Sunday 30 September 2018

Crazy like a fox

Richard M. Salsman has an interesting piece in where he suggests that the destructive nature of radical socialism is not seen as a problem by radical socialists. He begins with the destruction currently afflicting Venezuela.

Even socialist despots now concur with conservatives that socialism doesn’t work. A recent headline reads “Venezuela's President Admits Economy Has Failed.” The despot is Nicolás Maduro, who last month told the Venezuelan congress that “the production models we’ve tried so far have failed, and the responsibility is ours, mine and yours.” Maduro is an avowed socialist in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. 

The point has been made before of course, but with Jeremy Corbyn and his cronies aiming to inflict radical socialism on the UK it is worth taking on board the reasonable assumption that they already know their plans and schemes will be destructive but don't care. Destruction is the thing, the dark core of a supposedly moral game. Mr Salsman applies a well-known phrase to it - crazy like a fox.  

Somebody once defined “insanity” as doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result. It isn’t necessary to accuse socialists of being insane; more likely, they’re “crazy like a fox.” That is, they know their intended prey (capital) and they’ll do whatever it takes to seek it out, take it, kill it, and eat it, with nary a thought about the future.

Of course, one should never argue by impugning, without evidence, an opponent’s inner motives or intentions. But sometimes aims and goals are named explicitly. Even when not, it seems perfectly fair to conclude that whenever certain ideologues keep pushing for a social-political-economic system that invariably proves disastrous, they probably prefer disaster. Nihilists exist, after all. Many conservatives simply assume that they know the socialists’ motives, and without much evidence, presume that they’re benevolent.

Of course many non-socialists probably assume no such thing. Many are already aware of the destructive nature of political idealism, the noble cause which is far from noble and much more malevolent than the sales message.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Eye in the sky

A buzzard circles high above the car park of a small Derbyshire shopping centre we visited the other day. During the week it is mostly populated by oldies. Felt like a sign of the times somehow.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Mourinho on brats

Whatever one thinks of professional football, Sky has an interesting piece on Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and his apparent inability to work his old magic on the team.

Twice in one week the Manchester United supporters have trudged away from Old Trafford wondering what has become of their team. Having been outplayed by Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League, any hope of a response in the Carabao Cup proved forlorn. They were beaten on penalties by Championship side Derby County.

Leaving aside the money madness, star managers such as Mourinho must have extremely astute insights into the abilities, motives and character of the talented young men they must mould into an internationally formidable team. It must be a rare talent too.

In which case perhaps Mourinho’s views about the way young footballers have changed during his career may be taken seriously.

"I have had to adapt to a new world and what young players are like now," admitted Mourinho. "I have had to understand the difference between working with a boy like Frank Lampard who, at the age of 23, was already a man - who thought football, work, professionalism - and the new boys today, who at the age of 23 are kids."

His assessment of the changing nature of dealing with young players feels particularly prophetic in light of the furore over Pogba's use of social media. "Today I call them boys not men because I think that they are brats and that everything that surrounds them does not help them in their life or in my work," he added.

It is no secret that football fans tend to have strongly partisan views on managers, especially managers who are not averse to stirring up controversy. It may be that Mourinho is merely trying to deflect criticism which tends to be harsh and relentless but the piece is still worth a read.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Out of Nowhere into Nothing

In the afternoon, after her employer had gone for the day, she would stand again by the window. As she stood thus she faced westward and in the afternoon saw the sun fall down the sky. It was glorious to be there alone during the late hours of the afternoon. What a tremendous thing this city in which she had come to live! For some reason after she went to work for Walter Sayers the city seemed, like the room in which she worked, to have accepted her, taken her into itself.

Sherwood Anderson – Out of Nowhere into Nothing (1921)

Many of us will know what Anderson is describing here. A young woman has moved from a dreary village to Chicago where she works as a stenographer. Here she is savouring the simple pleasure of being alone in her employer’s office, looking out over the teeming city as the sun sets. Just beyond the office walls she is surrounded by people, by the ceaseless buzz of city life but she is also alone at her window. She is apart from it all until she chooses otherwise.

After growing up in the village she loves the impersonal acceptance of the city, the freedom it seems to offer. She loves it as an escape from the stultifying closeness of village life where she was never really alone apart from temporary escapes into surrounding woods and fields. Now she relishes the freedom of anonymity which Chicago offers. Everyone knows everyone else in the village. Chicago's anonymity is impossible.

Escaping back to the present we see much the same effect in Costa coffee shops. Anyone can be assured of impersonal Costa acceptance as soon as they walk through the door. It doesn’t matter if we have never set foot in the place before. Everything is familiar and predictable, but the most important thing of all is acceptance. Strolling into a Costa is not the same as venturing into Joe’s Cafe on an unfamiliar village High Street. Acceptance is what Costa guarantees and that matters more than the coffee ever could.

It is much the same with any major public brand from Tesco to M&S. As in Anderson’s novel, cities are more accepting than villages simply because they are so much bigger, so much more anonymous and anonymity is itself a form of acceptance. We don’t know you but it doesn’t matter because we don’t know each other either. Join us - we don’t care so there is no need for you to care.

This may be a powerful attraction of identity politics. With an approved identity comes anonymity and with that comes acceptance within the identity. Individuals need not apply. They must seek their freedom elsewhere. Social media for example.

We encounter this with celebrities who cloak their inner life with the anonymity of a politically correct identity. They become at the same time both famous and anonymous. As if an inner sense of politically correct anonymity offers a calming sense of freedom inside the febrile skin of celebrity.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

One party bureaucracy

In any democracy there is a fairly obvious correlation between the growth of government bureaucracy and a trend towards de facto one party rule. This seems to be inevitable due to the huge size and vast complexity of modern bureaucracies allied to the fact that they long outlive most elected governments.

As bureaucracies grow, political parties become less relevant due to a pervasive bureaucratic inertia and its overriding need for consensus. Political life evolves into a stage show as the exercise of genuine power leaks away into the bureaucracy. Not necessarily a national bureaucracy of course.

We are almost bound to end up with a one party state in all but name because the supporting bureaucracy is effectively a one party state with one set of policies and one consensus on every mature issue. Consequently we see a slow migration from old notions of a political centre towards what used to be viewed as the political left where the state is all powerful and has its finger on every pulse.

Here in the UK things have changed to such a degree over recent decades that anyone wishing to vote for a mixed economy socialist party could comfortably support the Conservatives. Anyone with more centralised and even totalitarian tastes could with equal comfort support Labour. One could easily argue that our two major parties are trending towards socialist and communist even though our political language does not reflect that. Such an argument may struggle against ingrained terminology but it could be made and sustained. However neither party is interested in language which keeps pace with political reality.

The problem of what we call such trends is acute because the old left/right mythology is hardly adequate to handle a situation which is all left and no right even though virtually all the major actors still strive to keep the old language intact. Reassuring for some I suppose, but not particularly accurate in these altered and rapidly ossifying times.

Monday 24 September 2018

The Turner Prize?

Today we spotted this installation on the Earl Grey Tower while walking on Stanton Moor. 

On the eastern edge of the moor is the Reform or Earl Grey Tower, built by William Pole Thornhill and dedicated to the Reform Act 1832.

Not surprisingly this serendipitous artistic encounter immediately suggested itself as a possible entry for the Turner Prize. Naive and uncouth it may be, but the Turner Prize has been described as bourgeois posturing, hopelessly routine and less challenging than Monty Python.

An obvious name for the installation also suggests itself and that too is a tribute to its raw power, a power the Turner sadly lacks.

Is This A Banksy?

It isn't of course, otherwise the tower would have been nicked, but what a name and what a question. One we can barely begin to answer without peeling off the skin of our artistic integrity, submitting to the raw epidermal pain of unexamined existential assumptions. Too many questions, crowding questions, fleeting questions, flitting like ghostly bats with too many roosts. A cornucopia of questions and that alone should give Turner aficionados pause for thought.

A cliché? But of course. That is the essence, the very soul of the thing.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Curiously uplifting

So refreshing listening to a chap like this after the grey and turgid dishonesty of Brexit games. Gloriously non-environmental too. 

Saturday 22 September 2018

Because it makes me feel good

Mercatornet has an interesting piece on politically fashionable and commercially lucrative ways to promote happiness. This really is a tangled web we are weaving.

The government of New Zealand will start, with next year’s budget, to measure the nation’s wellbeing. Happiness experts, environmentalists and socialists have been promoting the idea for decades, but this may be the first formal attempt in the developed world to measure how happy citizens are alongside the wealth indicator of GDP.

The frequency with which the NZ media highlight mental illness and suicide among Kiwis suggests that it is high time for such a move. The same could be said of most Western countries.

Indeed it could and no doubt suicide rates are a somewhat gloomy way of measuring happiness. Not necessarily inaccurate though.

A new report by Unicef contains a shocking statistic - New Zealand has by far the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world.

A shock but no surprise - it's not the first time the country tops that table.

The Unicef report found New Zealand's youth suicide rate - teenagers between 15 and 19 - to be the highest of a long list of 41 OECD and EU countries.

The rate of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people is twice as high as the US rate and almost five times that of Britain.

However, putting suicide rates to one side, the Mercatornet piece also links us to an article in Quartzy about a fast-growing cousin of the happiness game - the wellness business which isn't particularly fond of facts.

Facts are now considered debatable

As a culture, we’re currently in the midst of an intense period of questioning. Pretty much every age-old system out there is currently marked as “pending further review.” Like, for instance: government. Or religion. Or even science. We’re questioning whether these systems still represent a larger concept of truth —or even that there is a singular version of truth at all.

In some ways that is terrifying. But in other ways, it’s liberating.

We’ve been living at the mercy of outdated systems —puritanical, patriarchal, you name it—for way too long. So how do we decide what is actually true when the guiding systems we used to rely on are broken or irrelevant?

At some point in recent history, we decided to use “because it makes me feel good” as a key metric by which we determine truth. Truth has become, in essence, anything that makes us feel good about ourselves. That shift created the perfect conditions for the wellness industrial complex to flourish.

All too familiar - we have always had problems with "because it makes me feel good".

A woman caught with 78 wraps of cocaine and heroin up her vagina told police they were just for ‘personal use’. 

Lauren Carson, 31, was stopped in the capital’s West End when officers saw three men and a woman following her looking to buy drugs. 

The Glaswegian gave officers a false name and struggled when they grabbed hold of her after spotting clingfilm-wrapped packages in her mouth.

Thursday 20 September 2018

If you can own the ear

This morning found us in a cafe, passing the time on a wet and miserable day. Nearby was a middle-aged woman wearing headphones and munching a muffin. I've no idea what she was listening to, could have been a talk on nuclear physics for all I knew, but she reminded me of this comment in a piece about Apple's latest gadgets.

It used to be commonplace to mock wearables; those clunky, uncomfortable things destined for dusty drawers. But this is the direction in which Apple is pushing.

Air Pods have become a phenomenon since they were introduced in 2017 - a step towards the normalisation of "always-in" earbuds. Once features such as auto-translate and sound filtering are added in (not today, but one day in the future), they could become as unmissable as the phone itself.

A Silicon Valley exec once told me that "if you can own the ear you can own the mind". Apple has taken a step towards that objective.

Techie hype perhaps, but there is a degree of ownership in the almost permanent proximity of modern gadgetry.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Four personality types

Via the BBC we have a claim that humans may be grouped into four personality types.

The team, from Northwestern University, say there are five main traits "commonly accepted by psychologists around the world, known as 'Ocean'."
  • Openness - your natural curiosity, whether you're open to new experiences and learning new things.
  • Conscientiousness - how thoughtful or dependable you are.
  • Extraversion - how outgoing, assertive and sociable you are.
  • Agreeableness - your concern for other people, how sympathetic and considerate you are.
  • Neuroticism - the likeliness of emotional instability, mood swings, feeling depressed, lonely, angry or sad.
The researchers then looked at the data of more than 1.5 million people who'd taken part in personality tests and started plotting where they scored on the five traits given above.

The four "types" of personality they've identified feature different combinations of the five main traits. 

"These are people that are nice, they are agreeable," says lead author Professor Luis Amaral. "They are not neurotic and they are open-minded."

They score highly on the other four traits.


This is almost the mirror-image of the role-model, according to Prof Amaral.

"These are people that are not hard working, they are kind of disagreeable, they are not open minded. They are extroverts."


"They have low neuroticism and low openness," according to Prof Amaral.

However, they are likely to be conscientious and agreeable.


The one description we probably all fear, but according to the study, one which fits the "typical" person. They score slightly above average on neuroticism and extroversion but lower on openness.

To my mind, conclusions of this general type owe too much to their procedures. This does not make them useless, but sooner or later someone will do it differently and reach different conclusions.

Monday 17 September 2018

Did Theresa hope to lose?

The question has been asked here and there but it seems unlikely that Theresa May hoped to lose the 2017 snap general election. Did she though? Initial opinion polls said she would win easily in 2017 but she made a remarkable hash of things and nearly lost it. Maybe losing narrowly was the idea, but if so Mrs May made a hash of that too.

The obvious advantage of such a devious scheme would be to force the poisoned Brexit chalice into the hands of a supremely incompetent Labour Prime Minister. In such a case it certainly seems plausible that post-Brexit Labour would be in such disarray that the Tories would take the following general election by a landslide.

Presumably Mrs May would be instantly dumped from the Tory leadership after a Corbyn victory, but she may have been promised a consolation prize and not having to handle Brexit may have had some additional attractions.

The advantage for Tory Remainers would be to scuttle both Brexit and Corbyn at the same time. Seems highly implausible with more than a whiff of conspiracy theory but perhaps not totally out of court.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Forging Islamic Science

Historian Nir Shafir has an interesting Aeon essay on fake Islamic images and artifacts.

As I prepared to teach my class ‘Science and Islam’ last spring, I noticed something peculiar about the book I was about to assign to my students. It wasn’t the text – a wonderful translation of a medieval Arabic encyclopaedia – but the cover. Its illustration showed scholars in turbans and medieval Middle Eastern dress, examining the starry sky through telescopes. The miniature purported to be from the premodern Middle East, but something was off.

Besides the colours being a bit too vivid, and the brushstrokes a little too clean, what perturbed me were the telescopes. The telescope was known in the Middle East after Galileo developed it in the 17th century, but almost no illustrations or miniatures ever depicted such an object. When I tracked down the full image, two more figures emerged: one also looking through a telescope, while the other jotted down notes while his hand spun a globe – another instrument that was rarely drawn. The starkest contradiction, however, was the quill in the fourth figure’s hand. Middle Eastern scholars had always used reed pens to write. By now there was no denying it: the cover illustration was a modern-day forgery, masquerading as a medieval illustration.

The whole essay is worth reading as it gives an interesting and somewhat chilling insight into efforts being made to mould perceptions of Islam and its relevance to the modern world. 

It also highlights a Western tendency to prefer easy historical fictions to more problematic and incomplete realities, Hollywood being an obvious example.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Juncker on a power trip

The Guardian has exciting news about Jean-Claude Juncker's vision for the EU as a global power.

Juncker calls on EU to seize chance to become major sovereign power

European commission president sets out vision of how to expand EU’s ‘clout’ on world stage

Fair enough I’d say, it's his job to do the vision thing but how about a plan to get there? 

Firstly he needs a substantial high-level Commission body to sort out what needs to be done and the size, structure and funding of the group must reflect EU ambitions in the global power arena. A series of seminars, discussion papers and conferences should kick the thing off nicely.

A few suggestions though, beginning with global powerhouse universities. The Times has a handy list of the top twenty five universities in the world and of course the EU is represented by Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, UCL and the LSE. That's a grand start -

- oh hang on - none of those will be EU universities after Brexit will they? In which case Mr Juncker you should probably forget universities for now – as you probably have already.

Here’s another suggestion though. Why not invite Amazon, Google, Alibaba, Apple and Facebook to become EU businesses? The attraction could be a tight and secure regulatory environment with intermediate access to the EU Commission and mostly unfettered access to the very best EU universities global powerhouse experts.

Now for technology. Obviously the EU buys in quite a bit of that from the Far East but how about building some EU powerhouse technology centres to focus on cutting-edge research. Another series of seminars, discussion papers and conferences should kick the thing off nicely - 

- although I must admit here that this global EU powerhouse malarkey is turning out to be more difficult than I thought. Maybe Mrs May should think about leaving.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

The beautiful veil

Conrad Veidt

He lit a cigarette and, gracefully leaning his elbows on the table, gazed at her through the beautiful grey smoke-veil, which was like the clouds of Paradise.

Arnold Bennett - The Price of Love (1914)

Although smoking can be cool, it is not as easy to carry it off as it was in Bennett's day. Now the veil is different, woven from decades of disapproval. Not something to be regretted perhaps, but an interesting example of how perceptions not only change, but are changed for us. As the original perception was woven by big tobacco.

Monday 10 September 2018

Bogus Buxton Beggar

From Derbyshire Constabulary -

A woman has been fined by the courts for bogus begging in Buxton.

Police were called to the Spring Gardens on Thursday, July 26 to reports of begging.

Kristina Sliskova, 28, of Fairfield Road, Buxton, was arrested for begging in a public place and enquiries revealed she was not homeless.

She was reported to court and appeared at Chesterfield Justice Centre on Wednesday, August 22.

Magistrates fined Ms. Sliskova £40 and ordered her to pay £85 costs.

PC Julie Shaw of the Buxton Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team said: “We are aware of a number of individuals in Buxton who sit on the street, alleging to be homeless, to beg for money when we have information and intelligence that suggests they do have homes.

It's official - "homeless" beggars are not necessarily homeless. 

As if we didn't know.

A four day week - but why stop at four?

The Daily Mail informs us that The TUC is pressing for a move towards a four day week. Not pushing for it on a full time basis presumably.

Britain should use new technology to move to a four-day working week while keeping wages stable, the TUC union has said.

Frances O'Grady, the union's general secretary, says companies will make more money from machines so should allow employees an extra day off each week.

She said the change should be brought in over the next 80 years after a survey found four out of five wanted to cut their working hours without loss of pay.

Ah - over the next 80 years - so not an immediate call to the picket lines. 

I’m reminded of a chap I knew decades ago who did no work at all. An old colleague and I sometimes reminisce about him while we are out on one of our regular walks. This chap used to  turn up for five days a week and he had an official position and job title, but didn’t actually do any work. It was a feat he managed by drifting from science into middle management followed by acquiring a cosy niche after yet another reorganisation.

As for the four day week, it suggests we already have too many people with too little to do and even the TUC has noticed. It won’t improve.

Friday 7 September 2018

Drones in the desert

source has a story about forthcoming US deployment of armed drones in Niger.

The U.S. military will begin flying armed drones out of a remote base in Niger in the coming months, marking a significant escalation of the Defense Department’s little-noticed war against violent extremists in Africa.

The MQ-9 Reapers will operate from new facilities the U.S. Air Force is building at an existing Nigerien base in Agadez for nearly $100 million. Until recently, the drones have been based in Niger’s capital and used solely to collect intelligence on militant groups operating in the region.

But last November, following an attack that killed five Nigerien and four American troops near the village of Tongo Tongo, the government of Niger requested that the United States begin deploying armed drones against jihadi groups.

Clearly the US sees this Niger as important in the fight against jihadi groups and also sees armed drones as the way to do it. An out of the way place to develop the technology too I imagine. There is more on the construction of the Niger base here.

The U.S. Air Force is nearing completion of a $110 million project in the Saharan desert town of Agadez, Niger, known as Air Base 201. And even the locals seem to think the Americans are going to be around for some time to come.

“They will call this the U.S. air base. They want us to feel at home here,” said Lt. Col. Brad Harbaugh, commander of the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron. “I remind them it’s Nigerien.”

The construction effort amounts to the largest Air Force project in history, a fact that has more to do with the service’s history of contracting out major construction than the size of the site in Niger.

Thursday 6 September 2018

One step at a time

Creepy news story today concerns a Chinese computer game. From the BBC -

Chinese technology giant Tencent is introducing tough new rules to identify under-age gamers, amid a crackdown on gaming addiction in the country.

From mid-September it will introduce a real-name registration system for its Honour of Kings games, which will be linked to China's public security database.

It will identify children and restrict the time they spend on the game.

The move is the first of its kind in the world's largest gaming market.

This story today, another story tomorrow, the potential reach of digital surveillance seems to have no practical limit. It is not so much that this is happening in China - the issue for those outside China is that their own government will be watching these developments.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Voodoo polls

Political Betting has an entertaining piece on self selecting polls. Familiar enough but this is an excellent example of the type.

The poll itself is worth a look while it remains active. Vote as often as you feel is appropriate.

The image above is merely a screen grab.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

The Swedish election

What to make of Sweden and its forthcoming election? This piece from Donna Laframboise has a concise angle on the scale of the Swedish immigration debacle which has shaken the political establishment.

Twenty-five years ago a majority of Swedish voters had already soured on immigration. But journalists who dared say so out loud lost their job.

The elites – politicians, celebrities, bureaucrats, media companies – have instead continued to welcome newcomers with open arms. This extensive report explains that “Sweden alone accepted more asylum seekers than France and the UK combined” in 2015. While Sweden’s population is 10 million, France and the UK have 133 million between them.

It is not easy to understand why any government in the developed world would attempt to assimilate unwieldy numbers of immigrants with no compelling history of successful assimilation. Why do it? Why not tread carefully and be far more selective? It seems likely that there are other narratives which do not pass through the mainstream media, but speculation along those lines risks venturing into conspiracy theories which are not much help either.

To my mind current Swedish political problems do at least suggest that there are conspiracies in the sense that there are government immigration narratives which do not reach the public via mainstream channels.

Of course there is also the simple observation that those who make immigration decisions are drawn from social classes which escape the consequences. People lower down the social scale are those who have to live with those consequences, the disturbing anecdotes and the permanent threat of future consequences. All in all an extraordinarily foolish situation to have entered voluntarily, especially as perception is supposed to be the heart of political life.

Sunday 2 September 2018

Stain remover

Did Gordon Brown deliberately associate the word "stain" with Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour party? Probably not but the association is there and in some minds it may not be inappropriate.

Gordon Brown has said the Labour party must adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in full, saying it would be a "stain removed".

The former prime minister called for a comprehensive strategy against anti-Semitism in a London speech, saying it was "not just a procedural issue but about the soul of the party".

Saturday 1 September 2018

Shopping in Derby

We were shopping in Derby this morning. It's really nice to see the old place attracting visitors from outside the EU.