Friday 29 November 2019

Well done Boris

It is enormously pleasing to see that Boris Johnson declined an invitation to debate climate change on a fourth rate TV channel called Channel 4. Good for him.

Downing Street and Channel 4 are at war this morning after Boris Johnson snubbed an election debate and the broadcaster decided to replace him with an ice sculpture.

The Tories sent Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office and a former environment secretary, to represent them but Channel 4 insisted the event was for party leaders only and turned him away...

Beforehand, Channel 4 news editor Ben de Pear said: 'These two ice sculptures represent the emergency on planet earth, not in any human form but are a visual metaphor for the Conservative & Brexit parties after their leaders declined our repeated invitations to attend tonight's vital climate debate.'

To put this into some kind of perspective, Channel 4 currently has only one entry in the top 50 programmes on TV based on the size of their total viewing audience over week 46, November 11 - 17. Source.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Does it matter?

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are offering "credible" spending plans ahead of the general election, an influential research group has said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said it was "highly likely" the Tories would end up spending more than their manifesto pledges.

Labour, it warned, would be unable to deliver its spending increases as it has promised.

Does it matter though? St David of Attenborough and St Greta of Doomberg have reminded us often enough that we are doomed anyway. As the raging flames of climate conflagration are just around the corner, why not spend, spend spend? 

I am constantly surprised by the BBC. One would expect it to add some kind of standard caveat to such stories, pointing out that none of it matters because climate. Something both consistent and reassuring along these lines perhaps.

Readers should not worry about this issue as climate change will finish us off in the near future.

Obviously it could be shorter.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

At least Adam Adamant is still around

We seem to have a minor spate of well-known people popping their clogs. Gary Rhodes and Clive James appear to be the latest but at least Adam Adamant is still around.

I remember the Adam Adamant show quite well but it ran for less than a year between 1966 and 1967. Strange how impressions sometimes stay with a chap for decades because I didn't think much of it at the time.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Interviewed by a machine

L'Espresso has an interesting and somewhat chilling piece on using an AI system called HireVue to screen people for job interviews. The original piece is in Italian - quotes below are Google translations.

Do you want to work? Convince the computer. The algorithm selects the personnel selection
The large US and multinational companies that select managers increase through interactions with a computer that "spies" mimics and tone of voice. Thanks to an application created by a twenty year old...

HireVue is able to monitor about 15 thousand traits of a person, including the choice of language, eye movements, response speed and stress level. Furthermore, it is a program that "learns" and by coding the traits of the talents that are selected allows you to find them in future candidates. Every company in this way refines its database for finding the best candidate.

The advantages are obvious but so are the dangers. For example, according to promotional material the system is capable of treating diversity as a positive hiring parameter. Other biases are easily imagined, as are other uses.

In Great Britain Vodafone has examined 50 thousand candidacies for "junior" positions but now intends to make use of the same program also for the selection of senior managers. Unilever thanks to Artificial Intelligence has evaluated 275 thousand applications, of which about half were stopped at the first step due to a series of online "games" designed to measure concentration ability under pressure and short-term memory. And only a third of the remaining participants were invited to the final video interview (always with HireVue). Mike Clementi, Unilever America's vice-president for Human Resources is enthusiastic: "With a portfolio of more than 400 brands we could no longer continue to hire in a traditional way".

Saturday 23 November 2019

Beyond the motive

There is insanity in absolute badness, something motiveless, or something that reaches out, with a longing arrogance, beyond the motive: Iago lusted after Desdemona a little and hated Othello a great deal, but beyond those tiny passions was a lust to possess the evil deed as a thing worth having in itself, a flower, a jewel of the mind, a trophy of the intellect.

Hugh Walpole - The Cathedral (1922)

As we approach the season of goodwill, suppose we compare Lenin and Jeremy Corbyn. On the face of it the two men are not obviously similar. Lenin was intelligent, capable and charismatic. Corbyn isn’t. Yet if we use Walpole's trophy of the intellect analogy there is more similarity between Lenin and Corbyn than we might initially assume. For example, what was Lenin’s ultimate aim in driving through the Bolshevik revolution? Political altruism? Hardly.

Supposedly Lenin’s ultimate aim was a dictatorship of the proletariat but every move he made tells us that his real aim was a dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. However one looks at Lenin’s political career, it is not obvious that he had a clear and unambiguous altruistic goal in mind, one which would ultimately benefit the proletariat.

There is no great reason to suppose that Lenin cared anything about the proletariat anyway. Certainly there is nothing to suggest that he thought the Russian proletariat capable of forming a dictatorship, whatever that might mean and whatever Marxist theory might require.

In which case we might use Walpole’s trophy of the intellect analogy. As an analogy it suggests that Lenin merely saw the Bolshevik revolution as a jewel of the mind , a trophy of the intellect. Like an Olympic gold medal it was a trophy to aspire to with fanatical dedication but that is all. A political victory as opposed to an Olympic victory - I knew I could do it and I did it.

The analogy works well if we compare Lenin to Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Corbyn’s totalitarian political ethos seems to have no genuine altruism embedded in it, nothing which could usher in a better world for ordinary people. Just the opposite if historical experience is any guide and all that historical experience has been readily available to Mr Corbyn for the whole of his adult life.

Yet as with Lenin, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have no interest in the political, social and economic damage his political goals are likely to cause. As far as we can tell, and the clues are abundant, the trophy of the intellect is everything to him. We are nothing.

The trophy of the intellect is merely an analogy of course, but fascinating and surprisingly apt. It has wide application too. Many people with radical ideas do not come across as selflessly altruistic. It is not at all obvious that they are striving for a real improvement in the human condition. It is more competitive than that. More murky. More sinister.

Instead they come across as people pursuing a trophy of the intellect and like an Olympic medal the trophy is an end in itself. Job done. Goal achieved. Altruism doesn’t come into it.

Friday 22 November 2019

Maybe Victorians were smarter than we are

How did two people who had once filled each other's universe manage to hold together as the tide receded? Why, by the world-old compulsion of marriage, he supposed. Marriage was a trick, a sham, if you looked at it in one way; but it was the only means man had yet devised for defending himself from his own frivolity.

Edith Wharton - The Gods Arrive (1932)

It is worth remembering that by our standards almost all Victorians were poor simply because our general prosperity has increased so enormously over the past century or so. Victorian elites may have lived lives of pampered comfort but today, the majority of us live lives which are at least as comfortable as the most pampered duke or duchess.

This prosperity divide is important because it reminds us that Victorians were much closer to the edge than we are. Closer to infant mortality, childbirth mortality, hunger, disease, destitution, slums and a host of other horrors our prosperity and knowledge have mitigated or virtually removed.

Victorians were aware that life is uncertain and felt the precarious nature of life much more acutely than we generally feel it. Uncertainty was their lived experience. They knew nothing else and neither were they constantly persuaded that smoothing out life’s uncertainties ought to be some kind of human right.

In other words Victorians had an acute understanding of how important it was to defend themselves against a whole host of threats to their well-being. They understood why family life, thrift and hard work were the essential basis of an increasingly technical and urban population. From this it follows that they knew how vitally important it was to defend themselves, their families and their country against anything which threatened the basis of their existence.

Even by Edith Wharton’s time the threats were receding. Consequently social constraints were eroding as the consequences of frivolity became less appalling. Incompetence and a feckless life were less hazardous for a much greater number of people. But feckless is not smart.

Victorians understood how a sustainable culture remains sustainable, how it is defended and the compromises we have to make in defending it, how we have to sustain a restrictive bias towards our own culture because that is what sustains us now. In this respect yes - maybe Victorians were smarter than we are.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Like a week in the nut-house

“It’s all beautiful when you read it,” this man said disgustedly, “but when you write it down plain it’s like a week in the nut-house.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Financing Finnegan (1938)

The other day it struck me just how comical it is that Jeremy Corbyn’s elevation to Labour party leader was merely a horrible mistake. Comical that the party should do something so stupid. Even more comical that it should become so entangled in its own rules that it cannot unpick the situation.

The icing on the cake is that Labour supporters and the media have to pretend that everything is okay and having a major political party led by bunch of raving totalitarian loons – yes that’s perfectly fine.

Hmm –

Well it struck me as funny at the time, but now I’ve written it down...

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Christmas games – Piggy

As Christmas approaches we appear to lack a series of Animal Farm inspired family games to educate the little ones about politics. It would need to fit in with modern times without losing the overall Orwellian flavour so here is one tentative suggestion.

"Piggy" would be a topical family board game introduced in time for Christmas but the game also fits in well into the frenetic atmosphere of the UK General Election.

At the beginning of each game players are dealt various cards to determine the strategies they should adopt when playing Piggy. The basic aim for each player is to roll the dice, move their chosen board token and land on areas of the board which allow them to “hide” certain cards in their hand. In some situations a player with too many cards to “hide” may have the option of “emigrating” which allows him or her to leave the game and watch TV.

One player only will have been dealt the single Piggy card and this player must try to roll the dice, move around the board and appropriate as many cards as possible from the other players before they can “hide” them or “emigrate”. In which case the player with the Piggy card wins the game and claims Piggy!

The cards which players need to “hide” as quickly as possible are Pension Cards, Savings Cards, Job Cards, Free Speech Cards and Education Cards. Added interest comes when the holder of the Piggy card also draws the “Green” card and is allowed to make up new rules on every throw of the dice.

Fun for all the family.

For a while.

Monday 18 November 2019


Test launch at Greenock - source

I recently stumbled across a reminder of how Hawker Hurricanes were used on a few merchant ships during WWII. My father alluded to it once or twice.

CAM ships were World War II-era British merchant ships used in convoys as an emergency stop-gap until sufficient escort carriers became available. CAM ship is an acronym for catapult aircraft merchant ship.

They were equipped with a rocket-propelled catapult launching a single Hawker Hurricane, dubbed a "Hurricat" or "Catafighter" to destroy or drive away an attacking bomber. Normally the Hurricane fighter would be lost when the pilot then bailed out or ditched in the ocean near the convoy. CAM ships continued to carry their normal cargoes after conversion...

In total, there were nine combat launches. Nine German aircraft were destroyed (four Condors, four Heinkels and a Junkers 88), one damaged and three chased away. Eight Hurricanes were ditched and only one pilot lost.

Somewhere in the Atlantic a Hurricane pilot climbs up the supporting superstructure and into the cockpit of his disposable hurricane. He is to be fired into the air by a rocket in order to attack an enemy bomber, knowing he will have to ditch the plane or parachute into the sea afterwards and hope for the best. Maybe we should pause for a moment and wonder what we have lost.

Sunday 17 November 2019

Harry and his declining popularity

The other day found Mrs H and I meandering around an antiques centre where they seem to think it a good idea to pipe radio programmes over the speaker system. Rather like walking round the Co-op with antiques instead of baked beans. 

I wouldn’t usually listen to radio folk pretending to be horribly enthusiastic about trivia, but a two-way discussion about Prince Harry caught my ear. Both interviewer and interviewee were agreed that Harry’s popularity has declined since his marriage and both were happy enough to claim that media intrusion must have something to do with it. 

They seemed to agree that Harry’s behaviour has something to do with it too but preferred to dance round that aspect of the problem rather than drag it out into the open. They didn't really want to suggest what this issue might be even though it must have been obvious to many listeners.

It's difficult for them. They could hardly point out that some people might see Harry as a woke wuss – at least not on air. They couldn’t even tone it down a little and suggest that Harry is showing himself to be a politically correct plonker under the thumb of a ghastly wife. 

That would have raised a storm of indignation from more than one direction. Yet if they had at least explored the perfectly legitimate plonker angle, maybe more people would actually listen to the radio.

Saturday 16 November 2019


Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, on the left, plants a small tree

The Conservative Party has said it will plant 30 million trees a year by 2025 if it wins the general election - as the Liberal Democrats pledged to plant twice as many trees in the same period.

The Tories' £640m fund would be used to plant trees and restore peatland.

Labour dismissed the scheme and said the prime minister had an "atrocious environmental record".

The Lib Dems would plant 60 million trees a year across the UK by 2025, leader Jo Swinson said.

What does Jeremy Corbyn have to offer in the tree planting competition? I suggest he doubles the Lib Dem offer and goes for 120 million. Then it is over to the Greens who must think in terms of 240 million a year at least. 

Friday 15 November 2019

Free for all

A revealing development I’m sure you’ll agree. 

“Diane Abbott tells me it will deliver at least eleventy six megapixies per second," John McDonnell replied when asked about the speed of his new broadband scheme. 

"That should be enough for a decent game of Space Invaders,” he added with a wintry smile.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

The smart metre

CountryLiving has some eco-tips for those who prefer their Christmas to be cosily sanctimonious. There are thirteen in all, beginning with an invitation to rent your Christmas tree.

1 Rent a Christmas tree

Real Christmas trees are much more sustainable than artificial alternatives. In fact, one study concluded you'd have to use your fake fir for 20 years for it to be greener. That said, seven million real trees will be dumped in January rather than recycled.

This year you could go one further by renting a real tree from a British farm.

Number five is an invitation to pay more for your Christmas nosh.

5 Buy your food from the right place

Use the annual gastronomic extravaganza as an opportunity to show your support for some brilliant ethical small-scale producers. Turkey and any other cuts of meat you plan to serve are a good place to start: you’ll use fewer food miles, less packaging and you can feel confident that you haven’t supported any intensive farming practices

However my favourite is number four.

4 Get a smart metre

Wow at last - a metre not restricted to the boring old non-woke limit of one hundred centimetres? Sadly no. It is merely a plug for smart meters. Oh well - Christmas was always disappointing in one way or another.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Abandoned Russian homestead

Fascinating video although it could do with more context - or maybe wanting some context is a tribute to the video. 

Just a guy with a video camera but the BBC couldn't do it. The BBC would add context but lose everything else by telling rather than showing. It would tell us about the poignancy instead of allowing us to feel it in our own way - or not feel it at all. The Beeb would probably add some music too - music it just doesn't need.

Monday 11 November 2019

When a picture paints few words

Luminaries from the world of nice pictures have decided that oil giant BP needs a little more money while people in Scotland need a little less art.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has said it will no longer show the BP Portrait Award exhibition.

"We recognise the need to do all we can to address the climate emergency," National Galleries Scotland said.

The prize is run by London's National Portrait Gallery and has been sponsored by the oil giant for 30 years.

Maybe the whole thing is a piece of performance art.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Conway Stewart

The other day found me inspecting the wares of a dealer in antique writing implements. Not that I know anything about such things, but I was reminded of my schooldays and the first fountain pen I ever owned. A Conway Stewart it was with a gold plated nib - a present from my parents.

Of course I dropped it fairly early in its career. Naturally enough the thing obeyed Sod's Law. It hit the classroom floor nib downwards, bent the nib at right angles and even though I managed to straighten it the pen was never the same again.

I replaced it with a cheap pen purchased from the newsagent and as far as I remember never admitted the Conway Stewart accident. Fortunately we were eventually allowed to use ballpoint pens in school. I got on better with those.

Saturday 9 November 2019

The BBC - still sitting on its hands

The Express treats us to yet another piece on the increasing irrelevance of the BBC. Familiar stuff yet strangely fascinating - rather like watching the EU pootle along hoping for the best.

BBC in crisis: Broadcaster's future at risk over failure to adapt - ‘I won’t pay’
THE BBC may face a further funding blow next year if pensioners refuse to start paying to watch the national broadcaster, placing the future of the broadcaster at risk...

Mark Thompson, a former BBC director-general who is now chief executive at the New York Times, revealed in a speech last month that the average viewer of BBC One alone is now 61.

Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general since 2013, is not too concerned about the changes.

He said in September: “I believe this is a huge opportunity for people like us.

“In this market, services that are distinctive and different will stand out.”

That last sentence sounds like the kiss of death to me. The BBC already provides a service that is distinctive and different because people can be dragged off to court and even jailed if they don't pay for its compulsory user licence. The trouble is, people notice.

Sit on your hands, apply political pressure whenever possible and hope for the best. It's the bureaucratic way.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Fried bread

Autumn Colour

Yesterday we headed off on one of our favourite moorland walks, knowing it wouldn’t be too boggy. Before setting off we popped into a popular cafe and treated ourselves to a traditional bacon and egg breakfast with most of the usual goodies – bacon, egg, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and of course fried bread. A rare breakfast for us but most enjoyable, especially the fried bread.

I’m not sure why fried bread is so delicious. Really it is only a kind of fatty toast, but delicious it certainly is. I could have eaten more but nobly restricted myself to one slice.

The walk was fine in spite of the cold, low cloud and poor visibility. Very autumnal it was, with lots of colour still left on the trees. It rained continuously as we made our way back off the moor but that didn’t detract at all from the walk. It can be very atmospheric walking in the rain, especially after fried bread.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

We are routinely outplayed

There are many times when a chess player must admit that he or she has been outplayed. Lose gracefully, learn from the more obvious mistakes and live on to fight another day – that’s the only way to deal with it.

Similarly we the UK electorate have regularly been outplayed by the establishment. Political life and political choices are narrowing and moves which might favour the ordinary voter are not being made. Unfortunately we are unlikely to learn much from being outplayed even though Brexit showed us how crudely the establishment defends itself when taken by surprise. The establishment may not be particularly smart but it has the money, the time, the staff and the unimaginably vast networks of patronage.

It seems to be an unfortunate weakness of democracy that too many voters are too easily persuaded to cast votes which are obviously poor moves in the political game. Too many vote tribally, too many do little or no research into the people they vote for and too many opt for simple answers to deal with situations which are so fluid and so complex that there cannot possibly be simple answers. This much is frequently obvious but still we get the simple answers.

The great mass of voters do not spot and take advantage of collective political opportunities such as Brexit or the emergence of new and more dynamic political parties. Too often the same cross goes in the same box against the name of the same stooge, lunatic or crook.

Ours is no longer the culture which emerged victorious in two world wars. It is not sufficiently self-confident and adaptable to play realpolitik successfully. This is what winding down looks like from the inside. It’s our own fault.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Tipping point - when it all began to go wrong

The moment in modern civilisation equivalent to the fall of the Roman Empire was the First World War... most particularly almost exactly one hundred and three years ago the Battle of the Somme in 1916 when we threw away the flower of our manhood.

It's a point of view worth preserving because something clearly has gone wrong and something clearly was thrown away round about this time. 

Monday 4 November 2019

Fabricated ignorance

The Witches' Ride

I’ve been thinking about ignorance recently. What do I know about ignorance? Quite a lot I suppose, but ignorance is a rum notion isn’t it? Throughout human history there has been a type of knowledge which is not knowledge at all because it is wrong, obsolete or simply nonsense.

For example, any modern person may understand the social pressures whereby witches came to be accused of witchcraft. Yet it is not possible to know how witchcraft actually works because it doesn’t. Nobody ever knew in any meaningful sense so it is not possible to be ignorant about the workings of witchcraft.

Obviously we may be ignorant of many things, ignorant of facts, social conventions or quirks of personality, but some forms of knowledge are fabricated. Fabricated knowledge serves a number of purposes, political, social and economic and is often used to establish a form of social superiority via fabricated ignorance.

Suppose we invent an idea –

Mortifying as it may be so some observers, the thematic betrayal or certain obscurantist norms in wider fields of observation than is usual for such arcane matters will in the end have a debilitating thrust is spheres far removed from its intransigent beginnings.

What does this mean? It means nothing.

Conventionally it seems as if anyone could be ignorant as to the meaning of the statement. Yet the statement is meaningless so ignorance about its meaning is ignorance about nothing - in other words fabricated ignorance.

Similarly one may be ignorant about astrology. Not the public face of astrological prediction, but its supposed working principles. Here again, as astrology is nonsense it is not possible to be ignorant about astrological mechanisms because there aren’t any. This would be another example of fabricated ignorance. It wasn’t always the case of course, because astrology was consistent with early cosmology, but now it isn’t consistent.

In general, those who dabble in nonsense defend the nonsense by suggesting that critics do not understand it so the critics are simply ignorant. Similarly those who see little value in attempting to understand it are equally ignorant. It’s a dilemma for the critics – a fabricated dilemma.

As we know, proponents of gender politics are engaged in a battle against biological facts. Anyone who asserts that there are only two genders is supposedly ignorant about the social nature of gender. Again this is an example of fabricated ignorance - gender is not socially assigned.

The catastrophic climate change narrative is much the same. A core aspect of the narrative revolves around fabricated ignorance. One has to be an approved climate scientist or a celebrity to understand why catastrophic climate predictions are valid says the narrative. Anything less is ignorance.

Yet as nobody knows how to make those predictions there is nothing to understand and therefore no ignorance. This gives narrative proponents an inbuilt advantage because it inevitably draws critics into an impossible swamp of drivel as they do not wish to stay on the sidelines and be dismissed as ignorant.

This seems to give us a key point. A vital aspect of the climate narrative has been the manner in which it aims to fabricate ignorance within the general population, including bureaucrats, journalists and politicians. It does not build knowledge so much as fabricate ignorance. That remains the core political aim.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Grandad, did you vote against the communists?

Admittedly it’s an over the top title, but how does any sensible person cast their vote at the forthcoming general election? The House of Commons has been a disaster zone ever since the Brexit referendum unexpectedly kicked it in the nuts and none of the parties has any credibility left.

The Lib Dems don’t care about the referendum result, the Greens are fascist extremists and Labour has saddled itself with a bunch of idiot communists. Does a Leave voter abstain, vote for the Brexit Party or vote for Boris?

To my mind the only thing to do is vote for the person who seems to be the most capable and pragmatic local candidate. The trouble with that is we have political parties calling the tune and at the moment we have some outstandingly malign and undemocratic parties, particularly Labour.

Hence the title of the post. We need to vote against extremist loons and however unpalatable it may be to admit it, the Tories are not extremist loons. Conservative in name only perhaps, closet socialists perhaps, somewhat loony perhaps, but not as viciously extreme as the alternatives. A vote for Boris may be unpalatable, but to my mind there is no pragmatic alternative.

Saturday 2 November 2019

In for a flogging?

But he learned some social lessons. The Clara School was a school for the children of the better classes, for the people of the district were well off. The boy wore leather breeches and greased leather boots which smelt of train-oil and blacking. Therefore, those who had velvet jackets did not like sitting near him. He also noticed that the poorly dressed boys got more floggings than the well-dressed ones, and that pretty boys were let off altogether. If he had at that time studied psychology and æsthetics, he would have understood this, but he did not then.

August Strindberg – The Son of a Servant (1886 - 1909)

I have a suspicion that this little episode is a pointer towards the origin of Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political philosophy. Not so much his social background but his sense of inferiority rooted in a well below par school performance. He has always known why the other boys would never copy his homework.

He isn’t well-dressed either, and certainly isn’t pretty, so does that mean he’s in for an election  flogging? I do hope so.