Wednesday, 30 June 2021
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
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
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."
Sunday, 27 June 2021
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)
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
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.
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.
Friday, 25 June 2021
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.
Thursday, 24 June 2021
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)
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.
Wednesday, 23 June 2021
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.
Tuesday, 22 June 2021
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
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.
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.”
Sunday, 20 June 2021
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.
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."
Saturday, 19 June 2021
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”.
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
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.”
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.
Thursday, 17 June 2021
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.
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)
Wednesday, 16 June 2021
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".
Tuesday, 15 June 2021
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.
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
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.
This is merely a fleeting thought which pops up in the old brain-box every time I browse through the mainstream news. How many out and out loons are there in the media, politics and academia?
Possibly not a huge number, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that our culture is being trashed on the whims of a relatively tiny number of people. Loons and charlatans seem to run the show yet most ordinary people are neither. At the moment.
Unfortunately it seems to be spreading and there is no vaccine. Nurture your inner loon seems to be the modern way to enlightenment and that can't be good.
As many have noted, the most disgusting aspect of the coronavirus debacle here in the UK is that it is clearly being used to herd the general population into ideological pens. We are being treated like sheep. Herded towards a future defined by totalitarian loons.
To those with their eyes even half open it has been obvious for many years that mass population herding is going on. As it always has, so in that respect nothing has changed. The establishment and its senior minions view the general population as sheep to be herded. Yet the coronavirus debacle has brought this out in a way so stark and so obvious it surely impossible to be complacent about what is going on.
Nobody but Greta believes we are doomed by human induced climate change. It is a vast herding scam with a number of political threads, the sheep pen being by far the biggest. Herd entire populations in the desired direction and the job is mostly done. Shearing is the easy part.
Anti-car policies are not designed with cleaner air in mind but to divert money spent on buying and running cars along other, more controlled channels. Another vast herding scam directing us along paths through the pens. Sheep don’t drive.
Policies targeting domestic energy use generally, from phasing out gas boilers to dictating home insulation levels are not aimed at saving the planet. The overarching target is minutely detailed social control and the aim of that is the sheep pen.
The coronavirus debacle has a number of political drivers, one of which is to avoid the blame for a large number of deaths. The other driver is to add further depth to minutely detailed social control. The sheep pen is writ large here. Very large indeed.
This appears to be a reason why pandemic controls introduced via the coronavirus debacle are unlikely to be terminated completely. We are most unlikely to see a return to life as it was before the pandemic. Control requires controllers and as they control the narrative they also control enough opinion to push on with it. They also have a people-farming background.
Sunday, 13 June 2021
COVID-19: Johnson expected to delay 'Freedom Day', as poll shows more than half of people back him
With cases of the more transmissible delta variant increasing, the coronavirus restrictions are likely to remain for a bit longer.
Boris Johnson is expected to agree to the delay of lockdown easing in England and, according to a new poll, just over half of the UK public is backing the move.
Saturday, 12 June 2021
R. Austin Freeman - The Mystery of 31 New Inn (1912)
Friday, 11 June 2021
Problem 1. The climate change narrative is riddled with lies, fraud and stupidity. Without wishing to claim an improbable degree of foresight here, this could lead to problems when trying to manipulate the real climate.
Problem 2. China.
Thursday, 10 June 2021
A considerable amount of effort is being wasted trying to sell Joe Biden as legitimate and capable. The rest of the world may laugh but the circus goes on.
Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on. Sane people did what their neighbours did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.
George Eliot - Middlemarch (1871-72)
Suppose we suggest that the great driver of human attitudes and allegiances is the search for security. Security is survival writ small but still survival, still a core part of what we are.
Sane people did what their neighbours did - they still do. There is security and satisfaction to be found here. What is Boris Johnson doing if it isn’t what his political neighbours do? What are those two lecterns either side of his if they are not his political neighbours? What is SAGE if it is not a political neighbourhood?
We don’t usually call them neighbours and neighbourhoods, but politically that is what they are. It leaves Boris and his government vulnerable to manipulation, but as we have seen, they don’t care. As for those who leave such as Dominic Cummings – others move into the neighbourhood so they are soon forgotten.
None of this is at all mysterious. What is mysterious is how certain people value a more dispassionate search for better information. Why is it that some people cannot simply adopt the consensus of their cultural neighbourhood – the mantras and clichés which nobody else questions? What keeps them on the periphery? Why are they apparently happy to be there?
Presumably these oddballs see greater ultimate security not just in better information but also in the pursuit of better engineering, better science, deeper understanding and better quality in its widest sense. This pursuit of deeper understanding covers anything from Shakespeare scholarship to bridge building to pharmaceuticals to pithy insights but isn’t the pursuit of consensus.
Yet if influential people pursue consensus too rigorously they cut everyone else adrift from the sharp stimulus of basic survival. They cut us all adrift from the need to pursue deeper understanding. There are still those with a hunger for better information, but the rest of society is cutting itself off from them.
In other words, it seems to be possible for us to lose the survival stimulus partly shielding us when consensus goes wrong and stupidity lends a hand. Ironically in a connected world, we cannot shield ourselves from stupidity even when it clearly threatens our cultural survival. That would be a culture of actively trying to avoid stupidity - the one we used to value rather highly.
This seems to be where the urgency lies. In the age of the internet, stupidity is becoming valuable clickbait. In other words, stupidity has become valuable.
Wednesday, 9 June 2021
I have lingered over these details because they formed a part — a most important and honourable part — of that ancient curriculum of house-keeping which, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries, was so soon to be swept aside by the “monstrous regiment” of the emancipated: young women taught by their elders to despise the kitchen and the linen room, and to substitute the acquiring of University degrees for the more complex art of civilized living. The movement began when I was young, and now that I am old, and have watched it and noted its results, I mourn more than ever the extinction of the household arts. Cold storage, deplorable as it is, has done far less harm to the home than the Higher Education.
Edith Wharton - A Backward Glance (1934)
I caught the tail end of what Wharton meant by the household arts in the fifties. Not the household drudgery as commonly portrayed, but a whole gamut of household arts from growing your own, bottling fruit, making pickles, devising recipes, making economies, collecting home remedies, organising meal times, mending clothes… The list goes on and on.
Of course the list is long because considerable depths of knowledge and experience are involved. Concerning families, education, food, clothing and everything connected with that ancient curriculum of house-keeping. Much of that knowledge and experience are now lost. We do lose knowledge as well gaining it and we do not replace what we have lost via fake country kitchens and back to the soil TV cookery programmes.
The issue seems to be one of drifting into futures which few would have chosen had they known how they would turn out. But we adapt and what we could have seen via foresight is no longer visible.
With hindsight we adopt a number ways to explain why we are where we are, but hindsight is endlessly misleading. Even memories are adjusted under the seductive pressure of a modern consensus or in pursuit of neat and tidy explanations.
As far as Wharton’s observation about house-keeping goes, we are usually presented with narratives about the emancipation of women, economic growth, smaller families, labour-saving domestic machines, birth control and so on. Narratives which may be sound enough but the this future, the one we find ourselves in now, wasn’t chosen. It emerged from an impossibly complex morass of pressures, interests, events and popular lifestyle fantasies.
Take net zero climate change targets for example. Nobody knows how to achieve them, what will happen if they are achieved or what the consequences of not achieving them may be. We are where we were with Wharton and the “monstrous regiment” of the emancipated: young women taught by their elders to despise the kitchen. In one key respect the issue is the same – drifting into a future which will probably turn out to be one that few would have chosen had they been blessed with adequate foresight.
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Emmanuel Macron has been slapped across the face during a walkabout to greet voters in France today.
The assailant took the French President by the arm, appearing to stop him for a chat, before shouting: 'Down with Macronia' ('A Bas La Macronie') as he delivered the blow.
Bodyguards quickly seized upon the man and bundled him to the ground, as a member of Macron's security detail pulled the president to safety.
Surely M Macron does not intend to ignore such a challenge to his honour. Pistols or swords I'd say.
Monday, 7 June 2021
Downing Street has urged football fans to be respectful of England players who choose to take the knee in a stand against racial injustice.
Boris Johnson's official spokesperson called on football fans to "get behind" the team at the upcoming European Football Championships which kick off on Friday and to support "individuals' rights to protest".
But he did, however, refuse to explicitly condemn supporters who booed members of the England team making the gesture in a friendly game against Romania on Sunday.
This is merely one of many thoughts which has flitted through my mind as we grind our way through increasingly preposterous and disturbingly totalitarian coronavirus nonsense.
Pure fantasy this one, but suppose it becomes possible to vaccinate people against excessive alcohol consumption. This would be an extension of current treatments for alcohol abuse. Once vaccinated, people would lose any inclination to drink alcohol except in moderation, maybe because because the taste would become increasingly bitter and unpleasant. Or some other effect perhaps. The effect of the vaccination would be long-lasting or even permanent.
It doesn’t matter how plausible the idea is, the question which arises is now more obvious than ever thanks to the coronavirus mess. Would governments encourage take-up of the vaccine among young adults and possibly children? Would official encouragement eventually shade into mass coercion?
This is not a suggestion that such a development is a genuine possibility. It is mere speculation. A way to suggest that there appears to be no limit to the depths of government social engineering. In a free society there should be some kind of limit. The coronavirus mess suggests this is not so.
Sunday, 6 June 2021
COVID-19: 'Time to distinguish' between those who have and have not had a vaccine, Tony Blair says
"It makes no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination the same as those who haven't," the former prime minister says.
Saturday, 5 June 2021
The UK’s 100 richest families are being urged to commit £1bn over the next five years to tackle the climate emergency and halt the destruction of the natural world, as the world prepares for a big push on environmental issues at the G7 summit.
Each of the 100 richest families in the UK, and the 100 biggest charitable foundations, will receive a letter on Saturday asking them to make the climate and biodiversity crises a focus of their philanthropic efforts, in order to stave off pending disasters that would imperil all their other charitable efforts.
Surely the UK's 100 richest families didn't become rich while failing to spot scams when they see one. A few quid thrown into the pot for virtue signalling perhaps, but this is an average of £10 million per family.
G7 nations close to historic deal to tax tech giants in plan that would 'change the world', says German finance minister
The plan to reform the taxation of tech firms and bring in a minimum level for business tax rates would "change the world".
Friday, 4 June 2021
Thursday, 3 June 2021
I spent a few moments gazing out of the window this morning. It's something I often do, but this morning it occurred to me to imagine what the street outside might look like a thousand years from now. What will it look like on June 3rd 3021?
Nobody in 1021 could have foreseen how things would change over the next thousand years and 3021 is just as impenetrable to us now. All we have is our imagination, so in my imagination the whole street has disappeared by 3021. Houses, road, everything all gone. Nothing left for estate agents to do. There are a few trees, bushes and brambles but no sign whatever of our street. Not even a few foundations sticking up through the undergrowth.
No familiar landmarks either and the lie of the land is far more difficult to make out because of the trees. Taking these musings a little further, I imagined myself meandering through the trees towards what in 2021 was Sainsbury’s. I can just about make out where it must have been.
Why a log cabin? Maybe in a thousand years from now, large areas of the UK are virtually uninhabited apart from a few hardy types who prefer to scratch a primitive life in what is now a wilderness. Not because of some catastrophe but because over the centuries the global population declined and people left for more congenial areas of the world. They migrated to areas where natural resources are still plentiful and vast automated farms more feasible.
Aha – I’ve just noticed. The sky hereabouts in 3021 is blue with no visible vapour trails from aircraft. Apart from the birds it is almost silent - an almost deserted land. I quite like it but a few flakes of snow are falling. It certainly is cold – colder that I expected. Global cooling has set in perhaps. Another reason why people left.
Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Google's head of diversity is slammed for saying 'Jews have insatiable appetite for war and killing' in 2007 blog post which argued they should have more 'compassion' because of the Holocaust
- Kamau Bobb, who is also an 'Equity in Computing' don at Georgia Tech, wrote a 2007 blog post, which remains on his website, titled: 'If I Were A Jew'
- Bobb writes: 'If I were a Jew I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defense of myself'
- He evokes the memory of Kristallnacht, a Nazi pogrom against Jews in 1938, and Holocaust victim Anne Frank to question why Jewish people lack 'compassion'
Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Our lives are directed by committees of one form or another, yet few people seem to have a good word for them. Apart from committee members of course. For example -
Stella Benson - Living Alone (1919)
Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd; study of the popular mind (1895)
Anton Chekhov - Home (1887)
Arthur Morrison - A Blot on St. Basil (1899)
Thomas Hardy - A Mere Interlude (1885)