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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Old Photos

 


I've been scanning an album of old photos today. Mainly to reduce the space taken up by bulky photo albums we never look at from one year to the next. Some photos are deteriorating, so I had to do something about that anyway. Presumably the digital versions will last, but how we'll pass them on when we pop our clogs I don't know.

All the photos I scanned today were from the seventies, from about 1972 to 1979 and there were about 120 to scan. In the era of the digital camera, a similar period seems to generate about ten times as many and I suspect it would be no great loss if I were to delete ninety percent of them. 

Digital clutter has replaced physical clutter I suppose. Oh well - there are quite a few more albums to go.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

A wind-up toy pointed this way and that



Donald Forbes has an interesting take on Joe Biden in Comment Central.

One of the depressing things about Joe Biden is that he is a pure product of politics. Half a century devoted entirely to the pursuit of votes and office must shrivel whatever humanity a man is born with. There is no sign Biden ever had the time or the breadth of imagination to read a book for pleasure. Now he is a physical and mental shadow of his mediocre heyday, a wind-up toy pointed this way and that by advisors who have their own agendas and whichever political current is strongest on his side of the political tracks which at the moment is the progressive left.

Whatever Biden's mental state now, he was never presidential material, never likely to rise above the role of puppet. Which, we may assume, is all the Swamp ever wanted. The whole piece is well worth reading.

What are we to make of the Democratic party which made such a man its contender for the world's most powerful office; or of his wife who allowed it to happen and now has to nurse him through the job? Whenever she is out sight, Biden asks, "where's Jill?"

The answer to all of these 'what are we to make of' questions is narrative. What the voter sees in front of him is just an illusion until packaged as a narrative that is repeated so many times in so many places that it becomes a truth.

Monday, 26 July 2021

Drivel will do for the proles



'COVID is a warning that much worse lies in store': Alarm raised ahead of biggest climate report since 2013

Following a spate of deadly wildfires, floods and famine, IPCC researchers begin finalising the most comprehensive assessment of global warming of its kind since 2013...

"While the climate crisis, together with biodiversity loss and pollution, has indeed been under way for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this triple planetary crisis into sharp focus," Joyce Msuya, assistant secretary general of the United Nations and deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said today.

"The pandemic is a warning from the planet that much worse lies in store unless we change our ways."


COVID-19 is a warning from the planet eh? Not a warning about meddling with viruses in China presumably. Definitely not that. 

We seem to have reached a stage where official propaganda doesn't even have to mean anything. As always, drivel will do for the proles.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

The List



Integrity is an elusive idea isn’t it? Absolutely vital for a functioning society, but we seem to have no reliable consensus on how to retain it. Or even how to know if we have retained it. Or why we haven’t retained it.

The problem with integrity is obvious enough. If we lose it, we also lose the integrity to notice the loss. Or we do notice it but lack the integrity to do anything about it. Or we lose it intentionally for personal gain. The basic risk is the same though. If we lose it, we lose the incentive to regain it whether we know it or not. Integrity is the original slippery slope. Very steep, very slippery.

Yet here in the UK, there appears to be an underlying assumption that we still possess some kind of basic, caring, sharing, cycling, recycling, inclusive, green political integrity and this is enough to venture into the future. Confidently corrupt, we have no way of regaining the integrity we have so plainly lost. No way of knowing it. No way to avoid losing even more than we have lost already.

We know we’ve lost a great chunk of political integrity because the coronavirus police state tells us so and this was far from being the first clue. The effects of the pandemic have not been worth the costs, neither economically nor politically, but this cannot be admitted. The integrity to do so officially is not there.

We know it because mainstream media lie to us as a matter of routine, because governments exaggerate risks to the point where they too are lying, because celebrities repeat the lies for their publicity value, because scientists support the lies for professional gain, because academics invent more lies for professional gain, because we allow lies into the lives of our children, because we are constantly lied to about the weather, because we are presented with obvious lies about the biology of human sexuality, because we cannot state certain obvious facts without political or legal risk, because the history of slavery is not discussed factually, because history is frequently distorted, because we cannot reap the benefits of free speech, because we cannot easily criticise politically favoured groups, because equality does not mean equality before the law, because we cannot vote for integrity, because…

We know it because the list just keeps growing.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

You don't say



House Rep. Ronny Jackson, who served as the top White House physician under the Obama and Trump administrations, has predicted President Joe Biden won’t finish his term in office because of a lack of fitness for the job.

‘Something is SERIOUSLY wrong with Biden - and it’s only going to get WORSE!’ the Republican congressman from Texas tweeted on Thursday.

‘It’s past the point of embarrassment. He’s lost. He can barely put a coherent sentence together.’


Maybe so, but the probability of mental decline was an obvious issue before the presidential election. In which case there is also something seriously wrong with those who voted for him. And others of course.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Cool at last



We tootled off into Matlock for a stroll and a coffee this morning. The heatwave finally seems to have abated so we can get a few jobs done around the house without wilting in the heat. Not that it has been unpleasant for us. Sitting in the garden under the shade of the Amelanchier wasn't at all arduous.

Thanks to all the loft insulation, it has been very warm upstairs in the bedrooms and hardly cooled at all during the night. So much so that we decided to sleep on the floor downstairs which was a few degrees cooler and we could open the patio doors. 

Surprisingly enjoyable it was too, sleeping on the floor on a few folded duvets. It brought back quite vivid memories of the flat in Coventry which Mrs H shared with a friend during her college days. We slept as well as we do in the bedroom, although getting up in the morning wasn't quite as easy as in those far off Coventry days. 

Thursday, 22 July 2021

The Spirit of the Age



There was a time not so far in the past when ignorance was feared and education was seen as the antidote. Ignorance could lead to crime, disorder, riots and subversion. Of course the drive to educate the masses had a number of aspects, but one which has declined in perceived importance is a visceral fear of widespread ignorance.

Why we should fear it is obvious enough - widespread ignorance takes us into the unknown where painfully acquired cultural competence begins to fall apart. 

In his short story 'A Son of the Soil', writer George Gissing introduces us to his character Jonas Clay, an agricultural labourer who aspires to better himself in London. Unfortunately Clay’s aspiration is founded idle ignorance rather than anything more constructive. It doesn’t end well of course. Gissing was no great fan of happy endings.

At school he had learnt — well, what had he learnt? In the main, to spell out police news and to scrawl obscene words. His education, in the real sense, he owed to a powerful but unacknowledged instructor, the Spirit of the Age. Hence his discontent with everything about him, his thorough dishonesty, his blurred, gaslight vision of a remote world.

Certain well-meaning persons had given him ‘religious teaching,’ that is to say, had laboriously brought him to the repetition of phrases he did not understand, to which he attached no particular significance whatever. He could not name the flowers by the wayside; no one had ever thought of teaching him that. He did not know — he did not hear — the bird that sang to him at his work; no one had ever spoken to him of such trifles.

He was aware, by consequences, that the sun rose and set; but never had he consciously looked at its setting or its rising; for all that Jonas thought about it, the sky might have lowered in a perpetual leadenness. He had no conception of geography — save that somewhere vaguely to the east lay a huge town called London.


George Gissing – A Son of the Soil (1898)


As Gissing wrote of Jonas Clay: His education, in the real sense, he owed to a powerful but unacknowledged instructor, the Spirit of the Age. Where are we if the spirit of our age actively promotes ignorance? Which it does – we know it does in ways too numerous to count. Perhaps this is a situation we should fear.

Charles Dickens gives us an earlier and better-known hint that ignorance is something to be feared in 'A Christmas Carol'. It isn’t a new problem but what we seem to have forgotten is the fear itself and the reasons why we should still fear ignorance.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol (1843)

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Oh I don't like to be beside the seaside



Seaside poor health overlooked, warns Whitty

A national strategy is needed to tackle poor health and lower life expectancy in seaside towns, a report from England's chief medical officer says.

Chris Whitty says these places might have natural beauty but suffer from high rates of serious illnesses.


Don't retire to the seaside seems to be the message. But wait...

Asthma was one of the few health problems less common on the coast - and Prof Whitty pointed to the "paradox" of ill health in seaside towns when there were so many natural advantages - such as lower pollution and better access to healthy outside spaces.

So when pollution is used as a convenient scapegoat for poor health, we should take it with a pinch of salt substitute. These issues are complex of course and cause and effect do seem to be peculiarly elusive. And yet...

It is telling how often are the bastards lying again? is a good preliminary question whenever we are lectured by officialdom.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

We need a severity scale for shambles



COVID-19: Employers will have to apply for isolation exemption for 'pinged' workers as government rules out critical jobs list

An increasing number of people are being forced to self-isolate as they are identified as close contacts of somebody who is COVID positive, leading to many critical workers being unable to do their jobs.

Maybe a few ambitious types from SAGE could bend their powerful minds towards a devising a brand new Shambles Severity Scale (SSS). 

A simple scale from 0 to 10 would do, where the UK coronavirus debacle now stands at 10++. Even Boris must know the situation is a shambles with an extraordinarily high SSS.

Monday, 19 July 2021

If that's what it says on the description

 

Source

Surely that's what officials do



Germany floods: Officials reject criticism over warnings as number of dead across country and Belgium rises

Authorities claim emergency alerts were sent out but it is not clear how many sirens sounded to warn people.

Officials reject criticism? Surely that's what officials do. A headline saying 'Officials embrace criticism' - now that would be a headline of the 'man bites dog' variety.

Unless 'lessons learned' is seen as a departmental opportunity I suppose.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

A Net Zero Family



One family has taken on the net zero challenge in a big way. All four members of the Weeble family from Buxton have certainly pushed the envelope when it comes to net zero housing. The Weebles have abandoned their three bed detached house, turned off the gas, electricity and water and decamped to the garden shed which is now their new home.

It sounded incredibly radical and incredibly interesting so I had to visit them to see how their new net zero lifestyle is working out. Jed and Kaz now live with son Tommee (13) and daughter Toolah (11) in a large wooden shed in their back garden.

I knocked on the door and Jed and Kaz ushered me in with friendly smiles. Their new net zero home seemed a little cramped inside with only wooden stools to sit on, but Jed and Kaz have plans to expand the shed in a net zero and sustainable way using wood salvaged from a nearby recycling centre.

They have already added an annexe, although the kids are not allowed to go in there because it has turned out to be a little damp in wet weather and Kaz says the floor flexes more than it should. Still as Jed says – “it’s early days and we are learning all the time.”

The first and most obvious question which sprang to mind how the kids were adapting to their new lifestyle with no mobile phones, TV or video games. This is due to the absence of an electricity supply although the family expects to have a couple of solar panels installed within a week or two.

I should say at this point that Tommee and Toolah spent most of the interview scowling at their parents while huddled up in a corner. Toolah had what appeared to be an imitation mobile phone made from wood which she used to hold imaginary conversations such as –

“No I’m so sorry, we aren’t allowed to do that. You could come here but you wouldn’t like it at all what with the spiders and the draughts, not to mention the smell my dear. Oh yes my dear it certainly does smell…”

Jed and Kaz would occasionally throw Toolah a tolerant smile suggesting that all is well so I asked them about their abandoned bricks and mortar house standing empty. Wouldn’t it deteriorate and become derelict over the years?

“Oh yes,” enthused Jed, “we are rather looking forward to that, watching the old, planet-destroying way of life finally crumble into the earth.”

“The earth which will in the end receive it with love,” added Kaz. “The earth will take our house into itself and heal the wound we in our ignorance caused.”

At this point Tommee began tapping his forehead with a finger and pulling faces clearly intended to indicate that his parents are a little eccentric. Is that what he meant? I’m not sure.

It began to rain at this point and soon the rain turned into a regular downpour, hammering on the roof and drowning any further conversation. I decided to terminate the interview and leave as soon as the rain eased off. As huge raindrops splintered across the shed windows, the whole business felt more depressing than I’d expected.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Look at the pretty rainbow



We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them.

And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.


Charles Dickens - David Copperfield (1849-50)

Even in Dickens’ day it was clear enough that words are misused and the meaning of what is said or written may not reflect a genuine standpoint. Words are used for effect, a problem we’ve been familiar with forever.

There may be no meaning at all, nothing but a play on the emotions and susceptibilities. We see it all the time as politicians and the media play their tired tunes on allegiances, fears and emotional cues. Doing their tedious best to ensure that nonsense wins again.

A core problem seems to be that picking apart misleading language has little impact on anyone. We see it all over the internet. There is little point in trying to pull apart a widely-reported celebrity comment by showing it to be meaningless. It doesn’t matter if it is meaningless in an analytical sense. The emotional effect is what matters, not the meaning. The emotional effect is the meaning.

We know this too, but cannot do anything about it. We drown in a barrage of words, flounder around in words which lack the most basic analytical integrity. Even education can’t do anything about that. We want kids to be engaged, of course we do, but meaningless words are infinitely engaging. Look at the pretty rainbow – see all the happy genders.

Friday, 16 July 2021

If you are going to exaggerate...

 


Sounds simple enough



COVID-19: Concerns mount over 'pingdemic' as Test and Trace app wreaks havoc

Some companies currently have between 5% and 10% of their workforce isolating after being pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app, a leading industry figure says.

As the situation isn't serious enough to warrant this level of damage, surely the solution is to delete the app.  

Thursday, 15 July 2021

They were all mad



They were all mad. Or just going mad... Or drifting into superstitions that were disguised madnesses!

Ford Madox Ford - When the Wicked Man (1932)


Strolling through the park today, chatting about this and that, Mrs H and I briefly touched on the issue of political correctness. We agreed that it is not something we should delve into deeply or take too seriously. It is serious, but that way madness lies. Stay detached. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Inexorably PC



A week ago, Quillette published this piece by Gregory Hansen. Usually I would have read it and moved on, but in the current environment it is worth revisiting. A chilling antidote to those moments when we think political correctness couldn't get any worse.


How All My Politically Correct Bones Were Broken

In my first 10 years of college teaching, from the mid-60s to mid-70s, I modeled myself on my best teachers—men and women who questioned my ideas vigorously. They let me know that I mattered to them, they praised when praise was due, and they pushed me hard. Often I balked, and they continued to push. Indeed, the teachers who sternly, even at times angrily, called me out on my intellectual arrogance and sloppiness became mentors and, in several cases, lifelong friends.

After that it is all downhill. Relentlessly depressing but the whole piece is well worth reading.

But inexorably, questions of identity inserted themselves into teacher-student relationships. It became increasingly dangerous for me to question, to challenge, to push—let alone to betray frustration or even anger when a student was conning me or not working to capacity. Year by year, as I met each new cohort of students, I had to calculate how much my own disfavored identity (white, male, heterosexual, middle-class) made it risky for me to push—depending on whether or not a student’s identity was (given the political climate of the moment) favored.

Down, down, down it goes. This for example -

In time, affirmative action amounted to a policy of “whites not encouraged to apply,” as a colleague found when sitting on a search committee for a tenured English position. We’d been flooded with applicants. Secure jobs in the field were now rare. The committee interviewed only a handful of candidates, one of whom offered clues in his application that he was African American. He got an interview, but the committee was perplexed. He did not look African American. After some carefully worded queries the candidate confessed: “I’ve applied scores of times for a tenured job in English, but never got a single interview. I just wanted to see what would happen.” “You do know,” he added with a wry smile as he was leaving the room, “that we all originated in Africa.”

Equally Ignorant



With regard to social problems, owing to the number of unknown quantities they offer, men are substantially, equally ignorant.

Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd; study of the popular mind (1895)


A striking aspect of life since the internet monster rose among us has been the increased transparency of ignorance. Pundits are almost never polymaths, the media do not employ polymaths and polymaths rarely climb the greasy pole. Le Bon was right - men are substantially, equally ignorant. And women of course. Displays of abject ignorance within the public arena have become perfectly normal. It is not an easy thing to assess, but I don’t think ignorance was ever this transparent.

One point of the previous post was to follow on with this one, because real life harbours major complexities and complexities harbour ignorance. Nobody knows what the future will bring. Tiny effects have vast, unforeseen consequences. The invention of the transistor was never suspected of enabling totalitarian surveillance.

Yet ambitious people, including government experts, have to know more than we do. As they usually do within their field, but government is about politics and that widens the field beyond the expertise of experts. SAGE members may disagree of course.

This is where complexity and ignorance come in. So often, the big decision for ambitious people is to accept complexity or deny it and climb the greasy pole on the back of that denial. One might say that an aspect of complexity is the public display of ignorance in all of its silly, unattractive, often evil incarnations.

TV news readers solemnly read the latest scare story about climate change from a position of the most abject ignorance as to how climate actually changes over the decades and centuries. What we see over and over again is a confident and entirely assured display of the most miserable ignorance.

We have seen something similar during the coronavirus debacle, although here, complexity is mingled with reality. Exaggeration shrouds itself behind a genuine disease, censorship fails to blur the boundaries between what we know and what we do not, between what we suspect and what we are expected to accept.

Yet even with the blurred boundaries there is a solid official determination to hide ignorance, gloss over uncertainties and project confidence where many people know quite well that the confidence is based on very little.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

The Butterfly



Imagine an enormously expensive government project called Big Project. It doesn’t matter what the project is, we could say it is a project to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. Unrealistically sensible perhaps, but suppose we stick with it.

Because there is so much power, money and promotion behind Big Project, it automatically becomes a bandwagon. Because it is environmental, media outfits such as the BBC and the Guardian climb aboard at an early stage, as do the usual suspects.

Big Project has its critics of course, but their voices are small and their budgets even smaller. They are viewed with contempt. Of course sunbeams can be extracted from cucumbers, at least 97% of experts agree and there are hundreds of peer-reviewed papers to support what is effectively an undeniable fact. Says the bandwagon.

So far, so familiar, but suppose Big Project reaches a stage where one or two influential people begin to express guarded doubts. Even one or two bandwagon riders tone down their earlier enthusiasm. Big Project begins to feel, just possibly, all things considered a little too expensive. Just possibly the benefits may not quite as beneficial as the projections say.

These doubts appear to emerge from nowhere because critics don’t count. They appear to emerge from a social fog. Influential doubters have not immersed themselves in the technical and financial details of course, but their political antennae are twitching. They have caught the faintest vibrations of doubt from the clamorous fog that is the public arena.

A distant false note sounds. A hint of adverse possibilities, a hint that there are only a few lifeboats on the ship that is Big Project. To begin with, doubts are a kind of casual sidling towards the lifeboats. Just in case, well you never know, it does seem awfully expensive, it would have to work really well, some people will lose out but how many? Poor people of course - we must consider them.

Sceptics have to pound away at official foolishness with no indication at all that it has an effect, yet situations evolve and the butterfly’s wings could be anything. In other words it is possible to be too pessimistic. Yet at the same time, in order to make the critic’s point one has to be pessimistic merely to make the point. 

I still think we are doomed though. Probably.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Unforgivable



On and on it goes. The post-match racism furore has solid links to political, bureaucratic and activist intentions to keep racism debates bubbling away. Spend years artificially raising the political profile of racism, slant it towards the majority racial group and we have a permanent problem with no way to backtrack. Too many dumb moves have been made, too much political opportunism and malice have thumbs on the scales of debate.

Resentment, ridicule and an inability to lighten the general situation are direct consequences of government policy, self-serving bureaucracy, irresponsible politicians, media and activist outfits. To my mind we would have been in a better situation if we had allowed the issue to find its own level via free speech. Humour would have taken the edge off for example. Obvious really.

As things stand there is no easy way for this situation to be improved because possible avenues for improvement have been blocked by government and the usual suspects. It is very late in the day, but free speech could be a start. But of course that one has been blocked too.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

A shed full of junk



Over the past few weeks, bit by bit I’ve been clearing junk from the shed. Obvious junk to begin with such as manky paint brushes I’ll never ever use again simply because they are too manky. I’ve chucked out an amazing number of those.

However, so far most of it is what I class as “junk I might find a use for one day”. I’ve thrown out loads of that, even though it was always obvious I’d never use it.

A set of cupboard door handles which were so ugly I replaced them with new ones. So why did I keep the horrible ones?

A set of wardrobe door handles – ditto.

Ancient tubes of silicone sealant which I’d never have used because even if I delved down into the part which hadn’t set solid I never want to use it when I can get a cheap new tube in town.

A plastic thingy for supporting runner bean canes which never worked and anyway bits kept snapping off. So why keep it? No idea.

A bag of tile grout which has set solid.

Decayed rubber gloves.

A short piece of metal tubing - no idea why I kept that.

Two teaspoons flecked with paint. What did I use those for? No idea.

A chunky metal thing which came with the wood-burner. I'll keep that. Don't know what it does though.

And so it goes on. It’s all bagged now ready to be thrown out, but I know there is more. It’s a shed – there is always more. It’s a dusty job too. Maybe I ought to wear a mask. 

Government - the app we cannot delete



As we struggle to extricate ourselves from the coronavirus debacle here in the UK, it has become obvious that a number of features may be here to stay in one form or another. A rather hefty clue has been the NHS contact-tracing app, although the entire pandemic episode has been an even bigger clue to our likely future.

A government app which comes pre-installed on all communication devices is hardly a new idea, but was previously the stuff of dystopian science fiction or in a much more concrete form as the intentions of the Chinese Communist Party. It can be done technically, it can be placed on an acceptance spectrum from tolerated to necessary to positively virtuous. Anything beyond the spectrum doesn’t much matter.

A government app is only part of it though – a clue. Another clue is daily life, the life we actually lead in this modern world of ours, the comforts it offers, the routines it imposes, the background it allows us to forget, the restrictions it persuades us to ignore, the degeneracy it almost manages to hide.

An unmissable clue is how we slipped so easily into the coronavirus version of a police state. So easily that many seem not to have noticed and many more seem unconcerned. Some of us may deplore, hate or be outraged at what has happened to us, but it did not just happen, the pieces of the jigsaw were on the table to begin with.

Daily life itself has become very much like a government app we cannot delete and it is far from being a new situation. We are governed all the time, much of it in our heads, installed from the day we were born and updated every now and then. We are now on version 2021. Version 2022 comes next year. The coronavirus debacle was an update.

To a good approximation the pervasive reach of government is everywhere and this has been the case for many decades. Ever since it became possible via rapid communication. So much so, that it is impossible to catalogue the myriad influences government has on our lives . From the washing instruction label inside my shirt to the paint on the front gate to the design of the lamp post on the street – I effectively live within a government app and unless I’m horribly mistaken so do you.

When the NHS app evolves, it cannot possibly evolve in a direction which spells more freedom, less interference, less probing, less control. That wouldn’t make sense. Government functionaries make business for themselves. There is no freedom business.

Play the game or don’t play the game, it makes little difference because most will play it. It then becomes normal, accepted, the way things are done. Make an eccentric move or two – that about as far as the freedom game goes.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Net Zero Cookery Corner



This is another post in our occasional series on net zero cookery - a domestic catering regime we must become familiar with if we are to push on with our green revolution. Don’t forget – progress means sacrifice means opportunity.

As we know, the kettle is no longer a feasible kitchen gadget as it consumes too much electricity merely to boil a paltry amount of water. However even the kettle may be upcycled into another, far more planet-friendly gadget. Just think laterally. Your sadly neglected kettle could become a soup maker. That’s right – a soup maker!


Kettled Courgette Soup

Firstly we have to say that this recipe is only suited to those with access to solar power. Secondly, and this is the really clever part, the recipe can only be made on warm sunny days where our dear old sun effectively does the cooking.

To make this delicious soup, take a courgette, shred it into your kettle and add enough rainwater to cover the courgette plus a little extra. Pop in a few peas if you have them.

Some time during the middle of the day when your solar panels are pushing out plenty of watts, carefully switch on your kettle, bring your soup to the boil and that’s it. On a lovely sunny day, surprise family and friends with a delicious bowl of piping hot soup.

Enjoy!

To see one’s equation written out



It is uncomfortable but worth dwelling on what these things have in common - popular entertainment, package holidays, shopping centres and coronavirus lockdowns. They are clues to what we are collectively – easily manipulated.

The great weakness of democracy lies within us – it is our weakness. We have drifted into an expectation that democratic leaders should both understand and sympathise with us. That is clearly what we want collectively, but it makes little sense in terms of human capabilities. A series of quotes from George Santayana highlights the nature of the problem. I’ve used it before but it is worth revisiting.

It is a mark of the connoisseur to be able to read character and habit and to divine at a glance all a creature’s potentialities. This sort of penetration characterises the man with an eye for horse-flesh, the dog-fancier, and men and women of the world. It guides the born leader in the judgments he instinctively passes on his subordinates and enemies; it distinguishes every good judge of human affairs or of natural phenomena, who is quick to detect small but telling indications of events past or brewing. As the weather-prophet reads the heavens so the man of experience reads other men.

We expect incompatible characteristics from our leaders. We expect them to understand us but at the same time we expect sympathy rather than the cool analytical clarity required to foster that understanding. It is a naive expectation. Capable leaders have to be cool, analytical and unsympathetic towards those expecting to be led –

Nothing concerns him less than their consciousness; he can allow that to run itself off when he is sure of their temper and habits. A great master of affairs is usually unsympathetic. His observation is not in the least dramatic or dreamful, he does not yield himself to animal contagion or re-enact other people’s inward experience. He is too busy for that, and too intent on his own purposes. His observation, on the contrary, is straight calculation and inference, and it sometimes reaches truths about people’s character and destiny which they themselves are very far from divining.

We see the problem in an impossible middle class desire for capable leadership which is also sympathetic. A desire catered for and shared by media outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC. A desire which constantly edges towards social and political shambles, only kept in check by? It appears to be kept in check something which knows us well.

Such apprehension is masterful and odious to weaklings, who think they know themselves because they indulge in copious soliloquy (which is the discourse of brutes and madmen), but who really know nothing of their own capacity, situation, or fate. If Rousseau, for instance, after writing those Confessions in which candour and ignorance of self are equally conspicuous, had heard some intelligent friend, like Hume, draw up in a few words an account of their author’s true and contemptible character, he would have been loud in protestations that no such ignoble characteristics existed in his eloquent consciousness; and they might not have existed there, because his consciousness was a histrionic thing, and as imperfect an expression of his own nature as of man’s.

Woke culture and virtue signalling are exactly that – histrionic things. Distractions.

When the mind is irrational no practical purpose is served by stopping to understand it, because such a mind is irrelevant to practice, and the principles that guide the man’s practice can be as well understood by eliminating his mind altogether. So a wise governor ignores his subjects’ religion or concerns himself only with its economic and temperamental aspects; if the real forces that control life are understood, the symbols that represent those forces in the mind may be disregarded. But such a government, like that of the British in India, is more practical than sympathetic. While wise men may endure it for the sake of their material interests, they will never love it for itself. There is nothing sweeter than to be sympathised with, while nothing requires a rarer intellectual heroism than willingness to see one’s equation written out.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905 - 1906)

And so we may conclude what we so often do conclude in various ways. Leaders we see on the political stage are more actors than leaders - their job is to project the sympathy from within an official demeanour. The real leaders write their lines, assuage their doubts, mould their fears and stroke their vanity. They do the same to us, but they do it via the Boris Johnsons of this world.

Friday, 9 July 2021

We have a wider problem

 


Via Lockdown Sceptics. It makes grim reading, but this kind of survey does suggest that government is politically justified in its prevarication over going back to pre-coronavirus normal. If more than half of the adult population cannot take heart from the data and move on with confidence then we have a wider problem.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Tofu-dreg

 




Maybe there's a wider message here too - don't vote for Tofu-dreg politics.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

The unsavoury moral implications of relativism



Alan S. Rome has written a refreshing essay in Quillette about modern relativism and absolute truth.

In Defence of Absolute Truth

We live in a time of great anxiety over the role of truth in public life. Media and popular culture are saturated with concerns over “fake news,” alternative facts and conspiracy theories. There is widespread concern over the breakdown of integrity and trust in public figures and experts, the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between true and false claims, and the increasing willingness of predators to prey upon this difficulty. Passions flare, political sides polarise, and neither side seems capable of talking or listening to the other.

It is therefore a great irony that many of those most worried about these developments also deny the possibility of absolute truth, without recognising any connection between the two. Certain assumptions about the relative nature of truth are represented, for instance, by the increasing public focus on “perspective” or “social privilege,” with the assumption that identity or experience drastically limits or determines understanding. Under this assumption, each group possesses its own, or perhaps the whole, truth about matters relating to their lives: “You cannot truly know this because you have not lived it.” Others can accept or reject this truth but they cannot critically engage with it. Analogous attitudes are found in many arenas of social life, especially in the academy. With such attitudes, disagreements cannot be rationally resolved and compromise becomes unlikely.

It is well worth reading the whole thing, not so much because it provides new insights but because it refreshes old ones. We are in considerable danger of being catastrophically damaged by relativism, but as Rome points out -

Apart from the unsavoury moral implications of relativism, it also just cannot be true philosophically. It is perhaps in bad taste to point out that the claim that “all truth is relative” is itself a non-relativist, dogmatic claim. It is self-contradictory and hypocritically exempts itself from its own claim. Indeed, how can one demonstrate that there is no absolute truth? Only through a rational demonstration which presupposes that there are absolute standards of logic and argument that transcend that particular context. Reason would have to destroy itself.

A Distinguished Persons Act

 

After the mass insurrection attempt against Chris Whitty it may be a good time for the government to introduce a Distinguished Persons Act. This would protect those distinguished people with heaps of expertise impartially chosen to advise the government. Members of groups such as SAGE for example.

 Distinguished Persons as defined by the Act could wear a hat such as the one depicted below where the letter D clearly and unambiguously stands for Distinguished. 




This hat would would not be a uniform because that would be going to far, but it would neatly identify the wearer as an officially Distinguished Person we must respect and look up to. 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

As the years slip by



Today is our 47th wedding anniversary, so after the morning school run we tootled off into Derbyshire, enjoyed a pleasant lunch at our favourite café and generally managed to make the best of the weather.

It’s a strange business looking back over 47 years. Seems a heck of a long time, yet where did it all go? Of course we’ve had a better time of it than any previous generation. We know that.

The question which niggles is what happens now? How will future generations keep the show on the road? Only by being harder and more pragmatic than we were. Only by knowing who their enemies are, only by doing something about it. That’s my guess.

Mystery Object



 

Maybe we need a vaccine for timidity



Britain has a new Brexit divide with Leave voters more willing than Remainers to ditch their masks when the laws demanding their use are scrapped.

More Brexiteers said they planned to stop wearing a face covering after July 19 than said they would continue to voluntarily cover up, by 46 to 41 per cent, YouGov found.

By contrast, some 59 per cent of Remainers said they planned to continue to wear masks to lower the risk that they would spread disease to others.

Monday, 5 July 2021

Why not today?



COVID-19: Almost all coronavirus rules - including face masks and home-working - to be ditched on 19 July, PM says

Boris Johnson sets out the details of his planned unlocking for the fourth and final step of his roadmap on 19 July - but he warns people in England not to be "demob happy" and to think it is "the end" of COVID-19.

Why not today? To make it absolutely and abundantly clear that this is a concession which may be withdrawn at any time. A move in the game.

How to protect yourself against hurricanes

 


Courageous and dedicated



Queen gives 'courageous' and 'dedicated' NHS the George Cross as William and Kate mark its 73rd birthday

The George Cross is awarded for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger".

Meanwhile in the real world, our GP surgery is still hiding from patients.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

When crude works best



Not all are men that seem to be so. Some are sources of deceit; impregnated by chimeras they give birth to impositions. Others are like them so far that they take more pleasure in a lie, because it promises much, than in the truth, because it performs little.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)


A striking feature of official dishonesty is how the crudest lies can be remarkably difficult to expose even when they are out in the open. Take the current transgender lunacy for example. We could say that the whole absurd mess is based on a crude lie, an assertion that if human beings of one gender simply claim to belong to the other gender then they do in fact change gender.

Yet a problem arises if we characterise the debate in this way. The basic assertion underpinning the transgender debate is crude biological lie but to point this out can be presented as simple bigotry. From this point it becomes possible to defend the transgender position by taking advantage of a particular problem –

If a heavily-promoted standpoint rests on a crude lie, pointing out the crudity of the lie can be made to seem even cruder, from simple naïveté to knuckle-dragging bigotry. Effectively it can be made to seem like a refusal to debate the issue properly even where there is little material for any kind of rational debate. The cruder the lie, the more difficult it can be for critics to establish its essential weakness. A crude lie may only have one real weakness - it is nonsense.  

The orthodox climate change narrative is similar in that it rests on a crude lie. This essential lie is the underpinning assertion that certain scientists can predict the trajectory of global temperatures with dependable accuracy decades into the future. Accuracy dependable enough to spend trillions on mitigation policies. This is a crude lie, yet without it there is no catastrophic climate narrative.

Here again, because the official climate narrative rests on a crude lie, pointing it out is made to seem like naïve or bigoted denial of a scientific fact. Of course it is not a fact but pointing this out can be made to seem like a crude sideswipe at scientific expertise, research, authority and achievement even where the science is not even worthy of the name.

The coronavirus debacle has been more complex in that the foundation claim about lockdown policy was not a lie and at first sight more plausible than the transgender and climate lies. Yet the supposed efficacy of lockdown policies soon weakened as costs rose and pandemic outcomes became more obviously intractable.

Here in the UK, official coronavirus mitigation soon evolved into a debacle as early policies were bolstered by crude exaggeration when became apparent that coronavirus risk was strongly age-related and only the elderly and vulnerable actually needed protection. It became obvious that it is not necessary for people below a certain age to be isolated or to take drastic precautions apart from protecting the vulnerable.

Here again, although there are caveats, complexities and uncertainties, official insistence on persisting with lockdowns, bubbles, restrictions on social groupings, all that morphed into crude exaggeration of coronavirus risk quite early in the pandemic. Most rules soon became unnecessary in that they caused more damage than they could ever prevent or alleviate. More of a crude exaggeration than a crude lie perhaps, but the distinction soon became too fine to make.

What of the future? It seems likely enough that we should anticipate more crude lies from the usual suspects. They work.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Living in an old mining area


 


4. Proposed Demolition Works

Please describe the building(s) to be demolished

The building to be demolished is a detached residential dormer bungalow with integrated garage.

Please state the reasons why demolition needs to take place

The property has been affected by the ingress of mine gas with excessive concentrations of carbon dioxide (up to 17%) and low oxygen that make the property dangerous to inhabit. Efforts have been made to reduce the ingress of carbon dioxide but they have not reduced concentrations to a satisfactory level and so the building needs to be demolished.

Today we took a small detour to take a look at this property because we know the area well. Years ago we knew the people who lived there, although they moved away long before this problem cropped up. It was a bungalow which has now been demolished. 

The site is fenced off and what look like two large vents have been installed, presumably to allow the gas to escape. Not a common problem fortunately. 

Friday, 2 July 2021

The Cost of Net Zero



Karl Williams has in interesting piece at CapX

Not since Churchill promised victory over Germany in his ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech of May 1940 has the UK set itself a more expensive or ambitious policy goal. The initial, official cost estimates for getting to net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 range from £1.5 to £2.1 trillion. That equates to somewhere between 69% and 97% of pre-Covid GDP – 83% at the midpoint. By way of comparison, World War Two cost Britain about 84% of its 1939 GDP.

Of course, MPs in 1940 probably had a pretty good idea of what they were getting the country into. Like Churchill, many had served in the trenches during the Great War. Likewise they had lived through the social and economic upheavals of its aftermath, not least the 1920 depression, the General Strike and the disastrous return to the gold standard at pre-war parity. ‘Victory at all costs’ was not simply rhetoric: men with skin in the game put serious thought into that vital undertaking.

The same cannot quite be said of Net Zero 2050.

Worth reading the whole thing, particularly for anyone with no wish to saddle their children or grandchildren with the ludicrously destructive and hopelessly dishonest nonsense that is Net Zero. 

It's a mystery



Mayor Sadiq Khan is facing calls to investigate the increasingly disproportionate homicide rate among black Londoners.

Figures obtained by Tory assembly member Shaun Bailey show there has been a 68 per cent increase in the number of black Londoners killed in the past five years, when compared with the five previous years.

The total number of homicides in London increased by 21.7 per cent, from 547 between 2011-15 to 666 between 2016-20, according to Metropolitan police data sourced by the GLA Conservatives.

But the number of black victims increased from 173 to 292 between the two five-year periods – a rise of 68.7 per cent.

The proportion of deaths involving black people has also increased from 31.6 per cent (173 out of 547) to 43.8 per cent (292 out of 666).

Could be worth checking if this kind of thing happens anywhere else in the world.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Maybe Halloween is also unhealthy

 


We just don't do reliable information



COVID-19: Official list of symptoms should be expanded as it could be missing cases - experts

Only a third of people who have COVID symptoms develop a high temperature, ONS data shows...

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 42% of symptomatic people had a cough, 39% suffered a headache and 38% experienced fatigue.

A quarter of people reported muscle aches and 32% said they had a sore throat.

By comparison, 33% had a fever, only 21% lost their sense of smell and 15% their sense of taste.

Okay - moving on to our official list of catastrophic climate change symptoms...

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Fire



The historical importance of fire in British domestic life comes up over and over again in the background of older novels. The vital importance of fire as domestic heating is not so much asserted as assumed. It was a fact of life for readers. Britain is too cold for people to survive many winters without some kind of shelter and a way to keep warm. For most, that has meant a shelter against the worst of the weather and a fire.

Apart from its other uses, fire must have been the difference between life and death for thousands of years. Not necessarily an overnight death from hypothermia, but one way or another the inability to keep warm was likely to be at first debilitating then eventually fatal.

In David Copperfield, Charles Dickens paints a vivid contrast between fire and life, cold and death. To our modern eyes, a cheerful crackling fire is overlaid with nostalgia while the absolute necessity of keeping warm by fire has faded and perhaps almost disappeared. It is not so easy to grasp the harsh reality behind the sentimental writing, yet to his Victorian readers it must have been keenly apparent. A grim background spectre we cannot quite grasp, especially when distracted by the sentiment.

My father’s eyes had closed upon the light of this world six months, when mine opened on it. There is something strange to me, even now, in the reflection that he never saw me; and something stranger yet in the shadowy remembrance that I have of my first childish associations with his white grave-stone in the churchyard, and of the indefinable compassion I used to feel for it lying out alone there in the dark night, when our little parlour was warm and bright with fire and candle, and the doors of our house were—almost cruelly, it seemed to me sometimes—bolted and locked against it.

Charles Dickens – David Copperfield (1849-50)


In his novel Alice Lorraine, R D Blackmore writes about a bitterly cold winter of 1813/14 during the Napoleonic conflicts. Even the gentry were reduced to gossiping round the fire during a particularly heavy snowfall.

But, alas! even when the weather makes everybody cry, “Alas!” it is worse than the battles of the wind and snow, for six male members of the human race to look at one another with the fire in their front, and the deuce of a cold draught in their backs, and wine without stint at their elbows, and dwell wholly together in harmony.

R D Blackmore – Alice Lorraine (1875)


A little over seventy years after Dickens wrote David Copperfield, Edith Wharton described how an earlier generation of fashionable American ladies could not lower themselves to keep warm by the fire in winter. Some paid a heavy price. Wealth did not insulate them.

Grandmamma, of course, no longer received. But it would have seemed to her an exceedingly odd thing to go out of town in winter, especially now that the New York houses were luxuriously warmed by the new hot-air furnaces, and searchingly illuminated by gas chandeliers. No, thank you — no country winters for the chilblained generation of prunella sandals and low-necked sarcenet, the generation brought up in unwarmed and unlit houses, and shipped off to die in Italy when they proved unequal to the struggle of living in New York!

Edith Wharton – New Year’s Day (1924)


For most of its long history, fire must have been a basic survival necessity for the inhabitants of these chilly islands, yet that necessity faded remarkably quickly once other forms of domestic heating became commonplace. Only thirty years after Wharton wrote about the lethal possibilities of cold houses, Christopher Bush has his main character sitting cosily by an electric fire. The vital importance of a flickering fire was already fading into the past.

We’d eaten a service breakfast and she was running a quick duster over the lounge where I was cosily in front of the electric fire and ostensibly doing a crossword.

Christopher Bush – The Case of the Three Lost Letters (1954)


Looking back it was a huge change, not so much in the mechanics of domestic heating but in the importance of it to winter survival. I’m guessing here, but when the central heating boiler breaks down I don’t think we treat it as a potentially life threatening disaster. We don’t rush out and begin gathering wood. At least I don’t.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Rockers V Urchins

 




Daft enough to make me smile.

Make Proles Fund Luvvies Say Luvvies



COVID-19: Stars including Olivia Colman call for 'gadget tax' to fund the arts

Those behind the proposal say up to £300m a year could be raised from payments of between 1% and 3% of the sales value of gadgets.

Olivia Coleman and Imelda Staunton are among dozens of high-profile artists calling for a levy on tech devices to help boost the creative industries battling to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Very likely as far as possible



COVID-19: No early release from restrictions in England, indicates Boris Johnson as it is 'sensible to stick' to 19 July plan

Boris Johnson says he hopes we can "go back to life as it was before COVID as far as possible" after 19 July.

"Although there are some encouraging signs and the number of deaths remains low and the number of hospitalisations remains low, though both are going up a bit, we are seeing an increase in cases.

"So we think it's sensible to stick to our plan to have a cautious but irreversible approach, use the next three weeks or so really to complete as much as we can of that vaccine rollout - another five million jabs we can get into people's arms by July 19.

"And then with every day that goes by it's clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we're very likely to be in a position on July 19 to say that really is the terminus and we can go back to life as it was before COVID as far as possible."

It would be useful to know what the criteria are here because nothing much has happened since about May 1st. An 'early release' looks more like a very late release where 'very late' looks increasingly like 'never'. What was wrong with today? Nothing as far as I can see. 
 

Doesn't bar MPs - or maybe it does

 



From Alan H.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Not one of the lesser matters



What he had to help him was good birth, good looks, good abilities, a very sweet temper, and a kind and truly genial nature. Also a strongish will of his own (whenever his heart was moving), yet ashamed to stand forth boldly in the lesser matters. And here was his fatal error; that he looked upon almost everything as one of the lesser matters.

R. D. Blackmore – Alice Lorraine (1875)


So Matt Hancock has gone. Ho hum.

Behind all the chatter there is a common problem for the rest of us though, the problem of having a detached perspective on social and political life. In peacetime, decent, tolerant people do have a tendency to see the wider ebbs and flows of current affairs as one of the lesser matters.

Take HS2 as an example. I and no doubt many others, treat it as one of the lesser matters. It will be pushed through and will probably cost more than is now claimed and achieve less than is now claimed. It is important as an example of a colossally wasteful vanity project in an age when waste is supposedly something to be deplored. Yet we survive colossally wasteful vanity projects. It will pass.

The UK coronavirus debacle is another, more expensive and wasteful example. Even the suspension of free movement has not stirred up as many as we might have expected. Many seem to view it as a necessary inconvenience and restrict themselves to a few grumbles.

In spite of the absurd and tedious interference with daily life, as far as I can tell many people still seem to treat the coronavirus debacle as one of the lesser matters. Important, in some cases tragic, but it will pass as Hancock has. This seems to be a common attitude.

This one is unlikely to pass though. Here we have a core weakness of looking on almost any political trend as one of the lesser matters. It seems likely that coronavirus restrictions will morph into some form of cushioned totalitarian politics. Totalitarian government leavened with welfare, inclusive narratives, lashings of virtue and nice smiles.

We now have the rather obvious spectre of a totalitarian environmental ethos dovetailed into the coronavirus debacle. Not so cushioned this one - although it will probably seem that way in the beginning. This is definitely not one of the lesser matters but it will be made to seem so until it is too late. When is too late? Here’s my guess - too late is the day after the next general election.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Net Zero Cookery Corner



This is the first post in an occasional series on net zero cookery - a domestic catering regime we must become familiar with if we are to push on with our green revolution. Don’t forget – progress means sacrifice means opportunity. 

We begin with a very simple runner bean recipe, bearing in mind that net zero recipes will in general be very simple.

Bean Surprise

This delightfully uncomplicated recipe makes a light lunch when your runner beans have reached their maximum size. Don’t forget though - there is no point picking your beans when they are tender but not yet full sized. In net zero cookery we go for quantity over quality every time - so let them grow, grow, grow.

Another point to remember is that human excrement makes an excellent fertiliser for runner beans so dig lots of it in before the growing season. It’s the net zero way!

We are also assuming you have a garden or allotment where you grow beans because unfortunate people who live in an apartment with no garden will starve anyway.

Rinse your freshly harvested beans in a little rainwater, place them in a pan and add a little more rainwater. Light a small fire using as little of your fuel allowance as possible, bring the pan to the boil and simmer for a few minutes or as long as your fuel allowance dictates.

Strain off the water and reserve for washing while still hot. Toss those delicious beans into a serving dish and invite everyone to tuck in.

Enjoy!

Friday, 25 June 2021

Incredibly rigorous



Matt Hancock's appointment of university friend Gina Coladangelo would have gone through 'incredibly rigorous' process, says Shapps

Questions about Matt Hancock's appointment of former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo were raised after pictures in The Sun newspaper.

The health secretary's appointment of a close personal friend as an aide would have gone through an "incredibly rigorous" process, a minister has claimed.

Questions about Matt Hancock's appointment of former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo surfaced after pictures in The Sun newspaper appeared to show the health secretary, who is married, kissing the aide in his office.

I'd say incredibly narrow rather than incredibly rigorous. Apparently it's incredibly important to be an old friend. It's a pity pandemic policies are not based on incredibly rigorous analysis though. And climate change policies. And HS2. And...

Thursday, 24 June 2021

A loss of bureaucratic integrity



The autonomous moralist differs from the sophist or ethical sceptic in this: that he retains his integrity. In vindicating his ideal he does not recant his human nature. In asserting the initial right of every impulse in others, he remains the spokesman of his own.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1905-06)


I worked in the public sector for almost all of my working life. People may or may not realise how significant it is, but there is such a thing as bureaucratic mendacity as well as bureaucratic integrity. Not that this is some kind of revelation, but the media have a regrettable tendency to ignore the mendacity. It suits establishment narratives to keep it away from inquisitive eyes.

Bureaucrats are human and when their plans, systems or processes are thwarted they often take it personally, especially if it appears to threaten their role in the organisation. It doesn’t necessarily matter how remote the threat is. Precautionary principle antennae are exceedingly sensitive in bureaucracies.

Often enough bureaucrats are in a position to cause problems for those who could thwart them in some way, so they frequently do. This is merely human nature, especially where there is no personal downside. Engineered problems may vary from pettifogging niggles to loading viable reforms with hopelessly impractical burdens or costs. It can occur at a surprisingly low level within the hierarchy.

In these cases, mendacity becomes part of the bureaucratic armoury. Its driver is the protection of self, family and clan – the clan in this case being the bureaucracy itself. At a high level it may suck in major political actors and the media as senior stakeholders. These people are human too, they see how the currents are flowing, they identify with the bureaucracy because that is the easier course. Naturally any mendacity is ignored.

The point to be made is that bureaucracies are inherently well suited to totalitarian politics. Even bureaucracies within a stable democracy. It suits the bureaucratic ethos to have only one way of doing things, to deny failure, pump up success and build predictability into everything. This is the problem we face now and it is not a minor one.

After several centuries of industrial, technical and economic progress the essential nature of bureaucracy has become a vast and decidedly negative feature of our lives. Bureaucrats do not have a special integrity gene.

One rule for them, another for the rest of us

 


Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Five years on it begins to sound weird.



From the Grauniad

Moving on: why the EU is not missing Britain that much

On the 5th anniversary of Brexit, commentators reflect on the EU’s success at rallying together after Britain’s exit

On the night of 23 June 2016 a storm broke over Brussels. Rain poured, thunder rolled and lightning flashed over the headquarters of the European Union’s institutions.

Then in the small hours came a political thunderbolt almost no one had forecast: the UK had voted to leave the union. Five years on, the Brexit tempest has subsided – in Brussels, if not in London.

Constantly harping back to the Brexit vote is bound to peter out eventually, but it's not something I'd put a date to. Not something I'd put money on either - I can see it outlasting me. Obsessives are bound to be obsessive I suppose, but five years on it begins to sound weird. 

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Meet 'The Butcher'



Tablet has an interesting piece on Ebrahim Raisi, the man likely to succeed Ali Khamenei as the next supreme leader of Iran.

Meet ‘The Butcher,’ Iran’s New President Ebrahim Raisi

In picking a mass murderer as his potential successor, Iran’s supreme leader hopes to make the United States a willing partner in the repression of his country’s people.


It highlights how damaging a weak US president is likely to be. Which we knew, but it is worth reminding ourselves.

Khamenei knows the fury of people in Iran and the region has been fueled in great part by the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, which President Biden may soon undo—but also by the administration’s truth-telling about the brutality and corruption of regime officials. The highest humiliation for the world’s most anti-American regime, however, was the assassination of Khamenei’s favorite and most powerful loyalist, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Qassem Soleimani.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Those who knew the live structure



The compact world of my youth has receded into a past from which it can only be dug up in bits by the assiduous relic-hunter; and its smallest fragments begin to be worth collecting and putting together before the last of those who knew the live structure are swept away with it.

Edith Wharton - A Backward Glance (1934)

It is surprising how profoundly we are constrained by the fact that we cannot go back to an earlier situation or set of circumstances. We cannot unsay a hasty remark, rebuild a neglected friendship, revisit the career we should have chosen, fully correct a poor education and so on and so on.

We may be able to patch, mend and partially correct many things but we are never able to go back to that point in time where it first went wrong. The mistake, the fork in the road, the dubious decision, the neglect of something we should never have neglected. We cannot even go back to how things were yesterday – not exactly. We certainly cannot go back to how things were a year ago, ten years ago, a lifetime ago.

Yet although this inescapable constraint is an obvious feature of daily life, although it tells us over and over again to be guided by the past rather than imaginary futures – in spite of all that we find ourselves enmeshed in the most absurd political fantasies. Which of course makes things even worse – we can’t go back to where those fantasies gained a foothold.

We constantly forget the do nothing option, or do whatever is necessary and no more. Instead we flounder around in a political environment where being seen to do something is the basic rationale, the basic driver of all major political movements. Consult the UK coronavirus debacle as an example.

Yet a sceptical, stay with what works approach is the only way to mitigate our inability to go back to where we first messed things up. We have to foresee the potential for messing things up. It’s a balance, but not a difficult balance, merely a case of paying political attention to the do nothing and do as little as possible options.

Take just one example of many – mass immigration. The do nothing option was no mass immigration. Simple. Now there is no going back to a world with no integration problems. Now we can’t even acknowledge it as a major blunder.

Soon the do nothing immigration option will be forgotten. A past where better decisions could have been taken will be forgotten as time moves on until the last of those who knew the live structure are swept away with it.

As night follows day



From the Grauniad

Flu could be a bigger problem than Covid-19 in the UK this winter, a senior government vaccine adviser has said, with low prevalence over the past months possibly leading to a drop in immunity among the population.

Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said research was being carried out on whether flu vaccines could be given alongside coronavirus vaccines this autumn.

“I will emphasise that actually flu could be potentially a bigger problem this winter than Covid,” Harnden told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We’ve had a very, very low prevalence of flu for the last few years, particularly virtually nil during lockdown, and we do know that when flu has been circulating in very low numbers immunity drops in the population, and it comes back to bite us. So flu can be really, really important this winter.”

And of course flu is something we've never had to cope with before so we'll need constant government restrictions, propaganda, coercion and nannying. It isn't looking good.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Spangles and flying saucers

 




The other day the fate of Spangles crossed my mind. I’ve no idea why because as a youngster I didn’t much care for them. Hard little sweets with uninteresting flavours I thought. One crunch and they were gone. 

Spangles was a brand of boiled sweets manufactured by Mars Ltd in the United Kingdom from 1950 to the early 1980s. They were sold in a paper packet with individual sweets originally unwrapped but later cellophane wrapped. They were distinguished by their shape which was a rounded square with a circular depression on each face.

Amazing to look back on the junk we consumed as youngsters, but we didn't become fat on it. I quite enjoyed Flying saucers for some reason, probably the obvious connection with aliens from outer space. Didn't know about the connection with communion wafers though - not until I looked it up.

The first flying saucers were produced in the early 1950s when an Antwerp based producer of communion wafers, Belgica, faced a decline in demand for their product. Astra Sweets now owns the Belgica brand and continue to make the product.



  

Constitutionally illiterate



The justice secretary must resign if he cannot reverse low conviction rates for rape within a year, Labour has said.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said Robert Buckland shed "crocodile tears" when he apologised for convictions falling to a record low.

A government report this week said only 3% of reported rapes in England and Wales resulted in a prosecution in 2019-20 - down from 13% five years ago.

Mr Buckland said Mr Lammy's comments had no place in a serious debate.

The justice secretary told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that Labour was pursuing "low politics" in challenging him to improve the conviction rates or resign.

He said: "It is constitutionally illiterate to suggest that a politician like me should in any way command and control the way that independent police and prosecutors go about their work."

Of course it is constitutionally illiterate, Lammy is speaking on behalf of a constitutionally illiterate party. Not that the Tories are much better. The figures are interesting though. I don't know how Lammy would increase the number of charges, let alone convictions. Maybe he he doesn't either.

3% charged - but convictions too low according to Lammy. 
11% no suspect identified - but pursue the case anyway?
27% evidential difficulties - so fudge the evidence?
57% victim withdrew the allegation - but pursue it anyway?
2% other outcomes.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Another setback for Sir Keir



From the Grauniad

John Bercow defects to Labour with withering attack on Johnson

John Bercow, the former Tory MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, today delivers an extraordinary broadside against Boris Johnson and the Conservative party as he announces he has switched his political allegiance to Labour.

In an explosive interview with the Observer, Bercow says he regards today’s Conservative party as “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, his supposed impartiality as Speaker rubbed off rather easily.

The joy of all things dies in the enjoying



For he, whatever pleasure rises at the beauty of the scene, loses it by thinking of it; even as the joy of all things dies in the enjoying.

R. D. Blackmore - Alice Lorraine (1875)

An idea derived from Kant perhaps, but to my mind Blackmore expresses it more succinctly. That first soft glow of sunrise early on a summer’s morning. Even an ordinary suburban garden can seem beautiful until the sun rises a little further, the heat of the day builds and human life begins to stir. Whatever it was is soon disturbed, soon gone.

Childhood Christmas was perhaps equally ephemeral. Weeks of delicious promise, Christmas morning arrives, unwrap the presents and soon enough the excitement fades - even as the joy of all things dies in the enjoying. Too soon Boxing day arrives and who cares about Boxing day?

A new job, new house, new car are much the same. A new piece of music, a long anticipated holiday, a special restaurant meal. Ephemeral enjoyment for most. As if we have lost not so much the art of contentment, but more a case of never having had it. As if ephemeral is the natural state of affairs and extracting more than that usually requires more than we are able to give.

In a far wider sense it is surely possible to wonder if we have lost the ability to enjoy what we have so arduously gained in the modern world – gained in terms of health, prosperity and freedom. As if we cannot even value what our ancestors achieved and built even as the joy of all things dies in the enjoying. As if we cannot value it because we cannot enjoy it.

In that wider sense, there seems to be a major political problem too. We are lumbered with a political class and an establishment which apparently cannot value what we have and therefore cannot even preserve it for future generations. The establishment looks on what we have, what we have achieved and loses it by thinking of it. Loses it for us anyhow.

Which may seem odd, but the quality and direction of political thought seems strangely incompetent, strangely irrelevant, strangely susceptible to borderline madness. As if major political actors are unaware of what we are, how we arrived here and how to value what has been achieved. And so we allow it to slip through greasy, incompetent fingers.

Friday, 18 June 2021

But what happens to the poor shoplifter?



Tesco is set to launch its first checkout-free store following a successful trial for staff at its head office over the past year.

Chief executive Ken Murphy said plans are in the early stages but he is hopeful it can match the appeal of similar scan-and-go stores being rolled out by Amazon in the UK.

He said: “We have a system installed in our Express store in Welwyn Garden City (at head office), and we’ll extend that to another store in the coming weeks and months to check it in a more urban environment.

“It’s been opened about a year now, and it’s working really well… One of the joys of machine learning is it is continuously improving, so we’re feeling confident that we can put it into another store with a higher traffic.”

More on sheep farming



The Liberal Democrats have pulled off a stunning by-election victory, overturning a 16,000 majority in a seat that has always voted Conservative.

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the Chesham and Amersham result "sends shockwaves through British politics".

The party's candidate Sarah Green won by 8,028 votes from the Tories, with the Green Party in third place.

Labour had one of the worst by-election results in its history, with 622 votes.

Farmer Yellow knocks out Farmer Blue and Farmer Green does rather better than Farmer Red. The good folk of Chesham and Amersham have presumably had their say about the coronavirus debacle and other issues. Yet by voting Lib Dem they may end up with even less influence on the establishment than they had before. 

Maybe they decided that they can't have less than no influence so what the heck. Fair enough but still pretty sheepish to my mind.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

We used to call it a bit of a cold



COVID-19: Classic coronavirus symptoms 'changing' as expert urges government to update list

Professor Spector also says he believes the current wave of infections should peak within two weeks.

A leading COVID-19 symptoms researcher has called on the government to update the list of "classic" symptoms of the virus.

Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, said recent data showed headache, runny nose, sore throat and sneezing were now the most common signs of coronavirus.

The study records the symptoms of people who have received a positive PCR test.

Worse than a sentimental illusion



From the Grauniad.

Ageing process is unstoppable, finds unprecedented study

Research suggests humans cannot slow the rate at which they get older because of biological constraints


Immortality and everlasting youth are the stuff of myths, according to new research which may finally end the eternal debate about whether we can live for ever.

Backed by governments, business, academics and investors in an industry worth $110bn (£82.5bn) – and estimated to be worth $610bn by 2025 – scientists have spent decades attempting to harness the power of genomics and artificial intelligence to find a way to prevent or even reverse ageing.

That the end of life should be death may sound sad: yet what other end can anything have? The end of an evening party is to go to bed; but its use is to gather congenial people together, that they may pass the time pleasantly. An invitation to the dance is not rendered ironical because the dance cannot last for ever; the youngest of us and the most vigorously wound up, after a few hours, has had enough of sinuous stepping and prancing. The transitoriness of things is essential to their physical being, and not at all sad in itself; it becomes sad by virtue of a sentimental illusion, which makes us imagine that they wish to endure, and that their end is always untimely; but in a healthy nature it is not so.

George Santayana - Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy Five Essays (1933)

Santayana was right of course, but abolishing death is a nightmare illusion too. Imagine President for Eternity Tony Blair. Or indeed thousands of other ghastly possibilities, although this one could be real - 

Covid-19 the Eternal Disease.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Off to the the House of Lords with him



Boris Johnson called Matt Hancock 'totally f****** hopeless' in WhatsApp message, Dominic Cummings says

In new explosive claims, the former Number 10 adviser claims the PM sent an expletive-laden message about the health secretary.

Dominic Cummings, who has been engaged in a weeks-long feud with Downing Street, published a lengthy blogpost that he claimed showed details of how "Number10/Hancock have repeatedly lied about the failures last year".

Off to the the House of Lords with him. Or should that be the House of f****** Lords if we wish to follow the Prime Minister's way of describing failure?

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

That shrinking feeling



Derbyshire shopper refused to wear mask claiming it shrunk his manhood

A Derbyshire man was reported to police after complaining that wearing a face covering "shrunk his manhood" and refusing to wear a mask.

The customer even warned other shoppers that the same would happen to them while at a store in the south of the county.

In a metaphorical sense he's probably right.

Why are TV ads so infantile?



Every now and then we catch one or two TV ads as we try to fill the odd hour with something worth watching. We don’t usually find anything, but that’s another issue. The problem with TV ads seems to be that you have to switch off something in order to watch them. We switch off the sound, but I’m thinking of something else in addition to the sound.

To my mind we need to switch off our critical faculties if we are to watch TV ads without being constantly annoyed by them. Otherwise almost all of them would come across as too silly and infantile not to be annoying. Often very infantile with gormless adults bouncing around with delight in the way that only children are supposed to do in real life.

Advertisers may have some subtle reasons why silly ads are memorable and therefore effective, but I suspect it isn’t so. Surely infantile brand association isn’t what they are after. Not my field but banging out simple brand recognition and nothing else would presumably be easier.

TV ads seem to be all about mixed marriages too. Rather more of them than we see in the general UK population anyway. Of course we are familiar enough with ads projecting an entirely unreal world. We are also familiar with that unreal world being a heavily dumbed-down version of our world. Now the dumbing-down has a political message too.

You will never be allowed to grow up – buy stuff and live with it. That does seem to be the message.

Monday, 14 June 2021

One last heave



COVID-19: PM to plead for 'one last heave' to freedom as he is set to delay lockdown easing by four weeks

Concerns over the Delta variant means last remaining restrictions are expected to stay in place until the middle of July.

I wonder how many people think it will work out that way? Far too many is my guess. It is more likely that we are being lied to and manipulated for some other purpose which isn't difficult to guess.