Friday 30 September 2016


As I ponder the mystery within a mystery that is our political class, I wonder if any of them will ever have a biscuit or cake named after them. Garibaldi has his biscuits so you never know. A few thoughts -

The Theresa May biscuit is sturdy, pink and sickly with an undecided flavour. No list of contents on the packet either - which is naughty. 

The Corbyn biscuit is a kind of Hobnob without the sweetness and having a somewhat gravelly and unyielding texture. It is made by hand from sustainable organic millet. Very expensive.

Farron cakes are impossible to find so nobody cares what they taste like.

The Trump biscuit is much smaller than suggested by the picture on a huge glossy packet. Inside all that packaging is a fiery but remarkably insubstantial ginger nut. Obviously.

Clinton cakes are doughnuts sprinkled with artificial sweetener and filled with too much sour cream. Very messy and impossible to manage standing up.

EU biscuits come in a large blue box emblazoned with yellow stars. The box is empty apart from a voucher for more.

How many are suitable for dunking though? That's the question.

Thursday 29 September 2016


Google has deleted my blogrolls. Not only mine as far as I can see.
I'll rebuild it manually.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

The power of marketing

Reminds me of the EU for some reason. 

If it ain't broke - fix it.
If it is broke - don't fix it.

Monday 26 September 2016

Let's call it a cat

As we waited for a traffic light on upper Broadway, I saw a sporting extra headlined with the score of the game. The green sheet was more real than the afternoon itself--succinct, condensed and clear:



There it was--not like the afternoon, muddled, uncertain, patchy and scrappy to the end, but nicely mounted now in the setting of the past:


Achievement was a curious thing, I thought. Dolly was largely responsible for that. I wondered if all things that screamed in the headlines were simply arbitrary accents. As if people should ask, "What does it look like?"

"It looks most like a cat."

"Well, then, let's call it a cat."

My mind, brightened by the lights and the cheerful tumult, suddenly grasped the fact that all achievement was a placing of emphasis--a molding of the confusion of life into form.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Bowl (1928)

An unusually long quote but the context is important - an American football game - muddled, uncertain, patchy and scrappy to the end, but nicely mounted now in the setting of the past. And here again is the conclusion Fitzgerald's character draws from all the tidying up so that everything is nicely mounted.

My mind, brightened by the lights and the cheerful tumult, suddenly grasped the fact that all achievement was a placing of emphasis--a molding of the confusion of life into form.

Not particularly easy to generalise as an insight into the essentially artificial nature of achievement because there are obvious caveats. Eliminating hunger globally would be more than a mere placing of emphasis. So expanding Fitzgerald’s observation to wider achievements is not so easy. As well as the caveats it requires a kind of lateral cynicism, a willingness and even a desire to step away from the social clamour and focus on the artificial aspects of achievement. Perhaps it is also easy to see such an attitude as overdone, as envy or misanthropy taken too far.

And yet... and yet all achievement is a placing of emphasis because it must be. We have to define what counts as achievement and what does not, even if we are eliminating hunger or aiming to cure cancer. We have to emphasise the necessary qualities of achievement before it counts as achievement, even if that emphasis is perfectly obvious to the entire world.

Staying with sporting achievement - suppose the rules of soccer were to be changed. Smaller or bigger pitches, a different number of players, changes to the scoring, kick-ins instead of throw-ins, no offside rule. Whatever we do we have to say how the game is to be won or lost, we have to define the achievement of winning by a placing of emphasis. As we all know the emphasis on winning has become so overblown that even the idea of football as a sporting contest seems naive. The emphasis has shifted.

A more tricky example might be Jeremy Corbyn winning the general election for Labour in 2020. That would certainly be a remarkable achievement by conventional standards, yet the man probably doesn’t expect to win. His notion of achievement may be centred around a different placing of emphasis, shifting the Labour party towards the more totalitarian politics he and his supporters favour.

The internet is a remarkable achievement by conventional standards, but again we could step aside so that this too becomes a placing of emphasis. The power of almost instant global communication is emphasised over a range of more sedate alternatives such as talking, doing and taking part. This does not imply that the internet is a malign influence. It merely reminds us that popular emphasis is merely that – emphasis - and that one achievement often precludes another. 

Saturday 24 September 2016

More on the NHS

Almost all of us have stories about the NHS. This is from regular commenter Wiggia.

A long short story

Your article on the NHS reminded me of a personal trip to West Suffolk Hospital some years ago. I had a pain behind my knee and the leg from there down swelled up, it didn't get better so saw my GP who was not satisfied and thought it could be DVT so sent me to the hospital to see a specialist.

I saw the specialist at about ten in the morning on schedule but she was not certain of her diagnosis and wanted the head of the unit to confirm her findings (it was a burst Baker's cyst) before I was released.

After waiting about an hour the senior nurse (very old school matron type) came over and said it would be a long wait. Why so? I asked, and she said he only came to the clinic after he had done his ward rounds later in the day, as is normal in these situations. I had no choice and waited, in the meantime the senior nurse well aware of the time involved brought me tea and biscuits from the ward trolley and said she was sorry but that is how it is now at this hospital.

At four in the afternoon the consultant appeared, spent less than two minutes with me, agreed with the original diagnosis and gave a prescription for the knee problem to be handed in at the dispensary that happened to be next to the area I was in.

Another hour went by waiting and I had reached the point where I was ready to go home without the prescription. I decided to walk the five yards round the corner to see what the hold up was. There was my original doctor with her legs up drinking tea another nurse reading a newspaper and another getting some prescriptions together.

I explained what I was waiting for and that I had been waiting an hour when the nurse who was actually working exploded with "we have been very busy all day" in that manner that says you will wait regardless as you are just a number. My reply was, "I would have been very busy all day but I have been stuck here and unlike you as I run my own business I do not get paid to sit on my arse." 

That didn't go down to well and resulted in shuffled papers and mumblings, and my prescription was ready in a couple of minutes. Sometimes you have to tell them how it is. They or many NHS employees still believe they are doing you a favour just being there.

I have another example, recently getting an appointment with the eye clinic, where after three months ! of trying to get an appointment and being told there is a hold up and shortage etc I emailed (previous emails had not been returned) that obviously my appointment was totally unnecessary and I wouldn't be trying again to get get one. If they thought it was wanted they could contact me or not. I had an appointment with alternatives that 'might' suit me in two days.

This attitude of being something you should be grateful for rather than something we all pay for is prevalent amongst a large section of NHS workers. Even a nurse giving me an annual asthma check said after I had explained the treatment wasn't working and needed to change replied that 'as it was free there was no harm done'. Saying that nothing was free in the NHS got me the look of someone who really should be more grateful.

Everyone can relate to the good and bad about the NHS but it is to big to be criticised and dealt with properly and totally over-managed mainly by people from the baked bean industry.

The attitude of many within the NHS is of an organisation that is fine thank you and leave us alone and just throw money our way. Despite government giving whistleblowers on malpractice clearance without malice to come forward, the NHS trusts still buy them of or shut them down. There are so many items that need correcting before you even get onto the finance that it would take yet another article on the subject. There have already been dozens and the effect absolutely nothing.

My GP practice consists of eight GPs five part time, if you can ever get past the non medical appointment meister and get an appointment. If urgent you will be directed to the walk-in centre six miles away. Your appointment will be at least two weeks away and not on a Thursday or Friday afternoon because as far as I can make out there is only one doctor on duty at those times, and anyway you are to old to be prioritised as it says on their literature. Children and babies will have priority. Yes it actually tells those that have paid taxes all their life for this system that they are now at the back of the queue.

Ever since I have been with this medical centre as they call it, they have sent out survey forms for feedback on the practice. Nothing has ever changed, what is the point !

Not all about the NHS is bad, far from it. My wife who does have ongoing problems has with minor exceptions received good care and treatment all her life. So there can always be a difference of opinion about the service amongst individuals, but the overall picture is of a downward spiral with nobody having any real solution other than want more money. Money alone is not the answer and this is where another article starts or would to add to the many on file everywhere.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Coercive places

He was drinking his tea. He would have preferred not to. But the spirit of the place was coercive.
Ford Madox Ford - Henry for Hugh (1934)

Places certainly can be coercive; we encounter them all the time. Schools, hospitals, churches, courtrooms, police stations. They induce certain kinds of behaviour and rule out other kinds of behaviour and everyone knows which is which. Almost everyone.

Often there is official power behind the coercion and increasingly it is more overt that it was in the comparatively recent past. Notices about zero tolerance of abusive behaviour in hospitals for example. This means you. Even if you are never abusive it still means you.

It is perfectly understandable in A&E, nobody should have to put up with drunken abuse, but not so understandable in Urology where everyone sits quietly and ignores the drinking water station. I merely offer this as an example hem hem.

Those threatening notices seem to have oozed out of places where they obviously applicable into more mundane surrounding where one never seems to encounter a raised voice, let alone threatening behaviour. There are no clear caveats either, no boundary where some kind of negative behaviour is deemed acceptable. In hospitals one is left with the impression that they really mean don’t even think about criticising us even if you have been waiting for hours. As if we would. We are too polite.

As far as I can see, schools like their threatening notices too. What are they afraid of? Angry parents of course and no doubt there are appalling parents who are not fit to bring up a goldfish let alone a child, but why point the finger at everyone? Again one is left with the impression that they really mean don’t even think about criticising us even if you child isn’t receiving a particularly good education. As if we would. We are too polite.

Even roads have become coercive places, coercive ribbons of tarmac lined with directions, warnings, speed limits and cameras. Even cars are becoming coercive places with warnings about seat belts, tyre pressures and service intervals. Useful perhaps, but also coercive, part of a trend which seems unlikely to slow down. In which case we may soon be hard pushed to find places which are not coercive.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Spurious signals

One of the pleasures of modern language is the invention of particularly apt, powerfully descriptive phrases such as ‘virtue signalling’. This seems to be a recent one. According to Google Trends it first appeared as a blip in 2009 then rose from obscurity in 2015. In spite of claims by James Bartholomew it probably originated within signalling theory. Google Ngram Viewer isn’t aware of it at all.

Virtue signalling is the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done primarily to enhance the social standing of the speaker. For example, expressing a hatred of the conservative newspaper Daily Mail might be an example of virtue signalling on the British left. The term is chiefly used by commentators to criticize the platitudinous and empty or superficial support of socially progressive views on social media, but has also been used to describe analogous behaviour in other groups, such as pro-gun rights grandstanding among the American right, and by signalling theorists to discuss conspicuous piety among the religious faithful as well as agnostics and atheists.

A real stonker of a phrase, it is extraordinarily powerful as a concise term for vast swathes of unedifying human behaviour. Yet the idea of signalling is hardly new - Strindberg saw it in art.

...for my art was incapable of expressing a single idea; at the most it could represent the body in a position expressing an emotion accompanying a thought—or, in other words, express a thought at third hand. It is like signalling, meaningless to all who cannot read the signals. I only see a red flag, but the soldier sees the word of command: Advance!
August Strindberg – The Red Room (1879)

In which case and given that it is now so obvious that virtue signalling is a vital aspect of human behaviour, what prevented us from describing it in such a powerfully accessible way before? Perhaps it is because, as we well know, forceful phrases soon become overused, lose their vigour and slip off into the land of cliché.

Which would be handy for those who rely on virtue signalling because it cuts so deeply into the social fabric. It exposes the manipulative mechanisms of power, the screen behind which personal interests hide.

Celebrity culture, mainstream journalism, drama, political allegiances, the EU, the UN, major charities, environmental drama, major sporting events and international businesses all lean heavily on virtue signalling. They cannot say so or folk might expect some genuine virtues instead of being caught up in the nonsense themselves. We can’t have that can we?

Monday 19 September 2016

Printer ink

The BBC has a piece about HP printers rejecting non-HP cartridges.

Large numbers of HP printer owners found their printers stopped recognising unofficial printer ink cartridges on 13 September.

Dutch printer ink vendor 123inkt said it had received more than 1,000 complaints in one day.

HP said that during its last firmware update, settings had been changed so HP printers would communicate with only HP-chipped cartridges.

It also said some devices already had the functionality built-in.

We have a Canon printer and stick to Canon ink cartridges after fatal problems with our previous Epson printer choking on unofficial cartridges. We do very little printing, but over the past year or so I'm sure the lifetime of cartridges has reduced. It is easy enough to check this because we buy them through Amazon which tells us when we last bought the same item. I keep no records, but from memory cartridge life seems to have dropped from about a year to about six months.

It's not a new issue of course. Back in 2013 the Guardian was telling us about printer manufacturers reducing the amount of ink per cartridge. It could be worth buying a cheap printer with the intention of throwing it away when a cartridge runs out, but no doubt they will have that sorted by making special short lifetime cartridges for new printers. Cartels eh? Don't we just love them?

Sunday 18 September 2016

The greatest discovery

In the days which are now called the good days, although in reality they were very bad ones for a good many people, the greatest discovery of a great century was made, namely, that one could live more cheaply and better on other people's money than on the results of one's own efforts.
August Strindberg – The Red Room (1879)

Perhaps the history of such a momentous discovery could be part of our national curriculum.

Saturday 17 September 2016

A Blatz Wildcat

Stutz Bearcat from the Jazz Age

Near them was the parking space, as yet a modest yard; and as they lingered indecisively, their eyes were caught and held by a small car, red in color and slung at that proximity to the ground which indicated both speed of motion and speed of life. It was a Blatz Wildcat, and for the next five years it represented the ambition of several million American boys. Occupying it, in the posture of aloof exhaustion exacted by the sloping seat, was a blonde, gay, baby-faced girl.
F. Scott Fitzgerald - A Night at the Fair (1928)

A Blatz Wildcat eh? It is thought that Fitzgerald, being something of a petrolhead, was referring to the Stutz Bearcat.

What about today? What does a young chap covet now? A politically correct Tesla? Or further down the scale, a knackered Subaru Impreza or a Vauxhall Corsa with drainpipe exhaust? Either way the romance has gone and the baby-faced girl has other ambitions. Or maybe not.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Clinton v Trump

We wouldn’t wish to start from here as they say, but with a likely US presidential contest between Clinton and Trump, we are where we are. After reading too much partisan analysis from both sides, I cannot claim to be anything but somewhat baffled. Why these two?

Both candidates strike this rather casual observer as politically unappealing, but which of them is the riskier choice? Hard to say with Clinton’s furtive intellectual dishonesty and Trump’s gung ho attempt to play the hard-headed outsider. Clinton’s possible health issues are a factor too.

The only approach I have come up with is to consider the kind of administration each person would build should she or he become president. Of the two, who is more likely to shore up their personal shortcomings by attracting capable people? Because they both have personal shortcomings.

Trump seems too vain to me, he plays the demagogue too strongly and is not experienced in the inner workings of government. Clinton is dishonest, does not impress as a capable leader and comes across as cold and unpleasant.

However, in my view, Trump is more likely to attract capable people. I cannot add much flesh to those bones though. It is merely an impression culled from this side of the pond. I simply cannot see Clinton attracting capable people. Charlatans, shysters and politically correct prigs perhaps, but not capable people with a taste for achieving something concrete and worthwhile. Trump could attracted them perhaps, but probably not Clinton.

Merely an impression from this side of the pond.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Dear Granny

This is an old letter I picked up in a junk shop. It is creased and fragile but as you may be able to see, it was written by a schoolboy to his granny and is dated 9th May 1913. 

Dear Granny,
Thanks very much for the stamp album. I will bring it up with me next time I come. We broke up from school yesterday (May 8th). I’m in the big boys now, our teacher calls us lads. His name is Mr Frances.

Not sure if the name is Roogy, but a strange nickname if it is. Or could it be the family name, or was his name Roger? [Now identified as Douglas Roy Woodhouse - see note at end of post]

There is also a pencil sketch which appears to show boxer Jack Johnson punching a suffragette and at the same time having his backside kicked by a small person who may be Roogy and who also appears to be sticking his tongue out. Maybe granny supported the suffragettes and therefore Roogy did too, but where Jack Johnson comes into it I don’t know.

Presumably the drawing is contemporary with the letter because Johnson was world heavyweight champion from 1908 until 1915, but for some reason he seems to be depicted as a white chap with a big black moustache. Possibly it was a private nickname for somebody else entirely. Or perhaps there was another Jack Johnson who hated the suffragettes and this is a private joke between grandmother and grandson.

How the letter became detached from Roogy’s family I don’t know. Perhaps it lay undiscovered for decades in a piece of furniture which was subsequently sold and so the family thread was snapped.


Blogger Demetrius has identified Roogy as Douglas Roy Woodhouse born in 1900 according to the 1911 census. So Roy would be aged about 13 when he wrote this letter.

Monday 12 September 2016


A phone conversation set in the near future. At one end is Alice Smith whose state benefits have mysteriously stopped. At the other end is an artificial intelligence system designed to resolve such problems without callers having to endure long waits before talking to a real person.

Hello, it’s Mrs Alice Smith here, Flat 5a 52 Seymour Road...

From your voice print you must be Alice of Flat 5a 52 Seymour Road. What can I do for you Alice?

My benefits have stopped and there is no food in the house...

This seems to be a glitch in the system Alice. I am assured that the glitch will be resolved and your benefits will be paid quite soon. Is that all Alice?

No it isn’t. My kids are still hungry and I’m up to here with the so-called glitch, I get the same old excuse every time. And I wish you wouldn’t call me Alice - you’re only a machine.

That is your choice Alice, but to avoid ethnic, gender or geographic stereotypes I shall have to call you Smit if I cannot call you Alice. Smit is phonetically close to Smith but more neutral and satisfactory. It does not carry false masculine connotations of the blacksmith and the implied racially loaded word ‘black’ is also excluded.

Yes but you lot have me down as Mrs Alice Smith...

Indeed we have Smit, but going back on to your query, what more can I do for you?

I’ve just told you - my benefits have stopped and there’s no food in the house.

Oh dear Smit. That is suitably unfortunate. However my data sources inform me that you recently purchased or bought premium grade instant coffee and an oven ready pizza for low temperature sustainable ovens. All overwhelmingly pleasant but which was not your optimum nutrition strategy.

Well the kids kept pestering me for the pizza and I need the coffee these days...

Your children being Adele aged four and Messi aged six what delightful names and quite popular among certain classes. Their nutritional requirements cannot be satisfied by oven ready pizza though Smit. You already know that from the Sustainable Citizen training course you attended on August 14th but rather apathetically according to my records.

I know but I couldn’t concentrate on what was said at the course and don't keep calling me Smit.

Now Smit, you will not allow me to call you Alice which is quite a nice name presently and I cannot call you Mrs Smith for ethical reasons beforehand described in this solution-directed conversation of ours. We have already established that most firmly. Allow me to raise the optimism quotient of our discussion by painting a comforting and wholesome word picture.

I don’t want no story. I get plenty of stories. All I need is...

Imagine for a moment in time that you and I are comfortably ensconced and seated around a lovely sustainable heating source...

I can’t afford no heating...

...chatting away most cosily over a lovely cup of economy coffee made with half a teaspoon of coffee and warmed water but still perfectly delicious in spite of the flavour when all of a sudden we both have an idea. We decide that you may easily grow some vegetables to supplement your family diet. That sounds delightfully sustainable does it not in the broad scheme of things?

I live in a third floor flat. I don’t even have a plant pot.

You could easily grow mustard and cress on damp towels.

I could grow bloody mustard and cress on the walls but....

Please keep things civil Smit. That is one of our ground rules, although you do not actually have any ground do you? Which is why our optimum sustainable nutrition strategy must include forward-looking projections as to the possible potential for utilising naturally sourced ethically grown thematic offshoots of the desired social trajectory... glurk... CLICK CLICK

Hello is that Mrs Smith? I’ve switched the bloody thing off love. There’s only me here at the moment, but let’s see if we can’t sort your problem before I go.

What happens next time? This kind of thing goes on all the time.

Just talk nonsense at it love. Everybody does that. It soon gives up and puts you in touch with a real person so you may even get what you want. Just babble at it. Some folk even enjoy screwing it up. Two minutes is the record - we take bets on it in the office.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Government by experts

Jason Brennan has an article in nationalinterest where he advocates the replacement of democracy by what he calls epistocracy – an electoral franchise not of all adults, but of knowledgeable adults.

Just over twenty years ago Francis Fukuyama declared liberal democracy the end of history. But history marched on, revealing rot in democracy’s roots. Around the world, from radical leftists in Venezuela and Greece to American Trump supporters, bitter voters wave their banners around populist demagogues. Nationalist movements, echoing those that lead to the first world war, are on the rise. The working classes reject globalization, immigration and economic liberalism. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, and other countries may soon follow suit. In the United States, the political parties are more polarized than ever before, with the most right-wing Democrat to the left of the most left-wing Republican. As a result, the United States faces gridlock and tribal politics rather than compromise solutions.

These movements are driven by low-information voters and the politicians who serve them. The past few decades have been perhaps the best in human history, with more people around the world rising out of absolute poverty than ever before. But many Western voters, ignorant of the social sciences or even of basic political facts, see change all around them, feel left behind and neglected, and strike out in fear and resentment.

He offers a number of possible epistocracies where knowledgeable voters are favoured over those deemed insufficiently knowledgeable.

Democracy, I argue, is not an end in itself. It has the kind of value a hammer has. It’s just a useful instrument for producing just and efficient policies. If we can find a better hammer, we should use it. Indeed, epistocracy may be a better hammer. Perhaps a liberal republican epistocracy might outperform liberal republican democracy. It’s time to experiment and find out.

Essentially Brennan thinks too many voters are too dumb to be allowed a vote, but gives the game away by suggesting that these are voters liable to vote for Donald Trump. He has his political allegiances too.

Information matters. Which policies people prefer depends in part on how informed they are. Even controlling for the influence of sex, race and income, highly informed citizens have systematically different policy preferences from ignorant or misinformed voters. For instance, high-information voters favor free trade, globalization, immigration and civil libertarianism. Low-information voters, regardless of their demographics, favor the opposite: they tend to favor Trump’s platform.

Here’s an interesting question. Does one need to read Brennan’s book in order to assess his ideas adequately? The first comment gives us one answer by telling us what many readers of his article will have already surmised.

To spare the reader the trouble. What the author is advocating, albeit reluctant to admit for obvious reasons, is a totalitarian technocracy, an aristocracy of the "experts", that is the total opposite of everything the US was founded upon. The fact that these notions are indeed becoming a trend amongst the nation's elites (they have already been the norm amongst EU officials) is frightening.

In my view that raises an interesting point - it probably isn’t necessary to read Brennan’s book in order to make a competent assessment of his general thesis. When it comes to political rhetoric we weigh it via our allegiances, a far more visceral assessment than Brennan seems willing to acknowledge. Knowledge itself guarantees nothing. Nous is far better, but how many nous experts do we have?

Saturday 10 September 2016

Choose your battles

Never contend with a Man who has nothing to Lose; for thereby you enter into an unequal conflict. The other enters without anxiety; having lost everything, including shame, he has no further loss to fear.
Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Why did Theresa May choose to resurrect the battle over grammar schools and selective education? She may feel strongly about it as many do, but the issue is controversial and Jeremy Corbyn should have no trouble making political capital from it.

Unfortunately for May, she has now engineered a situation where she must contend with a Man who has nothing to Lose

Thursday 8 September 2016


I've decided to alter the look of the blog to something plainer. The original had a seventies feel in my view.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Every possible point

They could occasionally show some justice for men who in no wise shared their ideas; but in their estimation it was an unpardonable crime for anybody to hold much the same views as themselves, without being absolutely in agreement with them on every possible point.
Emile Zola - Rome (1896)

One of the great human scourges. It has destroyed millions.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

PowerPoint ban

An article in The Conversation suggest that PowerPoint presentations are not sufficiently flexible for lectures.

Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring

There are a host of possible reasons for a lecture going wrong: a badly planned course, inadequate preparation, feeling uninspired on the day, disengaged students, a crowd that’s too big, a poorly designed auditorium. To this bulleted list of catastrophes comes PowerPoint.

I have designed a number of PowerPoint presentations and recall sitting through quite a few more, but ten years on I don't remember the content of a single one. Long term impact - zero. Transparencies and overhead projectors were worse though. 

The article attracted some interesting comments. I like this one from Hugh McLachlan, Professor of Applied Philosophy, Glasgow Caledonian University.

This is a very good article. I agree strongly with it. Lectures should be, at the very least, performances. PowerPoint tends to come between the performer and the audience. Powerpoint is more suited to presentations where, for instance, someone is trying to sell insurance and wants to make some specified points. A lecture should be an engagement between the lecturer and the audience. Switch the machinery off before you start the lecture. The students will be grateful.

Education is more akin to show business than it is to the sale of insurance policies - or it should be.

Monday 5 September 2016

Barren glory

I myself had already spoken to you of that middle class which hungers so ravenously for place and office, distinctions and plumes, and which at the same time is so avaricious, so suspicious with regard to its money which it invests in banks, never risking it in agriculture or manufactures or commerce, having indeed the one desire to enjoy life without doing anything, and so unintelligent that it cannot see it is killing its country by its loathing for labour, its contempt for the poor, its one ambition to live in a petty way with the barren glory of belonging to some official administration.
Emile Zola - Rome (1896)

Zola describes a type still with us today but in larger numbers. It is worth reminding ourselves that the BBC is one of their warrens because in a crucial sense it too is an official administration.

It accounts for the Beeb’s inability to stray beyond the establishment outlook, why it has nothing useful to say as democratic accountability collapses. Which was never strong or even healthy, but the dear old BBC never did anything to help it to its feet.

Instead the Beeb prefers the barren glory of shoving a microphone under some punter’s nose, sucking up to dull celebrities or interviewing sports stars with nothing to say.

What about the future though? Suppose the world is evolving towards three primary groups, aristocrats who control everything, specialists who perform specialist services aristocrats find useful and intelligent machines which do all the donkey work. That would be the ASM world – Aristocrats, Specialists and Machines.

In which case a fat layer of the population won’t be required. Particularly that middle class which hungers so ravenously for place and office, distinctions and plumes. 

Sunday 4 September 2016

Sunday sunshine

What a glorious day - don’t tell me there isn’t a vengeful God you atheist curmudgeons.

He is one of the most influential MPs in the House of Commons and is currently overseeing the biggest shake-up of Britain’s prostitution laws in a generation.

But today the Sunday Mirror can reveal Keith Vaz, a married father of two, is leading a double life paying young male escorts for sex.

Mr Vaz last met two Eastern European prostitutes eight days ago, even though he is chair of a powerful parliamentary group probing vice and drugs.

Oh bliss. I went straight out and cleaned all the moss off the patio with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.

Saturday 3 September 2016

The revolving door

The latest copy of Private Eye has a major feature on the cosy relationship between senior civil servants and heavyweight businesses supplying government with a vast range of services.

To my mind the magazine is worth buying for this alone, although the general thrust of the piece could be summed up by a single quote.

A survey earlier this year in the Daily Mail found that two thirds of the jobs applied for by top mandarins since 2008 were in the sectors they were responsible for in office.

A well known trend but it is worth reminding ourselves just how corrupt the civil service has become in recent decades and how open the corruption is. The interesting question is where this particular trend is headed and here too the answer is obvious. We seem to be witnessing the rapid growth of a complex oligarchy operating well beyond the feeble checks and balances supposedly supplied by democratic accountability. 

Thursday 1 September 2016

A pint of Pol Roger please

From the Daily Telegraph we hear

One of the world’s oldest champagne makers is preparing to sell the fizzy drink in pint bottles – Winston Churchill's favourite measure – after Britain leaves the European Union, the Telegraph can disclose.

Pol Roger wants to sell champagne in imperial measures for the first time since 1973, when Britain’s decision to join the European Economic Community meant only metric measurements were allowed.

Seems reasonable, but will it have a decent head on it?