Monday 31 December 2018

Happy New Year

That I was born a man is an accident. I might almost say a pity, for it's very nearly a crime to be a man now-a-days, but it isn't my fault. The devil take him who has stirred up the two halves of humanity, one against the other! He has much to answer for.

August Strindberg - Getting Married (1884)  

Maybe this suggests a mantra for 2019 - very little is really new.

Happy New Year to all those who happen to find their way here and linger, if only for a while.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Dork of the Year 2018

As in 2017, the number of possible DotY candidates leads one to wonder if we should blame individuals for wider failings. Almost all dorks take advantage of available trends and social mores, they don’t invent them. Certainly the genuine dork adds something personal and uniquely dorkworthy but without social vehicles to carry them, their dorkish nature would be much less visible.

For example - although Theresa May feels like the runaway winner, Sam Vega made this interesting comment in the recent DotY candidates post -

I would like to suggest a rather more obscure candidate; a Dork for the discerning connoisseur. Last week the Advertising Standards Authority surpassed themselves in idiotic meddling when they outlawed "sexist stereotypes" in advertising. I present the C.E.O. of this sinister clownish Quango:

Guy Parker. Just look at him!

In fact, I nominate the entire Senior Management Shower for a joint award.

This a very good suggestion but it also sets a few hares running because not only is the the ASA an obvious candidate for Dork of the Year, but it highlights the issue of numerous examples of Team Dork beavering away at the foundations of our collective competence. Perhaps that is a clue to where our attention should be - our collective competence.

Ultimately we voters help set the scene as we are led by the tribal nose to elect MPs who are obviously of the dork persuasion and obviously prepared to push the dork agenda. In which case the Dork of the Year award for 2018 goes to -

The British electorate.

Friday 28 December 2018

Where does the unsold Christmas tat go?

Christmas is a rum game isn't it? We visited a nearby garden centre this afternoon. There are times when we need to escape the festivities and on a dismal afternoon even the garden centre cafe will do. The coffee is pretty good so that helps.

All the Christmas tat was being sold off and as far as we could tell it was selling fairly well considering how horrible most of it is. Most of the stuff was being sold at half the pre-Christmas price so presumably there are a number of canny folk buying their supplies of Christmas tat for next year.

What happens to the tat which doesn't sell even at a 50% discount? I don't know but maybe there are dealers prepared to take it. It's a strange business because surely we all know the stuff is mostly tat.

Monday 24 December 2018

Christmas quote


All the things which catered to showy material living were beginning to flourish tremendously, art and curio shops, rug shops, decorative companies dealing with the old and the new in hangings, furniture, objects of art; dealers in paintings, jewelry stores, china and glassware houses—anything and everything which goes to make life comfortable and brilliant.

Theodore Dreiser - The Genius (1915)

We have moved on considerably from anything and everything which goes to make life comfortable and brilliant but maybe that was inevitable.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Brexit success equals EU collapse

An interesting video from an investment rather than a political or economic aspect. Particularly this observation from around 7:20 –

I’m just facing reality because a lot of people and economists don’t face reality because they don’t study history. If economists and elites studied history more than so-called economics which in its way is an undefined science then I think we’d have avoided most of these problems in the first place.

It leaves one with the impression, which isn’t new, that Brexit should be seen as an indicator of major EU problems and possibly even collapse, not a British anomaly which the EU may safely ignore for the longer term.

In which case it may be more realistic to see Brexit as the first lifeboat launched from a sinking ship, from a disaster which was going to happen anyway and the sooner it happens the better. Not only that, but the first to grab a lifeboat may be better off than those who hang on hoping for something to turn up. 

Saturday 22 December 2018

The Beast of Turin

If ever I saw a car ideally suited to commuting through Nottingham then this is it. 

Thursday 20 December 2018

Brexit boredom beater

As a brief antidote to Brexit boredom allow me to suggest this interesting booklet - Highlights in The History of Concrete by Christopher C. Stanley. I picked up a second hand copy on our travels today. Although it is only an introduction it does leave one with a thirst for more. For example there is this snippet.

It is possible that the Romans copied and developed the idea of making concrete from the Greeks.

Seems a little hard on the Greeks so to speak - but is the EU much better?

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Suggesting a mysterious intelligence

What Vance carried back to Paul's Landing was his bewildering adventure at the Tarrants', where everybody talked and nobody listened, or said anything particularly worth hearing, if you thought it over—but where the look of the rooms and the people had something harmonious and long-related, suggesting a mysterious intelligence between persons and things, an atmosphere as heavy with the Past as that of the library at the Willows.

Edith Wharton - Hudson River Bracketed (1929)

This is probably how elites manage to generate conspiracy theories without necessarily intending to. They thrive within elite gatherings where the look of the rooms and the people had something harmonious and long-related, suggesting a mysterious intelligence between persons and things. Further down the social hierarchy we all tend to thrive within similar gatherings - think of the regulars at a popular traditional pub.

Nipping back to the elites and in a wider and more critical arena their mysterious intelligence may not be intelligent at all and possibly not even mysterious, but from the inside that is how it seems. Perhaps within elite walls it would be common to find that everybody talked and nobody listened, or said anything particularly worth hearing, if you thought it over.

But that is the nub of the thing – if you though it over. If who thought it over? Thinking it over would have to be done within the social situation but from another perspective - an outsider’s for example. If there are no outsiders then thinking it over does not occur.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Dork of the year candidates

As you may know, previous winners of the Dork of the Year (DotY) award have been Michael Heseltine in 2017Mark Carney in 2016, Ed Miliband in 2015 and Naomi Klein in 2014.

All worthy winners, but what about 2018? It may be worth repeating an observation originally from 2015, repeated in 2016 and 2017 and still distressingly relevant today.

The sheer number of candidates has made choosing Dork of the Year (DotY) particularly difficult for 2015. Not that the problem is new because each year there seem to be even more Qualifying Dorks than the year before.

However we have a preliminary list of Qualifying Dorks from which to choose.

1. Theresa May

A comprehensive list I'm sure you will agree, but any suggestions for suitable additions are certainly welcome.

Saturday 15 December 2018

What fun - or maybe not

When I first saw this I thought what fun.

Amazon has teamed up with police in the US in an effort to stop thieves who steal parcels left outside homes.

Officers in New Jersey are planting dummy boxes fitted with GPS trackers, coupled with hidden doorbell cameras, at homes around the city of Jersey.

The homes selected for the experiment were chosen using the city's own crime statistics combined with mapping data of theft locations supplied by Amazon.

One box was stolen three minutes after it was "delivered".

On coming across again a couple of days later I'm more inclined to think how depressing it must be - having to deal with the scrotes who do this kind of thing.

Thursday 13 December 2018

A bungling we will go

A good reason for paying attention to the news is that it can be so entertaining. Close to home we have the May/EU attempts to bungle Brexit without appearing to be bunglers. That one was never going to work and it hasn't, but still the show goes on. As it would, being government funded.

Now for something completely different. Or maybe not so different because this one appears to have been let down by ham acting too.

A robot on show at a Russian state-sponsored event has turned out to be a man dressed in a costume.

Robot Boris featured on Russian TV and was apparently able to walk, talk and dance.

But soon after its appearance journalists began to question the bot's authenticity.

In a picture published afterwards on social media, the neck of a person was clearly visible.

The robot is in fact a 250,000 rouble (£2,975) costume called Alyosha the Robot, made by a company called Show Robots.

Whoever came up with that act may not have much of a future.

Next we have China and what appears to be clumsy hostage taking in response to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

A second Canadian has been detained in China on accusations of harming national security, as tension continues between the two countries.

It was confirmed on Thursday that Michael Spavor, a businessman, had been detained in addition to former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Canada drew Chinese protests after it arrested an executive at telecoms giant Huawei at the request of the US.

Meng Wanzhou has been bailed but may face extradition for fraud.

She denies violating US sanctions on Iran through Huawei's business dealings. China has threatened unspecified consequences if she is not released

It's all too obvious - makes the Chinese government look guilty and casts yet another cloud over wider perceptions of Chinese integrity and the political independence of Chinese business.

Before that we had some extraordinary bungling such as the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the Novichok screw-up. It all serves to undermine the idea of sinister competence within the secret machinations of shadowy branches of government.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

The hypothetical great act

Our self-esteem is apt to be based on the hypothetical great act we have never had occasion to perform; and even the most self-scrutinizing modesty credits itself negatively with a high standard of conduct.

Edith Wharton - The Touchstone (1905)

Sometimes one comes across an observation which slides like a scalpel under the skin of self-esteem. We do indeed base our self-esteem on hypothetical great acts. These are not acts which fall into the realm of pure fantasy such as scoring the winning goal in the World Cup, nor the realm of impure fantasy but we won't go into that.

Wharton’s hypothetical great acts are such things as acts of formidable honesty which we never quite attain. Or acts of assertiveness, eloquence, physical endurance, magnanimity or even the hypothetical composition of a supremely penetrating blog post. They all serve to credit ourselves with a high standard of hypothetical conduct. It underpins virtue-signalling for example.

We can’t easily escape it altogether either, not if we wish to keep hold of a few ideals and some degree of motivation to make our way through life without descending into the pits of lassitude.

It is a profound problem with modern politics - laying political claim to hypothetical great acts such as sustainable energy or the elimination of poverty. Virtually everyone knows they are hypothetical but activists don’t want to know. Unfortunately the political class listens to activists because they peddle the hypothetical great acts while the people who peddle reality are so infernally dull.

Sunday 9 December 2018

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ cautionary tale about the emotional blackmail behind Christmas is often misinterpreted.

December is here and yet again Christmas makes its horribly garish intrusions onto our winter horizon. The nightmarish swindle now infests every nook and cranny of daily life so perhaps we should take a little time to remind ourselves of the real warning behind Dickens’ obliquely crafted tale.

It is the night before Christmas and at the end of a working day Ebenezer Scrooge, a thrifty and conscientious businessman has a few words with his clerk Bob Cratchit who timidly but firmly insists on having Christmas off with full pay.

"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

"If quite convenient, sir."

"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd
think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"

The clerk smiled faintly.

Later that evening Scrooge encounters the ghost of his erstwhile partner Marley. As any good friend would do, Marley’s ghost warns Scrooge that three more spectres will try to entice his old friend away from the paths of sober competence and do their supernatural best to persuade him to initiate the welfare state single-handedly. Lots of dismal wailing and rattling of spectral chains hammer home the message. Understandably Scrooge is somewhat uneasy as he takes to his bed that night.

The first spectre to appear as foretold by Marley is the ghost of Christmas past which appears at Scrooge’s modest bedside during the night. This first spectre takes Scrooge into his own past, showing him how he first set foot on the rungs of the business ladder, wisely ditching a clingy and potentially expensive fiancée at an early stage.

Unfortunately these pleasant scenes of his early years only serve to upset Scrooge’s moral equilibrium to such a degree that he almost regrets his outstanding success as a businessman. In particular, a former tightwad employer named Fezziwig is shown in a highly favourable light as he entertains his staff on Christmas Eve with minimal expenditure and no lost production.

"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said, "Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

A small matter indeed. Crafty old Fezziwig - although by now Scrooge is so stunned that he does not see that it is indeed a small matter.

The second ghost of Christmas present is initially more promising in that he is introduced as being surrounded by a vast heap of Christmas goodies of the edible variety. It is worth mentioning at this point that Scrooge’s diet is possibly a little narrow so the abundant if ghostly Christmas fare may contain a reasonable dietary message.

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

"Come in!" exclaimed the Ghost. "Come in! and know me better, man!"

However the initial promise is not maintained as the ghost of Christmas present manages to insinuate the suggestion that such goodies and much, much more might be given away to feckless folk who have not paid for them. Still stunned by the whole experience Scrooge seems inclined to agree with such reckless extravagance.

The third ghost of Christmas future in more of a realist who by dramatic devices manages to suggest that Scrooge is surrounded by thieves who after his death would strip his dead body, steal his bed hangings and sell everything they could lay their hands on. So far so good but there is a sting in the tail. The ghost of Christmas future somehow manages to leave Scrooge with the impression that he may as well give things away now because after his death they will be stolen anyway.

For some unaccountable reason all this ghostly propaganda leaves Scrooge in a state of manic elation when he finally wakes up on Christmas morning. Neither narcotics nor alcohol are involved because Dickens clearly intended to highlight the perils of the most intense and unrelenting propaganda on an otherwise sober mind.

By Christmas morning Scrooge is so out of it that he even sends a large turkey to that financially feckless employee Bob Cratchit. Small income but a large family – that’s Bob Cratchit. If only we had imbibed this key message from the master story teller, but we never did.

And so began the first stirrings of emotional incontinence. One might almost suggest that Dickens invented it as a warning to us all, but somehow we turned it into soppy sentimentalism and have suffered for our mistake ever since.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Creeping uniformity

This is a trivial example of creeping uniformity, but trivial examples slip under the radar and maybe they are mounting up under the radar too.

The other morning was dull and grey, so dull that the car decided to switch on its headlights, which it often does at this time of year because I leave the lights on automatic. Had the lights been set to manual I may not have bothered as it wasn’t that gloomy even to my old eyes. But they were set to automatic as usual so on they went.

As we drove towards Matlock I noticed that cars with their headlights switched on tended to be newer models while those with them switched off tended to be older. Presumably newer cars with automatic lights switch them on in response to similar light conditions.

It’s a trivial example of creeping uniformity. Wholly unimportant in itself and generally advantageous to road users, but to end on a light-hearted note perhaps the following applies even to such trivial uniformities as automatic headlights –

10 trivial = 1 significant
10 significant = 1 important
10 important = ?

Thursday 6 December 2018

More moor

Beeley Moor
To my eye there is something deliciously compelling about an expanse of moorland under grey winter skies. A chill breeze, a hint of drizzle in the air, a touch of mist - none of it detracts from the bleak attractions of winter moorland.

Maybe it has something to do with being safe inside layers of modern clothing. Part of the scene yet apart from it, inside yet outside and relatively impervious to the cold and damp. A kestrel hunting for its next meal is a bonus. Our next meal is in the rucksack.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Politics – it’s just too easy

Many of my friends are under the impression that I write these humorous nothings in idle moments when the wearied brain is unable to perform the serious labours of the economist. My own experience is exactly the other way.

The writing of solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures is easy enough. There is no trouble in writing a scientific treatise on the folk-lore of Central China, or a statistical enquiry into the declining population of Prince Edward Island. But to write something out of one’s own mind, worth reading for its own sake, is an arduous contrivance only to be achieved in fortunate moments, few and far between.

Personally, I would sooner have written “Alice in Wonderland” than the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Stephen Leacock. McGill University, June, 1912.

Stephen Leacock wrote this in his preface to Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his comic novel which became very popular a century ago. Although we still recognise the labour and intelligence required to write solid, instructive stuff fortified by facts and figures Leacock’s quote encapsulates something we recognise less readily. 

We recognise the value of creativity and its relative scarcity, but are less inclined to recognise the wider value of creativity beyond the arts. The creativity of scientific and technical discovery or analysis, the creativity of scholarly research which breaks new ground, the creativity of building new insights into old problems, creativity which applies in almost any field. Creativity may be nothing more than the creation of a new phrase which is apt that it immediately spins off into general circulation. Yes, creativity can be found anywhere –

anywhere but politics.

Political discourse is almost never creative because political narratives are essentially clichés strung together to make a narrative which above all things must be familiar. Turgid clichés are the lazy heart of political discourse. A major consequence is that political narratives are too easy.

Anyone can talk politics and whip up a political argument from stale ingredients because we have no use for political creativity. What would it look like without the clichés? Rational discourse, analysis and investigation? No, because that wouldn’t be politics although behind the political facade it just might even if the scheming usually seems banal when exposed.

We know all this because of the people foisted on us as political leaders. We look at them and we look at them again and we listen to them and try to find some faint hint of creative political discourse, something new, some fresh analysis of old problems, something creative, something to break the mould. But no - we get clichés and we get more clichés and if we question the clichés we get even more clichés and if we question those...

This seems to be a key driver constantly nudging political life in a totalitarian direction. The essential aspect of totalitarian ideas is that they are clichés. They offer the easy direction to steer a lazy mind. The woodentop direction where creativity is a disadvantage because it exposes the clichés as empty clichés and nothing more.

This is why the EU lumbers towards ultimate failure. Its driving ethos is too simple, too beholden to old clichés lacking even the slightest hint of political creativity. This is why Theresa May struggles politically, why a Corbyn-led Labour government would fail.

Yet easy often won’t do and we have to tackle difficult. Or rather we ought to tackle it but don’t. The political approach is to leave difficult to others and so we are embraced by bureaucracy because bureaucracies are prepared to tackle difficult issues by laboriously folding them into existing processes. Why? Because they grow fat on them and in growing fat they steadily throttle the life out of democracy, freedom and creativity.

Monday 3 December 2018

Trump triggers

I like the way this guy uses common sense and avoids overblown analysis. If you haven’t encountered him before he is a self-employed tradesman who started off as as house painter. His take on Obama and his acolytes is particularly apt.

...he is the very embodiment of the cool college professor... That professor was worldly and hip with an offhand grasp of culture and that whip-smart sense of humour that Jon Stewart later turned into a goldmine.

Not sure about the sense of humour but his point is interesting. Obama acolytes seemed curiously inclined to sit at his feet.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Isn't Macron doing well?


The French "yellow vest" troubles will be analysed to death but it isn't easy to avoid the conclusion that ordinary people want more of a voice in what the elites hand down to them. 

It isn't easy to avoid such a conclusion when here in Brexit land many are acutely aware that this is how the EU and global bureaucracies operate - the elites merely hand down their decisions and that is that. We have little enough feedback available to us now, but little enough is better than none.

Saturday 1 December 2018

The stupid club

Stupidity is a rum business isn't it? There is such a lot of it about yet in general stupid people are not stupid. That’s the paradox.

Yet how is it that intelligent people can be so remarkably, jaw-droppingly stupid? Not stupid in the low IQ sense and not stupid in the ad hominem sense where we merely fire the word at those who don’t agree with us. No there is a third type of stupidity which intelligent people clearly adopt for a long term purpose and from which they clearly derive some social advantage.

Often the only real advantage is the paltry satisfaction of virtue signalling but even that strengthens the social bonds. This is part of the weirdness – stupidity can and does forge powerful and advantageous social bonds as long as one stays in the stupid club. Which isn’t difficult when outfits such as the Guardian and the BBC hold the door wide open. They certainly do their tireless best for the stupid club – as do the mass media generally.

However, this third type of stupidity is weird because personal advantage and social bonding do not really explain what it is, nor how it arises, nor how it is so impervious to reality.

When someone adopts an ideology then the ideology becomes an aspect of their personality to such an extent that it is not possible to communicate meaningfully with what we usually assume is a functioning personality. That is the problem. Within the domain of their ideology, ideologues do not have a functioning personality. To communicate at all we have to communicate with their ideology.

This gives stupidity a huge advantage in the debating game because members of the stupid club do not have to debate at all. People who differ in their opinions must find common ground if they hope to reach some kind of mutual understanding. Members of the stupid club have no need to bother with any of that malarkey. Their debating effort is a scorched earth policy where the headaches and complexities of common ground are hoofed out of play from the off.

We know all this yet still tend to see ideology as somehow sitting on top of the basic personality like a layer. If only we could argue away that layer of ideology then the person’s real personality would shine through so the assumption goes. Ideologues might even see their error and shrug off the ideology.

Fat chance.

Experience after experience tells us that within its domain, ideology supplants personality. There is no ideological layer sitting on top of the personality – the ideology is as much an aspect of personality as a leg is part of the body. It is not an add-on. Within its domain, which may be very wide, the ideology is a prosthetic personality. People with a powerful and wide-ranging ideology may not have much of a personality at all.

Intelligent political actors seem to be aware of this and are willing to use the power of ideology for their own advantage. They frequently act the part of an ideologue without that degree of commitment seen in more genuine cases.

The prosthetic nature of ideology offers political actors a ready-made audience with predictable reactions. This seems to be a fourth type of stupidity. For intelligent political actors stupidity seems to be little more than a useful fashion statement. What they like about it is the scorched earth effect on common ground – it makes the adversarial nature of party politics so much easier.