Sunday 31 May 2020

Ploughing on

I've taken the rash decision to tackle Marx by ploughing through volume 1 of Capital. Over the years I've picked up the gist of it but always avoided reading the thing properly because I'm sure I won't be impressed. That's just personal bias but I may as well read it and add some substance to my bias.

The story so far? So far it's a typically Victorian pile of pontification and I'm not convinced I'll ever finish it but I'll give it a go. Stamina - that's what is needed for these tasks. Maybe some more coffee too...

...but strewth - how did anyone ever take it seriously?

Saturday 30 May 2020

Cummings against the types

I couldn’t help thinking yesterday as I listened to him that that may be the fight the whole earth is slipping into — the type against the individual.

Hugh Walpole – Vanessa (1933)

To my mind this is the Dominic Cummings battle in a nutshell. He comes across as an individual while his remarkably virulent critics are generally types. Media types, big government types, EU types, and so on.

Types fit in and well-connected types may rise as far as the froth on top. It hardly seemed to matter who was banging the anti-Cummings drum. He isn’t a type and they hate him for it.

Their hatred of the eccentric, the queer, the abnormal made them respond ecstatically to anything that allowed them to display that hatred.


Friday 29 May 2020

X the Unknown - or maybe not

A conception not reducible to the small change of daily experience is like a currency not exchangeable for articles of consumption; it is not a symbol, but a fraud.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1906)

Many of us must have wondered if there is a vital aspect of the human condition we have missed. An elusive shadow flits across the musing mind and then it is gone, leaving nothing behind but a faint sense of something vastly important but forever out of reach. Suppose we call that missing something X.

What could X be? I’ve no grand solution so why not do some lateral thinking and assume X is not something missing from our way of thinking, but a thing so basic we do not pay enough attention to it. Honesty would fit that criterion, but suppose X has multiple facets and honesty is merely one of them.

X could be several things in addition to honesty, so why add experience to the mix. We are intimately familiar with experience because it is so vitally important yet we undervalue it in many situations. Suppose X includes our failure to demand experience from those who direct our lives. We already know how little relevant experience they often have in the complexities of government. Maybe this is a facet of X.

Jeremy Corbyn for example, did not appear to make any significant effort to acquire relevant government experience in any field. Although defeated in two general elections, millions voted for him in spite of his obvious and easily verified lack of experience.

Voting for Corbyn made no sense whatever – as if a weak X allowed millions of people to ignore their absolute reliance on experience. They voted for inexperience while knowing how essential it is to have experience. A willingness to acquire it would be a step in the right direction but apparently Mr Corbyn saw no pressing need to go that far. And millions voted for him - millions voted for weak X.

In which case, maybe voters and MPs need more experience to begin with. Raise the voting age to 30 and the minimum age for MPs to 40 for example. It may not solve the experience problem but it could give more weight to it and bring democratic processes slightly closer to real life. Bring in a stronger X.

Climate change is another example where those promoting the catastrophe narrative have no experience in successfully predicting long term changes in the global climate. This purely imaginary level of experience does not exist anywhere, in any science, any institution or any individual. Yet people confidently make long term climate predictions. Based on what? They know they don’t have the experience to make such predictions. If X is a blend of honesty and experience then here we have a lack of honesty allied to a lack of experience. Weak X on two counts.

Another example would be UK government policy towards the coronavirus debacle. This policy is supposedly dictated by a series of future scenarios calculated using computer models plus a general experience of other pandemics. If we take X as our guide then we should ask what experience these people have of this particular virus and this particular pandemic. The answer is obviously none – they have no direct one to one experience. So we add some caveats because maybe they do have some relevant experience.

Again, the pernicious effect of weak X may still persuade us to take experts seriously instead of clearing our minds of imaginary futures and paying attention to experience gained in the past. What have these experts achieved before in this situation? Nothing? How about similar situations? Nothing much apart from offering basic advice like hand washing and being wary of crowds. We could go further down that route but we may lose sight of all that missing experience and in so doing lose sight of what we really want – strong X.

Politically something always has to be done, so prominent people must be in conspicuous control of what is done. The UK response to the pandemic is probably as close to foolish guesswork as it seems to be because X remains in the background and remains weak.

Lockdown lift anticipated

The Wise do at once what the Fool does at last. Both do the same thing; the only difference lies in the time they do it: the one at the right time, the other at the wrong.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Nature hardly seems capable of giving us any but quite short illnesses. But medicine has annexed to itself the art of prolonging them.

Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu

Thursday 28 May 2020

Time to drop our illusions

But now we are to be branded with the hot iron of politics; we are going to enter the convict’s prison and to drop our illusions.

Honoré de Balzac - La Peau de chagrin (1831)

Has the coronavirus stripped life of a few more illusions? The obvious answer to this question is of course yes.

The entire lockdown mess based on flaky scientific guesswork about a new but moderate pandemic. A mess because we should have had the collective courage to shrug off the consequences as inevitable because the lockdown cost would be far too high. We lost an illusion there - the illusion of our collective courage. It has been a reminder of what our ancestors meant by courage too.

We have the prospect of creeping corruption and decay if democracies don’t have the courage or even the will to be democratic. Forcing people into lockdown was casually undemocratic when millions were under virtually no risk of serious health consequences. We knew it too - we knew it from the early Chinese data and it became increasingly obvious from our own data. We lost another illusion there, the illusion that a police state couldn’t happen here. We made the mistake of thinking in terms of jackboots and uniforms instead of quiet grey fascists sitting around a table.

What are we to make of a government which turns the entire country into a police state on dubious and easily contested scientific advice? Because whatever happens we shall never be able to demonstrate how many lives were saved. Or indeed how many lives were sacrificed to diverted medical resources because we can’t run the whole thing again and find out. That’s another couple of illusions gone – the illusion of scientific integrity and the illusion that anything political could ever be evidence-based.

Finally we have the illusion of responsible adulthood – we’ve lost that too. Contact tracing nonsense rushed in to keep the police state going in case it becomes too obvious that the virus is disappearing. Hence the need to bring in something new to hammer home the message that we shall never be treated as adults because we don’t vote as adults.

Illusions eh? Maybe we’ll find some more. Maybe we already have.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

A mysterious way to die

Gordon Meyrick seems to have had an interesting if rather short life. Born in 1909 he wrote four crime novels during World War II but in 1943 he died after falling out of an upper floor window in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

I read one of his novels during lockdown. Danger at my Heels is a fast-moving adventure in the style of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. Short but readable with some interesting descriptions of London during the Blitz. For example Meyrick has this conversation between his two main characters. It could perhaps seem trite until we recall when and where it was written and what has happened since.

“Don’t you think,” I said, “that everyone has worries, and if they haven’t they invent them. And then something really big like the war comes along, and we realize how petty all our little fears and squabbles are?”

“Yes, I expect the war has pulled a lot of us out of that sort of thing. It must bring tremendous spiritual help to people. That sounds rather silly and pretentious, but I expect you know what I mean. Though, of course, we’re all such frightful little egoists, that when it’s all over we’ll run round looking for our silly little values again.”

Or take these two quotes which must reflect what Meyrick saw during those times.

I strolled up a hill past the tower of a waterworks, guarded by what looked like a machine-gun post.

On a very dark night there is a technique for black-out walking. If you look up you can see the glow of the sky and the outline of buildings, this enables you to steer a course.

The Passing Tramp has two interesting posts on Meyrick’s family here and the man himself here. Well worth reading.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

A headline and a picture

Two stories both from Sky - here and here. Of course it isn't the public Cummings has to worry about, but the mainstream media who did so much to foster this mess.  

Monday 25 May 2020



by Chris Wevers - licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Wrentham, with the promise of a try-out later, rode with Travers and saw the countryside through the screen and along the sinister radiator of the long Isotta.

“The fact of the matter is,” said Travers, “you want to drive the Isotta. You’ve been itching to break your neck ever since you clapped eyes on the damn thing.” 

Christopher Bush - Murder at Fenwold (1930)

“What’s an Isotta?” I asked myself while reading this Golden Age detective story. Not being a car buff I didn’t know and initially a picture of the Isetta popped into my mind. Nope - wrong era but a quick web search brought up a more appropriate image.

Blimey - what a car. Makes the story far more interesting if I imagine myself zooming along country lanes in one of those, puffing casually on my pipe while solving the mystery with careless aplomb.

Sunday 24 May 2020

The great spearmint issue

Mrs H and I drink a few herbal tea concoctions as pleasant alternatives to the endless tea and coffee of our parents’ generation. We don’t touch the soft drinks many folk seem so keen on.

One of our favourites is camomile tea but recently I managed to cock up a purchase and ended with camomile and spearmint tea. Disappointing but I tried it and to my surprise rather enjoyed it. But there is a problem. I can’t smell or drink the stuff without being reminded of spearmint flavoured chewing gum I last chewed about sixty years ago. Some gum was peppermint flavour, but some of it was spearmint and that’s the one I associate so firmly with chewing gum.

I suppose flavour and aroma memories have to be extremely durable from a survival point of view. It is obviously a good idea to remember safe tastes and smells, but I wish I could tone down the spearmint chewing gum link.

Anatomy of an unperson

The prime minister's chief aide Dominic Cummings is facing fresh allegations that he breached lockdown rules.

He and the government had said he acted "reasonably and legally" by driving from London to County Durham while his wife had coronavirus symptoms.

But The Observer and Sunday Mirror are now reporting he was seen in the North East on two more occasions, after recovering from his own Covid-19 symptoms and returning to work in London.

No 10 said the story is "inaccurate".

Downing Street has also denied that police spoke with family members of Mr Cummings "about this matter".

But Durham Police insist their officers spoke to Mr Cummings' father, who confirmed that his son had travelled with his family from London.

Labour has called for an urgent inquiry into the allegations.

The media seem to have picked up on the idea that Dominic Cummings is to become an unperson. As far as the establishment is concerned, his three great faults are that he is hostile, clever and independent. He maybe have a fourth fault - but whisper it softly - he may be a lateral thinker.

To my mind he hasn’t done much to demonstrate these characteristics to any outstanding degree, but the establishment is acutely sensitive on these matters so the idiot lockdown rules are to be used to damage him if at all possible.

Saturday 23 May 2020

For reasons to himself best known


He that complies against his will,
Is of his own opinion still; 
Which he may adhere to, yet disown, 
For reasons to himself best known:

Samuel Butler - Hudibras (1684)

Although in Biden's case I suspect he has no idea why he said what he said and is quite ready to disagree with himself as often as seems necessary. 

Friday 22 May 2020

Forward to the fifties

Anyone paying attention over the past few decades must be aware that something ugly seems to be coming our way. Although the coronavirus debacle has no direct link to the climate game, flaky science and authoritarian bungling have obvious links to flaky climate science and authoritarian eco-bungling.

It has been clear for a long time that there is a settled global political intention to shackle democracy in the developed world in order to control and limit the ability of our ordinary citizens to consume. Primarily this is our ability to consume energy in the form of everything from electricity to fossil fuels to plastics, transport and all kinds of consumer goods.

A base level from which to assess the end point of this managed trend could be the nineteen fifties. No central heating, no car, no automatic washing machine, no dishwasher, no freezer nor any other appliance consuming more than a nominal wattage. Add to this limited air travel, limited holidays abroad and limited ability to travel long distances on the roads.

Feed in a few modern touches such as pervasive censorship and surveillance, intrusive control of health and diet, sweeten the pill with a digital fantasy world and and relentless propaganda and maybe we have a plausible glimpse of the future. More plausible than epidemiological models anyway.

Naturally these things are never explicitly spelled out but they have been obvious for years. The thinking behind the screw-the-West trend is equally obvious. A primary UN policy objective is equality, but it appears to hold the view that certain areas of the world will never achieve equality with the developed world. No prizes for guessing which areas they might be.

So global policy is for the developed world to be endlessly kicked in the nuts by a combination of loony bureaucracies, unhinged celebrities, flaky science and mad academics. A touch of evil seems to be in there too. Stir in a widespread Malthusian outlook that current living standards developed world are not sustainable and we’re done. We have a long-term global policy based around the severe reduction of developed world freedoms and living standards.

Yours and mine that is.

Not theirs.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Immeasurable loneliness

I noticed again the mystic charm of space, that imparts a sense of individual solitude to each integer of the densest constellation, involving the smallest star with immeasurable loneliness.

Bret Harte - A Lonely Ride (1871)

Maybe this is why we don't all become astronomers, fascinating though it is to stare up into a clear night sky. There is something else apart from the fascination, something almost overwhelming at times.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Towards a summary

Maybe it is still too early, but as we crawl towards the lockdown exits, as bickering, grandstanding and synthetic moans assault our ears, it may be worth making some initial attempts to look back at it all in search of some kind of summary. This video must be close.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

So many signals

The coronavirus debacle has thrown a large number of bright red warning signals at us, far more than any government would wish to have on show all at once, but the speed of the pandemic seems to have pushed many governments onto the back foot.

Boris could not have done much about it initially, as policy was severely constrained by the advice he received, the power of the media and lockdown narrative. As ever the BBC was never likely to contribute anything useful to assist and promote a more pragmatic UK government response.

Now we know how easily a police state may be imposed, how unreliable government experts are, how unreliable the mainstream media are, how easy it is to recruit informal police state agents and informers, how easy it is to induce righteous sentimental compliance, how idle people can be when incentives are suspended, how desperately unrewarding many jobs are anyway, how much of what we do is not worth doing, how distorted our view of essential services has become, how complacent and comfortable the public sector has become…

We’ve seen all the signals before, but all together in one giant scintillating blast of obviousness – we haven’t seen that before.

The Cruel Sea

As oldies will know, The Cruel Sea is a 1953 film based on a book of the same name.

The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British war film starring Jack Hawkins, Donald Sinden, Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister. The film, which was made by Ealing Studios seven years after the end of the Second World War, was directed by Charles Frend and produced by Leslie Norman. It is based on the best selling 1951 novel of the same name by former naval officer Nicholas Monsarrat, though the screenplay by Eric Ambler omits some of Monsarrat's grimmest moments.

There is a modern lesson to be spun from The Cruel Sea concerning leadership, grit and hard choices.

Opening in late 1939, just as war breaks out, Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson, a British Merchant Navy officer in the Royal Naval Reserve, is recalled to the Royal Navy and given command of HMS Compass Rose, a newly built Flower-class corvette intended for convoy escort duties...

A key scene involves Ericson's decision to carry out a depth charge attack even though the blast will kill merchant seamen floating in the water.

Boris Johnson could take this lesson from far tougher times and apply it to the coronavirus debacle. He could show some grit and hard-nosed leadership by throwing Imperial College and its epidemiology model under a bus. Lob a few depth charges in their direction too. He could tell the world what the world knows already, that the model was no good and advice based on it was both useless and damaging. He won't of course - he isn't Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson.

Monday 18 May 2020

A change had occurred

A change had occurred, something new had intervened. He could no longer evolve the great feeling of solitude, where he had felt as though alone before nature and humanity, for somebody stood at his side or behind him. The isolation was abolished, and he was soldered to the little banal life, threads had been spun round his soul, considerations began to bind his thoughts, and the cowardly fear of harboring other thoughts than those his friends harbored clutched him.

August Strindberg – On the Seaboard (1913)

As I write this blog post and publish it online, the act of writing and publishing it changes me slightly. Not much and not in any quantitative sense, but there is a change because I made choices I’ve never made before about words and ideas I’ve never before thought or written in exactly this way. At least I hope that’s the case. I’ve made similar choices in the past, but not exactly the same choices.

If you choose to read the post then you will be changed too. If you choose to leave a comment that’s another change which reflects back on readers who read your comment.

Yet it isn’t easy to accept that we constantly change in ways which are never repeated. An aspect of this is that people vary in their attitude to the essential dynamism of life. Some wish it wasn’t so and look to various authorities willing to delude that it isn’t so. Hence the main political division between political and apolitical. Left and right are part of the illusion.

We see it all the time throughout the coronavirus debacle, the illusion that we can prevent change. Yet ironically these attempts have almost certainly created greater and more damaging changes than if we had been more pragmatic.

Sunday 17 May 2020

Propaganda works

Something else I’ve been doing during this enforced inactivity is to scan readers’ comments on lockdown stories in the media, particularly local media. As so often, the comments are more interesting than the stories. Check the story headline and first paragraph then skip to the comments if any – that’s usually my approach.

An overwhelming impression is that lockdown propaganda has been extremely effective. Take any story about people who disregard lockdown rules and there will be lots of comments by narrow souls prepared to abuse anyone who steps out of line. Mavericks who conspicuously fail to comply are described as stupid, selfish, a danger to others and anything else likely to pass comment moderation. Not only that but draconian punishments are advocated – going far beyond anything officially sanctioned.

It has been obvious for some time that the pandemic poses hardly any significant risk to millions of healthy people who are also well below retirement age. But the propaganda still did its job. 

Saturday 16 May 2020

The myriad voices of the establishment

During lockdown I’ve taken a casual interest in detective stories from the twenties and thirties, sometimes called the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Holiday reading really but lockdown often feels like a strange kind of holiday.

Many forgotten authors of that period have been revived for the Kindle, presumably because they are out of copyright and there is a nostalgic demand for detective fiction which is at least easy to read. For example Moray Dalton who does not even have a proper Wikipedia entry as far as I can see. How obscure is that? In my experience some of these writers were not worth reviving, but some left us with carefully constructed and readable yarns with an appealing flavour of past times.

One interesting aspect is the comments left by readers. Many comments are useful because books of this kind seem to attract knowledgeable enthusiasts, as do films of the same period.

Yet inevitably there are comments left by people who obviously read the book but felt a need to bring up their politically correct reactions to the social mores of the twenties and thirties. They see certain social differences and assumptions as social defects to be mildly deplored from a superior modern vantage point. What they do not appear to understand is that their outlook merely reflects a modern establishment narrative. Their view of these bygone writers is not their own, their voice not their own voice. They speak for the establishment.

Obviously this is something we see all the time, especially during lockdown, but the book comments bring home just how many voices the establishment has.

Friday 15 May 2020

Some things are predictable

The National Trust being cautious for example. 

Friday 15 May 2020

From Thursday 21 May we'll open some of our larger car parks in England to visitors who have pre-booked spaces.

On Monday 18 May a booking system will open on our website. Details about which car parks are bookable will appear on property web pages, and we're urging visitors to check online for the latest details and booking instructions before travelling. Members will be able to book a space for free, while non-members will need to pay in advance for their space.

The opening of larger car parks in England comes days after we started opening some of our smaller car parks in line with government advice, so people can access fresh air, open space and nature.

All car parks in Wales and Northern Ireland remain closed after the First Minister in Wales and the Northern Ireland Executive reiterated the 'stay at home' message.

For the moment our pay-for-entry places, including houses and gardens, remain closed. Any reopening will be phased and gradual. In order to maintain social distancing when they reopen, we plan to introduce a pre-booking system. The latest government guidance restricting the public’s use of outdoor ticketed venues means they remain closed for now.

The coronavirus is now part of our landscape and we may as well get on with normal life. Yet there is a sense that caution is not being imposed for any useful effect it might have, but to head off any inclination to ask what was all that about?

Thursday 14 May 2020

Waiting For The Grim Reaper

One aspect of the pandemic lockdown has been a reminder of our mortality. We all die - it is merely a matter of when. However when it comes to the later stages of life there are sensitive questions to be asked where it is not at all easy to generalise.

For example, I have absolutely no wish to end up in a care home. Not an uncommon attitude perhaps, but what does it mean? In my case it simply means that the person I am now has no wish to end up in a care home. Unfortunately I may have to change and may not always hold or may be incapable of holding that point of view.

I hold that view now partly because my father had to go into a care home. We had some reliable advice on which home to go for in our area and he was perfectly happy there. Well looked after, comfortable, warm and clean but the dignified family man he once was would not have been at all pleased. Unfortunately when he went into the care home he wasn’t that dignified family man but somebody else. Still cheerful, chatty and pleased to see me, but with few clear memories of the chap he had been. Still less did he have any clear ideas of his earlier outlook on life.

He was there less than a year before he died very suddenly late one evening. I received a call from the home just after we had gone to bed. It was probably the way he would have wished to go, although he would have wanted to die at home - definitely not in a care home. What conclusions do I draw from that though?

Perhaps we are too afraid of death when we bear in mind that it is going to happen anyway whatever our fears and precautions. People and circumstances differ, yet however we try to paint the picture, it is not easy to retain much dignity in a care home. Often there is no better alternative, but dignity doesn’t thrive. That’s also the problem with lockdown.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Madness going to waste

Help us to help you stay safe

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Tuesday 12 May 2020

Modern Totalitarians

As we all know, we recently celebrated VE Day here in the UK and it might be suggested that we were partly celebrating a victory for political safety. This would be the right to influence our own laws and our own governments safe from any form of repression or retaliation. Worth fighting for but unfortunately since the end of World War II, a concern for political safety seems to have evolved into a concern for personal and kin safety via totalitarian politics.

Modern totalitarians are a substantial and very influential section of the population. Those who are dependent on state apparatus in some way, are financially comfortable, unlikely to lose their jobs, unlikely to endure protracted periods of unemployment or suffer a decline in financial status. They have discovered personal security and are determined to keep it whatever the political or economic cost to others.

Hardly surprising perhaps - personal and kin safety are primary evolutionary drivers. Maybe that is why VE Day recently failed to remind us that a police state is no way to deal with a serious but not catastrophic coronavirus pandemic. It was not worth even venturing part way down this totalitarian dead-end, quite apart from the colossal economic cost. This is not how civilised free societies work but modern totalitarians are not into freedom, it isn’t safe enough for them.

Unfortunately civilised free societies have their influential fellow travellers and the implementation of a police state has encouraged them. We may as well accept that there are people who do not want a free society for a range of motives, none of which would stand up to civilised scrutiny, all of which are familiar.

Modern totalitarians have their hands on the levers of power and do not intend to let go in favour of abstractions which are no great use to them personally - such as political freedom. A comfortable life has its own freedoms and this is all they require. There is no interest in analysing where those freedoms came from and how they are to be maintained.

For example, a substantial part of the environmental movement is essentially a totalitarian political ethos riding on the back of understandable but grossly exaggerated environmental anxieties. As for the motives of those who hitch such a ride, they vary considerably but modern totalitarians are heavily involved. They think it makes their future safety more assured. If it screws up the rest of us that’s too bad.

It may have been inevitable that modern totalitarians would use environmental narratives to attach themselves to this political crisis. We are in a pandemic hole where governments do not quite know how to stop digging and those with a totalitarian ethos don’t want them to stop. This mixing of political interests is not new but the coronavirus pandemic and the draconian reactions to it are bound to bring them closer.

Within a matter of a few months the UK has experimented with the imposition of a police state and large sectors of the voting population seem to approve. As far as one can tell, the totalitarians certainly approve and are willing to make things worse than they need be. The future as ever is uncertain, but we have foolishly shifted the odds firmly against outcomes which might have strengthened a free and civilised society.

On a more positive note it is also possible that we are sufficiently well-adjusted to employ a temporary police state to tackle a national problem without undue risk. After all we did it in World War II so why not now?

Alternatively it may be that World War II was a disaster from which we never fully recovered and our supposedly temporary police state is a symptom of that. In which case the pandemic problem is even worse in that it will further damage political freedoms which have been shakier than we knew since the original VE Day.

Two Headlines



Monday 11 May 2020

Online Shopping

We have another of our weekly supermarket deliveries booked for this evening. Before the coronavirus debacle we had never tried online supermarket shopping but now we haven't been inside a supermarket for weeks. We don't yet know if we'll eventually go back to pushing a trolley around the aisles, but I suspect we won't. Old habits do tend to reassert themselves, but twenty minutes on the computer with a cup of tea on hand is far easier and more pleasant than trundling around those aisles. 

As for non-grocery items, we use Amazon for a range of odds and ends far wider than before lockdown. This will probably continue too because it is easier and we check prices and reviews and the range is wider than it ever is in shops.

For us I can see all this as a permanent change. We'll use traditional shops again and supermarkets too, but I can't see us going back to those old shopping habits. If only a few million have similar experiences then a major change is just around the corner.  

Clickbait Headlines

Clickbait link. Boris Johnson's hair was his normal faux unkempt style of course, but that doesn't make a headline. 

As for the rest of it, Guardian readers appear to need rules, rules, rules and Mr Johnson didn't really give them that except in outline form. He couldn't of course because that's the point - as we return to normal, the lockdown rules become more general and less specific. 

The dear old Guardian seems to cater for people who are afraid of this - hence the clickbait headline. They also seem to be afraid of Boris even though he's on their side.  

Sunday 10 May 2020

Hell Bent

If Belarus was already in the grip of a public health crisis, its president looks hell-bent on turning COVID-19 into a catastrophe for the country.

In defiance of the World Health Organisation's advice, Belarus went ahead with its military parade on Saturday to commemorate the allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 - despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Dressed in military attire and shaking hands with all he met, President Alexander Lukashenko told the crowds he had no choice but to hold the parade.

"There will be people who will condemn us," he said.

"Do not rush to draw conclusions, let alone condemn us, the heirs of the victory, the Belarusians. We simply could not act differently."

Most other nations have acted very differently.

Belarus is not the kind of regime to inspire automatic confidence in official data. However, whatever the real situation it doesn't appear to be doing too badly. Far better than the UK for example. Currently coronavirus deaths per million people are UK 475 Belarus 13. Further down the Sky piece we have an admission that Belarus deaths seem to be very low. 

The official COVID-19 death toll in Belarus is low at 126.

In Russia too, the ratio of deaths to cases is unusually low - 198,676 cases to 1,827 deaths - which begs the question whether the toll in either country stands up to scrutiny.

These are both ex-Soviet bureaucracies where ugly truths tend to be suppressed.

In which case that's the story - ugly truths being suppressed. Yet this is just one example of how the mainstream media continually distort the pandemic in favour of draconian government action. If the Belarus figures are even approximately accurate then there is no basis for predicting a catastrophe for the country. If the figures are wildly inaccurate that's the story, but that one requires research. 

Saturday 9 May 2020

The art of the impossible

Suppose Keir Starmer were to turn into a horse. Even though such a transition is probably not contrary to Labour Party rules most of us would say it is impossible. Yet we could probably just about imagine Mr Starmer turning into a horse and a video whizz could certainly create a video of him appearing to do just that.

Pushing it just a little further, some might say that a Starmer to horse transition is at least conceivable by adding a few words about genes and genetic similarities within mammals. I can write about the idea and you can read about it even though it is impossible and lies well beyond the boundary of natural law.

Moving on. As many will know, there have been some destructive criticisms of the pandemic computer model supposedly used to guide government lockdown policy. Amateurish software would be a mild summary of this criticism.

However it does raise an interesting point because it may well be that the more extreme coronavirus model predictions were biologically impossible. That is to say, given the nature of the virus and a number of other factors, a much more severe pandemic may always have been a biological impossibility. It may have been as impossible as Mr Starmer changing into a horse and may also lie beyond the boundary of natural law.

Yet we tend not to look at things in this way. If future scenarios can be imagined or predicted by accredited people we tend to treat them as possibilities within known scientific laws. Yet they may not be. If we knew enough some future scenarios may not make sense. Within the laws of the natural world it may be that they cannot happen.

It is obvious enough that the pandemic model cannot tell us if certain scenarios are impossible. This in turn raises the possibility that pandemics are not computable. They are not a matrix of numbers, nor a matrix of equations, nor a matrix of quantifiable parameters. They are something else.

Even though we may measure the effect of pandemics and note that they follow certain general patterns, it may be that we cannot define fully what a pandemic actually is in the sense that we cannot tell what is possible and what is impossible. Part of that problem seems to be that those responsible for the models are able to imagine impossible scenarios and pass them on to policy makers. We are all able to imagine them. That does not make them possible.

Friday 8 May 2020

The flunkeys of thought

I heard afterwards that you despised me for changing my convictions. But what are the men I’ve broken with? The enemies of all true life, out-of-date Liberals who are afraid of their own independence, the flunkeys of thought, the enemies of individuality and freedom, the decrepit advocates of deadness and rottenness! All they have to offer is senility, a glorious mediocrity of the most bourgeois kind, contemptible shallowness, a jealous equality, equality without individual dignity, equality as it’s understood by flunkeys or by the French in ‘93. And the worst of it is there are swarms of scoundrels among them, swarms of scoundrels.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Demons (1871-72)


A quote with lots of obvious applications to the modern world. Boris needs to be careful – he’ll soon be seen as one of them – a flunkey of thought.

Thursday 7 May 2020

Modest and small

Coronavirus lockdown changes will be 'modest' and 'small', says Dominic Raab

Boris Johnson will address the nation on Sunday evening, with the PM set to detail how some of the measures will be eased.

Oops - too little relaxation at this point and it won't be so easy to pile it all on to Prof Ferguson when hindsight becomes the big issue. He's cleared off and left a rather stinky cloud of doubt behind. A bigger cloud than before that is. 

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Slow blogging

Broadband very flaky at the moment. As with the government it only has a few lucid moments so limited blogging until the engineer arrives on Saturday.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

As we revert to imbecility

To my mind, the most enduring aspect of the lockdown here in the UK is how creepy it all is. Curiously old-fashioned and paternalistic - aristocratically so. The surgery is closed for the duration – go round to the tradesman’s entrance.

We see it everywhere - the current enthusiasm for a police state, mass NHS forelock tugging while ignoring millions who also keep the show on the road. Supermarket staff, water supply workers, electricity workers, gas suppliers, delivery drivers, internet technicians – the list is a long one and these people do not have medical expertise on hand.

A modern shibboleth driving it all seems to be the half-buried notion of absolute government responsibility. Absolute in a modern totalitarian sense and a shibboleth because it is also a relic of the past, an ugly assumption of old aristocratic powers with a compulsory modern twist.

Government has airily assumed direct responsibility for our health, lives, attitudes, applause and even our daily activities and amusements during the coronavirus debacle. However, it has assumed these responsibilities with no great change in tone, as if ancient aristocratic rights were never abandoned and will not be abandoned when the coronavirus debacle has been forgotten.

A passage from George Santayana may be worth revisiting here. 

As an absolute reality would be indescribable and without a function in the elucidation of phenomena, so a supreme good which was good for nobody would be without conceivable value. Respect for such an idol is a dialectical superstition; and if zeal for that shibboleth should actually begin to inhibit the exercise of intelligent choice or the development of appreciation for natural pleasures, it would constitute a reversal of the Life of Reason which, if persistently indulged in, could only issue in madness or revert to imbecility.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1906)

Current circumstances suggest that the absolute responsibility government will indeed revert to imbecility. To a substantial degree it already has. The imbecility is here, in the air, more infectious and more dangerous than the virus ever was.

Monday 4 May 2020

The mundane reality of life and death

There is a very useful post over at Hector Drummond’s blog. Conclusions are set out at the beginning which is also useful, but the whole piece is well worth reading for the way it establishes how overblown UK pandemic policy has been compared to the realities of life and death we have to live with anyway.

While we are on the subject of an overblown pandemic reaction, it may also be worth reminding ourselves that UK government policy for dealing with it is not an experiment. The pandemic cannot be run again under a different policy to compare with the current one.

In other words, even with the benefit of hindsight we will never be able to demonstrate that current lockdown policy was the best policy. Official sources and lockdown fans will claim otherwise but their claims will not be valid. We know that already.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Musk calls the lockdown "fascist"

Tesla has applied for a licence to generate electricity in the UK, documents show.

The US company, known for its electric vehicles, also has operations in battery energy storage and solar panel and solar roof tile manufacturing...

Earlier this week he described coronavirus restrictions as "forcibly imprisoning people in their homes" and "fascist".

Musk has many middle class fans and he is right in that the lockdown is certainly totalitarian. The lockdown mood could turn very quickly but all we'll go back to is endless screeching about climate change and the environment.

It's a real swine when we have to choose between one lot of totalitarians or another. At least the lockdown lot aren't complete loons. Can't we have a policy which aims to flatten the inevitable loon curve as we emerge from lockdown? Some way of acquiring herd immunity?

Saturday 2 May 2020


I've been busy with a few DIY jobs during lockdown and it occurred to me than my smaller electric drill is quite old for a power tool. I checked out the manufacturer, Wolf Electric Tools and it turns out that the V&A has one too, although I think mine may be very slightly earlier. 

I don't suppose they use theirs as often as I use mine but they should - mine still works perfectly. I used it this morning while fixing some cupboard catches.

Friday 1 May 2020

Seeking a burden

“I can’t understand anything now,” said Stavrogin wrathfully. “Why does every one expect of me something not expected from anyone else? Why am I to put up with what no one else puts up with, and undertake burdens no one else can bear?”

“I thought you were seeking a burden yourself.”

“I seek a burden?”


“You’ve... seen that?”


“Is it so noticeable?”


Fyodor Dostoevsky – Demons (1871-72)

Some people do seek a burden, usually the burden of responsibility. Yet it may not be the responsibility they really seek, but the burden or maybe the status of having a burden.

Too often in our evasive world it is possible to pass on most of the responsibility while retaining all the apparent burden. Boris is doing some of that with his high profile scientific advisers. Does not appear to be the kind of thing Trump does though. To my mind it is a telling difference.