Tuesday 31 July 2018

Honesty is not cool


a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable.
Anthony Trollope - The Way We Live Now (1875)

Something seems to be going wrong with the modern world, creating an enormous temptation to give it a single name to haul it into the public arena. The trouble is it has too many names and a fragmented impact on our lives, particularly via news sources, current affairs, political opinion, economic opinion and so on.

It isn’t political correctness although that is certainly a major symptom, but political correctness is just too amorphous and multi-faceted to encapsulate whatever is dragging us down, maligning what was good about the past, what our forebears achieved, what our culture achieved. Our culture that is - our Western culture, our decent, tolerant civilisation. Not the mythical good old days, but merely what was good, what was done well, what worked.

Yet the problem seems to circulate around something very familiar, something so old and so simple that it often slips into the background. That something is honesty, a virtue which has become lost in the complex opportunities created by modern life. Dishonesty has become simpler, easier to live with, profitable, convenient, supportive, emotionally satisfying, exciting, exalting, even cool. Dishonesty has too much going for it and honesty is not cool.


In the past we have tacitly recognised the crucial importance of honesty by allocating special domains where honesty has to be enforced more or less rigorously because otherwise these essential domains would fail and damage the rest of society. Science, engineering, accountancy, medicine, history, banking and many others are special domains where honesty must prevail. Even if dishonesty gains some kind of foothold, honesty must be made to prevail in the long run. That is understood, if only tacitly.

Unfortunately these special domains never included politics and there are other more modern domains such as public relations where honesty is necessarily compromised. As governments have grown enormously in size and reach, they have invaded those domains where honesty must be maintained. As a direct result we are losing the capacity to remember that there really are vital activities where honesty must prevail. 

Yet if we say such things or if we publicly approve of what was done honestly in the past, what counts as worthy achievement – then there is another problem. Honesty can be portrayed as dishonesty or dissent or politically extreme or politically immoral or just plain bad. An honest person can be portrayed as a bad person. An honest historical figure can be portrayed as a monster because we cannot be honest about the mores of the past. We are losing the ability to filter out dishonesty because honesty itself is under attack and honesty is the only filter we have. 

In the past we have done many things well and have many worthy achievements, particularly scientific, cultural and humanitarian achievements. The past may have been unimaginably grim for most, but there were achievements and there were lessons. Yet it is no longer easy to say these things because to do so is to discriminate and even if done honestly, discrimination is no longer easy without the prickings of doubt. Am I saying the right thing? Not the honest thing but the right thing?

There are those among us who do not understand how their world evolved, do not feel part of that evolution with its many imperfections and absurdities. Some seem resent the whole idea of anything worthwhile achieved by their forebears and a few seem to resent it very deeply indeed. Yet with absurd irony they reap the benefits of what they are and where they are and pour dishonest scorn and bile on the source of those benefits past and present.

The problem of dishonesty presents itself as malice directed at people who still wish to be honest, describe the world they see and the culture they trust and value without being slotted into malign and dishonest political categories.

In other words the problem of political dishonesty presents itself as identity politics and malice and political correctness and stupidity and intolerance disguised as tolerance and malevolence disguised as social justice and anti-capitalism disguised as egalitarianism and environmental activism and racism disguised as anti-racism and misandry disguised as feminism and fascism disguised as anti-fascism and pseudoscience disguised as science so on and so on.

Which takes us back to where we started because we still do not have that name, that single name with which to drag the whole foetid, destructive, uncivilised mess kicking and screaming into the public arena. Dishonesty it may be but as a name it won’t do. Ironically the name would be too honest.

And yet. And yet even without a good overarching name it is already in the public arena because it is being discussed and analysed by some very capable people who only a few years ago would have been dishonestly excluded from the public arena because there were no social media, no way for any but a tiny minority of honest and capable commentators to have their say and dissect the rot.

That may be all we are seeing, the battle for civilised honesty which has been going on for a very long time indeed. But honesty is not cool.

Saturday 28 July 2018


It's holiday time again so blogging may be light as WiFi is somewhat variable. As expected the sunny weather broke almost as soon as we ventured onto the motorway. At least the Met Office and BBC heat/drought/we're all doomed by global warming nonsense should subside back into the swamp.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Gary scores an own goal

So overpaid BBC football pundit Gary Lineker has joined the chorus for a rematch of the Brexit referendum.

Gary Lineker says defeating Brexit is 'more important than football' as he joins the campaign for a second referendum

Dump the old referendum in favour of a newer, younger version. It's his area of expertise I suppose. Doesn't the guy realise how popular he isn't?

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Sunrise over the Cat and Fiddle

Early Monday morning we gave C a lift to Manchester airport which is why we found ourselves pulling into a deserted shopping centre car park at 4.30am after the drop-off. We knew McDonald's would be open and were not interested in exploring the refreshment delights of Manchester airport.

From our perspective airports are places to get away from as quickly as possible. Weird concrete monstrosities they are. It amazes me that people ever fly anywhere unless compelled by dire necessity.

After McDonald's we fled back to civilisation via the Cat and Fiddle road in time to see a glorious sunrise over the hills, passing the Cat and Fiddle itself round about 5.10am. With mist in the valleys and an almost empty road, the drive would have been delightful even without the airport drop-off as a telling contrast. Dawn can be a lovely time of day in summer but we hardly ever get up in time to enjoy the best of it. Even trundling through dozing Buxton was a pleasure.

To finish off, a few miles beyond Buxton we had a ten minute wait for a large herd of cows crossing the road on their way to the milking shed. Even that was enjoyable - watching them saunter across without a care in the world, casually snacking on roadside vegetation.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Mystery object

No prizes, but you are invited to use your skill, experience and analytical penetration to identify this mystery object.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Dramatically normal

From the Derby Telegraph about ten days ago we had

Dramatic pictures show state of Derbyshire's reservoirs

Dry and barren beds, remnants of railways and shards of cracked earth have been exposed as water levels run low.

Crikey - how dramatically worrying is that? May be more dramatic by now but further down we have.

Bosses at Severn Trent Water have been quick to respond, saying that this is not unusual for this time of year and that it is due to the fact that they transfer water from their smaller sites to their bigger ones, using only their smaller sites when necessary.

A spokesman from the organisation said: "Howden is part of a group of interconnected reservoirs, together with Derwent and Ladybower, and we manage them as a whole.

"We tend to keep more raw water in the ‘higher’ reservoirs (Derwent and Ladybower) and just transfer it to Howden as and when we need it.

"All three are currently around 63 per cent full, which is about right for this time of year with the level of demand we’ve been seeing.

Thursday 19 July 2018

A bit of a chat

Sometimes comedy wears well and to my mind this is an example. Would younger people recognise the stereotypes though? Will anyone recognise them after a few more decades?

Tuesday 17 July 2018

The popularity of laziness

Sometimes it pays to be speculative, not with the intention of digging up something new but in the hope of finding another aspect of familiar situations. Laziness for example. We all understand laziness. Well I do - which is close enough for a blog post.

One might begin by suggesting that laziness is linked to the natural law of least action. In the absence of confounding factors, nature selects processes with the lowest expenditure of energy. The laziest natural processes are the most energy efficient and that includes moderately important human processes such as thinking.

Which may be why democracy doesn’t work. If a large electorate is supposed to do the thinking for a comparatively small number of legislators then that has the principle of least action the wrong way round. Least action would require the legislators to do all the thinking. A more rigorous version would be one where neither body does any thinking. Hmm...

The dark side of this is obvious enough – it is easier to think predigested thoughts than construct new ones via imagination, research and analysis. Not only is it easier but it the problem gets worse - it is easier to adopt a predigested justification for the predigested idea. Easy begets easy and that is the problem. Or maybe that idea is also too easy.

There is no way out of lazy thinking unless things go so badly wrong that even the laziest folk are prodded into peering out of their ruts. They may even summon up enough energy to ask Google what the blue blazes is going on. Sometimes it appears that our entire civilisation arose as a support for laziness, as if that was always the point of it. 

On the other hand – no that’s enough of that.

Monday 16 July 2018

Magic tech

Last year Mrs H managed to contact an old friend she lost touch with over forty years ago. She did it via Facebook, creating an account specifically for this purpose. A little while later the friend came over on a family visit and Mrs H and friend had their reunion.

A few days ago we were in the car returning from the school run when Mrs H received a text from Australia. Her friend is due to visit the UK again and she suggested another get together. Mrs H agreed by text and a few minutes later received an acknowledging text from Australia.

So what? This kind of thing is routine these days but at the time both of us had the same impression – how amazing it is that we can do these things so casually and so easily. We forget how much things have changed in only a few decades, tending to concentrate on the negative rather than the positive.

Outfits such as Facebook come in for a lot of stick but even now the technology can still be amazing if only we pause for a moment and recall what has been achieved. Yes there are negative aspects and these may still overwhelm us eventually, but the positives are worth remembering too.

Sunday 15 July 2018

Why China Will Never Rule The World

For a different take on China it is worth reading Troy Parfitt’s book - Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas . This is not a book about facts and figures and neither is it a hymn to Chinese economic success. As the blurb tells us, the book is mostly travelogue told from an outsider's perspective, albeit an outsider who lived in Taiwan for ten years and who speaks Mandarin.

Three quotes may give a flavour of the writer’s standpoint. 

China is a nation of much fakery; there’s fake sushi, fake steak, fake gravy, fake music, fake goods, fake pharmaceuticals, fake news, fake weather reports, fake education, fake rights, fake laws, fake courts, fake judges, a fake congress, a fake constitution….

Unambiguous but not unconsidered. Parfitt thinks there are profound influences behind the fakery – a deep-rooted preference for appearances over reality. The second quote concerns a China Central Television (CCTV) show the writer watched from one of his hotel rooms.

That night on CCTV, a panel of Chinese scientists was explaining how the Americans had never landed on the moon. Not only were the lunar missions faked, they said, but the Apollo program itself was largely a matter of science fiction. The shadows were all wrong. Where were the craters? And just look at that ridiculous flag – not moving even with solar winds. Their tone was both mocking and disdainful, as if even having to explain why this was the biggest fraud of all time insulted their very intelligence.

CCTV is the main state broadcaster in China. The third quote is taken from a conversation with a taxi driver.

“Food in China is packed with shit – shit that will make you sick and kill you. I have a daughter, you know. I’m worried about what she eats. But what am I supposed to do? Complain? Yeah, right. The government would say, ‘Well, that’s very interesting, sir. Why don’t we take a walk and talk about it? Please, tell us whatever it is that’s on your mind.’ And then they’d shoot me in the back of the neck. Bang! And that would be the end of that.”

Obviously an entire country cannot be dismissed on the basis of a single taxi driver's complaints, however chilling they are. However there are many more examples highlighting what Parfitt sees as endemic weaknesses in Chinese culture. For example he sees Confucianism as a significant cultural problem with its emphasis on obedience and harmony.

The book is easy to read and although Parfitt can come across as someone who simply does not like China and the Chinese, he tells us quite clearly why that is. In so doing he provides an interesting and accessible cultural alternative to the usual facts, figures and technology.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Wheelchair tennis

I stumbled across a Wimbledon wheelchair tennis match on TV today. Although I played tennis in my younger days I am not interested in watching the dull routines and middle class ghastliness of Wimbledon fortnight. However this wheelchair doubles match was surprisingly watchable.

What impressed me was how good the players are. I was never more than a lowly club player and wouldn’t have stood a chance against any of those guys. Their court craft alone would have run me ragged.

To my mind it is a reminder that tennis is just like many other sports, a game to be played rather than watched. Why watch the dull mechanical grind of uninteresting tennis professionals? Why not dig out the rackets, hire a court and just play the game? It’s fun.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Five bananas and two eggs

From The Economic Times we have a story about haircuts in Venezuela.

In broke Venezuela, a haircut costs 5 bananas and 2 eggs

Imagine living in an economy where barter is the currency and where you have to pay food items such bananas or eggs for something as small as a haircut. That's exactly what is happening in Venezuela.

In the hyperinflationary South American country, where bank notes are as difficult to find as chronically scarce food and medicine, Venezuelans are increasingly relying on to barter for basic transactions.

Once the richest country of Latin America, Venezuela - a country that sits on world's largest oil reserves - today stares at a bleak future. People in this oil-rich country are scrambling for money, food and basic necessities, swapping different items and even doing chores for packages of flour, rice and cooking oil.

"There is no cash here, only barter," said Mileidy Lovera, 30, while hoping to trade a cooler of fish that her husband had caught for food to feed her four children, or medicine to treat her son's epilepsy.

Appalling of course but what did one of our most prominent political experts say about the cause of this disaster? Do we have any beguiling insights or pointers to a less disastrous future for those struggling Venezuelans such as Mrs Lovera?

Tuesday 10 July 2018

The austerities of his boyhood

A passage from Arnold Bennett’s Clayhanger Family series illustrates how radically domestic comfort changed during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

In the middle of the night Edwin kept watch over Auntie Hamps, who was asleep. He sat in a rocking-chair, with his back to the window and the right side of his face to the glow of the fire. The fire was as effective as the size and form of the grate would allow; it burnt richly red; but its influence did not seem to extend beyond a radius of four feet outwards from its centre.

The terrible damp chill of the Five Towns winter hung in the bedroom like an invisible miasma. He could feel the cold from the window, which was nevertheless shut, through the shawl with which he had closed the interstices of the back of the chair, and, though he had another thick shawl over his knees, the whole of his left side felt the creeping attack of the insidious miasma.

A thermometer which he had found and which lay on the night-table five yards from the fire registered only fifty-two degrees. His expelled breath showed in the air. It was as if he were fighting with all resources against frigidity, and barely holding his own.

Half a century earlier such a room had represented comfort; in some details, as for instance in its bed, it represented luxury; and in half a century Auntie Hamps had learnt nothing from the material progress of civilisation but the use of the hot-water bag; her vanished and forgotten parents would have looked askance at the enervating luxuriousness of her hot-water bag — unknown even to the crude wistful boy Edwin on the mantelpiece. And Auntie Hamps herself was wont as it were to atone for it by using the still tepid water therefrom for her morning toilet instead of having truly hot water brought up from the kitchen.

Edwin thought: “Are we happier for these changes brought about by the mysterious force of evolution?” And answered very emphatically: “Yes, we are.” He would not for anything have gone back to the austerities of his boyhood.

Arnold Bennett – These Twain (1916)

Would I go back to the austerities of my own boyhood in the fifties? No central heating and ice on the inside of the bedroom windows every winter? No but as a youngster I was used to it and knew nothing else. Strange thought, but I must have been considerably more hardy than I am now. Drawing on the windows by scratching the ice off was fun.

Monday 9 July 2018

The booze

Mrs H and I have been social drinkers since the beginning of time. Okay perhaps not quite that long but for all of our adult lives. We don’t drink alcohol excessively and never every day so we might be classed as moderate drinkers. In winter it is port or wine in front of the log burner while in summer it is a glass of wine or beer outside while the sun goes down.

However, over the past year or so we have been drinking less and less alcohol. Sometimes we don’t drink any at all for a week or two - often longer. Hardly makes us teetotal but for some reason we are losing the taste for a tipple. We don’t enjoy it as we used to and we don’t miss it.

We don’t know why either, but in part it probably has something to do with the effects of alcohol on ageing brains. Something within us is telling us that alcohol is not as harmless as drinkers tend to think. It is not worth delving into the fiendish complexities of alcohol consumption, I merely offer this as a personal experience.

We still drink alcohol every now and then but sooner or later I suspect we’ll give it up and I also suspect we’ll feel better health wise. That’s the issue but it isn’t easy to explain. It could be an illusion, a result of all that anti-alcohol propaganda which is impossible to ignore completely.

At the moment not drinking feels like a slightly enhanced but indistinct sense of mild well-being where nothing specific has happened yet some change has occurred which more regular drinking would reverse. What could it be? Here’s one idea.

We no longer watch television and television is mildly depressing. Not only is it depressing but it is also has a definite association with alcohol. Alcohol is part of life and part of numerous lives we see on television. Always has been. In which case the effect could be psychological after all. 

Sunday 8 July 2018


Yesterday evening I sat outside reading while the sun gradually set behind the trees. As we all know, after a hot day a welcome sunset usually settles a delightful veil of peace on the world. Night comes, the air cools and the sweaty clamour of a long day is gradually forgotten.

However the England v Sweden World Cup football match seemed to add something else to the late evening atmosphere. The sound of barking dogs in the twilight, faint strains of pop music drifting across from somewhere, the shouts of a drunken lout in the next street, an occasional shriek of raucous laughter.

It added a slightly oafish tinge to a waning day, unwelcome ripples and echoes from the shallows of human life. No matter - we get used to it and maybe it has always been necessary. 

Thursday 5 July 2018

Trumpery tactic

From the Independent we have an interesting story

A gigantic balloon, branded “Trump baby”, which depicts Donald Trump as an angry Tango-coloured baby has been given the green light to fly near parliament during the US president’s controversial visit to the UK next week.

Permission has been granted for the 20ft (6m) high inflatable to rise above Parliament Square Gardens for two hours on the morning of Friday 13 July to protesters by the Greater London Authority...

London mayor Sadiq Khan and the American leader have engaged in a long-running war of words over issues like crime and terrorism...

Mr Khan has described the balloon as a symbol of “peaceful protest”.

As an anti-Trump tactic this one is so infantile that one wonders who is really behind it. If the idea goes ahead then any other anti-trump protest could be overshadowed by this single stunt. All other protests and all other protesters may be seen as infantile by association. 

As a tactic the idea is so dire that maybe we should ask if Trump supporters are really behind it – at least that would make tactical sense. If so then it certainly fooled Sadiq Khan.

On the other hand, infantile stupidity is the simpler explanation, but Khan doesn’t look good either way.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

No magic here

Sky has a piece about JK Rowling's mockery of a Donald Trump spelling mistake where he wrote 'pour' instead of 'pore'.

JK Rowling has mocked Donald Trump on Twitter, pointing out an unfortunate typo in a tweet he posted to brag about his writing ability.

Ms Rowling could have tried erudite or witty as a response to Trump’s error but apparently she opted for juvenile. Maybe she should stick to the day job. Preaching to the choir is fine but even that isn’t something she does well.

Tuesday 3 July 2018

A fragment of fiction

I’ve been roaming through my old writing, bits and pieces of stories I abandoned years ago. The piece below is twelve years old and where it was going has leaked from my memory. I can’t even recall who the characters were supposed to be, yet whatever ideas were floating around in my mind would have been driven by those characters.

No great surprise of course. Ideas can be annoyingly ephemeral unless linked to something already familiar - which probably  explains a chunk of the human condition. Use it or lose it really does seem to be the message. The title of this fragment was Johnson.

“We have to be careful.” Johnson stood by the window in familiar pose, staring at a thin line of distant sea. We were on the fourth floor of the Tower and the window was dusty. Beyond the second floor all windows were out of reach of any window cleaner – because of the blades. The sun shone brightly, Johnson squinted and rubbed his chin.

“What shall we say to the others?” Johnson spoke like that – as if he valued the opinions of the people he was talking to.

Somewhere upstairs the Master Lavatory flushed. Pole the Butler must be using it. Using the Master Lavatory while the family was away was one of Pole’s perks – one of a series of perks he had devised for himself after he rose to the long-coveted status of Butler to the Tower. As the Master Lavatory sluiced and gurgled to silence, Pole’s heavy tread trundled back downstairs to his lair on the fifth floor. Pole never used the lift.

“I said what shall we say to the others?” Johnson repeated. One of the turbine blades sighed past the window squirting a few more watts into the National Grid.

Monday 2 July 2018

Oceans of plastic - a recycling snafu

For those who haven't seen it, this GWPF video is entertaining. The video text on YouTube has the key points.

An explosive report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation reveals that efforts to recycle plastic are a major cause of the marine litter problem. The report, written by public health expert Dr Mikko Paunio, sets out the case for incinerating waste rather than trying to recycle it. 

* Most of the plastic waste comes from just a few countries, mostly in Asia and Africa. 
* 25% is "leakage" from Asian waste management processes -- the rest is waste that has never been collected, but is simply thrown into rivers. 
* But European countries ship inject huge quantities of waste into Asian waste management streams, ostensibly for recycling. As much as 20% -- millions of tons every year -- ends up in the oceans and will continue to do so. 
* Since the Chinese banned waste imports at the start of the year, shipments have been diverted to other Asian countries with even weaker environmental controls. 
* EU recycling is therefore a major contributor to marine waste and increasing recycling will therefore simply increase marine litter.

Sunday 1 July 2018

King of the Air

This is a book I haven't read but I do like the cover so I took a photo of it. As anyone would guess it is an adventure story for boys. A presentation label inside tells us that this copy was probably a school prize presented in 1930 to a young chap whose name is now illegible. 

It was written by Herbert Strang who was not one person but two. 

Herbert Strang was the pseudonym of two English authors, George Herbert Ely (1866–1958) and Charles James L'Estrange (1867–1947). They specialized in writing adventure stories for boys, both historical and modern-day.

King of the Air was first published in 1908. It's the cover I like - so evocative of a time when the world was smaller and thrilling adventures were still possible.