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.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Democracy or a Mickey Mouse parliament?

I'll be voting for The Brexit Party tomorrow. Not to select the right people to sit in a Mickey Mouse parliament but as a political statement about the way Brexit has been handled. For voters in a peacetime democracy the number one voting consideration is democracy itself. Is it being made stronger, weaker or about the same? Everything else comes second. 

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Anything short of terrorism

Quillette has an interesting review of a book by Terri Murray - Identity, Islam and the Twilight of Liberal Values.

Islamists in the West have successfully hijacked the moral prestige of liberal terminology for the purposes of disseminating ultra-social conservative beliefs and practices. Murray quotes the Pakistani-American writer Tashbih Sayyed, who pithily summarises the effects of this strategy as follows:

By casting its fascist agenda in terms of human rights and civil libertarian terms, political Islam has successfully been able to use the American liberal and progressive groups to project itself as an American phenomenon and win intellectual elites, liberals, and the media with left leanings on its side.

Murray correctly observes that violent acts of Islamic terrorism have had the effect of misleading people into thinking that anything short of terrorism is “moderate.” She points out that the ideology of an organisation may be extremist and deeply illiberal even if the group does not resort to violence to promote its views.

The whole piece is well worth reading. I particularly like this point - Murray correctly observes that violent acts of Islamic terrorism have had the effect of misleading people into thinking that anything short of terrorism is “moderate.”

Monday 20 May 2019

Size matters


This is an oddity. By some quirk of the spacetime continuum a Neolithic man has been able to reach across thousands of years and study our world while remaining in his own time. How he does this I’m not sure but he has learned our language, studied our ways and sent some messages – observations about our time compared to his.

His name translates as Glurk and his most interesting observations focus on primitive modes of thought which he knows well but we don’t. Over to Mr Glurk –

Hi guys – Glurk here. It isn’t Mr Glurk by the way, just Glurk. Let’s start with the most important Neolithic concept of all, the one which shapes our lives and our way of making sense of the world here in Stoneville. That concept translates nicely into English as Big.

I don’t really live in a place called Stoneville by the way. I just made that up because it sounds nicer than the reality which is rather more basic than the name suggests. It has its good points though – we don’t have television or political correctness. We definitely don’t have political correctness. Ha ha – no that’s another story.

Anyhow - Big matters because size matters. It’s how we make that most basic of all assessments – is it Bigger than me and mine? Seems obvious to us here in Stoneville but you guys complicate things. You don’t always see how your ideas are still dictated by Big because you are essentially the same as us. Rather more weedy than we are but I don’t hold that against you.

So if anything is Bigger than you or your tribe then you need to know. That’s obvious too or at least I hope it is. It’s certainly obvious to us here in Stoneville so it certainly ought to be obvious to you guys with all your sophistication such as your soap operas and flat pack furniture. Except usually it isn’t obvious to you is it?

Let’s take a couple of examples of how Big works, how it directs your thinking just as it directs ours.

Number one – Brexit and the EU. Now everything I see and read about Brexit tells me that the only reason some of you voted Remain is because you were screwed up by Big. The EU is Bigger than the UK and that’s the only Remain argument anyone ever put forward. Remainers say the EU is Bigger than the UK and that’s it. They don’t usually put it quite like that of course but really – that’s as far as it goes.

The trouble is, you guys need to get beyond the primitive stuff and stop being influenced by Big all the time. Your world is far more complex than mine and while Big works really well for us it isn’t working for you. It doesn’t matter how Big the EU is, your Remainers can’t just use Big as their only way of thinking about it. You have to teach them somehow. Use something Big is my advice. Usually works around here.

Number two – climate change. Climate change is a good example of you lot going overboard with Big. That Big climate and those Bigged up stories about your Big car exhausts making all the temperatures really Big. Then you have the Big institutions behind it, the Big number of scientists supporting it and Big media flogging it to death all the time. Really I’m surprised at you falling for this one. It’s such obvious Big talk.

Moving on to sport... oh that’s it for now. I think the spacetime quirk is closing.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Add your own egg

Our nearest Starbucks is located in a shopping centre we visit every now and then. Recently we’ve tried to make sure we visit the centre round about 9.30 am because at that time in the morning the car park is almost empty and the whole place has that early morning start of the day feel to it. An hour later that atmosphere has gone completely, never to return until the following morning.

We quite like Starbucks although we would never visit the shopping centre merely to drink coffee there. We aren't quite that far gone. We used to dislike the coffee but presumably something has changed and presumably it wasn’t Starbucks coffee. No matter, coffee isn’t really the theme of this post.

As we sit there over our coffee watching the car park fill up we always notice how many Starbucks customers spend their time tapping away at laptops or conducting what is obviously some kind of informal business meeting. Others are fiddling with their phones, keeping the kids under control or just chatting. There is a quiet buzz, a sense that this is a brief period of deserved relaxation before other things have to be done, other matters have to be attended to.  

Although this coffee shop is a tiny part of a massive international business, the atmosphere feels relaxed, informal and somehow permanent. As if the place has been here in this shopping centre for many decades and will still be here for decades to come. Why is that? I look around the place, study the corporate decor, the tables, chairs, colour scheme, coffee displays and so on but I can’t really see how it’s done.

Presumably a great deal of effort goes into creating a corporate Starbucks ambience which in turn leads to the coffee shop atmosphere they want and as far as I can see it works. From a more traditional perspective it may not be the real thing because there is no amiable proprietor exchanging pleasantries, no obvious regulars and only a massive car park visible through the windows.

Yet there is that relaxed atmosphere - no doubt about it. As a coffee shop it works exactly as it should, as if someone somewhere calculated it to the nth decimal place and got it right. It works and the customers obviously absorb what it offers and like it whether they think about it or just accept it. In which case, where does this successful coffee shop atmosphere come from?

To answer that question we would usually think in terms of deep corporate cunning, psychological cues embedded in the advertising and product placement, the decor and the layout of tables and chairs, the colour schemes, materials, textures and an artfully placed settee all designed to pack them in with an illusory aura of spacious informality.

Except it isn’t an illusion because simple observation suggests that customers also create the atmosphere - the buzz, the sense of relaxation. They help create what they want, what brings comfort and a sense of belonging. Belonging to what? It doesn’t matter – something known, accepted and almost cool if you play it right. Everything customers do adds to the atmosphere, builds on the corporate template by flavouring it with the real thing, the human touch, the sense of contact and belonging.

One could easily go further and suggest that people like the reassurance of a massive corporate presence which is unmistakably there but isn’t obtrusive. Perhaps they like its sense of permanence, because corporate entities such as Starbucks are so massive that they do exude an air of permanence. Desirable or not, it works.

And what is not to like about comfortable permanence? One where you help make your own atmosphere? As genuine as a packet of cake mix perhaps, but even with cake mix you are sometimes required to add your own egg – to make it partly your cake rather than wholly theirs.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Something more than dark satanic mills

Charles Downer Hazen’s book The Long Nineteenth Century was first published in 1917 then revised in 1919 to expand Hazen’s observations on the First World War. The book is an historical overview of the nineteenth century from the French Revolution to the First World War, so there is historical overlap at either end in order to maintain perspective.

I would not usually read a history book as old as this in case important later findings are missed or better scholarship changes perspectives. However, the interesting aspect of Hazen’s book is that he was much closer to the nineteenth century than we are. Seen through his eyes, key events seem more vivid. It is this vivid perspective which brings alive the importance of democracy because Hazen clearly sees democracy as one of the most important developments of the nineteenth century.

Through Hazen’s eyes the industrial revolution, the slums and the industrial squalor are still there but the struggle for democracy also comes to the fore - and what a struggle it was. Fortunately it was a successful struggle in many countries. For example, even a century ago it was apparent that Swiss democracy was well worth studying and emulating.

Since 1848 Switzerland has pursued a course of peaceful development, but one of extraordinary interest to the outside world. This interest consists not in great events, nor in foreign policy, for Switzerland has constantly preserved a state of strict neutrality, but in the steady and thoroughgoing evolution of certain political forms which may be of great value to all self-governing countries. There have been developed in Switzerland certain processes of lawmaking the most democratic in character known to the world.

Charles Downer Hazen - The Long Nineteenth Century (1919)

Amid all the insanely bloody and wholly cynical games played by European kings, queens, princes and aristocrats during the nineteenth century, the slow rise of democracy grows and grows like a flower on a dung heap.

This is a perspective we have almost lost today – games played over the Brexit referendum demonstrate that. Whatever else it may be, the EU is not a democracy and does not intend to be one. Yet as Hazen’s book so ably demonstrates, democracy is an insane gift to throw away on a raft of political dishonesty.

Without strong democracies the totalitarian loons will ride again. Unfortunately we are in some danger of losing the passion we need to defend our democracy against them because we have never lived without it. If ruling elites have their way, then one day we will have to live without it.

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Is May one of the worst prime ministers?

Sky asks the obvious question.

Sky Views: Will Theresa May be remembered as one of UK's worst prime ministers?

Theresa May is still in No 10 but this week even she seemed to acknowledge this is borrowed time, as the prime minister began to author an alternative legacy to the rather damning political obituary her party and the wider political class might well decide to write.

I don't know the answer to this question because we've had some real stinkers as PM - Blair and Brown spring immediately to mind. The problem is, if we bung the Brexit mess on May's shoulders we avoid wider questions about democracy and the covert role of establishment pressures on government business.

Brexit shows us that we have work to do on our democracy and it also shows us that far too many voters don't understand why. Mrs May may indeed be a stinker of a PM, but the wider problems we have with our democracy are not her doing. She is certainly part of the problem but voters keep on voting for stinkers and that is not May's doing either. 

Tuesday 14 May 2019


The A38 this morning - an overturned lorry shed its load of broken glass intended for recycling. It must say something about our society. Not the overturned lorry, but the idea of carting tons of broken glass around the country.

Monday 13 May 2019

The Gulf of Convenience

A frustrating aspect of political life is the way activists exaggerate the differences between their standpoint that of others who supposedly occupy the opposite pole of that imaginary political spectrum we refer to as left and right. Or left and left or right and right or up and down. It's never easy to pinpoint these things.

For example - for years I have been accustomed to think of Jeremy Corbyn as an old style trade union communist. Yet occasionally I see him as a fascist, supposedly at the opposite end of the political spectrum. This issue is perfectly familiar and it even has a name - horseshoe theory.

In political science and popular discourse, the horseshoe theory asserts that the far-left and the far-right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe. 

If pressed I’d go further and suggest that anyone so inclined could easily maintain the argument that Corbyn is indeed a fascist who has spent his political life making common cause with overseas fascists even though we do not generally refer to such people as fascists. It's an argument one could make because political language is so loose.

This is the problem - the imaginary gulf between extreme political positions because extreme political positions are rather common. If one listens carefully to everyday conversation then huge numbers of people hold extreme political views anyway. Many would nationalise vast swathes of the economy, control prices, drastically increase punishment of criminals and extend judicial punishment to any number of social or political misdeeds. Many seem to be far left and far right rolled into one.

Huge numbers of people see the government as the only significant actor on the political stage, as if anyone else who ventures onto the stage should be kicked off it. The government should do something, the police should do something, “they” should do something. Guardian readers are particularly keen on this approach.

Almost always it is the central power which should do something and that something tends to imply a drastic curtailment of liberty. People in general are not particularly liberal politically and among the most illiberal are those who purport to be liberals. That’s the problem of political language working its malign magic.

One consequence of the corruption of political language is that many MPs in the House of Commons should not be there. They are not suited to the role and apparently unaware of their own deficiencies. Yet we lack the clear and distinct language to say who they are and why they are unsuitable. We fall into the swamps of party loyalty, abuse, ridicule or convoluted political analysis none of which really meets the need.

Too many MPs are merely public employees who cannot do the job, never will be capable of doing it and ought to be dismissed. Many have no real experience beyond the political bubble. Yet we do not have the common ground to say this as cogently as we should. We do not have politically untainted language, the factual language we might use to assess the capabilities of any employee. And MPs are employees – we tend to forget that. But maybe that’s the way they like it.

A Peter Sellers story

Saturday 11 May 2019

The ANC wins again

From the BBC we have yet another story about voters who never seem to learn.

South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) has been returned to office after winning parliamentary election, but with a reduced majority.

The ANC secured 58% of the vote, ahead of the Democratic Alliance (DA) on 21%. The radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), came third with 11%.

The ANC, which has been in power since 1994, won 62% of the vote at the last general election in 2014.

Anger over the economy and corruption may have eroded its appeal.

A few years back BizNews gave us the graph below. It shows South Africa's annual GDP per capita in US dollars per president of South Africa.

Even casual outside observers of South Africa understand that a disaster may be unfolding here. One hopes not but South African voters need a solution and it clearly isn't the ANC.

Thursday 9 May 2019

The tabulators and the watersifters

Now it is a fact that I have never called myself a ‘realist,’ and I have never put forth any work as ‘realism.’ I decline the labels of the schoolmen and the sophisters: being a simple writer of tales, who takes whatever means lie to his hand to present life as he sees it; who insists on no process; and who refuses to be bound by any formula or prescription prepared by the cataloguers and the pigeon-holers of literature...

In conclusion: the plan and the intention of my story made it requisite that, in telling it, I should largely adhere to fact; and I did so. If I write other tales different in scope and design, I shall adhere to fact or neglect it as may seem good to me: regardless of anybody’s classification as a realist, or as anything else. For though I have made a suggestion, right or wrong, as to what a realist may be, whether I am one or not is no concern of mine; but the concern (if it be anybody’s) of the tabulators and the watersifters.

Arthur Morrison - A Child of the Jago (1896)

Morrison is defending himself against those who tried to classify him and his stories about life in a fictional London slum - the Jago based on Old Nichol. In his view he simply wrote stories which adhered closely to what he saw and knew well. 

This was his art, his way of doing something about what he saw, showing middle class people what slums were for those who had to live in them. Some didn't like his uncompromising word pictures, but to classify him as a ‘realist’ was to shift the focus from the slums to the writer and Morrison seems to have disliked that shift.

The tabulators and the watersifters – we have even more of them today. Shift the focus, always shift the focus – it’s what they do.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Polyester clothing

We were walking in the Eyam area again today. It rained all day and was cold up there in the hills but that did not detract much from the walk. Okay the views would have been more impressive with better visibility but it was atmospheric and good to be out in the elements. As we sat under dripping trees eating our lunch I remarked how good modern clothing is at keeping those elements at bay.

Apart from socks our outer walking clothes are made almost entirely from man-made fibres. Mainly polyester as far as I can see, although nylon, elastane, and polyurethane are used too. Not much cotton or wool and certainly no silk although I do have a scarf made from Merino wool and my boots are part leather.

Every winter and every time we go walking in poor weather I notice the same thing - outdoor walking clothes are warmer and generally more practical than traditional clothing made from natural fibres. If I walk around the house in just a few layers of walking gear I’m warmer than usual.

Yet our ordinary clothes are often made from cotton or wool, presumably because these fibres still have some cachet. Of course there is a recycling issue too. A nettle still to be grasped no doubt.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

The Wolfie Corbyn problem

A particular problem with Jeremy Corbyn has been alluded to here and there ever since he was accidentally booted into the leadership limelight. Is he more Wolfie Smith than Comrade Corbyn?

For most of his inglorious career Corbyn has lent his MP status to all manner of unsavoury characters, causes and organisations. That’s the behaviour, it is on record and perhaps there is no point in delving further. Partly because we can’t unless we happen to know him personally and partly because the behaviour is probably all we need to know.

Not only that, but the key political point is that he attracts some unpleasant people who certainly do not resemble Wolfie Smith. Nobody took Wolfie Smith seriously and hardly anyone seems to take Corbyn seriously but the people he attracts and seeks out – they are the clue to his political significance.

Yet the man is clearly a plonker and the Wolfie Smith question remains. Oddly enough that may be his only real strength, as those close to him politically will understand.

Any truth that emerges

Dr Thorndyke

'Every fact,' replied Thorndyke, 'is relevant to something, and if you accumulate a great mass of facts, inspection of the mass shows that the facts can be sorted out into related groups from which certain general truths can be inferred. The difference between the lawyer and the scientist is that one is seeking to establish some particular truth while the other seeks to establish any truth that emerges from the available facts.'

R. Austin Freeman - The Cat's Eye (1923)

This quote is taken from a detective story in the Sherlock Holmes mould but it encapsulates a fundamental problem with democracy. Within any government there tends to be an inevitable bias towards the outlook of the lawyer. A bias which is seeking to establish some particular truth. Inevitably that will be some particular political or bureaucratic truth. We see it all the time - climate change is just one of its outcomes. In other words, democratic governments cannot be both entirely truth-seeking and entirely democratic.

Not only that but we should not expect democratic governments to be truth-seekers. Not merely because the political classes are too horrible and self-interested to be truth-seekers but because this cannot be the way democratic governments do business.    

Any democratic government would have great difficulty in trying to manage its business from a standpoint where it seeks to establish any truth that emerges from the available facts. Such an approach would be virtually impossible to sustain. It would be too slow, too uncertain and the political classes could not easily project themselves as active actors within the government process. The stage would too small, the roles too limited to sustain large egos.

While this inbuilt difficulty seems to be the case with democracies, a stable totalitarian state might well be able to watch and wait as it seeks to establish any truth that emerges from the available facts. Especially is such a government manages to free itself from the conceptual restrictions of political ideology. I suspect this is where China intends to go. Put crudely it intends to seek out the truth and use it. Such a government could be formidable indeed.

Monday 6 May 2019

Bank Holiday quiz - guess who

She had been a dreamer, an adept at make-believe, but the poor coverings she had wrought for a dingy reality were now too threadbare to hide it.

He had made a sensation, had seen wonder and respect in dull eyes, and tasted for a moment that esteem which he had singularly failed to find elsewhere.

John Buchan - The Path of the King (1921)

Sunday 5 May 2019

To supper and to bed with a heavy heart.


So God help us! and God knows what disorders we may fall into.... and then to supper and to bed with a heavy heart. 

Diary of Samuel Pepys.

Saturday 4 May 2019


This morning Granddaughter was eating cream crackers spread with butter and jam. I warned her not to get butter on the treasured set of books she had brought to the table. When asked why not I found myself explaining that butter cannot be removed from paper.

“Why not,” asked Granddaughter.

“Because it sinks into the paper and you can’t get it out again.”

“What else does butter sink into?”

“Many other things that are soft,” I explained, “such as clothes.”

“Does butter sink into rats?”


...oh well. Defeated yet again. And I thought it was a straightforward conversation.

Oddly enough I was immediately reminded of similar bizarre excursions by Anna Soubry, although Ms Soubry isn’t six years old.

Thursday 2 May 2019

Corbyn endorses nice weather

From the BBC we have exciting news about Jeremy Corbyn's demand that the government should do its bit to ensure nice weather forever.

MPs have approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency.

This proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who tabled the motion, said it was "a huge step forward".

Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate "emergency" but did not back Labour's demands to declare one.

It is difficult to see where the Conservatives can go on this one. Over the longer term voters will soon notice if the weather is significantly better under Labour governments. Especially if Conservative governments make it more likely that Brighton will be washed away by a hurricane or Norfolk is flooded by monsoon rains every year.

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Revenge politics

It is virtually impossible to ignore politics but it’s a strange game to watch voluntarily. Not exactly enjoyable as a spectator sport is it? 

A strong undertow in all kinds of political advocacy seems to be revenge, the revenge of one social class over another. Not at all dignified as a motive but as a motive it seems to be strong one. Political activists tend to act and speak as if they are not so much interested in reform, but something more akin to revenge against those they perceive as their enemies. Of course political enemies are portrayed as bad people but enemies always are. In a similar vein, social justice warriors seem far more concerned with revenge rather than justice.

Revenge is a core element of politics simply because the enemy is a core element of politics and only the apolitical seem relatively free of it. This is not to claim that naked revenge is all we need consider when we attempt to analyse political behaviour. The issue is more diffuse than that and also bound up with a sense of grievance. 

Yet in political hands grievance goes awry too. For one thing political grievance in the developed world can be so absurdly contrived. So contrived that we may as well assume it is not genuine and the grievance is merely the means to an end. That end seems to be revenge again, not amelioration of the grievance. Perhaps amelioration without revenge won’t do because the grievance would have to be genuine.

To take a topical example. Climate change activism appears to be the revenge of an uneasy middle class over the uppity prosperity of all those lower down the social scale. Sometimes it is revenge on all those who ought to be lower down the social scale but aren't.

Revenge on their love of consumption, their homes, their cars, their proletarian tastes, their holidays. Most of all it is revenge on their children, those brats who could so easily turn out to be smarter than Hugo and Cordelia.