundamentally wrong.

However, it is worth pointing out that the flat mind idea is probably not convincing if one simply views Chater's experiments and rationale from a traditional outlook. The video definitely requires a willingness to change perspective, but once that is done the elegant simplicity of it becomes clear.

We are improvisers - we do not have mental depth to draw on in the traditional sense. We improvise our current behaviour, thoughts and opinions within the context of current situations and a need to be consistent with our perceived personality. One might almost say our current personality.

At first sight it all sounds too fluid and unstable to be satisfactory. Surely our personalities are more stable than Chater suggests? To sweeten the pill this approach does allow us to tie in the creative aspects of human life. To improvise is to create. We must improvise so we must create. We cannot stop. Not necessarily a good thing because we may improvise honestly or dishonestly, but worth remembering if you choose to watch the whole thing.

Here's the video introduction.

This talk presents the case that there are no hidden depths, whether evolutionary, psychological, or economic, from which the real motivations for human behaviour emerge. Motives are, indeed, astonishingly shallow, with the illusion of depth sustained by our mental projection of meaning into the actions of ourselves and other. But the illusion of depth is of crucial importance: it helps us reign in our behaviour, which would otherwise be even more capricious and inconsistent. This thesis has implications for theories in psychology, economics, and ethics which are explicitly, or implicitly, committed to "deep" motivations underpinning human life. It also provides a new framework for thinking about how to make choices, whether as individuals, in business, or in public policy.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. My thanks to all who read these oddities, especially the kind souls who leave a comment or two. Makes it all worth while.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Crappy Christmas present

From Hemswell you could buy a Christmas present for someone who still thinks human beings are rational. A snip at £650.

Tracey Emin Signed Print of But Yea Limited Edition of 500 Posters, Hand Signed and From the Tracey Emin Studio in London.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Stuck at the checkout

More on Sainsbury's from Wiggia

Yesterday I took my wife to Sainsbury's. The checkout queue was long, an area Sainbury's for some reason never make an effort to improve. Self check?. But I digress, nothing seemed to move and there was a lot of activity in the till area so it didn't make sense.

A few minutes later still no movement but I could see the elderly couple loading their trolley at the front and thought Christ they must have purchased a lot as they were filling two trolleys. This made me look more closely and I realised they were shopping for the street. Several dividers on the belt were shopping that was all theirs or was all for their friends.

I am not sure how many separate lots there were as I was late to realise but certainly four and as I watched the progress, the last two involved not just separate payment but vouchers as well that all had to be validated. We jumped ship at that point as they belatedly opened another cashpoint but I watched across the aisle as they plodded on filling filling filling. 

Then a voice of despair from the back of the queue, "whats going on, get on with it."

They really should have a warning notice they can flash on checkpoints that have shoppers buying for everyone in the street, something like avoid, flashing in large red capital letters, or alternatively make them go to the back of the queue for each separate load.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Midsomer Vagueness

Mrs H and I recently watched an episode of Midsomer Murders. The TV isn’t a gadget we use much these days. The grandkids use it more than we do, but old habits and so forth.

As you may know, the main character of Midsomer Murders is Chief Inspector Barnaby who is kept busy by endless bizarre murders in a land of chocolate box English villages where almost everyone is middle class, where sharp-eyed old ladies clip their roses on the lookout for scandal or blackmail opportunities and village fetes are absolute death traps.

It’s all terrifically silly, but to my mind that’s not the most interesting aspect. As characters come and go it isn’t always easy to remember who they are and how they fit into the plot. That's the interesting aspect, because it doesn't matter.

Jemima’s body is found floating in the duck pond. Who the hell is Jemima? Damian scowls his way to an untimely death at the hands of a mysterious archer. Was Damian the guy in the sports car? Or was that Brian? Or was Brian Jemima’s fiancé? And who on earth is pouting Penelope?

Fortunately Barnaby knows all, although he seems to rely on inspired guesswork rather than clues. However as the mystery unfolds a completely different type of clue rears its interesting head, a clue to our own behaviour. It soon becomes obvious that the viewer doesn’t need to know who everybody is or their role in the plot. Gerald may or not be Samantha’s old flame and therefore a prime suspect, but knowing it isn’t essential. It isn't all that important to know who Gerald and Samantha are.

I’m sure there are a number of ways to explain the inessential nature of plot details for Midsomer Murders, but the one I favour is the broad picture explanation. 

Bucolic English villages, people being bumped off, old rivalries, tempers bursting out all over the place, thatched cottages, idyllic pubs, no real work, mild hanky panky and an infallible detective who is bound to wrap it all up on time and within budget. That’s the broad picture and broad pictures are all we need in many areas of life.

We humans are good at relying on vague outlines. We are able to apply the faculty of vagueness to a complex murder mystery because the complexity isn’t what entertains us. To know enough and make do with enough is one of our most fundamental characteristics. Watching Midsomer Murders allows one to see it in action.

Jemima’s body may have been floating in the duck pond and Damian may have scowled his way to an untimely death at the hands of a mysterious archer, but knowing who Jemima and Damian are is not essential. Not because the programme is vacuous escapism, which it is, but because a broad picture is almost always enough in most areas of life.

Monday 19 December 2016

Heard at the checkout

Heard at the checkout in Sainsbury's.

What do you get off this year?

Only Christmas day. We work Boxing day and New Year's day. Still it's a day off.

Crikey, Bob Cratchit managed to screw that much out of Scrooge.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Good people v bad processes

I recently heard a comment which made this interesting claim.

When good people come up against bad process, nine times out of ten they lose.

This was certainly my experience over the decades as the centre tightened its grip on all matters environmental. When good people are able to discard or adapt bad processes we don’t have a problem, but when control becomes more and more remote then good people find themselves spending more and more time battling with bad processes.

Not only that, but bad processes attract bad people. Not so much bad people in the criminal sense, although it happens too often, but the seekers of comfort zones. This latter group have no intention of putting anything right if to do so would pose a risk to their ease and comfort.

We all have a tendency to guard our comforts but many of us are not bad people and we don’t enjoy being defeated by bad processes. We have a whiff of altruism which keeps things going in spite of losing more ground than we should to bad processes.

Friday 16 December 2016

An Annual Feast

From regular commenter Wiggia

With a certainty that little will change as the annual stuff fest approaches, I am again chided into driving Miss Daisy to Waitrose to purchase the “bits not attainable elsewhere”. To be honest I don’t mind to much as it gives me the opportunity to get some decent cheese for the festive period, something sadly lacking in the other supermarkets. Plus the only cheese / creamerie shop in town is so difficult to get to I can’t be bothered.

We went a week earlier this year for a dummy run, as She Who Never Forgets found advancing years meant she actually did forget an item and the journey was justified on  the grounds of “they will be sold out by next week”.

 Upon arrival I homed in on the cheese counter and found it unoccupied giving me time to evaluate that on offer and discuss with the suitably rotund cheese serving lady what were the best buys this year, thereby saving me time when on my “official” visit next week. Information garnered I was at a lose end as No1 had managed to vanish, something that still astounds me after all these years as to how she achieves becoming invisible within seconds of saying "I am just going to have a look at x." It’s not really a problem as I am usually found again perusing the wine shelves.

This year though I was taken aback on my pootling through the store by the sheer number of ready made meals dishes and accompaniments  on the burgeoning shelves. It seemed the whole store was ready to cook or ready to go, no niche market was left out, everything could be purchased needing no more than heating unwrapping or carving, from red cabbage to dry hung beef joints! It was there to be consumed with no or little cooking effort involved.

I picked up the Waitrose festive catalogue of Christmas goodies. All ready to cook, natch. It was split into festive season and everyday, an even larger section with prices of up to £190 for a large beef joint. I saved the full read until returning home for as mysteriously as she had disappeared No1 reappeared needing help to retrieve a high shelf item.

In that section were an awful lot of “celebrity chef” items in jars and tins and display boxes. All of this was still milling round in my mind when we returned home when a rather obvious fact presented itself to me. Waitrose is the go-to supermarket for the middle classes, a large part of the clientele even showing their loyalty by wearing matching green fleeces scarves anoraks hunter boots etc and carrying Waitrose ‘for life’ bags as a badge of honour.

These are the people that all the cooking and baking programs that fill endless hours on our tv screens are aimed at. The same people that buy AGAs Heston Blumenthal foamers Gaggia coffee machines and Japanese multi layered steel kitchen knives at £200 a pop and thousands of glossy cook books. Yet apparently, going by the shelves of their favored store none of them actually cook. It’s all a mirage. The kitchens of these people are stuffed full of must-have items. Lakeland catalogue anyone? Costing a kings ransom and purely ornamental, a fact expounded by a kitchen designer who gave the game away when he said that after fitting the must-have 10k AGA you really need to fit a conventional oven and microwave to cook with!

As AK  related to in his article on mince pies (ready made) we have passed the generation that actually cooked - our parents. No more Christmas puds from my late mum who supplied the whole family every year with various versions of the said pud and if you were lucky got a matured one. The vision of my mum struggling with the Christmas cake mix in March so much so I had to lend a hand. The same sadly missed lady caught wearing my motorcycle helmet and googles to help prevent crying whilst peeling onions. None of this is likely to observed in a Waitrose customer's kitchen these days.

With the most used room in the house, the kitchen is becoming redundant for its original purpose, cooking. Perhaps someone will explain why we need to spend according to House&Garden 30k and upwards sans appliances like steam ovens and boiling taps on a room that is becoming increasingly a talking point over the water cooler, your own that is, and yet it sees very little actual cooking in situ.

I had a very good example of this modern phenomenon a few years back when a very good friend of mine, a property developer, was finishing his own house and I designed and built his garden. He was showing me around and explaining how he saved thousands having the granite worktops imported from Spain and where he purchased the units, bespoke of course, when I casually remarked that I hoped his new wife, younger dimmer but not my problem would appreciate all this. "Don’t be silly," he said, "she can’t cook - we eat out." I rest my case.

A spire

We're back and we did see the sun. This is it sulking behind grey clouds over Bridlington.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Floating box

An aluminium foil box floats in a tank of sulphur hexafluoride, a gas which is about five heavy as air.

Monday 12 December 2016


East Coast - November 2015

Yet again we are off on a short seaside break so light to no blogging until the weekend. East coast this time - as photographed above last year. So far the forecast is not dramatically different.

Sunday 11 December 2016

They walk among us

Local news brings us back to the here and now. These people walk among us and they can vote.

A man who had a bust-up with his wife over a Facebook message has been banned from seeing her after he punched a television during a row in which she had damaged his games console.

Ryan Frost, 22, punched the television set after his wife had pulled the wires out of his computer games console and dropped it on the floor, a court was told.

Prosecuting solicitor Sarah Haslam said: "They had been in a relationship for just over two years and were married in May, 2015, but things were described as being difficult with arguments in the past.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Upchuck Christmas - an alternative


As the dread spectre of Christmas bloat wallows into view, Aeon reminds us about one way to shed the pounds - down the toilet.

The AspireAssist could be the most intuitive weight-loss therapy ever proposed. It works as a feeding tube in reverse: with the aid of an endoscope and a tiny blade, a physician places an internal catheter into the stomach and pulls it out through the skin. Shortly thereafter, the patient wakes up and goes home with a circular plastic window into the belly. For the next several months, about 20 minutes after every meal, the patient affixes an external drain to this implanted skin-port and spills a good bit of his or her gastric contents directly into the toilet.

This intervention is the latest in a series of minimally invasive devices approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of obesity. Its proponents cite data: there is no argument that ‘aspiration therapy’ helps people lose weight. Its detractors cite their revulsion: many argue that if one wanted to surgically induce an eating disorder, this would be the way.

Friday 9 December 2016

We Arabs are backward

Cameron brought down by unpopulism

David Cameron has defended his decision to call a referendum on the EU - despite the fact it cost him his job.

The former prime minister said the issue had been "poisoning" British politics and the Conservative Party - and people were frustrated about it.

He described the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's election in the US as a "movement of happiness".

'Movement of happiness'

Mr Cameron said "unpopulism" had cost him his job and, in a question and answer session following his speech, he said: "So far these three events - the Brexit referendum, the election of President Trump, the referendum in Italy - I'm sure people are going to write about this movement of happiness and unconcern about the state of my world."

General Mattis on the nature of war

A long video but worth watching.

Thursday 8 December 2016

A Cornucopia of Dorks

As you may know, previous winners of the Dork of the Year award were Ed Miliband in 2015 and Naomi Klein in 2014. Both obvious choices at the time, but this year presents a few difficulties. An observation from 2015 has become even more relevant in 2016.

The sheer number of candidates has made choosing Dork of the Year (DotY) particularly difficult for 2015. Not that the problem is new because each year there seem to be even more Qualifying Dorks than the year before.

Obviously Ed Miliband still has a major Qualifying Dorkworthy Achievement in that Jeremy Corbyn still "leads" the Labour Party. This outstanding, almost magnificent blunder is mostly down to Ed's destructive masterstroke of 2015. However, in a surprising move, the DotY committee has decided to exclude Mr Miliband. Another Award may be deserved, but two in a row would not reflect the vast range of other Dorkworthy Achievements in 2016.

The final announcement will be made shortly before the New Year.  

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Do you remember when...?


From Science Daily we have another story about implanted memories.

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

In a study on false memories, Dr Kimberley Wade in the Department of Psychology demonstrates that if we are told about a completely fictitious event from our lives, and repeatedly imagine that event occurring, almost half of us would accept that it did.

Hmm - wait until virtual reality takes hold and millions think they were educated at Hogwarts. We ain't seen nothing yet.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Freedom is...?


If I review everything I did yesterday I find all of it was dictated by what I’ve done before. From making the morning tea to reading a few pages of my Kindle in bed at night, none of it was original. Nothing - not a single activity. We imitate others, we imitate what we’ve done before and that is virtually all life has to offer.

So where is the freedom?

For libertarians it may be the equivalent of farting in church, but let us suggest that freedom is merely an ideal. It doesn’t exist, we can’t measure it and it has hardly any unambiguous characteristics. Outside extreme repression we don’t really know what freedom is.

What we mostly experience is not freedom but repression, yet repression merely narrows the scope of imitation. Speed limits may reduce the freedom of some drivers to imitate each other by driving as fast as they can. For other drivers that is no great loss because they don’t want to end up in a mangled wreck. One might say that their freedom is enhanced by speed limits.

As an ideal it has its uses but freedom is the freedom to imitate. As imitation is virtually all we do, we don’t notice our freedoms but do notice when they are infringed and even then the loss is rarely unambiguous. All terribly obvious of course but too often we avoid the consequences of how terribly obvious it is. There are consequences.

Growing up

Watching our grandchildren grow up is both a delight and, in the background, a worry. In spite of too many tragic exceptions, the modern world nurtures its children as never before. At least in the developed world. Which is as it should be but behind the nurturing is something not so good connected with personal freedom and micro-managed behaviour.

We stand here on the sidelines and on the whole everything seems fine, the grandchildren are a credit to their parents. But -

Every now and then events pop up which throw a different light on all this nurturing compared to our distant and older version of what nurturing should be. Modern kids have to be careful what they say as well as being careful about what they do - more so than in our day. Or rather, they have to be careful in different ways, careful about whom they imitate.

It is not only swearing, insolence or threatening behaviour but anything where some official could have a finger pointed in their direction. And teachers are officials with a watchful eye on political correctness and anything even remotely connected with safety or causing offence and all the consequences those dread words now imply. Teachers must imitate the mood of the times.

From the sidelines schools seem to be both more and less tolerant than they were. When it comes to controlling behaviour they seem to have replaced corporal punishment with endless psychological pressure. In this sense they are not at all tolerant, not even as tolerant as they were a few decades ago. They do not tolerate even accidental childish slips, but exert endless psychological pressures on physical and verbal behaviour.

The trouble is, although many try one cannot easily compare today with yesterday. Social trends have to run their course and for all anyone knows this kind of pressure on youngsters may lead to a more relaxed and socially capable culture. It seems repressive because it is, but so was the cane, sitting up straight and chanting multiplication tables. So was war. So were the mills. So were the mines.

That’s the problem with freedom. Promoting it as an ideal is fine, but apart from the extremes assessing it in real life is beyond our capabilities. Those who value freedom seem to be convinced that they know what it is. They don’t. Nobody does in an absolute sense - in a sense where we know how to move from more to less or less to more. Apart from extreme repression or outright anarchy that is not so easy.

Free speech

As with almost all of us I like to think I know something about freedom, but my knowledge was acquired in part because cultural notions of freedom change. I see the changes rather than the freedoms because over time the changes become visible. One form of repression morphs into another and the repression we see with clarity isn’t the version we grew up with, adapted to and hardly ever saw at all.

The freedoms we see most clearly are obviously free speech and it is this which has changed most dramatically during my lifetime. To my way of thinking, free speech is where our vital spark of creativity is kindled and it is this which is being stifled by political correctness.

Within the narrow bounds of polite society we cannot be socially creative and that means we cannot be economically or politically creative either. We cannot strive for better unless we are constantly comparing better with worse, unless better is allowed to evolve and worse is allowed to die out, unless ideas are also subject to the survival of the fittest.

Ultimately the suppression of free speech is a failure of social progress, a failure to experiment, a failure to test the boundaries of what can be said, what should be said and what may as well be left unsaid.

Ultimately the suppression of free speech will destroy us as we lose even the ability to say why it is destroying us along with the ability to suggest solutions. We may close our ears to it, but even the crudest vituperation has its uses. Yet the day is coming when we won’t know what those uses are and by then it will be too late to even know that it is too late.

Monday 5 December 2016

Quick reactions

It isn't new but I was recently sent this link to a test from JustPark and haven't tried it before.

It purports to be a very simple test which uses your reaction times to estimate your age. After a few goes it seems to estimate my age as somewhere between 25 and 30 years less than my real age. I'd love to be thrilled with that, but I suspect it either doesn't work or is skewed to please.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Listen to the silence

Most people will have heard newly elected Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney's catastrophic interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer where a minder had to step in and cut the carnage short.

Briefly Hartley-Brewer dived straight in by suggesting that there should be another Richmond Park by election because voters did not really know what they were voting for when they elected Ms Olney. This of course is an obvious dig at the Lib Dem position on Brexit, a sauce for the goose argument.

Apart from Lib Dem duplicity which is old news, the interesting aspects were Sarah Olney's silences during the disaster. Stuck with an incoherent political position which nobody seems to have told her is incoherent, she did not know what to say. Neither has she acquired the political skill to babble her way to safety.

What did her silences signify? they showed us that the incoherence of her position stopped her nascent political personality from functioning. It highlighted how a personality can simply stop working when faced with situations which are too unfamiliar.

She stepped out of the Lib Dem bubble and like a failed light bulb she flickered then just went out when faced with Hartley-Brewer's breezy challenge. She stopped emitting. With no previous behaviour to draw on and imitate, her ability to improvise around her political personality was stumped. She doesn’t yet have a seasoned political personality to guide her through incoherent standpoints. In time she’ll acquire one.

Which is why governments will take more and more interest in behavioural psychology. It explains the silence, the stalled personality of this wet behind the ears MP. Personalities are not stable features of what we are; they vary from situation to situation. They improvise, create new responses while adapting to new situations. To do that successfully they need a history of passably successful responses to imitate. Without it they stall and Sarah Olney showed us a fascinating glimpse of a stalled personality. Not her everyday personality, but her naive political personality.

Listen to the silence.

One day she'll be an MP

From AlanH

Saturday 3 December 2016

We don’t need the BBC...

...but not everyone knows it yet. Newspapers are struggling too. The Guardian is reduced to waving the begging bowl.

We want to make the world a better, fairer place. We want to keep the powerful honest. And we believe that doing so means keeping society informed by producing quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth.

It’s essential for the functioning of democracy. And our unique ownership structure means no one can tell us to censor or drop a story.

But it’s difficult and expensive work. While more people are reading the Guardian than ever before, far fewer are paying for it. And advertising revenues across the media are falling fast.

So if you read us, if you like us, if you value our perspective – then become a Supporter and help make our future more secure.

Oh dear what a pity never mind moving on. 

Online life has been fascinating for a few years now. We are witnessing a huge change in the way ordinary people get their information about the outside world. Not so long ago here in the UK it was.


All were controlled by a few big players with the BBC leading the pack. Broadsheets told us what was what and did not tell what they thought we should not know. That was the situation for most of my life. If I hungered after deeper knowledge or a contrarian point of view I had to hunt it down and that was time-consuming and often difficult and unsatisfactory.

As we know, this cosy arrangement has now changed dramatically and the change has still to work itself out. Or not - governments still seem to prefer the old ways and appear keen to bring them back.

However, in 2016 two events in particular have given us signs of a new future, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It may be a simplification to say so, but both events were neither desired nor supported by mainstream media. Yet they happened and that must be significant. Mainstream media support was not essential which presumably means it is destined to become even less essential.

To my mind the tabloids are adapting to the loss of status more effectively than the old broadsheets. The Telegraph, Guardian and Independent are not worth reading and the BBC is a joke, but the Mail, Mirror and Sun can be surprisingly punchy and relevant when they stop obsessing about tits, bums and celebrities for a moment.

Friday 2 December 2016

Kellogg's woes

After reading about the spat with Breitbart I wondered - do people still eat Kellogg's breakfast garbage?  After all that healthy eating propaganda I'm faintly surprised but no doubt I shouldn't be.

Let us also recall the issue they had recently with a video which appeared to show an employee pissing on the production line. Yet people still buy the stuff.

Thursday 1 December 2016

The Nudge Unit

Nick Chater is co-founder of the research consultancy Decision Technology; and is on the advisory board of what was the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), popularly known as the 'Nudge Unit'.

Whatever one thinks of the Nudge Unit, he is an interesting guy.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Mince Pies

As most of us must know, mince pies are the point of Christmas. Admittedly Christmas has become tangled up with manic shopping and sentimental twaddle about a guy in a red suit, but that is merely fluff and nonsense. Mince pies are what Christmas is all about. Years ago there was some religious stuff too, but that seems to have given way to the powerful rationality of the mince pie.

Unfortunately our finest mince pie experience came via my late mother-in-law so now we have to make do with second best, but that does not invalidate the pie's primary role at this time of year. So far we have sampled the produce of Sainsbury, Tesco, Granddaughter's play centre and a Matlock cafe.

Obviously it is early in the mince pie season and we intend many more samplings but at this stage it is worth mentioning that Tesco Finest were not particularly fine. Too sweet and not enough spiciness.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference were not bad. Good texture, not too sweet and moderately spicy. They were still supermarket pies though. 

Granddaughter's play centre pies were probably Mr Kipling with all that this implies. At least the coffee rinsed the gunk off my teeth.

The Matlock cafe pies looked as if they came from a local bakery and were pretty good. Good texture, not too sweet and quite spicy. They didn't look as perfect as machine-made pies which ought to be a good sign. 

So all in all not a bad early kick-off for the mince pie season, but it's a pity neither of us is an expert baker. Maybe we'll try Lidl next.

Monday 28 November 2016

Could you cope?

It is not necessary to know anything about chess here, but the game is unusual in that even a strong international player can end up playing a very talented youngster. The embarrassment possibilities are obvious.

The video is an impromptu blitz game between Samuel Sevian and International Master Greg Shahade played about six years ago when Samuel was a ten year old chess prodigy. He went on to become the youngest ever United States Grandmaster.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Prisons and prisons

As we all know Jeremy Corbyn has triggered a controversy over his comments on the death of Fidel Castro. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry found it necessary to defend him.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said it is "quite difficult" to get past allegations of brutality made against Fidel Castro after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the revolutionary leader for his "heroism".

Nine days of national mourning have been declared in Cuba after Castro's death at the age of 90.

Mr Corbyn said that "for all his flaws" Castro would be remembered as a "champion of social justice".

Human Rights Watch gives us an outline summary of Castro's "flaws". We are spared the details.

During his nearly five decades of rule in Cuba, Fidel Castro built a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent, a dark legacy that lives on even after his death.

During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms. Cuba made improvements in health and education, though many of these gains were undermined by extended periods of economic hardship and by repressive policies.

Whatever one thinks of Jeremy Corbyn, his response to Castro's death is remarkably naive for such a senior politician. Naive to the point of weird because it is not far removed from the kind of response a callow sixth former might make.  

One could simply pour scorn on his hopeless inability to react in a way which acknowledges the lessons of recent history but there is something deeper. Corbyn has his flaws too and cannot escape them. We have learned about dictators but apparently he hasn't and it isn't rocket science - it is not difficult to see why Castro was a monster.

Yet Corbyn cannot quite escape the silliness of his radical past, his decades-old political raison d'être. The world has moved on, the old time Stalinist dictators are almost all gone and their appalling crimes are part of our history, but Corbyn doesn't appear to see it like that. He seems to be imprisoned by his own past to a weird degree. He can't adapt and doesn't even see the need to. What the Labour party will do with him I don't know, but it needs to do something.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Pink horse tale

The other day found me watching a kids’ TV show with Granddaughter. Not an uncommon activity. On the whole kids’ TV is politically correct but not aggressively so. It usually washes over me but one particular episode caught my attention for some reason.

The show was a typical CGI confection with two little girls drawing a picture of a horse. One drew a bog standard brown horse and the other a pink horse. I’ll call those girls Brownie and Pinkie. The third little girl was the heroine of the series – I’ll call her Goody.

When the drawings were finished Brownie pointed out to Pinkie that horses aren’t pink. She didn’t do this aggressively but in a fairly mild "my horse is better than yours" sense. Well Brownie's horse was better but unfortunately this upset Pinkie so Goody intervened to point out that Brownie’s criticism had made Pinkie sad. This is a bad thing to do was the suggestion. In fact it was the point of the whole episode.

One was left with the notion that pointing out factual mistakes could make a person sad and that won’t do - it is tantamount to abuse. Brownie should have suggested that pink horses don’t quite exist but they jolly well ought to because they are such a vibrant improvement on the boring brown variety.

One might say that this tiny fragment of modern life teaches kids the virtue of kindness which it does, but why did Brownie have to be factually correct? One is left with the assumption that factual accuracy is not a mitigating factor when a person adopts a superior position. To display knowledge is to adopt a superior position and that's bad. Unless it is superior political knowledge presumably.

Kindness is good and promoting it is good but somehow the modern world has become adept at tacking on ulterior messages. The message here is that facts are liable to get you into all sorts of trouble and must be imparted with kindness or not imparted at all. A world beyond facts is okay too – that’s the other ulterior message.

Friday 25 November 2016

Green Friday

As an alternative to Black Friday and the vulgar promotion of special offers, money off, two for the price of one and so forth, I'm opting for an ethical Green Friday on this blog.

Apart from a healthy dose of priggish satisfaction, Green Friday is a worthy attempt to roll back the tide of commercial excess. A number of ethical, save the planet alternatives suggest themselves.

  • Old blog posts could be recycled instead of being left to rot away in the archive emitting all kinds of noxious possibilities into our already polluted interweb.
  • Blog posts could be written using green energy, which means written in the dark and written in haste because the heating is turned off.
  • Blog post readers could read them in the dark too, although in one sense I may have achieved that already.
  • Blog post could be shorter, using fewer electrons. For example, a post criticising John Major for suggesting a second EU referendum could be shortened to "Oh do stop whingeing and give Edwina a nice Christmas present." Of course this example could be even shorter saving even more electrons.

Anyhow that's the general idea and it must be a good one because I'm feeling a little more priggish already. I may even buy a copy of the Guardian, although that could be too extreme for a trainee prig. I'll need to work down to it.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Solar fail


Yesterday I visited Carsington Water visitors’ centre with some old work colleagues. The idea was to have lunch there after a short walk but the area suffered a power cut just before we trooped into the restaurant.

One might have wondered if the centre's substantial array of solar panels would take over but no. No lights, no hot drinks, no hot food. No great surprise on a dull day in November but one is bound to wonder at sustainable power which isn’t sustainable and doesn’t deliver the power when you most need it.

Is anyone surprised? No - it hardly merits a shrug.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Trump v Clinton

Now the Trump v Clinton bout is finally over and pundits are just beginning to run out of reasons to be delighted or horrified it is worth ruminating on broader issues.

During the contest Clinton was obviously a shoo-in right up until she wasn’t. An interesting predictive failure but as far as I can tell nobody had the faintest idea which candidate would make the best president anyway. We’ll never know either, because only one of them is to be tested in the hot seat. The other slinks off into prosperous oblivion, that’s the tradition.

Some of the pre-match commentary was well written, some of it amusing, some silly, much of it abusive, some mildly persuasive and so on and so on. Yet nobody really knew if Clinton or Trump would turn out to be a competent or incompetent president. Nobody had the faintest idea because humans are not built like that. We’d like to think otherwise but it ain’t so.

We compare A with B and when there is nothing to compare or when the comparison will never be made then we are reduced to allegiances and guesswork and that is what we saw during the election. Vast deserts of foaming passion, outright lies and yet more foaming passion, some of it dressed up as analysis.

We saw allegiances and guesswork and that is what we’ll see throughout Trump’s presidency too. Unless he walks on water, cures cancer and ensures world peace he’ll be praised and cursed in roughly equal measure because that’s how we do things until memories fade, main actors retire or die and passions transfer themselves elsewhere.

In spite of numerous pundits trying to persuade us that they had arcane knowledge of each candidate plus a working crystal ball locked onto the political future of the USA, none of their output was worth a plugged nickel as they used to say in cowboy films. We’ll have to wait and see.

On the other hand I can’t convince myself that dumping Clinton wasn’t a bonus. It just feels like the right thing to do. I hope so but we’ll have to wait and see. Or rather we won’t see because that possibility has gone.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Big screen liars

The other day found us talking about films and how dishonest they are when it comes to historical accuracy. As usual we had decided not to watch a particular film because it was bound to be historically inaccurate in various important respects. So no surprises there, we are always not watching films. It is one of our most inexpensive hobbies.

However, we recently broke our rule and watched an example of the genre - The Imitation Game supposedly depicting the life of Alan Turing.

The Imitation Game jumps around three time periods – Turing’s schooldays in 1928, his cryptographic work at Bletchley Park from 1939-45, and his arrest for gross indecency in Manchester in 1952. It isn’t accurate about any of them, but the least wrong bits are the 1928 ones

The film was crap and we regret watching it, but I am still unable to understand why any actor would take part in a factually dishonest film. Somehow many actors must be comfortable with dishonesty. It often shows too, especially if they resort to political posturing. Perhaps they see life itself as lines to be learned. An odd bunch who as far as I can see do not generally deserve the veneration they receive.

Film industry moguls sell drama to the masses, not education. It is much the same with newspaper and television moguls. Bums on seats, eyes on pages, clicks on ads. Whatever the high-minded claims, mass media including news media are in the entertainment business. We are seen as a market, but not a market thirsting for education. So we don't get the education.

Saturday 19 November 2016

St Custard’s Law of Prizes

When grabber get his ushaul prize i.e. the mrs joyful prize for rafia work there are boos and catcalls nothing can stop the mitey upsurge of popular feeling.

‘SILENCE!’ below GRIMES. ‘You are unfare. You kno how he won this prize.’

‘Sure!’ we roar, ‘£5 to you, £I all round to the staff and a botle of beer for the olde matronne. The same story.’

Whizz for Atomms - Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle (1956)

It may not be immediately obvious but Molesworth is using his grate brane to illustrate an important law of the universe - St Custard’s Law of Prizes.

Friday 18 November 2016

All steamed up

Yesterday we moved the electric kettle to another area of the kitchen. Yes I know this adventure is almost too nail-biting for a blog post but there is more to come.

We moved into the house seven years ago, plonked the kettle in an apparently obvious position and there it and its successor stayed for the next seven years even though it tends to waft steam all over the cupboard above. Not a serious problem but yesterday we had the bright idea of moving the kettle to a spot where a steamed cupboard can’t occur.*

Now we skip lightly from poorly positioned kettles to the big wide world where good enough is often not very good at all but we drop into ruts and let things ride because... Because?

Because we compare.

Our ability to reason is essentially an ability to compare A with B and possibly with C and D but not much more than that. Too many options and we get confused. We don’t actually know if A is good or bad but maybe we can tell if it is better than B, C or D.

If we favour political party A over party B, we can’t tell if A is competent or incompetent. All we can do is compare it with B or perhaps the previous history of A, but even here there is an issue. If we favour party A over party B then we compare A with B using comparisons promoted by A. We can’t tell if these comparisons are valid or invalid because we just do it – we compare until we have an answer which is okay, which removes the incentive to compare. 

In spite of the huge leap from kettles to politics, we see the same issue. If we are not prompted to do a comparison then we don’t do it. We don’t generally compare comparing with not comparing or comparing one way with comparing another. We just do it or we don’t. If we get an answer which seems okay then we move on and stop comparing.

* This was prompted by a slight but discernible warping of the cupboard hem hem.

Thursday 17 November 2016


Let us welcome foreign influence which is cosmopolitan; but not Norwegian, for that is provincial, and we have plenty of the same kind ourselves.

August Strindberg - The Growth of a Soul (1913)

Alternatively we might adapt Strindberg's words and say.

Let us welcome foreign influence which is cosmopolitan; but not from the EU, for that is provincial, and we have plenty of the same kind ourselves.

To my mind this is one Brexit argument which could have been made during the recent EU referendum debate but wasn’t. Instead the Leave camp was successfully painted as lacking cosmopolitan sophistication and derided as narrow-minded and inward-looking. In a word – provincial.

Yet the Remain camp always seemed provincial to me and still does. The EU is not chic, worldly or cosmopolitan but tired, elitist, and corrupt. A haven for spiteful political poseurs and third-rate bureaucrats. A holiday destination for those who prefer familiar surroundings and faded glories. Irredeemably provincial in a world which is moving on.

Second thoughts.

Is it worse than that? Is the entire world becoming provincial?

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Glimpse of the past

The street itself was empty. In old times one would have heard the desolate nocturnal sound of a lame hoof-beat as a market-gardener's cart went by: they always brought out in the small hours the horses that were too bad to be seen by day. But all that was changed. The last lame horse had probably long since gone to the knacker's yard, and no link of sound was left between the Niagara-roar of the day and the hush before dawn.

Edith Wharton - The Mother's Recompense (1925)

Every now and then we come across another glimpse of the past, a hint that life was different in far too many ways for us to grasp and fit into our easy generalisations. 

Is it likely to be true in a general sense? Did market-gardeners avoid showing their more decrepit horses in public? Perhaps they did – to do otherwise may have been bad for business. Personal reputation would have been crucial. The horses didn't end up at Tesco, but some probably didn't end up at the knacker's yard either. 

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Inside Outside

In nature there is no outside. When we are cast from a group or a condition we have still the companionship of all that is.

Theodore Dreiser – Jennie Gerhardt (1911)

It is pleasant being an insider. It must be because so many people devote their lives to getting there. Some are born on the inside and some have to work at it and for the latter a vast amount of effort and ingenuity is devoted to that goal. Where it counts, where the money, prestige and power are, most ordinary folk are on the outside looking in. This is the human condition.

We know where we are with insiders, so why do so many of them pretend to be outsiders? Maybe because it works. A bike, a pint in the pub, no tie, a few plebeian touches and insiders step daintily outside. It's a disguise. Why bother though? I don't know - nobody is fooled.

Yet it seems to have become a key feature of our times, insiders disguising themselves as outsiders. Jeremy Corbyn is so good at it that his followers seem to think he really is an outsider. He isn't. He merely keeps up the disguise while inside, presumably so he doesn't forget.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Condemning electrons

Quillette has an article about the problems many social scientists have in adapting to Donald Trump and the social behaviour he seems to represent.

Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US presidential election was a shock to many people. Polls, media pundits, even political insiders almost universally predicted that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably. In the aftermath, there will surely be questions about why they misjudged the situation so badly. I would argue, though, that the problem runs much deeper.

The occurrence of a very similar situation in the United Kingdom a few months earlier suggests that this is not just a polling flaw, nor is it just a group of pundits misreading a single event. The underlying problem, I propose, is in the social sciences. These are the institutions expected to study human behaviour scientifically, and whose theories are spread to the rest of society.

Yet many social scientists have quite openly voiced surprise and perplexity at both the Trump and Brexit events, often supporting their statements with proclamations of immorality directed at the voters. There’s something disturbingly unscientific about this, in my opinion. Imagine a group of physicists responding to an event they are unable to explain by morally condemning electrons?

An interesting piece, but electrons exert no social pressures and social scientists have to make a living within their existing social environment. A common problem - the BBC is a good example.

Friday 11 November 2016

Thursday 10 November 2016

Vigils and vanities


Political conflict has always been painfully divisive and the reactions of UK Remainers and US Clinton supporters to their tragic loss is an old game. Blame the referee, the other team for cheating, opposition flukes, anything but admit the simple fact of defeat.

Holding vigils in protest against Donald Trump’s victory is a typically self-righteous example, yet one is bound to wonder at the readiness with which people absorb political narratives into their personalities. If we are unwise enough to support a political party or political narrative then that is what we do, we sign over a chunk of our personality, our character. It is not an add-on, it is a replacement.

Which is why political supporters defend political parties, political actors and political narratives with such implacable determination. However ludicrous the narrative, however empty the promises, however flaky the actors, the degree of personal investment is difficult to understand unless we realise how personal it all is. As personal as a pound of flesh.

People do not invest part of their personality in a political stance; they give up part of their personality and replace it with political behaviour. Instead of mulling over political questions they acquire the tools for standard political answers which are almost always improvised but improvised around a core which cannot be modified.

As for the politically victorious, as well as the joy of winning there is also a sense of relief at not having lost, of not having to justify losing, not having to find excuses, not having to be angry. For now.

This is the fascination of political conflict. It exposes the shallowness of human nature, its dependence on imitation and past history, its indifference to reason. It highlights the contrast between observed behaviour and the complex, dangerously colourful myths with which we drench our political vanities. 

Wednesday 9 November 2016

The new malady of culture

This absorption in self, or the new malady of culture, of which much is written nowadays, has been common with all men who have not worked with their bodies. The brain is only an organ for imparting movement to the muscles. Now when in a civilised man the brain cannot act upon the muscles, nor bring its power into play, there results a disturbance of equilibrium.

The brain begins to dream; too full of juices which cannot be absorbed by muscular activity, it converts them involuntarily into systems, into thought-combinations, into the hallucinations which haunt painters, sculptors and poets. If no outlet can be found, there follows stagnation, violent outbreaks, depression, and at last madness.

Schools which are often vestibules for asylums, have recourse to gymnastics, but with what result? There is no connection between the pupil's cerebral activity and the muscular activity called into play by gymnastics; the latter is only directed by another's will through the word of command.

August Strindberg - The Growth of a Soul (1913)

A modern problem is plainly visible through Strindberg’s older perspective. We evolved to reproduce, make tools, adapt to a wide range of environmental niches, assess risks, alter strategies and tactics accordingly. All this is intimately linked with muscular activity of one form or another.

To a greater and greater degree we are now influenced by social realities rather than older physical realities which still require significant muscular activity. Some people rarely go outside in winter because they no longer need to. Yet this avoidance of physical stimuli and muscular activity is comparatively recent, even more so in Strindberg's time.

Unfortunately we may not have evolved a corresponding ability to sit around thinking up useful abstractions. Presumably this is why we aren’t much good at it. In which case, if we base our society and economy on the intellectual fruits of sitting around we are not likely to build a saner and more rationally reflective world.

Ho hum – that’s enough blogging for now. It’s time to get up off my backside and make the tea.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Harry and Meghan

I see Prince Harry is miffed about the unpleasant attention his latest paramour is receiving. 

Prince Harry has confirmed US actress Meghan Markle is his girlfriend, in a statement from Kensington Palace attacking the media for subjecting her to a "wave of abuse and harassment".

Why anyone is interested in the chap or his personal entanglements I don’t know. He is merely a celebrity and may as well get used to it. Perhaps he is used to it though. After all, this kind of spat is part of the celebrity game, it raises the profile. 

What a life he has to lead though - I don’t envy the guy.

Monday 7 November 2016

Not the way to go

On the way to a short walk yesterday we happened to be chatting in the car about old age and how so many people go into a long decline which saps their dignity in such a cruelly lingering manner. Universal health care was never supposed to be like this but it is. Huge numbers of people now live long lives, well beyond the physical and biochemical competence of their own body. Too often they are fated to die a far from dignified death.

Coincidentally we popped into a cafe for a coffee while a heavy rain shower eased off. As we pushed open the door we came across a chap we once knew as a keen walker. Ten years ago in his early seventies he was still good for a ten mile walk every Sunday, but not now. Reduced to a bent old man he could barely hobble to the car with the aid of a couple of sticks.

Such a common story too. Some are lucky and some are not. Some age well and some don’t and much of it seems to be down to bad luck rather than leading a healthy lifestyle. Decent healthy people slowly wrecked and abused by their own bodies failing too slowly. It is an impossibly difficult issue but I've seen too much of it - I cannot believe we handle it well as a society. We may as well smoke, drink and hope for a quick exit.

Sunday 6 November 2016

To own or not to own

Historically, ordinary folk have never owned much until recent decades. I grew up on a council estate where few families owned anything but their clothes and some furniture. No house, car, fridge, freezer, central heating, TV or phone. Now we are overwhelmed with goodies but it is easy to forget how recent the change has been. The present situation is unprecedented as the manipulators say.

Yet there are changes in the air too. Ownership by ordinary folk seems to be under attack. People are more likely to rent their home, a major and obvious trend, but there are other attacks on our notions of ownership. The trend is particularly noticeable with consumer durables which aren’t durable and electronic gizmos which are out of date within months of purchase. Ownership is becoming ephemeral - migrating to the cloud.

Privately owned cars are gradually being squeezed out of cities and self-driving cars may not be privately owned at all. That’s the progressive vision – if you want a car you hire one from an approved pool. Or better still a rented bike. From bike-eu we have a story about a new lock for rented bikes because rented bikes are so cool, especially in winter.

By 2020 bike sharing systems in the world’s biggest cities are expected to offer over 2.3 million bicycles. Currently that figure stands at about one million bikes. And it doesn’t include all the rental bikes on offer at tourist spots all around the world. For this emerging market, bike security supplier Axa developed a smart e-lock.

It all feels like a trend, an ownership isn’t cool trend. All part of designing the global pleb I suppose.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Shock horror violence

Derbyshire Times has a revealing piece on physical attacks by pupils on primary school teachers.

Gosh how appalling, but further down we have some context.

The figures show that incidents of violence against teachers by pupils in schools in Derbyshire are on the rise, with 12 reported incidents so far in 2016, compared to ten in the whole of last year and 12 in 2014...

...A spokeswoman for Derbyshire County Council said: “Violence of any kind is not acceptable and is not tolerated in our schools.

“But 12 incidents is relatively low considering we look after more than 107,000 pupils in Derbyshire schools. And half of these incidents took place in special schools where pupils have complex needs.

In other words, excluding the special schools leaves us with about 5 or 6 incidents per year. I don't find that shocking, but I'm not a local journalist who needs to fill the space between the ads.

Friday 4 November 2016