Thursday 31 March 2022

Looks like the A38 to me

Huge fly-tip dumped in Derbyshire country lane

It included rolls of 1970s-themed wallpaper, beer cans and bricks

A relatively short stretch of the A38 near us must have more junk than this cluttering up the verge. I'm not sure about the 1970s-themed wallpaper though, I don't recall seeing any of that.

Wednesday 30 March 2022

The Party Comes First

We already know how cynical political leaders can be, yet is it always useful to have it confirmed. 

As we also know, the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party will not affirm the realities of human reproductive biology for party political reasons. To do so would lead to a very public conflict with members of their own party and highly vocal activists.

Keir Starmer refuses to say if a woman can have a penis as he flounders while being grilled in trans rights debate

Angela Rayner says it is 'unacceptable' to ask a trans woman if they have a penis but you CAN ask trans men if they're pregnant - as she warns that gender row will 'damage people'

It's an extraordinarily extreme position to take. Even Australopithecus must have thoroughly understood what Starmer and Rayner prefer to misunderstand. The obvious follow-up question is to ask if there are any facts either of them would affirm if to do so would be politically detrimental. Clearly the answer to that seems to be no, there are no such facts.  

Would Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner refuse to affirm that their names are Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner should political circumstances require them to refuse? I think they would.

If political circumstances demand it, facts about climate change, green policies, pandemic policies, education, the NHS and the real world generally appear to have no Labour Party status whatsoever.  

Tuesday 29 March 2022

Monday 28 March 2022

Joe Biden is a classic example of a moral relativist

J. Budziszewski has an interesting piece in Mercatornet on Joe Biden's moral relativism.

Come on, man! The President as an ethical theorist

Joe Biden is a classic example of a moral relativist

Physicists tell us that time seems to freeze when we enter the event horizon around a black hole. Our current president in the United States has been frozen in the event horizon around the black hole of moral relativism for decades of conventional time. People think he has shifted to the left since becoming president. No, he hasn’t. He is right where he has always been.

The other party has its own difficulties with relativism. Mr. Biden, however, presents a particularly conspicuous and persistent case of what we might call the relativistic paradox: although relativists seem to say that there is no moral law, they insist on the moral rightness of their relativism.

It is well worth reading the whole piece as moral relativism will surely turn out to be be one of the four horsemen of our apocalypse. 

Governments coerce - they don't invite

COVID-19: 600,000 people to be invited for spring booster jabs next week

The news comes as infection rates climb to near-record highs in England, with an increase seen in all age groups and regions.

Biden denies being anything like Biden

Ukraine war: Biden denies calling for regime change in Russia a day after saying Putin 'cannot remain in power'

The US president had said on Saturday that Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power", words that sparked criticism among those who understood them as a call for regime change.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Counterproductive Sneering

Comment Central has a useful piece on Net Zero and the tendency of the Westminster bubble to sneer at anyone opposing any of their narratives however absurd they may be.

Sneering at those who doubt net zero will end up with the same result as Brexit

The 'Westminster Bubble' continues to push on with a net zero agenda whilst showing nothing but disdain for those who question the narrative. The more aggression which is shown to anyone with a different opinion to theirs, the more resentment will grow. This issue was not a headline of the manifesto at the 2019 General Election, and it is likely to pave the way for the kind of electoral shock Whitehall experienced in the 2016 EU Referendum, argues Jayne Adye, Director of Get Britain Out.

It is well worth reading the whole piece, including some of the comments. This comment for example.

We have to get a little more thick-skinned about being "sneered at" or being called names like "transphobic" or "terf" (in another context of course - it would be a little baffling, I'm sure in the context of climate change and energy!). They believe we care, or are cowed by their opinions. We aren't cowed at at all, and we couldn't give a flying flamingo, I hope, at being disapproved of, sneered at, or called names. And we need to dig our heels in and make our indifference clear.

Perhaps many of us are more thick-skinned than we were. We read, we understand and we generally know the difference between sensible, dodgy and downright ludicrous in spite of the sneering. If anything, the sneering gives them away.

Saturday 26 March 2022

Suspiciously Destructive

Conspiracy theories have a negative reputation, partly because some are loopy and partly because they widen the boundaries of what is possible. This widening of boundaries by conspiracy theories can be interesting and useful, but it does tend to take debates well beyond middle class comfort zones which are always too narrow for healthy debate.

Now we are confronted with woke culture, a middle class phenomenon which is so narrowly absurd that it almost demands a conspiracy theory to explain where it came from. Sending educated people mad surely requires some explanation beyond picking apart the madness, so here goes.

Woke culture is an entirely fake culture, not one which arose naturally in response to evolving social, technological and economic circumstances. It is a concocted political culture designed by elites to sell a global Malthusian project by significantly downgrading middle class expectations in much of the developed world.

As many useless acquirements are, woke culture is mostly sold by snobbery. Elites have persuaded middle classes in much of the developed world to be snobbishly woke about culture and class, creating a powerfully significant class divide with curiously low expectations. Destructively low expectations we might say.

Some more conspiracy - much of this fake political culture we call woke was achieved by the huge expansion of university places. This expansion was intended to sell a destructive culture to a large number of comparatively untalented middle class graduates. They in turn would eventually sell the same culture from positions of influence in the media, politics and the public sector.

Of course all this could be accidental with no elite conspiracy at all. Woke culture could have other causes, none of which were engineered by the long-term machinations of global elites. A conspiracy theory with no foundation in reality perhaps.

However it is certainly worth dwelling on the destructive aspect of woke culture, because this ought to be suspicious. For example, Net Zero could be described in many ways, but it hardly stretches any rational boundary to describe it as suspiciously destructive. As for that pandemic we still seem to be stuck with…

Friday 25 March 2022

As if the lies take over

The BBC has a piece on the takeover of Notts County FC in 2009 which turned out to be a scam. It interested me at the time because I used to pass the Notts County ground on my daily commute. 

Notts County and the conman: Following your team through a football scam

The first game of the new football season feels the same no matter what team you support. There's a heady mix of excitement and anticipation, a first look at new signings, a clean slate to dream that this might be the year.

When I took my seat at a packed Meadow Lane for Notts County's first game of the 2009-10 season, that first-game buzz was like nothing I had ever experienced, because something incredible had just happened.

Less than a month earlier, in July 2009, League Two Notts County had been taken over by a mysterious consortium called Munto Finance. They had stated their bold ambition to reach the Championship within five years and pledged to back those plans with untold wealth.

To my innocent mind, the curious thing about it is that it was always bound to fail as the money wasn't there. As if the lies just take over and run the show until it hits the inevitable brick wall. 

I'm reminded of Net Zero. Much bigger and not the same at all, but also bound to fail as dependable 24/7 green, non-nuclear energy isn't there. Again - as if the lies just take over and run the show until it hits the inevitable brick wall. 

Thursday 24 March 2022

High Tree


The main Matlock road bridge was closed this morning. We were just in time to watch a riverbank tree being hauled up from the bank below onto the bridge where it was cut up into logs and smaller branches were fed through a chipper.

Quite impressive to watch people doing what they know how to do using the right equipment. It makes an enormous change from reading political drivel emitted by people who are as useful as earache. As we watched it was sobering to consider which group forms the legislators of all our UK governments.

Apart from men and machines, the job also required fossil fuels. What happens to jobs like this after Net Zero though? Maybe trained beavers will be used in future, or huge genetically engineered woodpeckers.

Propaganda Bung

Ukraine war: BBC World Service granted extra funding

The BBC World Service will receive more than £4m in extra funding from the UK government to help counter disinformation about the Ukraine war.

The BBC made the request for the money, which will also be used by the Ukrainian and Russian language services to cover urgent and unexpected costs...

"The BBC has seen a big demand for clear, fact-based, impartial journalism to counter disinformation and our teams are working around the clock to bring people the very best independent journalism," BBC director general Tim Davie said.

That would be "clear, fact-based, impartial journalism" unless the issue has anything to do with the environment, climate, energy, sustainability, gender politics, immigration, history, education, free speech, personal choice, the TV licence, race, politics, the EU, Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

I've long thought the the BBC wished to be the official English language media source for the EU and in spite of Brexit still hasn't given up on the idea. This is not my clear, fact-based impartial view, merely a guess.

Wednesday 23 March 2022


There was a time when shadow ministers were expected to know what they were talking about. The shadow women and equalities minister, for instance, would be expected to know basic things like the definition of the word “woman”. Not any more, however: the current office-holder, Anneliese Dodds, couldn’t give a straight answer to the question a couple of weeks ago. Now her predecessor in the post, Charlotte Nichols, has raised the stakes even higher. Wading into the debate about men’s participation in women’s sport, the MP for Warrington North has used Twitter to blast anyone who refuses to accept that a six-foot-one male swimmer is a woman.

Clearly this is worth explaining, but it isn’t easy. Or rather it is easy but most explanations make assumptions about mental processes we infer but cannot observe. Intentional lying for some kind of social or political gain could be an example. Political spite could be another. Stupidity or cowardice two more.

There is obviously something suspicious in the ease with which we discover in a set of ideas precisely those properties needed to account for the behavior which expresses them. We evidently construct the ideas at will from the behavior to be explained.

B.F. Skinner - Verbal Behavior (1957)

It may be simpler to explain what we see on the surface rather than a multiplicity of ideas about what goes on inside the woke skull. On the surface, woke folk are not necessarily lying in the normal sense of the word. They are not saying something they know to be untrue, but playing a game which disallows certain aspects of language. Part of their ability to describe reality is quashed. 

In which case, most woke folk are not saying one thing and thinking another. Maybe some are, but on the surface they are consistently woke and for practical purposes this is what matters - the surface. It's where the damage is done.

Awkward people have a disposition to use language which makes contact with the real world. Others have this same disposition but it is weaker and more easily quashed by social pressures. Something we commonly observe in numerous social situations. Reality can be quashed within language games.

We are social beings disposed to form worthwhile allegiances and with that comes imitation, especially the imitation of language games. We have such dispositions even at the cost of quashed realities because once a reality is socially quashed there is no social cost. On the contrary, there can be a social benefit to quashed realities in any language game.

The woke folk referred to above are playing a language game we call gender politics. It is not necessary to define what is going on inside their skulls. It is simpler to observe how the game is played, because that tells us that an aspect of reality is being quashed by their fashionable language game. There are aspects of human reproduction which woke folk cannot express. Simple observation tells us so.

We already know this but tend to ignore it, yet it is the main danger posed by political discourse. The woke nonsense quoted above is a reflection of how dangerous and powerful language games can be. They can extinguish reality for so long that eventually it has to be learned again.

When 'stand by' = 'dump on'

Rishi Sunak is expected to pledge to "stand by" hardworking families and set out further plans to support people with the rising cost of living when he unveils his spring statement later.

It is understood the chancellor will unveil proposals intended to build "a stronger, more secure economy" as people across the UK face growing household bills which have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

Nothing to do with absurdly futile government climate goals of course. Nothing to do with hosing money at an exaggerated pandemic either. 

Tuesday 22 March 2022

The rules of the game

How would football fans use their general election vote to vote against the new bureaucratic measures quoted in the previous post? It's a rhetorical question of course, because as we know they can’t. 

A huge protest might achieve something, but the most likely outcome of that would be a more gradual phasing in of the new measures, not their abandonment. Even a party political commitment to abandon the idea would not be a reliable reason to vote for that party.

We all know voting makes virtually no difference to the wider political game either, the game Disraeli referred to as the Great Game. Even the words ‘virtually no difference’ may be too optimistic because, Brexit excepted, voting makes little difference to how the Great Game is played.

Yes there is a certain residual satisfaction in casting a vote and even a spoiled paper is a gesture. Maybe that is all we should expect a vote to be – a gesture. Perhaps that is all it was ever likely to be with such a huge number of voters.

There is still a strong inclination to vote for the least bad option as a feeble attempt to prevent things from being worse than they need be, but even that seems futile. Things already are worse than they need be.

A culture of professional political persuasion seems to be one problem lurking in the roots of the thing. Professional persuasion isn’t new, but professional political persuasion has become very much like a toothpaste ad without even the possibility of choice. The ingredients are not up for debate. You want nice clean teeth don’t you? Of course you do.

The Great Game has become a theatre of persuasion, not a public debating arena. The last piece of the bureaucratic jigsaw, the final gloss applied to decisions already made.

These are the new rules – you know they make sense.

Monday 21 March 2022

The roar of the crowd, the smell of the bureaucrat

Len Shackleton has a piece in CAPX on a proposed new football regulator.

The Government is planning to legislate to implement the findings of Tracey Crouch’s Fan-Led Review of Football Governance. This calls for major changes in the way English football is run, with the Government imposing an independent regulator (IREF) and mandating major changes to the way clubs are managed. However well-intentioned, implementing these proposals would be a mistake.

What fun. I don't know about well-intentioned though, this sounds much more like bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.

Under the proposed regulatory model, clubs will be required to submit a wealth of information – including detailed business models and regular financial updates. There will be strict limits on permissible losses. Clubs will have to restructure their boards and put equality, diversity and inclusion programmes in place. They will have to set up arrangements for a fan body to hold a ‘golden share’ giving veto powers over certain club decisions, and separate arrangements for a ‘shadow board’ to be consulted regularly.

And let us not forget important issues such as the calorie content of the pies and Net Zero targets. No floodlights for those evening matches. 

Sunday 20 March 2022

A photo for sale



Today we saw this photo for sale in an antiques centre. It looks like a studio portrait photo of a young woman from perhaps the 1920s or 1930s. We often see old portrait photos for sale in antiques shops but have no idea who would buy them. Sometimes it's clearly the frame rather than the photo, but this photo was in an entirely uninteresting frame.

Yet many decades ago she went to a photographic studio and sat for a portrait photo. She could have been a celebrity but I don't recognise her. Maybe it was a family photo of a daughter, friend, wife or lover, her name and history now forgotten. 

Many items  of this type seem to come from house clearance. Photos and ornaments swept off the mantlepiece or sideboard because nobody wants them. Or there is no longer anyone who could want them, who knows what they are and why they were on the sideboard.

Saturday 19 March 2022

Blown Off

For some reason, this BBC story reminded me of an investigation I became involved in decades ago. I don't know why because there may be genuine concerns behind the story, but there we are. Yes, even though it is a BBC story there could be something in it. Memory sometimes makes strange links though.

Decades ago I became involved in the scientific investigation of a complaint made to the local authority by a middle-aged woman who lived alone. She complained that she had been sitting on the toilet having a quiet smoke, had flipped her cigarette end into the toilet and immediately a small explosion blew her off the toilet onto the floor.

Smiles all round of course, but there are always concerns about such things as methane seeping into properties, so the protect your back approach was adopted by the bureaucrat dealing with it. If I remember rightly, I was involved in the atmospheric gas analysis.

Of course, after lots of sampling and analysis we didn't find anything. We weren't surprised either, because the person making the complaint was obviously a trifle nutty. That became pretty clear as soon as we turned up at her house with van loads of equipment. 

Anyhow, nothing came of it, somebody wrote her a reassuring letter and as a young and impressionable chap it taught me a valuable lesson. Loons consume an enormous amount of time, effort and resource.

As independence dies

Brian Balkus has a worthwhile Palladium piece on the demise of hopes for a multipolar world after the Ukraine conflict.

The Multipolar World Dies in Ukraine

What does it take for a country to be able to determine its own future? As Russian Iskander missiles hammer Ukrainian cities, that existential question has become live for the great powers once again.

For Europe especially, the first and most urgent answer to this question is the necessity of independent military power. For the past several years, French President Emmanuel Macron has been a major advocate of European “strategic autonomy.” In the wake of the invasion, this has received a newfound sense of urgency and acceptance in Germany and elsewhere.

The whole piece is worth reading as yet another aspect of EU failure, a project which was never going to be what its proponents claimed. As Balkus says, as well as defence failures, Europeans have not even attained the prospect of energy independence.

The Europeans may regret their decision, with the exception of France, to move away from nuclear power as a baseload energy source and accelerate the closure of their nuclear plants. It takes between five to seven years to build a new nuclear plant, but having long abandoned the process knowledge needed to build these projects, even those schedules may be unachievable for Europeans. The first new nuclear reactor built in Europe in 15 years went online in Finland this month; the project started in 2005 and was delivered 13 years after it was initially scheduled to be completed. Nuclear is no longer an alternative in any time frame that would matter for Europe.

Friday 18 March 2022

Ukraine’s other battle

Louis T. March has an interesting Mercatornet piece on Ukraine's dismal demographic prospects.

Tired of hearing about Ukraine? Thought so. But if you follow demography, Ukraine is an interesting case, though a real basket case. Yours truly just has to weigh in...

Before February 24, the three top issues of concern in Ukraine were the war raging in eastern Ukraine (2 million displaced persons), pervasive corruption (in government and business) and emigration. The last was particularly vexing. In fact, the steady stream of people leaving the country inspired The Atlantic to run a piece last year headlined “Ukraine’s Quiet Depopulation Crisis”:

In a United Nations study, the top 10 countries ranked by their projected population decline over the next 30 years are all in post-socialist Eastern Europe, an area characterized by low birth rates, small numbers of immigrants, and large numbers of departing citizens.

In a wider context, demographic decline feels like a slow disaster we never get to grips with and the mainstream media generally ignore. It seems to be particularly acute in Ukraine though. The whole piece is well worth reading as a diversion from the war itself.

Chaotic conditions in Ukraine make it hard to compile accurate statistics. Ukraine’s estimated death rate (deaths per 1,000 people within one year) is between 14.7 and 16.3, one of the world’s highest. The birth rate, one of the world’s lowest, is estimated from 8.1 to 11.0.

The most widely agreed-upon figure on the fertility rate is 1.23, one of the lowest in Europe. The last time Ukraine had replacement-level fertility (2.1) was in 1987. Infant mortality hovers between 6.3 to 7.1, the third highest in Europe behind Albania and Moldova.

Well before the 2014 coup and the 2022 invasion, Ukraine was already locked in the vise-grip of chronic modernism. With falling fertility, low life expectancy and one of the highest emigration rates on the planet, if “demography is destiny,” it doesn’t look good.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Entirely incomprehensible

Phyllis Chesler has a Tablet piece on - well you decide. I suppose it's about peddling woke nonsense within institutional psychiatry. Not an unfamiliar problem in a wider sense, but it does remind us that nonsense can be useful in erecting academic barriers. Not that many people would wish to climb these barriers.

I began the research that led to my pioneering work, Women and Madness, 53 years ago. The book challenged institutional psychiatry, psychology, and psychoanalysis. Thus, I was especially interested in attending the opening panel of Barnard’s 47th Scholar and Feminist Conference on Living in Madness: Decolonization, Creation, Healing. The panel was titled “Willful Subjects*: Decolonizing the Psychiatric Institution.”

With some exceptions, the speeches were entirely incomprehensible.

The whole thing is worth reading as a reminder of just how far down the rabbit hole it is possible to go in academic circles. All the way then further than that seems to be the answer.

Although the speakers employed a pseudo-Mandarin language meant to impress, dominate, and silence, I was nevertheless able to comprehend this much: They argued for the destruction of boundaries and borders of all kinds; viewed chaos as “liberating” and “revolutionary”; and tended toward romanticizing “madness.” While I initiated the view that psychiatric diagnoses can certainly be stigmatizing and punitive in ways that are sexist, racist, and classist, I have never romanticized psychological suffering as “liberating” or “revolutionary.” It is, rather, a trip to hell, one never chosen...

I must admit: I understood very little of what the second speaker, Dr. Emily Ng, said. Her study was based in China. She did not criticize totalitarian communism, Maoism, the mass murder of many millions, the ongoing genocide of Uighur Muslims. She spoke about “ghosts,” “spirit possession,” and “mediumship” versus “diagnoses.” While China was never “colonized,” she still wanted a “cosmo-political universe” that was more “porous.”

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Desperately Dull Drama Drastically Done to Death


A sign of our times is how melodrama is commonly used to add a heavy dose of histrionic exaggeration to anything which appears to stand in the way of a woke agenda. As reality itself stands in the way of a woke agenda, that can be a problem even for accomplished dramatists. Or journalists as we used to call them.

For example, here we have two gripping melodramas - The Ripped Up Rulebook and A Secret Weapon.

Boris Johnson rips up climate rulebook as he moves to replace Russian supply of oil and gas

Pressure to guarantee the country's energy security means Boris Johnson is putting aside a key commitment to the planet.

Scientists have discovered a microscopic ocean predator with a taste for carbon

The single-celled microbe, which is capable of photosynthesis as well as hunting and eating prey, could be "a secret weapon in battle against climate change".

By gum. A horribly ripped up rulebook, a key commitment to the planet devilishly done to death and a secret weapon in the battle for the planet. What more could we wish for apart from boring old veracity?

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Fraud and confusion

Alan Kennedy has a sceptical piece in TCW on the Nudge Unit and its offshoots.

Sage advice built on fraud and confusion

FOR two years our daily lives in the face of Covid have been ruled by a coterie of experts in ‘behavioural psychology’, a breed of psychologist that seems to have appeared from nowhere. I speak as a psychologist who has been in the business for a good many years. It is worth asking, who are these people, and how did they come by these insights into the workings of the human psyche? Insights so profound that they merited our unthinking obedience? ...

A useful orienting date for an answer is 2011 – the year the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee produced a report on ‘Behaviour Change’. A succession of experts from the world of social psychology had induced their lordships to swallow Nudge Theory hook, line and sinker (the infamous MINDSPACE protocol dates from 2010). Their report is still worth reading, if only to see how groupthink works. The committee accepted as hard fact a host of assertions which were, even then, patently questionable; for example, the proposition that our thought processes (and behaviour) are largely under the control of factors of which we are unconscious. We may be rational if we want to be, but it’s the environment that unconsciously nudges us, like prodded sheep, one way or another.

My impression from way outside the field is that psychology attracts far too many inadequate and even crooked recruits. Yet it is also possible to discern some silver linings such as this example via the MINDSPACE link above - the number of deaths needed to receive as much media attention as 1 death from a volcano.

The numbers may not be generally known, but media distortion is certainly well understood. Amid the fraud and confusion, we could eventually see a kind of gravitational attraction towards good data and a corresponding attraction towards governments as a craft where there is some degree of pride in basing policies and decisions on good data. 

This kind of sceptical outlook as represented by the TCW piece is not difficult to find, nor is it difficult to understand. Over time, easy to find and easy to understand ought to take us somewhere better.

Monday 14 March 2022

Kitchen Gadgets

Mrs H and I were browsing round some expensive electrical kitchen gadgets this morning. Cookery gadgets with lots of buttons each of which promised to come up with perfectly cooked food with almost no effort at all apart from bunging in some ingredients. Some of them connect to the internet which sounds scary.

The trouble is, decades of experience tells us that apart from the simple ones, most electrical kitchen gadgets end up in the back of a cupboard waiting for a decision on final disposal because they are nowhere near as useful as we’d hoped.

By far the best are the oldies such as microwave, kettle, toaster and bread maker although our recently acquired soup maker is good. We also use a grill thing for making toasted cheese sandwiches and a little gadget which makes perfect boiled eggs. Both were cheap, both are simple and both work well

In other words, we already have simple electrical kitchen gadgets which work well and however hard we try we can’t see much use for anything more complicated. Especially gadgets which connect to the internet. 

So we didn’t buy a new toy for the kitchen.

Peak Insanity


I like the way this chap expresses himself on modern lunacy. Sometimes words in a blog aren't enough and don't get to the heart of the madness inflicted on us. 

Sunday 13 March 2022

Sunday Driver

While driving back home today we came moderately close to hitting another car where the driver had just driven through a red light. He came out of a slightly confusing junction where a left and a right turn are both controlled with traffic light filters. He'd clearly seen the green left filter and turned right through the red light.

Not particularly alarming as we habitually look out for dud motorists. This one drove as if he was a Sunday driver unfamiliar with the road. Mrs H didn't think he had any idea that he'd driven through a red light.

It does make a chap wonder about the Highway Code though. Road users have to pay attention and show some courtesy if they wish to avoid accidents. An endless catalogue of rules can't protect us from Sunday drivers wandering through red lights. I wouldn't care to be a local Sunday cyclist though - not with that chap trundling around. Lycra isn't much protection.

Saturday 12 March 2022

Selection by consequences

As many will already know, Prime Minister David Cameron's government established the Nudge Unit in 2010.

The Nudge Unit was established in the Cabinet Office in 2010 by David Cameron’s government to apply behavioural science to public policy. Now owned partly by the Cabinet Office, by Nesta and by employees, it has operations across the world.

What is the Nudge Unit doing on coronavirus?

The Nudge Unit is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care in crafting the government response. The most visible manifestation of its influence to date is in the communication around hand-washing and face touching – in particular the use of “disgust” as an incentive to wash hands and the suggestion of singing Happy Birthday to ensure hands are washed for the requisite 20 seconds.

B.F. Skinner said that behaviour is selected by consequences and here we see mass behaviour being manipulated in just that way during the coronavirus debacle. The adverse consequence in question being serious illness or even death.

We may reasonably assume that for about twelve years we have been governed and controlled by psychological pressures designed by experts in the craft of covert persuasion. Yet it doesn’t feel like that, it feels just as crude as it always was. No more subtle than toothpaste ads.

If behaviour is selected by consequences, then it is not an option. It must apply to both nudged and those doing nudging. Yet elites still seem to act as if their behaviour is somehow immune to consequences. One conclusion we could draw from that is that elites are not constrained by adverse consequences because for them there are few adverse consequences.

Yet the supposed point of the Nudge Unit and its successors is to make government more effective by nudging the wider population towards desirable goals. Yet if those goals were attractive in the first place, then they would attract the wider population towards them. There would be no need to nudge apart from providing dependable information about those desirable goals.

Perhaps we should be cynical, not that we aren't already, but often the political point of the nudge is to nudge the wider population away from something, not towards it. That something is likely to be a state of affairs thought to be only enjoyable by elites. Only sustainably enjoyable by small number we might say. Hence Net Zero.

Behold - we are back with Malthusian politics again. The right side of history is the comfortable side but elites don’t see it as big enough to accommodate all of us. We are being nudged away from that and have been for some time.

Friday 11 March 2022

It's worse than we thought

Covid deaths probably three times higher than records say

More than 18 million people - three times higher than official records suggest - have probably died because of Covid, say researchers.

Their report comes two years to the day from when the World Health Organization first declared the pandemic.

The Covid-19 excess mortality team at the US's Washington University studied 191 countries and territories for what they call the true global death figure.

This is a response to the WTWT market or the Worse Than We Thought media market. Supply and demand working as it should. 

On the other hand, deaths from all causes since Christmas in England and Wales have been below the five year average and that isn't worse than we thought. In other words this report has little or no WTWT value.

Thursday 10 March 2022

The worst ever

Hattie Turner has a piece in CAPX about the Bercow bullying issue.

Bullying Bercow is gone – but are staff any safer in Parliament?

With his pomposity and verbose interventions at PMQs, John Bercow seemed like an entertaining and charismatic figure to those outside Westminster. But for anyone who has worked in Parliament, it’s a very different story.

The Independent Expert Panel’s report into Mr Bercow’s conduct describes him as ‘intimidatory’, ‘undermining’ and often in use of ‘threatening conduct’. One researcher who has worked in Parliament for decades told me, ‘Bercow was the worst ever [and] an extremely biased Speaker…There are no words to describe how toxic the place had become under his Speakership.’

Bercow was certainly the worst Speaker I can remember, although his predecessor didn't shine either.

Thankfully, things have now improved somewhat. The Members and Peers Staff Association (Mapsa) along with Unite representatives in Parliament and the then Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom MP, set up the first Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme (ICGS) prior to the 2019 election. This now gives staff a process for dealing with abuse and bullying, meaning the Standards Commissioner has the authority to confidentially investigate complaints. Another long-serving researcher told me, ‘I am pleased we now have a system where victims, even of one of the most powerful people in Parliament, can hold abusers to account. Shame it took so long and not until he was already out of Parliament, but this is a huge step forward.’

This is containment of course, because that is what the machine prefers to do. Resolving the core problem of electing people we shouldn't remains unresolved. That one is at least partly a problem for voters to tackle but we won't.

The Egtved Girl

In romantic fiction there is a popular plot type known as 'woman in jeopardy' and the discovery of the Egtved Girl seems to have fitted the plot very well. I recently watched a documentary on her, which was okay but mingled with the science was the possible drama of her short life. 

She was young, strong and very courageous, but she met an untimely demise in the summer of 1370 BC. Many were saddened by her death and devastated by the loss. This documentary film is a spectacular time travel to a more or less unknown epoch of humanity - the Bronze Age. It answers the all of the questions this age and lifts the veil of mystery surrounding the girl from Egtved.

To my mind the drama was too prominent, depicting among other things a young actress setting off from home then struggling through forests or gaily pushing a wooden cart with a few other Bronze Age hippies or bathing naked in a lake.   

Her grave was a fascinating archaeological discovery in itself, but in terms of media interest it was much more fascinating once it appeared to be scientifically established that she came not from Egtved where she was buried, but an area we now know as the Black Forest hundreds of miles away. Not only that, but she apparently did the journey a number of times. Hence the 'woman in jeopardy' enthusiasm.

It's a complex issue, but put very briefly this huge journey was established using bioavailable strontium isotope ratios in her tooth enamel and hair which derived from food she consumed and particularly from the water she drank. And the beer of course. These strontium ratios are characteristic of particular geological areas. Suitable DNA samples were not available, her corpse being almost completely decayed.

Fair enough, but my immediate reaction was to check the science behind those strontium ratios. The distance she supposedly covered more than once could cast at least some shadow of doubt on the strontium method and so it turns out. There are also concerns about sampling areas where farming has contaminated the soils.

It's an interesting story, and even some of the professionals in the documentary were clearly enthused about the drama of it. Nothing wrong with that, the point of doing the science is to elucidate a story. Makes it worth doing, but it does highlight how willing we are to weave science into stories which are merely one possibility and not necessarily the most likely.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Keeping it in the family

Mercatornet has a piece on the UN career of Xi Jinping’s wife and her role in the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Xi Jinping’s wife is a UN envoy for promoting ‘empowerment’ for women and girls.

Chinese are outraged at how badly poor and disabled women are being treated in their country

A Chinese woman called Peng Liyuan was appointed in 2014 as the UNESCO Special Envoy for the Advancement of Girls’ and Women’s Education, with the mandate of “supporting girls’ and women’s empowerment through quality education.” She has been quietly kept in this position until today.

When Peng visits countries on behalf of the UNESCO, she is often introduced as a “world-famous soprano and folk singer,” although as an artist she is unknown outside China. However, her talents as a singer are not the reason why she is a UNESCO Special Envoy. She is there because she is the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. She had already been appointed by the World Health Organization “Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS” with a press release calling her “a famous Chinese soprano and actress,” and hiding that she was the wife of Xi Jinping, then China’s Vice President.

Peng started “empowering women and girls” early enough. In 1989, the Chinese Army and State Security killed some 10,000 students in Tiananmen Square during the June Fourth Incident, including a good number of young women. Peng dressed in a military uniform went to celebrate and sing for the “victorious” troops in Tiananmen Square.

What a fine organisation the UN is. 

Tuesday 8 March 2022


Had a call from our log supplier today. He's inundated with orders and can't deliver our annual load until early May. Not a problem for us because we still have plenty, but people seem to be stocking up early.


The other day, Mrs H and I visited a large and unattractive local shopping centre. We rarely visit this one but if the weather is poor and we are in the area we sometimes drop in for a coffee and an idle stroll round.

To begin with, we popped into a first floor coffee shop so we could sit by a window and gaze out over the vast car park for a while. It gave us a sense of being above it all even though we weren’t.

After a while, Mrs H mentioned the coffee shop acoustics because there were about twenty people in there yet it wasn’t at all noisy. As if the acoustics had been designed to subdue the buzz of nearby conversations and create a sense of calm. We have no idea if the acoustics of such places are designed this way, but that was our impression.

A little later in a vast clothing emporium I sat waiting while Mrs H tried on a pair of linen trousers in the changing room. For some reason I listened closely to the ambient music, trying to pick out the words of the songs. After a few futile minutes doing that, I scaled down my ambition to see if I could pick out a single word. Just one would do.

Nope. My hearing isn’t top notch, but I failed to recognise a single word. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be listening to any of the words. Maybe they weren’t any. Perhaps the ‘songs’ were all supposed to be nothing more that wordless laments, formless cries of entitlement and loss, only to be assuaged by spending therapy.

I don’t know how they worked it, but by the time Mrs H came out of the changing room I hadn't managed to pick out a single word from any of the songs. Not even ‘the’ or ‘and’ or even ‘spend’. For all I know it wasn’t English, but a kind of formless consumer lament playable anywhere in the world. 

Apparently the linen trousers were a good fit though. Satisfyingly cheap too.

Monday 7 March 2022

Couldn't happen here

In North Korea via Daily NK
N. Hamgyong Province cracks down on side businesses to curb electricity use

The province must carry out national construction plans and the “people’s economic plans” with limited electricity supplied by state-run power plants, a source told Daily NK

North Hamgyong Province recently launched a large-scale crackdown on individuals with side businesses as part of efforts to curb their consumption of electricity.

Blimey - thank goodness there are no official plans to ration our use of electricity here in dear old Blighty. Only extreme totalitarian regimes seem to do things like that.

Sunday 6 March 2022

An existential threat


It cannot have escaped the notice of anyone that we are seeing an alarming rise in the use of the word 'existential'. If this malign trend continues much longer, we may soon see the public arena entirely engulfed in piffle, drivel and balderdash. Possibly all three.  

We need UK versions of that


We'd need lots of versions of course, starting with the BBC.

Saturday 5 March 2022

Early Computer Clubs

My incredibly complicated whizzy laptop has informed me that the the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club was held on March 5, 1975 - just 47 years ago.

The Homebrew Computer Club was an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and technically minded hobbyists who gathered to trade parts, circuits, and information pertaining to DIY construction of personal computing devices. It was started by Gordon French and Fred Moore who met at the Community Computer Center in Menlo Park. They both were interested in maintaining a regular, open forum for people to get together to work on making computers more accessible to everyone.

It reminds me of an amateur computer club I helped form in Derby in the very early 1980s when microcomputers had already begun to fascinate a wide range of nerds. We had a few members capable of building their own computer variants but I wasn't one of those.

I began with a Sinclair ZX81 then moved to the dizzy heights of a Commodore VIC20 complete with disk drive. In real terms it must have cost considerably more than this laptop on my knee. I must have spent an enormous amount of time writing software, experimenting with machine code and trying to do the football pools on it.

Looking back I'm not entirely sure what the fascination was, but maybe that is because we've all become entirely accustomed to computers in the home. In those days we weren't and it is no longer easy to recapture the sense of excitement that something technologically important had arrived and we could actually write our own programmes on it.

Happy days.

The Destruction of Beauty


Anyone could choose similar examples and it isn't a new phenomenon, but does seem to be far more common than it was. Perhaps it isn't woke to be attractive, not unless you are a celebrity.

Friday 4 March 2022

No cells here

New 'smart' prison with no bars on windows and cells called 'rooms' is no 'soft touch', says justice secretary Dominic Raab

Inmates at HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, will also be called "residents" by prison staff to assist in their rehabilitation. The 1,700-capacity jail will also feature a gym, snooker table, table tennis table and a tablet to gain new qualifications.

Sounds fine, but what about a progressive alternative to solitary confinement? 

I suggest one of those nice 'rooms' with a TV screen set into the wall playing the speeches of Jacinda Ardern 24/7. It wouldn't be called 'punishment' of course. 'Treatment' perhaps. As 'treatment' it would not be too harsh, comfy even, but with just a hint of official disapproval.

Effective nonsense

As an addition to the previous post, we all know what a vast amount of nonsense infests the internet. Generally easy to spot for those paying attention, but unfortunately some of it is emotionally effective nonsense, particularly the political version. We have known about the problem in its various guises for a very long time –

The possibility that poetry may be effective in an emotional way, though otherwise nonsense, has often been recognized. Thus A. E. Housman writes:

Even Shakespeare, who had so much to say, would sometimes pour out his loveliest poetry in saying nothing.

Take, О take those lips away
That so sweetly were forsworn,
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn.
But my kisses bring again, bring again,
Seals of love, but sealed in vain, sealed in vain.

That is nonsense; but it is ravishing poetry.

As Joseph Conrad, in describing an example in Lord Jim, says, “...the power of sentences has nothing to do with their sense or the logic of their construction.”

B. F. Skinner - Verbal Behavior (1957)

Thursday 3 March 2022

Imagine a Book

Imagine a book which sums up human behaviour with powerful and completely unmistakable accuracy. Almost everyone who reads it sees its power after only a few pages. Almost every reader is entranced forever by what they read. It tells us why we act as we do, how our actions and even our thoughts arise and how they may be steered towards social objectives.

There are of course a huge number of books making this kind of claim or lesser variants of it, but what if a universally compelling book of insights into human behaviour were to be published? The Book we could call it.

It does not require much imagination to foresee that governments and other powerful vested interests might wish to suppress the Book and keep its insights to themselves. They would wish to use its behavioural insights without those same insights being used on them.

There are many ways by which censoring the Book could be achieved, but the most effective could be the nature of the Book itself - most people simply refuse to see themselves as predictable automata. The Book impresses almost all of its readers, but a vastly greater number do not even read it. The Book might not be earth-shaking and overt censorship may not be necessary.

Clearly, if it were to become widely read, the Book could endanger governing elites by opening up their behaviour to accurate analysis and criticism. Governments, NGOs, media, charities and big business don’t want this. They all have a common if covert aim, to maintain a situation where the broad mass of people are naïve when it comes to their own behaviour.

Naïve is simple and amenable to comforting myths, yet the Book could scatter those myths to the winds of fundamental change, social and political. Unfortunately for governing elites, we now have the internet which offers vast amounts of information and the corollary of that is that we realise how much we don’t know. Even worse, we realise that neither does anyone else, including the elites who control our lives.

The vast scale of the internet may even be a threat to naivety itself, especially the political naivety ruling elites depend on. Not an immediate killer threat, but a slowly evolving threat. People might even want to read the Book but fortunately for elites it doesn’t exist.

Or does it? Is the internet the Book?

Wednesday 2 March 2022

The rise of written-off anachronisms

The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

George Orwell - Wells, Hitler and the World State (1941)

I've used this quote before, but it's what we are seeing now of course – written-off anachronisms which were never written-off at all. Which we should have known and guarded against but our elites were too busy with personal sound bites, virtue signalling, celebrity culture, climate change, gender politics, racism, diversity, equality, sabotaging merit, screwing up education and just lately grossly overreacting to a virus.

And let us not forget – abusing, side-lining and censoring those who have been pointing out the foolishness of it for decades.

An object of indecipherable bastardy


Yesterday we decided on a walk to Riber Castle from Matlock. We've been there quite a few times but this was a new route for us - pretty well straight up the hill from the river. 

Riber Castle is a 19th-century Grade II listed country house in the hamlet of Riber on a hill overlooking Matlock, Derbyshire. It is built of gritstone from a local quarry which was pulled up the 200-metre (660 ft) hill by a series of pulleys.

Known locally as "Smedley's Folly" because of the difficulty of getting water to the hill summit, it was built by the industrialist John Smedley in 1862 as his private home. His wife lived in it until her death in 1892. After the death of Smedley's wife, the castle became a boys' prep school until this became financially unsustainable in the 1930s. The architectural historian John Summerson attended the school in the early 20th century. While he enjoyed his time at the school, the building's architecture had lesser appeal; he described the castle as "an object of indecipherable bastardy – a true monster".

It's certainly an oddity which can be seen for miles, but at least it looks like a castle from a distance. Seen up close it comes across as bonkers even though restoration work still seems to be going on. There are more architecturally interesting houses in nearby Riber village, so that contrast doesn't help.

The Wolley family acquired the Riber estate around the end of the fifteenth century. Indeed, the three-storey east wing of the Manor House with it’s mullioned and transomed windows – which Pevsner described as “a most felicitous picture” – has the initials GW and MW along with a date of 1633 inscribed on the gable-end. Writer & Historian Roy Christian thinks the lower, west range could be ‘much earlier’.

Tuesday 1 March 2022

The courage to believe in experience

Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood. Although they bring freedom in the end, the approach to them seems sacrificial, and many prefer to live in the glamour of intuition, not having the courage to believe in experience.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)

It does take courage to believe in experience. As a consequence it is possible to condition people to be dumb. Straightforward stimulus, response and reinforcement will do it. Reward people for being dumb with social and official approval. Reward them socially or financially for saying dumb things. It happens on a vast scale and we know it happens.

Tell people we are all doomed by climate change and it’s our fault. Offer social or official approval when they demonstrate a range of appropriate behaviours, particularly verbal behaviours such as deploring consumption, condemning capitalism and praising sustainable energy. That’s it and it works. We know it works if we have the courage to believe in experience. 

Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood. These are the antidotes, but even today they are only partially welcome or understood. In some respects it seems to be worse than it was in Santayana’s day. Experience suggests there will be reasons for that too.

It's the wrong word but –

Without wishing to belittle in any way the ghastly nature of the Ukraine conflict, if we stand back there is something nebulous but possibly significant floating above the smoke. The conflict has a faint but distinct aura of 20th century naff. No – naff is certainly not the right word to describe what is happening, but stand back and perhaps in a limited sense it is not wholly inappropriate.

What we see is an absurd, knuckle-dragging, throwback of an armed conflict. Something we should have left behind and risen above after the vile obscenities of two world wars plus other horrors such as Korea and Vietnam.

Yet what we see also throws a light back onto our supposedly progressive culture. It highlights how desperately feeble and thoroughly naff our culture has become with its endless stupidities. Climate change, gender politics, hate laws, censorship and ludicrous economic fantasies, all of which should have been consigned to cultural history along with the naff political garbage. But we have lost sight of naff politics.

The conflict is obviously horrible in a desperately serious way, but oddly enough it is horribly naff too.