Wednesday 31 October 2018


I was undercharged again today - while in a cafe with Mrs H seeking coffee and a light lunch. That’s the third time it has happened to one of us in the past month or so. In these days of contactless card payment I tend not to notice exact amounts unless a discrepancy is obvious but it surprises me how often the person behind the till doesn’t notice an undercharge until it is pointed out.

It’s the old mental arithmetic habit I suppose. One coffee, one tea, two lunches – no that can’t be right. The error flag seems to pop up in my mind without conscious effort then the mental arithmetic clicks in and out jumps the error. 

As a cafe owner once said to me - contactless isn't like spending money. For the young people behind many tills it probably isn't like receiving money either. I wonder if it ever goes the other way - overcharged without noticing? I should check but the mental arithmetic habit would probably take care of that too. I hope so.

Monday 29 October 2018


We are in Norfolk at the moment on a short break. Took a few moments to admire steam locomotive Black Prince. I'm not sure what it is about these machines, because after all they are only machines, but something about them stirs the blood and I'm not even a steam buff.

Saturday 27 October 2018

The siren song of certainty

I’ve been too busy to post over the past few days but the story about Sinéad O'Connor converting to Islam caught my eye.

Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor has announced she has converted to Islam.
The artist, who is best known for her 1990 hit version of the song Nothing Compares 2 U, said she had changed her name to Shuhada'.

In a message on Twitter, she thanked fellow Muslims for their support.

She has said that her decision was "the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian's journey". and uploaded a video of herself singing the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer.

Her stated reason for converting is nonsense of course and as such is uninteresting, but there is a wider aspect because there appears to be a global fear of uncertainty. 

This fear seems to be evident in hostility to Donald Trump because he is seen to represent uncertainty where the emollient but ineffectual Obama did not. It seems to be evident in the Brexit debate where the EU is presented as a bastion of certainty while Brexit is not.

Yet progress requires us embrace uncertainty, requires us to embrace even tentative knowledge over political doctrine, faddish social memes or superstition. It requires us to tease apart uncertainties and discover what can be known in the hope that future generations will face their future knowing more than we do. In too many areas of life this is not the ideal being pursued but without it Western civilisation won’t work.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Tuesday 23 October 2018

A few headlines

Samsung’s folding ‘Galaxy X’ phone rumoured to arrive next month

Huawei Will Not Sell New Flagship Smartphones in the U.S.

It’s Official: Huawei is Number Two in Smartphone Sales
We now have confirmation that Huawei has surpassed Apple to become the world’s second-biggest maker of smartphones: Gartner has belated weighed almost a month after IDC did, noting the same milestone.

World's longest sea crossing: Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge opens

China 'has the edge' in the war for 5G and the US and Europe could fall behind

Dyson chooses Singapore for new electric car plant

Plastic recycling firms accused of abusing market
It comes as councils cut back their plastics recycling services amid a fall in demand for exports to China.

Monday 22 October 2018

The problem with slogans

Coleman Hughes writing for Quillette has an interesting piece on deepities.

The word deepity, coined by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, refers to a phrase that seems true and profound but is actually ambiguous and shallow. Not to be confused with lies, clichés, truisms, contradictions, metaphors, or aphorisms, deepities occupy a linguistic niche of their own. The distinguishing feature of a deepity is that it has two possible interpretations. On the first reading, a deepity is true but trivial. On the second, it’s false but would be mind-blowing if it were true.

To my mind the piece is interesting but not because we need a word such as deepity. We don’t because we have far more well-known words such as slogan. What we gain by exploring the word deepity is to remind ourselves of misleading slogan structures. Hughes gives a good example - 

“No Human Being Is Illegal”

On one reading, this claim is undeniable. Legality is a concept that applies to actions, not people. People can be male or female, introverted or extroverted, blind or sighted; but they cannot be legal or illegal. Like the claims, “no act of kindness is red” and “no prime number is lethargic,” the claim, “no human being is illegal,” is simply a category error.

The term “illegal immigrant” is similarly misleading. It’s not the person that is illegal (whatever that could mean) but the act of moving across a border without following certain procedures. Since the claim “no human being is illegal” is neither true nor false, it literally cannot be denied—that is, you can no more argue that “some human beings are illegal” than you can argue that “some prime numbers are lethargic”—and because the claim is undeniable (in the literal sense), it can sound plausible, and even obvious.

But the second reading of this deepity asserts something extremely controversial: everyone should be able to go anywhere on Earth with no legal or procedural barriers; every border should be fully permeable; strangers should be able to occupy your property—after all, no human being is illegal, and strangers are still human beings when they’re on your property. Needless to say, even advocates of open borders would not endorse this view in full. But if the view were ethically correct, then it would have profound implications for property law, the existence of nation-states, and the very concept of personal space.

The whole piece is well worth reading, but we cannot know if placard wavers actually believe their crudely painted slogans or if they simply see them as a means to an end. Probably both, but in any event dismissing them as slogans isn’t going to make them go away. Dismissing them as deepities is even less likely to achieve that. So we do the analysis, use our own language, ratchet up the contempt and the world goes on as before.

This issue also highlights another, in that we cannot speak rationally with everyone because not everyone wishes to be rational, especially if they would have to analyse their own deepities. So we talk with those who listen and the deepity-mongers know that and make use of it. They always have and as far as we can tell they always will.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Faintly flash

Every now and then we see Jehovah's Witnesses park their cars and gather together for one of their periodic house-to-house visiting sessions. For some reason we are always slightly surprised at the cars they drive.

As their religion is presumably be a large part of their lives, we'd expect them to drive something excessively modest. Something small and old with paintwork the colour of an old potato sack for example. I don't know why - stereotypes and prejudice I suppose. Anyhow the expectation seems to be wrong.

From our limited experience Jehovah's Witnesses tend to drive cars which are very modest but not as modest as the basic model. Their cars are tinged with the very slightest hint of cautious flamboyance. Two tone paintwork and even a hint of sporty aspirations. The Toyota Aygo pictured above is a good example. Faintly flash.

Saturday 20 October 2018

The end of Facebook?

Cleggy bags a job - Source

By natural temperament, brother, and by social position I’m one of those people who can do nothing sensible themselves, but can read sermons to other people.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Insulted and Humiliated (1861)

Thursday 18 October 2018

Above it all

One of several gliders seen above Great Hucklow while we were out walking near Eyam today. Gliding is one of many things I've never tried. Seems so peaceful and it was a grand day for it.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Those whom the gods would destroy

Conservative Woman has an interesting if somewhat depressing piece on the increasingly deranged BBC.

If you ever had a suspicion that your licence fee was being wasted, this should reassure you.

Yes, our deranged Auntie, the Beast in the Attic at Broadcasting House, has decreed that staff should use words such as ‘they’ or ‘them’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’, when addressing gender-fluid or transgender colleagues to make sure the BBC does not develop a ‘heteronormative culture’. Heaven forfend.

The Times reports, as always with a straight face: ‘The broadcaster will also review its “systems and practices” to ensure that they are inclusive of non-binary genders, and will train managers on how to support transgender staff, especially when they are transitioning.’

Sorry, there’s more. ‘In addition heterosexual BBC staff will be asked to wear badges identifying themselves as “straight allies” to help their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) colleagues.

We may treat this kind of thing with the derision it deserves, but one reader's comment offers a far more serious point, one we may have forgotten.

And meanwhile we normal, little people watch this developing nonsense with disbelief and open mouthed amazement. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. Our society is now so effete and decadent that it is wholly incapable of resisting any more robust culture, however brutal and backward, that arises to sweep it away.

Indeed - this is the sharp end of the problem.

Monday 15 October 2018

A crappy shop dream

Last night I had a dream about looking for writing materials in a crappy shop. In my dream I was supposed to attend a lecture but had forgotten my briefcase so I had no way to take lecture notes. Hence my attempt to find pen and paper in the crappy shop.

Crappy shops are crammed with ephemeral junk, dross which nobody would set out to buy but somehow these shops manage to exist principally in tourist spots, especially the seaside. They sell anything from confectionery to twee ornaments, cheap toys, novelty Dad’s Cuppa mugs, china fairies seated on a china mushroom, glass paperweights, novelty signs to hang on the bathroom door, tasteless coasters, postcards, hologram pictures of tigers, plastic dinosaurs and so on and so on.

Dreams seem to be an amalgam or recently stimulated themes whereby we make sense of the real world, so presumably the crappy shop is one of my themes. Frustration would be another theme, not so common since I retired. Another theme is the lecture - I recently watched one on YouTube. Two others were the Victorian red brick institution where the lecture was to be held and the old leather briefcase I’d forgotten. I recently saw a fine antique leather briefcase on the internet.

Other themes are bright lights, because crappy shops tend to be brightly lit and cheap ballpoint pens because the crappy shop in my dream had a big glass bowl full of the cheapest of the cheap. I knew I’d have to buy two in case one didn’t work properly. That's a more subtle theme - just in case. The modern world is crammed with just in case themes.

The trouble was I knew I would never find a pad of A4 paper suitable for those lecture notes. The crappy shop had heaps of pens but unless I wrote my notes on Post-It notes I knew I wouldn’t find anything suitable. I had to search for the paper by squeezing round lots of other customers and that’s another theme, the crowded shop.

Then I woke up.

Phew - I didn’t need the paper after all. The dream has also left me with an aversion to crappy shops, but presumably I had that already.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Fifty pound poll

Sky is running a poll about potential contenders to appear on the new £50 note.

A new more secure version of the £50 note is set to enter circulation, with added features to prevent forgeries.

The money will be printed on thin, flexible polymer that is cleaner and more durable than paper.

The Bank of England has announced the public will be able to nominate British figures to appear on the note.

Here we take a look at some potential contenders and give you the chance to vote.

It's good to see Princess Diana. the gawky gal with the permanent simper is still close to many hearts - she leads the field with 33% of the vote. One likes to think that losing faith in the British public is not entirely groundless.

Friday 12 October 2018

Fat kids

The Daily Mail has a piece on a widely-reported claim that we have more and more obese and overweight children.

Pizzas will have to shrink or lose their toppings under Government plans to cap calories in our favourite treats in an obesity crackdown.

Drastic proposals from Public Health England state pizzas should contain no more than 928 calories and pies should be at most 695.

The guidelines will also apply to ready meals, sandwiches, cooking sauces, soups, burgers and processed meats - but those calorie counts have yet to be revealed...

It comes after figures yesterday revealed English children are fatter than ever as a record number of 10 to 11-year-olds are now severely obese - around 24,000...

Health experts described the rise in childhood obesity as a ‘catastrophe’.

The proportion of 10 and 11-year-olds who are overweight or obese has grown to 34.3 per cent – 197,888 children – compared with 31.6 per cent in 2016/17.

Because of our daily involvement with the grandkids and their schooling, we have seen many hundreds of children over the past few years. Simple observation suggests that the vast majority do not have a weight problem - certainly nowhere near the 31.6 percent being reported. Parents perhaps, especially mothers, but not their kids.

Of course there is the issue of standards - the question of how 'overweight' and 'obese' are measured and against what baseline. Even so a suspicion remains that the underlying idea is to make this into a whole population issue, to make it as big as possible simply because this is what bureaucracies do. This doesn't mean it isn't an issue but observation suggests it is not as big as claimed. But are they ever?

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Functional and picturesque

Osmaston Sawmill built on the Osmaston Manor estate C1845 to provide wood for the estate. It was working until the 1980s, the hall having been demolished in 1938. 

A few years ago the roof was replaced so the building is sound, but its future still seems uncertain. Functional and picturesque - not a common combination but occasionally the Victorians managed it.

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Star performance by the fantasy business

From the BBC we hear a tale of dramatic success by the UK film and TV industry.

The British Film Institute (BFI) says the UK film and TV industry generated a record £7.9bn in 2016, helped by government tax reliefs.

A BFI-commissioned report found that £632m in tax relief prompted additional spending of more than £3bn on the creation of films, high-end television, such as The Crown, and computer games.

It said HM Revenue and Customs got more than that money back, gaining £2bn tax.

The BFI says this proves the value of such tax reliefs to the wider economy.

The report looked at the effects of tax reliefs granted across the UK's screen industries, which include film, high-end television programmes, video games and animation programmes, and children's TV.

The BFI claims the money generated 137,000 jobs in 2016 alone.

Another beneficiary is tourism.

Films with a strong UK story, place and culture such as Harry Potter, Paddington and Kingsman have featured prominently in UK tourism campaigns.

I'm not so sure about films with a strong UK story, place and culture such as Harry Potter, and Paddington. Make it up as you go magic and a talking bear are not necessarily how we should promote ourselves. Although magic does seem to be politically fashionable at the moment. And socially fashionable. Even scientifically fashionable if we count climate science as a science.

What the blue blazes is high-end television though?

Monday 8 October 2018

This unanswerable aspiration

She left the barb to rankle in Miss Gleason’s breast, and followed her mother to her room, who avenged Miss Gleason by a series of inquisitional tortures, ending with the hope that, whatever she did, Grace would not have that silly creature’s blood on her hands. The girl opened her lips to attempt some answer to this unanswerable aspiration.

William Dean Howells - Dr. Breen's Practice (1881)

The sanctimonious aspiration is as old as the hills and just as unanswerable as it ever was. Dishonest aspirations of this general type are not usually as explicit as in the above quote and those we see in the public arena tend to be political. Nauseating of coursed but essentially political.

Equality – we don’t want people to suffer from unequal treatment do we?
Feminism – isn’t it a scandal that women still have to demand equal treatment?
Profit – who supports profit for the few over decent standards for all?
Education – surely no child deserves to be left behind.
Environment – the planet belongs to everyone not just the rich.
General purpose – the future of our children and grandchildren blah, blah, blah...

And so on and so on. Such mantras which come in infinite variety are merely sanctimonious aspirations intended to choke off debate. In particular they are intended to evade a genuine exploration of human nature, difficult social realities and limited economic resources.

It is a kind of back-stop for situations where outright banning of free speech has not been possible or successful. Slightly more subtle than a hysterical harangue and almost always as difficult to handle as in Howells’ fictional case.

To begin with the assumed moral high ground has to be tackled and levelled off. After that nuances and complexities have to be introduced to set the stage for a discussion which is at least realistic. It is hard and unrewarding work and we should not be surprised if many don’t bother.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Sour grapes

Inevitably the Guardian has a sour grapes piece on the the US Senate's confirmation of judge Brett Kavanaugh's elevation to the supreme court.

The saga of judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the supreme court is over, and it is time for the credits to roll. Top billing will go to a Republican president and his allies in the Senate who were willing to allow norms to be steamrollered and justice to be short-changed in the pursuit of a reliable conservative majority on the court. But the greatest cost of all for Republican ambition will be paid by the supreme court in its most precious coin: legitimacy.

Of course the Guardian has its readership to consider and no doubt they expect such a transparently partisan piece but anyone could churn out stuff like this. Or maybe an alternative from the other side of the saga.

The saga of judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the supreme court is over, and it is time for the credits to roll. Top billing will go to a Republican president and his allies in the Senate who were willing [determined] to allow norms to be steamrollered [maintained] and justice to be short-changed [served] in the pursuit of a reliable conservative majority [judge] on the court. But the greatest cost of all for Republican [Democrat] ambition will be paid by the supreme court [party] in its most precious coin: legitimacy [integrity].

It's so easy - don't Guardian readers see through it and just occasionally sit back and wonder if they are being short-changed?

Saturday 6 October 2018

Closer and closer to peak loon

A global milestone we are told, which from one perspective it is.

A new global majority: Half the world is now middle class or richer, study finds

For the first time, the majority of the world’s population is not poor or vulnerable to poverty and the middle class accounts for the globe's largest economic group

As of September, an estimated 3.8 billion people are now middle class or rich

However there is an obvious downside because the middle class is where most of our loons reside. It hardly merits spelling out, but increase the global middle class and we increase the global loon population. Universities, government, the wider public sector, charities, NGOs - middle class loons have many hiding places.

We are already familiar with climate looning, Strictly Come Looning, #Meloontoo, Loon Pride and a vast array of other loon-themed movements, all placing an increasing burden on our fragile collective sanity.

Inevitably one becomes aware of a looming monster, the possibility that the world is rapidly approaching an irreversible disaster - peak loon. A tipping point beyond which there is only madness and chaos.

Thursday 4 October 2018

A pox on your box

Practical but wrong

The BBC tells us of a fascinating problem which has apparently irked the inhabitants of Shetland for decades – the map box.

New rules barring public bodies from putting Shetland in a box on official documents have come into force.

Islands MSP Tavish Scott had sought to change the law to ban the "geographical mistake" which "irks" locals, by amending the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

The final rule written into the bill requires the islands to be "displayed in a manner that accurately and proportionately represents their geographical location in relation to the rest of Scotland" in any documents published by Scottish public authorities.

Of course the Ordnance Survey came up with some pettifogging practical implications which do nothing to resolve the irk..

Only the Scottish Conservatives spoke out against the move at Holyrood, with MSP Peter Chapman calling it "impractical" and warning it would reduce the amount of detail in maps due to changing scales.

This was backed by the Ordnance Survey mapping agency, which said inset boxes avoid "publishing maps which are mostly sea".

A spokesman for the company said: "The Shetland Islands are approximately 245km (152 miles) from the Scottish mainland, from the most northerly part of the Shetland Islands to John O' Groats, and 690km (428 miles) from the most southerly point of the Scottish and English border.

"It would be virtually impossible to print a paper map, with any usable detail, of this vast geography.

It suggests to me that Shetland life is idyllic if this was high on the list of irks. What next though – now the irk seems to be resolved? It isn't easy to think of anything less irksome than this but Shetland folk need to find something to replace their major irk.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Fake fairies

On Thursday October 4th we all have a golden opportunity to buy two of the Cottingley Fairies photographs. There are two photos being sold at auction, each estimated to fetch £700 to £1000. Not my taste but they are certainly a strange reminder of their times.

The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright (1901–1988) and Frances Griffiths (1907–1986), two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

I’ll admit to being baffled by this. The idea of any sane adult thinking the photographs might be genuine is beyond strange. Presumably hardly anyone would accept similar photos as genuine today, but then we are familiar with faked photos and the digital age has made us even more cautious. 

Yet who could possibly believe in fairies anyway? Has human nature changed so much over the past century or so? 

Maybe we should see the Cottingley Fairies as a suggestion that we are just as gullible but in our own way. Perhaps it is one of the ways we make progress - building new modes of gullibility so we can laugh at the old ones. It's how we always manage to amuse our descendants. 


Monday 1 October 2018

Too true

For anyone who has ever wondered what the phrase "too true" means, the BBC has a story which may throw some light on the issue.

A senior scientist who said physics "was invented and built by men" has been suspended with immediate effect from working with Cern.

Prof Alessandro Strumia, of Pisa University, made the comments during a presentation organised by the European nuclear research centre.

Cern issued a statement on Monday suspending Prof Strumia pending an investigation.

It stated that his presentation was "unacceptable".

As Prof Strumia's presentation was unacceptable rather than false it may have been "too true" in the sense that neat gin is too strong for some tastes. For these people gin has to be diluted with tonic and by analogy truth has to be diluted with some palatable falsehoods.

In which case, although physics was almost entirely built by men, Prof Strumia should have diluted his presentation to make it more palatable for delicate stomachs. After all we can't have scientists being rigidly truthful - where would that leave climate science?