Saturday, 20 July 2019

Independently batty

The Independent is a weird outfit. Take this piece which appears to suggest that Extinction Rebellion should be exempt from criticism.

It is no longer acceptable to question climate change. So why is it now mainstream to criticise Extinction Rebellion?

Okay it's only the Independent so we shouldn't take it too seriously, but real people actually sit down and write this kind of thing and it gets worse -

In response, Policy Exchange, a think tank set up by three Conservative MPs in 2002, has released a paper labelling the group as “extremist” and seeking “to break down the established civil order and liberal democracy in the UK”.

XR protests are, by their nature, provocative, and whilst there is widespread sympathy for their ambitions to save the planet, there has also been a pronounced backlash. The Policy Exchange report’s conclusions have been greeted with pleasure by tub-thumping right-wingers, hysteria by some of the media, and bemused incredulity by most of civilised, normal Britain.

To my mind bemused incredulity seems about right, but not in the way the Independent suggests, but it gets even worse -

We should be a country that embraces protest. We should be a country that challenges ideas, not actions, because actions are protected in law.

Does that mean anything coherent? If we have a spate of local car thefts do we expect the police to challenge the actions of the thieves or do we expect them to rest content with challenging the the idea of car theft? 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Fantasies and futures

If Mrs H and I decide to downsize, where will we move to? Hmm – let me imagine the kind of house and location which would suit us –

As we all know, human beings have a highly developed ability to imagine future scenarios. So much so that this is one of the capabilities which appear to set us apart from other animals. Yet political narratives seem to misuse this crucial ability as a matter of course. Political scenarios may sometimes be plausible futures. Too often they are simple stories which only sound plausible at first sight. Often not even that.

We’ll bring about real change by putting real money into the NHS, schools, training, the fight against climate change, cute fluffy animals...

The problem is highlighted when children puzzle their way through childhood stories which adults know to be fantasy. For some reason we seem to think this is a good way to bring up children. Maybe it is but only for those children who make it to adulthood knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Unfortunately that isn’t all of them. Although political stories tend to be just as formulaic as fairy stories, spotting their implausible nature does not seem to be a universal adult ability.

The usual way to explain this is to suggest that adults become biased in favour of their allegiances. Stories bolster those allegiance. Fair enough – it’s a very common explanation of these things and both sides in any debate are quite likely to use it to accuse the other lot of bias.

Yet many people do not seem to have a well-developed ability to imagine plausible political futures in the first place. As if we are losing the ability to see these things. As if prosperity and comfort have blunted our real world experiences. As if we are losing the ability to analyse.

Stories are taking over and there is little we can do if a catastrophic future lurks just over the horizon. However bad that future may be, collectively we are unlikely to foresee it.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Mere speculation

This is merely speculation but I’ve been wondering why the global warming climate change climate emergency stories have recently been spewed out in even greater numbers than usual by the mainstream media. Why have the usual suspects suddenly started to declare climate emergencies all over the place? It's unprecedented.

Anyhow here’s the speculation - and it is merely speculation. Maybe some authoritative source has quietly put it about that we are in for a protracted period of unambiguous cooling. In which case the official story will be – it could have been worse. Not an original thought of course, but something seems to be in the air. Not snow I hope.

Crashing Pelosi's Party

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Time running out - again


When any one asks me what I think of the weather or of the Prime Minister, does my answer report anything that I have previously thought? Probably not; my past impressions are lost, or obliterated by the very question put to me; and I make bold to invent, on the spur of the moment, a myth about my sentiments on the subject.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)

Monday, 15 July 2019


Today, walking by the river Wye from Monsal Head we found the old weir has been fenced off using barbed wire and stern notices. Seems odd as the weir has been accessible for as long as I can remember. Certainly since my parents brought us as youngsters.

Yes it is dangerous, but it looks dangerous and sounds dangerous. As does the A38. There will be reasons of course, there are always reasons for making things that bit crappier.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Sack time

Theresa May's final Number 10 interview

In an exclusive broadcast interview in Downing Street, the prime minister has told the BBC that she will leave the job with a "mixture of pride and disappointment".

Speaking to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Theresa May said that she didn’t "recognise" herself in the criticisms made of her during her time in the job. But she admitted that she had "underestimated" divisions in Parliament.

Maybe she kept them up too late.

Ministers are reportedly planning to issue guidance on how much sleep people should be getting every night.

The recommendations are expected as part of a series of proposals aimed at improving public health in the UK.

According to a leaked draft of the plans seen by The Times, up to three in four adults do not regularly get at least seven hours sleep per night.

If this is government business it is no wonder that ministers and MPs struggle with Brexit. The most dispiriting aspect is that the mind no longer boggles at such nonsense.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The very idea

From a 1952 copy of Punch. Intended as a joke of course - a possibility that screen-based teaching could take over the classroom. The very idea.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Alexa - I said hoarse not horse

From the BBC

People will be able to get expert health advice using Amazon Alexa devices, under a partnership with the NHS, the government has announced.

From this week, the voice-assisted technology is automatically searching the official NHS website when UK users ask for health-related advice.

The government in England said it could reduce demand on the NHS.

What if such a system actually does reduce demand? Hard to imagine because even if it does reduce demand the statistics may not show it for one reason or another.       

Monday, 8 July 2019

Money talks

An £845,000 project has been launched in eight areas of Derby to encourage parents to talk to their children - at mealtimes, during play and through everyday conversations.

What are they supposed to talk about though? Maybe that comes later.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Boris for PM?

If elected leader of the Conservatives it is impossible to predict how Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tackle such a poisonous chalice. The leader’s character is only one facet of a complex web of political forces – the EU, civil service, media, Parliament and the electorate. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, failure seems more likely than success.

Boris comes across as a colourful, clever, likeable but somewhat idle and unreliable chap who may have no clear idea about tackling the job of Prime Minister. He may simply be very ambitious and achieving his core ambition, tasting the pinnacle of political power, lining himself up for another move when things fall apart – that may be enough. We can’t tell.

Yet the Conservatives need a real leader, a breath of something different, a clear contrast with the politically correct loons and grey managerial types we encounter in modern politics. They need someone to take on Jeremy Corbyn and make him look foolish. Not a difficult task of course but still essential if the party aims to deal with the Brexit Party and find a way through Brexit intact.

Many Conservative MPs may see Boris as worth a punt and perhaps he is. At least he’ll be interesting but it leaves us with the question of why modern political leaders have largely abandoned leadership. Political leadership is an actor’s job, a performance designed to inspire and enthuse followers while blunting the attacks of critics and opponents. Boris seems to realise that, but apart from Nigel Farage he appears to be the only political leader who does.

As if the leader has been supplanted by the manager, the uninspiring functionary who is almost bound to fail simply because failure to enthuse leads to failure.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Jeremy storms into fourth place

Labour are backed by fewer than one in five voters and are only the fourth most popular party, according to a new poll.

In a fresh YouGov survey for The Times, Jeremy Corbyn's party dropped to 18% behind the Conservatives (24%), Brexit Party (23%) and Liberal Democrats (20%).

Mr Corbyn never fails to entertain, but a slightly disturbing aspect is that he still attracted 18% of this particular poll. People who respond to such polls need to pull their socks up - 0% would have been far more entertaining.  

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

A waste of bacon


A quick visit to the past - if you type ‘Ed Miliband’ into Google the second most likely bit of additional text offered by the Mighty Search Machine is ‘bacon sandwich’. All that expensive image management effort wasted. I don’t know why they bother.

Yet while we are on the subject of bacon sandwiches, eating is a rum game anyway isn’t it? Take the bacon sandwich for example. Firstly we insert it it into our mouths as elegantly as possible. Then it is masticated, absorbed and as if by magic turns into enough energy to mow the lawn.

Which is fine if you want to mow the lawn or do something else equally useful, but what about politicians such as Ed? If they eventually manage to gobble up a bacon sandwich they are liable to turn it into enough energy to talk bollocks for a few hours. Seems like a waste of bacon to me.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Insignificant individuals have no role

This is another in an occasional series of mostly non-technical climate posts. To begin we have one of the many obvious questions thrown up by the catastrophic climate change project.

Does anyone actually believe we are headed for climate catastrophe?

To my mind the answer to this question is obvious – no. To a good approximation nobody believes it and nobody ever did believe it. Look at the behaviour we see around us.

Climate leaders fly all over the world and climate followers drive cars, take holidays, heat their homes in winter, cook their food and use electrical appliances. We see large houses being built in the traditional manner, packed airports at holiday time and hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius doing 80mph down the motorway.

Moving on to international climate mitigation policies we are confronted with technological solutions such as wind turbines and solar panels which cannot deliver reliable energy at the level we have come to rely on. If we consider international climate treaties such as the Paris Agreement we are confronted with the China issue - there is no point to emissions treaties if China doesn’t join in.

If we consider energy technology which has the capacity to deliver a low emission future we are left with nuclear power and nothing else. The climate industrial complex doesn’t want nuclear power, the one technology which would deliver us from the supposed climate emergency.

To a good approximation nobody believes catastrophic climate predictions. Nobody ever did.

So what is the real game?

Again this is well known - Agenda 21. The climate game is a global bureaucratic and political project initiated and sustained by the UN with the willing cooperation of numerous interested governments, NGOs, journalists, universities, businesses, criminals and celebrity virtue-signallers.

Insignificant individuals have no role.

But that’s the plan anyway.

Sunday, 30 June 2019


Our granddaughter attends a late Victorian primary school probably built originally for the children of mining families. It isn’t easy to tell because the whole area is now covered in houses, but those Victorian children may have seen railway coal trucks from the playground. Their social roots would have been working class but today all that has changed.

To make a point perhaps it is worth simplifying the class issue because a feature of recent decades has been the disappearance of the old working class. This seems to have coincided with a section of the middle class redefining itself as progressive although political enthusiasts have defined themselves as progressive for many decades.

However, modern progressives have created an exclusive social class by erecting barriers to entry. In that respect there is still nothing really new going on because this particular social division was always based partly on money and partly on social attitudes. Perhaps we might say that the significance of money has been downgraded.

The progressive class now seems to dance around three main totems – total government, total equality and total environment. Show a lack of respect for any of those totems and you are a barbarian. The totems are more diffuse and complex than this, but like shapes emerging from a primeval mist they seem to portend a less pragmatic, less honest future. Truth and honesty are not progressive totems.

Gender politics, climate change, sustainable energy, electric cars, recycling, hatred of capitalism while living off its fruits – the list is long and swallowing any of it particularly difficult for anyone who values rational analysis. This is the social barrier to entry, a much higher barrier than going to church every Sunday, shiny shoes and a neat garden.

It is not easy to avoid the conclusion that this is one point of progressive ideas – they are supposed to exclude the uncontrolled nature of rational analysis. Reason can lead anywhere and that they don’t like. But we’ve seen it all before, century after century, so we are not treading new ground here.

Instead of flattening out social divisions, modern social divisions appear to be as deep as ever as progressives raise the barriers to entry ever higher. In doing so they exclude those people Hillary Clinton described as deporables. It’s a strange idea but social mobility always seems to demand unwavering support for impossible ideas. Why? What are progressives avoiding?

From what we have seen over recent years, progressives seem to be afraid of democracy. A deplorable vote has the same value as a progressive vote and this is what progressives seem intent on changing. Ironically they seem to fear the egalitarian potential of democracy, the possibility that their own social position could be undermined via the popular vote. Hence the scorn poured on so-called populism.

Progressives seem to want a manipulated version of democracy, one which achieves its aims by impossible demands, by subverting reason, evidence and pragmatic politics. A world in which the unpredictable nature of democracy, free markets and even free speech are severely curtailed. It is essentially a reactionary, middle class outlook predating the universal franchise. It is not new.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

A game we can all play

It's a game we can all play. It is easy enough to embrace everything only to find we have embraced nothing of real consequence.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Mr Pastry and the Daleks

Sometimes browsing the internet can be just like rummaging through an infinite junk shop, an endless world of half-forgotten bits and pieces. For example - Dr Who fans will know this already, but apparently Richard Hearne, aka Mr Pastry, was once interviewed for the role of Dr Who. The mind boggles - or at least mine does but mine is easily boggled.

He was interviewed for the starring role of the BBC series Doctor Who after the departure of Jon Pertwee, but a disagreement over his interpretation of the role (he wanted to play the Doctor as Mr Pastry) led to no offer being made by the producer, Barry Letts. The role was subsequently offered to Tom Baker.

Maybe a slapstick Dr Who wasn't what the BBC had in mind. Tripping over Daleks, spilling paint on Cybermen, dropping his sonic screwdriver down a drain, breaking bits off the Tardis, losing the key. Not quite what Dr Who fans expect.

Unstringed oppression

Radical puppeteers have been protesting outside the Palace of Westminster at what they see as discrimination against puppets. They are particularly incensed that so few puppets ever become MPs. Leading advocate of puppet rights, Fran Tykke said -

Puppets can be entertaining, witty and full of good ideas so there is no good reason why antiquated prejudice should exclude them from Parliament. As ever our puppets have to battle against the oppression of the unstringed and quite frankly they are tired of it.

Opponents of puppet rights have pointed out that strings could present a number of practical problems in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They could become tangled and unstringed members of both house could easily become caught up in them especially after a long lunch. But Fran Tykke will have none of it.

Look at Philip Hammond, he manages just fine. People hardly notice his strings because only a few people even mention them.

When it is pointed out that Mr Hammond isn’t actually a puppet Ms Tykke simply laughs in disbelief, shaking her head so violently that a small flake of paint becomes detached and floats gently to the ground.

Monday, 24 June 2019

How to recruit liars

Imagine a crackpot device called the “Therapeutic Wave Rejuvenator” invented by equally imaginary crackpot Silas Crumweed in the fifties. It is an electrical device housed in a wooden box with two thick vertical wires like short aerials placed six inches apart on top of the box. These are the “therapeutic wave samplers” which supposedly draw down mysterious therapeutic waves originating in outer space.

To use the device you switch on the machine, grasp two brass handles attached to wires, close your eyes and relax for an hour or so. With regular use you should not age and may even become more youthful.

Suppose Silas Crumweed died without patenting his gadget but he left behind a book explaining both the theory and the benefits of his device. A manufacturer builds and sells it and even today it has a small but devoted worldwide following with its own magazine, website and discussion groups.

As the device cannot possibly work, what do we say about -

a) The manufacturer who makes no actual claims about the device.
b) Those users who insist that it works.
c) Those users who say it works for them but might not work for others.

Again – as the device cannot possibly work and as this information is readily available we might say that anyone who fails to point this out is lying by omission. Or we might allow the usual swamp of caveats to dissuade us from being so forthright because who cares anyway? We often allow crackpots to be crackpots – as we should in this case.

In any event, some people might say that if people believe what they are saying then they are not lying even if what they say is unambiguously untrue.

However, we might also say this imaginary scenario is not all that imaginary because it highlights how liars can be recruited to a cause. This angle is useful because people are recruited by all manner of dubious causes and are persuaded to support dishonest claims even if the dishonesty is unambiguous and easily established. Useful idiots they may be but in an important sense they are liars as well as being idiots.

In the past a need to avoid excessively deep social divisions lead us to class many useful idiots as people who are deceived or deluded rather than out and out liars. Yet we have entered a digital age where this softer approach begins to seem dubious and unhelpful. Deeper and deeper social divisions seem to be a consequence as fundamentally dishonest causes try to cope with the information age.

It becomes more and more apparent that the old, softer approach doesn’t really work in a digital age. Useful idiots are not as innocent as they were because the information is out there. Many never were particularly innocent but in the information age it seems naive to allow them any innocence at all. Causes do recruit liars.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Distant horizons

Labour’s new climate change minister has demanded a ban on fracking.

Danielle Rowley, who has been appointed as shadow climate justice and green jobs minister, also wants to see more onshore wind turbines and free bus travel for under-25s.

The Midlothian MP plans to meet climate change activists, including the climate school strikers, to formulate Labour policy.

I don’t do many climate change posts – lack of time, public interest has waned and there are many good sources out there. However the madness has long been mainstream so it is perhaps worth a few simple standpoints in a series of occasional mostly non-technical posts, this being the first.

The climate change story is unscientific.

It is unscientific because it is not falsifiable and so violates Karl Popper’s dictum that scientific theories must in principle be falsifiable. Popper’s dictum is about as close as we get to defining good science. Move away from it and we encounter the killer question - if even in principle a theory cannot be falsified then what difference does it make whether it is valid or invalid?

The key words here are in principle. In principle it is possible to imagine how the climate change story could be falsified. Unambiguous global cooling would falsify it. In which case the climate faithful should be delighted that we have made a major breakthrough in understanding our climate and corrected a scientific error. We can forget the wind turbines and solar panels, discard all the climate baggage and focus on staying warm in winter. Sack the climate scientists and the environmental journalists, laugh at the politicians, sack the Climate Justice Minister and close down the BBC –

It isn’t likely is it? Would the climate faithful admit they had been wrong all along? Or would they claim that the cooling would have been worse if it wasn’t for the warming we cause? To my mind falsification is not part of the official narrative and this is where we spot the unscientific nature of it - there is absolutely no interest in falsification.

This is a social and political judgement though, not a scientific question. Judge the people and the institutions. Judge the politics. It’s a matter of opinion. Your choice.

Yet in spite of this key weakness, the climate change story attracts scientific support as well as political opportunism. Maybe we should not surprised and we should remember that scientists are human. In real life an abstract principle such as falsifiability is not as important as a career, paying the mortgage, getting papers published, attracting students, virtue signalling or attracting funding. The falsifiable nature of good science may be crucially important in the long term, but it still an abstract principle and in climate science long term is somewhere over the horizon. Ignoring the principle when convenient to do so – that is just how we are.

We cannot prove that the climate change story is not falsifiable, but anyone with any kind of background can judge the point for themselves. That’s the attraction of this approach. The basis of the whole climate debate is nothing more than a matter of opinion because the scientific nature of the official story is a matter of opinion. Is it falsifiable?

In my judgement the climate change narrative is not intended to be falsifiable and is therefore a pseudoscientific fraud. It is pseudoscientific because it is not falsifiable and fraud because this crucial defect has been obvious for years. But we should not be surprised at its success and we should not be surprised if the success continues until a more rewarding fraud comes along. Consensus is more rewarding than principle. Distant horizons keep things that way.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Isn't the Guardian weird?

The Guardian is a rum outfit isn't it? Supposedly a serious news organisation trying to keep its venerable head above the digital waters yet almost a byword for easy ridicule. Does anyone take it seriously?

For example it has a piece on Facebook's proposed digital currency where Guardian bias is slapped on good and thick right from the off. Which is okay for blogs but if it must stick the knife in surely the Guardian takes itself seriously enough to stick it in with wit and subtlety.

Facebook's plan to break the global financial system
Evgeny Morozov

The tech giant knows its best weapon is mobilizing the faux-populism other Silicon Valley companies have used to defeat regulation.

There is hardly any point in reading further if colours are nailed to the mast this crudely, but just in case we missed the point -

What should we make of Facebook’s sudden foray into the world of digital money? Just as regulators were beginning to wake up from their self-induced coma to discover that Facebook has grown too fast and too big for its own good, the company has decided to redouble its unbending commitment to “moving fast and breaking things”. 

Regulators in a self-induced coma? Crikey where does all the censorship come from? Not repressive enough for the dear old Guardian I suppose. 

Many people are not Facebook fans and in my experience it does a fair amount of damage, but vast numbers of people do use it and using it isn't compulsory. Its faux-populism doesn't seem very faux to me.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Trouble at trough


Underling: Trouble at trough.

Ms Merkel: Oh no - what sort of trouble?

Underling: I don't know - Mr Selmayr just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the trough, that's all - I didn't expect a kind of Euro Inquisition.


Cardinal Juncker bounds in.

Juncker: NOBODY expects the Euro Inquisition! Our chief weapon is tedium...tedium and persistence...persistence and tedium.... 

Our two weapons are tedium and persistence...and ruthless inefficiency.... 

Our three weapons are tedium, and persistence, and ruthless inefficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Cause.... 


Amongst our weapons.... 

Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as tedium, persistence.... 

I'll come in again.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

My move says the machine

Not a post about chess, but chess will do as an introduction. According to this video, no human chess player has beaten a high level chess computer since 2005 under normal chess tournament conditions.

Suppose we take this achievement and use it to indulge in some idle speculation. As it is now 14 years since that last human victory we recall how much cheaper and powerful computers are today. Add that to all the research into artificial intelligence, how likely is it that governments are developing information systems broadly aimed at understanding human behaviour in minute detail?

Crime by area and by street, traffic movements, housing density, house types, house building, road building, industrial development, industrial decline, employment, unemployment, income, welfare, spending patterns, car ownership, population density, drug use, dereliction, gentrification, ethnic mixes, religious adherence, schooling, health services, dentistry, mental welfare, alcohol consumption, tobacco consumption, calorie consumption, animal fat consumption, electricity usage, gas usage, recycling patterns and so on and so on.

It would not be an economic model but more like a gigantic and vastly complex chess computer. In other words it may eventually be possible for governments to play the political game by owning machines which know in enormous detail what is going on. 

Rather like chess computers they would evaluate billions of possible scenarios in order to come up with a favourable move. Favourable to whom? Favourable to the machine owners of course. A policy tweak, a modified regulation, a funding shift, a tax change, a press release, a conference or merely a working lunch to discuss a new policy initiative. A policy initiative suggested by the machine of course.

This would be a form of indirect control rather than the draconian social credit system China seems to be introducing. Because it is indirect it would not be easy to criticise because we all want things to work as well as they can don’t we?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

An unwanted solution

Two connected stories. Firstly the BBC on plastic pollution.

The River Mersey is more polluted with microplastics than any other river in the UK, claims a study into the problem.

Greenpeace said it was worse than the "Great Pacific garbage patch", with 875 pieces found in 30 minutes.

The environmental group said its survey, which showed all UK rivers contained small particles of plastic, should be a "government wake-up call".

Secondly a piece from Canada suggesting an obvious real world solution environmental activists probably don't want because reasons.

It's time to give incineration technology another try here and elsewhere, together with up-to-date catalytic converter systems. Improved ground- and surface-water quality and (eventually) a litter-free environment will thank you for it!

Just like we have catalytic converters on every gasoline-powered car, already for decades, garbage can be incinerated with modern catalytic flue gas purification to produce nothing but innocuous gas emissions. All that can be done at much less cost by recycling the energy contained in these items that cannot be re-used, recycled, or re-manufactured. The best better solution to the disposal problem from occurring in the first place is to destroy the garbage for good, through incineration.

We probably do use more plastic than our disposal systems can cope with. In the short to medium term, beefing up those disposal systems via incineration is likely to be more effective than changing behaviour. At least it is worthy of debate but that's the killer problem - are environmental activists looking for solutions?

Monday, 17 June 2019

I want you to panic

As we all know by now, climate activists score quite highly on their ability to out-loon everyone else. Mercatornet passes on a few examples, beginning with Greta Thunberg.

“There is no more any prophet,” is the bitter lament of the Psalmist in the Babylonian Exile. We are more fortunate. Sixteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has been out-Jeremiah-ing Jeremiah as she criss-crosses Europe lecturing about the imminent catastrophe of climate change.

Here’s how she excoriated “the people and prophets and priests” at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos. Expressionless and in her Swedish-accented monotone, she declared: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

We move on to what seems to be the core Malthusian worry behind the entire climate game - there are too many people. Those of us who are not climate activists should assume that the covert message is - there are too many people who are not climate activists. Apparently one answer is that we should stop having children. Until the climate begins to cool presumably.

The journal Essays in Philosophy has just devoted an entire issue to the question: “Is Procreation Immoral?” According to the editor and the four contributors, the answer is Yes. Basically their argument is that the safest response to climate change is not to have fewer children, but to have none at all.

Anca Gheaus, of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, brings a legal perspective to the debate. She observes that having children is clearly guaranteed by human rights documents. So the problem is this: how can people exercise their United Nations-guaranteed right without making the planet an uninhabitable wasteland?

She squares the circle with a proposal of delirious brilliance. Instead of decreasing the numerator in the child-to-parent ratio, increase the denominator! Polyamorous household with many partners and one child will reduce the birth rate. “Multiparenting—that is, three, four, or possibly more adults co-raising the same child or children—is a desirable solution,” she writes. “Moreover, in cases where each individual or couple parenting one child would not result in sufficiently steep downsizing, multiparenting may be morally required.”

I wonder what Ms Gheaus means by the phrase "morally required". Maybe she means something akin to compulsion. After all, people are morally required to be honest but that doesn't get us very far.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Better to remain silent...


Raise the bar, lower the bar

As we all know, over the past twenty years the internet has radically changed the availability of information. Much of it may be unsound but it always was and a major gain is that comparing one source with another is much easier than it was.

To my mind the overall effect of this has been to raise the bar for anyone wishing to be reasonably well-informed. Such people need to read more widely, select more carefully and analyse more critically. That raises the bar.

An important corollary is that it also lowers the bar for anyone wishing to seem reasonably well-informed without the effort of reading more widely, selecting more carefully and analysing more critically. My impression may well be wrong, but we seem to have reached a phase where educated but somewhat idle people are being left behind. There are more and more ready-made answers out there. It lowers the bar.

Both effects seem to be creating a strange social divide where education is even less important than it once was. As if self-education is the coming thing. This isn’t new of course. Samuel Johnson was self-educated but he grew up in his father’s bookshop. Eventually lending libraries and cheap mass-produced books such as Everyman's Library brought self-education to the masses. Cinema, television and biased news media catered for everyone else.

In which case maybe the trend is an old one and we should expect to see it continue. Maybe we should even expect to see it accelerate under the influence of the internet. In which case, sooner or later we may need a serious debate about education. I don’t think we’ll get it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Theresa May is a fool

Greenhouse gas emissions in the UK will be cut to almost zero by 2050, under the terms of a new government plan to tackle climate change.

Prime Minister Theresa May said reducing pollution would also benefit public health and cut NHS costs.

Britain is the first major nation to propose this target - and it has been widely praised by green groups.

But some say the phase-out is too late to protect the climate, and others fear that the task is impossible.

Maybe Mrs May hopes this will go some way to boost her reputation when the history books are written. If so she's a fool.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Race and politics

Bo Winegard and Noah Carl have an interesting piece in Quillette, a review of the book Superior: The Return of Race Science written by Angela Saini. Pared down to its essentials, the review suggests that Saini has not divorced political correctness from a discussion of group differences in the human genetic inheritance.

Angela Saini’s new book, Superior, is a cautionary tale about the historical legacy, and putative return, of what she calls “race science.” As far as we can determine, there are four main theses running through the book:
  • ‘Race’ is not a meaningful biological category
  • Genes can only contribute to population differences on certain “superficial” traits
  • Studying whether genes might contribute to population differences on non-superficial traits is tantamount to “scientific racism”
  • Almost everyone interested in whether genes might contribute to population differences on these other traits is a “scientific racist”
To be blunt, we disagree with all four of Saini’s main theses, as we shall explain in this article. (Note that since the book is quite poorly structured, and in some places contradictory, it is not always easy to discern what Saini is or is not asserting. Nonetheless, we believe that the four propositions above comprise a fair summary of her main arguments.)

Winegard and Carl give their own summary of the situation, a summary which also encapsulates the problems we have with political correctness in this field.

A more plausible conception of race, one that is consistent with how careful philosophers and geneticists use the term, recognises that:

  • When humans began leaving Africa around 75,000 years ago, they dispersed across a much greater range of environments than they had previously inhabited.
  • The humans that settled in different geographic regions subsequently came under different selection pressures (e.g. temperature, seasonality, altitude).
  • Natural barriers such as oceans (e.g. the Atlantic), deserts (e.g. the Sahara) and mountain ranges (e.g. the Himalayas) impeded gene flow between different populations for substantial periods of time.
  • When there is limited gene flow between populations that have come under different selection pressures, we would expect them to gradually diverge from one another over via the processes of genetic drift and natural selection.

The piece is quite long but well worth reading. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

Okay - where's the global warming?

Here we are, it's June 10th, wet and miserable outside, the gas fire is on and so is the central heating. If only the climate loons were right about something. Anything would do to set the ball rolling. Central heating not needed in June - that would be a start.

The delights of the internet

A few carefully selected American phrases can very swiftly kill a great deal of dignity and tradition. 

Hugh Walpole - The Duchess of Wrexe (1919)

Many may have come across the term already, but I must share a comment on a WUWT post.


June 10, 2019 at 6:32 am

“At least six Democratic presidential candidates, led by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, supported a climate-focused primary debate”
They rejected a “climate change” debate because the topic is toxic to most candidates.
And because democrat candidates will out-loon each other in a public spectacle with specious easily debunked claims.

A term well worth borrowing as our political class goes overboard trying to out-loon each other.

The elephant in the mosque

Video is by an ex-Muslim. 

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Reactionary progressives

Regular comment maestro Sam Vega left this interesting observation on a recent post.

What I find interesting here is the fact that whereas some are protesting about his racism and sexism, others blame him for global warming, some object to his war-mongering, some to his support for capitalism, and some just think he is personally boorish and uncouth. Not even Hitler gets it from so many directions.

All this suggests a group of people trained to think critically who are in search of something to object to, rather than anything about the man himself.

It raises a question about progressives generally because we tend to define them via their strident standpoints. Sounds like the obvious thing to do but it is also instructive to turn it around. In other words it may be useful to recall that progressives are defined by what they oppose as well as what they promote which can be remarkably incoherent. They hate Donald Trump and as Sam writes - Not even Hitler gets it from so many directions

There are other factors, but to put it as simply as possible, progressives oppose the world of the free market bourgeoisie built by the West. There is nothing remarkable in that, it is something progressives have been doing for a very long time indeed. Yet there has always been a curious bond between reactionary elites and people we might usefully refer to as reactionary progressives. The social forces behind that bond may reside in the obvious power of the free market bourgeoisie to instigate unpredictable change such as social mobility.

Most people see power as naturally top down whether they are elites looking down from the top or progressives who also take a top down view of how things ought to be. In spite of a reputation for conservatism, the free market bourgeoisie are always liable to subvert top down power in unpredictable ways. Their money, tastes and ambitions sway both markets and political narratives.

Perhaps this is the key to progressive paranoia, the banners and the borderline hysteria. In one sense they are progressive but in a deeper sense they are paranoid reactionaries. They want social stasis and they want it with a passion. Trump is one of their bogeymen because he is seen to represent change instigated by voters rather than the elite. Hence the borderline hysteria whenever he is seen to challenge the progressive narrative. It looks like hysteria because it is.

Friday, 7 June 2019

The memory hole

This post from WUWT is entertaining although many may have seen it already. It concerns quiet backtracking over previous official climate claims which have now become implausible.

May 30, 2019. St. Mary, Montana. Officials at Glacier National Park (GNP) have begun quietly removing and altering signs and government literature which told visitors that the Park’s glaciers were all expected to disappear by either 2020 or 2030.

However there was an interesting comment too. The kind of thing which probably goes on all the time but we hardly ever get to know about it.

Visit the Smithsonian. In the Presidents room showing those Presidents who had trouble in office (Nixon, Andrew Johnson, Clinton), the Clinton display was closed for updating during the 2016 election cycle.
All corruption and politics.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Slow news day in Derbyshire

From Derbyshire we have a story of forgotten automotive treasures.

Three abandoned cars which have spent more than 20 years stuck on a former garage forecourt have certainly got tongues wagging that they could be potentially be 'modern day classics' and collectors' items.

It comes after our story by the old South Derbyshire garage 'frozen in time' because it has been disused for so long.

Interesting? Not really.

The garage still houses an Vauxhall Cavalier, a Rover 820 and a Austin Rover Maestro - all with H registration plates which date back to 1990 - and considered modern classics if in good condition today. All the cars went out of production years ago.

Sadly though these old cars might just be the stuff of dreams as supercar dealer claims they may not be worth restoring.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The clues are out there

The clues are out there. For example the obvious similarities between sitcom character Emily Thornberry, star of Keeping Up Appearances and the actress who plays Labour Party politician Hyacinth Bucket.

Another example - Donald Trump turned down a meeting with ageing radical actor Jez Corbyn who plays the Leader of the Opposition and in private life is a long time critic of America. It should come as no surprise if the line between real life and a long-running television show becomes blurred for those who still watch the show, even for the actors. Presumably Mr Trump isn't a fan.

Yet Mr Trump did have time to chat with eccentric but modestly popular actor Chuck Windsor who has played Prince Charles for so many years. He has almost come to own the role, especially in the opinion of his loyal band of fans.

As a moderately popular situation comedy Political Life has had a good run, nobody could argue against that but modern audiences are moving on to other forms of entertainment. Shows like Political Life must up their game if they are to stay relevant to modern audiences.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Quick change artists

Blimey that didn't last long - maybe somebody isn't easy to get on with. Merely a guess but I'll put my money on Anna Soubry.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The real deplorables




I generally reserve judgement on Donald Trump but the way he froths up his political opponents seems to be deliberate. As if he is encouraging them to define themselves by what they are not rather than what they are.

His supporters seem to view themselves as hard-working people who just want to get on with their lives, but his opponents have gone out of their way to paint themselves into a different picture. In a sense it does not matter what their picture is. It doesn't matter what they are demonstrating about either because in Trump's game they are demonstrating that they not hard-working people who just want to get on with their lives.

If this is his game he certainly plays it well.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Failing to learn from mistakes

Douglas Carswell makes a familiar but still relevant point in CAPX 

The UK's elite have not learned from their mistakes - Nigel Farage has.

Success in politics, as with so many things, is often about learning from past mistakes. What is surprising, perhaps, is how few in politics – full as they are of their own sense of certainty – are able to do this...

At every opportunity, almost all of those that hold positions of authority within our country since June 2016 have acted to try to reverse the verdict of the people. Most of our Europhile Establishment don’t even regard what they have been up to since the referendum as an error. They still assume that they are somehow ameliorating the effects of a terrible misstep made by their inferiors.

The fact that all those urbane, educated people at the apex of our country, full of a sense of their own entitlement, have been slower to learn than Nigel Farage tells you something about the state of our elite.

Like the Bourbons or the Stuarts or the Romanovs, the chances that they might learn from what they have got wrong before it is too late look remote.

The piece is well worth reading. Certainly in my experience the inability to learn from mistakes is characteristic of the public sector generally. It is not a simple problem and to that degree the success of the Brexit Party may be misleading.

Friday, 31 May 2019

A TripAdvisor review

Like millions of others we often use TripAdvisor reviews as a guide to places and accommodation we haven’t visited or used before. Yet we find the reviews are only a guide and have to be used with some discretion.

For example, there is a strange TripAdvisor review against a cafe at the National Stone Centre which is an interesting and unusual place just off the High Peak Trail. We know it quite well. The cafe is just an out of the way cafe but the staff are friendly and work hard, it has a pleasant atmosphere and fine panoramic views over the hills around Wirksworth.

We have recently moved to the area, and decided to give the stone centre a visit.
We were enjoying a quiet walk round, with our dog, and found the place fascinating.
However shouting from one male individual to another, both with Lurchers, drew our attention that rabbits were being chased and killed by these dogs within this area.
I feel as this is a place where families visit, that this sort of thing should not be happening. Leaving aside the the enjoyment that this individual was getting from killing these innocent creatures, the fact that a child could quite easily have witnessed this is appalling.
If this was not authorised hunting, why was it not stopped, there were staff in the cafe!
For this reason alone, I would not recommend visiting here to families, not will we be returning!

Presumably the cafe staff should have rushed out and confronted those chaps with their lurchers. It’s odd how much weight people give to their emotions and how willing they are to share them. Very common but still odd.

Thursday, 30 May 2019


I see another TV soap opera star has passed away. My favourite character from the early days of TV soap opera was Ida Scrummit, the dragon of the Street. I well remember the episode where she laid into Alf Nibbs after the lard factory burned to the ground and disturbing rumours began to circulate around the pub. What a drama that was.

Alf – It weren’t all bad what wi’ lard factory burnin’ down like that. Summat ‘ad to be done.

Ida – Wot d’yer mean Alf Nibbs? Why did summat ‘av to be done I’d like ter know.

Alf – Some of it were ‘orse lard.

Ida – ‘Orse lard? Where’d yer get that idea. They dunna make lard from ‘orses.

Alf – I know wot I know.

Ida – An’ yer can keep it t’ yerself cause nobody else wants ter know it. ‘Orse lard indeed.

Aye they don’t make soaps like that these days. Gritty, true to life drama about real lives lived by real folk.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Boris v Ball

Boris Johnson has been ordered to appear in court over claims he lied by saying the UK gave the EU £350m a week.

The Tory leadership candidate has been accused of misconduct in public office after making the claim during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.

It is a private prosecution launched by campaigner Marcus Ball, who crowdfunded £200,000 for the case.

Gosh - some people have a serious problem with free speech. Raises his profile for the Tory leadership race though. Strange how these things crop up.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The wrong valley

Townbrook valley - the right valley

We are on holiday at the moment and yesterday were out walking on Long Mynd. Very pleasant it was too but on the way back I took us down the wrong valley. An easy mistake to make and only a couple of miles out of our way, but we are fairly experienced walkers so whom should I blame? Brexit? Theresa May? Climate change?

Modern life can be difficult like that – when it comes to apportioning blame there are too many options. 

Monday, 27 May 2019

The sweet spot

Years ago I played in a local league table tennis team with two colleagues from work. Our team captain was understandably keen to improve his game so he bought an expensive super duper carbon fibre bat. According to the marketing hype of this wonder bat the entire blade was a single sweet spot. In a normal wooden bat of those days the sweet spot was supposed to be the centre of the blade from which the ball would go straight and true at enormous speed with almost no effort.

Of course none of us was actually good enough to gain anything from such a bat so it was no surprise when our optimistic captain sent even more balls than usual whizzing over the end of the table.

It’s an interesting idea though – the sweet spot. One could use it as an analogy to describe standpoints adopted to clarify political situations. For example, it is possible to analyse Brexit in enormous detail, particularly in relation to the tangle of EU regulations. It is also possible to stand back from the detail without losing sight of its implications.

The question then arises – where is the Brexit sweet spot? The sweet spot would be some standpoint where the issue is as clear as it can be without standing so far back that the whole thing becomes too simplified because none of the issues has been given sufficient focus. To my mind the Brexit sweet spot is to be found where the primary focus is on democracy. There is nothing wrong with doing mountains of analysis but that doesn’t alter the sweet spot standpoint. This doesn’t mean a sweet spot standpoint is all we need. What it does, if we find it, is clarify everything else.

Taking the analogy further, it is possible to be too close to complex social and political issues such that the sweet spot becomes obscured. This can occur when experts try assemble enough evidence to clarify an issue when the issue cannot be clarified by evidence alone. There is too much of it, human judgement is involved and as a result cherry picking the evidence has become too prevalent.

Climate change obviously has a severe case of the cherry picking problem. Yet one might suggest that it also has a sweet spot where such complexities come into some kind of focus. Such a clarifying standpoint might claim that the climate change story is unscientific because it is not falsifiable. In that case it violates Karl Popper’s dictum that scientific theories must in principle be falsifiable.

Popper’s dictum is about as close as we get to defining good science. Move away from it and we encounter the killer question - if even in principle a theory cannot be falsified then what practical difference does it make whether it is valid or invalid?

The key words here are in principle. In principle it is possible to imagine how the climate change story could be falsified but falsification is not part of the official narrative and this is where we spot the unscientific nature of it. Hostility towards falsification is easily observed within the ranks of the climate faithful so maybe this gives us the sweet spot – the narrative is unscientific.

This is not to claim that analysis and factual investigation are not worthwhile. Of course they are enormously worthwhile. But in spite of the complexities in human affairs there appear to be sweet spots where the value of any analysis becomes clearer and misleading analysis becomes more obviously misleading. 

The sweet spot is merely an analogy though. It is still possible to send the conceptual ball whizzing over the end of the table.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Plebeian trousers

All the commotion over Theresa May's decision to quit as Conservative leader has reminded me of a much more important subject - trousers.

Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian; the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf, and hence was “ready-made”; these betraying trousers were called “hand-me-downs,” in allusion to the shelf. 

Booth Tarkington - The Magnificent Ambersons (1918)

I always thought hand me downs were items passed on from one person to another, usually clothes. I wasn't aware of the second meaning - ready-made and usually cheap and shoddy. Fortunately I've never been keen on trousers with a crease apart from weddings and funerals so maybe I never betrayed myself too much.

Hand me downs - it's an interesting term because one of our modern problems is the prevalence of hand me down politics - essentially what the EU peddles. Shoddy too - but not cheap. It's a thought isn't it? A UK Prime Minister brought down by hand me down politics.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Theresa May's managerial approach

Andrew Gimson has a piece in CAPX on Theresa May's failed managerialism. To my mind the argument doesn't quite work but is interesting nonetheless. 

Theresa May has discredited the managerial approach to politics: the idea that you can find your way through a difficult problem by mastering the detail and working out a sensible compromise. She thought her Brexit compromise was sensible, but it infuriated people on both sides of the argument, who reckoned it fell far short of what they wanted, and that it broke the various assurances she had given them.

Maybe so but I don't think voters say to themselves - strewth I'm fed up with all this managerialism. I certainly don't.

To my mind these two paragraphs are closer but not quite there -

Unfortunately for her, she could not impart the faintest trace of romance to her plan. The voters were right to detect that she had no emotional commitment to it. Her heart was not engaged, which made it impossible for her to engage anyone else’s heart. She was promoting her deal as a matter of duty, calculation, conscientious self-interest. For MPs and voters, that was not enough.

All this is beyond the comprehension of the managerial mind, with its distrust of the spontaneous, the unexpected, the gesture or feeling which takes everyone by surprise and makes us laugh or reduces us to tears. Brexit for most of the time is discussed in an unbearably dry, technocratic, managerial manner, as a series of pragmatic trade-offs which we have all got to be grown-up enough to accept. The present Prime Minister could never quite transcend that grimly reductive approach. The Conservatives now need to find someone who can.

The missing link here is honesty, particularly honesty about the series of pragmatic trade-offs. Voters would probably put up with a dry, technocratic, managerial manner if presented honestly and if the trade-offs were in the open. 

Yet as everyone knows, vested interests have few problems in corrupting the technical aspects and the trade-offs in any political debate. That's the core of it - dishonesty. That dry, technocratic, managerial manner cannot easily hide dishonesty in our digital world.