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Friday, 22 February 2019

Hard times



Taken yesterday - a photo of an old lead mine on a hillside above Hartington. There are lots of these in Derbyshire and whenever we encounter one high up on a hillside like this it is a reminder of how valuable lead ore was. Dragging any type of equipment up here, or merely some wood to shore up the mine would have been difficult and maybe impossible for a horse and cart.

Perhaps they didn't bother, but just swung those picks and took a chance. Hard times.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

A Corbyn supporter?




An early comment on Tom Bower's Corbyn biography released today.


1.0 out of 5 starsI'm not going to read it
21 February 2019
Format: Hardcover
When a so-called ruthless plot for power is to be an unobtrusive back-bencher for decades and then accidentally get elected leader I think we can make a reasonable judgement on the reliability of the rest.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

How to pull a lion


From the Daily Mail we have a tug-of-war zoo story.

A 'moronic' zoo has been blasted for letting children as young as eight play a tug-of-war with lions and tigers in a £15-a-ticket 'human v beast challenge'.

In a tweet to Datmoor Zoo, The Born Free Foundation said: '@.DartmoorZoo to offer 'Human vs Beast Experience' this February half-term. Is a tug of war game with a lion or tiger really the way to inspire respect for these animals? RT to urge the zoo to rethink this! #Don'tBuyCaptivity #KeepWildlifeinTheWild.'

This is while other activists said: 'Is this for real? What moron thought that this was a good idea'.

One Twitter user @paulwrites said: 'Are they living in medieval times? Whoever thought of this and backed it should think very carefully about demonising animals as commodities for profit.'

Meat is attached to a rope to bait the animals and when it picks it up the participants, which are on the other side of the fence, take up the other end of rope for a tug-of-war.

Suppose the zoo had built a machine which did the same thing as this tug-of-war game, it made the lions and tigers fight for their meat in the same way. The public would not be allowed to watch the machine in operation at feeding time.

Or suppose the public are allowed to watch the machine in operation at feeding time.

Or suppose the zoo had built a similar machine but members of the public could operate it from outside the animal enclosure.  

I'm sure there was a time when such counterfactual arguments were fairly common as a way to analyse arguments, dilemmas and social problems. They require a modicum of imagination but that's all. Simple counterfactual arguments are powerful and interesting do not seem to be nearly as common in the public arena as they could be.

Of course we know this dispute has nothing to do with animal welfare in zoos, its driver is an implacable opposition to zoos. I'm not that keen on them but it is perfectly conceivable that they are more useful than their detractors claim.  

Monday, 18 February 2019

I don’t believe it


Sometimes it is useful to substitute one word for another, rather different word and see where it takes us. So here we go.

Children protest over climate change and environment

A global campaign calling for action over climate change saw thousands of British children walk out of school to take part and protest.

Politics Live heard from some of those outside Parliament on what they wanted to achieve and why they were not in school.



Putting aside the monumental silliness and cynical dishonesty behind this stunt we could ask two questions.

a) Have the children been taught to believe that their future requires climate change mitigation policies?

b) Have the children been taught to advocate climate change mitigation policies?

It’s belief versus advocacy. If we use Occam’s Razor and opt for the simpler question then that would be (b). It also makes more sense because we have a pretty good idea that those children do not understand the pros and cons behind climate science, let alone the political machinations of the UN nor the numerous and complex financial and professional imperatives which keep the whole thing alive.

We could say that they have been taught to believe but it is simpler and probably more accurate to say they have been taught to advocate. A key aspect of what we call belief is more like advocacy and it seems obvious enough that those children are advocates not believers. It just makes more sense to put it that way. People proclaim their beliefs to their family, social group or even the whole world. Even children can do it because they are taught to do it and always have been. Church choirs for example.

People also proclaim their beliefs to themselves. How widely they proclaim them to the outside world varies enormously but without some kind of advocacy the idea of having beliefs doesn’t quite make sense. Or at least belief without any form of advocacy has no impact on the outside world which for current purposes will do.

An attraction of shifting from an idea of belief to the idea of advocacy is that advocacy feels shallower and closer to what we are. It feels more improvised, more like a repertoire of flexible responses linked only by the advocacy driving those responses. With advocacy we may begin to cut away those deep but unrealistic notions of mental structures which belief seems to assume. Shallow belief may be no more satisfactory than shallow advocacy, yet beliefs we seem to encounter in the real world frequently are shallow. So often they seem to be based on little more than the acceptance of some consensus. In other words - advocacy.

Advocacy seems to bring out common features of belief, its shallowness, its links with a wider social standpoint and the way supporting arguments often seem to come after the belief rather than being reasons for it. Those climate kids are doing the advocacy first – as their teachers probably did. The justifications and arguments may come later. Or one hopes - not at all.

Political life provides numerous examples where belief is clearly no more than advocacy. As advocacy it may be very deeply ingrained. Within a wider social and political standpoint it may be impossible to change, but deeply ingrained does not necessarily imply deeply analysed. It does not necessarily imply deeply understood either. With advocacy only the brief has to be understood, or at least memorised. Or at least the bullet points have to be memorised. Or at least some of them have to be memorised.

Sticking with climate change for a moment, most politicians obviously have almost no understanding of the science supposedly supporting the mainstream climate change narrative. How can they be said to believe it? The simple answer is that they don’t believe it. They advocate it because their political and social networks compel them to advocate it. There is no depth because depth isn’t required. At best, depth is limited to a few special interests.

Yet the temptation here is to assume that politicians are not like ordinary people even though those climate kids are ordinary people. It is suggested that politicians are particularly cynical and prepared to advocate ideas they do not actually believe. Yet a simpler approach is to assume that politicians are much the same as ordinary people in this respect. Ordinary people also advocate ideas they do not believe in much the same sense. They advocate ideas under social and political influences just as politicians and those climate kids do.

As with the political classes, ordinary people do not need to understand the ideas they advocate. Advocacy is frequently shallow because it has to be. If it wasn’t shallow hardly anyone would ever advocate anything because they would be forever analysing. Or in more conventional terms, hardly anyone would ever believe anything.

To take another example – how many voters understand the issues surrounding Brexit? How many understood those issues when they supposedly expressed their beliefs in the EU Referendum? Did they need to understand the issues before voting?

No - because that would render the whole referendum impossibly complex. Voters were required to advocate a course of action, a much shallower but far more pragmatic requirement. If we are honest, advocacy is all we expect of most MPs so why would we expect anything more of voters?

This is why the May government made a mess of its Brexit negotiations. Belief is advocacy and Team May effectively pretended that it could put its pro-EU beliefs to one side and advocate an orderly withdrawal from the EU. Unfortunately that never made sense. Belief as advocacy is woven into the fabric of what we are, what our social obligations and standing are.

Advocacy may be shallow but we are shallow, too shallow to put aside what we are without becoming in a very real sense someone else. This is also why interesting people are often those who analyse and criticise but tend not to advocate. Because advocacy is shallow and shallow is uninteresting.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A missed opportunity?


The other day we were out walking and on two different occasions we passed a chap who looked very much like Jeremy Corbyn. Not the same chap but two presumed lookalikes on two different occasions.

Here’s the dilemma.

The precautionary principle suggests that I should have shoved both chaps into the river just in case either of them actually was Mr Corbyn. However I didn’t and now I’m left wondering if I don’t pay enough attention to the precautionary principle. A missed opportunity to try it out perhaps?

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Paint it valdez


It’s house decorating time again so we are immersed in the vexed problem of choosing paint colours. Usually B&Q paints will do but shock horror – the B&Q own brand paint range has been changed.

Tackle any decorating project on a budget with new own brand paint range

If you’re looking to refresh your living space with new season shades, on a budget, the new B&Q GoodHome paint range is an ideal place to start.

The extensive range offers 80 shades to choose from, for general walls and ceilings. Additional specialist kitchen, bathrooms and furniture paints are available in an edited colour palette of 25 shades.



Now the colours have names such as toulon, cleveland, santo domingo and valdez. Place names which may or may not suggest a colour which may or may not be the colour B&Q has chosen to go with the name. What the blue menton blazes they were thinking of I don’t know.

A hint of cosmopolitan sophistication? No – in that case people would surely go for paint produced by an outfit with a double-barrelled name so they could leave the colour charts lying around.

I wonder if there is a colour called Jaywick?

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Dopey mothers



We’ve been doing the morning school run for quite a few years now and that entails a car journey each morning to pick up the grandkids. During the journey we see lots of mothers taking their kids to school or nursery and cannot help noticing how casual a few of those mothers are when it comes to keeping an eye on little kids skipping around next to busy roads.

Some of it is the mobile phone addiction but not always. Often there seems to be a casual assumption that their kids will be okay because everyone else is keeping an eye on them and if not they damned well ought to be because I can’t watch them all the time can I and what you doing not looking out for little kids in the first place because that’s your job in your car just as much as mine innit?

I wonder how self-driving cars will cope with this phenomenon. Do their navigation algorithms have a “dopey mother” identification mode?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

To buy or not to buy





My Kindle has Tom Bower's forthcoming biography of Jeremy Corbyn in its list of recommendations. This will be because I bought other Bower biographies in the past, but is the Corbyn tome worth buying too?

After four unremarkable decades in politics, Jeremy Corbyn stands on the brink of power. Until his surprise election as leader of the Labour Party in 2015, this seemingly unelectable oddball had not been a major political player. Since then, Corbyn has survived coup attempts and accusations of incompetence that would have felled most politicians, including grave charges of anti-Semitism, bullying and not being the master of his brief. Despite these shortcomings, as the Conservatives rip themselves apart over Europe, he is likely soon to become Britain's prime minister.

Yet this hero of the far left has done his best to conceal much of his past and personal life from public scrutiny. In this book, best-selling investigative biographer Tom Bower reveals hidden truths about Corbyn's character, the causes and organisations he espouses, and Britain's likely fate under the Marxist-Trotskyist society he has championed since the early 1970s.


Bower's books on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Robert Maxwell were easy to read, well researched and packed with interesting detail. Well worth reading, but they did not greatly modify my previous outline view of Blair, Brown or Maxwell.

For the most part the books added lots of detail and provided reminders of context and other actors in the personal dramas of those three unlovely characters. They also added highlights to the ingrained vanity and the depths of cynicism they exhibited, particularly in the case of Blair and Maxwell.

However Corbyn may never be Prime Minister and may not be an interesting character. Perhaps not interesting enough to plough through what may well turn out to be a somewhat depressing biography. How could it be otherwise? The man’s politics are those of a radical teenager who never grew up. We may learn Bower's take on why he never grew up and if his pre-beard goofy appearance affected his politics or we may not.


And yet...

...people vote for him and forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Project Fear



It isn't easy to keep track of these issues, but did climate change cause Brexit?
We should be told.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Dopey Monday



We’ve noticed this before – people seem to be particularly careless on Monday mornings. In the car this morning we encountered a series of dopey, not quite awake people, both drivers and pedestrians. Dopey Monday isn’t aggression it’s just – well dopey.

First off was a mother and her young child crossing a busy road right in front of me. Or not so much crossing the road as wandering across when her pedestrian crossing light was bright red and my traffic light was green. I double-checked as she stood there in the middle of the road wondering what to next. As if her alarm clock had only just gone off. Oh well – she eventually reached the comparative safety of the pavement.

Later a woman cheerfully waved an apology as she careered across a junction, ignoring road markings - as if driving in a straight line was the best she could manage on a Monday morning.

Then there was the old chap wandering across a pedestrian crossing in Matlock. His pedestrian crossing light was bright red too - and of course my traffic light was green. Maybe he was off in search of his first coffee.

There were more pedestrians wandering across the road in Bakewell, a few yards from the pedestrian crossing which of course was bright red yet again. One chap hesitated part way across as if he’d forgotten something. Then he saw me patiently waiting for him to make up his mind so he crossed the road as if to make sure my wait wasn’t wasted.

Fortunately tomorrow is Tuesday.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Look at me - or else


Son pointed me in this direction. It's one of those areas of life we may think we understand without going into it as deeply as perhaps we should. We all know what narcissism is – it’s a kind of vanity isn’t it? We seem to know a fair bit about it via the entertainment business but maybe we should cast the net much more widely. 

Narcissists cut a wide, swashbuckling figure through the world. The most benign type may be the charismatic leader with an excess of charm, whose only vice may be an inflated amour-propre. In stark contrast are individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, whose grandiosity soars to such heights that they are easily angered when they don't receive the attention and admiration that they consider their birthright. Bona fide narcissists may also have a tendency to disregard other people's feelings and take advantage of others to get what they want. As with many characteristics, narcissism can be viewed as a spectrum: Some people are lower on the trait and others higher, with many landing in the middle. Out-and-out narcissists exhibit the highest levels of self-flattery.

In a world where the public arena becomes more and more public with bigger and bigger audiences it should come as no great surprise if the whole show has a strong tendency to attract narcissists. As it always has of course, but maybe a bigger and brighter arena is attracting them much more strongly than in the comparatively recent past. Maybe it is also attracting them into more areas of public life than before simply because public life has become more public than it was.

Politics, major bureaucracies, major charities - they may all attract a damaging number of narcissists. It would be surprising to the point of unbelievable if they did not. As we found with Tony Blair who to this layman's eye was certainly a narcissist.

When confronted with damaging narcissists in major league politics we have to point the finger at party selection but mainly at tribal voters. Unfortunately it may well suit a political party to foist an endless supply of engaging narcissists onto a bovine electorate too familiar with offering their applause to preening entertainers. In which case the electorate may need to smarten up because it is not necessarily easy to spot the malign narcissist as opposed to the narcissist with some genuine and useful leadership qualities.

How should voters assess candidates before voting for them?

If you want to find out whether someone is a narcissist, simply ask them:

Are you a "narcissist"?

This may seem counter-intuitive at first, and it certainly doesn't always work to ask people directly about their personality traits, but the case of narcissism is unique. True narcissists do not appear to view their narcissism as a bad thing. In fact, they are likely to be proud of it! Indeed, a number of recent studies have shown that narcissists often admit that they behave in explicitly narcissistic ways, that they happily describe themselves as arrogant, braggy, etc., and even strive to be more narcissistic! Narcissists also appear aware that other people view them less positively than they view themselves, yet simply don't care.

Oh dear - I can't see that working with political candidates. May as well ask them - are you a devious, unreliable, self-centred bastard? Back to the drawing board. 

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Lost in Ikea-Land



The other day Mrs H and I visited Ikea looking some inexpensive odds and ends. Ikea is a place we generally avoid as a tedious tat maze, but when quality and durability are not at the top of the list it can be useful. Some of it is good value, some of it isn’t.

As we trundled around the Ikea-Land room layouts I remarked to Mrs H that I’d forgotten who I was and she understood exactly what I meant. It's the cloying, commercial, controlling atmosphere of the place. 

No windows, no respite from masses and masses of cheaply made and cheaply sold household wares. All those Scandinavian names which add nothing to the experience. Maybe they did a few decades ago, but today they too are merely tedious. GĂ„SPA.

Ikea-Land is a world where bleak thoughts flit around the back of the mind. What is it all for? Are we merely consumers? Why are they even looking at that cabinet - it's crap. For Ikea-Land is a world where even the cynicism comes out bland and banal.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Harm alarm


From the BBC we hear about the ultimate harm - killing. 

Knife crime: Fatal stabbings at highest level since records began in 1946

The number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales last year was the highest since records began in 1946, official figures show.

There were 285 killings by a knife or sharp instrument in the 12 months ending March 2018, Office for National Statistics analysis shows.


From Sky we have a piece about a more fashionable type of harm where even the possibility of genuine harm remains uncertain. Yet real or not, this is one our government is determined to tackle. 

The government is preparing an ambitious, world-leading plan to regulate swathes of the online world.

For once, the scheme has almost universal support; with the press, both main political parties and public opinion lined up to back it.

Everyone agrees that something - something! - must be done about the ravages of "online harms"...

Pressure groups and charities condemn it; politicians inveigh against it.

Yet when two leading researchers, Andrew Przybylski and Lucy Bowes, undertook the largest-ever study of cyberbullying in 2017, based on a representative sample of 120,115 adolescents, they concluded that children were far less likely to be victims of cyberbullying than traditional bullying, and that cyberbullying was not rising at a dramatic rate.

The campaign against it, Przybylski said, was a "panic".


It is hardly radical to suggest that covert priorities are probably at work here. Government elites seem determined to censor the internet. In their eyes the online world may be unreliable but is not unreliable in an officially approved way - such as the BBC way. A few myths and half-truths about online harm are grist to this particular policy mill. A few stabbings - not so much. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Having my picture taken



Okay not exactly my picture but a high definition real-time image taken from inside my bladder. Yes it was hospital day today – my annual bladder scan. Fortunately the camera is a fibre optic device inserted via the only possible orifice. Thank goodness for technology. And local anaesthetics.

It is not what I’d call a pleasant experience but so many people have far, far worse to contend with so I’ve no complaints. The procedure was performed by a young and attractive female doctor, so did that make it more pleasant and give me something to look forward to next year?

No. I'll still groan next year when the envelope pops through the letterbox.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

I never spoke to the man again



Follows on from the previous post after a comment by Edward Spalton who describes George Bernard Shaw as a first class shit which he most certainly was. 

The clip also gives us yet another hint of how deluded so many on the political left could be when it came to the Soviet Union.  A second video is here.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Peak drivel


Much academic and political anguish has been generated by the internet and its potential to damage the ancient art of drivel. Yet the word drivel is usually used in a pejorative sense and has been for centuries.

And therefore this proverbe is seyd ful sooth,
Him thar nat wene wel that dryvel dooth;
A gylour shal him-self bigyled be.'
Geoffrey Chaucer

However, if we take a wider perspective we soon see that drivel has always provided the basis of hierarchical societies, the language we use to describe ourselves and what we do. It has always been the glue binding social structures together. The sticky stuff which seals critical lips, gums up institutions and generally avoids the ultimate damaging question – what the hell is going on?

There is little doubt that in both the spoken and written word, drivel is the traditional and by far the best way to justify and find reasons for – well absolutely anything.

For example, radical trans philosopher Tammy-Lou Klukke has spent many years working with drivel and all its numerous manifestations. She praises drivel rather than condemning it. She is convinced of its crucial economic and social importance, putting its value to the global economy at a little over five trillion dollars. The exact figure has been disputed, but most academics working in the field are convinced that the value of drivel may simply be incalculable. It is certainly the case that millions depend on it.

This is what Klukke has to say

It's all about boundaries because boundaries are oppression. So get rid of them. Okay we all know drivel isn’t a great way to label one of our most valuable and liberating existential tools. But folks - we simply have to take a hand in weaving the beautiful poetry of our being to escape the oppressive corruption of the patriarchy. Drivel helps us with that. It expands our existential boundaries way, way beyond the tyrannical reach of power. It is the poetry of what can be without boundaries, without the razor wire of existence. Drivel is freedom - freedom from the absurd, killing restraints of what has to be – restraints deliberately engineered by the oppressor.

So hey – just embrace it. Listen to its possibilities and take hold of them. If that doesn't work just get rid of it and spin some more. You know you can do it. So just live drivel and see where it takes you because the journey is the thing, not some shrivelled up notion of bleak and cheerless destinations we never wanted to visit in the first place.

It’s a powerful message but on the other hand I think those power brokers know perfectly well what they are doing when they tirelessly promote drivel in all its myriad flavours. Klukke may claim that we all need drivel to escape from under the thumb of power, but it is those self same power brokers who feed and nourish the drivel in the first place.

No – what the power brokers fear is not drivel because they wallow in that. What they really fear is peak drivel. What they fear is a drivel drought where their sources of drivel dry up simply because the internet allows people to identify drivel as drivel. That isn’t how drivel works. It goes incognito and needs to remain that way. Peak drivel is the real threat posed by the internet.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Tacky


The things one could say about the Duchess of Sussex and her banana stunt.

The Duchess of Sussex wrote personal messages of love and empowerment on bananas for street sex workers to find in their food parcels.

Meghan and Harry had been visiting Bristol where they toured the Old Vic theatre and a boxing charity gym.

The duchess came up with the idea during an unannounced visit to the charity One25 on Friday.


"Tacky" doesn't do it justice. Maybe Harry made a mistake.