Wednesday 28 February 2018

Pooh on the warpath

Popular children's entertainer Winnie the Pooh has slammed the expropriation of his image by the current Chinese emperor.

Through his agent Chris Robin, Mr Pooh said

I take image management very seriously and while I have great respect for the Chinese people I will not tolerate being impersonated online. My lawyers have told social media companies that this impersonation must stop.

It is all very well them buying up chunks of the Hundred Acre Wood, but some things cannot be bought except for money.

The Chinese emperor was not available for comment.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

The ideology with no name

A few days ago Quillette published a particularly interesting article by Darel E. Paul, Professor of Political Science at Williams College. It begins with diversity.

Diversity is the reigning social and political ideal of our age. It is the public ideology of the country’s most powerful state and business institutions. To many it is the essence of American national identity and, in one of the favorite phrases of President Barack Obama, ‘who we are’ as a country.

Rather than simply a recognition of difference, diversity is a cultural, economic, and political project to both generate difference and to manage it.

To my mind a key point in Professor Paul's piece is contained in this last sentence - diversity is a cultural, economic, and political project to both generate difference and to manage it. This in turn points to a wider aspect of Professor Paul's argument about diversity - the global spread of managerialism as a social and political philosophy.

Unlike capitalism or socialism, managerialism is not a household word. Yet it should be thought of alongside these more famous -isms. Capitalism places the business entrepreneur at the center of society and emphasizes her role in social development. Socialism elevates the worker to this status and places labor at the foundation of society. Managerialism, too, is a coherent and complex account of society with a program for creating social order. Not surprisingly, it places the manager at the center of that order and assigns her the key role in producing it.

It's an interesting article, worth reading all the way through. It might be said that managerialism obviously has a name, but that is not the point. As a social and political ideology it operates under numerous aliases from diversity to social justice to feminism, anti-racism and even climate change and recycling.

Ultimately it is an ideology where all human activity must be managed. Under the guise of promoting an egalitarian ethos it ensures the survival of elites. It offers them an almost unassailable ethical and social status as managers of that same egalitarian ethos.  

As one commenter observes -

Something this excellent piece hints at is how the ideology of diversity is in fact a barely-veiled manifestation (conscious or otherwise) of the old principle “divide et impera”.

Monday 26 February 2018


It’s a question of paying attention, he would say. That’s how he often explained his ideas – a question of paying attention. Suggests I don’t pay attention I suppose.

I first met the guy in the Crown. Not that I’m a regular but it’s a handy boozer of the older type with that aura of  fusty decline I find so appealing. It’s a strange old place, no WiFi or any modern nonsense - just a boozer.

Once inside the Crown everything feels as if there is no outside, nothing beyond those ancient walls. The world vanishes as soon as a chap is embraced by its fuggy warmth. This is why I drop in occasionally for a quiet drink after work. I prefer my own company so I generally choose a corner seat and listen to pub talk for an hour or so before strolling home. I’m on my own these days - home is just a place to stay now. It’s nothing special.

The guy I’m writing about usually sat nearby. He seemed to be a listener too, but one day he began chatting to me about this and that. I don’t know why but something seemed to switch him on. Couldn’t have been anything I said but there we are.

Odd things he said to begin with, disconnected but not random. He started off about his old job which he obviously didn’t like much.

It was office work really. Outreach coordinator sounds – well I don’t know what it sounds like but I sort of enjoyed it at times. I liked the sound of it too, the sound of my voice.

“What did you actually do?” I asked, having no idea what an outreach coordinator might be. I know what office work is unfortunately.

I’m not entirely sure –

“Sounds like my job,” I butted in.

I don’t mean it in a facetious sense, but now I’ve moved on I seem to have forgotten exactly what I did. Detail fades quickly and even key processes become indistinct. Like a mist which hides what was and only shows what might be. Maybe I haven’t given my old job too much thought anyway - not since I was advised to change.

“It was good advice then. I could do with some of that - especially the forgetting part.” Briefly I thought about my own job, whether I should do the same. The old question I never quite answered. It’s an oddity of the Crown - background chatter seems to ebb and flow as one’s thoughts come and go. Things seem distant, foggy, tremendously important yet isolated too –

I had to take the teaching job – had to change. Nothing else was possible. There seemed to be an option but I don’t think that was the case. I don’t think there was ever an option. Not really.

“There’s always an option – “

Not always. It’s a question of paying attention.

"To what?"


“Okay, okay, so you have a new job. Nothing odd about that - happens all the time. What do you do now?” I was interested. At my time of life a career change is interesting. Aspirations are always interesting.

I teach.

“That’s good – we need teachers.”

We do at the moment. Teaching was suggested to me online - by the Web itself. Not directly but through a multitude of hints, suggestions, links - even the ads I saw depicted teaching as a worthwhile aspiration - 

"Which it is."

Yes but I don’t think I actually chose teaching for that reason. I didn't think it through. The Web pointed me in that direction until it became an aspiration - my aspiration. That part of it just happened.

“That’s how it is,” I explained, assuming he was not internet savvy. Not that I am either, but I am aware of the tracking which pursues all but the most wary. “The Web tracks your preferences and feeds you stuff,” I added as if I knew how. “It’s the way it’s done.”

I don’t think that’s it – not entirely. I’m just – well I’m the right kind of teacher. The Web knew that and reeled me in.

“The right kind of teacher?”

The kind of teacher they want. For now - until – until they don’t. Then I’ll probably be steered towards something else.

At that I finished my drink, made my excuses and left. Didn’t see him again for a week or two. When I eventually come across him he picked up the thread of our conversation as if we’d been sitting in the Crown all the time. For all I knew he had.

I noticed he’d changed slightly, Could be my imagination of course but I swear he looked more like a teacher. Check jacket, hair a little longer and a little less tidy – that kind of thing. Different spectacles too, heavier rims. A stereotype of course but I was sure he looked more like the stereotype.

Did I tell you? I sold my car and bought a bike, he said as if we’d just been discussing personal transport even though we hadn’t.

“That’s good," I replied. "I should do that, get more exercise, cycle to work or something.” Which was true enough. I’d recently read quite a few online articles about cycling and the health benefits. Standard stuff but I used to cycle everywhere in my younger days –

That wasn’t it –

“Not the healthy lifestyle game then?”

Not really. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I felt drawn to it, persuaded by something.

“That’s easy enough to understand. Unless you live in a cave you can’t avoid it. Healthy lifestyle, all kinds of anti-car angles. It’s annoying but they have a point.”

They always have a point. It’s what they do.

“Maybe so but it can be a genuine point.” At this point I moved things one step forward and offered to buy the next round of drinks. Until then we’d bought our own.

I’m fine – I haven’t finished this yet.

He held up a half pint glass with an inch or two of beer left in it. I hadn’t noticed he drank halves. In fact I could have sworn he drank pints. Anyway I bought myself a whisky with the next pint - for a change.

I see you drink spirits now. He sort of nodded towards my glasses as I set them on the table.

“Keeps the cold out,” I said.

Does it? I don't notice the cold. Do you make much use of the Web?

“Who doesn’t.”

What do you think the Web has in store for you?

“It doesn’t have anything in store for me, it just wants to sell me stuff and get me to react in certain ways. That’s what it’s all about.” I downed the whisky and smacked my lips rather ostentatiously. I felt almost offended by his miserable half pint – still unfinished on the table. There should be a law against halves –

It’s more than that I’m sure.

“Really? Tell me.”

Maybe in your case –

“Yes? Maybe in my case?”

You will be offended but I’ll say it anyway. Maybe it has assigned you the role of an alcoholic.

“I’m not offended by that.” I was offended of course but damned if I was going to admit it.

You see I think the Web has decided to reduce the number of people likely to reach retirement age. There are many ways to achieve this – alcoholism is merely one of them.

Of course I laughed out loud at that. Mad but interesting was how I categorised him and I didn’t buy another drink. Besides I’d recently come across a lot of really interesting stuff about overnight mountain biking.

Saturday 24 February 2018


It seems to me a proof of the small advance our race has made in true wisdom, that we find it so hard to give up doing anything we have meant to do. It matters very little whether the affair is one of enjoyment or of business, we feel the same bitter need of pursuing it to the end. The mere fact of intention gives it a flavor of duty, and dutiolatry, as one may call the devotion, has passed so deeply into our life that we have scarcely a sense any more of the sweetness of even a neglected pleasure. We will not taste the fine, guilty rapture of a deliberate dereliction; the gentle sin of omission is all but blotted from the calendar of our crimes.

William Dean Howells - Their Wedding Journey (1872)

Yes, some people are like that. Once they decide on something then pursuing it becomes a duty from which deviation is simply not allowed. Maybe we need such people but they can be frustrating to deal with.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Offended by goals

If the word “sad” did not exist in English and had never existed, would we still have the capacity to be sad or see sadness in others? In her book How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett suggests not. Sadness would not exist because we would have no concept of it, there would be no state of mind our brains could label as “sad” and consequently we would have no capacity to be sad or perceive sadness in others.

An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you in the world.

Emotions are not reactions to the world. You are not a passive receiver of sensory input but an active constructor of your emotions. From sensory input and past experience, your brain constructs meaning and prescribes action.

A physical event like a change in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiration becomes an emotional experience only when we, with emotion concepts that we have learned from our culture, imbue the sensations with additional functions by social agreement.

Lisa Feldman Barrett - How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

To my mind the book is certainly not beyond criticism but is engaging, well presented and the core message of the book is a particularly powerful one.

For example – moving on from the word “sad”. A similar question arises if the word “offence” did not exist in English and had never existed. Would we still have the capacity to take offence or be offended? Although she does not use this particular example, in her book, Professor Barrett’s neurological work suggests not. As with sadness, offence in this emotional sense would not exist because we would have no concept of it. Again there would be no state of mind our brains could label as “offended” and we would have no ability to perceive it in other people.

In Professor Barrett’s interpretation of modern neuroscience, emotions are concepts and not forced responses to a range of situations and circumstances. An emotion is a fluid and diffuse conceptual framework within which we make sense of social situations and our own bodily reactions to those situations, but any emotion could be different. It depends on our goals.

When you walk into an entirely new situation, you don’t experience it based solely on how things look, sound, or smell. Your experience it based on your goal. So, what’s happening in your brain when you categorize? You are not finding similarities in the world but creating them. When your brain needs a concept, it constructs one on the fly, mixing and matching from a population of instances from your past experience, to best fit your goals in a particular situation. And herein lies a key to understanding how emotions are made.

Emotion concepts are goal-based concepts.

In other words, the neuroscience of emotion seems to support something we probably already know or suspect about people who claim to be offended by the politically incorrect. It tells us that their emotional reaction to what they perceive as offensive is a learned, goal-based reaction. It is a genuine emotional reaction but it is still learned, still goal-based and could be different or even unlearned.

In general the offended are responsible for their own emotional concepts, they are responsible for feeling offended. It suits them to be offended so they are.

Professor Barrett has written an intriguing book and it is well worth reading. Depending upon your goals of course.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Special effects

From Wikipedia

Superman was a "tremendous financial success" and played in "first-run theatres that had never before booked a serial." The serial was a popular success that made Kirk Alyn famous and launched Noel Neill's career. A sequel serial, Atom Man vs. Superman, also directed by Bennet, was released in 1950.

How things have changed. How could anyone have viewed this without sniggering? Yet people accepted it and suspended their disbelief because everything has to develop from crude beginnings. At the time we may not even see those beginnings as crude because they cannot be compared to something better. They become crude over time as developments make them so.

All obvious enough but not without its subtleties. For example, the people who were originally entertained by this kind of thing – maybe they would see aspects of our society as crude. Crude in a different sense perhaps, but not that different.

Monday 19 February 2018

The BBC admitted –

As many folk know too well, the BBC is particularly prone to mingle opinion with news. A recent example concerns the political football that is university tuition fees.

Tuition fees: Theresa May challenges over-priced universities

The prime minister is to call for better value for students in England, admitting they face "one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world".

Theresa May will announce an independent review of fees and student finance on Monday.

She will also argue for an end to "outdated attitudes" that favour university over technical education.

Labour says it would abolish fees and bring back maintenance grants.

It almost slips through without being noticed, but in what sense is Mrs May admitting that we have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world?

Is it supposed to be her fault or her responsibility? In the eyes of her political opponents, no doubt it is her responsibility but the BBC is not supposed to number itself among her political opponents.

Curiously enough the word is politically incorrect in the sense that she has no such responsibility and isn’t admitting anything. She is describing a situation she didn't cause and cannot even begin to tackle without constructive and widespread political will.

Friday 16 February 2018

What is missing here?

Obviously there are numerous unanswered questions in this video, from technical matters about water and sewage to questions about where the food comes from, why are those logs so neat and tidy? They aren’t growing the food, making their clothes, disposing of their own waste, so presumably money comes into it.

Nothing wrong with that, but what’s the deal behind it all, behind the sentimental environmental, good-life aspect? It doesn't lack a certain appeal, but as so often with presentations of this type, we aren’t given the full story and after even the most cursory analysis the appeal evaporates.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Neolithic News 2

The Weel Problem
By clan elder Jer Amikobin

Recently you may have heard about a fanciful contraption called the weel made by a couple of clan members who should have been working on something more constructive such as a formal innovations strategy, but let that pass for now.

Firstly I must deal with the so-called weel itself before we move on to more substantive issues. If you did not manage to catch a glimpse of it going round in circles, the weel was a round wooden abomination quite correctly consigned to the fire after a unanimous vote by the elders.

Since this entirely reasonable official action, it has been claimed that the weel would have allowed heavy loads to be moved more easily. This is quite obviously a ridiculous fantasy which a few minutes conversation at the Humpers and Draggers Hut would have dispelled. Humping and dragging is a skilled and honourable job. No amount of tinkering with wooden toys could possibly replace the efforts of such valued clan members.

Another claim made for the weel is that our brave warriors can actually be mounted on weels in a manner I will not deign to understand. It seems to involve horses, but beyond that I do not care to go. Hence, it is further claimed, they could defend our clan boundaries more effectively by charging around very fast.

Here again is must be pointed out that negotiations with the Honourable Den of Bowmakers will soon reach a satisfactory conclusion. Until then our valiant warriors have as many arrows as they need and are fully prepared to throw them really hard at any would-be attackers without the need to career around on weels. Be warned – we are on our guard. Camp Lookout is on the job.

However, the real problem with the late and unlamented weel is its complete lack of any kind of officially recognised Hut or Den, so even if this ridiculous device were ever approved there would be no way to maintain standards. Everything must have its approved standard, even things we haven’t yet invented, otherwise there would be no point inventing them.

As a footnote to this unfortunate development, the Dung-Moulders Midden has reached a preliminary agreement to explore more substantive grounds for further progress with the Honourable Den of Bowmakers. As you may know, the Dung-Moulders were using bows as part of their front line services, piling their skillfully moulded dung onto a mesh of woven bows to dry them. A highly imaginative and useful service with only a minor unresolved and temporary bow shortage issue which we intend to address at next year’s General Assembly.

Secondly – no I think I’ve covered that. Or at least if I haven’t I will have eventually.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Propaganda coup

Strange how the North Korean Winter Olympics propaganda coup arose. From the BBC.

How big a propaganda coup has the North scored?

Ms Kim and Mr Kim Yong-nam made up the most senior delegation from the North to visit the South since the Korean War in the 1950s.

The two states have never signed a peace treaty and are in a constant state of mutual distrust.

On Saturday, Ms Kim handed over a letter from her brother to President Moon, inviting him to visit Pyongyang. If the summit goes ahead, it will be the first meeting in more than a decade between Korean leaders.

For those of an entrenched anti-Trump persuasion it would be gall and wormwood to admit any connection between Donald Trumps’s hard line on North Korea and this apparently unexpected development. In which case the only viable alternative to a Trump link is to play it as an outreach coup orchestrated by those masters of the positive image, the North Korean government. Maybe it was simply bad luck that the move was not made during Obama’s reign. Or maybe it wasn’t.

Unfortunately for the triumphant coup narrative there are a number problems in playing events this way. For one thing it can become nauseating. This for example.

The regime's human face

By Laura Bicker, BBC News, Pyeongchang, South Korea

You could almost feel the ripple of excitement as Kim Yo-jong walked into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Necks craned and mobile phones were held aloft to catch a glimpse.

I found myself, along with others, leaning as far as I could over the balcony to try to see her in the VIP box below. The faces around the stadium all said one thing: she's here, on South Korean soil.

She has given the secretive regime a human face.

Obviously Ms Kim cannot be referred to as the mass murderer’s sister but perhaps these little foibles are excused by the higher goal of never letting up on the anti-Trump narrative. No doubt it would have been better if Ms Kim had been as photogenic as other members of Team Coup but every cake can't have its share of icing.

However, the whole business is certainly more enjoyable than the “sport”. As with the Oxfam debacle, it is revealing and revealing is good. It feels good too. 

Monday 12 February 2018

Economists with physics envy

An interesting article in Aeon by John Rapley suggests - economics has always been an ethical and social exercise. In other words it ain't physics.

Two questions: is it good or bad that professional athletes earn 400 times what nurses do, and is string theory a dead end? Each question goes to the heart of its discipline. Yet while you probably answered the first, you’d hold an opinion on the prospects of string theory only if you’ve studied physics.

That annoys economists, who wonder why everyone feels free to join economic debates instead of leaving them to the experts, as they do with physics or medicine. What economists don’t usually admit is that, on a range of topics they examine, they often had an answer to the question before they began their studies. Scientists are supposed to reach their conclusions after doing research and weighing the evidence but, in economics, conclusions can come first, with economists gravitating towards a thesis that fits their moral worldview.

Mr Rapley also points out how economic behaviour is inextricably entangled with wider aspects of human behaviour and frailties. This cannot be news to anyone, but even today vast areas of public debate seem to assume that we are economically rational. 

Unlike in physics, there are no universal and immutable laws of economics. You can’t will gravity out of existence. But as the recurrence of speculative bubbles shows, you can unleash ‘animal spirits’ so that human behaviour and prices themselves defy economic gravity. Change the social context – in economic parlance, change the incentive structure – and people will alter their behaviour to adapt to the new framework.

The last paragraph is particularly interesting. 

Given this willful blindness, the current reaction against economists is understandable. In response, a ‘data revolution’ has prompted many economists to do more grunt work with their data, while engaging in public debates about the practicality of their work. Less science, more social. That is a recipe for an economics that might yet redeem the experts.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Bag and glove excitement

It's product promotion time, so how about a Self-Pack Carry Bag as opposed to dull and unadventurous bags which don't self-pack and you don't have to carry them... that can't be right. Maybe you need a pair of Weather System Gloves as opposed to those boring gloves with no weather system... that can't be right either. Maybe we need an app to make them work.

Saturday 10 February 2018

Anna the slinger

What makes people like Anna Soubry tick?

The MP for Broxtowe argued that the economic necessity of preventing a hard break from the EU meant she was not sorry for suggesting that Theresa May should “sling out” ardent leave campaigners from the party.

In interviews with BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme and the Guardian, Soubry said her Brexit-supporting colleagues had used “really dreadful language” about Philip Hammond, the chancellor.

“Lets be very honest about this, mainly this is a group of people who will always put their own ideology first and foremost – bigger than any leader, bigger than any party – and they are determined they are going to get their own way,” she said in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday.

She added: “Perhaps for the first time ever in the Conservative party people are equally determined that they are not going to get their own way. I am prepared to compromise – they are not – and we are fed up.”

Without wishing to delve into the whole tedious Brexit circus, it is still worth raising the issue of a national strategy. Politically we are where we are, not somewhere else more in tune with Ms Soubry’s desires. That being the case we have to move on from where we are and going backwards is a most unattractive political option, if indeed it is an option.

Although it is easy enough to see politicians as cynical opportunists, Ms Soubry seems to be telling us very clearly that emotion has a strong role too. Maybe more so than we usually admit. Why make the issue into a public drama if not for emotional reasons?

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with emotional reactions, we need them to live, but within our human limitations they should not drive national strategic thinking. At this stage of the Brexit game the issues are largely technical, or should be. Again – we are where we are.

Thursday 8 February 2018

A diet

The other day we were behind a chap at the supermarket checkout and as one does during these people-watching opportunities I ran an interested eye over his shopping.

About twenty tins of sardines.
A dozen tins of tuna.
A large pack of dog chews.
Three litres of whisky.

That lot came to a shade under ninety pounds and an obvious question springs to mind. What kind of diet does such a simple shopping list imply?

Tinned fish and dog chews for a small dog and whiskey for the owner perhaps. No – too straightforward.

Maybe the chap has no dog but enjoys snacking on sardines and a dram followed by a dog chew to keep the jaws active. It would be a diet to keep obesity away, that’s for sure. Variety would be introduced by substituting tuna for sardines.

Or maybe the chap has a small dog which enjoys a tin of sardines followed by a dram then a dog chew to keep its breath sweet. A pampered dog certainly, but not an impossible scenario.

Sherlock Holmes would have worked it all out at a glance. He would have spotted a lightly chewed shoelace on the chap’s left shoe or a telltale dog hair on his trouser leg just six inches from the floor.

A small dog Watson, probably a Yorkshire Terrier with a taste for the Cherry Blossom smeared on his shoelaces by hasty application occasioned by the fact that he is already late for the sardine and tuna party...

No that won’t do. I can’t follow the great detective any further. If only shopping could be that simple though.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Short back and sides

It’s coming round to haircut time again. I’ll put it off until next week but that’s about the limit. Not my favourite chore but I seem to have inherited a full head of hair from my father and the stuff just keeps growing. 

I’m not sure what I dislike most about going for a haircut but I think part of it is the aimless waiting and trying to remember if it’s my turn next. Ideally I’d like the place to be empty when I venture inside but I can’t always arrange that.

As you may know, the Japanese have the word age-otori for looking worse after a haircut. Must be handy every now and then. I’d have used it when my regular barber was closed and I carelessly popped into the barber's next to the undertaker. An old-fashioned place run by an old chap who seemed to specialise in short back and sides for anyone still capable of tottering through his door. 

Crikey - never again. Definitely a case of age-otori.

As well as having no equivalent of age-otori, there must be many phantom words which would be useful in modern life but we don’t have them, or at least not in English. Or maybe we do have them but they didn’t spring to mind as I wrote this post. For example -

That despairing contempt at the sight of supermarket checkout magazines.
The nostalgic aura of motoring history evoked by a vintage car interior.
An unsatisfactory aroma of yesterday’s fish as we walk downstairs in the morning.
A momentary pang of annoyance as yet another piece of junk mail goes in the bin
That defiant guilt when a plastic container is binned instead of recycled.
That bigger job than I thought feeling as this list was being compiled.

I wonder if life is less rich than it could be simply because we haven’t sorted out enough words to encapsulate common modern frustrations, emotions and dilemmas? If so, then what name might we give to worrying about it?

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Where they really belong

I think you can’t let people alone too much. For my part, if I try to characterize my friends, I fail to do them perfect justice, of course; and yet the imperfect result remains representative of them in my mind; it limits them and fixes them; and I can’t get them back again into the undefined and the ideal where they really belong.

William Dean Howells - A Foregone Conclusion (1875)

It is easy enough to grasp Howells’ point about not analysing friends too much, why we should leave them in the undefined and the ideal where they really belong. Friendships are fragile, easily damaged. Maybe the same caution also applies to certain acquaintances such as a good boss, a competent doctor or an amiable barber.

What about celebrities, favoured political figures or even football teams? Here we are inclined to turn the thing on its head - here we tend to leave them in the undefined and the ideal where they really do not belong.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Grey matter

This post wanders around a little, but that is an attraction of blogging, it isn’t necessary to tie everything together. Intelligent readers do that, fill in the gaps and raise other issues themselves.

Yet intelligence is a rum notion isn’t it? We have many other words for it which don’t mean quite the same thing. Clever, smart, astute, brainy, highbrow, bright, perceptive and so on. Look them up, there are lots, although as an intelligent person perhaps you don’t need to look them up.

How about knowledge? To my mind that’s another rum notion, not unconnected with intelligence. We don’t usually expect knowledgeable people to be unintelligent and vice versa, yet the notion of knowledge can be just as problematic as intelligence.

Here’s the oddity - at least to my mind it’s an oddity. If a person is knowledgeable then he or she is generally regarded as intelligent, but it does not seem matter too much what they are knowledgeable about. General knowledge or almost any area of specialised knowledge will do, particularly if it has some bearing on human nature. Are there any areas of knowledge which don’t have at least some bearing on human nature? Possibly not.

However, intelligent and knowledgeable people can be remarkably dull, conventional and apparently uninterested in exploring the world of possibilities beyond their comfort zone. They may have built a solid personal philosophy and it may be quite an edifice as these things go, but surprisingly often the edifice is all there is. It seems to serve much the same purpose as a pundit’s stock standpoints. There seems to be little joy in it too. Joy? Why not?

Take the currently popular phrase “virtue signalling” for example. An excellent phrase which seems to be an acute insight or maybe it clarifies insights we already had. Unfortunately it seems to apply to numerous intelligent and knowledgeable public figures who should know better but clearly don’t. In spite of their intelligence and knowledge they go in for virtue signalling. Perhaps we all do, but some seem to go in for it as a key part of what they are, as an essential ingredient of their personal philosophy, their pundit’s standpoints.

When you first heard the phrase “virtue signalling”, how long did it take you to grasp its meaning and assess its widespread applicability and usefulness? A second or two is my guess. Presumably we already knew what virtue signalling is before we first heard the phrase, but how did we assimilate it so quickly?

Maybe that is the charm of insights, the way they rapidly sharpen and clarify what we already possess. The charm of insights did I say? Yes – insights are certainly charming, alluring, beguiling, appealing, attractive. There is an emotional aspect to them. How could there not be?

To my mind some intelligent people are like collectors, they collect insights and a phrase such as virtue signalling is just such an insight. Rather a good one. So insight collectors collect it, absorb its power and its charm into the depths of their personality. Its popularity tells us so.

Yet there is something a little nerdy about this notion of collecting insights. It sounds like stamp collecting but intelligent people can be somewhat nerdy. They like insights, hunt them down and enjoy plucking them from all kinds of nooks and crannies, almost as if a day without picking up a new insight is a day lost, wasted, misused.

However – and this is interesting too – many otherwise intelligent people seem to be afraid of insights. That is another emotion insights can generate - fear. People can be genuinely afraid of them, afraid of the disturbance they create, the insecurity, the threats. There is even something primitive in rejecting insights, something ancient, as if a wild beast has been spotted lurking in the wilderness just beyond the home-place.

Where does that leave intelligence though? If someone avoids insights, especially those which challenge conventions, then how is that intelligent behaviour? It is much the same with knowledge. Insights which challenge conventional knowledge may not even be accepted as knowledge.

For example?

For example Donald Trump is providing us with a number of insights into US politics, the power of large bureaucracies, the bias in mainstream media, the power of the establishment and distraction politics. Trump is good at distraction. He may yet stumble but so far it has been as interesting and enjoyable as insights should be. But is everyone enjoying the insights Trump so obligingly provides? I don’t think so. 

What joyless souls they are.

Saturday 3 February 2018

LED bulb failures

Had another LED light bulb fail yesterday. Of eight GU10 bulbs installed in the kitchen just over three years ago, four have failed. Supposedly rated at 30,000 hours average life as I recall, but our experience suggests they achieve nowhere near that.

I suspect quality control is not as tight as it would have to be to get anywhere near an average life of 30,000 hours, but then the cost would have to be even higher. I'll end up buying another multipack, treating them as disposables rather than marvels of green technology. Are there any marvels of green technology? Maybe Prince Charles knows.

Coincidentally - yesterday I replaced an incandescent bulb in our electric fire which was at least ten years old when it failed.

Thursday 1 February 2018

Paper plate

From the Derby Telegraph

Police officers in Derbyshire pulled over a car which had a bizarre number plate made from paper.

Cops from the county's Roads Policing Unit posted news of the incident on Twitter this morning.

The unit said the driver's documents were "in order" but that they came across the number plate and also a tyre in a poor condition on the Audi car.

The team said the driver failed a drugs test for cannabis and they also seized the car as the driver did not have an insurance policy.

I don't know how long a paper number plate would last in the wet weather we've been having, but not long is my guess. Cardboard on the other hand...