Thursday 30 June 2016

Fake phobias

One of the great changes over my lifetime has been the spread of politics into every corner of life. It is not so much a spread of party politics as a universal intrusion by the mores of the state. Which on the whole are a weird mix of fanatical social control and the erratic outpourings of middle class guilt trips. Are they also pulling up the ladder after a few decades of toying with meritocracy? I think they are.

The trend also seems to be related to centralisation which all mainstream political parties tend to promote whatever their supposed political philosophy. In turn centralisation seems to suppress that vital spark of serendipity which stirs the soul, expands our horizons and makes us human. Even worse than centralisation is the response to dissent where any opposition is claimed to be the spawn of some evil phobia.

In the end one has to rely of personal observations, however unsatisfactory and limited they may be. For example, as far as I recall I have never met anyone suffering from xenophobia.

Dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries: racism and xenophobia are steadily growing in Europe

So xenophobia is not a phobia at all. Which we knew anyway. 

An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something:she suffered from a phobia about birds

In my experience people in the UK generally do not dislike and are not prejudiced against people from other countries although immigration policies and the excesses of radical Islam have strained our tolerance. If anything, people with UK roots seem to be more tolerant than the global norm. Any prejudice I see tends to be more cultural preference than prejudice. There is a difference.

The most overtly racist guy I ever met was a very personable young chap whose parents had come to the UK from India some decades ago. He had a high caste background and was obsessed with skin colour. Wheat-coloured was his ideal for some reason. There was no malice in him, he just had his cultural preferences and was not reticent about them.

The pointing finger of xenophobia appears to be directed at the western world, and its industrial and cultural successes, its comparative tolerance, its ability to make democracy work and its ability to find a place for religion without that place being politically or culturally dominant.

The main threat to all those achievements seems to be the unending drive towards total government we have endured for over a century now. That in turn seems to be tangled up with a guilt-fuelled collapse towards the global mean, a chaotic dog eat dog state where a degree of cringing security is only to be found under the wing of various thuggish elites.

The global mean is obviously not something we should aspire to here in the developed world. Expressing a cultural preference to this effect plus a perfectly natural desire to keep what we have and what we value – that is not a phobia. 

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Yesterday, upon the stair...

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a colleague who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd walk my way...

With apologies to William Hughes Mearns.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

A world where nothing is real

The Tuesday Quiz

A short quiz with no prizes for the winner – much like Brexit.

  1. How many MPs are in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet?
  2. Who was Thruthelthrolth?
  3. Are we there yet?

Is there such a thing as intelligence?

What a feeble thing intelligence is, with its short steps, its waverings, its pacings back and forth, its disastrous retreats! Intelligence is a mere instrument of circumstances. There are people who say that intelligence must have built the universe — why, intelligence never built a steam engine! Circumstances built a steam engine. Intelligence is little more than a short foot-rule by which we measure the infinite achievements of Circumstances.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

The most problematic aspect of the EU referendum debate was the shallow nature of so many arguments. It was an important and high profile debate, but for some reason shallow was the preferred depth. Intelligence was not required - but why?

To begin with, intelligence is obviously a useful notion for elite classes to maintain their ascendancy. Nobody wants to be ruled by Mr Stupid or preached at by Bishop Dork even though we often are. So we have to pretend and elites usually attempt to appear passably intelligent even when they are not. Many struggle to keep up the charade, but they try, they do try. 

To help the charade along, a superior type of education is used to make the whole idea of elite intelligence more plausible. The natural intelligence of good breeding is supposed to be nurtured by deluxe educational methods. This costs more money than most people have which is no great surprise because that’s the whole point. Intelligence has to be somewhat exclusive.

Yet imagine if you will, a politician who says something so obviously stupid that even the mainstream media have to take note. Imagine that same politician having to back down at some later date when the stupidity becomes politically embarrassing. Not uncommon is it? I’m thinking of Naseem Shah as a fairly recent example, but there are many, many more and will be many, many more in future.

Unintelligent behaviour seems to be remarkably common even in political life where one might assume that maintaining the charade is one of the most basic requirements. Yet a lack of intelligence is particularly easy to spot if the political party you don’t support happens to be in office. We know their lot can’t be intelligent because the intelligence is mostly on our side isn’t it?

It won’t do though will it? Unless one has the hide of a rhinoceros the bias is just too obvious. Loop back to our politician who says something stupid. If he or she is also seen as a crafty political operator, then the stupidity becomes either a political slip or a cunning facade hiding devious intentions. The notion of elite intelligence is preserved.

But that won’t do either. A simpler explanation is that stupid behaviour is a sign of stupidity. Occam’s Razor don’t you know.

Perhaps so, but an even simpler explanation is that there is no such thing as intelligence. Behaviour, learned or imitated is either effective or ineffective but we don’t find out which until we launch it onto the public domain. Trial and error with its short steps, its waverings, its pacings back and forth, its disastrous retreats!

Hence all that political backtracking we enjoy so much and this is the key point, the glaringly obvious clue, the reason why political classes fly kites. They can’t foresee public reaction where there is no good precedent. They have to experiment on a small scale and learn from the outcome. Naseem Shah’s observation about Israel was one such experiment. A naive one, but still an experiment. She did not foresee the outcome because she couldn’t foresee it because she didn’t have the intelligence to foresee it because there is no such thing as independent intelligence.

Intelligence is another aspect of our tendency to focus on the individual rather than the individual’s controlling environment. Intelligence is mainly a feature of those controlling environments, not so much individuals. We use imitation and cooperation to engineer intelligent environments without needing to be intelligent ourselves because we can’t be intelligent in a vacuum, without sounding boards, without feedback, without the environment.

This is what political types foster and rely on. This is why they make so many obvious blunders. They are not intelligent outside their controlling environment. Nobody is. We engineer intelligent environments by trial and error and by modifying our behaviour accordingly but we don’t need much individual intelligence to do it. Trial and error does it for us.

Except when we deny the errors. That's when hard landings take over.

Monday 27 June 2016

Fingers and toes

This is one thing I cannot imagine doing. How Honnold stands there calmly looking around for the next finger or toe hold I'll never know. I'd rather kiss Cameron.

Well - almost.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Universal impotence

“There’s a note I’d like to strike. It’s about impotence. Have you noticed, going along the streets, that all of the people you see are tired out, impotent?” he asked. “What is a newspaper—the most impotent thing in the world. What is the theater? Have you gone much lately? They give you such a weariness that your back aches, and the movies, God, the movies are ten times worse, and if this war isn’t a sign of universal impotence, sweeping over the world like a disease, then I don’t know much.”

Sherwood Anderson – Dark Laughter (1925)

If Anderson’s character was right about universal impotence, then here in the UK we would still be caught up in wars and conflicts and all kinds of unplanned consequences would infest our lives –

Okay that’s one box ticked so let us imagine a few other possibilities.

If we were really impotent we’d do ridiculous things such as allowing rapists into the country, or preachers of religious hatred. Or we would become entangled in monstrous bureaucracies and beat ourselves up with impossibly complex regulations. Or maybe we would find it impossible to build affordable houses for young people, control an apparently inexorable growth in our population or choose only the best from those who want to move here.

Even wilder possibilities come to mind if we really are impotent. We might find ourselves unable to criticise malign social trends in robust language without isolating ourselves. We might freely elect unworthy people to high office. We may even try to control global weather patterns by building giant windmills -

No that’s going too far. We can’t be that impotent can we?

Saturday 25 June 2016

They resemble liars


Do not always be Jesting. Wisdom is shown in serious matters, and is more appreciated than mere wit. He that is always ready for jests is never ready for serious things. They resemble liars in that men never believe either, always expecting a lie in one, a joke in the other. One never knows when you speak with judgment, which is the same as if you had none. A continual jest soon loses all zest. Many get the repute of being witty, but thereby lose the credit of being sensible. Jest has its little hour, seriousness should have all the rest.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

As we know, Boris Johnson has a gravitas problem, much the same problem Baltasar Gracian highlighted over three and a half centuries ago.

Currently Boris leads the betting for our next Prime Minister yet his public persona is hardly statesmanlike. Even Jeremy Corbyn has more gravitas than Boris. What are we to make of that if Boris is so smart? Perhaps it suggests he isn’t because the alternative is a little hard to swallow. 

Thursday 23 June 2016

Either you think...

Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald  - Tender is the Night (1934)

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Know how to withdraw


Know how to Withdraw. If it is a great lesson in life to know how to deny, it is a still greater to know how to deny oneself as regards both affairs and persons. There are extraneous occupations which eat away precious time. To be occupied in what does not concern you is worse than doing nothing. It is not enough for a careful man not to interfere with others, he must see that they do not interfere with him.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Modern life has become too complex, too demanding for the elite. In former times they imposed narrow limits on social mores via religion, narrow cultural norms, toil and harshly repressive laws. Now things are different. We have our big bellies, our bread and circuses, our vulgar satisfactions. It is time for the elite to move on and rid themselves of the tangled mess democracy has dumped in their laps.

An enduring trait of elite classes has always been their ability to withdraw from our world to enjoy theirs. To achieve this happy state of affairs they cannot afford to spend too much time catering to the demands of the lower orders. They need their social isolation and that requires a degree of government isolation. It is time to clamp down again. Democracy, if it exists, has to be shorn of its messy tangle of demands and unpredictable possibilities.

The EU is a power structure designed to isolate European elites from the chaotic demands and inevitable failures of democratic responsibility. They intend to escape from our routine world to enjoy a golden world of unrestricted lifestyles. For those with money and social connections this is a golden age and elite classes intend to enjoy it to the full.

If this means treating people as the cheapest possible unit of production, if it means trampling on cultures, getting rid of the middle classes and subverting democracies then so be it. If it means attracting petty tyrants and martinets to manage EU structures and feed the rest of us with bread and circuses then so be it.

A vote for Leave is unlikely to make much difference in the medium to long term. Our elite classes no longer have any taste for the grind and uncertainties of good government. One way or another they intend to put the whole unrewarding business in the hands of their stewards - as their ancestors did in the good old days. These days stewards are senior bureaucrats who actually enjoy drafting and enforcing impossibly complex laws and regulations. Stewards in love with a world where everything is either forbidden or compulsory.

Not that it is likely to work out that way.

Vulgar folly

While vulgar folly wonders, wisdom watches for the trick. 

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Monday 20 June 2016

Venezuela collapses and nobody cares

Interesting piece from macleans on the problems in Venezuela.

We like to think that progress is irreversible. We look at our roads and supermarkets and hospitals and while we know that everything could be better, we rarely worry it will all collapse. Unhappily, right now Venezuela is proving that all of this can suddenly disappear, and it’s frightening.

The country is falling apart, rapidly and completely. By many measures, it is one of the most blessed nations in the Americas. It has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, almost twice Canada’s. It has rich agricultural land, incredible biodiversity and huge amounts of mineral wealth. And yet its people are now starving; its infrastructure is in tatters; law and order have broken down. And strangely, Canada doesn’t appear to care.

Although the issues have been widely reported, the lack of interest is probably wider than Canada. It's just a guess on my part, but I don't think anyone else cares much either. Venezuelans appear to have brought this on themselves. The richest person in Venezuela seems to be a daughter of Hugo Chavez. Isn't that a surprise?

Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president's second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Wells of hatred

During the recent political posturing over the murder of MP Jo Cox, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of  a “well of hatred” amid wider attempts to link this event with far right politics and presumably by implication with the EU referendum Leave campaign.

Jo Cox was killed by a “well of hatred”, Jeremy Corbyn has said in an emotional tribute to the Labour MP in her constituency town of Birstall in West Yorkshire.

Alternatively, Angela Merkel says bad language is responsible.

“The exaggerations and radicalisation of part of the language do not help to foster an atmosphere of respect,” Angela Merkel said in response to a question about the killing. “That’s why we all value democratic game rules. And we know how important it is to draw limits, be it in the choice of speech, in the choice of the argument, but also in the choice of partly disparaging argument,” she said on Friday.

This is what political bubbles lead to and we should not expect anything more dignified. However it is a reminder of how impossibly tangled notions of political left and right are. For example, it has been pointed out that radical Islam exhibits a number of key traits traditionally associated with far right politics. It is intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic misogynist and supremacist.

Yet for decades Corbyn’s own party has not made a clear political distinction between moderate and radical Islam and has never been straightforward in dealing with what one could easily refer to as the far right of the Islamic political spectrum. Profiting from wells of hatred is one of his party’s many failings and under his leadership it still is.

We cannot discover anything about the real world by juggling words, but it is possible to obscure it as people like Corbyn and Merkel are apt to do. We should not be deceived. 

Saturday 18 June 2016

Early starter

This morning my wife opened the door to yet another visit from Jehovah's Witnesses, but this one was different. A young girl about eight years old attempted to deliver the usual spiel while two adult minders hovered in the background.

It was no contest of course and she was easily brushed off, but I’m not sure what I think of it. Our visit certainly brings home the determination of adults to infect their offspring with their own standpoint, however outlandish and isolating it may be. Because it must be isolating and that provokes another thought about the Named Person scheme in Scotland, the legislation for which comes into force in August 2016.

Most children and young people get all the help and support they need from their parent(s), wider family and community, but sometimes they may need a bit of extra support.

Children and young people from birth to 18, or beyond if still in school, have access to a Named Person to help support their wellbeing as part of the Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) approach.

Total government is never far away these days. What would be the outcome if our young religious visitor happened to live in Scotland and decided to consult her Named Person about her doorstep preaching? If the legislation comes south we may well find out.

Thursday 16 June 2016

They are different

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Rich Boy (1926)

There is much that one could say about this quote. Few of us would turn down the chance to be rich if there were no insuperable caveats, but few of us would use it well. The rich are still different today and there are more of them, but not only the rich. Celebrities are different too, and as far as one can tell they are often different in much the same way because they think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are.

It is something we do to people via money or status, including political status. The problem affects both left and right political classes in that they think they know what is best for us. Those who don't tend to be corrupt in one way or another, apart from a modest few who actually try to leave political life in a better state than they found it.

In Wikipedia there is an interesting quote from Matthew Bruccoli about Fitzgerald's story.

"'The Rich Boy' is a key document for understanding Fitzgerald's much-discussed and much-misunderstood attitudes toward the rich. He was not an envious admirer of the rich, who believed they possessed a special quality. In 1938 he observed: 'That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school; a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton...I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.' He knew the lives of the rich had great possibilities, but he recognized that they mostly failed to use those possibilities fully. He also perceived that money corrupts the will to excellence. Believing that work is the only dignity, he condemned the self-indulgent rich for wasting their freedom."

Money corrupts the will to excellence, but not money alone. When the political classes become too secure in their status, their generous salary and allowances, their opportunities to mix with the rich and powerful, then they too seem to ape the self-indulgent rich. They too waste the freedom they have been given to make the world a better place. The will to excellence is easily corrupted.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Each Man's Thumbscrew

Find out each Man's Thumbscrew. ’Tis the art of setting their wills in action. It needs more skill than resolution. You must know where to get at any one. Every volition has a special motive which varies according to taste. All men are idolaters, some of fame, others of self-interest, most of pleasure. Skill consists in knowing these idols in order to bring them into play.

Knowing any man's mainspring of motive you have as it were the key to his will. Have resort to primary motors, which are not always the highest but more often the lowest part of his nature: there are more dispositions badly organised than well. First guess a man's ruling passion, appeal to it by a word, set it in motion by temptation, and you will infallibly give checkmate to his freedom of will.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Does Cameron keep his hand in his pocket these days? I must check.

A Turner sunset

...he resembled a Turner sunset, and attracted both admiration and attention.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - This Side Of Paradise (1920)

Monday 13 June 2016


Having occasion to go to London, he marvelled, as he returned, thinking of naked, lurking savages on an island, how these had built up and created the great mass of Oxford Street or Piccadilly. How had helpless savages, running with their spears on the riverside, after fish, how had they come to rear up this great London, the ponderous, massive, ugly superstructure of a world of man upon a world of nature! It frightened and awed him. Man was terrible, awful in his works. The works of man were more terrible than man himself, almost monstrous.
D. H. Lawrence - The Rainbow (1915)

I sometimes wonder if we’re barking up the wrong tree with the EU referendum. Whatever happens on June 23rd, those of us living outside London are stuck with it as a vast vortex sucking in too much money and with far too much influence on the rest of the country, culturally, economically and politically.

Not that we are in a position to do anything about it, but it is conceivable that the EU could reduce the distorting effects London has on the rest of us. On the other hand, even if we break free from the EU we are still stuck with London.

Friday 10 June 2016


It is the most opulent, most gorgeous land on earth — a land whose wisest are but little wiser than its dullest; a land where the rulers have minds like little children and the law-givers believe in Santa Claus; where ugly women control strong men ——

F. Scott Fitzgerald on the USA

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Duck luck

A mallard duckling tries to scale a waterfall on the river Dove this morning. Its mother was pecking around on top apparently unconcerned. Could explain why she only had one duckling left.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Listen to the experts you proles

"Listen to the experts" David Cameron urges as he tries to shore up the Remain case.

DAVID Cameron has urged voters to "listen to the experts" about the risks to the UK of quitting the European Union as he accused pro-Brexit campaigners - including some of his Cabinet colleagues - of lying about Britain's prospects outside the EU.

Anyone is bound to wonder about his reliance on experts when our countryside is littered with windmills. They were installed on the advice of experts. Maybe those chaps are lesser experts belonging to the green crap branch of government-sponsored imbecility.

I'm sure we have enough experience of experts to be aware that far too many of them have skin in the game - as Cameron has. Unfortunately government tentacles are so all embracing that this appears to be almost all of them. As we know from the windmill caper, it makes a difference.

Not a good argument then. The guy appears to be rattled. What fun.

Monday 6 June 2016

Merely an island

The hardest thing in life is to see a thing coming and be able to do nothing to prevent it.
John Galsworthy - A Knight (1901)

If the UK opts for Remain on June 23rd, what long term effects should we expect to see? Apart from the obvious loss of democracy which too many voters don’t seem to care about anyway.

It is impossible to foresee such a complex future, but there is one factor worth considering and that is our position as an offshore island. We are not the sophisticated thinkers of our fantasies - visceral feelings matter to us, directing our thoughts, actions and reasoning. They direct thoughts, actions and reasoning within the EU too.

Given its geography, how does an island, such as the UK place itself at the centre of EU politics in the longer term? How does the UK avoid a future where it is little more than an offshore whisky distillery and outdoor museum with poor weather, poor people and hopelessly unattractive career prospects for ambitious elites?

If we vote Remain, then able people are likely to be attracted to the EU mainland where the weather is better, property is cheaper, infrastructure is good and opportunities more attractive. The EU is not likely to base anything of real importance on our island. Why would it in the longer term when the EU integration project is more complete and UK public opinion matters even less than it does now?

We’ve always lost able people to other countries, but take a look at our current crop of political leaders. Cameron and Corbyn with Osborne and Watson as their deputies. Are they the best we can do or are we missing out on the best because the offshore job isn’t worth the hassle? Mull over those four names if you will. Again - are they the best we have? If not, then why not?

Even London may lose out as a premier financial centre. Not this year and not this decade, but over the coming decades the EU mainland is likely to secure the best of everything and why would that not include financial activities? City folk won't mind - they will simply move across to the mainland if they haven't already.

This chilly island on the edge of the Atlantic ocean has bred some remarkable people and a remarkable culture. It actually became civilised for a while, if one accepts the inevitable caveats which seem to apply to any civilisation. The time may soon come when all that has been forgotten.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Amish teens clocked at 110 mph


This story caught my eye recently, perhaps because of the rather broad hint it drops about the modern world catching up with everyone eventually.

Five Amish teens face alcohol-related charges after their 2001 Dodge Caravan was clocked at 110 miles per hour.

The teens were spotted Friday night while driving southbound on US 31 in Fulton County.

As the Indiana State Police troopers caught up with the van, the teens allegedly started throwing alcohol containers out of the vehicle.

An investigation found that the 17-year-old male driver was operating the vehicle on a learner's permit and had consumed alcohol.

Inside the vehicle, troopers spotted numerous alcohol containers, multiple cases of beer, and a jug of whiskey.

There were two female passengers, ages 16 and 17, in the van. There were also two 16 year-old boys in the van. Police believe all of the teens had consumed alcohol.

So it's not all buggies and sober living.

Friday 3 June 2016

Where did transgenderism come from?

Interesting article in MercatorNet.

Before the year 2000, no US state recognized same-sex marriage. By 2015, it was legal throughout the US and most of Western Europe. Before 2015 most Americans knew nothing about transgender issues. Within a year transgender issues are on the front pages of newspapers every day and schools may be forced to provide special bathrooms for trans students. The pace of change in the sexual revolution is not just rapid. It’s accelerating around the world. Why?

MercatorNet invited several scholars to answer this question, and today we begin publishing their answers.

MARK REGNERUS: It’s been a feat not of reason but of marketing

Although I’m a scholar quite familiar with the battles over “what the science says,” I’m convinced the credit here belongs to marketing. Social conservatives have been outmanned and outgunned, but perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in messaging about marriage. Now the messaging has shifted directions a few degrees. One could ask why it is conservatives continue to be so outmaneuvered, which may seem unlikely given the tiny population of persons who self-identify as transgendered. The answer is not to be found in science or in history—that is, in being on the right or wrong side of it—but in the contemporary wedding of marketing in the service of matters of sexuality. The key to shifting sentiments about sexuality is in “framing.”

Professor Regnerus links the marketing of progressive narratives to the ability of pressure groups to access federal funds and spend those funds effectively. Hardly a surprising conclusion, we've seen it before with many other issues from smoking to climate change.

Hence framing, and the money to pay to put it to effective use, appear to be a key reason (if not the pivotal reason) for the swift shift from legal discourse around same-sex marriage to that of transgender kids and bathroom access—and with it, a more privileged place for nonheterosexuality and its expressions in the American (and eventually foreign) educational systems. Without effective framing, we would not be seeing the continued rapid pace of change in the domain of sex and sexuality. Dominance in the domain of narrative, far more than in science, has dogged conservatives. It’s been a feat not of reason but of marketing.

 Forget democracy, this is how things are really done.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Branded Dreams - The Future Of Advertising

From YouTube

"The real question is not: How many ads do we see? The real question is: What do we have to do to see no ads? And the answer is: go to sleep" (James B. Twitchell) 

We see ads everyday and everywhere. They have become part of our life. While some people try to avoid seeing ads, advertisers keep finding new ways to reach us. However they are unable to reach us when we sleep. Our dreams are the last safe and ad-free place so it seems. But what happens when advertisers have the possibility to enter our dreams? Based on recent developments in brain science and technology this might be possible in the near future.