Wednesday 31 August 2016

Silly old man


There are people who never grow up — they have no right to do things. Actions have consequences — and children have no business with consequences.
John Galsworthy - A Man Of Devon (1901)

While on holiday I missed the Corbyn train story and even now I’m not sure how to take it. Jeremy is close to my age so I feel entitled to see him as a silly old man who should have acquired more political maturity than he seems to possess. Or want.

Yet that may not be the whole story as unseen international wheels grind out our future. It may be that it no longer matters who gets to rule the roost in national parliaments because national parliaments no longer matter. Perhaps Jeremy and his lost tribe are able to tilt at windmills because power has become too global, too diverse and too subtle for the political classes to understand, let alone control. They can't do much harm to to the real rulers so they are able play local politics and give local journalists something to write about.

In which case it may not matter if Jeremy wants to shift the Labour party to the far left because political ideals are merely factors in bigger calculations, bigger than political parties, bigger than most governments. Like points on a defunct railway line, the levers of power are no longer connected to anything important. They are there for show, for the puppets to squabble over. Jeremy’s undignified stunt is one of the squabbles.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Destitute of all power

And as his glance returned yet once more to the window of the Vatican, and he fancied he could see a pale hand uplifted behind the glass panes, he thought of that papal benediction which Leo XIII gave from that height, over Rome, and over the plain and the hills, to the faithful of all Christendom. And that papal benediction suddenly seemed to him a mockery, destitute of all power, since throughout such a multitude of centuries it had not once been able to stay a single one of the sufferings of mankind, and could not even bring a little justice for those poor wretches who were agonising yonder beneath the very window.
Emile Zola - Rome (1896)

This is something Zola does so well. Priest Pierre Froment is losing his faith after a visit to Lourdes followed by a sojourn in Rome trying to gain papal support for a religiously radical book he has published.

In his lowly naiveté, Father Froment thought his ideas could be a route back to the ancient values of his Christian faith, a means to extricate the Catholic Church from the moral quicksand of political intrigue.

Pierre glances up at that high window, having already seen the squalid side of Rome, the filth and poverty in close proximity to Vatican wealth, grandeur and endlessly subtle political machinations. He now knows that without its political resources the Vatican would be doomed, as his faith is doomed by exposure to the realities and exigencies of political power.

An interesting question arises if we ask ourselves if power is on the move again. It may be that traditional political power is on the wane - look at the people it attracts. Their benedictions are also a mockery, destitute of all power.

Saturday 27 August 2016

The Roman way

We’re back in the land of usable WiFi after walking for over forty miles along the route of Hadrian’s Wall. First impressions did not change much along the way - this is an amazing structure which doesn't become any less amazing as yet another ruined turret is identified. 

More than any number of books, the Wall itself with its forts, turrets and milecastles is a forceful reminder of just how powerful the reach of ancient Rome must have been. One is left wondering how on earth they did it. And why. 

Lovely varied walking country too. No TV, no newspapers and very little internet because it was so slow and unreliable. We realised just how relaxing the walk had been as we encountered the outskirts of Newcastle on the way home. It was a common enough sight, merely a hillside covered in houses.

There may be something over the top about Hadrian’s Wall and not for a millisecond would I wish to go back to those savage days, but one day perhaps our building mania will be seen in a similar light. A machine-like mania where the process is the real emperor.

Sunday 21 August 2016

Hadrian's WiFi

WiFi is slow up here by Hadrian's Wall. So much for Roman technical abilities. We'll take a look at their wall tomorrow.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Maybach 6 Concept Car

The Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 is a 2+2 coupe, and the concept’s most defining feature is probably its enormous size. The concept measures 18.5 feet long (a bit short of the 20 feet that was promised earlier), nearly 7 feet wide, and is designed as an electric car.

Maybe I'm not in tune with these things, but to my way of thinking this car is silly, even as a concept. Perhaps in our technical age it is no surprise if luxury car makers lose the battle to keep mystique on the road. 

The jabbering female doesn't help.

Friday 19 August 2016

Inside Outside

While lazing on the beach with the grandkids, we were mildly surprised when a couple parked themselves nearby and turned on a transistor radio. Do people still do that? Although fairly loud, their music did not create much of a disturbance. From where we were it was barely audible over the roar of the surf.

To me it was an oddity in this digital age, but some people seem to be uncomfortable if they venture outside without indoor props. I was reminded of a comment made by my late aunt about fifty years ago. We were using a projector to show some slides of our family holiday in Ardnamurchan. The remote beauty of it came out well on the screen, but my aunt remarked that she found it scary. All that empty landscape with not a person in sight. I’ve never forgotten how spooked she was by our photos of all that lovely emptiness. 

Sunday 14 August 2016


We're on holiday yet again so blogging may be light for a while.

Thursday 11 August 2016

Internet ads


An attempt by Facebook to defeat ad-blocking software has been in the news recently. So far it is not going too well. I use uBlock Origin as an extension for Chrome. Works well. I don't use Facebook and that seems satisfactory too.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

To make nothing


All the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he suddenly realized the meaning of the word “dissipate” — to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something.
F. Scott Fitzgerald - Babylon Revisited (1931)

Yet dissipation is what we do, what we must do to live in the modern world. We must make nothing out of something because that something has to be supplied again if money is to circulate. In this important sense our whole lives; our entire world is one of dissipation.

In spite the sleazy aura of drugs and corruption the Olympics circus must go on, dissipating human excellence, enthusiasm and patriotism into the pockets of those who pull the strings. Rio 2016 will be followed by Tokyo 2020 because money must flow and the dissipation must continue.

Even mundane activities such as recycling are often forms of dissipation. A waste of time achieving almost nothing beyond middle class virtue-signalling. Perhaps that is an important point, because in its wider sense, modern dissipation is essentially the dissipation of time. Money too, but money also dissipates time in an endless cycle of waste - or an endless cycle of living - or an endless cycle of lifestyles. It's a matter of perspective.

It seems that if we are to live modern lives then we must at the same time dissipate our lives in order to carry the torch of modernity, in order to make nothing out of something.

Tuesday 9 August 2016


Some time ago, along with millions of others I upgraded both laptops from Windows 7 to Windows 10. It all went well and Windows 10 seems okay. Nothing special, but okay.

We only use the laptops for web browsing, storing photos, composing blog posts, fiddling with a few spreadsheets, family history and so on. As far as all that goes Win10 is no improvement on Win7. It isn't much of an improvement on Windows XP, at least for this rather average user.

In which case, where else can Microsoft take Windows and how many people want to go there? I’ve read the stories about Win10 sending reams of behavioural information back to those keen folk in Redmond but I don’t care much about that. We are spied on continuously, always will be and may as well get used to it.

The problem is more to do with mature products because it isn’t easy to see where else Microsoft can go with Windows. It’s over six years since I paid them for my Win7 licence and a copy of Office but now we have two reasonably up to date systems and no motive to upgrade them further. Office is old but does what we want.

For a mature product, value for money and reliability come to the fore. We aren’t there yet, but for home computing there doesn’t seem much further to go. Somehow Win10 seems to bring that home.

Monday 8 August 2016

The construction of little motors

De Dion Bouton c1900

He was ever on the watch; and even now was thinking of reverting to the construction of little motors, for he thought he could divine in the near future the triumph of the motor-car.
Emile Zola – Paris (1898)

Zola’s character here was a successful bicycle manufacturer feeling the heat of competition. Even by 1898 it must have been obvious how significant the development of the car could be, but perhaps only to some and only in the big cities.

Sunday 7 August 2016

From phlegm to forts

The human body is remarkable on a number of counts. What impresses me at the moment is the amount of phlegm it can produce even when a chap has the appetite of a mouse. Which is why I’m not posting at quite the usual rate at the moment.

So here’s a picture of what I think is selfheal seen on the slopes of Warham Camp, a large Iron Age hill fort in Norfolk. This one wasn't built on a hill, although in Norfolk one is never quite sure what counts as a hill. Interesting structure though.

Thursday 4 August 2016

A waste of time

Thorstein Veblen coined the phrases “conspicuous consumption” and "conspicuous leisure" to describe how personal status is reflected in levels of consumption and leisure. He also described how high social status is reinforced by wasting the time of those unfortunate enough to be lower down the pecking order. In his day it was having servants to pour the drinks or open the carriage door. Today, wasting time has become vastly more complex and pervasive, so much so that we couldn’t do without it.

And so we naturally turn to dishwashers. When I switch on the dishwasher I save time, but not much. I could easily wash the dishes myself. Because I could wash the dishes myself and because the effort involved is small, it could be said that my use of the dishwasher wastes the time of numerous other people from the dishwasher manufacturer to the retailer to the electricity supplier and so on. Admittedly the waste is indirect, but the dishwasher is merely an example. Many people have to carry out many tasks merely because I prefer not to wash dishes.

Many of the things we buy are like that. We can afford it, other people have one and that’s a key measure of their utility and desirability. There is nothing wrong with buying whatever it is either, because that’s how a vital area of our economy works and we don’t want to drive around in Trabants, queue at government-run stores with empty shelves, or spend hours waiting for hospital consultants... oh hang on. Here in the UK the social boot is on the other foot in that last example.
Yet the waste mounts up and the worst aspect of it isn’t found in environmental mantras but in the waste of time, the waste of human life making, designing and selling goods and services we don’t need. Or political policies we don't need for that matter.

The problem is, this kind of thinking tends to be submerged in environmental rhetoric and mantras which sometimes make worthwhile points but tend to miss the big one – the time we waste. Clearly if we waste our time we waste our lives and we can’t go out and buy another one. 

Monday 1 August 2016


On Saturday we watched the Harley Davidson rally at Sheringham. It looked like fun. As some of the riders were no longer young, I almost fancied a big Harley myself. I'd feel the need to grow a beard though and I'm not doing that. Too grey.

Perhaps there is a political lesson in there too, because I can’t see Cameron or Corbyn riding one. Theresa May might be game though.