Thursday 30 July 2020

The problem of aggressive conformists

Paul Graham has written an interesting piece on what he calls The Four Quadrants of Conformism.

One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism. Imagine a Cartesian coordinate system whose horizontal axis runs from conventional-minded on the left to independent-minded on the right, and whose vertical axis runs from passive at the bottom to aggressive at the top. The resulting four quadrants define four types of people. Starting in the upper left and going counter-clockwise: aggressively conventional-minded, passively conventional-minded, passively independent-minded, and aggressively independent-minded.

The whole piece is well worth reading as perhaps the quote below illustrates.

The conventional-minded say, as they always do, that they don't want to shut down the discussion of all ideas, just the bad ones.

You'd think it would be obvious just from that sentence what a dangerous game they're playing. But I'll spell it out. There are two reasons why we need to be able to discuss even "bad" ideas.

The first is that any process for deciding which ideas to ban is bound to make mistakes. All the more so because no one intelligent wants to undertake that kind of work, so it ends up being done by the stupid.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Giant leap - but not quite

Surely spaceflight requires something more technical than a giant leap. Otherwise we'd have done it ages ago. Maybe it's an example of the British ingenuity we've seen so much of lately... 

Oh hang on it's just boring old rockets -

The first ever launch into space from British soil is one step closer today (29 July 2020) as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announces a public consultation on the regulations for the UK’s spaceflight programme.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Katie Hopkins As Meghan Markle

Made me smile but there is also something deeply degrading about the celebrity game. That's one thing Meghan seems to be good at - highlighting it.

Beyond meaning

The tomes of reason continuously cement conceptual frequencies.

A meaningless sentence obviously, but lack of meaning is usually less obvious. Yet for some reason we do not demand that any idea must be meaningful before we are prepared to consider it. Perhaps it is difficult to dismiss ideas as meaningless if they are widely used and have some kind of impact on our own outlook, even a wholly negative ‘what a bunch of morons’ impact.

We have a major problem with mainstream media outlets pushing meaningless ideas from politicians, pundits, journalists and academics. The reason is easy enough to understand – given enough traction, meaningless ideas cannot be attacked effectively. They cannot be dragged into the realm of rational debate because they are safe spaces cut off from reality. Safe careers cut off  from reality too - not an insignificant factor.

To take a topical example, even a cursory knowledge of modern usage tells us that the term ‘racist’ is now virtually meaningless.

a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one's own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.

This online dictionary definition is out of date and inaccurate for reasons which are obvious enough so it is worth offering an alternative –

a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a particular racial group is more racist than the others.

This latter definition is virtually meaningless but this is the usage we usually encounter in modern parlance. Words change their meaning as usage changes and many people and institutions accused of being racist are not significantly racist in the older and more meaningful sense. The accusations almost always turn out to be malicious, exaggerated or otherwise inaccurate. Dishonest rhetoric sheltering under the shadow of a largely discarded meaning.

In other words the term ‘racist’ has degenerated into a term of abuse rather like the word ‘bastard’. Even context is not a reliable indicator that the old usage still prevails. This is the point – to make political malice meaningless and thereby impregnable.

If we consider the situation for a moment, it seems clear enough that debased language is yet another reason why genuine moves in the political game are made behind closed doors. This appears to be an important role of mainstream media – to keep meaningful political debate behind closed doors. It benefits the media, major political actors and the establishment while we are stuck with meaningless pap.

The problems are many but one of them is surely this – we have built legal frameworks based on a term which has become largely meaningless. As a result, whatever the private consensus there has to be a public presumption that the term ‘racist’ retains its original meaning. This in turn supports a particularly poisonous form of political opportunism. We can’t shake it off.

Monday 27 July 2020

You Decide

The only consolation


The only consolation after having voted for this lot is that they humiliated monomaniac Corbyn and his disgusting cronies in the aftermath of the last general election. Apart from that - no other consolations at all. 

Maybe Brexit if all goes well but who would bank on that? It is even tempting to suppose that the current mess is a deliberate lesson for us - make post-Brexit life as crappy as possible.

Sunday 26 July 2020

They thought it was satire

So many questions

Below is one of the comments on this piece about the effectiveness of face masks. Blasts another commenter out of the water in a most entertaining way I thought.

Finn McCool

July 26, 2020 at 2:09 am 

Interesting points, John
Perhaps you can tell me :

Why was 99.8% of a healthy population quarantined?
Why was over 50% of deaths with ‘suspected’ COVID19 in “care” homes.
What Was Done To Try And Reduce those Deaths In “Care” Homes.
Why were no autopsies done.
Why was the probability of dying from SAR-CoV2 almost Zero in the age group 0 – 64 years.
Why was taxpayer money spent on creating hospital beds in stadia/shopping malls which were never used.
What constitutes a death from SARS-CoV2 in a “care” home.
What is a COVID19 case.
When do you stop being a COVID19 case.
Why were GP surgeries effectively closed.
Why were surgical appointments postponed.
Why were regular medical treatments postponed.
Why were regular medical checkups postponed.
Why did GP’s and hospitals not follow up on people most at risk. (Over 75)
WHY were illegal Do Not Resuscitate orders allowed.
Why were people allowed to die with cancer, alzhiemers and other diseases, at home and alone.
Why was the NHS allowed to work at half capacity for so long whilst people were dying at home.
Why did A&E visits drop by over 50% during lockdown.
Why did ambulance calls fall by 40% during lockdown.
Why were so many NHS staff and “care” home staff allowed to be off work during lockdown.
Why are NHS and “care” home staff described as heroes.
What is a “key” worker.
Why were schools closed when no child has been known to die from a SARS-CoV2 infection.
Why were children denied an education.
Why were children not allowed to take exams.
Why were so many healthy people put out of work.
Why were so many small businesses put out of business.
Why were Western economies wrecked.
Why were television adverts from banks to hair product filmed as if they were shot on mobile phones.
What is the prevalence of “infection”.
What is the percentage of susceptible people given the low probability of dying.
What is the probability of testing positive and actually being positive.
Why are 70% of world deaths attributed to SARS-CoV2 from just 8 countries?
Bearing in mind that one of these countries is India with 0.003% of deaths in a population of over 1.3 billion.
This is from a British perspective.
Perhaps you need to do some more in-depth research.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Mask Day II

Men and women can be very nasty when they see someone enjoying a freedom they haven’t themselves the courage for.

Hugh Walpole - Vanessa (1933)

It is worth suggesting that a minor political purpose of coronavirus masks is to accustom susceptible people to the idea that it is okay to be an unofficial police informer. Seems too cynical but it may not be. From what we have seen of the lockdown so far, the possibility is creepy enough to be plausible.

Friday 24 July 2020

Mask Day


As we know, today is Mask Day. It seems obvious enough that politically nobody cares if masks work or not. They are a prop to offset some of the gross exaggeration generated by our incompetent response to the coronavirus debacle. An attempt to spin the thing out and fade into normality rather than jumping in all at once. An attempt to deflect some of the fury likely to be directed at our political leaders if rational hindsight ever gets going.

Wednesday 22 July 2020



Buckets are interesting things aren't they? It is certainly true that if some people had taken less interest in politics and more interest in buckets the world would be a better place. Jeremy Corbyn for example. His abilities are far more suited to the study of buckets.

I just counted our buckets and to my surprise we have six, although two have holes in them so maybe they don’t count. Although even a bucket with holes in it can be useful for collecting weeds and dead leaves in the garden. We have an old galvanised bucket with holes in it but it can still be used to burn paperwork such as old bills. In fact that is probably what caused the holes in the first place.  

Buckets are cheap too, but maybe that is just as well. We recently bought a bucket online for a fiver delivered. Why bother going to the shop for one at that price? Yet imagine a situation where we had never worked out how to make cheap buckets. Sounds unlikely but if the manufacture of buckets were to be a monopoly government function we’d soon see some expensive buckets If Mr Corbyn had been given the opportunity to create a National Bucket Authority for example –

We’d see green buckets made in a sustainable way from biodegradable materials with lots of health and safety information about basic bucket functionality, the correct use of buckets, bucket-handling posture, inappropriate bucket usage, bucket maintenance, repair and ultimate disposal via approved bucket recycling outlets or preferably the gifting of used buckets to the third world. What fun that would be.

But as with many other things buckets have become less interesting over the years. We are unlikely to visit the local hardware store expecting to see wooden buckets, leather buckets or those old enamel buckets although there are still some of those around. On the whole though we rarely see anything apart from mass-produced plastic buckets.

We do see some innovations such as folding buckets for camping, buckets of popcorn for the modern cinema-goer and quite a range of shapes, sizes and colours. All in all maybe we should accept the changes as promoting a healthy bucket situation in spite of the ubiquitous plastic.

Paying for IndyBalls

The Independent is one to avoid in the daily browse but it is still astonishing to be reminded that there is a subscription only version. Which isn't news but is surely weird because a rational person might  assume the Independent cannot possibly have any paying subscribers left by now. 

Yet presumably there must be such people forlornly clinging on - hoping to be informed about something eventually. The ghastly outfit wouldn't do it otherwise. 

In which case, perhaps we must assume that the point of purchased output is some kind of guarantee that one is definitely not to be presented with news and articles which are just the usual IndyBalls to be found free elsewhere. Such as this -

Some kind of psychological profile of the Independent reader is required here. Not that anyone would pay to read it.

Tuesday 21 July 2020


A while ago I stumbled across a reference to hyperthymesia or Superior Autobiographical Memory, a rare condition possessed by actress Marilu Henner.

Has been confirmed to be one of a rare group of persons, who possess "hyperthymesia" (Superior Autobiographical Memory) which allows her to recall almost every day of her life as featured on the CBS 60 Minutes (1968) episode of December 19, 2010.

Many conditions are easy enough to imagine but I have a problem with radically different mental abilities such as this. My memory is nothing special and quite unreliable in areas where my level of interest is low.

I don’t see that as a problem because it is surely necessary to forget trivia. It’s like keeping the shed tidy so you can find things like a favourite screwdriver. Remembering almost every day of your life though - I can’t imagine what that is like and my immediate assumption would be that it must be a problem. Could be useful at times such as finding that blasted screwdriver but surely not that useful?

Another problem… Oh hang on I think I’ve done that one.

Teachers too eh?

Like a false steward who hath much received
And renders nothing back.

William Wordsworth - The Prelude (1850)

Monday 20 July 2020

Make it as crappy as possible

I'm merely putting together some casually acquired anecdotes and personal impressions here, but Mrs H and I have noticed a sharp distinction between pandemic approaches in the public and private sectors. 

Cafes, shops and other businesses appear to be making the best of things within the ludicrous morass of restrictions they have to comply with. Make the best of it seems to be their approach.

To repeat - this impression is derived from anecdotes and personal experience, but GP surgeries and schools appear to be gold-plating every possible rule and restriction as if they would really prefer to close down altogether. Make it as crappy as possible seems to be their approach.     

It’s the carnival of mediocrity

"Tell me, surely you don’t belong to that circle? That’s what I wanted to ask.”

“They are no sillier than other people and no wiser; they are mad like everyone else. . . .” 

“Why, is everyone mad?” I asked, turning towards him with involuntary curiosity. 

“All the best people are mad nowadays; it’s the carnival of mediocrity and ineptitude and nothing else. . . . But it’s not worth talking about.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Raw Youth (1875)

Sunday 19 July 2020

Sinking safely

One of the most obvious conclusions to be drawn from the coronavirus debacle is that the government’s police state response will never be completely reversed. The fact that it was done cannot be undone. 

The state will not forget the raft of draconian powers so easily imposed and so readily accepted by a large percentage of the population. A police state is here to stay even if it fades into the background once the pandemic has subsided politically. The ability to impose lockdown and impose it nationally or area by area and even public familiarity with the word ‘lockdown’ will not be discarded. 

We tend to think of these matters in terms of exaggerated fears invented by government to direct mass behaviour, but it is perhaps more useful to think in terms of carrot and stick. The stick is fear and the carrot is safety. Fear induces unpredictable escape behaviour so of the two, safety may be the more important politically. If the coronavirus has offered us a political warning, it has shown us that safety is the destination from which there is no escape, from where many do not even wish to escape.

On a similar line: something impossible to miss over the course of my scientific career has been the elevation of health and safety to organisational holy writ. Almost everyone of my age or thereabouts will have seen something similar over the decades. Take a conspicuously sacerdotal attitude to health and safety, particularly in the public sector and getting the job done is of secondary importance.

It is possible to view this obsessive concern for safety as our primary political carrot and maybe that is not too surprising. It is obvious enough that safety and survival are closely linked, so much so that we expect political systems to exaggerate and manipulate perceptions of safety within the general population. Hence the current police state complete with its network of safety-obsessed informers.

We could take this much further and dismiss all notions of political ideology, substituting political perceptions of safety instead. It may seem counterintuitive, but the ultimate in safe political systems is totalitarian. This is the political attractor round which we circulate in our feeble attempts to keep democracy alive. This is the reference point against which democracy and democratic freedoms are measured and so often found wanting when perceptions of safety are manipulated.

Social justice warriors are not concerned with social justice whatever that might be, but with promoting wildly exaggerated notions of social safety. And that means political safety. And that means totalitarian safety. Which is why attacks on Donald Trump have tried to depict him as an unsafe pair of presidential hands even though he is quite obviously no such thing. This is why the attacks have been so hysterical and so dishonest – safety is a visceral issue.

Another example - the point of climate change propaganda has been the depiction of free enterprise and anything outside official bureaucratic control as environmentally unsafe. It has no other purpose. The supposed science and the ludicrous climate mitigation policies are merely window dressing.

Anti-racism rhetoric has thrived on much the same basis. Keep alive the perception that multi-ethnic societies might be unsafe if left unmanaged and this justifies draconian restrictions on free speech, particularly criticism of government immigration policies. Many people see free speech as inherently unsafe anyway, so the anti-racism industry has been given an easy ride over recent decades. Even the most ludicrous assertions and the most damaging outcomes get a free pass. Anti-racism also paved the way for many other restrictions on free speech using much the same strategy.

As for clapping the NHS it is not easy to say if this was infantile or politically sinister. Maybe both, but in a world so obsessed with safety, dangerous political trends become less obvious. Maybe this is the most sinister effect of our obsession with safety - even the most dubious political trends are no longer obvious. In a less safe world they were obvious but in our world they are not.

Saturday 18 July 2020

Perspectives matter

Not an area of history I'm familiar with, but interesting as an alternative perspective on Mary Seacole. The first video is here.

Friday 17 July 2020

Hand it over to pettifogging loons

Have we reached Peak Infantile yet?

Drowning in propaganda

Mrs H had to make a phone appointment with the doctor recently. Quite a good system which we've used before because it isn't always necessary to visit the GP surgery. Our surgery has said it expects to expand this way of working once the coronavirus debacle has subsided politically, although that isn't how they phrased it.

Inevitably Mrs H first had to listen to a recorded message saying among other things how busy they were, and how much more work has been created by the pandemic. Maybe it has and maybe it hasn't, but propaganda seems to have become our way of life.  

New pandemic educational video launched

Thursday 16 July 2020

The right to judge

A clever woman told me once that I had no right to judge others because ‘I don’t know how to suffer,’ that before judging others, one must gain the right to judge, from suffering.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Raw Youth (1875)

Published almost one hundred and fifty years ago, but merge that quote into modern identity politics and you have a major source of political repression.

Your identity excludes suffering

So you do not suffer
So you cannot judge
So you cannot speak
So you are nobody

Of course as we know, identity politics is not about having an identity but suppressing the right to even have an identity, about becoming the lowest common denominator in a political ethos, a useful idiot fed only on the thin gruel of righteousness.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

But we keep putting it off

Oh, we genuinely want to be honest, I assure you, but we keep putting it off.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Raw Youth (1875)

As we know, many thing we focus on beyond our own environs are not what we would pay attention to without endless media pressure. Daniel Kahneman has called it availability – we focus on what is available for us to focus on. Mainstream media plus their online collaborators know it well.

We even have to focus on the media to remind ourselves why we'd prefer not to focus on the media. Like the call of an excited child it goes look at this, look at this, look at this and like a child it never seems to pause for breath. In the end we just have to take a peek, if only to assure ourselves that nothing bad is going on, nobody has fallen downstairs and the house is still intact.

With all the noise distracting us from the rise of global fascism, it is worth asking how much reality is reflected by the mainstream media. Ignore it and life goes on apart from the wind turbines on the hill, residual lockdown silliness, face masks and memories of that temporary lack of toilet paper and closed businesses and takeout only cafes, and, and… And somebody wants our attention don’t they? At almost any cost they must have our attention because without it they go under.

Yet imagine a situation where the mainstream media focus on global car accidents for months on end. Numerous accidents are described in minute detail from the people involved and their personal tragedies, blighted hopes and fractured lives, to the condition of the roads, make of vehicle and of course what could have been done better and it’s all the government’s fault anyway.

In addition we’d have interviews and opinion from an array of astoundingly confident experts plus numerous proposed solutions and draconian mitigation policies from road safety lobbies, politicians and absolutist lunatics. We’d have numerous charts of accident statistics, constant references to children and horrendous future accident predictions if nothing is done. Maybe some models too.

Road accidents kill, main and injure huge numbers of people every year, blighting lives, destroying careers, totting up huge costs in hospital care, road safety initiatives, policing and wrecked vehicles. Globally this is a bigger issue than a relatively benign pandemic, a few race riots and some damaged statues, yet we are persuaded to direct our attention to the pandemic and the riots but not the traffic.  

In which case what is the lesson? To my mind it is more evidence that we are manipulated by taking advantage of the way we navigate through life by avoiding surprises. Surprises in this manipulative sense are mostly threats. To those not directly involved, serious traffic accidents are not surprising but a key point is surely this - the media cannot make them surprising. It is perhaps unfortunate that the media cannot make them threatening either.

For that they go elsewhere and this is where media mendacity becomes a feature of the process. To make us pay attention they need an endless supply of fictitious threats rather than genuine ones. Fictitious threats allow the media to use the infinite resources of fiction rather than a far more constrained and understandable reality.

Political convictions, social prejudices, financial anxieties plus emotional needs and fears all supply the nutrients to concoct fictitious threats and make them easily available. This allows the media to feed us with a constant stream of them to which we inevitably pay attention because it is in our nature to pay attention to threats, even fictitious threats. Availability again.

Unfortunately for mainstream media, the internet has made all this threatening urgency too familiar and for more and more people the threats are seeping away as they did decades ago with traffic accidents. To counter that we see more extreme political rhetoric as previously middle of the road political parties drift towards a kind of modern fascism in their desperate need to attract the attention of voters – to make themselves available.

The current hysteria towards Donald Trump is an extreme political competition among attention whores trying to make his somewhat benign presidency into a seething morass of fictitious threats to trigger susceptible voting behaviour. That has always been the aim as he knows.

All very basic but perhaps that has become a media problem as well as ours. It is basic enough to become visible. A patchy visibility perhaps, but maybe the fog will continue to clear.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

I'm not sure what the point is though

Derbyshire County Council is reopening some libraries. 

We plan to only open a limited number of libraries at first and during this initial phase a number of measures have been put in place to ensure everyone’s safety and help to stop the spread of coronavirus.

You will need an appointment to be able to visit to pick up books or use a computer, and this can be arranged direct with your local library.

During this time, the following will not be available:

  • book returns - we're not accepting any book returns unless you’ve got an appointment - you will not incur overdue charges
  • browsing the shelves
  • reader groups
  • use of meeting rooms / events, and activities
  • specific item requests
  • public toilets and baby changing facilities
  • newspapers
  • donations including food bank drop-off points

National shoplifting initiative launched

Monday 13 July 2020

Why everyone was wrong

For anyone still interested in the coronavirus debacle, this piece is an interesting summary of holes in the official narrative. It is a translation from the original German of an article by Beda M Stadler the former director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Bern, a biologist and professor emeritus.

Why everyone was wrong

The coronavirus is slowly retreating. What actually happened in the past few weeks? The experts have missed basic connections. The immune response against the virus is much stronger than we thought.

This is not an accusation, but a ruthless taking stock [of the current situation]. I could slap myself, because I looked at Sars-CoV2 - way too long with panic. I am also somewhat annoyed with many of my immunology colleagues who so far have left the discussion about Covid-19 to virologist and epidemiologist. I feel it is time to criticise some of the main and completely wrong public statements about this virus.

Firstly, it was wrong to claim that this virus was novel. Secondly, It was even more wrong to claim that the population would not already have some immunity against this virus. Thirdly, it was the crowning of stupidity to claim that someone could have Covid-19 without any symptoms at all or even to pass the disease along without showing any symptoms whatsoever.

Sunday 12 July 2020

Can the CCP Achieve Global Dominance?

Aaron Sarin has written an interesting Quillette piece about the Chinese Communist Party and its aim of global dominance coupled to its bouts of totalitarian incompetence. CCP handling of the coronavirus debacle is given as just the latest example of its incompetence directly attributable to a culture of fanatical secrecy and rigidly centralised control structures.

Many of us have woken up in recent years to the threat we face in the Chinese Communist Party. The danger that the Party presents to citizens of China has been well documented for decades, but it is only recently that this danger has been extended to the rest of the world—or perhaps it is only recently that the rest of the world has caught its first alarming glimpse of a long-hidden menace. This menace comes in a variety of forms. In the arena of infrastructure and investment, there is Xi Jinping’s vaunted “Belt and Road Initiative.” The aim is to create Chinese vassal states all over the world by issuing loans that cannot be repaid. This enables the Party to assume control of ports, pipelines, and power plants, and ultimately to gain leverage over indebted governments.

With each move the CCP outflanks its rivals and creeps closer to global hegemony. Indeed, a US congressional report has found that the United States would lose if war was to break out with China tomorrow. China’s leaders no longer hide the fact that they aim to establish a Communist-led world order, with the task due for completion in the year 2049 (exactly one century after the Party first took power).

And yet with all this talk of elaborate Machiavellian plots, it has been easy to forget the sheer incompetence of the Communist Party. Beijing makes careful plans decades in advance, executing some of them successfully, but it also makes the most colossal mistakes along the way. The CCP may give the impression of order and efficiency, but this is order taken to such pathological, inflexible extremes that it frequently results in disorder—from the lethal famine caused by Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s to the massive social unrest caused by Xi Jinping’s Hong Kong Extradition Bill in 2019. Recent history ought to leave us in no doubt. Chaos follows the Communist Party. Now the coronavirus crisis is showing us the very real danger of maintaining close relations with such a regime.

We are familiar with centralised incompetence ourselves, but it is not easy to draw conclusions when trying to assess the CCP version from an outsider's point of view. At least the election of Donald Trump, the Huawei issue and the coronavirus debacle have brought the CCP threat into some kind of focus. Unfortunately the focus may be temporary.

Friday 10 July 2020

Elites despise us

There are a number of plausible angles on the apparent decline of the developed world. One is that developed world elites have relearned a global lesson - how to despise ordinary people, their lives, tastes, culture, education and ambitions. Unfortunately, as an overarching explanation this angle works well. 

For example –

For decades TV comedy and drama have relied on characters which are caricatures we recognise, caricatures to be lampooned, vilified, cheered, despised, admired and so on. We are all familiar with characters we never really encounter in real life because they are fictional caricatures specifically crafted for their roles in comedy or drama.

Alf Garnett, Frank Spencer, Hyacinth Bucket, Terry of Terry and June – the list goes back a long way because the caricature has always been a backbone of TV sitcom and drama. Dad’s Army was hugely popular yet it made fun of the Home Guard in World War II. It made fun of ordinary people – the bank manager, the butcher, vicar, undertaker, ARP warden, housewife - ordinary people being courageous and patriotic.

The whole gamut of working class and middle class caricature seems to infest BBC culture. It appears to foster a perception that its hordes of caricatures are more than fictional, that this is how ordinary people really are – limited, absurd, even contemptible and easy to despise.

There are many more of course. A vast number of caricatures are figures of fun but also the kind of people who would never have landed a job at the BBC. Ordinary people seem to be despised by the BBC – that is to say ordinary licence payers. It is an interesting memory game, totting up how many situation comedies poked fun at characters who would also be BBC licence payers.

Elites and those on the elite fringes despise us for being easy to manipulate, have done for decades and show it in many ways apart from TV. Woke culture is remarkably akin to a monstrous sitcom inserted into real life - a whole range of caricatures designed to make fun of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. Too far fetched? Look at Prince Harry – he’s a right laugh isn’t he?

Or take the coronavirus pandemic – what a laugh that has been. Making millions of people stay indoors while a heavily hyped infection fails to rampage through the land. As a demonstration of government power, government ineptitude and the power of propaganda it was almost inspired. Drama and comedy rolled into one vast sitcom and still we aren’t allowed to see the joke.

It isn’t only situation comedy though. How about climate change, the game show where ordinary people are supposed to believe that driving their car causes irreversible changes to global weather. Not only that but they have to hand over lots of money to pretend it can be stopped. What a laugh eh? Imagine wanting to be a contestant on that show.

How about Boris Johnson’s government? Is this one of the worst UK governments since WWII? No? Bzzzzz wrong answer. Or the absurd elevation of Jeremy Corbyn to Labour party leader, or our ludicrous inability to manage immigration or our difficulties in leaving the EU. 

The people you vote for are useless – ho ho didn’t you know? 

Yes - our faces are being rubbed in it.

Thursday 9 July 2020

I’ll get the coffee

I’ll get the coffee – yours still espresso?

No Americano, it lasts longer. Didn’t you get coffee last time?

Dunno – my memory doesn’t do pre-lockdown very well. Doesn’t matter anyway – gives me a chance to wear my virus mask.

You don’t believe all that crap do you? It is all junk science and hand-waving you know, the virus only affects oldies, hardly anyone else.

I know but I want to wear my mask – haven’t worn it yet and I made it by following a YouTube video. Took me ages so it’d be a waste not to wear it. Anyway we’re oldies if you think about it.

I’m not an oldie – it’s a mental thing… like your mask… mental.

Piss off – it looks cool and I’m off to get the coffee because there’s a mirror over there. I may be gone for some time because I haven’t worked out what those arrows on the floor are yet and my glasses are steaming up.

That’s the mask.

Bloody hell I can’t see a thing – wish me luck I’m going in…

You managed it then?

Shields everywhere and that social distancing malarkey but yes I managed it – well obviously I did because here’s the coffee and hardly anyone else is sitting inside anyway.

Thanks… You’ll need to take the mask off to drink that coffee by the way. It’s all bollocks anyway if you ask me.

What wearing masks?

All of it – all the lockdown crap.

Why is it? Not that I’m disagreeing with you but why is it all crap? My mask’s all damp inside now – maybe we aren’t supposed to breathe in them.

It’s just crap. Social media and so on – in fact the whole internet – it’s like a pub where you are always earwigging somebody else’s conversation.

You do – I don’t.


Okay – I do a bit but so what?

Well just like a pub… Look at it like this - even if you don’t know the people you’re earwigging you know if they are talking rubbish or not. You can tell – tone of voice, false emphasis, selling instead of discussing. You can tell –

Okay - maybe.

Well the whole internet is like that – Facebook, Twitter and so on it’s all like that and you can tell when people are selling crap ideas or don’t know what they are talking about anyway. You can tell.

You can just tell?

Yes you can – just like in the pub. That's what people don’t realise when they talk down to us and try to sell us rubbish ideas. We can tell they are doing it – loads of people can tell so they mostly ignore it. With newspapers and TV it wasn’t nearly so obvious – we couldn’t tell as easily but now we can. The whole social media and internet thing – it’s tuned us in as we were never tuned in before. We’ve wised up and they haven’t realised that yet.

Wednesday 8 July 2020


Scott Manley with a useful overview of the OneWeb story.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

The four Rs

No system would have ever been framed if people had been simply interested in knowing what is true, whatever it may be. What produces systems is the interest in maintaining against all comers that some favourite or inherited idea of ours is sufficient and right.

George Santayana - Winds Of Doctrine Studies in Contemporary Opinion (1913)

A core frustration of political debate centres around systems. Political activists are system-driven but all human systems are corruptible so the person who knows this is saddled with a permanent disadvantage when it comes to political debates.

The disadvantage shows itself when trying to demonstrate a contrast between freedom under the law and political systems which constrain that freedom in pursuit of a claimed social improvement. More laws they demand – always more laws.

There are always reasons to constrain freedom because freedom is always abused and there always appear to be ways in which the abuse could have been prevented. If systems were not abused we wouldn’t be human. Unfortunately political activists have the advantage of claiming their system will cure abuses as against a more tolerant position where abuses are merely constrained. Snake oil still sells.

To take an imaginary but plausible example –

We could suggest that reading, writing, arithmetic and roots are to be the four Rs of early education, roots being history, why we are where we are. To my mind this is as important as the other three because modern people appear to have no idea of how we arrived at the modern world and within this lack of knowledge political fantasy spins its slimy web.

Wouldn’t work though would it? History would turn out to be a woke version of history. Any system may be corrupted. There is no point devising a system and expecting the system itself to do the heavy lifting. Not an easy angle to take with system fans though.

Keeping up appearances

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spoken to young leaders about equal rights - with Harry saying the wrongs of the past need to be acknowledged.

Prince Harry and Meghan dialled into the Queen's Commonwealth Trust weekly video call, which focused on responding to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Harry, president of the QCT, told them: "There is no turning back now, everything is coming to a head."

His wife Meghan added that equality is a fundamental human right.

Modern platitudes - but there is a hint something else here. Nobody cares, people think he has gone soft in the head and she isn't popular. Slipping back to B-List celebrity status perhaps. Opening new supermarkets comes next. 

Monday 6 July 2020

A very large reduction of uncertainty

There is an interesting essay by Anil K Seth in aeon concerning consciousness. I'll add one quote here but the whole thing is well worth reading because it raises some fascinating questions.

Consciousness is informative in the sense that every experience is different from every other experience you have ever had, or ever could have. Looking past the desk in front of me through the window beyond, I have never before experienced precisely this configuration of coffee cups, computers and clouds – an experience that is even more distinctive when combined with all the other perceptions, emotions and thoughts simultaneously present. Every conscious experience involves a very large reduction of uncertainty – at any time, we have one experience out of vastly many possible experiences – and reduction of uncertainty is what mathematically we mean by ‘information’.

Consciousness is integrated in the sense that every conscious experience appears as a unified scene. We do not experience colours separately from their shapes, nor objects independently of their background. The many different elements of my conscious experience right now – computers and coffee cups, as well as the gentle sounds of Bach and my worries about what to write next – seem tied together in a deep way, as aspects of a single encompassing state of consciousness.

A very large reduction of uncertainty is another aspect of Karl Friston’s idea that we navigate through life by avoiding surprises. Looking at it more widely, it also seems to be one of the great divides. Some people are pragmatic enough to understand how embracing uncertainty can be the best route to greater certainty. It is not even a paradox because we can be certain that something is uncertain. 

Others seem to need the more immediate and lasting certainties of ideology and dogma, even at the expense of  honesty, personal integrity and even outright silliness. Fake news propaganda is itself a dishonest evasion of a much deeper problem that is fake certainty.

Let's go out for a Berni

Wedding anniversary today and a few memories of going out for a Berni.  Prices have changed a little since the 1970s though.

Sunday 5 July 2020


Decades ago a young chap began working in a public sector scientific department just down the corridor from the lab where I worked. I’ll call him Steve because that wasn’t his name.

Steve was obviously bright, had only left school a year or two previously but for some reason hadn’t been to university after A levels. He lived with his parents in a Derby suburb not far from where Mrs H and I lived. Near enough for me to give him a lift to and from work on the few occasions when it wasn’t convenient for him to catch a bus.

Steve’s family ran some kind of small business. I can’t recall what they did but it may have been a printing business. It soon became apparent that the public sector was not what Steve had expected even though the department he joined did some interesting scientific work such as devising ways to combat fly nuisance at a sewage works.

For obvious reasons it is a good idea to build a sewage works well outside the town it serves. Smell is one reason and flies are another. However, councils sometimes give planning permission for houses closer and closer to the town sewage works, builders build them and people buy them. Then they complain.

However, although Steve was good at his job and adapted to it very quickly he wasn’t impressed with us. He knew that ultimately the organisation he had joined was engaged in what he referred to as just office work and he was right. It was a good job he had – secure with some field work, opportunities for more qualifications and certainly advancement for someone as bright as he was. But he saw where it would all lead to clearly enough. He left after giving it less than six months.

I was always impressed by the way Steve summed us up so accurately, saw his likely future and decided it wasn’t for him in spite of the advantages. It isn’t common in the public sector.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Cheap news

An oddity about giving up on BBC news is how cheap it now seems. Ludicrously expensive salaries for the talking heads and enormous production costs sending overpaid people to stand around in wellies every time there is a flood, but the content still feels absurdly cheap. 

Cheap in the sense that analysis is superficial, presentation is shallow and one-sided and always we are given the dull, fashionable pap, never the imaginative sideways look at other possibilities. It's the endless diet of pap which has done for the BBC. Pap should not be eye-wateringly expensive.

Smaller and more agile media outfits, semi-professional bloggers and vloggers and even knowledgeable amateurs often give the world a better, wittier, more imaginative, more detailed angle on current affairs. They seem able to cut the grossly padded production costs to virtually nothing yet still come up with better analysis which is less misleading, more reliable and easier to confirm.

The barrier to entry has fallen to the floor and this is where the fake news angle originates – the big boys want it raised again. It’s too late for that and nobody cares.

Friday 3 July 2020

When evil survives

We all know in outline how World War II turned out. We know who won militarily and who lost, but we have tended to sidestep the uncomfortable reality that the USSR was one of the military victors while being just as evil as Nazi Germany. Stalin was just as evil as Hitler – we don’t stress that as we should.

The point about degrees of evil may be argued forever but it isn’t worth it. Both regimes were appallingly evil but one ended up on the winning side. Evil acquired a certain degree of respect and that was a disaster we still have to live with today.

As we also know, the USSR had its external fans and apologists before the war, as did Nazi Germany, but one fan base survived the conflict and even the downfall of the USSR, while the other, to a good enough approximation did not survive. We may usefully abide by this position in spite of ludicrously extreme political rhetoric we still see today.

In other words evil political ambitions and a vast and evil regime survived WWII as one of the victors, taking its place on the podium with the good guys. Victors are almost always the good guys anyway - as we know. With the triumph of Stalin’s USSR in mind, it is worth asking what effect this had on our perception of respect because it seems clear enough that respect has become increasingly political rather than a simple moral concept.

The issue is worth posing because pre-war life seems to have been different in ways which are nebulous and now largely obscured by those verbal minefields fans of political rhetoric love to lay down. Pre-war culture is not easy to analyse because we are not part of what is now a bygone culture, however familiar it still appears to be. We cannot live it as it was lived and pick up nuances we may no longer be aware of. 

For example, it seems to have been a world where social obligations could be more personal than we generally see today, less avoidable morally. This is not a suggestion that pre-war life should be viewed through those notorious rose-tinted spectacles, but broad social changes are always a mix of gains and losses. It is not good policy to pretend there were no other losses after WWII apart from all those wasted lives and colossal physical damage.

That pre-war world also seems to have been one where moral choices could also be more personal than today because do as you would be done by was more fundamental than it is now. It was an ancient religious precept however often it may have been dishonoured. It may be worth adding that dishonouring it was a well-known failing in social life, known and understood in a way we have not retained.

This pre-war world still seems similar to ours because it was very similar, because many of us alive today once knew people who lived through those times. Yet we also know those people and their times were a little different. As respect becomes political rather than personal and moral, do as you would be done by becomes irrelevant as people today are less inclined to accept such a strong level of personal responsibility. Now we are more inclined to allow such abstruse matters to disappear into the memory hole that is political rhetoric. It isn’t my fault goes the often covert refrain.

It is as if the aftermath of WWII redefined how we think of ourselves and reshaped the stories we tell in our attempts to live harmoniously with the wider world. Yet as the USSR, one of the most evil regimes in human history, emerged as a good guy from WWII we have an obvious problem with social narratives where respect is a lesson we must absorb if things are to continue as we wish them to continue. Aspects of social life must be worthy of our respect or not and the difference must be clear and personal. Otherwise how does anyone try to be respectable in its straightforward moral sense – worthy of respect?

The cracks appeared fairly quickly within a few decades of 1945. An example of that is how we never seemed to hold on to the political will to secure our own borders against undesirable social changes which were bound to be a concomitant result of large scale immigration.

Respect for what the wartime generation defended should have been morally secure after WWII but it was not. It all carried little weight with those who were sufficiently secure themselves to ignore the obvious threat of cultural drift, a threat which was not ignored by a majority of the population. But this did not seem to matter politically as the personal responsibility entailed by the personal nature of respect had lost ground to diffuse notions of political expediency and a culture which evades blame from the highest level downwards.

A moral determination to defend ourselves and respect our purpose in doing so faded quite rapidly after WWII. It was eroded by a strangely defeatist narrative that there is nothing worth defending apart from the freedom to attack and destroy those who try to defend what they value and respect. This freedom to defend ourselves had been an essential part of fighting WWII but afterwards it was undermined within a matter of a few decades.

After all, if one of the WWII victors was a supremely evil regime, what is there to defend? This is the nihilism Dostoevsky hated so much and it is still with us - an ineradicable aspect of any political psyche. In fact Dostoevsky’s outlook may be worth emphasising here – nihilism is ineradicable aspect of any political psyche. We see it today – now.

Culture matters because this is where our knowledge of personal respect resides in all its subtleties, nuances and strengths. An ancient evolved culture such as ours prior to WWII was not at all simple and far from perfect but it was understood from childhood onwards and its concepts of respect and respectable were understood. This was a vast advantage.

Change all that towards prescriptive political notions of appropriate and inappropriate, lay the minefields of political expediency and the moral basis of personal respect is gone forever.

Thursday 2 July 2020

One of those stories

When I first read this story I gave that mental it's North Korea shrug and moved on as one does. But after a while  it popped back into my mind, perhaps because I happened on a reference to George Orwell and this story is so close to Orwell's 1984.

A fire recently broke out in an apartment complex in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, and raged for several hours before burning itself out, Daily NK has learned.

“The fire broke out in an apartment in the city on June 12 at 7 PM,” a source in the province told Daily NK on June 18. According to the source, the top floors of the building were left to burn because firefighters never arrived on the scene.

“With no way of extinguishing a fire on the top floor of the building, residents just stood around and watched,” the source said.

“The fire eventually burned itself out when there were no flammable objects left to fuel it. People didn’t even expect the fire brigade to show up,” he added.

Bad enough in a country which if it so chose could be technically and economically advanced, but there is another aspect to the story which even Orwell might have found too extreme.

The source also noted that as soon as the fire broke out, the first possessions residents rushed to protect were portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hanging in their homes.

“They grabbed the portraits and evacuated the building,” the source said, adding, “They were so intent on making sure the portraits were safe that they didn’t have time to attend to furniture or other household items.”

We know why of course. Damage those portraits and you may as well have perished in the fire.

Wednesday 1 July 2020

And so to Ikea

Victorian furniture had always sought after immortality; in Bursley there were thousands of Victorian chairs and tables that defied time and that nothing but an axe or a conflagration could destroy. But this new suite thought not of the morrow; it did not even pretend to think of the morrow.

Nobody believed that it would last, and the owners of it simply forbore to reflect upon what it would be after a few years of family use. They contemplated with joy its first state of dainty freshness, and were content therein. Whereas the old Victorians lived in the future (in so far as they truly lived at all), the neo-Victorians lived careless in the present.

Arnold Bennett - These Twain (1915)

The Simpsons' forecast

For amusement only of course, but public health is not the only aspect of the coronavirus debacle. The virus is certainly real but the pandemic lockdown seems to have some long-term policy aims too. Possibly opportunist and possibly not, but not necessarily related to public health.