Tuesday 30 April 2019

Know thyself - or perhaps not

Edmond O'Brien was an American character actor older folk may well recall.

Oscar-winner Edmond O'Brien was one of the most-respected character actors in American cinema, from his heyday of the mid-1940s through the late 1960s.

An interesting quote is attributed to him which seems to have two versions although it may be two quotes expressed differently at different times.

IMDb - Versatility is a dangerous thing. It's very satisfying to portray many types of roles, but often your own identity gets lost. Seldom does a producer say, "This is an Eddie O'Brien part." On the other hand, while the rewards may be great in fame and financially for stars, the work becomes monotonous. No actor who plays himself is a happy person.

Wikipedia - "The funny thing about Hollywood is that they are interested in having you do one thing and do it well and do it ever after," said O'Brien. "That's the sad thing about being a leading man – while the rewards may be great in fame and finances, it becomes monotonous for an actor. I think that's why some of the people who are continually playing themselves are not happy.

O'Brien appears to be saying that the world of a cinema star can be an unhappy one because playing yourself over and over again is monotonous. Yet it is also possible that stars playing themselves get to know themselves and their personal limitations too well. Maybe that is a source of unhappiness too.

In a similar vein this may be why politicians put on an act. A political public persona may be odious but if it isn't thought to be real no damage is done to the self-esteem behind the act. 

Or they are mostly thick-skinned swine through and through. 

Monday 29 April 2019

Close encounters of the perfumed kind

As we all know artificial perfumes are a feature of modern life. Usually they pass me by without notice but I had three recent encounters which lingered. Not in my nostrils presumably, but somewhere in my olfactory brain which can be a powerful memory stimulus.

Encounter the first occurred while we browsed through a shop display of rugs. After a few minutes browsing a perfumed miasma with an orange face drifted in our direction. The Perfumed One did try to assist us in rug inspection but somehow our questions were never quite processed into helpful answers on his part.

It was a strange, disconnected experience, as if the three of us were lost in a London fog with no visible landmarks and nothing to guide us but a determination to be somewhere else. We soon acted on that determination, muttered something and made for the car park, the air of which was comparatively fresh in spite of all those alarming stories about our killer atmosphere. In our experience killer atmospheres are to be found inside, not outside.

Encounter the second occurred at our local swimming baths while we watched the grandkids at their swimming lessons. The spectator area was rather crowded and I ended up sitting next to a young mother wearing rather too much perfume. It wasn’t an unpleasant perfume and for all I know it was horribly expensive but there was far too much of it. Not quite eye-watering but too much. It may even have neutralised the atmospheric chlorine. Perhaps that was a bonus.

Encounter the third was my new shower gel. I buy cheap shower gel and even then I wait until it is on offer, so its perfume component isn’t the most subtle. My latest purchase has a strong lavender aroma which I quite like but it always reminds me of furniture polish, as if I’m polishing myself in the shower. Oh well - if I ever have dreams about life as a gateleg table I’ll know why.

Sunday 28 April 2019

What about the Lycra?

The other day I found myself scratching my head over plans to introduce human composting

Washington Will Likely Be First State to Allow ‘Human Composting’ as a Burial Method

The accelerated decomposition method transforms remains into soil and uses just an eighth of the energy required for cremation.

A new bill passed by Washington state legislators and headed to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee outlines a low impact alternative to these more traditional forms of burial. As Rachel La Corte writes for the Associated Press, the bill would make the state the first to legalize “natural organic reduction,” an accelerated decomposition method that transforms remains into soil. Also known as “human composting” or “recomposition,” the process takes between four to seven weeks and produces roughly a cubic yard of compost.

Fair enough but there are any number of unlikely but possible objections, human nature being what it is. For example, what about keen cyclists who wish to be composted as cyclists complete with cycling kit? Lycra, or Spandex as it is also known, is not biodegradable so where does that leave the composting process?

Spandex is one of several non-biodegradable synthetic fibers. Today most clothes containing spandex end up as non-recyclable waste once they've been worn out, as fabric blends containing spandex are difficult to recycle.

Knocks the edge off cycling as cutting edge environmental virtue signalling. Maybe it would be a good idea to go back to cotton shirts and woollen trousers with bamboo cycle clips as a nod to the environmental lobby.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Australia's Secret War

A video of Hal Colebatch published in 2013 in which he discusses his book  Australia's Secret War. I haven't read the book but my interest in Mr Colebatch stems a post I published in 2014.

From the YouTube video

Hal GP Colebatch, West Australian author/historian/poet, discusses his new book "Australia's Secret War" covering Australian strikes hampering the war effort in WW11. Waterside workers strikes, go-slows, sabotage and thefts involving supplies of troops and materiel to our fighting troops in the islands campaigns, are covered in detail. Colebatch's researchers expose an appalling situation covered up for 60 years by the orthodox history profession.

Thursday 25 April 2019

Hate Signalling

Of course we see more than a dash of hate signalling from Extinction Rebellion but somehow it isn't pointed out by media outfits such as the BBC. Presumably in their world there is hate that is hate and hate that isn't. Are we allowed to hate the distinction though? Probably not, that would be too hateful.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Useless or harmful liberties

From ITV - Caroline Lucas, Greta Thunberg and Jeremy Corbyn discuss climate change, something they don't understand but they know that it requires drastic action. 

The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves the individual adequate elbow room. It has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential. In such matters the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only.

The Doctrine Of Fascism - Benito Mussolini

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Microsoft diversity policies questioned

From mspoweruser we have a piece on Microsoft employees questioning the need for more diversity in the company.

It is being reported that there are discussions on an internal online messaging board where some Microsoft employees are voicing their opinions about the company’s efforts to employ more women and minorities. The company’s efforts to be more diverse are being called “discriminatory”, and comments on the threads, which now exceed 800, both agree and disagree with the the views of the posts.

“Does Microsoft have any plans to end the current policy that financially incentivizes discriminatory hiring practices? To be clear, I am referring to the fact that senior leadership is awarded more money if they discriminate against Asians and white men,” read one of the posts made by a female engineer.

“We still lack any empirical evidence that the demographic distribution in tech is rationally and logically detrimental to the success of the business in this industry….We have a plethora of data available that demonstrate women are less likely to be interested in engineering AT ALL than men, and it’s not because of any *ism or *phobia or ‘unconscious bias’- it’s because men and women think very differently from each other, and the specific types of thought process and problem solving required for engineering of all kinds (software or otherwise) are simply less prevalent among women. This is an established fact.”

Worth reading the whole thing - there are lots of comments as one might expect.

When nobody wants to play

This morning the BBC Red Button service had climate-related pieces for six out of its seven "Science" items. It feels like like middle class desperation, like a dull family party where somebody suggests a game only the children really want to play.

Sunday 21 April 2019

Medieval eggs

Aeon recently published an interesting piece on how medieval people approached personal cleanliness. As the article shows, our usual assumption that they didn't approach personal cleanliness at all is tinged with myth.

In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), two minor characters spot King Arthur. They know who he is because, as one of them points out: ‘He must be a king … he hasn’t got shit all over him like the rest of us.’ The scene encapsulates an enduring belief about the Middle Ages: medieval people were dirty. 

At the same time, the filthiness of medieval people should not be exaggerated. Much evidence shows that personal hygiene mattered to medieval people, that they made an effort to keep clean. Popular advice books recommended washing the hands, face and teeth on rising, plus further handwashing throughout the day. Other body parts were washed less frequently: daily washing of the genitals, for example, was believed to be a Jewish custom, and thus viewed with suspicion by the non-Jewish population.

There is also a topical reference to eggs, but not the chocolate variety.

Recent archaeological discoveries have brought revealing details about the realities of medieval hygiene. The preserved eggs of intestinal parasites have often been found in excavated latrine pits: for example, a recent excavation in the German port city of Lübeck suggested high levels of roundworm and tapeworm in the medieval population. And it wasn’t just the population at large who were affected. In 2012, when Richard III’s body was excavated in Leicester, his remains were found to be heavily infested with roundworm eggs. 

Thursday 18 April 2019

A supportive and caring Extinction Rebellion

Sky has some comments by Extinction Rebellion participants who certainly seem to be a mixed bunch. 

It's a problem of inequality and injustice.

I'm vegan, partly for the animals and partly for the reason of climate change.

We also hope to show people the potential joy and release you get from actually doing something about this issue.

Extinction Rebellion seems to be something that has a bit of 'go' in it.

There's a friendliness and everyone is very, very supportive and caring - this is run through with a bit of apprehension and anxiety when the police change their tactics.

I have come down today because this is my day off and I have got lots of friends and family here.

But feelings are feelings when people get energised and at least people aren't being murdered etc.

I walked most of the way here from Land's End on the 'Earth March'. I was walking for four weeks. The atmosphere here is absolutely brilliant.

Example comments passed on by journalists here and elsewhere suggest that many participants have little or no knowledge of the scientific method, climate science, the wider environment, economics or anything technical which might be relevant to their cause. The principal attraction seems to be an emotional togetherness binge which pretends to be constructively anti-establishment.

The whole thing is a reminder of Baruch Spinoza's observations on emotion and understanding. To a significant degree emotion and understanding are mutually exclusive. As we understand something its emotional impact is lessened. If we wish to nurture an emotional impact then we have to misunderstand its cause.

The media have been fostering emotional misunderstanding for a very long time so this kind of reaction to an ersatz noble cause is hardly surprising. Yet the overall impression probably does not find favour with more professional promoters of the climate game. The juvenile silliness of it could be another signal that serious interest is waning.  

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Columbo in the desert

We’ve been here in our Norfolk accommodation since Saturday and although there is a television it only receives terrestrial programmes. Which is okay because we watch very little television, but it has begun to seem somewhat old fashioned. Nevertheless, as we are on holiday something different is indicated so we have scanned the available programmes each evening. Unfortunately among dozens and dozens of channels we have yet to find anything worth watching. Television? It’s a desert but you already knew that.

However we did find a single episode of Columbo. Not exactly a cultural oasis because I can't even remember what happened but we watched it and passed a couple of hours pleasantly enough. Pleasant enough for holiday entertainment anyhow, but the episode was thirty years old and as predictable as Columbo always is.

I may be wrong because I’m not a Columbo expert but they all seem to go something like this.

We know the identity of the murderer as soon as he or she does the dirty deed. Everyone is glossy and prosperous. Columbo is scruffy, drives a ratty old car, always has a cigar on the go and has his pockets full of screwed up bits of paper some of which are vital scraps of evidence. He knows who did the foul deed but has to construct a case based on tiny mistakes made by the over-confident murderer. He never exits a scene with the murderer without turning back with the words “oh, just one more thing.”

Oh well. It was thirty years old but just about watchable.

Tuesday 16 April 2019

See me afterwards

By Jeremy Corbyn class III – a report of my speech to teachers.

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged that Labour would scrap formal tests in primary schools in England, known as Sats.

The tests left children in floods of tears or vomiting with worry, he told members of the National Education Union in Liverpool to loud whoops and cheers.

He said it would free up schools struggling with funding cuts and congested classrooms, and help teacher recruitment and retention.

The move means school league tables based on the tests would be ended too.


Do try to avoid lying Corbyn! The tests left teachers in floods of tears or vomiting with worry would be more accurate as we both know. 

See me afterwards.

Monday 15 April 2019

Peak cake

Today we treated ourselves to an excellent breakfast in an eatery we’ve used before while visiting Norfolk. The coffee is good too.

Setting off a nearby cake display was an enormous confection made from three thick layers of sponge cake one on top of the other, all cemented together with layers of jam and buttercream. We were able to examine the construction of this monster because a slice had been removed - possibly for that reason. The whole thing was finished off all over with a thick layer of more buttercream. A few strawberries artistically scattered across the top made it look more healthy.

We’ve seen these monster sponge cakes before so this one was nothing new but we both compared it to sponge cakes our mothers made in the fifties. Just one layer of sponge cake would have been enough for my mum. She would have sliced it horizontally to make two layers of sponge, spread jam in the middle to stick then together then she would have iced the top with traditional icing.

In other words the cake we saw today was three times the size of one of my mother’s sponge cakes even if we ignore the enormous amount of buttercream.

The huge size of modern cakes is one reason we rarely indulge. Even scones are enormous compared to earlier times. Modern cakes can be so huge and such obvious calorie bombs that I’m tempted to think we may have reached peak cake. If so then we could see a trend towards conspicuous frugality where the really trendy cake has to look like an abstemious slice of coconut matting sprinkled with nuts.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Defensive driving

We are on holiday in Norfolk at the moment. Pleasant but chilly. On the way here we drove past Sandringham so I was particularly keyed up and alert in case Prince Philip darted out of some obscure side road. Fortunately there was no sign of him so we count that as a good start.

Speaking of which I'm reminded of a recent family conversation about defensive driving and what appears to be a greater need for it. The problem seems to be an increased level of inattention rather than excessive speed or aggression. As mentioned in the previous post, it's the distractions in modern cars. We often see it when following another vehicle - the driver is obviously distracted by something.

Only this morning we were strolling back from a leisurely breakfast when a car blithely drove out from a side road onto the main road right in front of another car. No accident, just casual inattention where fortunately the other driver was paying attention. As if more responsibility has fallen into the hands of defensive drivers.

In the recent past Mrs H has mentioned the erratic driving of young women who seem to have too many things on what we traditionally call their "minds". Parking at strange angles with one wheel on the pavement or lurching off without taking a quick gander at oncoming traffic. Manoeuvre, mirror, signal seems to be a common approach.

Friday 12 April 2019

Parked on the wall

The other day found us tootling along a familiar road with lots of gentle bends and some pleasantly scenic views. A pavement runs by the side of the road and on the other side of the pavement is a low stone wall.

Towards the end of a bendy stretch there is a gentle right hand bend and on the bend was a fairly new car straddling the stone wall. It was broad daylight, the road was dry and no other vehicle was involved. Yet somehow the car had recently left the road, hit the stone wall and ended up on top of it. A number of vehicles had stopped to help and fortunately the driver seemed okay although the car was obviously a write-off.

There are a number of possible causes one could guess at such as mechanical failure or a puncture. As the speed limit on that stretch of road is 50 mph and that equates to about 73 feet per second, a brief distraction could also cause such an accident. 

I've no idea what actually did cause this particular accident and maybe it wasn't the driver's fault at all, but modern cars have at least three significant ways by which drivers can be distracted for that crucial second. Or in this case that crucial 73 feet. Sat nav, mobile phone or music system would do it.

Monday 8 April 2019

This Time, Things Will Be Different

Kristian Niemietz has a piece in Quillette about the seemingly endless failures of socialism, Venezuela being the latest of a long series of disasters.

Germany’s socialist left is currently embroiled in a row over the correct stance on Venezuela. The conflict came to the fore at the February conference of Die Linke, the country’s main socialist party, when a group of Nicolás Maduro fans stormed the stage, chanting slogans and waving banners with pro-Venezuela messages...

This coincides with the portrayal, and the self-perception, of “millennial socialist” movements across the Western world. A lot has been written recently about the resurgence of socialism among young voters. Socialist candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the United States, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France have seen huge surges in popularity. And while the candidates themselves span the age spectrum, they all find their most enthusiastic support among young people.

Niemietz has also written a book about socialism and its cycles of enthusiasm, failure and eventual disowning by Western socialists. The book is worth reading too.

As I show in my new book Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies, socialist projects always go through honeymoon periods, during which they are enthusiastically endorsed by Western intellectuals. But since socialist policies generally lead to economic failure, and sometimes even political repression, those honeymoon periods typically don’t last for more than a decade. Then these foreign example fall out of fashion, and get retroactively reclassified as counterfeit socialism. The USSR, North Vietnam, Cuba and Maoist China all functioned as utopias du jour. In the 1970s, some Western intellectuals even pinned their hopes on more obscure areas of the world, such as Cambodia, Albania, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Nicaragua.

There is an interesting observation which Niemietz makes in the book but not in this Quillette piece. It concerns the way socialists have a strong tendency to define their political ambitions in terms of desired outcomes rather than the practical means to achieve those outcomes. The problem is obvious enough because we see the same thing elsewhere.

For example we are too familiar with sustainable energy projects based on claims of starry-eyed outcomes which are neither technically nor economically feasible. It is surely interesting that we see the same cart before horse enthusiasms in socialism.

Niemietz's final point is the one all non-socialists must be aware of, the one socialists never learn. Socialism is only a small scale way of organising societies. It is essentially linear in its core concepts and cannot scale up to the non-linear complexities of modern societies and economies.

Regardless of what socialists say they want to build, socialism can only mean a society run by large, hierarchical government bureaucracies. It can only mean a command-and-control economy directed by a distant, technocratic elite. The reason it always turns out that way isn’t because revolutions are “betrayed” by selfish or undisciplined actors, but because no other path is possible. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that every generation needs to learn for itself—which is why each cohort is sneered at by its younger counterparts.

At the Die Linke conference, it was a fight about Nicolás Maduro and the fate of Venezuela. A decade from now, the spectacle will be repeated—with different names and flags. When it comes to socialism, hope springs eternal, even as socialism’s victims inevitably fall into poverty.

Sunday 7 April 2019

Green Darwin Award

Via the BBC we hear of yet another candidate for a Darwin award.

A suspected rhino poacher has been trampled on by an elephant then eaten by a pride of lions in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Accomplice poachers told the victim's family that he had been killed by an elephant on Tuesday. Relatives notified the park ranger.

A search party struggled to find the body but eventually found a human skull and a pair of trousers on Thursday.

The managing executive of the park extended his condolences to the family.

"Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise," he said. "It holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that."

Somehow it seems churlish not to award the chap a special Green Darwin Award because of the way he posthumously recycled himself as lion poo.

Saturday 6 April 2019

Summoning the Recluse

It is easy to understand the attraction, this familiar and ancient urge to leave behind the pressures and inadequacies of too much human contact. Yet most people seem able to insulate themselves well enough without this level of physical isolation, but that can lead to problems too. 

It's too romantic for me. The curmudgeon's way is better. 

Thursday 4 April 2019

Veggie balls

Date check - no it's not April 1st.

A story in the Grauniad offers us yet another benefit of EU membership. Where would we be without it?

Veggie burgers are for the chop, a Brussels committee has decreed, to be replaced by the less palatable-sounding “veggie discs”.

And it won’t be just bean or mushroom burgers condemned to the food bin of history. Vegan sausages, tofu steaks and soya escalopes could all be approaching their ultimate best-before date, after a vote in the European parliament on revisions to a food-labelling regulation.

The protected designations would include steak, sausage, escalope, burger and hamburger, under a revised regulation that passed with 80% approval. The measures will now be voted on by the full parliament after May’s European elections, before being put to member states and the European commission.

The French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu, responsible for overseeing the legislation, said the prohibition was just “common sense” and he appealed to Europeans’ sense of foodie history.

That's the way to do it. We'll show the rest of the world how to forge ahead in those areas of  life which really matter.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Parliament stripped naked

A silver lining in the Brexit debacle has been the way it shines a highly unflattering light on Parliament, political parties, the adversarial system, first past the post, the mainstream media, a host of individuals and the electorate.

How did it happen? It cannot have been planned, not even by the EU. Maybe it happened because the main actors do not understand a digital world which is changing the way we view their games. They seem to misunderstand how exposed they are on this strange new digital stage. Otherwise they would have behaved differently.

Theresa May and her inner circle do not seem to have understood how impossible it was to negotiate a version of Brexit acceptable to both sides of the debate without being found out. Neither did they foresee how furtively transparent the whole sorry mess would be. Neither did they foresee that it would be a mess of this magnitude, impossible to hide in a global theatre where nobody dictates the narrative.

Virtually nobody comes out of it smelling of roses and this may be the Brexit silver lining because such a glaring degree of naked exposure is surely healthy. Although that thought should be approached with care hem hem.

How will it pan out once the dust settles? Impossible to say as usual. Predicting the future is a mug's game but the Brexit mess seems almost certain to change a host of political perceptions.

Seismic political events do not necessarily initiate sudden changes and often it is only with hindsight that we even see the change. Yet we have wandered around backstage, seen the actors without their makeup, heard them squabbling about trivia, seen them forget their lines. It must surely make a difference to the way we view future performances. Eventually the performance itself  may have to change. Let us be optimistic.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Boris for PM?

Political Betting has a piece on the next Tory leader.

I think, though, we may be looking at the wrong key parameter for what will determine the next Conservative leader. In a case where a political leader is seen as a failure and / or tainted, the reaction tends to produce a leader who is seen as the opposite (Corbyn after Miliband springs to mind, Thatcher after Heath etc)...

...I think most Conservative MPs and, less so, members get that. There is grudging admiration for her tenacity but a realisation that it is the lack of human empathy that has caused many of the problems we are seeing now...

...That means that the key lesson that Conservative MPs take from May’s Premiership is not they need a committed Brexiteer or, conversely, a Remainer to stop the Brexit faction but that the next leader should be someone who does human: is comfortable in their own skin, is not necessarily perfect but who can actually connect with what ordinary people are thinking and whom people would like – in effect, someone with whom they would like to go down the pub for a pint (and, no, I am not thinking Farage)...

...Who does that leave (pardon the pun)? I think Boris Johnson, for all his faults, comes out well.

The whole piece is worth a read. The Tories probably do need to regain some perception of humanity after Theresa May's disastrously mechanical stint but most of the Tory faces we see are not strong on humanity.  

Monday 1 April 2019

Don’t eat the soap

What would an ancient Egyptian know of a telephone by looking at it? What would a Roman or a Greek make of a jet plane, or of radio? Or, coming right down to the simple things, if you saw a slab of chocolate for the first time you might think it was for mending shoes, lighting the fire, or building houses – about the last thing you’d think was that that hard brown rectangle was meant for eating – and when you did find it out, you’d most likely try eating soap, too, because the texture was similar and the colour was more attractive.

John Wyndham - The Seeds of Time (1956)

These historical speculations are so common that it is easy to forget how dramatic their implications are. Our super-complex technical world evolved with extraordinary rapidity but it is not easy to say why. Any explanation is untestable and to that extent unsatisfactory. 

The implications are equally interesting but equally unsatisfactory. We did not evolve within this modern technical environment and it is fairly obvious that we still think in pre-modern ways, tribal ways which no longer work as they evolved to work.

For example, the chattering classes deplore those who in their view are irredeemably tribal in their social and political outlook. Yet there is no tribe more tribal than the chattering classes. Outsiders who do not speak their language are unwelcome, inferior, barbarian oiks from the wrong tribe camped on the wrong side of the tracks.

There is an underlying element of fear too, but a fear which cannot be admitted. The chattering classes see outsiders as somewhat mysterious and unpredictable - weird people who know how to get things done, how things really work. Difficult people who dabble in the dark arts of integrity and even honesty.

It may well be that we should acknowledge our tribal evolution and accept that it has not disappeared so we may as well make the best of it. As for the chattering classes, that is one tribe we could do without - considering the problem from a tribal point of view.