Saturday, 30 July 2016


We're on holiday in Norfolk so blogging may be light for a while.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Around the world in 505 days

From the endlessly fawning BBC

The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi.

Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE.

He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Local sludge for local people

One fine day in 1973 found me driving through the centre of town in the works JCB towing a trailer load of fresh sewage sludge. I was heading for the local allotment. Not my job but the driver was off sick and I fancied the trip. Or perhaps I was making up for inadvertently driving the Allen Scythe through a rose bed. That wasn’t my job either, but I was young and interested in everything.

The other day, an old work colleague and I were walking through Dovedale asking ourselves when our bit of environmental science went wrong. We both came to the conclusion that the rot set in after local government reorganisation in 1974.

One should not see that trailer load of sewage sludge through rose-tinted spectacles, but for a short time I was working at the local sewage works and I enjoyed it. Effectively we were all working for the Borough Engineer and via him for local people. We knew why we were there, why we did what we did and for whom. By modern standards it may not have been an efficient arrangement but after 1974 a sense of working for people slowly evolved into a sense of working for a salary.

It did not happen quickly but bit by bit small offices, laboratories, depots and workshops were closed and merged into bigger units. Headquarters became bigger, more stratified, more remote and inward looking. The range of work became much wider and the technology much more sophisticated, but in 1973 we did what was thought necessary and if it wasn’t necessary we didn’t do it. That changed too.

Over the following decades regional bureaucracies spawned by 1974 became entangled with national bureaucracies or became national bureaucracies themselves. Later they became entangled with international bureaucracies. From what I saw, doing real work for real people became sidelined in a sense highlighted by that load of sewage sludge.

A degree of local transparency was lost in 1974. As bureaucracies grew they became less visible and less transparent. That is a key word here – transparent. By merely avoiding scandal or political disfavour they could settle down and wallow around forever behind their internal processes. So they did and still do.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Better off mad

Better Mad with the rest of the World than Wise alone. So say politicians. If all are so, one is no worse off than the rest, whereas solitary wisdom passes for folly. So important is it to sail with the stream. The greatest wisdom often consists in ignorance, or the pretence of it. One has to live with others, and others are mostly ignorant. "To live entirely alone one must be very like a god or quite like a wild beast," but I would turn the aphorism by saying: Better be wise with the many than a fool all alone. There be some too who seek to be original by seeking chimeras.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Perhaps we are better off mad with the rest of the world, but it would be reassuring to have the option. Is democracy supposed to sort that out?

Monday, 25 July 2016

Wished away

Some do honour to their post, with others ’tis the other way. It is no great gain if a poor successor makes the predecessor seem good, for this does not imply that the one is missed, but that the other is wished away.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Something for nothing

Greg Clark, our new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said:

"I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change."

However, as has been widely reported Mr Clark was once instrumental in promoting homeopathy, a something for nothing alternative therapy.

Greg Clark’s acceptance by scientists may not be helped by the fact that he was among 206 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion in 2007 calling on the government to support homeopathic hospitals, which it describes as “valuable national assets”.

The motion says complementary medicine “has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic, difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome”.

Perhaps Mr Clark is scientifically broadminded. Is that the right word? I don't know, but in a similarly contrarian vein, how about this idea:

Imagine an enormously long tube which stretches from the surface of the earth into outer space. A phenomenally difficult technical achievement to be sure, but consider the enormous benefits.

Once built, huge quantities of outer space could be pumped down the tube to the surface and stored in enormous chambers until required. To extract energy from stored space all one has to do is feed air into the chamber via a turbine which in turn would generate electricity. Once the space has been used up, the chamber is refilled via the space tube.

Good eh? The only outstanding question is how to approach Mr Clark with the idea.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Support your local curmudgeon

...for they were either politicians or reporters, which, of course, comes to the same thing.
Ford Madox Ford – The Good Soldier (1915)

Almost every morning I use the  iPad to run a quick check on news headlines. I used to rely on Ceefax for my daily fix but those days are gone forever. I don’t usually read past the headlines apart from an occasional yen to get some detail, but an outline is usually enough.

I also find myself skipping from headline to comments and if there are no comments I move on. In other words, I’m hardly ever interested in what the average journalist has to say about a story. Only if the story is written by a tough-minded curmudgeon am I likely to read it and there aren’t many of those around, especially in the mainstream media.

Which finally leads to the point of this post, because in my experience there is something important about unyielding scepticism. We are stuck with a major social dilemma where mainstream opinion has to be – well mainstream. Otherwise it could not fulfil its social function, its need to suck up to the establishment and foster political correctness. Fear shapes behaviour, which is why the news is mostly alarmist. Doom and gloom rules the newsroom. Always has.

As a species we are not particularly intelligent and accept the most absurd garbage if it is socially acceptable to do so. A sharply critical outlook is required to detect the garbage but here’s the rub. Detecting garbage ought to be a positive and respected social skill, a welcome addition to the tools of social discourse. Unfortunately it isn’t, because it can’t be, because socially cohesive consensus would flounder if critical analysis were to be valued as a welcome corrective to the garbage and to the establishment viewpoint.

Support your local curmudgeon.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The five ills

Ridiculous people! They want to free you of every squirming, torturing, nagging question mark.
Yevgeny Zamyatin – WE (1921)

I see Jeremy Corbyn has identified himself with the politics of lists. Probably a good idea when a chap lacks the divine spark of inspiration.

Speaking at the UCL Institute of Education the embattled Labour leader laid out the "five ills" of 21st century Britain - inequality, neglect, insecurity, prejudice, and discrimination. Echoing the five “giant evils” identified by the social reformer William Beveridge in the 1940s, the Labour leader claimed that throughout his leadership campaign he would match each of these ills with a policy solution.

Policy solutions eh? The real world doesn’t believe in policy solutions but that won’t stop Jeremy and his band of swivel-eyed acolytes. Although he probably has no real acolytes. He’s a means to an end.

Oh well, it we’re doing lists then how about integrity, transparency, scepticism, intelligence and opportunity? Took me about ten seconds to compile, but do we exclude them, or are they unimportant?

Rhetorical question of course. Jeremy’s political philosophy seems to be the bleak uniformity of some totalitarian dream from the seventies. I met plenty like him in those days but I thought they had all grown up and learned the painful lessons of life by buying an Austin Allegro. Evidently we have one left over. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Monday, 18 July 2016

A kingdom within a kingdom

Most who have written on the emotions, the manner of human life, seem to have dealt not with natural things which follow the general laws of nature, but with things which are outside the sphere of nature: they seem to have conceived man in nature as a kingdom within a kingdom. For they believe that man disturbs rather than follows the course of nature, and that he has absolute power in his actions, and is not determined in them by anything else than himself. They attribute the cause of human weakness and inconstancy not to the ordinary power of nature, but to some defect or other in human nature, wherefore they deplore, ridicule despise, or, what is most common of all,  abuse it: and he that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is beheld by his fellows as almost divine.

Baruch Spinoza – Ethics (1677)

Phew what a scorcher

“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun — or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1925)

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Fake phobias II

The most glaringly obvious fake phobia must be Islamophobia.

Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.

So islamophobia is not a phobia. Which we knew anyway. 

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

DiploMad has a good post on Islamophobia and I don’t have much to add apart from suggesting the possibility that Islam will eventually be hollowed out by consumer society and global political trends.

As for the present, accepting that Islam may be a problem for secular democracies appears to be the first hurdle for any worthwhile discussion. The term Islamophobia seems designed to raise that first hurdle as high as possible. It also seems designed to allow the establishment to use hate speech without appearing to do so - but that is another issue.

Yet viewing Islam with a strong dose of political caution is reasonable if one lives in a modern democracy. One could easily go further and suggest than in those circumstances, not adopting a frankly negative political view of Islam is unwise. The meek shall not inherit the earth.

In which case, opposition to Islam is no more a phobia than opposition to socialism, capitalism, communism, fascism or any other politically significant movement - and Islam is politically significant. Expressing opposition to political situations used to be called debate and used to be considered healthy - which of course it would be in a healthy democratic culture.

Sadly we are losing that healthy robustness, that freedom to say what we mean. We have become politically enfeebled and as far as Islam is concerned, afraid to use words such as ‘primitive’. Yet Islam seems politically primitive to those of us who value modern democratic freedoms, warts and all. Exercising the right to say so is not a phobia.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Switched off

So the Brexit shock begins to dissipate. The boat has been rocked and now it rights itself as the passengers settle down for the long row back to more familiar shores and the job of achieving as little as possible as busily as possible. Is it time to switch off yet?

How many of us have driven to work and on arrival we find we can’t remember the journey? It seems to be a common experience - as if we are switched off by the routine familiarity of it. What actually switches us off though? It can’t be voluntary and that is surely something to dwell on.

How about being switched off by tedious meetings? Or unimaginative TV shows, banal chatter, media headlines on a dull day, football, athletics Wimbledon or any other sport with too much exposure and too little variation? There is much to switch us off in the modern world but we tend to focus on causes rather than the effect.

Moving on to another angle - some people work hard, others don’t. Some people work hard physically, some mentally, some both and some neither. It all goes to shape what we are – in every sense. Our brains work and in so doing they use energy. How much energy seems to vary widely if behaviour is any guide.

An energetic brain often seems to suppress the energy of other brains within the same social orbit. It probably does so for reasons of social efficiency. It is more efficient to follow leaders and leaders' narratives than it is for individuals to go off doing their own thing. Followers switch off and allow leaders to make the mental effort. Or rather they are switched off by those leaders.

So rather like commuting to work, followers seem to have their brains partly switched off. Even when waving their arms around, even when apparently consumed by passion they are not alert to alternative possibilities, not fully switched on. It is tempting to dismiss them as dim, but perhaps more accurate to see them as dimmed.

The leader with the energetic brain seems to dominate those with less energetic brains by reducing their mental energy, their ability to promote alternatives to the leader’s line. Even if the leader is bonkers, this effect continues until he or she dies or fails to deliver social benefits in some vitally important way. Keeping the inner circle satisfied is crucial.

If so, then this may be why devoted followers come across as so extraordinarily obtuse when justifying their need to follow. No doubt the degree of suppression varies from individual to individual, but as long as a majority of followers have their mental energy suppressed, then leadership is viable.

Obviously some followers do think critically about what they are doing but are wary of articulating their criticism unless leadership change is in the air. Yet many followers seem unable to think critically at all. They can’t, their brains don’t seem to have the energy.

That’s the spooky aspect. Rather like biology diagrams, people with convictions seem to show us a shadowy glimpse of natural laws underlying what we are. Not only do they refuse to think critically about their allegiances, but it is usually obvious that they can’t. They are switched off and elites know how it is done.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

In the hands of the workers

There are many stories about the plight of Venezuela. This one via the BBC concerns the closure of Kimberly-Clark, makers of Andrex toilet paper among many other products.

The government of Venezuela has said it has seized a factory owned by the US firm Kimberly-Clark.

The firm had said it was halting operations in Venezuela as it was unable to obtain raw materials.

But the labour minister said on Monday that the factory closure was illegal and it had re-opened "in the hands of the workers".

Perhaps its is not so much a lack of raw materials, but the plummeting value of the printed paper called currency. Venezuelans may as well wipe their bottoms on that.

Antique socialist mantras cannot improve the situation and are probably not intended to. Putting the factory "in the hands of the workers" is worthless chest-beating in the face of reality, that politically incorrect bastard who always seems to win in the end.

Or another footnote to the endless tale of political stupidity.

Smart knobs

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Smart beer

Sounds like an updated way of rediscovering bland. Or it that too cynical?

Could we eventually brew politics this way, or would that be too democratic?

Monday, 11 July 2016

Riggwelter 2

While on the subject of ailing sheep, we may as well consider another type of riggwelter, a politician stuck on his back and unable to right himself, possibly due to lots of old baggage dating back to the seventies. Usually these creatures dump the baggage to get back on their feet, but sometimes they can't let go.

This one has a huge burden and seems so knackered he has even given up waving his principles around. He's beyond help so perhaps we'll buy some caring, sharing popcorn and settle down to enjoy the show.

Unpleasant things happen to politicians in this position. If you are interested in the gory details just wait patiently.

Sunday, 10 July 2016


While out walking today we came across a riggwelter, a sheep stuck on its back and unable to right itself, possibly due to the weight of fleece in this case. Usually sheep seem to get back on their feet, but sometimes not.

This one had a big heavy fleece and seemed so knackered she had even given up waving her legs around, so we heaved her back onto her feet and she wobbled off without a bleat of thanks, as they do.

Unpleasant things can happen to sheep in this position. If you are interested in the gory details try Shepherd's blog.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Barren Old Trout Gambit Backfires

Did Andrea Leadsom really try to hint that Theresa May is a barren old trout and therefore lacking a full repertoire of touchy-feely sentiments so essential to modern politics? Possibly it wasn't meant that way, but surely the Useless Home Secretary gambit would have been more dignified.

From the BBC

A row has erupted after Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom was accused of suggesting that having children made her a better choice to be prime minister.

The Times quoted the mother of three as saying having children meant she had "a very real stake" in Britain's future.

She later said she was "disgusted" with the interview's presentation.

Leadsom may be disgusted with the interview's presentation but it's too late now. The move has been made. I don't think much of May but this all sounds desperately naive to me.

Thursday, 7 July 2016


This morning I took a photo of a stinkhorn growing next to the old air-raid shelter at the bottom of our garden. We knew we’d find one because of the horrible stink, this being one of the ripest I’ve known. Conditions are just right with warm weather after lots of rain. There is plenty of rotting wood around too. From Wikipedia :

Botanist John Gerard called it the "pricke mushroom" or "fungus virilis penis effigie" in his General Historie of Plants of 1597, and John Parkinson referred to it as "Hollanders workingtoole" or "phallus hollandicus" in his Theatrum botanicum of 1640. Linnaeus described it in his 1753 Species Plantarum, and it still bears its original binomial name. Its specific epithet, impudicus, is derived from the Latin for "shameless" or "immodest".

Which naturally enough leads us on to Chilcot. All I’ve read are reports and comments, but an overall inference is pretty clear. We seem to have learned little that we didn’t know already, particularly the problem we have with egos and amateurism in our political elite, the problem of politicus impudicus perhaps.

We don’t attract enough pragmatic, hard-nosed people who see their job as identifying and protecting British interests. In part that is down to voters voting for political brands and woolly sentiment instead of the most worthy individual.

Unfortunately the problem loops back to Brexit and whether or not our home-grown political class is fit for purpose. Chilcot suggests not and Chilcot is very far from being the only clue we have.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Tory leader – does it matter?

The Prime Minister’s office is essentially a clearing house for political pressures promises and paybacks. Whether or not the actual incumbent matters is debatable, but one suspects not. Style matters so much these days...

...actually the candidates don’t have much style do they?

I’m stuck now. Can’t think of a reason why we have Prime Ministers, let alone why we think the choice is important. What on earth could it be?

??... ???... ????... scratches head...

...nope, this post has come to a premature end. I don’t have the remotest idea why the Tory party leadership battle is important. Of course the new leader has to come across as more capable than Jeremy Corbyn...

Strewth is that all?


Shuffles off for a drink think...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Exploding Pianos

An interesting story about exploding pianos, flour and the value of those pianos in an age of instant entertainment.

Monday, 4 July 2016

A matter of perspective

This is a view from the Tissington Trail near Hartington. As you can probably see, because of the perspective and lack of visual clues, a road on the other side of the valley appears to be much steeper than it really is.

It's a matter of perspective. 

Similarly this picture appears to show a random selection of shoppers who could be wandering around M&S looking for a good offer on socks. However, if you hold your nose and almost close both eyes, they could also be a bunch of candidates for the Tory party leadership.

It's a matter of perspective. 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A millionth of a ton


As many will know, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel WE influenced George Orwell when he wrote 1984. Set in a distant future, it was published before the crazed dictators of the twentieth century wrote their epitaphs in the blood of millions. WE is somewhat more alien and remote than 1984, but politically just as chilling. 

From Wikipedia

We is set in the future. D-503, a spacecraft engineer, lives in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which assists mass surveillance. The structure of the state is Panopticon-like. Furthermore, life is scientifically managed F. W. Taylor-style. People march in step with each other and are uniformed. There is no way of referring to people save by their given numbers. The society is run strictly by logic or reason as the primary justification for the laws or the construct of the society. The individual's behaviour is based on logic by way of formulas and equations outlined by the One State.

The logic of political behaviour is key and in my view just as disturbingly plausible as Orwell's Newspeak. Consider the two quotes below.

How good it is to know that a vigilant eye is fixed upon you, lovingly protecting you against the slightest error, the slightest misstep. This may seem somewhat sentimental, but an analogy comes to my mind—the Guardian Angels that the ancients dreamed of. How many of the things they merely dreamed about have been realized in our life!

Is it not clear, then, that to assume that the "I" can have some "rights" in relation to the State is exactly like assuming that a gram can balance the scale against the ton? Hence, the division: rights to the ton, duties to the gram. And the natural path from nonentity to greatness is to forget that you are a gram and feel yourself instead a millionth of a ton.

Yevgeny Zamyatin - WE (1921)

Few would admit it, but many people appear to desire this kind of world. Zamyatin’s imaginary dystopia is called the One State, ruled by the semi-mystical Benefactor. The Guardians enforce absolute discipline over every aspect of life, right down to sex, hours of sleep and even the number of times each mouthful of food must be chewed. Does the last one sound familiar?

Zamyatin’s key assumption on which he hangs his dystopian logic is that happiness is the absence of desire. Expunge desire and you have happiness. In some ways WE is more relevant now than 1984 because of Zamyatin’s use of dystopian logic.

Freedom and crime are linked as indivisibly as... well, as the motion of the aero and its speed: when its speed equals zero, it does not move; when man's freedom equals zero, he commits no crimes. That is clear. The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom.

Do people think along similar lines? Of course they do and always have done.