Saturday, 31 October 2020
Friday, 30 October 2020
This piece from the BMJ back in February is worth reading. Not my field but it raises some interesting questions -
TAMIFLU & INFLUENZA VACCINES: MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
Owen Dyer reminds us that we have spent billions on a drug that possibly does more harm than good. (BMJ 2020;368:m626—February 19) The same thing can be said about influenza vaccines.
We hear so much about the vital importance of flu shots that it will come as a nasty surprise to learn that they increase the risk of illness from noninfluenza virus infections such as rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, RS viruses, parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses, HMP viruses and enteroviruses. This has been shown in at least two studies that have received little attention from public health authorities:
Thursday, 29 October 2020
Xenophon – Memorabilia
Wednesday, 28 October 2020
Tuesday, 27 October 2020
There is something ugly about mendacity and something pleasing about honesty. Even the most brutal honesty may be pleasing once the honesty of it is accepted. Mendacity is never pleasing. In many ways this kind of discrimination is just as much an aesthetic experience as an exercise in reasoning. Reasoning is often driven by the powerful aesthetic appeal of honesty.
Suppose we need to justify a view that much of the UK is grossly overcrowded. Anyone may formulate reasons why this is so but we may just as easily formulate reasons why it is not so. We may point out that the UK clearly supports its current population and why even in cities the land is not covered in concrete.
Some time ago Mrs H and I visited the second floor café of a Derby shopping centre. It was a clear day and as we sat by a high window overlooking four lanes of city traffic we could also see a church spire and green fields miles away beyond the city limits. Where would we prefer to be? Where we had chosen to be at that particular time was the café on the second floor of a city shopping centre. We were not strolling through those green fields and yet…
And yet there is an aesthetic aspect to complex social questions. Aesthetically many people seem to feel that the UK is grossly overcrowded but that isn’t all there is to it. There is reason mingling with that aesthetic judgement, because to say the UK is not grossly overcrowded can be both entirely reasonable and not entirely… Not entirely what?.
Here in the overcrowded island question there is a strange domain where reasonable is sometimes blended with aesthetic compromise. Reasonable but unattractive perhaps, because we may reason unattractively. Does it matter? We are not reasoning machine so we need all the clues we can muster. In which case, perhaps it does matter.
For example, the UK government coronavirus debacle is ugly. It is a ghastly, inconsistent draconian mess. Not because government actions have been wholly unreasonable but because of the mendacity intermingled with the specious reasoning. The arguments go on and on and will go on and on long after the draconian shambles has morphed into whatever the end game turns out to be.
Yet the ugliness of the coronavirus debacle cannot be erased, just as the ugliness of UK overcrowding cannot be erased even by reasonable reasoning. The draconian political response to a less than critical pandemic cannot erase its own ugliness. Almost as if aesthetic failure is where political failure really resides. Maybe totalitarian is always ugly. Maybe ugly is always a clue.
Monday, 26 October 2020
Arnold Bennett - Sacred and Profane Love (1905)
Most of us must have experienced something similar, that apparent glimpse of the secret meaning of human existence. Even mundane moments such as gazing down on an empty street from an upstairs window late at night, even quiet suburban moments may catch these glimpses.
In my experience they tend to occur at night when human clamour has subsided, but not always. Walking along a silent, deserted valley or the sight of rain sweeping across distant hills. Brief but unmistakable. Nothing permanent seems to be left behind apart from a sense that perhaps we ought to seek them out more often.
What is the secret meaning of human existence? I don't know. These moments don't tell us but they tell us there is one.
Many pundits claim directly or indirectly that Mr Trump has lowered the state of US political debate. Comments such as this suggest otherwise. The standard was already low - Mr Trump has merely demonstrated how low it always was.
This comment by a very senior Democrat is unambiguously infantile. As if Mrs Clinton with her vast political experience really does think and has always thought that Democrat voters respond well to infantile sound bites. Works both ways of course, but Mr Trump is a late entrant and mainstream media do not reflect that.
Sunday, 25 October 2020
But no English school-boy is ever taught to tell the truth, for the very simple reason that he is never taught to desire the truth. From the very first he is taught to be totally careless about whether a fact is a fact; he is taught to care only whether the fact can be used on his “side” when he is engaged in “playing the game.”
G K Chesterton - What's Wrong with the World (1910)
It seems obvious enough that we could divide the political arena into simple and complex rather than left and right. It would be much the same as a political and apolitical division where we acknowledge that political ideas are based on oversimplified pictures of reality.
Suppose we follow this idea and consider an imaginary political initiative designed to appeal to about 80% of the population. This would necessarily include a substantial number of people with little interest in abstract analysis. In other words our imaginary political initiative must be sold via a narrative so simple that it is likely to be impractical. Quite possibly stupid too. Passing national laws to influence the global climate for example.
Political initiatives designed for wide popular acceptance cannot easily acknowledge complex issues such as the do nothing option, practical boundaries or uncertainties. Otherwise mass acceptance is compromised because our imaginary political position is not simple enough. It is insufficiently misleading.
It gets worse though, because we attract political actors who are effectively professional simpletons. They are comfortable promoting hopelessly implausible but simple goals even if those goals are ridiculed by everyone who understands the rough edges of real life. Practical people don’t usually aspire to be professional simpletons. Apart from climate scientists. And epidemiologists.
Unless the political class has enough integrity to develop pragmatic politics and eschew the politics of the professional simpleton we have a problem. Unless voters vote against professional simpletons we have a problem.
We have a problem.
Saturday, 24 October 2020
A Welsh dragon is unleashed: Furious Tesco shopper tears away plastic sheets and asks how children's clothes are 'non-essential' in run-up to winter under Wales's 'disgraceful' Covid rules
Friday, 23 October 2020
This is the first of an occasional series on cookery. Firstly we have –
This we are told is an abundant time for coronavirus so what better way to take advantage of it? With this in mind you need to go out and collect enough wild coronavirus to fill a good sized saucepan depending on how much soup you wish to make.
Unfortunately the coronavirus season ended some time ago so you may need to substitute a tin of Heinz vegetable soup instead. If you are extremely fortunate and do find a tiny amount of wild coronavirus, mix it in to that tin of vegetable soup and bring the whole thing to a brisk simmer in your large saucepan.
Traditionally a cooking pot called a crockashite is used for coronavirus concoctions, but any large saucepan will do. You need a large pan because even a minute amount of coronavirus will create huge quantities of disgusting grey froth which constantly rises to the surface making a ghastly flatulent sound as it does so.
Matt is the traditional name we chefs give to this unpleasant froth - skim it off and discard it somewhere safe as it bungs up everything it touches.
Once the grey froth has disappeared you will almost certainly find there is nothing left in the pan so throw it away and put the whole business down to a lesson learned.
Thursday, 22 October 2020
Years ago I knew a chap who loved to imagine he had inside information on the next reorganisation or organisational upheaval. He loved to hint about his access to mysterious sources even though we knew it was merely gossip he was passing on. Yet he seemed to enjoy the imaginary social status of knowing what his colleagues supposedly did not know – having inside information.
Following on from the recent post about modern versions of sumptuary laws, it is worth asking if it applies to intangibles. Which intangible benefits do elites prefer to keep for themselves? A number of obvious examples spring to mind, but a big one is also an old one – inside information.
In our digital age, how do elites keep the most complete information to themselves and does such an idea even make sense in the internet age? Again a partial answer to this is an old answer in that insider discussions are only available to insiders. Outsiders always have incomplete information, internet or no internet.
In addition we also have another old answer - information intended for the masses can be degraded by official slanting and by the media. It can be degraded by being incomplete, misleading, irrelevant or simply false. It often is – we know that. Do I mean often? Always would be closer. Superior information is essential for superior social castes. Without that there would be no castes as we understand them.
The current coronavirus debacle is an example where it is not obvious that official pandemic information matches the information available to the political class. It seems likely that their information is less exaggerated and more complete than ours, perhaps dramatically less exaggerated. In other words it seems likely that our information is degraded with respect to theirs. Hence the valuable works done by sceptics, but many out there are not sceptics.
What Boris and co say about the coronavirus debacle is not what they know. Hardly surprising but worth placing in a wider context where elites feel they must have exclusive access to elite information.
Climate change is another example. Over the years there have been a number of indications that climate change information intended for the masses is either untrue, misleading or exaggerated. It is not obvious that elites and senior scientific authorities receive equally low grade information. Their general behaviour such as frequent air travel suggests not. Again it seem likely that our information is degraded with respect to theirs.
The mainstream media provide us with numerous examples where there are clearly two grades of information. The behaviour of Cyril Smith is merely one such example. It may be said that issues of this kind could not be publicised because of libel laws, but it seems just as likely that two tier information is how the game is played and there was little pressure to offer more accurate information to a wider public. As much as anything, it was simply how things are done.
Sustainable energy such as wind and solar power give us another example. As is well known they do not offer reliable sources of energy and the reasons are well known, but the public message virtually ignores this major drawback.
It seems likely that elites and upper middle class people pushing sustainable energy know perfectly well that they will require some form of expensive domestic electricity storage and/or generation. They will be able to afford it but millions may not. Two more levels of information, one accurate and one degraded. It's how things are done.
Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Yes - Amanda has returned and is at it again.
Amanda Solloway spoke at a Higher Education Policy Institute webinar about improving the way we evaluate research.
It’s truly fantastic to be with you today – and thank you to Nick for the invitation.
With the disruption we’re all facing, it’s so important that we can keep meeting virtually like this.
It is truly a testament to how adaptable we are, that these virtual meetings now feel quite normal – a sign that we are all more capable of responding to change than we think we are.
And change is something which you, as a higher education community, are experts in responding to – with your heroic efforts over the last few months being just the latest example of how our universities are adapting to a changing world...
We need to work together to build an evaluation system that achieves our goals.
More quality time spent on research.
A positive culture which recognises all contributions to research.
A culture which motivates people to do diverse, creative and risk-taking work.
Institutions improving in ways that align to their diverse missions.
And clear accountability for public funding without layer upon layer of complex bureaucracy.
We should not shy away from asking the tough questions.
We need to be prepared to take bold decisions.
But I realise of course that this will take time.
Tuesday, 20 October 2020
Over recent decades it has become increasingly obvious that sumptuary laws never really disappeared. They evolved into expensive brands, fashions and patterns of consumption the common folk couldn’t afford. It wasn’t illegal for them to ape their betters but they couldn’t afford such conspicuous consumption.
Although copies of posh brands could be just as good in some cases, there was always a negative social cachet in pretending to be what you were not. Even in modern times, situation comedies such as Keeping Up Appearances made that quite clear.
However, in recent decades it also became obvious that economic growth, automation and manufacturing ingenuity could lead to a situation where it was not possible for upper castes to stay ahead of the game in an entirely convincing way. To deal with that we now have a political ethos where the covert message is essentially a psychological sumptuary law much of it based on the political notion of equality.
Not equality with elites of course - we are still not supposed to ape our betters, otherwise there would be no point to a caste system. Climate change, political correctness and the coronavirus debacle reflect the operation of covert sumptuary laws. Do not consume, despise achievement and accept the imposition of a police state in response to a relatively mild pandemic. Do not ape your betters is the timeless message.
The main tool of modern sumptuary laws has been clear for years – environmental activism with climate change at its core. The climate narrative is essentially a political totem by which consumption and lifestyles are to be tightly regulated downwards. That’s your lifestyle and mine regulated downwards – not theirs.
The ultimate climate goal appears to be some general level of consumption which is unambiguously inferior to that of the elites. A sumptuary law in all but name. Vicuña versus polyester and we are the polyester caste.
Monday, 19 October 2020
China's economy grows 4.9% as industrial production surges, retail sales rise and unemployment sinks - while the rest of the world is crippled by coronavirus epidemic that started in Wuhan
Sunday, 18 October 2020
But the British Medical Association said it was worried police involvement might put people off being tested.
Saturday, 17 October 2020
A curious aspect of the UK coronavirus debacle is how it has highlighted the power of the absurd. The UK government response to the pandemic has been and still is absurd, but by now we should be used to the absurd in public life.
The catastrophic climate change narrative is absurd, as is UK energy policy. Mass immigration in an overcrowded country has been and still is absurd. HS2 in an unpredictably changing world is absurd. BBC funding is absurd. The public utterances of numerous celebrities are absurd. Many MPs are absurd. Many experts and academics are absurd.
The list is so long that being absurd is clearly not in itself a drawback. It even appears to be an advantage in that the absurd shares no common ground with rational discussion. Rational arguments flounder. There may even be some advantage in making an absurd position even more absurd, taking it even further away from the dangers of rational discussion.
Maybe that is the source of its power because simple observation suggest that the absurd may be enormously powerful. In itself that is an absurd position to be in, but again, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Friday, 16 October 2020
Thursday, 15 October 2020
There is one coronavirus measure Matt Hancock has consistently missed out in his otherwise inspiring pandemic pronouncements, probably because it has yet to be rolled out. This is the government’s exciting new It’s Cool To Help app which should be available to download soon.
The app sends an automatic phone alert if, for example someone in a café unknowingly finds themselves in close proximity to a person who has previously flouted pandemic requirements such as social distancing, the wearing of a mask or local lockdown measures. The app does this by encouraging users to flag the presence of such a person in their immediate vicinity. If for example that person is not wearing a mask or failed to use the hand gel when entering a shop. Sounds useful but there is more.
It’s Cool To Help is also aimed at secondary schools where all kids will be shown how to download the app if they have not done so already. They will be taught how to use the app plus its range of ancillary functions such as sending automated pandemic advisory texts to friends, relatives and family members. Automated advisory texts on other important issues such as climate change, racism and recycling are likely to be included in future upgrades.
It’s Cool To Help also allows kids to log when friends and family visit pubs, coffee shops, restaurants, churches, evening classes and especially political meetings. The app helpfully offers a risk evaluation for all these activities and even contacts the police if the activity violates government mandated restrictions. Kids collect reward points for everything they report via these useful functions.
An obvious spoof of course. Couldn't possibly happen except in the diseased imagination of incurable cynics. Obviously.
Wednesday, 14 October 2020
The other day found Mrs H and I discussing how Boris appears to be hemmed in by circumstances and political pressures. He seems to lack the ability to assert his leadership as opposed to his apparent role as official establishment mouthpiece. As if he knows he cannot recover the gravitas he squandered for most of his political career.
This impression may or may not be valid of course. He may be a willing collaborator in the ludicrous mess that is the coronavirus debacle. In which case he clearly needs to pull a pretty large rabbit out of the hat if he is to avoid the permanent impression that he is no more than a feeble establishment stooge. But even that may not matter to him. It may be his chosen role.
To my mind a major failing of modern Prime Ministers is that they appear to make little effort to understand the basics of important political issues. For example it was easy enough for Mr Johnson to understand that epidemiology is not an exact predictive science.
From that point it was easy enough to work out that he needed a range of expert opinion to bring out the uncertainties. He could then have been more open about the uncertainties and possibly could have steered a more flexible and pragmatic course through the pandemic.
As for pulling a rabbit from the hat, a tiny glimmer of optimism remains, but I don’t think Boris has the hat, let alone the rabbit.
Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Cripes this coronathingy game is dragging on a bit. I wish the dear old public would show some bottle and loudly insist on going back to normal. I’d throw any number of epidemiology blighters under a bus at the drop of a hat but I can’t do that on my own. I can’t say the spreadsheet nerds in white coats have it all wrong can I? I mean crikey – I can’t can I? Not without some pretty hefty backup.
Now it’s the climate stuff and I’m not sure I’d go along with any of it even for Carrie. I mean – well Prince C is full of it and old David Attenthingy goes on about it but who pays any attention to them? Sweet chaps both but really… I can’t throw both of them under a bus can I? Not St David and the heir to the throne, even if they spout the purest balderdash that ever was - I can’t can I?...
….Cripes it’s that blasted R number rearing its ugly mug again. Nothing to do with electric cars or Rum Things Going On, I know that much, but what the hell is it? Matt says it’s a scary number which jumps out of spreadsheets whatever they are – big trouble if you want my opinion but nobody does because I’m only the Prime Minister. If only I’d known…
Well that’s the Three Tier COVID bollocks launched I suppose. I’m told it has to be simple enough for the great unwashed to understand but I’m not so sure. I have a horrible suspicion that the blighters know I 'm talking out of my derriere, which I am but I really don’t like the idea that everyone else knows it too. I’m being led up the garden path with no trousers on but what can I do? If only I’d known that all the swine who stick their noses into politics are even bigger bastards than I am…
Monday, 12 October 2020
Boris Johnson has confirmed a new three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions is going to be introduced in England.
The country will be divided into three Local COVID Alert Levels - "medium", "high" and "very high" - depending on local infection rates.
Sunday, 11 October 2020
As we know, the political game is a theatre where aspiring actors must stand out in some way or they don’t get top bookings. The theatre requires drama from them, but honesty is rarely dramatic. Hence there are essentially two ways to stand out on the political stage – by raw ability or by lying. In some disastrous cases - both. Tony Blair for example.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, lying is the favoured approach for those would-be political actors who happen to be deficient in raw ability. Most of them in other words. Hence the political stage has a powerful tendency to attract narcissist I can do that better than anyone else recruits – the self-centred liars.
Another problem is that honesty is a treadmill of endless caveats and uncertainties where picky people rule and major political actors know it. They have absolutely no interest in treadmills ruled by picky people – that is definitely not why they entered politics.
The trouble is, hardly anyone strutting the political stage wants it be significantly more honest. An effective fightback against the honesty treadmill has been to spend huge sums of money on persuasion. Persuade people to accept even the most blatant lies - it can be done because it has been done and will be done again. And again and again…
Hence the coronavirus debacle. It is not only a problem of grotesque government incompetence but a question of political theatre. The play must go on but the whole theatre attracts actors with absolutely no interest in a pragmatic response to the pandemic. They cannot allow the treadmill of honesty onto the political stage. The ugly spectre of merit could mean greasy pole would have to go. That would never do for those whose only skill is knowing how to climb it.
Saturday, 10 October 2020
Human 'microevolution' sees more people born without wisdom teeth and an extra artery
Australian researchers found our faces have got shorter over time and our jaws smaller.
More people are being born without wisdom teeth and an extra artery in their arm as a result of a human "microevolution" in recent years, a study has found.
Babies now have shorter faces, smaller jaws and extra bones in their legs and feet, a study in the Journal of Anatomy found.
Reminds me of an episode in the seventies where our dentist was dealing with my impacted wisdom tooth. He was doing something with what felt and sounded like a dental version of hammer and chisel. After a while another dentist popped in to ask how things were going.
"You win some, you lose some," my dentist muttered. Happy days.
Friday, 9 October 2020
Edinburgh Woollen Mill, owner of the Peacocks and Jaeger clothing brands, says it plans to appoint administrators in an attempt to save the business.
The move puts 21,000 jobs at risk amid what the company described as "brutal" trading conditions.
"Like every retailer, we have found the past seven months extremely difficult," said Edinburgh Woollen Mill chief executive Steve Simpson.
The stores will continue to trade as a review of the firm is carried out...
The businesses attract older shoppers who are likely to be keeping away from the High Street to protect against coronavirus, says Catherine Shuttleworth, an independent retail expert.
Thursday, 8 October 2020
Here’s part of what kept Mrs H and I going during the coronavirus debacle -
As for the public sector - SNAFU as official government policy appears to sum it up from the Prime Minister downwards. Merely an observation of course and lots of room for quibbles about policing, healthcare and so on –
No - forget the quibbles. I’m extremely thankful that routine private enterprise kept going and still keeps going in spite of government bungling. It’s those people we should have been clapping.
It has been a strange six months, like being cocooned in a fantastically complex web of services which work so smoothly we barely notice them in more normal times. I worked in the public sector for most of my working life and it has taken the most shameful public sector mess to bring this contrast to the attention of anyone who chooses to see it. Shameful? Yes - absolutely shameful.
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Tuesday, 6 October 2020
One persona could be that of the dispassionate professional who simply tells it as it is, but there is flavour of permanent wallflower about that one. How does a highly ambitious professional stand out from the clever clogs and define his or her professional competence as somehow superior? One popular route is to become a professional blockhead.
To be a professional blockhead one has to promote blockhead initiatives and insist that they are the only professional and rational way to go. This approach has a number of outcomes which benefit the professional blockhead.
- Public attention is directed at the professional blockhead.
- Professional blockhead is seen to lead the blockhead initiative.
- If the initiative is pushed hard enough, other professionals shrug and accept it.
- Professional blockhead climbs the greasy pole.
Monday, 5 October 2020
Researchers are looking at whether the common cold could offer some protection against contracting coronavirus.
A recent study at Yale University found that rhinovirus - the most frequent cause of a cold - could jump-start the body's antiviral defences, providing protection against the flu.
They discovered that the presence of rhinovirus triggered production of the antiviral agent interferon, which is part of the early immune system response to the invasion of pathogens.
Sunday, 4 October 2020
Boris Johnson has warned it may be "bumpy through to Christmas" and beyond as the UK deals with coronavirus.
Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr, the PM said there was "hope" in beating Covid, but called on the public to "act fearlessly but with common sense".
He said the government was taking a "balanced" approach between saving lives and protecting the economy.I've tried to point out the current bump in death rates, although the bump may have been bumped up by a vast amount of testing and the general hysteria bumped up by political bumpers. Who knows? Boris doesn't.
Saturday, 3 October 2020
A while back I read a comment to the effect that if Donald Trump were to be assassinated, a large percentage of Democrats would raise a perfectly genuine cheer. Possibly this is an exaggeration, but probably not a gross exaggeration when it comes to visceral reactions. We really have fallen that low.
Thursday, 1 October 2020
The radical nature of Dr Liz’s whole outlook became apparent as soon as I entered her office, or Loon Zone as she calls it with that wry smile he fans know so well. The floor appeared to be covered in a layer of lawn turf, understandably patchy in places and more brown than green, but a bold attempt to bring the natural world into the immediate environs of serious academic endeavour.
“Tell me about your latest work on the Loon language,” I asked as we sat on the office grass while sipping a cup of sustainable nettle tea. I also noticed that along one wall there was what appeared to be a row of very small cabbages planted in the turf. I later found out that Dr Liz calls it her farm.
“Obviously Loon is an evolving language,” Dr Liz explained, “one which continues to shape itself around the contours of our feelings and experiences. This after all is what any language should do.”
“I see that of course, but in what way does that differ from the languages we actually use?”
“I should stress something here," Dr Liz replied, "because we are certainly not talking about so-called political correctness, correct gender pronouns, causing linguistic offence and so on, although that come into it."
“But do people really understand how your approach differs from political correctness?”
“Yes, because it differs in some very fundamental modes of experience, many of which we have conclusively illustrated in our Sensitivity Linguistics Lab.”
“I see, but could you be more specific?” I asked, hoping that ‘specific’ was not a forbidden word in the Loon lexicon.
“Feelings cannot be bound by specifics,” Dr Liz replied, gently correcting my faux pas. “Loon is a journey, essentially a journey. It is not tied to the exploitative illusions embedded in traditional languages. It adapts itself to the felt experience in ways far removed from the oppressive myths of some supposed reality. It is frankly impossible to explain how liberating Loon is through the distorting lens of a dying language such as the one we are forced to use now.”
“Although you have written a number of books and articles in our language where you do seek to explain how liberating…”
“That is because we have no choice, but what I try to get across in my writing is how much easier it is to express our inner selves in Loon.”
“Yet as I understand it, Loon is like a dialect of our own language where we words and expressions have subtly different meanings.”
“Not merely a dialect because words and verbal structures in Loon reflect what we need to be, our pure inner reality released from the polluting grip of linguistic violence. Because this is what we are really up against here – linguistic violence.”
“I see. Perhaps you could give me an example.”
“At the most basic level, some words are inherently violent, words such as ‘true’ and ‘false’ for example. These words are like bladed weapons in irresponsible hands. We almost never use them in Loon unless to illustrate a Loon point.”
“I see – no true or false. Any other examples?”
“We’re sitting on one. There is no value in keeping the natural world at arms length so here it is in our world. In your rigid language of indoors and outdoors it probably doesn’t quite make sense, but in Loon it does.” Dr Liz patted the patch of grass by her side. I noticed an ant crawl up her arm but she ignored it.
By this time I had begun to experience what I can only describe as a kind of silent buzzing sensation in my head. It was too disorienting to continue so I made my excuses and left, hoping to complete the interview another time. Actually the buzzing subsided as soon as I left the Loon Zone. Coincidence of course.