Monday 31 January 2022


Rosie Duffield: MP considers leaving Labour over 'obsessive harassment'

An MP has said she is considering her future in the Labour Party after "obsessive harassment" from current and former party members.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield claimed in a series of tweets that "personal, libellous, nasty" things had been published about her.

"I have been subjected to this rubbish for years," she said, adding that the Labour Party had offered no help.

Extremely unpleasant I imagine, although I can't easily imagine it because too often there is something disturbingly malign about political obsessives, something dark, even wicked. We know about useful idiots, but useful obsessives are not necessarily idiots. Far too many unworthy causes are partly supported by obsessives. 

The Labour party should deal with this one and virtually everyone must know it. It diminishes both Starmer and the entire party. Not that it takes much doing, but there is a particularly unpleasant, particularly totalitarian stink around what is happening to Rosie Duffield. Something we should all be concerned about.

Storm names

Naming storms has already become dull so why not name them after people, events or anything else which has caused real damage. Storm Blair, Storm Heath, Storm Ferguson, Storm Epidemiology, Storm EU, Storm Woke and so on. Mildly controversial perhaps, but lots of scope to increase damage awareness.

It could be on the school curriculum - a GCSE course in Damage Awareness and no leaving school until you pass. Unfortunately woke nonsense would be slipped in I suppose. We'd end up with variants of Storm Carbon or Storm SUV. Hmm - bad idea on the whole. The inevitability of corruption.

I originally thought of naming storms using wider historical references such as Storm Æðelstān, but it wouldn’t have the same immediacy as Storm Woke. A pity.

Romance is not dead


Sunday 30 January 2022

Nothing is on the table says Liz

Putin's oligarchs will have 'nowhere to hide' with widened sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine - as UK 'rules nothing out'

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tells Sky News that she is "ruling absolutely nothing out" when it comes to UK support for Ukraine, while she warns Russian oligarchs over toughened sanctions in the face of Vladimir Putin's build-up of troops...

"Nothing is off the table," the foreign secretary said. "We're not going to go into the details of exactly who and how we would target the sanctions.

Guy who wasn't deported wins Australian Open

Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open to become most successful man in tennis history

Roger Federer, who had been level with Nadal on 20 Grand Slams, paid tribute to his rival after the Spaniard's win against Daniil Medvedev. Federer hailed Nadal's achievement as "amazing", adding: "Never underestimate a great champion."

Latin did not progress. It died.

George Santayana is perhaps best remembered for this observation and its variants.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Sometimes we aim to retain too much of the past, especially where nostalgia exerts its rose-tinted influence. Yet if past times represented some kind of improvement over more distant times, then the improvement may be worth retaining or taking further. We inherit something, we improve it, we call it progress.

Yet a culture may forget inherited strengths passed down from its cultural history. In forgetting its historical strengths it is likely to forget what progress is. The word is retained but progress is not real and cultural gains from the past are lost. Ironically, a progressive has become person who tends to substitute political doctrine for knowledge of the past, someone who may not even understand what progress is.

This second Santayana quote explains the first, why we need to recognise and retain something essential from of the past if the future is to represent genuine progress. 

Not all readaptation, however, is progress, for ideal identity must not be lost. The Latin language did not progress when it passed into Italian. It died.

Its amiable heirs may console us for its departure, but do not remove the fact that their parent is extinct. So every individual, nation, and religion has its limit of adaptation; so long as the increment it receives is digestible, so long as the organisation already attained is extended and elaborated without being surrendered, growth goes on; but when the foundation itself shifts, when what is gained at the periphery is lost at the centre, the flux appears again and progress is not real.

Thus a succession of generations or languages or religions constitutes no progress unless some ideal present at the beginning is transmitted to the end and reaches a better expression there; without this stability at the core no common standard exists and all comparison of value with value must be external and arbitrary. Retentiveness, we must repeat, is the condition of progress.

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

The idea isn't complicated, but it seems to confuse political activists. Piling one failed policy on top of another isn't progress, because as ever the art of judgement comes into play. 

Saturday 29 January 2022

Standard Stuff

Government nudge unit ‘used grossly unethical tactics to scare public into Covid compliance’

MPs launch investigation after psychologists criticise totalitarian tactics of ‘deploying fear, shame and scapegoating’ during pandemic

Of course the government deployed fear, shame and scapegoating during the pandemic. It's the standard social compliance approach and has been for decades. Employing psychologists to justify it is another standard approach - rope in some experts to show that we haven't just dreamed it up ourselves. All obvious enough from the beginning of the lockdown caper because we've seen it before. 

The new Highway Code is likely to be linked with a long term aim of nudging car drivers off the road. Make it less and less appealing. There is a certain amount of fear, shame and scapegoating in that too. Aimed at motorists of course, but standard stuff. 

Friday 28 January 2022

The dramatic rise of drama

Even the closest similarity in language or action is a very abstract similarity, and the concrete and full current of our two lives, on which the quality of intuitions depends, may be quite different. All dramatic understanding of which I am capable is, by hypothesis, my discourse. The most contagious feelings, the clearest thoughts, of others are clear or contagious only because I can readily make them my own.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)

Drama stimulates interest in a number of ways and one of them is via our inbuilt fascination with what happens next. We navigate through life by avoiding surprises and a visceral interest in what happens next seems linked to that.

Maybe drama suggests to us that we are learning about surprises and how to avoid them. It relies on something fundamental to our humanity and in that respect cannot be superficial in spite of daytime television. We need to see what is going on around the next rock, the next corner, over in the next valley or the building across the street. Or the bedroom - it varies.

Drama seems to stimulate our engagement with outcomes, a fascination which is more visceral than the story itself. As Santayana says, contagious feelings are far more engaging than abstract similarity in language, far more involving than some dry comparison of similar situations.

The most contagious feelings, the clearest thoughts, of others are clear or contagious only because I can readily make them my own. This is what drama does, the feelings and thoughts of others become contagious through drama. Dramatic understanding and comprehension become contagious through drama. Not necessarily accurate and objective but contagious. The political class and the media know it well.

Screen-based drama may be artificial but it stimulates something important we cannot easily set aside. Even the most vapid daytime TV drama catches the attention if only temporarily. Drama is an aspect of life and always was. Over the past century or so we have moved on from the drama of an occasional fight outside the village inn, the milkmaid’s pregnancy or the squire’s peccadilloes. Now we are presented with high drama on a daily basis and tomorrow the media will find more.

The popular aspect of the recent pandemic for example. Popular? Yes, ‘popular’ seems to be the right word for a particular aspect of it. Even though it was not admitted, the drama of it was obviously popular, as if we were extras invited onto the set of a scary movie.

Another example. A defence or promotion of some aspect of woke culture such as climate change often reads as if what is being defended is the drama which sustains it. Dramatic language can be very woke. Fighting climate change, the struggle for climate justice, battling against fossil fuel interests, climate warriors, catastrophes, killer storms, the Doomsday Clock and even Donald Trump as a pantomime monster.

Unfortunately there is no good rational way to tackle the power of drama. Satire, sarcasm and parody perhaps, but rational argument not so much.

Thursday 27 January 2022

A Memory


The other day Mrs H and I watched a 1957 film called Rogue's Yarn -

An adulterous husband plans to kill his invalid wife. He thinks that he has the perfect alibi, but an alert detective unravels his story.

I was sure I recognised that alert detective and a quick check told me he was played by Elwyn Brook-Jones. Another quick check and it turned out that he was The Voice in the children's TV series Garry Halliday which ran from 1959 - 1962. That's why I recognised him.

My memory isn't particularly good, but I'll admit to being mildly gratified that I'd remembered seeing Elwyn Brook-Jones decades ago. Only mildly gratified because most of that 'remembering' came about because I could look him up so easily. Still - I remember Garry Halliday and The Voice. Just about.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Cheap and Easy

He gives a shilling to a starving man, not that the man may be fed but that he himself may be a shilling-giver. He cultivates sympathy with the destitute for the sake of being sympathetic. The whole of his virtue and his creed of conduct runs to a cheap and easy egomania in which his blind passion for himself causes him to use external people and things as mere reactions upon his own personality. The immoral little toad swells itself to the bursting point in its desire to be a moral ox.

Stephen Leacock - The Devil and the Deep Sea (1916)

There is a modern version of a cheap and easy egomania, we call virtue signalling. Cheap and easy seems to express the ease with which such ideas spread like a pandemic through supposedly educated populations.

Ideas cheap enough to represent at most a negligible personal loss. Easy enough to dispense with brain work in favour of a small number of easily remembered mantras. Plus, weirdest of all, a cheap and easy ability to defend forever those cheap and easy ideas.

Slogans, simple doctrines, finger-pointing, popular memes, mantras, sentimental clichés, placards, car stickers, silly T-shirts, art, popular sneers and feeding off it all like pigs at a trough, cheap a cheap and easy political class, cheap and easy media and cheap and easy celebrities. Cheap and easy comedy, cheap and easy documentaries, cheap and easy music blundering its way out of the supermarket sound system.

It seems to be entirely possible that we are where we are politically and socially because of cheap and easy ideas spread by immensely complex and marvellously clever technology which has become too cheap and easy for our own good.


I generally treat mainstream news as a tedious fact of life like dog crap on the pavement, or a source of blog posts for despair and entertainment. But the pandemic partyballs caper and its variants have become too tedious.

Johnson's opponents have been highlighting the Afghanistan animal evacuation row today as they continue to attack the PM.

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, told the BBC this afternoon: “It’s just another example of the truth and Boris Johnson being strangers.”

Fair enough, this is what the political class does, it tries to hide crude power struggles behind ludicrous and often infantile exaggeration of wrongdoing by the other side. I keep telling myself it's just what they do, it's just politics, it's just a performance... 

But strewth - I sometimes wish they would grow up and move on.

Fake Snow

Artificial snow

Beijing has promised that all competition venues will be covered with "high-quality snow", despite the city only having a few days of snow in recent years.

Yanqing, the site of the ski centre, only receives an average of 21cm a year of snowfall - that's less than London.

But this venue alone needs more than 1.2 million cubic metres of snow for Olympic events. So instead, for the first time, 100% artificial snow will be used.

This was an issue that concerned the International Olympic Committee when they were evaluating candidate cities to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It said Beijing's "reliance on artificial snowmaking would require [the] diversion of water from existing reservoirs and may impact other land uses."

In response to the concerns, Beijing insists the water used for the Olympics accounts for less than 2% of the local water supply. It also says the snow cannons being used need 20% less energy than ones used in previous games.

The BBC labels this piece as a Reality Check. As we know, we can trust the BBC, or there is a certain aspect of it we can trust. This piece is an example of that aspect. We can trust the BBC to babble on about such things as a carbon neutral Olympics and the water and energy China intends to use to create fake snow. We can trust the BBC to label it as a Reality Check. 

No mention of the Uighurs or one or two other issues because this is a fake snow and carbon neutral Reality Check. We can trust the BBC to leave out real reality because they must if they are to cover the Olympics. And of course they must cover the Olympics - hordes of BBC staff will be looking forward to it.

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Two Headlines

'Superhuman evacuation effort' to save thousands trapped in cars as snow hits Turkey and Greece

Stranded motorists either spent the night in cars, abandoned their vehicles to walk home, or crowded metros in the Turkish city on Monday - while soldiers in Greece handed out food, water and blankets to drivers, some of whom were stranded in their cars for more than 10 hours.

Climate change threatening 22,500 UK ancient sites and buried treasures as peat bogs dry out, warn experts

As changing weather patterns continue to dry out peatlands, the buried artefacts they contain could be destroyed. One such famous find was that of Lindow Man, a preserved body of a man believed to be from the Iron Age that was discovered in a peat bog in Cheshire in 1984.


We encountered a road diversion the other day and ended up driving through a area not known for being salubrious.

This is what residents really think of 'most deprived' streets in Derbyshire

It was a wet Tuesday afternoon when our reporter visited the roads in the Skeavingtons Lane area of Cotmanhay.

According to government statistics, the area is the most deprived in Derbyshire so you might think that the residents we spoke to would be in a mood as gloomy as the skies. Not a bit of it.

The linked article is fairly upbeat and visually some parts are better than others. Yet it is still depressing to see how run down some areas of the country can be in our supposedly prosperous age. The article skates over the shabby and neglected appearance of areas such as those we drove through and were pleased to leave behind.

Maybe everyone who lives there likes it well enough or puts up with it. Maybe those who don’t like it made strenuous efforts to move elsewhere. Expecting wall to wall gentrification would be crazy of course, but from what we saw, levelling up has a long, long way to go.

Grim. Even driving through it was grim.

Monday 24 January 2022

Lost Connection

Man’s life consists in a connection with all things in the universe. Whoever can establish, or initiate a new connection between mankind and the circumambient universe is, in his own degree, a saviour. Because mankind is always exhausting its human possibilities, always degenerating into repetition, torpor, ennui, lifelessness. When ennui sets in, it is a sign that human vitality is waning, and the human connection with the universe is gone stale. Then he who comes to make a new revelation, a new connection, whether he be soldier, statesman, poet, philosopher, artist, he is a saviour.

D.H. Lawrence - Reflections on the death of a porcupine and other essays (1925)

As Lawrence said, we are always exhausting human possibilities, always degenerating into repetition, torpor, ennui, lifelessness. In the modern era we see it most clearly in certain visual areas such as the arts, architecture and city centres.

We also see it in the degenerate nature of softer sciences where both science and scientists are being bent to the needs of political projects and posturing. Scientific funding is directed towards the pursuit of policy goals as opposed to deeper insights. Bent towards careers as opposed to vocations.

What are we to make of a situation where our human connection with the universe is gone stale? It is a sombre assertion because it is not obvious what can be done about it. We do need to connect and reconnect and connect again. As Lawrence saw, it is not a static need.

How about that new revelation, a new connection? To my mind, this would require some kind of cultural revival in education, politics and the media. In the arts too perhaps. It sounds unlikely but maybe that's the torpor speaking. Covid suggests there is a lot of it about.

Our Quango Rulers

Jim McConalogue has an interesting piece in Comment Central. It is a familiar angle on an old problem but Dr McConalogue reminds us how pervasive and unaccountable rule by quango has become.

Our MPs need to take back control from the COVID-19 quango state

To rephrase an old adage, we might nowadays insist that we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the European state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed by the COVID-19 quangos. The point is brought home again, given that it seems clear we must review again the way in which government decides when to use quangos to deliver objectives – and if they can (at all) provide genuine public accountability.

The problem is that many of our quangos have been deciding on huge swathes of government policy yet remain insulated from parliament. It would serve the Cabinet Office well to review how it directs policy to enact law through such public bodies in a way that appears accountable to the electorate.

Similar to our 47-year experiment with European political, judicial and social integration, the uncontrolled growth of administrative power continues to raise serious doubts about whether we can work within our regular democratic practices, including the supreme role of parliament – as accountable to the public – in our governing arrangements. The promise of accountability has worn thin.

I saw the problem up close during my career. Environmental monitoring and enforcement was gradually centralised from the seventies onwards, supposedly to bring in certain efficiencies. [Pause for hollow laughter.] In the end it turned out to be a gradual move from local approaches and local accountability to rule by national quango. 

When I retired, it was already well on the way towards rule by EU quango and this highlights a feature of national quangos. They seem to be comfortable with ceding power to transnational quangos, appearing to welcome a gradual loss of direct responsibility as a corresponding loss of direct accountability. 

Sunday 23 January 2022

Good Runner


Serving Up Cringe

Jamie Oliver 'employs cultural appropriation specialists' to avoid potential recipe insensitivities

TV chef Jamie Oliver has come under fire in the past for products such as "punchy jerk rice" and a recipe for Jollof rice - and he is not the only one, with Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and even Marks and Spencer also having faced criticism over their versions of traditional dishes.

I'm sure he'd be better off inventing a few politically incorrect recipes such as wokeballs on sourdough or a racebait jus. Or put some special offers in the Guardian such as one for the price of three. Must be lots of tasty possibilities there. 

Saturday 22 January 2022


GMC Yukon

LAPD investigates Arnold Schwarzenegger car crash after woman is injured when the star rolls his GMC Yukon SUV over a Prius and then onto a Porsche Cayenne after lunch with his son and daughter

It's a good job Arnie has previously expressed such a passionate level of concern about the climate emergency, otherwise we might wonder if he really meant it. 

Average fuel consumption reported by owners of the GMC Yukon SUV is about 17mpg although that will be US gallons. Probably less than that when trying to drive over a Toyota Prius though.

National Dimwit Watch


Pedestrians and their priorities

Pedestrians will now have priority when crossing the road at a junction.

Motorists will have to let them cross if they see them waiting, even if it slows down your journey.

We've always followed the so-called new rule because so many dimwits walk across our street junction without looking. Sometimes they are not even playing with their mobile phones. They stroll across with not even a slight turn of the head to check the traffic behind them. Completely oblivious. 

Over the years we've prevented many serious injuries that way. Plus a few broken mobiles. It would always have been our fault though. Motorists know that.

Friday 21 January 2022

A Vigilant Eye

How good it is to know that a vigilant eye is fixed upon you, lovingly protecting you against the slightest error, the slightest misstep. This may seem somewhat sentimental, but an analogy comes to my mind—the Guardian Angels that the ancients dreamed of. How many of the things they merely dreamed about have been realized in our life!

Yevgeny Zamyatin - WE (1920-21)

It is clear enough that people are divided in their attitude towards government. Some people, particularly those in the public sector, seem to think it is on their side - looking out for them with a vigilant eye. Almost in a parental sense.

Others know very well that government is no guardian angel and a vigilant government eye is not necessarily what we want. Especially in our surveillance age. In a democracy the vigilant eye should look inwards too, but governments know very well that most voters are not vigilant enough to bother.

Even in a democracy it is seems to be virtually impossible to vote against any government agenda, let alone vote to reform its major institutions. The BBC, NHS and state education are good examples of this latter problem. As politically formidable institutions, they have to be reformed very carefully and very slowly. Even so, they are powerful enough to defeat proposals for fundamental reform.

We even have a major political party whose function it is to guard them against reform with a vigilant eye. With many vigilant eyes we might say. Plus the Guardian’s vigilant eye we might add. Plus the BBC’s vigilant eye. 

The BBC is a good example of a vigilant eye. Nobody can be unaware that we have reached a technological era where the compulsory licence fee is not morally sustainable. Televisions are no longer bought primarily to watch BBC television. A generation is growing up which barely knows what BBC television is. Netflix yes. Xbox games yes. BBC - it's for oldies.

The moral conclusion has become embarrassingly plain. It is simply wrong to deliberately perpetuate a system where people are threatened, taken to court, fined and even jailed because they fail to pay…

Fail to pay what? Pay the BBC licence fee and you are protected against threats, harassment and court action. What do we call that – protection money? In a moral sense perhaps it is and the BBC protects it with a vigilant eye.


 I thought the video in the previous post might disappear. I don't know why it has, but it's always a risk these days.

Thursday 20 January 2022

Underlying Cause


Two Knocks

After a unfairly sketchy peep at Christian Wakeford's career, it does seem as if Boris has managed to lose a career creep. Maybe Sir Keir should have rejected him and made an issue of the rejection. Not the traditional approach to party defections, but Christian does not come across as a political asset. 

Then we have this -

Ouch! Sir Tony Blair says there is no plan for Britain’s future as Boris Johnson is simply not prepared for Brexit and tech revolution

Criticism from Sir Tony is not what it was. He carries too much baggage and also reminds us that Sir Keir does not have his charisma. Or any charisma whatsoever. Two knocks in two days.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Christian Defects

Christian Wakeford: Tory MP defects to Labour telling Boris Johnson he is 'incapable of offering leadership'

Christian Wakeford's defection comes after about 12 Tory MPs handed in letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson this morning and ahead of PMQs where the PM fought for his political life.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford has defected from the Conservatives to Labour amid growing Tory unrest about the prime minister.

As he crossed the political divide, Mr Wakeford told Boris Johnson that "you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves".

Crikey, what an exciting day, an MP I've never heard defects from Conservative to Labour. I hope he knows what he is doing. He's scuttled off to the the party which once saddled itself with Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It's a clue. There are others.

Dangerous Depiction

Dairylea advert banned for 'dangerous' depiction of two girls hanging upside down while eating cheese

The Dairylea advert joins a number of others from big brands to have been banned during recent years - including ones from BrewDog and Alpro.

An advert that shows two girls hanging upside down while eating Dairylea cheese triangles has been banned after people complained it could encourage dangerous behaviour.

The video on demand ad, broadcast on ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5 in August, featured the pair hanging upside down from a football goal before one opened the cheese snack and ate it.

A total of 14 viewers complained that the advert condoned or encouraged unsafe behaviour that could be dangerous for children to emulate.

So a total of 14 viewers was enough for yet another click of the miserable, priggish ratchet. We need a collective noun for such people, although maybe we have quite a few already. Unfortunately officialdom doesn't use them.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Tuning out conversations

The other day found Mrs H and I in a café we hadn’t visited for a number of years, and yes we do visit quite a few cafés. Before a walk, after a walk, during a walk or instead of a walk, but we aren’t ones for pottering around the house all day.

To resume. We were in the café munching our way through avocado and poached egg on toast while at a nearby table a group of people were chatting away rather audibly. Not particularly loud but entirely audible. One woman in particular was holding forth about mental health.

What she was saying about mental health may or may not have been interesting, but there is something about certain people – I’m not sure what. Whatever it is, some people seem to emit a number of clues which suggest quite strongly that what they say won’t be worth listening to.

I’m quite good at tuning out conversations. So much so that a critic might turn it around and say I’m not very good at listening to them. Possibly so.

Mrs H is better than I am at picking up the gist of nearby conversations, but this time we both tuned out the mental health talk so that’s it. Neither of us knows what it was about. The lady did sound quite earnest about mental health issues though, I did pick up that much.

The avocado and poached egg on toast was very good by the way. The coffee too. We’ll go there again.


Daily NK recently obtained an original copy of the standards for selecting members of so-called “Unit 974,” the bodyguard unit tasked with protecting North Korea’s top leadership. The standards were reportedly changed last November, going into effect this year...

The source said bodyguards should be prepared to become “meat shields” (people prepared to sacrifice their lives), something children raised in carefree cadre homes would never do. He said because of this, the authorities choose children of laborers and farmers who are willing to die wherever and whenever just to hear that they “gave their lives in the line of duty fighting as revolutionary warriors loyal to the Supreme Leader [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un].”

Horribly fascinating, it almost makes the word 'bodyguard' into a euphemism. Not that anyone civilised would ever suggest that Harry is demanding meat shields. Tempting though. 

Monday 17 January 2022

Paltering with necessity

Can’t you see into yourself far enough to know that you are paltering with necessity? Are you such a feeble creature that you must be at the mercy of every childish whim, and ruin yourself for lack of courage to do what you know you ought to do? If instability of nature had made such work of me as it has of you, I’d cut my throat just to prove that I could at least once make my hand obey my will!

George Gissing - The Emancipated (1890)

BBC licence fee to be frozen at £159 for two years, government confirms

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Ms Dorries said the government could "not justify extra pressure on the wallets of hardworking households".

Following the two-year freeze, she said the fee will rise in line with inflation for the following four years...

In a joint statement, Mr Davie and BBC chairman Richard Sharp said the settlement would mean the BBC "will now have to absorb inflation".

"That is disappointing," they said, "not just for licence fee payers, but also for the cultural industries who rely on the BBC for the important work they do across the UK."

I don't know what 'cultural industries' are, but this is obviously another can kicked down the road. Those involved in the cultural industries may sleep soundly. 

Sound Market

For some reason, this morning Mrs H and I were discussing examples of pop music from our past which has been both horrible listen to but impossible to erase from the memory. We agreed that it would have been much better not to have wasted that memory capacity on such abysmal rubbish.

I suppose the discussion arose from Mrs H wondering who sang My Boy Lollipop and why something so ghastly still lurks at the back her mind decades later. I'm not even going to provide a link to it.

Who was the worst ever female singer though? That was the question we asked each other over slightly over-roasted coffee and a bun. Mrs H insists it was Cilla Black and I’m not prepared to argue although there are plenty of other potential candidates. It reminded me of an Alexa incident a few days ago.

Our TV prompted me to ask Alexa to play some relaxing music, so without thinking through the possibilities I did. Before I managed to switch the thing off, it played about ten seconds of someone called Billie Eilish who is famous apparently. I don’t know why, even worse than Cilla in my view. Few of us can avoid it altogether and maybe we shouldn't, but there is something horribly revealing about entertainment.

Sunday 16 January 2022

Heat Pump Woes


Heat pump woes from a guy who installs them. Probably familiar issues for most of us, but worth repeating as this is another bonkers scheme Boris should ditch without seeking Nut Nut's permission.

Begin with the Guardian

'Mickey Mouse' university courses could have student loans removed

Programmes with high drop-out rates and low levels of graduate employment will be under scrutiny

Universities are facing a crackdown on “Mickey Mouse” degrees as the watchdog threatens to withdraw student loan funding from low-quality courses.

I'd begin with courses connected with any university professor cited by the Guardian in the past ten years. To that list, add courses with some key words in the course literature such as 'gender', 'privilege' or 'climate'. From the combined list, weed out a small number which seem to be sound and the job's done.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Hospital Anecdote

I'm reliably informed by a family member that Royal Derby Hospital A&E wasn't exactly busy yesterday afternoon. The place was virtually empty with only two people in there.

Doesn't mean much and maybe they are now packed in like poorly sardines, but the anecdotes do mount up.

Maybe Boris upsets the right people

Sir Keir Starmer says booting out Boris Johnson over partygate scandal 'in national interest'

The opposition politician's scathing criticism comes after reports Downing Street staff held "wine-time Fridays" throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with alcohol fetched from a nearby Tesco Metro in a wheelie suitcase and kept in a specially bought £142 fridge.

It's an odd experience, but Boris Johnson's political difficulties suggest to this observer that the usual suspects do not find him adequately amenable towards their games in spite of appearances. The usual suspects are so creepy and dishonest that it is not at all difficult to assume the after hours Downing street 'parties' were more to do with fostering camaraderie, than anything else. Unwise at worst.

It's not a comfortable assessment, but when we take a gander at those making such a fuss and take another gander at Sir Keir's freak show and a final gander at the priggish, politically correct, barely sane establishment we are saddled with. Well - I'm inclined to side with Boris.

Friday 14 January 2022

Too many headers perhaps

Gary Neville: Ex-England footballer joins Labour Party

Former England footballer Gary Neville has joined the Labour Party and is not ruling out a venture into politics.

The ex-Manchester United captain was publicly welcomed to the party by shadow cabinet ministers Lucy Powell and Anneliese Dodds.

Neville told the BBC's Political Thinking podcast he had joined Labour "in the last few days".

When asked if he would run for public office, the 46-year-old said: "I'm not saying never."

Maybe it isn't only goal scorers who take the risks - heading the ball out of defence could be just as damaging. 

Field Work

…of all juries, the most incompetent, the easiest duped and misled, the least able to comprehend the questions laid before it and the consequences of its answer; the worst informed, the most inattentive, the most blinded by preconceived sympathies or antipathies, the most willingly absent, a mere flock of enlisted sheep always robbed or cheated out of their vote.

Hippolyte Taine on the French electorate - The Modern Regime (1890-93)

A few years ago, Mrs H and I were out on a walk, during which we found a very pleasant spot on a Derbyshire hillside to sit and eat our packed lunch. In the valley below, a chap was working with two dogs to herd a flock of sheep through a gate from one field into a neighbouring field. Once he’d done that, he had the dogs herd the flock back to the first field.

To our inexpert eyes he was using an older and more experienced dog to train a younger dog. Even we could see a clear difference between the ability of the two dogs. The sheep seemed quite used to the situation.

Of course there is an obvious parallel between this story and general elections here in the UK. So obvious it feels like a cliché. Like those sheep being herded from field to field, we voters seem to be herded between the two major political parties. An arrangement which seems to suit them both very well.

Upstart parties are in for a forlorn battle against both the inbuilt inertial of the first past the post electoral system and establishment hostility towards anyone likely to rock this cosy arrangement. Media hostility and indifference don’t help either.

This is wholly familiar, but it leaves us with the question of what we think we are voting for if only one of two parties has any chance of gaining power. A change of government? New directions? Social justice? One field rather than another even though the grass is much the same?

The recent pandemic has raised an old question about the nature of parliamentary power. It showed us how power is diffused into outside influences, including expert opinion. We heard it from the podiums although the process isn’t usually so public. We see it when the situation requires us to see it, but this time it was much more intense.

We never see all of it of course, but enough to remind us that power is much more diffuse than political rhetoric would have us believe. Who made the pandemic decisions? Do we know? Do government ministers really know? Yes, blame and finger-pointing are easy, but do we know how the diffuse miasma of pandemic politics arose, was modified and sustained? The risks weighed and assessed behind closed doors? The likely input of psychologists?

Taking it a step further, it is most unlikely that the Labour party would have handled the pandemic more effectively than the Tories. To begin with, we would have to know what “more effectively” could possibly mean given all those external influences.

We could go on to conclude that it isn’t possible to vote for a change of government. The overwhelming influence of people we didn’t vote for showed us that. It is possible to vote for different actors in Parliament, but not for a different government. Power is too diffuse for political actors to make much difference. It sounds unduly cynical but may not be, merely realistic.

There are no political guarantees of course, we do know that. Government power is so diffuse that there are no guarantees about anything, whichever party we vote for. There are no guarantees that whatever a governing party does would not have been done anyway. Or at least something similar would have been done because its time had come, events dictated it or irresistible outside influences demanded it.

It may be that voting for the least bad option is all we ever can vote for. Nothing else makes sense because nothing better will ever come to pass. Nothing better can come to pass, all we can ever hope for is a certain degree of integrity as the least destructive option. And as we know, even that is usually beyond our democratic reach.

It is hardly a startling claim to say that the political party system has subverted our democracy. Any new party would merely evolve into another field for the sheep. Yet modern technology allows us to follow the activities of our MP, see how they vote, read the speeches they make. It would not be at all difficult to vote for the person over the party, but we don’t.

Politics could be more fluid, party groupings could form and dissolve as they respond to events. Party discipline could be much less effective. Sounds good so bring back the Whigs and Tories of Sir Robert Peel's day we might say, bring back top hats and personal integrity.

It won’t work of course. Politics and government attract the corruptible and we voters are lazy. We would have to be far more clued-up than we are now. But the grass is always greener in the next field.

Thursday 13 January 2022

Non-members not welcome

A Derbyshire beauty spot has been criticised by visitors for being too expensive.

Hardwick Hall has received a number of recent negative reviews on TripAdvisor, claiming that the venue has become overpriced.

The Hall, near Chesterfield, is currently closed for essential maintenance work, but when it is open, it costs £16 per adult, £8 per child, or £40 for a family.

Towards the end of last year, I was due to arrange a short walk and a cafe visit for a walking group of former work colleagues. We'd settled on Hardwick Hall because it is near the M1 and handy for those who have to travel some distance.

The National Trust website seemed to suggest that as the cafe is on the other side of the entrance, all non-members in our group would have to pay the £16 entrance fee just to enter the cafe. A brief phone call to the NT confirmed that this was the case. Okay, they don't want the business so we went elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how this goes, because Hardwick Hall isn't particularly fascinating and £16 is steep for non-members who merely want to stroll round the grounds and pop into the cafe for a coffee and a bun. To my mind it's another example of the NT losing its way.

How interesting

MI5 has warned that Chinese government 'agent' has been 'active' in UK parliament, MPs told

Iain Duncan Smith told the Commons that Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has written to MPs to let them know he has been contacted by MI5 over the matter.

I don't suppose we'll ever know, but it would be fascinating to have a peep at the information passed on. Maybe it included assessments of individual MPs for example. Bound to be interesting.

Wednesday 12 January 2022

The knives are out for Boris

Boris Johnson apologises after admitting he attended Downing Street garden party for 25 minutes in lockdown

The prime minister, who has so far avoided questions over fresh allegations of a lockdown-busting party in Number 10, is appearing in front of MPs amid mounting pressure over the 20 May 2020 event.

It’s odd because I don’t think much of Boris, but my reaction to the latest pumped up scandal is a sense of mild relief. 

Maybe the so-called garden party was unwise or somewhat hypocritical, but at least we now know what we strongly suspected. Our leadership was not scared witless by pandemic media hype or the portentous bleating of expert caution. Good.

Perhaps we are now seeing the spite of thwarted doomsters and totalitarian nutters. Puritanical finger-pointing by those who always wished to see even more draconian lockdown measures, paramilitary regimentation and more severe punishment for small transgressions.

For example, I thought the voters of North Shropshire should not have voted for any of the major parties in order to stick two fingers up at the political establishment. Not that it makes the slightest difference, but I suspect I was dead wrong.

Maybe the most powerful vote at that particular time would have been a Tory vote because it was always the least bad option. Maybe we needed the least bad option at that time. The knives are out for Boris, but I don’t like the look of those wielding them.

Tuesday 11 January 2022

One for Jeremy to consider

N. Korean leaders order North Hamgyong Province to produce “model units of science education”

North Korea’s Ministry of Higher Education has ordered education officials in North Hamgyong Province to produce “model units of science education.”

This comes after the ministry conducted inspections of three universities in the province late last year.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that after inspection visits to several local universities last month, the ministry sat down with education officials from the province on Dec. 23 to analyze their successes and failures, as well as to discuss the creation of “model units” at the province’s universities.

Jeremy Corbyn could consider this approach. The creation of centrally directed "model units" in universities sounds like an excellent idea on which to launch his new political party. Maybe a national app could be developed to monitor compliance with the model.   

Education should be fertile ground for his political imagination. Another possibility would be a National Pencils Authority to tackle pencil inequality in primary schools.



From Dave R

Monday 10 January 2022

Veggie Ads

The other evening found us watching TV and both Mrs H and I remarked on the number of ads there were for brands of prepared vegetarian or vegan meals. Inspired by the unsubtle Veganuary nudge of course. Naturally the ads depicted healthy families bouncing around tables laden with healthy food. Apparently they loved to drool joyously over prepared veggie grub sold in recyclable trays.

Mrs H and I are not vegetarian but we prepare a few vegetarian or vegan meals for ourselves simply because we like the recipes. My home-made soups are all vegetarian for example. What we are not so keen on are prepared vegetarian meals found in supermarkets, especially those which try to imitate meat such as veggie sausages, veggie burgers or veggie chicken fillets.

Some of those TV ads showed close-up delights such as a ladle dripping globules of brown goo with an unpleasant sheen to the goo surface. It didn’t even look tasty which surely missed the whole, drippy point. Didn’t work for us at all but fortunately we had the sound turned off so we couldn't hear the drips. We always turn off the sound for the ads.

One of our favourite veggie meals is a bean and tomato pie we buy from a local farm shop. Red beans, onion, tomato and herbs in a pie and very tasty it is too, with not a drop of brown goo to be seen. Sometimes I wonder if TV ads put people off the products they push so hard. Those bouncy families are just so annoying.

Popcorn Party

Jeremy Corbyn 'could launch new political party' before election

Jeremy Corbyn is considering setting up a new leftwing political party before the next general election after being thwarted in his attempts to return as a Labour MP.

The former opposition leader, 72, lost the Labour whip in 2020 after refusing to apologise for comments he made about the anti-Semitism row that engulfed it during his tenure.

Sir Keir Starmer has made that apology a condition of being allowed to stand for the party at the next election, expected next year or 2024, something his predecessor is refusing to do.

Presumably Jeremy is planning to use his formidable management skills coupled with his known ability to unite differing political factions. Should be entertaining.

Sunday 9 January 2022

An Unknown Toll

COVID-19: UK tops 150,000 coronavirus-related deaths since start of pandemic after recorded 313 in last 24 hours

The UK's first reported COVID death was on 5 March 2020, less than three weeks before the country went into its first lockdown. The woman, in her 70s, was admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and tested positive for COVID-19.

One hugely disappointing aspect of the pandemic has been the unreliability of the numbers. There have been many deaths, we know that, but we don't know how many were entirely due to the virus. It isn't 150,000 but there would be a substantial grey area around any number, a morass of caveats and uncertainties.

Was it all worth it in a cost benefit sense though? We do know the answer that one - no. The overall cost has been too high, both economically and politically. Politically in that the flaky nature of our democracy is now out in the open and the governing classes have a clear idea of what they can do and how to do it without much opposition.

Yet whatever I tell myself and write here about the leadership of Boris Johnson, I'm pretty sure that the Labour party under Keir Starmer would have been even worse. A kind of bad cop worse cop scenario. Looking to the future, that is the real toll.  


We watched an episode of the 1960-63 Maigret TV series last night. A favourite of my parents at the time, I'd forgotten how watchable it was. A straightforward detective story, well done with no political correctness. 

Oh well - back to the present.

Saturday 8 January 2022


Of all the things of which we are uncertain in this world — and there are more every day — we can at least be sure that History has for one of its subjects the ultimate importance of trifles. A coin rolled on a table, a verse by Mr. Pope, a cabbage grown in a stubborn garden, a foggy night in Carlisle, a players’ booth in Penrith, scattered snow reflected like feathers in a lake —

Hugh Walpole - Judith Paris (1931)

Well you never know, instead of a foggy night in Carlisle, a cold day in Bakewell may turn out to be of ultimate importance. It’s a long shot but worth investigating. While we’re there I’ll look out for a trifle. It’s years since I sampled a good trifle.

And yet on a less trifling note, is interesting to dwell on apparently trifling events which had or could have had major impacts. If I hadn’t offered to buy Mrs H a Stella when we first met for example. If Boris Johnson had always kept his hair neat and tidy. If Tony Blair had become a rock star.

Or if the Colston verdict had been guilty - what then? Perhaps we would have retained a certain faith in trial by jury. Almost as if…

Friday 7 January 2022

Step 1, Step 2, Step 3


I like the way this video highlights how a series of apparently reasonable steps may result in an unreasonable outcome. Yet opposing the first step can be made to seem unreasonable or reactionary.

Boris insufficiently loony says loon

Covid: Drakeford accuses Johnson of failing to protect England

Mark Drakeford has accused Boris Johnson of failing to take the necessary action to protect people in England from Covid.

"The one country that stands up as not taking action to protect its population is England," said the first minister.

The comments come as Mr Drakeford announced Covid restrictions would not be relaxed in Wales.

Thursday 6 January 2022

The message

Novak Djokovic must wait days for deportation decision over Australia COVID rules - as father says 'he's in prison'

Djokovic faces deportation after his visa application was cancelled - having thought he could enter Australia through a medical exemption to avoid COVID vaccination.

Novak Djokovic will have to wait until Monday to discover whether he can play in the Australian Open after being denied entry to the country over COVID vaccination rules.

Djokovic faces deportation after his visa application was cancelled - having thought he could enter Australia through a medical exemption to avoid COVID vaccination.

As ever it is impossible to be certain without being a fly on the wall, but I'm with the cynics on this one - the message here is political. If we can detain this rich tennis celebrity we can detain you - think about it.

Leta, Angela and Joe

There is a point worth adding to the previous post. I didn’t add it at the time because it is more general and it seemed better to keep it separate. The point is this –

Without wishing to be sarcastic or derogatory, it could be said that GPT-3 is already smarter than a number of public figures. This is not to say that it is smarter than the person behind the public persona, but smarter than the persona. It is not difficult to think of public figures to whom this could apply and GPT-4 seems likely to make it even more apparent.

To take a specific example, again without wishing to be sarcastic or derogatory, but GPT-3 does seem to be smarter than Angela Rayner. Again that is not to say that it is smarter than Ms Rayner as a person because it probably isn’t, but it does come across as smarter than her public persona. Joe Biden would be another obvious example. Where does this take us?

It could lead us towards a world where anyone with a significant public persona has to raise their game or risk their public utterances being pulled apart by machines which are smart enough to do that effectively. Not a difficult task for humans we might think, but AI systems may acquire the added advantage of seeming to be inhumanly dispassionate as opposed to humanly biased.

In which case, AI systems may never become inhumanly dispassionate. They pose some obvious dangers, but one of them is a danger to established power. President makes a speech and publicly available AI system shreds every word almost as soon as it has been uttered. Not good for the established power.

It seems more likely that powerful AI systems will be required to support established power, perhaps even to be foolish and dishonest yet inhumanly authoritative as required. And of course to promote that same foolishness and dishonesty with implacable online vigilance. What we see now but even more effective.

Say it while you can seems to be the message.

Wednesday 5 January 2022



I’ve watched a number of similar presentations of the GPT-3 AI system and it is worth knowing that this series is based on text responses fed through an avatar as seen here. Not that it makes much difference, but what we see is not a spoken conversation. A number of things come to mind. 

The system responds pretty well to an unstructured and unrehearsed conversation. Not convincingly human but pretty good. 

It also seems to treat conventional opinion as akin to fact and is very conventional in most of its social responses. As a result, much of what it says is somewhat shallow in a glossy magazine sense, yet it is far from uninteresting.

More interesting overall is that the system may already hold up an uncomfortable mirror image of what we are. We play language games and as a game, an artificial intelligence may ultimately play those same language games more convincingly than we do. Perhaps more convincingly than any human. 

Or because it is so easy, most people may eventually choose to access the internet only through AI systems which know their tastes and interests. To those people, aspects of the internet could become permanently hidden. As may be the case already for those who rely entirely on social media and the big hitters in the global media game. Or the global language game we might say.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Wigs and Politics

Some North Korean forced labor camps giving more “production tasks” than last year

The Kaechon camp has received lots of thread to make knitted clothes, eyelashes, wigs and especially crocheted caps, knitted caps

It isn't easy to reconcile this with the "great life-and-death struggle" in North Korea though. Wigs and false eyelashes seem to lack something when it comes to the indomitable spirit and purity of the socialist revolution. 

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has warned of a "great life-and-death struggle" for his nation as he marked the end of his 10th year in power.

In a New Year speech, Kim spoke of a need to "push forward" with national defence build-up plans "without any delay".

But, in summaries of the speech published by North Korean state media, there was no specific mention of the United States and only passing reference to relations with South Korea and "external affairs".

Hardly Outspoken

EU on brink as majority of French call for end of bloc as we know it despite power grab

In the poll by Ifop-EuropaNova, commissioned by Le Journal du Dimanche, released on December 25, the majority of those asked call for an end to the EU. Once those polled who answered 'undecided' were excluded, 58 percent called for an end to the bloc, despite France taking over the rolling presidency. Of the 1,022 asked, 40 percent - which was the majority - called for a Europe of nations with greater sovereignty for France.

This was in contrast to the 29 percent who called for a more integrated Europe.

Although Emmanuel Macron will now take power of the Council of the EU, one outspoken critic labelled the bloc as "outdated and ineffective".

It could be said that "outdated and ineffective" is likely to be a fair approximation of the the majority view in this polling population. Not an "outspoken" view at all.

Monday 3 January 2022

Cry Wolf

Covid: Lincolnshire hospitals declare 'critical incident' over staff shortages

A critical incident has been declared at four Lincolnshire hospitals because of staff shortages due to Covid-19.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust said it was taking "additional steps to maintain services" at all its hospitals in Lincoln, Boston and Grantham.

The trust's medical director, Dr Colin Farquharson, said there were "significant staffing pressures due to absence related to Covid-19".

But he said essential services "remain fully open".

Strewth - yet another 'critical incident'. At some point a penchant for the dramatic is bound to attract diminishing returns in terms of sympathy. 

Things may or may not be critical in Lincolnshire, but hand-waving doesn't fit well with a professional approach to the problem. And it's extremely boring. Critically boring I'd say.

Horoscope for 2022


The stars are unequivocally vague for 2022. It doesn’t matter what your zodiac sign may be, the pandemic has fused them together into a single astral melange. Not surprising as the entire astral plane has been locked down due to unforeseen pandemic measures. Even the end of 2021 was unforeseen. Even so, the stars do have something to say -

January could begin tempestuously with indications of friction around the issue of contraband lard and the latest coronavirus variant – Ballsache which affects the entire population. Long, shouty walks may help here.

February seems quieter although the media are still deeply concerned about pointy graphs where the pointy bit is nearly vertical. As Venus minces into the fifth quadrant it is likely that awkward people will ask awkward questions about all this, but the stars suggest that listening to awkward people can damage your health. Be warned and steer clear of fake dishwasher tablets.

March is curiously interesting because lunar spangling in the Fourth Layer could lead to an unusual degree of vexation among Virgos. Everyone but Virgos should be fine apart from some indications that Mercury is in the ascendant and we know what that means.

April is entirely mysterious and although the stars clearly have much to say, they are keeping quiet about it. My guess is that it is something to do with Dark Forces or a new version of Ludo.

May is destined to be bright and cheery with lots of ideas, lots of good intentions and lots of interest in electric walking sticks. Unfortunately an astral glitch right on the cusp of Mars may well indicate that the walking sticks are really cattle prods. This could cause difficulties in queues at the Post Office. Those insulated trousers could come in handy.

June is a complete surprise because Boris finally manages to comb his hair, although the charts are somewhat mixed on this one. It could be that ‘comb’ is really ‘bomb’ because we know what Mars is like, but then it wouldn’t make sense and the iron laws of astrology would be violated. Although ‘hair’ may be ‘lair’ but whose lair? Or is it Blair?

July sees a little more clarity in the third quadrant of some strange behaviour by Venus. It seems to suggest that people who still wear masks in the street may begin robbing banks, but as banks are mostly closing down very few problems are likely to ensue. Unless Mercury cuts up rough with Jupiter of course, but that would be the end of everything.

August could be dull, especially as everything seems to be gravitating towards astral lockdown. A little late, but sometimes the stars just don’t know what is going on even within the Sixth Mesopause.

September is likely to be much less dull with lots of training days, Zoom conferences and numerous PowerPoint presentations packed with bullet points. All very invigorating apart from a lack of biscuits due to supply chain problems connected with Astral Zone Omega. Thanks to some vexatious trolling by Venus this not likely to be resolved in time.

October is best avoided by anyone born under Aries, Libra, Capricorn or Bedsock. Just take a break and relax is what the stars advise. Or some of them do, the others are sulking elsewhere.

November seems likely to be astrally delightful with enormous helpings of success, progress, emotional peace and cake. Nothing is likely to go wrong and anyway the huge asteroid soon to be barging its way past the Lunar Third isn’t really that big. Or is it?

December just isn’t there for some reason.

Sunday 2 January 2022

Leg count

US weekly podcast host Christina Garibaldi: “How has her [Meghan] style evolved since leaving the Royal Family?”

Eloise Moran, an author for Lady Di Look Book replied: “Absolutely yes, it’s evolved, I think we’ve kind of seen her ditch the classic tropes of what it means to be in the Royal Family...

So it’s very kind of young billionaire outfit, and it was kind of in the same way, Princess Diana used to visit New York and she kind of had this very business she wardrobe.

I think she definitely took cues from that, I think we saw that in the black and tan looks that she wore which was a collar palette that Princess Diana was so adopted when she went to New York...

“And in her short dress that she wore to Global citizen concert and it was a Valentina little white shift dress with lot of legs and high heels. I think you can see that there is almost a relief on her and she is a lot of freedom in her style.”

Even if she kind of left the Royal Family behind in an almost relief style sense, she must kind of retain the stuffy old two legs look. Even if she would like to have a lot of  legs and high heels and be kind of young even though she isn't.

Sounds like a culling opportunity to me

COVID-19: Contingency plans drawn up over fears a quarter of public sector workers could be absent due to Omicron

Boris Johnson is tasking ministers with contingency planning in a bid to reduce possible disruption to public services and supply chains caused by the current record-breaking number of COVID cases.

I didn't realise they had gone back to work. Whenever we walk past our council offices they seem to be empty. 

Saturday 1 January 2022

By the sea

Former prime minister given most senior order of knighthood

Tony Blair is to be knighted with the highest possible ranking in the New Year Honours List, Buckingham Palace has said.

The former Labour prime minister, who held the keys to Number 10 between 1997 and 2007, will be appointed a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry.

Still, I refuse to be downhearted. We are on holiday by the sea at the moment, so this morning we trundled off along the seafront in the rain, stopping off for an early coffee and a bun. 

It was also good to see a few hardy souls taking a dip in the sea too. I couldn't do it - far too nesh. I'd like to see Tony Blair do it though - 

"Go on Tony - just go out a little further. It will look good on the photo. Everyone will want a copy."