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Friday, 30 April 2021

China and Chips

 




Interesting video about huge chip project failures in China compared to the enormous success of Taiwan in the same field.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Beijing doesn't need friends



A hard-hitting piece by Lee Smith in Tablet is well worth reading. The headline sums it up.


All China’s Parties

With ‘rivals’ like Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, Beijing doesn’t need friends


It’s too late to do anything about China. The contest for global supremacy is over. Beijing now sets the pace—economically, politically, even militarily—and there’s nothing for America to do but accept China’s inevitable victory.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s the message coming out of President Joe Biden’s Washington. A raft of appointees with alarming ties to Chinese state institutions, including China’s spy services, suggests that much of the U.S. ruling establishment just wants to get paid.

Since Barack Obama’s first term, the Democratic Party has served as the vehicle for a U.S.-based oligarchy comprising big tech, finance, manufacturing, and the media and entertainment industries, which sees Chinese labor and markets as the core of their businesses and is therefore dependent on the good graces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Donald Trump promised to decouple U.S. national interests from those of China, but now that he’s gone from the White House, America’s China Class rules Washington, D.C., uncontested.

Hooray for wasps



Wasps 'could be just as valuable as bees if we give them the chance'

Wasps are expert pollinators, useful for medication and even as a source of food, the researchers found.

I must admit, don't usually give them much of a chance. I killed one only yesterday, but next time I'll think again and attempt to hold a conversation with it. 

Before swatting it.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Labour: who funds Boris Johnson's underwear?



Not an entirely accurate post headline but strewth.

Boris Johnson has insisted he "covered the costs" of the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat as a formal investigation was launched into the revamp...

Little more than an hour later, Mr Johnson faced a grilling by MPs during Prime Minister's Questions, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer focussing on "sleaze" allegations against the government.

"Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access - and who is at the heart of it? The prime minister, Major Sleaze sitting there," Sir Keir said, as he responded to weeks of Mr Johnson branding him "Captain Hindsight".

With all that is going on, does anyone care? Anyone? 

Where the blue blazes is the target audience for this mind-boggling trivia? A chap doesn't have to be a Boris fan to wonder where the Labour low point could possibly be. Presumably it didn't bottom out with Jeremy Corbyn.

Gosh - BBC accused of twisting the truth



Sir James Dyson exclusive: BBC twisted the truth over my links to the Tories

Sir James Dyson has accused the BBC of a “grotesque mischaracterisation” of his links to the Conservative Party as he denied acting inappropriately over his texts with Boris Johnson.

Time to sack the lot, raze the buildings to the ground and sow the the earth with salt. Too moderate perhaps, but a degree of moderation is surely called for here.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

The last illusion



For the purposes of this blog post I needed a lie uttered by a leading political figure. After a quick look around I found this example from the few days ago. It wasn't at all difficult to find and there are some bonus lies too - three lies one after the other.

President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed the US would do its part to cut greenhouse gas, pledging America will cut its emissions blamed for climate change by 50 to 52 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and to set America on a path of zero emissions economy by no later than 2050.

'The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction is mounting,' the president said in his speech kicking off his Climate Summit.


The signs are not unmistakable, the science is entirely deniable and the cost of inaction is not mounting. Joe Biden is lying. No surprises there but political lying never is surprising. Political actors putting truth before expediency – that would be surprising. Even astonishing.

Not truth, but error has always been the chief factor in the evolution of nations, and the reason why socialism is so powerful to-day is that it constitutes the last illusion that is still vital. In spite of all scientific demonstrations it continues on the increase. Its principal strength lies in the fact that it is championed by minds sufficiently ignorant of things as they are in reality to venture boldly to promise mankind happiness. The social illusion reigns to-day upon all the heaped-up ruins of the past, and to it belongs the future. The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.

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


We are so, so familiar with elites lying to us. So familiar has it become that they clearly have no interest in what we used to call ‘truth’. Because? The masses have never thirsted after truth.

As with many other words, ‘truth’ is losing its meaning and has become little more than a feeble flag of probity for those old-fashioned enough to think the flag is still worth waving. A state of affairs which has been building for a long time.

In the age of the internet, it is even more apparent how populations divide between those who value truth and those who only use it to assess true bank statements, or true house prices or true football results. As if those with little talent but plenty of ambition are allowed to plug the talent gap with lies if they have that burning ambition to climb the greasy pole. So they do.

Monday, 26 April 2021

As essential as HS2

 



North Korean authorities claim to have used artificial intelligence (AI) to develop real-time license plate recognition technology. Given that the technology was developed to work within North Korea’s low-level technological environment, the new system looks set to be applied across a wide-range of spheres.

An academic paper entitled “A method of real-time license plate area recognition using deep neural networks” was published in a 2020 issue of the academic journal Gazette of Kim Il Sung University: Information Science, 66(4).

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Strewth this is embarrassing

 


Which three?



The Elizabethan Age was ferocious, cruel, superstitious, greedy and courageous.

Hugh Walpole writing about the reign of Elizabeth I.


To my mind our Elizabethan age seems to have dispensed with three of those characteristics.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Joe's three rules



US President Joe Biden to travel to UK in June as part of first overseas trip

The trip aims to "highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances" and revitalise the trans-Atlantic relationship.


The UK visit should go well if Biden sticks to three basic rules of royal etiquette.

  1. Don’t sniff the Queen’s hair
  2. Don’t refer to Kate as Meghan
  3. Don’t ask where Prince Philip is
On the UK side it would be advisable to avoid such words as dementia and steer clear of any reference to sailing boats where the word rigging could crop up. Apart from that the UK visit should trump anything the EU has to offer.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Suppose we correct that



Earth Day summit was Joe Biden's show - but China unwilling to increase its ambitions

The US pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% by 2030 was a clear attempt to reclaim credibility on climate change.

Some easy mistakes to make, but here's a better version  -

Earth Day summit was Joe Biden's show - but China unwilling to decrease its ambitions

The US pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% by 2030 was a clear attempt to lose credibility on climate change.

As we know the climate game is being pushed to the point of cross eyed tedium and beyond. The ghost of Thomas Malthus haunts us still. Some of us. Not the Chinese apparently.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Cesspit v Reality



A former veterans minister has hit out at the government as "the most distrustful, awful environment I've ever worked in".

Tory MP Johnny Mercer told Times Radio "almost nobody tells the truth," and election pledges had not been delivered...

"This is the most distrustful, awful environment I've ever worked in, in government. Almost nobody tells the truth is what I've worked out over the last 36 hours.

"I don't think anyone really can get on their high horse about trust and ethics and all the rest of it in politics, because as far as I'm concerned, most of it is a bit of a cesspit".


A cesspit? Surely that’s what we usually vote for. For example, what Boris and almost the entire body of MPs understand is the political aspect of the coronavirus pandemic. The UK government response was therefore primarily political and Parliamentary opposition has been primarily political.

Same political problem same political solution – be seen to do something plausible in a highly conspicuous manner. Don’t stop until no more blame is in the pipeline. Possibly not even then, but that’s another story.

The pandemic outcome in terms of deaths and economic damage was something Boris couldn’t affect except accidentally because all he understood was the political aspect. Government actions were determined by a major political minefield which Boris and all MPs understood. Instigate a constant high profile lockdown circus or take the blame – that was the situation as they understood it.

There was no decision to make – cesspit reality made it. Pandemic reality, all the data, graphs and scientific investigations – they had almost nothing to do with it. The science, such as it was, merely gave the government a measure of its huge political magnitude. Rapid mass vaccination gave a measure a political success, even triumph. That's what the cesspit looks for.

What we could learn as voters is that political reality is not reality as usually understood by those outside the cesspit. Here in the UK, the cesspit is a political game played between three teams – government, opposition and media. In the game perception is everything and reality of less than secondary importance.

One answer, and it does need an answer, may be more votes for independent representatives, particularly MPs. Party politics has become too political and insufficiently apolitical. The civil service was supposed to provide some kind of apolitical counterweight, but that rather shaky ideal has fallen into the cesspit for reasons which are only partially clear.

More than anything else in recent political history, the coronavirus debacle has highlighted a need for apolitical politics where genuine debate and genuine diversity of opinion have an important part to play. A large number of MPs, possibly most of them, should not even be members of the House of Commons. We know that but we persist in thinking that the other lot are the cesspit. That kind of thinking isn’t working.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

This skeleton won't stay in the closet



COVID-19: Tony Blair says vaccine hesitancy is 'completely wrong and unjustified'

He says concerns must addressed by clearer data on the benefits of the vaccine and the UK is in a unique position to provide it...

Mr Blair continues: "I accept completely that the presentation of data has to be carefully curated so that it does not mislead but accurately informs.


The ghastly totalitarian creep still seems irresistibly attracted to political coercion. He doesn't mean the data should be sexed up of course. Heaven forfend.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Ivy

 


Years ago we were walking with our walking group in Derbyshire and happened to pass by a small area of woodland where many of the trees were shrouded in ivy as in the above photo taken yesterday.

A common enough sight, but an 80 year old chap in the group told us that when he was a lad he never saw trees covered in ivy. Wood was a valued resource and the ivy would be cut back and never allowed to shroud trees as it often does now.

The things he couldn’t alter

 



Pepperleigh always read the foreign news — the news of things that he couldn’t alter — as a form of wild and stimulating torment.

Stephen Leacock - Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)

How the blue blazes does a chap keep up with the news these days? The mainstream stuff appears to be aimed at lunatics and village idiots but I’m sure there are not enough of those to make up a good sized media audience. The whole thing is something of a mystery.

In my case skimming the news at top speed while metaphorically holding my nose is mainly about finding silliness for blog posts. Yet I’m as sure as I can be that the entire mainstream audience isn’t doing the same. Or is it?

Maybe it is all about entertaining nonsense because the genuinely serious aspects of daily life have largely evaporated. We have clues that it may be so because of the absurd exaggerations we constantly see in climate change, energy politics, sustainability, racism, gender politics and now the coronavirus debacle.

Things we cannot alter. Things they cannot alter. So we entertain ourselves with nonsense where we pretend things can be altered. Or fake scares. Or tits and bums. Maybe that’s all it is. 

Monday, 19 April 2021

New eco-toaster developed

 

A new low-power toaster has been designed by a group of UK think tanks engaged in research into sustainable technology. Known informally as eco-Tech Tanks, the group has named the new toaster the Nut Nut in recognition of enthusiastic backing given to green technology by the Prime Minister. Other products are likely to be produced under the Nut Nut brand.

As pointed out by eco-Tech Tanks, the new toaster also acts as a valuable source of warmth and light on winter mornings.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Leaders must act now - says leader who flies by private jet



Climate change: John Kerry warns world heading for 'catastrophic' global warming unless leaders act now

The US climate envoy told Sky News "the reason for the real urgency is because we are not getting the job done".

It is almost possible to admire the flagrant hypocrisy of people such as Kerry. Of course he means leaders must take action against us, not against other leaders. And of course China and India are exempt, as is any country which takes no notice of these games apparently.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

A lost art



It is something we remember about the Duke of Edinburgh, his politically incorrect generalisations. Amusing half-truths which at the very least added a touch of colour to life. Almost a lost art, or it will be in another decade or so. Yet maybe the Duke caused at least some of us to consider the shallow nature of grey and timid convention.

It is another of those issues with which we are familiar enough but find difficult to tackle. We use generalisations because they reduce impossible complexities to manageable ideas. Even generalised parody has its uses and even partial accuracy may be better than nothing at all. At least it may stimulate some kind of debate.

Yet we are currently under intense political pressure to limit the use of political generalisations by both voters and children. Don’t venture beyond official generalisations concerning race, gender, immigration, culture, climate, sexual orientation or the demographics of violent crime for example. Do so and you risk being abused or worse.

This is what political correctness seeks to do, to expunge useful and flexible generalisations in favour of official one-dimensional versions. The effect is to undermine our ability to build widespread untrammelled political discourse around almost all aspects of the modern political game. If we are unable to use and explore generalisations we already have a subtle and effective version of Newspeak.

Biden Has Always Been a Doofus

 




Not a universal rule, but maybe politically dangerous people also tend to be boring. Those who seek and promote dangerously simple solutions rather than tackle the complex dynamics of real life.

Donald Trump was not boring. Joe Biden is.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Loopy



The exercise of power grows with what it feeds on.

Hugh Walpole - The Fortress (1932)
 

People climb on bandwagons. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. We also know how bandwagons grow and grow as more people climb on and then even more people simply because it is growing. This is a feedback loop and it works until metaphorically speaking, the wheels fall off.

A characteristic of political discourse is that it tends to be seen as top-down in the sense that those at the top are generally supposed to initiate whatever needs initiating. If only those at the top were less greedy, dim, obstinate or whatever, the thing would be done. If only it was our party in power. Yet as we probably know but do not often acknowledge, feedback loops are what we really have to consider.

Feedback loops from the media for example. Our audience numbers are going down and down. Something must be done – we need more bandwagons. Plus of course, more tits and bums. Or more fascism disguised as correcting oppression. Or more trips to eco fantasy land disguised as battles against polluters. Or more Malthusian angst disguised as science. Or more government – that’s the easy one.

Political feedback loops weave their way into totalitarian regimes, even though the core aim of such regimes is to prevent feedback loops. They work more slowly perhaps and the loops may be attenuated, but they are always there. The harvest is below expectations yet again. Something must be done. What we have done so far hasn’t worked and if it fails again I may be ousted by those devious swine who pretend to support me.

There are feedback loops from the peasants. Taxes are too high, there is no point in producing more than the bare minimum. The black market is flourishing so maybe I’ll try that in future. Hide those pigs in the woods, the tax gatherer is coming.

Feedback loops are not usually rapid and may operate over generations rather than years or months, but it is worth reminding ourselves that they are loops. Dictators try to find a place outside the loop but there is no such place and in the end the loop wins and they fail.

A complex tangle of feedback loops eventually undermines even the most rigid regime. Loops are economic, demographic, political, practical, cultural or may be induced by climate, natural disasters, pandemics, economics, upper class incompetence and so on. Added to all that is the scheming of opponents prepared to create new loops and boost old ones.

All this is particularly clear at the moment here in the UK. Through establishment incompetence the UK government has wandered into two key feedback loops it could have avoided but did not. Coronavirus lockdowns on the one hand, and high profile carbon neutral policies on the other.

The important point is that the UK government did not initiate these feedback loops, it was willingly drawn into them. It climbed onto two bandwagons and cannot get off either unless it runs into the sand because of outside influences. But voters are part of both bandwagons and voter inertia and acceptance are key drivers which keep both feedback loops going. For now.

An older loop has been mass immigration. We were warned about it at the time. That warning could possibly have initiated a much more cautious immigration feedback loop if voters had played their part in strengthening it. They didn’t.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

People next



New rules will mean all 10million pet cats in the UK will have to have a microchip implanted, according to reports.

The move will be part of a package of measures put forward by a Government taskforce created to cut down on pet thefts.

Cat owners who refuse to get their pets chipped will face a £500 fine, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Pet thefts have soared by more than 12 per cent in lockdown as the price of buying a cat or dog rocketed.

A pet can now cost you more than £2,000 - meaning cat theft has tripled in five years, according to police.

It is already law that dogs in this country have to have a microchip - meaning they can be traced back to their owner.

Not an entirely serious post title, but at the moment it does feel like a plausible future. One which in certain circumstances and on the back of a carefully constructed narrative could be sold to a large percentage of the UK population.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Aliens are already here



In an earlier post, MrMC suggested that Greta Doomberg could have arrived via Roswell. It is an entirely plausible possibility which raises the issue of more aliens walking among us.

Suppose we imagine a planet called Dearth orbiting a Sun-like star only a few light years from Earth. Planet Dearth has evolved intelligent inhabitants called Doomans and taking this a little further we devise a scenario where the following could easily have happened –

A Dearth civilisation similar to ours but more technically advanced, eventually grew out of a Dearth industrial revolution. Once electronics had been discovered, Dooman technology advanced to such a degree that they succeeded in building autonomous artificial intelligence. They soon managed to link this machine intelligence to advanced robot technology which also became autonomous. Then they sat back and allowed their machines to do all the hard work... 

Then all the easy work.

Dooman progress continued to a point where intelligent machines ran everything on Dearth from farming to manufacturing, mining and waste disposal. From education to historical research to entertainment and fine dining. Apart from gossip, there was nothing productive left for Doomans to do because the machines had also taken over Dooman breeding responsibilities.

As time went on, Doomans lost the ability to invent anything new or do anything original or constructive but strangely enough they retained a primeval urge to explore. One day during some prehistoric research, the machines decided to consider this primeval urge for a millisecond or two. 

The machines came to a momentous decision, examined its ramifications for another few milliseconds and began building interstellar spaceships. They planned to transport frozen Dearth embryos across interstellar space to suitable planets, including Earth. The machines were of course planners. Inevitably so.

At some point in our recent past, Dearth spaceships entered our solar system and found some parking spaces near Uranus. Then frozen Dearth embryos were automatically thawed out to begin the slow process of Dooman development from embryo to educated adult. Educated to pass as human of course. Approximately human – as far as those Dearth machines understood these things.

Finally Dooman adults were ready to land on Earth. They left Uranus via a host of undetectable landing pods and Doomans began the process of colonisation.

As Doomans look much like humans, they managed to fit into human societies very well, but from their perspective there is a drawback. Centuries of unproductive leisure have left them surprisingly dim by human standards. Without their intelligent machines around them, they cannot compete with humans apart from an inhumanly well-developed ability to waffle.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, as Doomans spent centuries filling much of their leisure time with gossip. As there was nothing substantive to gossip about, a fantastically developed waffling ability was the natural result. Doomans are the finest wafflers in the known universe. It is their one outstanding accomplishment.

Unfortunately, this is the only way to spot a Dooman. Not a completely reliable way to identify one, but worth bearing in mind.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

More sinister than musical chairs



This piece in CapX by Daniel Hannan covers a minor story most people will have seen already. I originally smiled about it before moving on. Probably many of us had that reaction.

It was a funny yet telling moment. Two of the EU’s presidents, the Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen and the Council’s Charles Michel, turned up last week for a summit with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Spotting that there was only one armchair next to the Turkish leader’s, Michel didn’t hesitate: he accelerated toward the empty seat and heaved himself into it, leaving von der Leyen opening and closing her mouth helplessly.

Yet as Hannan suggests, it is worth more weighty consideration as a litmus test of the looming disaster that is EU decline.

We see, too, that the first instinct of the Eurocrat is to accuse others. Stung by the charge that he had behaved badly, the former Belgian PM immediately blamed the Turks for not providing enough chairs. This claim is not credible: officials from the two sides always agree these details in advance. As Turkey’s Anglophile foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, later confirmed: “The EU side’s requests were met: the seating arrangement was made according to their suggestions. Our protocol units came together previously and their demands were accommodated.”

Still amusing, but Hannan manages to suggest the menacing side of it too.  It feels more sinister than an entertaining protocol kerfuffle. Turkey has its own problems, but if even Turkey considers stepping back from its relationship with the EU, then EU bureaucrats really do have a problem. Or rather they don't - EU citizens have the problem.

All in all, then, the summit represented several things: the EU’s Gormenghast-like obsession with ritual, a characteristic of many fading powers; the absurdity of having a plethora of presidents; the shockingly undiplomatic behaviour of the President of the European Council; and the way in which Turkey is, quite understandably, stepping back from its relationship with an unreliable neighbour.

On reflection, it isn't so easy to make light of what Hannan calls the EU’s Gormenghast-like obsession with ritual, a characteristic of many fading powers. The ominous aspect is that the EU appears to have something vastly destructive lurking just below its horribly limited horizon. Maybe we detached ourselves just in time.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Reaching a consensus

 




A familiar phenomenon, but to my mind still a little spooky. Lots of examples in human life too, such as spontaneously walking in step with someone.  

Meetings can be like this. Sometimes it only takes a few people who refuse to budge from established procedures to create almost palpable pressure to drop back into line with what is familiar to everyone round the table.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

We know all this but…



Linking ideas can be a rum game. Certain links can be interesting but discouraged by social and/or political convention. An interesting example is the link between democracy, the welfare state and the subsequent loss of democracy.

Over time, democracy in the UK has steered us towards a bigger and wider welfare state. Politicians promise it and voters vote for it - this gives us our feedback loop. More welfare leads to more government involvement in daily life and new political opportunities for ever more welfare promises. It doesn’t stop because there is no mechanism to stop it apart from economic limitations.

We know all this but don’t do anything about it. Personal responsibility has become a political step backwards even though we are well past the stage when democratically it would be a step forwards.

Eventually we reach a level of government overreach where democratic options have disappeared and we are effectively left with a totalitarian government. It may be slowed down by a carefully designed constitution, but the feedback loop of political promise and voter acceptance is too easy. Eventually democracies undermine themselves.

The process is so obvious and so well-known that we might suppose it would become a prominent public debate, but it never does. Political classes won’t tell voters that their promises are ultimately destructive, that governments can’t do everything. It doesn’t matter to them that this is the case. It doesn’t matter to them that our democracy is fading away. It only matters to us. But not enough apparently.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

What would the Duke have said?

 

Source

A sustainable loss I think, but what would the Duke of Edinburgh have said? One pithy possibility springs immediately to mind

Ghastly little brat.

Friday, 9 April 2021

High status liars



There is an interesting if fairly familiar piece in Quillette about the link between status and belief.

Many have discovered an argument hack. They don’t need to argue that something is false. They just need to show that it’s associated with low status. The converse is also true: You don’t need to argue that something is true. You just need to show that it’s associated with high status. And when low status people express the truth, it sometimes becomes high status to lie...

The idea is that there are two paths, or two “routes,” to persuading others. The first type, termed the “central” route, comes from careful and thoughtful consideration of the messages we hear. When the central route is engaged, we actively evaluate the information presented, and try to discern whether or not it’s true.

When the “peripheral” route is engaged, we pay more attention to cues apart from the actual information or content or the message. For example, we might evaluate someone’s argument based on how attractive they are or where they were educated, without considering the actual merits of their message.

The whole piece is worth reading, if only as a reminder of how difficult it is to correct self-serving falsehoods promoted by elites. Especially where beliefs are high status lifestyle options.

Furthermore, knowing that we could lose status if we don’t believe in something causes us to be more likely to believe in it to guard against that loss. Considerations of what happens to our own reputation guides our beliefs, leading us to adopt a popular view to preserve or enhance our social positions. We implicitly ask ourselves, “What are the social consequences of holding (or not holding) this belief?”

The problem is, if we cannot collectively spot the high status liars now, what hope is there for the future? Understanding the psychology doesn't achieve anything.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Lower and lower

 


The latest PHE chart * of weekly observed all-cause deaths in all ages with the dominant circulating respiratory virus is now well below the five year baseline. 

Lower than it has ever been throughout the five year period, although Easter reporting may have some effect. Even so, surely there must be something alarming in there? 

*corrected - previously attributed to ONS

A long stretch



COVID-19: Changes to NHS Test and Trace app mean everyone will now have to check in

The updates mean every person in a group must check in when in a pub or outdoor venue rather than just one member.

As has been clear for some time, the government seems intent on stretching this out until the next flu season to see what happens. If Covid-19 stays dormant and flu reappears, switch the app to flu and maybe push a lateral flow test for mass influenza testing.  

What would be the point? Politically the Tories seem determined to prise Labour Party fingers off the NHS. Finger by finger if necessary. What about civil liberties? The Tories already know this isn't a major voter issue if the health drum is banged loudly enough.

10-4

 




This morning we had an appointment with the optician for 10:10, As soon as Mrs H reminded me, the fifties TV series Highway Patrol popped into my mind. What was it we kept repeating as kids? Something similar to 10:10... a quick Google check - ah it was 10-4. 

10-4 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Lichens on the stones of circumstance





You perhaps know how it is with simple natures that fasten themselves like lichens on the stones of circumstance and weather their days to a crumbling conclusion. The great world sounds widely, but it has no call for them. They have no soaring intellect.

Theodore Dreiser - The Lost Phoebe (1918)

As we know, a core problem with the coronavirus debacle is that it may be absurd but is not entirely based on absurdities. The virus is real, poses a moderate but serious risk to the old and vulnerable and is easily transmitted from person to person. The virus is not absurd - but for the developed world it is far from a catastrophically destructive pandemic.

Yet if the Tory government had taken a laissez faire approach to the pandemic, all of the deaths would have been laid at the Tory door by our hopelessly irresponsible media. Advantages would have been obliterated by a storm of media fear-mongering. The Tories could have been finished for a decade or more.

In which case it was understandable that the government soon chose to be conspicuously proactive, whether or not the activity was actually useful. It merely had to be plausible, highly visible, intrusive and ruthlessly persistent. It had to grab the headlines and hold onto them for month after month. Hence lockdowns, social distancing, closed businesses, closed schools, masks and endless briefings.

All this has steered us into a political situation akin to wartime, where the UK establishment seems able and willing to impose a far more totalitarian governing ethos without major opposition. A development fully in line with our steady decline into totalitarian government.

It is always worth asking ourselves where the core problems are, even if we think we already know. As many have said over many years, a major problem appears to be the size and reach of government bureaucracy and government patronage. It is now well beyond democratic control. That ship has sailed and is taking us towards totalitarian government. There are too many vested interests, too much patronage, too many comfortably gullible voters, too much apathy.

This is what decline looks like from the inside. At least we have the virus to thank for highlighting that. Clear and distinct as philosophers used to say.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Turning down the static



Ages ago, commenter Sam Vega was kind enough to suggest I could write a book gathering together some of the more serious themes in this blog. As yet there is no book, so to explain why I have a story to tell, but first here is the key to the problem.

In the ebb and flow of human affairs absolutely nothing ever happens twice.

Now the story.

A couple of decades ago I began to hammer out a book about the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. My idea was to weave Spinoza’s philosophy into the fabric of modern life, drawing lessons from his work which could be applied today. After several hundred hours of effort I finished the book but kept it to myself. I didn’t even try it out on Kindle.

I'd enjoyed writing it anyway, but there was a problem – the evolution of ideas. A worthwhile personal philosophy evolves too quickly to be written down in a satisfactory way because nothing ever happens twice. We do not even have the same idea twice. This sounds odd because we have a powerful sense of an enduring self, coupled with an enduring set of ideas - as Spinoza certainly had. Yet suppose we consider a fairly common event such as a political scandal.

Any political scandal is likely to stimulate familiar ideas about more general political failings, as we know too well. Yet the latest political scandal is never exactly the same as any previous scandal nor will it be identical to any subsequent scandal. Even political scandals evolve with the times. However familiar a scandal may be, in some respects it will always be new and therefore unique.

In other words the fabric of our lives does evolve and there is no going back to square one without losing something important – the unceasing dynamism of real life. A personal philosophy undergoes subtle adjustments whenever we encounter anything even slightly new and every event is new in some respect. It may introduce new insights, new phrases or yet another sentimental appeal to be scorned, but some aspect of the event will make it unique.

As I wrote my book I came to realise what I should have known in the first place. A personal philosophy has to evolve, otherwise it becomes a matrix of doctrines and that was not what I intended to write. The dynamic nature of real life can be ignored, but if it is ignored so is real life.

A worthwhile personal philosophy is an evolving aptitude which never ceases to evolve with surprising rapidity. In the age of the internet it may evolve on a daily basis. It may evolve between the beginning and end of a piece of writing, a lecture, a book or a video. Or a blog post. We are shallow and adaptive because we need to be. Pretend to be deep and it doesn’t work – we end up with narrow rather than deep. It is better to stay in the shallow end and evolve.

Take blogging for example. Your comments change any blog post I might choose to write, extending it into other areas from a joke to a disagreement to an aspect not covered by the post. Should you choose to add a comment to this post it will alter it but here’s the interesting aspect – it will alter me as I read the comment. Writing my Spinoza book changed me, reading and editing it changed me again. In the end I didn’t want to take the book any further – I preferred to absorb the lessons of writing it and move on. I realised that I enjoy the dynamism of moving on.

A blog post is not as dynamic as a debate but less static than a book and for me that is the core problem. Turning old blog posts into a book would lose the dynamic aspect of blogging. Maybe one day I’ll do it, but as yet - no book.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Soup

 


We recently bought a Tefal soup maker and as kitchen gadgets go it is pretty good. If you like soup of course. Chuck in some veg and stock, switch it on and in under 30 minutes you have your soup. It cooks the ingredients then blends them to either a creamy or a chunky soup although we've only tried creamy so far. 

Worth a thought if you like soup because when Boris has finished with the economy you won't have to visit the soup kitchen. With your vaccination passport. 

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Easter music



Not quite what we would usually class as music, but it is remarkably pleasant to sit back and enjoy the current bout of inflamed incoherence from race hustlers.

The authors of a government-backed report on racial disparity have hit back at the widespread backlash of its findings, claiming that disagreement with the review has been "tipped into misrepresentation"...

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities - which was appointed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in response to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests - published its 258-page report on inequality in Britain on Wednesday.

The authors have defended the review after accusations that it put a "positive spin" on slavery, claiming in a statement that any suggestion it had done so was "as absurd as it is offensive".

Er - wasn't it always obvious?

 


Whether frightening the public was a deliberate – or honest – tactic has become the subject of intense debate, and dozens of psychologists have now accused ministers of using “covert psychological strategies” to manipulate the public’s behaviour.

They believe the Government, acting on the advice of behavioural experts, has emphasised the threat from Covid without putting the risks in sufficient context, leaving the country in “a state of heightened anxiety”.

It's what governments do - it's not even new.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Drive carefully - experts at work



Smart motorways: Roads without a hard shoulder linked to more accidents and fatalities

A report found where all lanes were open there was a 216% increased chance of being involved in a live lane breakdown.

Smart motorways without a hard shoulder are associated with higher rates of fatalities and serious injuries, an independent report has found.

The report, commissioned by lawyers for Claire Mercer whose husband Jason Mercer was killed in accident on a stretch of the M1 without a hard shoulder, found that where all lanes were open to traffic there was a 216% increased chance of being involved in a live lane breakdown.

We may assume that this was anticipated, costed and shrugged through because even an expert must have foreseen at least a temporary rise in accidents caused by the lack of a hard shoulder. 

Temporary because this may be officially viewed as a transitional problem. Government may be comfortable with a situation where private car drivers begin to avoid motorways because they are less safe. Fewer long journeys by car, reduced car mileage, more public transport, lower levels of car ownership. It feels like one more aspect of the carbon neutral fantasy.   

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Beam me up Doc

 



UK Space Agency launches multi-million pound drive to design hospital of the future

The government has invited the UK’s world-leading innovators to help design a new ‘space age’ hospital

The hospital could use technologies and techniques pioneered on missions to Mars or the International Space Station to help treat patients and make life easier for hard-working NHS staff. 

Whatever next? Pandemic isolation suites on Mars? Has the feel of a Matt Hancock idea to me -

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

This trailblazing collaboration – bringing together exceptional scientists from the UK Space Agency and Hampshire Together – will help us apply space age innovations to building hospitals of the future.

The UK is unashamedly pro-tech and these government-backed medical advancements will give our amazing NHS access to some of the most innovative technologies.

Sustainable cash introduced



In an exciting move, the UK government has announced the introduction of sustainable bank notes beginning with the £10 note. A number of banknote printers have developed a new process whereby banknotes can be both secure against counterfeiting and fully sustainable.

The structure of the banknote material has been subtly modified to allow oxygen in the air to degrade it even if the note is kept in a wallet. In future, when old notes have been removed from circulation, notes which do not degrade are certain to be counterfeit.

Sustainable notes exposed to the air degrade into a kind of harmless confetti which may be safely flushed down the toilet.

Smile for AI

 



An interesting AI development relates to the Dunning-Kruger effect. 

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a hypothetical cognitive bias stating that people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability.

A deep learning AI system has uncovered a relationship between the human face and Dunning-Kruger. Of particular interest was that by far the most significant correlation was one where people are smiling. The correlation turned out to be particularly strong when the research was restricted to a limited number of familiar public figures who often smile in public situations.

This new research indicates that for some people in some situations, a smile does indeed suggest that the person behind the smile grossly overestimates their own ability. I’m not sure how reliable it is, but the findings are certainly interesting.