Thursday 30 November 2017

Trump’s IQ

Jordan Peterson shows us why Donald Trump’s IQ is likely to be be well above average. Many people must have worked this out for themselves via similar reasoning even if they are not keen on Trump or the notion of IQ. Some won't have worked it out, but we know about those people too.

In which case, by assessing their respective careers one might suggest that Theresa May is a little more intelligent than her detractors tend to imply and Jeremy Corbyn is as thick as a plank. Not to be taken too seriously of course, but compared to Trump, both May and Corbyn are probably rather dim.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

The Harry and Meghan show


I know very little about Prince Harry and even less about his fiancé Meghan Markle. I know he is the younger son of Charles and Diana and I believe she hails from the entertainment business and is no spring chicken but that’s about it. Probably not an enormously uncommon level of ignorance even if media exposure suggests otherwise.

In years gone by I would have treated such a story as a slice of social information. To know at least something about the people involved would have been very mildly interesting, but more importantly it would have been a kind of insurance against abject social ignorance. Shaky insurance I suppose, but better than nothing.

These days things are different. There is a whole world of fascination out there, but Harry and Meghan aren’t part of it. They are not fascinating. I’m content to be ignorant about this minor soap opera because that is what it is – a minor soap opera. It’s the Harry and Meghan show and it’s not for me.

Is Harry short for Harold? I’ve no idea. Does it matter? 

Monday 27 November 2017

What happened to Allan Hill?

The video is a few years old so the inevitable question arises - what happened to Allan Hill? An article from last year suggests he was still around even though development appears to be creeping up on his strange kingdom.

I enjoy stories like Mr Hill's even though I could never emulate it and would not wish to. There is an abiding fascination in spite of the obvious gaps in the story and his apparent difficulties in coping with life outside.

It is a common enough fascination because most of us, maybe all of us seem to need some degree of temporary isolation, opportunities to put aside the clamour of the world and pull ourselves together, opportunities to reassert our sense of self within the complex pressures of daily life.

Saturday 25 November 2017

The Tunnel of Oppression

From the University of Kansas

Earlier this month, over a thousand students, faculty members, staff persons, and administrators toured the Tunnel of Oppression. Presented by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Tunnel is an annual immersive experience of interactive exhibits. Participants engage with different forms of oppression associated with disabilities, economic class, body image, gender, gender expression, sexuality immigration, race and ethnicity. This year, in what is believed to be the first time, the Office of the Provost invited KU’s leadership team to participate in the tour as a group.

We left the tour with decisions to make as individuals and as KU leaders – do we stand idle and tolerate people being treated in a discriminatory manner? Or do we assert our leadership and purposefully act to create greater justice in our part of the world and beyond? We choose the latter and we need you to join us.

We can start by understanding the meaning of oppression for us, our neighbors, and communities. What the Tunnel makes clear is that oppression is violence…and violence takes many forms. In this tour, for example, we experienced brutality visited upon children by police officers; CEOs and government officials choosing to poison the water in low-income neighborhoods; unprovoked viciousness toward queer, trans and gender non-conforming communities; families lying dead together in the aftermath of war; inadequate governmental responses to natural disasters in places such as Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. While these multiple visual scenes of cruelty and subjugation were disturbing, equally difficult was the collective debriefing discussion that followed. You see, even University administrators struggle with how to understand and do justice work. But we will not shy away from the challenge.

Personally I blame evolution which is clearly going backwards.

Boom time

A number of sources have reported the mysterious planetary boom story.

Something very strange is going on, and it seems to be happening all around our planet. Reports continue to emerge of booming sounds of mysterious origin echoing from the sky, from Colorado and Alabama to the Middle East, United Kingdom and Australia, according to News Corp Australia.

The sounds, understandably startling for those who hear them, are certainly not the voices of gods, although their source has thus far defied scientific explanation as well.

A recent example occurred in Alabama, when a thunderous noise shook houses and frightened residents on Nov. 20. Not long after, explosion-like sounds were also heard in Colorado, although officials now believe that the Colorado clamor was unrelated to the worldwide phenomenon, likely caused by oil and gas extraction.

Other booms around the world, like the one in Alabama, remain unexplained. Locals in Cairns, Australia, were shaken by a loud rumble on Oct. 10. Then two weeks later, another boom was heard over the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Other mysterious sounds have been heard in as far reaching places as Michigan and Yorkshire, U.K.

How exciting. I'm almost tempted to dream up a theory, but the best response I've seen was a reader's comment on the above piece.

C Peterson
Things "boom" all the time. Construction noise. Traffic. Wind gusts hitting the house. We don't pay much attention, we don't remember them. Until there's a news story somewhere that rises high enough for a lot of people to see it. Then, people are tuned in to the idea, and they do remember when they hear something odd. They make false correlations, and before you know it a story like this goes viral and lots of people are sure something unusual or mysterious is going on, when in fact, there's nothing at all.

And the news outlets themselves make news. A small local story gets picked up and lots of other sources either reprint it or essentially copy it. I've seen this same story, citing the same small number of incidents, in dozens of outlets the last few days. This makes it seem like something much larger is going on.

Friday 24 November 2017

Christmas crap

Today found us wandering through the Christmas section of a large local retail outlet. Mountains of Christmas crap as far as the eye could see, which I suppose one just has to accept at this time of year. Ghastly but traditional.

One of the objects on display was a particularly hideous figurine cast from some kind resin. It was supposed to be a fairy about ten inches high in pastel colours and sparkly bits, priced at a ridiculously expensive £22. It isn't at all easy to find words to describe how unpleasant and absurdly twee the thing was. Even Disney might have rejected it as a step too far.

An equally appalling item was a plastic bird in a plastic tree which played a plastic tune when one pressed a plastic button partly hidden in plastic grass beneath the tree. Again there are no words - 'horrible' just doesn't do it justice.

However there is a spooky side to all this Christmas crap, because as far as I could see nobody was buying any of it. Not a single item was picked up and taken to the till. Strange eh? What is it all doing there? Is it a cunning retail plan to make us sick of the whole charade and even out spending patterns?

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Hell of a way to fall

Since the weekend I've been less than 100% health-wise so I passed some time watching a few old black and white films. One featured Constance Smith. Not being a film buff I'd never heard of her and I'm not particularly interested in actors anyway but for some reason a brief biography caught my eye.

Strikingly attractive, but troubled Irish leading lady of the 1950's, born to a struggling family in Limerick. Constance's is, perhaps, one of the more lurid and tragic tales of a promising career ending up on the skids. It began with her winning a 1946 look-alike competition in a Dublin movie magazine, touting her as a dead ringer for Hedy Lamarr. A successful screen test with the Rank Organisation followed...

Briefly in the limelight as a presenter at the 1952 Academy Awards, she was featured in a string of B-movies, including Red Skies of Montana (1952), Treasure of the Golden Condor(1953) and the thriller Man in the Attic (1953). Whether too emotionally frail to mount the pressures of stardom, or simply not talented enough to be thought of as star material, Constance never made it beyond leading lady status...

in 1962 and 1968, she was twice sentenced to brief prison terms for attempting to stab her partner, the well-known documentarist and film historian Paul Rotha. She also tried several more times to kill herself. Her last decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner. Constance died, in obscurity, as an alcoholic on a street in Islington, London. A sadder end is hard to imagine.

From the brink of Hollywood stardom to an alcoholic's death on a street in Islington - that's a hell of a way to fall.

Saturday 18 November 2017

Zimbabwe and lessons for South Africa

News24 has an interesting piece on Zimbabwe by Mpumelelo Mkhabela, written from a South African perspective.

The coup d'état in Zimbabwe – call it bloodless, benevolent, calm or whatever – holds so many lessons for South Africa.

In fact, the whole continent of Africa has a lot to teach us, mostly on how not to govern.

The question is whether we are taking notes. And if we are, whether we are going to act on what we are learning.

This has been the embarrassing aspect of African government for much of  my adult life - Africa has a lot to teach us, mostly on how not to govern. Yet in the UK there is a strange tendency to idolise Africa as the feckless political imbecile we should never criticise because... Because?

Whether Jacob Zuma likes it or not, there are no traces of Russia in our Constitution. We are closer to New York, London and Berlin than we are to Moscow. We have had what we might call the "cruel but distinct advantage" of seeing what worked better and what didn't in other jurisdictions.

The advantage was cruel because we learned from others while freedom fighters were being killed, tortured and jailed. But this is precisely one of the reasons we cannot afford to squander the lessons that Zimbabwe is offering to us now – on how not to run a country.

That seems to be Mr Mkhabela's main concern - the possibility that Jacob Zuma is not so much an aberration as an indication that South Africa could become infected with the Mugabe disease. I hope not, but when it comes to principled government Sub-Saharan Africa inspires as little confidence as it always has.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Not quite Swedish death-cleaning but -

At the moment we are busy chucking out masses of household clutter. Some of it goes to the charity shop, particularly large items of furniture, a few bits go to the auction and a fair bit goes to the tip. 

A particular pain has been reams and reams of old paperwork such as bills, receipts and financial info we need not have saved in the first place. In fact we've been really radical this time - we've dumped the filing cabinet. 

Altogether we've spent many happy hours clearing out the junk and still haven't finished although I'd rather not compare it with Swedish death-cleaning which achieved media prominence back in October.

Swedish debut author Margareta Magnusson wants you to tidy your house and think about death.

It might sound like a rather gloomy way to spend a weekend, but Magnusson – who describes herself as "between 80 and 100 years old", says she has spent the last 40 years cleaning her home in preparation for her death, and that she has "got a lot of pleasure out of it".

The uniquely Swedish practice of 'Döstädning' (death-cleaning) is a method of decluttering based on which objects will be of value to loved ones after your death.

Crikey - we certainly haven't spent the last 40 years cleaning our home in preparation for death. What a ghastly idea. A few days maybe, but this comment rings a bell.

"Today, people have enough jackets for a Siberian winter, and more shoes than a centipede could wear. When I was young it was completely different," Magnusson told The Local. "When I grew up we didn't really have brands, we didn't have logos, we had, if we were lucky, just what we needed. People today, in developed countries, have much more than they need, and that becomes a problem in the end."

Indeed - that's the real problem - we have more than we need which is why we find ourselves chucking lots of it away every now and then. Oh well - time to throw some more paperwork on the fire.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Peter Thiel: The Reasons for the Decline

Seems about right to me, but why has it happened and are we able to reverse the trend? There are a number of possible causes but it isn't easy to see how the trend could be reversed. Politically we are not even aware of it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Steyn on multiculturalism

The video is a few years old, but useful as a reminder. Mark Steyn’s take on multiculturalism is as amusing as one would expect, but there is an important point embedded in it. Multiculturalism is essentially lazy, it absolves the believer from understanding cultures and avoids the intellectually and politically difficult task of comparing one with another.

In politics, easy mantras usually beat the tedium of nuanced analysis. Successful politicians know it and maybe that is the appeal of multiculturalism – it seems to simplify an impossibly sensitive and complex issue. Once a simplifying mantra takes hold there is no way back because the mantra is no longer a conclusion but a starting point. If indeed it ever was a conclusion – probably not.

There are sinister possibilities buried in all this, as if we are being dragged along by a miasma of political mantras which appear to simplify complex realities but do no such thing. As if we are at war with complexity but complexity is winning and we don’t yet know it.

Monday 13 November 2017

No sex please, we’re bloggers

In view of the never-ending stream of sexual misbehaviour stories swirling around the great and the not so good, I wish to point out that my penchant for blogging entails no sexual suggestion or innuendo of any kind.

For example, posts about Jeremy Corbyn are not covert references to the sensual delights of hairy cheeks. Similarly, references to Theresa May should not be construed as a lascivious reference to a strict schoolmarm with a taste for exotic footwear. Absolutely not.

On the same lines - references to Harriet Harman – they certainly don’t imply a taste for shrill matronly dimwits. As for posts about Boris Johnson...

...hmm I’m feeling a little queasy at this point...

...although queasy is not a euphemism for anything...

Saturday 11 November 2017

A shower of good things from the sky

It never was a religion for the rationalist and the worldling; it was based on alienation from the world, from the intellectual world no less than from the economic and political. It flourished in the Oriental imagination that is able to treat all existence with disdain and to hold it superbly at arm’s length, and at the same time is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed. Its daily bread, from the beginning, was hope for a miraculous change of scene, for prison-walls falling to the ground about it, for a heart inwardly comforted and a shower of good things from the sky.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905-1906)

Santayana is describing the state of the Catholic church faced with the pressures of the modern world as it was over a century ago. Similarities are usually interesting - if we delete one of Santayana's words he could be describing the rise of socialism, or indeed any other political movement which promises a heart inwardly comforted against the dread spectre of reality.

Much the same promise also seems to be woven into modern secular leadership. Our leaders must seem to promise a heart inwardly comforted and a shower of good things from the sky. Leaders must display the right attitudes, the right emotions and seem to share the visceral expectations of the voter.

Fashions ebb and flow but we seem to be moving towards a world where nebulous sentimental posturing is more important than a firm grip on reality. Perhaps it always was, but as guide to reality our technical age seems to be stumbling. It is moving away from the technical outlook which has achieved so much over recent centuries and drifting backwards - back towards the shifting sands of sentimental standpoints on even the most technical matters.

Today the successful political leader is the one who understands how little interest there is in dispassionate analysis and precision. He or she is the one currently able to attract the modern voter who is subject to visions and false memories, is swayed by the eloquence of private passion, and raises confidently to heaven the cry of the poor, the bereaved, and the distressed.

Thursday 9 November 2017

Top English speakers

The Local has a piece on the latest English Proficiency Index.

Scandinavians are among the world's best non-native English speakers according to a global ranking, but have found themselves bested by the Dutch for the second year running.

The English Proficiency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF) put the Scandinavians behind the Netherlands for non-native English skills.

The Swedes were handed back the bragging rights over their Nordic rivals, snagging second place with Denmark following in third spot, down one place on last year. Sweden last came top in 2015 and Denmark in 2014. Norway came in fourth and Finland in sixth place. Iceland was not included in the study.

Eight countries in total earned the "very high" proficiency distinction, with six of them found in Europe: Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and South Africa.

Interesting - a chap is bound to wonder how well England would do if it wasn't excluded. 

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Vicarious snivelling

 No: their wish is, not that I shall weep, but that I shall weep obscenely in the public gaze. In other words, that I shall do their weeping for them, as a sort of emotional bedesman: that I shall make public parade of sympathy in their behalf, so that they may keep their own sympathy for themselves, and win comfort from the belief that they are eased of their just responsibility by vicarious snivelling.

This is Arthur Morrison justifying his grimly realistic stories about life in the London slums, pouring scorn on those who used their middle class angst as a substitute for doing something constructive.

Vicarious snivelling eh? What a delightful phrase, and so apt for our times too. 

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Don’t bother taking me to your leader

It has become commonplace to suggest that political life is going through some kind of drawn-out crisis of confidence. We have little faith in the ability of leaders to deliver anything, particularly leadership. Not that this situation is new, leaders have always been a mixed bunch, but now we seem to expect more and leadership has not kept pace with those expectations.

Leadership itself seems to be one of those ideals we hold on to without quite accepting it for what it is. It is an ideal, a model aspiration rather than some reality we are likely to see in the messy complexities of real life. It is a somewhat simple ideal of course and simple ideals have the virtue of being democratic simply because they are accessible.

Unfortunately as with so many simple ideals the undoubted virtue of simplicity is outweighed by our inability to fit the ideal into our non-ideal world, the one we have to live in and understand if we are to live successfully. We are unable to find leaders to match the ideal and almost inevitably our confused attempts to find them tend to throw up candidates who may be willing but are always less than ideal.

Indeed they tend to fall so deplorably short of the ideal that we pretend to be shocked at their blatant incapacity. We expand on our fake shock by calling for something to be done without choosing to notice that our leadership ideal is hardly likely to exist in any reality, let alone ours with all its irreconcilable temptations, pitfalls and outright impossibilities.

Maybe leadership was fine and dandy as an ideal for less complex worlds where a few good leaders helped make up for a procession of also-rans mixed in with the inevitable bad apples, bunglers and maniacs. However we cannot start from there but are stuck with the here and now and things are not going well. We think, or rather we must pretend to think it is all the leader’s fault and another leader would make a better fist of things, particularly as those at the head of the queue are constantly assuring us of their ability to do the job. Subtly assuring us of course – as subtly as a poke in the eye but that is politics too.

We live complex lives in complex environments which are not becoming, nor are they likely to become appreciably simpler. Not within any realistic political time frame. Modern leaders are not even close to mastering a fraction of that complexity and even though they have hordes of advisers and bureaucrats to digest the complexity, it is still too complex for a single individual. Even an executive summary is no good if the executive does not even have the background to know what is being summarised and what may be missing from the summary. Dumbing down only takes us so far. The same goes for leaders. They are only human as we know too well, so why stick with an ideal which requires them to be far more than human?

Why stick with the ideal?

That’s easy – leaders have evolved into useful distractions, expendable political facades. Even the EU feels bound to offer up a pretend leader in the comically inadequate person of Jean-Claude Juncker, as if aiming to expunge the old ideal of leadership in favour of the facade. That is probably what we are now stuck with - hence May and Corbyn. Don’t expect anything better seems to be the message.

Suspect packages

No it doesn't refer to a brown trouser reaction by the assembled poseurs. Pity.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Depression over Derbyshire

At the moment I’m reading a book mentioned by erudite commenter Sam Vega - Tom Bower's book - Broken Vows: Tony Blair The Tragedy of Power.
When Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, he was, at forty-three, the youngest to hold that office since 1812. With a landslide majority, his approval rating was 93 per cent and he went on to become Labour's longest-serving premier. So what went wrong?

With unprecedented access to more than 180 Whitehall officials, military officers and politicians, Tom Bower has uncovered the full story of Blair's decade in power. He has followed Blair's trail from his resignation, since which he has built a remarkable empire advising tycoons and tyrants. The result is the political thriller of the year, illuminating the mystery of an extraordinary politician who continues to fascinate to this day.

This post isn’t a book review because I haven’t finished it yet, but early impressions are depressing. The book itself is excellent and well worth reading unless you are a Blair fan, but neither of those is likely to read it anyway. However, as a reminder of the Blair years it raises neither the spirit nor my already decrepit faith in democracy.

Anyone over a certain age will remember the Blair years and so far Bower's book is a highly concentrated reminder of just how dire they were. The shallowness, the absurd expectations, the dishonesty and the manipulated narratives - it pours from the pages in an unrelenting torrent of ghastliness. 

What about the Blair lessons though? Don't elect a crazy prime minister is the obvious one but there are many others. For example we might conclude that democratic party politics is broken and Blair is all the evidence we need. Our expectations are far too high and we voters are not doing enough to raise political standards by electing people rather than parties. That is an obvious starter but one could still go on forever about lessons the Blair years should have taught us but probably haven't.

Yet maybe we should put the more obvious mess to one side and ask - how deliberate is political failure? Are we subtle enough to nudge situations towards failure when we benefit from it? Suppose we recast the question into another obvious one – does political failure tend to suit the establishment? Additionally, why do so many major political actors survive their obvious inadequacies and prosper for decades both inside and outside politics?

In a broad sense, government failures create more bureaucratic and political business because sooner or later damaging situations have to be corrected. We see it whenever governments have to rebuild confidence after yet another debacle. Each rebuild leads to more bureaucratic business and more roles for those political actors who survive - and many do survive the most abject debacles. The narrative moves on as it must - all actors know the show must go on.

Under the protective umbrella of government, those who fail often make new roles for themselves in spite of failing in the old role, especially if they exert significant control over mainstream narratives. This was characteristic of the Blair years where failed initiatives were pushed into the background by new initiatives and they in turn were supplanted by even newer initiatives.

Behind the headlines, government is mostly business as usual. Political initiatives tend to fail when they interfere with the machine because government bureaucracy has to make sure they fail in order to protect the machine. When we have hyperactive political actors intent on reform, then failures occur on a grander scale and it is up to the narrative spinners to make the best of it. Eventually it all becomes too obvious and even the spinners are overwhelmed. Such were the Blair years.

Depressing but possibly not the nadir of British politics. Corbyn will probably be worse.

Saturday 4 November 2017

A leading example speaks out

Labour MP Harriet Harman has told BBC News that the string of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against MPs is not a witch hunt.

She said: "There are a lot of men saying this has been blown out of all proportion, it's a witch hunt. No, it's not a witch hunt, it's long overdue."

Harman was born Harriet Ruth Harman at 108 Harley Street in London, to Anna Harman (née Spicer), a solicitor, married to a Harley Street physician John Bishop Harman. Her parents each had non-conformist backgrounds – her grandfather, an ophthalmic surgeon Nathaniel Bishop Harman, was a prominent Unitarian and the Spicer family were well known Congregationalists. Her aunt was Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford, and her cousins include writers Lady Antonia Fraser, Rachel Billington, and Thomas Pakenham. Harman is a great-great niece of Joseph Chamberlain and is also related to Richard Chamberlain.

As a rule, men’s station determines their occupation without their gifts determining their station. Thus stifled ability in the lower orders, and apathy or pampered incapacity in the higher, unite to deprive society of its natural leaders.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905-1906)

Thursday 2 November 2017

Quietly rusting away

This is what remains of the Hopton Wood Winding Engine, quietly rusting away by the High Peak Trail. But is it art? I wonder. 

See below for more details.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Do people screw up deliberately?

 Following on from the previous post, do some people screw things up deliberately if –

There is no chance of carrying the can for it.
Potentially harmful change is nudged towards failure.
The nudge is virtually undetectable anyway.
Picking up the pieces will keep the show on the road.

So do organisation folk screw things up deliberately, especially if they don’t have to admit to themselves that screwing up is what they are doing? Especially if colleagues screw up too?

The pedants are not revolting

Our current cascade of tedious Brexit stories does at least remind us that one of the great public sector techniques is pedantry. For all I know it may be just as useful in the private sector, but in the public sector it is impossible to move without encountering it. That of course is the point.

An analogy is climbing hills while out walking. Go at your own pace and the thing is easily done, but ignore the hill and stay where you are - that's easier and less subject to exposure. The advantage of pedantry is similar – it slows things down to a personally advantageous pace. In many cases that would be a standstill - which is what Brexit is fighting.