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Sunday, 26 March 2023

Fake



Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng discussed fees with fake firm

Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng agreed to work for a fake South Korean company for £10,000 a day, footage from a campaign group appears to show.


It's easy enough to see the attraction. That's far more than they get working for a fake democracy. What made them think they were worth it though?

Canker



John Drewry has a fine TCW piece on the destructive canker that is bureaucracy. 


March of the red tape brigade

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws – Tacitus

I’M always fascinated by how small, non-profit, social enterprises begin – and how they inexorably end up. Take an amateur theatre. A group of enthusiastic thespians get together to put on plays in the village hall or scout hut. Everybody mucks in choosing a play, casting each other, allocating one as a benign, overseeing director, building and painting a kind of set, sewing some costumes together, sourcing the props and furniture. It expands, with new people joining, and before you know it there is specialisation of labour – someone becomes Treasurer, another Secretary, there’s Box Office, Wardrobe, etc. Very soon, those positions acquire their own importance, certainly in the eyes of the occupiers. Politics and territory raise their heads. People fall out and storm out. Administration and attendant bureaucracy have appeared from nowhere and acquired their own reality, even casting into the shadows the original aspiration, which was simply to enjoy putting on plays. Something ‘much more important’ has manifested. Something totally unproductive.


The whole piece is short and well worth reading. It offers a sense of inevitability - this is what we are like, this is what we do when we try to organise ourselves without certain constraints. Yet I'll add one of the comments as another example of how sinister and repressive bureaucracy has become at every level, almost without anyone noticing. 

Pancho the Grey
This sort of thing seems to beset many voluntary groups and end up alienating many of the original members. My experience is a good example.

I joined an ad hoc group of voluntary woodworkers working in the local country park - all retired and amateurs except one guy who had retrained after giving up a high pressure, well paid job in IT.
We had a variety of skills and were familiar with a range of woodworking machines and hand tools. We fixed park furniture, made signs and other artefacts of practical use, and in our slack moments we made items for sale to generate funds for the charity that helped support the park. In almost all cases we used timber from fallen trees in the park. We worked well together, made cases for additional tools or begged and borrowed them from the local community.

Then the local authority realised what we were doing and suddenly the Health & Safety team paid us a visit. We were told there should be proper training for the machinery many of us had been using for years, that risk assessment should be carried out for all the processes we were engaged in and so on. I won't detail it all but I am sure you get the idea.

What had been for me a relaxed experienced dealing with like-mind individuals whose skills we all knew, it was like going back to work. I put up with it for about 6 months and then left to the more conducive surroundings of my own workshop. None or the original team now remains, and I understand that the restrictions have become even more intrusive..

I'm also the kind of person who would just leave in these circumstances. Leaving doesn't achieve anything positive for the group though. It merely becomes more compliant than it was - maybe compliant enough to survive the next bureaucratic assault. It's a form of selection.

A sense of remoteness

 

Source

While fighting off a recent lurgy which is now subsiding, one idea which flitted though my mind was to imagine what it might be like standing on the surface of Pluto. Perhaps the idea popped into my head because illness does induce a sense of remoteness and Pluto is certainly remote.

The idea isn’t feasible of course - nobody will ever go to Pluto. There are all manner of practical considerations. For example, with all that frozen nitrogen around a chap would obviously need a particularly stout pair of shoes to stave off rampant chilblains. Nike trainers wouldn’t do at all.

Levity aside though, the Pluto idea does offer a hint of something. A tiny, insignificant planet, it would surely offer us a very good sense of the chill reality of ancient, lifeless loneliness. This in turn should remind us that the whole universe is filled with just that - ancient, lifeless loneliness.

The universe may be unimaginably vast and majestic, but maybe out there on the edge of the solar system, Pluto would remind us of something else – a familiar question. What is it all for? It could also lead us to a not unfamiliar answer. Nothing - it has no purpose.

Saturday, 25 March 2023

It's your duty - process the doom



Climate change: Why we struggle to process the doom

There are many different ways to respond to this week's report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fear being one of them

How do we react to these kinds of statements?

"Humanity is on thin ice and that ice is melting fast."

"The world has suffered greatly from ongoing climate change."

"More poor people die. In every heatwave that we have, thousands of people die."

All said about climate change by people who really know their stuff in response to this week's report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).



It's the message of our times - believe, believe, believe. You have no right to doubt, analyse or reject. You are the little people and your role is to believe. If you don't then there is something wrong with you.

The underlying message is so clear it is almost surprising that more people are not offended by it. Or maybe it isn't surprising.

Friday, 24 March 2023

Thursday, 23 March 2023

What kind of person do you think I am?



Asks Australian Senator Lidia Thorpe

Predictable



Boris Johnson says No 10 leaving do was 'absolutely essential for work purposes'

The former prime minister faced nearly three hours of questions from a cross-party group of MPs investigating whether he misled parliament by denying he failed to follow COVID rules during events at Downing Street.


The concocted tedium of the Boris Johnson party saga is surely a reminder that the establishment will not tolerate unpredictable leaders. That is to say, any leader liable to do something popular but not in accordance with establishment wishes. 

Even though he is no longer Prime Minister, a potential loose canon such as Johnson is still pursued relentlessly and it doesn't matter how trivial the accusations are, nor even how accurate. We saw much the same thing with Donald Trump on a bigger and even more relentlessly fabricated scale. 

Presumably Liz Truss had been identified as potentially unpredictable before she became Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak seems highly predictable, possibly more so than Keir Starmer.    

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Fearsome Fungus Farrago



'Worrisome' deadly fungus spreading through US at alarming rate

The fungus, Candida auris, was identified in Asia in 2009 but was first reported in the US in 2016. The number of infections in the country has risen by 95% between 2020 and 2021.


'Worrisome' and 'deadly' - sounds as if it could be even more serious than a Met Office yellow triangle. 


"But we don't want people who watched 'The Last Of Us' to think we're all going to die," Dr Javaid said.

"This is an infection that occurs in extremely ill individuals who are usually sick with a lot of other issues."



Hmm - sounds like a tiny number of possible correlations which depend on the reliability of death certificates. 


Since November, 12 people in the state have been infected with four "potentially associated deaths", according to the state's health department.

Sing cuccu



It’s a lovely morning here in Derbyshire. Sunshine and blue skies. Far too early to think of summer, but for some reason the actual weather and political weather remind me of that well-known medieval song.


Starmer is icumen in,
 
Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,

Sing cuccu!

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Origins



Biden vows US will 'declassify' information about COVID's origins

The US president's commitment via newly signed legislation comes after FBI director Christopher Wray revealed the agency thought the virus "most likely" came from a Chinese laboratory leak in late 2019.

Mr Biden's bill, which he said would only limit the sharing of any information that "would harm national security", comfortably passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives.

A likely laboratory leak cannot be a surprise to anyone paying attention, but the announcement does leave us with a tacit admission that some pandemic information is still classified. 

None of which comes as a surprise, but releasing some information is not the same as being open and transparent. Maybe they hope enough people won't notice that.

Builders and Destroyers



The world is filled, not with good and bad people, but with the builders and the destroyers, and the battle between them is eternal.

Hugh Walpole - The Bright Pavilions (1940)


There is much to recommend this idea as the basic political divide – builders and destroyers. Somewhat tongue in cheek perhaps, but it isn’t a new idea. Political radicals have always wanted to tear down old systems in order to replace them with something new and noble which unfortunately doesn’t work.

Taking it a little further, we could modify Walpole's idea and suggest a division between builders and bunglers instead. Yet destroyers are almost always destroyer/bungler hybrids so this isn't quite right either. Suppose we refer to the hybrids as destroyers for simplicity.

In which case, the basic political division is not left and right, socialists and capitalists and all the other ists, but this more fundamental, more visceral division. A division between men and women who aim to build for future generations and those who do not because the incentive to build has been dissipated within the comforts and complexities of modern life.

It is something many people appear to have noted for years, especially via the internet. Those who build, make, repair or grow tend to see the world in a far more pragmatic and constructive light than those who live by words rather than deeds. It’s a crude division but maybe there is something in it, something at the core of our wider political interactions.

The orthodox climate change narrative is a destroyer’s narrative. Net Zero is a destroyer’s policy. The focus is on cannot do rather than can do. The promise of a better world tomorrow is subservient to the destruction waged on this one today.

As for gender politics, we certainly see destroyer politics there. The aim is to destroy biological science and commonplace certainties. They are gone, destroyed, expunged in pursuit of a victory of words over the very basis of life itself. The ultimate in wordsmith arrogance if ever there was one.

Destroyers tend to be political, builders apolitical as far as they are allowed to be by the need to oppose destroyer narratives. All of our major political parties are filled with people not necessarily good or bad, but the ambitious find it easier to be a destroyer rather than a builder. The destroyer vote is much easier to address.

It’s why we have cancel culture because it is a necessary destroyer strategy - destroy the possibility of debate. There is no point being a destroyer who values pragmatic analysis – that would turn a destroyer into a builder. Doesn’t make sense, but cancel culture as a necessary destroyer strategy does make sense.

Inevitably, mass media pander to destroyer sentiments. It’s easier and cheaper and the market is a large one. The number of people living on words rather than deeds has grown enormously over recent decades and it has not been a healthy growth.

Let us hope Walpole was right and the battle is eternal. It doesn’t seem so at the moment.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Survival Guide



UN climate report: Scientists release 'survival guide' to avert climate disaster

UN chief Antonio Guterres says a major new report on climate change is a "survival guide for humanity".


Meanwhile -



The YouTube video description says - 

We are having a near record cold, snowy and long extended winter in the western US. The US government says we are suffering from declining spring snow cover due to the burning of fossil fuels.

To make nothing out of something



So much for the effort and ingenuity of Montmartre. All the catering to vice and waste was on an utterly childish scale, and he suddenly realized the meaning of the word "dissipate"--to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Babylon Revisited (1931)


There's a lot of it going on in the modern world, making nothing out of something. It’s what convinced Malthusians do, but they don't dissipate their own something. Their focus is always something belonging to social classes below their own, classes they think should have more nothing and less something.

Malthusians dissipate what isn’t theirs. Energy is the big one, but there are many others and even some intangibles such as democracy, knowledge, science, freedom, Brexit. They are particularly keen to dissipate your vote, to make nothing out of something. 

Sunday, 19 March 2023

Snakepit



Dr Tom Goodfellow has an interesting TCW piece on Kate Forbes and the SNP leadership election.


Could Kate Forbes survive the SNP snakepit?

ALTHOUGH I have lived in England for most of my life, I remain proud of my Scottish heritage and have traced my ancestors, on my father’s side, back for six generations to the early 1700s in Crawford, Lanarkshire. For such a small nation Scotland has produced a wealth of great men and women involved in all aspects of science, medicine, and culture...

Fast forward to the present. A headline in the Scottish Daily Express in August 2022 read ‘The Nats have destroyed five centuries of Scottish educational excellence in just 15 years‘. This sentiment was echoed by many other publications and reports which demonstrated declining standards in maths, science, and English. Things became so bad that the SNP government withdrew from international comparison tables to avoid embarrassment.


Scottish political events provide much to baffle this distant Derbyshire observer, but the whole piece is well worth reading. "Snakepit" seems about right.

A siren-like alert



Public emergency alerts to be sent to all UK mobile phones

A siren-like alert will be sent to mobile phone users across the UK next month to test a new government public warning system.

It allows the government and emergency services to send urgent messages warning the public of life-threatening situations like flooding or wildfires.

The test is expected to take place in the early evening of 23 April.

Phone users will have to acknowledge the alert before they can use other features on their devices.

This idea was floated a while ago and it's not difficult to see where it is likely to go. The coronavirus debacle also tells us that many people will think it is a good idea and those who differ will be ignored. 

It's remarkable how far the health and safety game has developed over a few decades. Maybe we'll be treated to a siren-like alert when a Net Zero power cut is about to occur.  

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Where political gremlins lurk



Karl Williams has a useful CAPX piece on net immigration assumptions behind Jeremy Hunt’s Budget.


Political gremlins lurk in the OBR’s immigration numbers 

Most macroeconomic forecasts contain a few gremlins – questionable assumptions or inconvenient details – that help nudge the underlying model towards the results its authors or patrons want to see. The ‘Economic and Fiscal Outlook’ (EFO), published on Budget days by the OBR, is no exception...

So what of Jeremy Hunt’s Budget on Wednesday? Well, in this case, the insidious figure lurking within the accompanying data was not exactly difficult to find, for it was the same as in the November 2022 Budget, only bigger – 19.5% bigger, to be precise.

Lots of factors go into GDP growth. One is the size of the labour force. Hunt’s welcome push on economic inactivity was partly a reflection of this. But most of the workforce growth comes from additional net migration, with the long-run annual rate revised up by 40,000 to 245,000.

That's more than an extra Milton Keynes every year, or maybe another Blackpool each year. The whole piece is well worth reading.

The Moor



It was always an odd thing to do, overnight camping on the moor. I’ll never do it, but I wasn’t surprised when Karl gave it a go. The moor has a vaguely spooky reputation and Karl can’t resist that kind of thing. He once spent the night in a derelict house in the middle of nowhere. I don’t regret giving that a miss either. 

On returning from his overnight sojourn, Karl told me all about it in the pub over a couple of beers. Because I know the moor quite well, I was interested to hear where he’d found to camp. Up there it’s pretty bleak even in early spring. Not much shelter and yes – it is spooky at times.

“I cheated really”, Karl began. “You know those big clumps of rhododendrons near the edge of the moor? Well I waited till dusk and managed pitch my little tent right up close to a huge clump of them, away from the paths so I’d be out of sight.”

“You wouldn’t expect to see anyone on the moor that late anyway,” I replied.

“No but I wanted to be inconspicuous. Invisible if possible. I tucked myself away in case anyone was nosey enough to ask what I was doing.”

“Okay, so it’s dusk and you managed to camp out on the moor. I can’t really say anything about being inconspicuous - I’d have climbed right inside those rhododendrons and stayed there till morning. So then what?”

“Nothing much. I slept quite well on and off, but It was noisier than I expected. Odd little sounds during the night, a stiff breeze sighing through the rhododendrons and that copse of silver birches made a kind of moaning sound. Then there were owls and little scuttling noises. Plus a few people wandering across the moor in the early hours.”

“Really? What were they up to?”

“I didn’t ask. I just heard footsteps on the path round about 1am then again round about 2am. In both cases I peeped out to see someone legging it across the moor towards the stone circle. Taking a short cut after a late night I suppose.”

“And that’s it?”

“No, not all of it. There was something else but it’s not easy to put it into words. Nothing spooky or anything like that, but I did become very aware of something weird out there. Something on the moor, in the moor and sort of - sort of everywhere.”

“Ah – what kind of weird? Something juicy going on in the stone circle?” I’d become more interested.

“No, nothing like that, but strange enough for a few goosebumps. I became aware of myself in an odd way, aware of everything. The tent, sleeping bag, bumpy ground, prickly heather, darkness, the moon, stars, rhododendrons, wind. All that and more, all together. Intensely concentrated. As if I’d become aware of all the background input we usually filter out.”

“You weren’t smoking anything then?”

“I don’t as you know - and it wasn’t only the noises and the people. The moonlight was bright enough to see they were just people so they weren’t much of a mystery . I had to make sense of unfamiliar surroundings and that was where the strangeness seeped in. It wasn’t voluntary.”

“What wasn’t voluntary?” I wasn’t quite following him at that point.

“The need to make sense of it all. It just pressed in on me like a great cloud of something soft, alien and knowing. It invaded the tent, invaded my mind and I, the essential person I am – I had nothing to do with it.”

“Surely that’s fairly easy to explain –“

“It is, but we don’t usually get a sense of how unimaginably vast it is, the vastness of everything beyond peripheral awareness. The infinite complexity of reality, we just screen out most of it because we have to.”

“I suppose it is vast when you think about it.”

“But that’s the point, you can’t think about it - it thinks about you.” Karl finished his beer before going on. “We aren’t conscious of what we can’t know, but it’s there all the time.”

“What, the vastness?”

“Plus the thing inside us making sense of every little sound, every smell, shadow, footstep and breath of wind, plus the moon, the stars, the sky, the history of it all, the people who made that stone circle. Even the taste of it all, the taste of the moor and those rhododendrons. As if it’s on your tongue, in your ears, your eyeballs, your mind. The thing is - we can’t stop it because it’s the fact of being conscious, making sense of things.”

“Which is just as well…”

“But we can’t stop screening out almost all of it via inference. What matters now, what doesn’t matter now, it’s all inference. Millions of years of evolution plus the outside world plus our personal history and even the whole universe. All contact is inference – all the time – inference. It’s ancient, much more ancient than the moor.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad – inference. We all do inference. My mum does a lot of inference and she does it all the time too.”

“It isn’t personal though - it isn’t you doing it. It’s unimaginably old - goes back to the primordial soup and it’s inside you but it isn’t you. Even the amoeba does it - this is food, this isn’t food. This thing inside us never stops and neither does the vast complexity outside. It owns you, every waking moment, all those possibilities every minute, every second, forever.”

“The internet and social media are like that clump of rhododendrons,” Karl added, “hiding places.” 

Friday, 17 March 2023

My vehicle sounds like...

 


Back to Butter



Which ultra-processed foods are good for you?

Heavily processed convenience foods are things we love to hate and hate to love. But are some ultra-processed foods actually good for us?

More than 50 percent of our energy intake in the UK comes from ultra-processed foods, according to a study reported in the British Medical Journal. These foods include industrially produced cereals, sauces, baked goods and ready-meals.

Maybe we should go back to butter instead of that other stuff sold in plastic tubs. Mrs H and I went back to it years ago. Of course industrially produced drinking water is heavily processed too. Everything which can be removed is removed. 

As an aside, the term industrially produced is entertaining. We could easily say the BBC output is industrially produced. Information is so heavily processed that almost all brain food is lost in the processing and replaced by potentially harmful additives. It certainly isn't good for you.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Dodged Shock



Law Roach: Zendaya, Ariana Grande stylist announces shock retirement

Pioneering celebrity stylist Law Roach has announced his retirement, saying his cup was "empty".

Several stars have expressed their shock at the news, with Law's looks being seen as recently as the Oscars.



The main attraction of stories such as this is that I find I'm not at all shocked by the news. I'd go further - it's definitely uplifting to be immune to shocks of this nature and similar shocks which spurt so regularly from celebrity world.

It's dull and cloudy outside, but there is an unshocked spring in my step already.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Today it would be insects

 


Curate's Egg Strike



Civil servants affect every person in Britain, says striking union boss

Civil servants in the Public and Commerical Services (PCS) union are among the hundreds of thousands of people on strike today.

General secretary Mark Serwotka told Radio 4's World at One programme that every announcement in Jeremy Hunt's Budget would need a civil servant to help implement it.

"[Civil servants] affect every person in Britain, from cradle to death," he says.

Politics 1 Diagnostics 0



Health warning - it's a Guardian link -

Junior doctors blame health secretary for triggering strikes across England

Steve Barclay accused of ‘wasting months’ by failing to meet unions and being dismissive of their demands for improved pay

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Off the metaverse with them



Facebook and Instagram owner Meta to lay off another 10,000 staff

Meta is the latest large firm to wield the axe as it tries to ride out a worldwide economic downturn. The latest job cuts announcement comes just four months after the firm cut its global headcount by more than 11,000 employees.

It comes just four months after Meta - which is investing billions of dollars to build the futuristic metaverse - cut its global headcount by more than 11,000 employees.


A chap is bound to wonder who made this decision. Not an AI system of course - not yet. 

As an aside, I've never used Facebook, but it is surprising how old-fashioned it sounds now. Already a kind of digital stately home.   

From illusion to illusion



Joy is passion, passion is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess, therefore desire is rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence; when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to illusion.

George Moore - Celibates (1895)


This is the rabbit hole the political classes persuade us to enter - rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence. Political parties define themselves by the realities they persuade us to rebel against.

Now they are reduced to scraping the barrel with rebellions against carbon dioxide, human reproductive biology, practical personal transport, central heating that works and people who disagree with you.

Yet it does help us to home in on that strangely distorted word “progressive”. It means a person who advocates progress from illusion to illusion.

Monday, 13 March 2023

Latent Confusion



Suppose a person accepts the standard BBC climate narrative without analysing it in any detail. A far from uncommon situation, but it is worth asking what such a person has accepted. Scientifically the BBC narrative is confused as to what in principle would falsify it. The covert answer is “nothing” but that cannot be admitted because it is too unscientific even for the BBC.

Baruch Spinoza classified confused ideas as disconnected from reality which leads us to a state of affairs governments often promote. They don’t want too much connection with reality – reality is the ultimate umpire. To counteract this possibility, governments sow a kind of latent confusion embedded in their narratives. Easy to accept but don’t look inside. Question the narrative and the confusion emerges.

Susceptible people certainly do accept official narratives even though the slightest challenge would expose their confusion about terms and meanings. Yet in an important sense they are not confused until challenged – the confusion is latent.

For governments, latent confusion has powerful advantages. It allows debates to be conducted on two levels, public and official, confused and analytical. It also increases the effort required to oppose a deliberately misleading narrative.

Latent confusion makes official answers more difficult to dislodge. In general, people have a powerful aversion to even a limited public display of confusion.

“I don’t want to know. Talk about something else.”

Interesting direction

 

Statistic: Quarterly reach of BBC News in the United Kingdom (UK) from 1st quarter 2012 to 2nd quarter 2019 (in 1,000 viewers) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista


This graph of BBC News viewer numbers was presented to me after posing a question to the Bing AI system. As you can see, it only goes up to 2019 and presumably is TV viewing figures only. 

Currently the BBC probably adds in every single internet click, but still an interesting graph as a sign of the times.

Sunday, 12 March 2023

Spring



To my mind this is a dull time of year. There are hints of spring with a few crocuses, daffodils, forsythia and buds on early flowering trees. The rhubarb is up, but leafless, skeletal trees still line country roads while the seasons work their way through another hiatus between winter and spring.

On Friday we drove past a view of a wide valley with a scattering of snow-capped houses set in a rolling snowy landscape. Uplifting and picturesque it was, but today we drove by the same view and all the snow had gone. Now it is merely a wide valley with a scattering of houses. Not unattractive, but almost dull after the delightful view on Friday.

I lit the log burner an hour ago and it is burning well as we work our way down a much depleted log store. Tomorrow I’ll sort out the next order of logs, may as well get that done while we’re not doing much in the garden. 

Yes there are things to do, but it’s a dull time of year.

The Symptom



Demosthenes has a fine TCW piece on what the Lineker silliness says about the BBC.


Lineker is a symptom, the BBC is the disease

IT must be nice enjoying all the benefits that come with striking liberal attitudes without suffering any of the negative consequences. Gary Lineker will never sit for 12 hours in A&E waiting to see a doctor, he’ll never have to compete with hundreds of parents to get his kids into the only semi-decent local comp. Nor will he wait years on the council register as people who’ve just arrived in the country, legally or otherwise, are fast-tracked into social housing.

On the contrary, he can hold his head high when attending those fancy dinner parties in his London bubble, basking in the warm glow of self-righteousness, especially since yesterday’s announcement that he was getting the yellow card from Match of the Day.

Suella Braverman said the Nazi comparison used by Lineker was ‘lazy and unhelpful’, but that the decision whether to punish him rests with the BBC. My word, such powerful rhetoric doubtless has the overpaid crisp salesman quaking in his boots.

But this problem looms much larger than Lineker alone; he is a symptom rather than the disease itself. The underlying pathology is the BBC as an institution.


Familiar stuff but worth reading because the BBC mess tells us something important - reform can become impossible.


All talk of reform is absurd; you’d as well try to reform a boa constrictor into adopting a vegan diet. There’s no way to dismantle the extensive Marxist scaffolding that goes to the foundations of the BBC without tearing down the whole rotten edifice.

Saturday, 11 March 2023

Nuclear convoy

 



An interesting reminder from last year - there are many things more important than football commentary. Also a reminder that the media are very good at bringing trivia to the fore. 

There are other things you could do, Gary



Gary Lineker latest: BBC accused of 'assault on free speech' as former boss Greg Dyke says it 'undermined its own credibility'


In my humble opinion he ought long ago to have been derogated to the office of frightening sparrows in the kitchen garden. There, and only there, would he have been in his proper sphere, and doing some good to his fellow countrymen.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Uncle's Dream (1859)

A Tory Communist



I hate individualism; it’s ruining England. You won’t find better cottages, or better farm-buildings anywhere than on my estate. I go in for centralisation. I dare say you know what I call myself — a ‘Tory Communist.’ To my mind, that’s the party of the future.

John Galsworthy - The Country House (1907)


It’s an interesting quote this, just the job to kick off a spot of weekend musing. Today, the notion of a Tory Communist is not quite the oxymoron Galsworthy intended over a century ago. To my mind, that’s the party of the future his character says. Perhaps it always was.

The digital age appears to have given a boost to the notion of the free individual and all major UK political parties find they don’t like it. Not that they ever did. They have never liked anyone inclined to be an individual outside their political boundaries, but now they like the idea even less.

Unfortunately, the word ‘communist’ has acquired rather dated ‘reds under the bed’ connotations, but the notion of a Tory Communist has no such problems. Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green – dump the traditional baggage and it is easy enough to see them all as Tory Communists. One way or another, it’s all squires and servants, elites and serfs, rulers and ruled.

Friday, 10 March 2023

First UK Thought Crime

 


The Niggle Threshold



One of my less useful traits is putting up with very minor niggles I could easily fix. A recent example was my laptop mouse mat. For a number of years I put up with a cheap mat which tended to slip around as I moved the mouse.

To counteract this I acquired a habit of holding it still with my wrist but it was never satisfactory. The sensible solution would have been to buy a better mat which I recently did. Click, click on Amazon at that’s it. I'm using it now - the old one is in the bin.

The new mat is far superior to the old one. I doesn’t slip and it has a bump to support my wrist. Doesn’t make any difference to the blog posts, but why didn’t I buy it years ago? I don’t know, maybe the old one never quite breached my niggle threshold.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Driving through the snow



Driving home today it felt like dusk even though only 4pm, but low grey skies full of snow created a sense of early nightfall. I even felt a touch of nostalgia driving through swirling snow, surrounded by empty, snow-blanketed fields.

At one point I could see two dark, distant figures building a snowman in a vast expanse of white. Not that we’ve had much snow here, only enough to cover almost everything but the roads.

It wasn’t so much a nostalgic sense of old-fashioned wintery scenes, but a reminder that we once coped with minor snowfalls as a matter of course. We dealt with snow and ice as part of coping with life in winter. We weren’t even as well-equipped as we are today, yet there was satisfaction to be gained by getting on with things without fuss and bother.

Not so much satisfaction now though. People don’t appear to want it. Local schools closed early round here. Only an inch or so of wet snow but nobody is even slightly surprised at the closure. 

There is something seriously wrong with the public sector. Abdication of responsibility seems to be the norm, together with the abandonment of anything resembling a public service ethos. There is satisfaction to be gained by coping, but no, they don't want it.

Is there a warning symbol for this prediction?



Met Office workers to strike over pay and redundancy terms

Members of the Prospect Trade Union will hold industrial action on March 15 and 16

Workers at the Met Office are set to strike over pay, job losses and redundancy terms next week. Members of the Prospect Trade Union working at the Exeter-based forecaster will run picket lines on March 15 and only work contracted hours on March 16.

Perfuming the air like Madonna lilies



Gentlemen don’t earn money. Gentlemen, as a matter of fact, don’t do anything. They exist. Perfuming the air like Madonna lilies. Money comes into them as air through petals and foliage. Thus the world is made better and brighter. And, of course, thus political life can be kept clean!...So you can’t make money.

Ford Madox Ford - A Man Could Stand Up (1926)


Climate change: New idea for sucking up CO2 from air shows promise

At a plant in Iceland the captured CO2 is injected deep underground where it is permanently turned into stone.

The company has recently started selling a certified carbon removal service to large corporate clients including Microsoft, Spotify and Stripe.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Snow wave



UK weather - latest: Warning to prepare for 'significant second wave' of snowfall tonight - as one county could face 31 hours of snow

Latest weather updates as the Met Office issues an amber alert warning of "significant disruption" in parts of the UK and forecasts up to 40cm of snow.

Hardly any snow in our corner of Derbyshire. Some prolonged falls, but so light we couldn't really claim it was snowing and virtually none of settled. Pretty dull all in all. More forecast for tomorrow though. 

Not Derbyshire

A frank conversation



BBC speaking frankly with Gary Lineker over tweet comparing UK asylum policy to 1930s Germany

The BBC says it is having a "frank conversation" with Gary Lineker after the Match of the Day host tweeted critically about the government's asylum policy.

The BBC has impartiality guidelines and the corporation said Lineker was being "spoken to" about his responsibilities.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was "disappointed" by the comments.

It is easy to assume that this is just another example of the guy making a fool of himself, but it does raise a question about silly political perspectives. He is a professional communicator, so there may be a significant audience for this kind of ludicrous exaggeration. Sounds bizarre, but his world probably is bizarre and much larger than we might suppose.

Or he is a fool and that's it.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Deception campaigns



Loukia Papadopoulos has an Interesting Engineering piece on US government propaganda plans.


Deception campaigns: US government plans to use deepfakes for propaganda

Experts are calling the plans "dangerous."

The U.S. government could soon undertake internet propaganda and deception campaigns online using deepfake videos, according to a report by The Intercept published on Monday.

The news outlet cited documents from Special Operations Command or SOCOM.

These initiates will include hacking internet-connected devices to listen in to assess foreign populations’ susceptibility to propaganda. Experts in the industry have not well received the move.

The whole piece is quite short and well worth reading as it raises some interesting questions. For example, what is the difference between these plans and a mainstream media piece pushing the climate catastrophe narrative, the one we've been subjected to for a number of decades?

“When it comes to disinformation, the Pentagon should not be fighting fire with fire,” Chris Meserole, head of the Brookings Institution’s Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative, told The Intercept.

“At a time when digital propaganda is on the rise globally, the U.S. should be doing everything it can to strengthen democracy by building support for shared notions of truth and reality. Deepfakes do the opposite. By casting doubt on the credibility of all content and information, whether real or synthetic, they ultimately erode the foundation of democracy itself.”

Gosh - maybe shared notions of truth and reality could even include human reproductive biology. Or perhaps a realistic look at how government agencies pursue political objectives. 

The tyranny of susceptible people



An obvious incapacity for abstract conceptions made him peculiarly susceptible to the magic of generalization, and one felt he would have been at the mercy of any Cause that spelled itself with a capital letter.

Edith Wharton - Crucial Instances (1901) 


Over 120 years later we don’t have to look far for an example of a Cause that spelled itself with a capital letter. Net Zero spells itself with capital letters and it is certainly infused with the magic of generalisation. Almost as if explicitly designed to attract the starry-eyed susceptible and therein lies the obvious and familiar problem – the susceptible.

To take this further, it is worth remembering that millions of people voted for Jeremy Corbyn to become UK Prime Minister - as if we could forget. Yet this is his political value - his general election votes shouted out a particularly loud and clear message about voter susceptibility.

The Corbyn vote was a reminder that political parties are brands promoted by generalisations with no more depth than toothpaste advertising. The parties sell themselves as the embodiment of certain generalisations and causes designed to snare the susceptible. 

Unfortunately, millions of voters are susceptible to the magic of political generalisation - even Corbyn’s ludicrous version. He is a lasting reminder of that fatal susceptibility. 

Monday, 6 March 2023

Absolutely outrageous



'Absolutely outrageous' if Stanley Johnson given knighthood, Sir Keir Starmer says

Every outgoing prime minister gets to draw up a list of people they think should be given a peerage or other honours, with Boris Johnson's said to include up to 100 names.

"Sir" Keir is right. The whole business has been debased and we should get rid of all knighthoods. "Sir" Tony Blair and "Sir" Chris Whitty may disagree, but "Sir" Keir should stick to his guns - reform is long overdue. Apart from which, Boris is probably doing it to poke a stick at the establishment and we can't have that.

Maintain your social credit score

 


Sunday, 5 March 2023

Maybe there is little left to undermine



Sue Gray to tell government watchdog when job talks with Labour began

Ex-senior civil servant Sue Gray will tell the government appointments watchdog when she first had talks about becoming Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff, following Tory anger over the proposed move, the BBC has been told.

Labour's Jonathan Ashworth told the BBC the job offer proved his party was serious about being in government.

But some Tories have argued the move undermines civil service impartiality.

This suggests there is probably not much civil service impartiality left to undermine. It is more myth than genuine ethos. Which we knew but it is useful to have it confirmed. Starmer appears to be comfortable with that, as was Blair.

It may be one reason why the Tories have moved so far from the old centre ground. They seem to have made a strategic political move, bringing them closer to a thoroughly managerialist civil service. There is no point trying to reform it. Reforms are opposed by leaks, obstruction and covert hostile briefings. 

If you can't beat them...

A plan to frighten public



Matt Hancock: Leaked messages suggest plan to frighten public

Matt Hancock suggested to an aide that they "frighten the pants off everyone", messages published by the Sunday Telegraph show.

It appears the former health secretary discussed when to reveal the existence of the Kent variant of Covid, to ensure people comply with lockdown rules.

In another exchange, the head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, suggested the "fear/guilt factor" was vital to the government's messaging.


I don't recall the BBC pointing out how obvious it all was at the time, how the government was quite clearly aiming to "frighten the pants off everyone". Via the media of course, including the BBC.  Plus the associated finger-pointing - that was intentional too.

It's almost as if the BBC wants us to think it didn't know this was the approach. Yet it was so obvious at the time, that anyone with a modicum of insight knew what the game was. Even the BBC has that modicum of insight. 

Saturday, 4 March 2023

Mr Science

 




I've tagged this one as humour, but to my mind it has morphed over the years into irony rather than humour. A deep-dyed cynic could easily say that in terms of accuracy it holds up well enough when compared to mainstream climate science reporting.  

Concealed Ignorance



Bertha still could hardly believe genuine the admiration which her husband excited. Knowing his extreme incapacity, she was astounded that the rest of the world should think him an uncommonly clever fellow. To her his pretensions were merely ridiculous; she marvelled that he should venture to discuss, with dogmatic glibness, subjects of which he knew nothing; but she marvelled still more that people should be impressed thereby: he had an astonishing faculty of concealing his ignorance.

W. Somerset Maugham - Mrs Craddock (1902)


To my mind, the most interesting aspect of the Matt Hancock saga is that it is not particularly revealing. An air of concealed ignorance was there almost from the beginning of the pandemic. Quite unmistakable.

Recognising the dogmatic glibness of our MPs and media is not only frustrating but also interesting. It’s interesting that we are aware of their dishonesty and their scheming even if many details are obscure. Possibly we know nowhere near as much as we suppose, but it’s enough to take the measure of their ignorance and that is where the interest lies.

Take UK party politics as an example. If we know all parties are dishonest then either their integrity has declined, or in a digital age we know more about the way things are done and this has raised our expectations. I’d say the latter, but those people with raised expectations are not the majority.

Friday, 3 March 2023

The Decline of Philips

 


More Texts



This is strange, but perhaps not under the circumstances. I've received a few texts from the Matt Hancock trove which were passed to me by an anonymous chap calling himself Bozza.


Phone call from Chris Whitty. He says numbers have freaked so I did too. But I told him I’m onto it and I’ll speak to Boris.
:
:
It’s a bust guys – Whitty said numbers have peaked not freaked. Time to wind it down again. Pity because I’d put a great briefing note together explaining how we’re still in control even if the numbers have freaked.
:
:
Boris just texted me about the vacillation programme and where we are with it. I thought we were already doing it, but I’m onto it now.
:
:
Do we need a training course for texting or d
o we need a training course for texting?? Of course guys - I hardly need to say it wasn’t a vacillation programme. Spike that one. 
:
:
Another thought guys - we’ll look silly if it ever comes out how productive text got in the way of the smoothly ruining machine that is our covid response.

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Reasons to be joyful

  


Pablo Picasso's 'joyful' portrait of daughter sells for £18m at Sotheby's

Maya Ruiz-Picasso was born on 5 September 1935 in secrecy to Pablo Picasso’s mistress and greatest love Marie-Thérèse Walter, while the artist was still married to his first wife, former ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Picasso's portrait of her was once owned by Gianni Versace.

I'm not a connoisseur, but getting rid of the thing by selling it for £18m has to be a reason to be joyful. 

Derbyshire roads are the worst in England.



Derbyshire drivers face the worst road conditions in the country, latest research reveals

The recent research by the Bill Plant Driving School has found that roads in Derbyshire are the worst in England.

Their recent study looked into the number of A-roads and motorways across the country which are in poor condition, and likely to need maintenance within the next year.


A claim to fame I suppose. This morning we buzzed off to Matlock in the MX5 with the top down. It's a good car for weaving around potholes.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

But what is life without morbid comedy?



Ben Sixsmith has what is perhaps with various caveats an almost mildly uplifting Critic piece on the prospects of rational political discourse after the next general election.


Get ready for opposition

The bright side of a Tory loss

In 2010, the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull sent ash clouds drifting across Europe. The Smolensk air disaster killed much of the government of Poland. WikiLeaks released thousands of documents concerning the Iraq War. Lady Gaga’s first album came out.

David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK.

The Conservatives have been in power ever since. Weird to think about, isn’t it? Someone who was born in May 2010 will soon be a teenager.

For the past twelve years, right-wing commentators — Peter Hitchens aside — have been commentating with one eye on government. Even if we did not like the government — and many of us didn’t — we thought there was at least some glimmer of a chance that we could nudge it in the right direction. If only Dominic Cummings sees this … If only Kemi Badenoch becomes PM … If only …



The whole piece is well worth reading as we face up to the need for some kind of political convulsion in UK party politics. For years the Conservatives have had no intention whatever of delivering conservative government. The convulsion may have to be a Labour government.


Losing their (at least theoretical) association with the ruling party might give right-leaning thinkers and institutions a more coherent attitude towards themselves and their goals. They may become more explicitly oppositional, while also able to imagine positive ambitions without having to twist themselves into political pretzels in an effort to squeeze them through Westminster. Of course, ambitions are nothing without some amount of power — but people have to be worthy of power to put it to effective use.

Finally, a Labour government will be very, very funny. We’ll enjoy Keir Starmer frantically attempting to make sense of his little bag of contradictions. We’ll eat popcorn as the Corbynites feud with the New Labour nostalgists. We’ll watch MPs who can barely spell “policy” do policy (of course, that’s nothing new but it will be fun to have a different cast of characters). This might be small consolation, but what is life without morbid comedy?

Peter Cook & Dudley Moore - Superthunderstingcar

 



Those of a certain age may recognise the parody.

Tuesday, 28 February 2023

The incurable simplicity of the corrupt



It would have been unfashionable to be different; and once more Boyne marvelled at the incurable simplicity of the corrupt. "Blessed are the pure in heart," he thought, "for they have so many more things to talk about. . ."

Edith Wharton – The Children (1928)


Interesting quote this. Wharton is writing of the corrupt nature of fashionable society. It is corrupt, educated, cosmopolitan, articulate yet curiously simple in its absolute need to fashionable.

We see a somewhat similar type of corrupt yet fashionable simplicity in modern politics. It is desperately unfashionable to be politically different so maybe we could modify Wharton’s words –
 

It would have been unfashionable to be politically different; and once more Sceptic marvelled at the incurable simplicity of the politically corrupt. "Blessed are the pure in heart," he thought, "for they have so many more possibilities to talk about. . ."

Easily picked but good enough

 




A surprisingly simple mechanism I thought. Maybe films which show them being picked with a paperclip aren't too far from reality. Lacking relevant experience, I don't know if the UK version is similar.

Monday, 27 February 2023

The real sustainability issue



Sean Cooper has an interesting Tablet piece on the poor state of US infrastructure.


America on Fire

Across the United States, critical infrastructure is breaking down and blowing up in plumes of toxic smoke

Last year the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed hours before a planned visit by President Joe Biden; he was scheduled to give a speech addressing America’s infrastructure. About an hour’s drive northwest of Pittsburgh sits East Palestine, Ohio, where a train carrying hazardous materials derailed earlier this month, leading to the town’s evacuation and causing a public health crisis that has yet to be resolved. The two incidents, one year and roughly 50 miles apart, are not disconnected: They point to a widespread rot afflicting America’s transportation networks, public schools, health care facilities, energy grid, and other critical infrastructure that is already causing dangerous failures like the ones in Pittsburgh and East Palestine, and which appears likely to get worse before it gets better.

Because your electricity might not stay on long enough to reach the end of an article of any greater length, here is a brief survey of the current crisis afflicting America’s critical infrastructure.


Cooper goes on to discuss US infrastructure under a number of headings. The whole piece is worth reading as a reminder that what we build we have to maintain. Something frequently forgotten by the chattering classes. Here in the UK we need more MPs who understand something about maintenance. Recognising some of the basics would be a start, such as roads pockmarked with potholes.


Much is made of the collapse of trust in America’s public institutions like Congress and the press, but the country’s decrepit physical infrastructure seems to be contributing to the larger sense of national brokenness. In 2020, Pew found that national pride had dipped to a record low, with 21% of Americans either “only a little proud” or “not at all proud” to be an American.

Maybe national pride is too much to ask for when so many communities are struggling to maintain safe roads and clean drinking water. Last week, Vermont’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers took a look at nine categories of the state’s major infrastructure systems before granting an overall grade of a “C.” Mediocre as that might be, the report put Vermont a notch above the national average: a “C-minus.”

Here is the news



As many folk have known for years, the mainstream news outfits are not worth much attention except to maintain a sense of direction. Why is this being pushed? What is being hidden? Where are we being taken? Answers are not likely to be mainstream though – that’s the nature of the beast.

Mainstream news outfits do not offer unadorned news, but selected stories, perspectives, fictions and opinions moulded into a curious form of entertainment – and it is a form of entertainment. Stories of conflict, romance, heroism, hedonism, celebrity, achievement, danger, magic, mystery, crime, comradeship, stupidity, sacrifice, outrage, deviancy, horror, humour, faith and fantasy. Plus the weather forecast.

It all ends up as a kind of soap opera interwoven with gossip and homilies with a range of storylines which may change rapidly with events. Yet sometimes stories continue for days, weeks, months or even years. Sporting soap operas tend to have long storylines, particularly football.

The resulting news service is not quite fiction and not quite fact but relentlessly superficial, emotional and sentimental, relentlessly shallow, salacious, orthodox, familiar, stereotyped, suggestive, misleading, embroidered, insinuating and undemanding.

Like a soap opera – the aim is to entertain a mass audience without upsetting advertisers, powerful people or powerful bureaucracies. The bias is built in, it has to be. The audience must enjoy knowing far less than it thinks it knows.

And yet something may have changed and may still be changing. In a digital world, many people are effectively writing their own stories from their own materials. Interesting times lie ahead. Unless…

Sunday, 26 February 2023

Qualification over Quality



Social housing managers will require qualifications in bid to 'drive up standards' after Awaab Ishak's tragic death

The move comes in the wake of the Grenfell fire and the death of Awaab Ishaak from mould inhalation.


Naturally enough, the Grenfell fire and the death of Awaab Ishaak are highly charged issues, but if we have learned anything during recent decades, it is the dubious value of relying on qualifications to deliver standards. 

Staying with this wider view, climate science, epidemiology, gender politics, race politics and revisionist history spring to mind when it comes the the misleading value of qualifications as a guarantee of professional standards. Qualifications do not guarantee standards.

To take this further, it has become obvious enough that we need a public debate about the value of qualifications generally, but who would initiate and conduct the debate? Not MPs, they are part of the evidence that we have a problem with qualifications and university degree mills.

Best before date



Mrs H is aiming to try a new curry recipe today. We have most of the ingredients but one question we have to settle is that our jar of turmeric has a best before date of October 2012. It still smells okay, looks okay and hasn't compacted itself into a solid lump so it is probably quite usable.

Next step is to see what we can forage from the Co-op. A squash would be good, but no doubt we'll see what shortages the media have created for us.

Saturday, 25 February 2023

Forget the loftier alternatives



Armin Rosen poses a very interesting Russiagate question in Tablet. It begins with some pointed criticisms of Jeff Gerth's four-part review of the issue in The Columbia Journalism Review. I haven't read Gerth's articles because in my view this Rosen piece stands on its own. 


Why Jeff Gerth’s Endlessly Long Four-Part CJR Limited Hangout Doesn’t Wash

Lee Smith got the story right six years ago

The media will never be able to overcome the Russiagate catastrophe unless it recognizes that its failures weren’t hidden inside labyrinths of Slack channels or text message traffic, but were in fact public and obvious. They were so public and so obvious that the media-consuming public itself noticed: Per Gallup’s polling, the percentage of Americans saying they had no trust at all in the media went from 24% in 2018 to an all-time high of 38% today, while the number saying they had a great to fair degree of trust plunged from 45% to 34% during that same span.

With Russiagate, the media doesn’t have the excuse of being flummoxed by a complex or nebulous factual record. Thanks to Smith, Lake, Techno Fog, and numerous others whom Gerth ignores, we’ve known for years that the media worked in concert with a political comms firm and elements of federal law enforcement and the intelligence community to peddle an incorrect theory about a secret deal between an enemy of the United States and an American presidential candidate they all didn’t like.

All of which begs the question: Does the media not want to overcome the Russiagate catastrophe? And why not?



The key question is obvious enough. Why are the news media so relaxed about Russiagate, here in the UK as well as the US?


The media actually has learned a lesson from Russiagate, hinted at in CJR’s refusal to acknowledge the people and outlets who got the story right from the very beginning. The lesson is that serious self-reflection should be avoided at all costs. And why not? For much of the media, Russiagate was a rousing success: It kept everyone busy and motivated, and it saved a dying business model (one interesting detail in Gerth’s story is that the American media produced over a half-million articles or television segments about Russiagate)...

If Russiagate discredited the media in the public’s eyes more than any single event this century, that’s because it also cemented the news industry’s role within a broader messaging structure. The media, for its part, seems not only to have accepted this new role, but to actually prefer it to loftier alternatives. There will be no serious self-exploration of the media’s Russiagate misdeeds. The American news industry traded away its credibility but is too satisfied with whatever money and sense of purpose it got in return to demand that much of itself.

Friday, 24 February 2023

MAiD in Canada



Michael Cook has a Mercatornet piece on the Canadian enthusiasm for euthanasia.
 

Canada keeps a tight grip on its world record for euthanasia deaths

A parliamentary committee recommends liberalising an already liberal “right to die” law

Canadians are famed for their unfailing, even relentless, politeness. This seems inconsistent with another reason for their fame, or infamy: – Canada is the world leader in euthanasia deaths. Since “medical assistance in dying” (MAiD) became legal in 2016 until the end of 2021, 31,664 people died. The official figures have not been published for 2022, but they will show that another 11,000 or more have been added to that total.

The government believes that there is something wrong with these figures. They are too low – the safeguards need to be relaxed even further. Has someone been spiking the maple syrup?


The whole article is well worth reading as another piece in the euthanasia jigsaw. When one step is taken, the next seems more reasonable. 

Canada is a paradigm of the ruthless logic of voluntary euthanasia. As soon as the principle takes hold that people have a right to die, or rather, a right to be killed, within carefully defined boundaries, the work of demolition begins. That right expands from people with a terminally ill condition, to people who are tired of life, to people who are demented, to children, and to infants. The second last step in this logic is a right to universal suicide.

And the last step? Don’t be surprised to hear “right to die” activists arguing that no right exists without a corresponding duty.

Yet I sometimes wonder if my mother would have opted for a quietly dignified exit rather than the torment of dementia in her final years. Impossible question, but I still think the answer is 'yes'. 

A Fake Future Beckons



Florantonia Singer has an interesting El País piece on fake news reporters.


They’re not TV anchors, they’re avatars: How Venezuela is using AI-generated propaganda

Fake news stories about economic improvement presented by computer-made ‘reporters’ have begun circulating online, evidencing how the technology is being used to further pro-government narratives

A blond-haired man introduces a news story for House of News, an alleged newscast in which an English-speaking anchor attempts to demonstrate that Venezuela’s economy is not “really destroyed” as many claim, because hotel occupancy for the Carnival period is reportedly sky-high thanks to Venezuelans eager to spend their money on the Caribbean beaches. In another news segment, a Black news anchor discusses the profits generated by the Caribbean Series, a professional baseball tournament held a week ago in Caracas: $10 million in tickets to watch baseball games, $7 million in food bought by fans. The data seems surprising, considering that the government has not even revealed how much it cost to build two stadiums in record time with the country’s depleted finances – caused, as authorities are constantly repeating, by international sanctions.

The alleged journalists are Noah and Daren, two avatars created with artificial intelligence from the Synthesia software’s catalog of more than a hundred multiracial faces. Like Noah and Daren, there are avatars dressed as television hosts, but there is also Dave who can be made to look like a doctor or an executive, Carlo who wears a construction helmet, a woman in a hijab, a chef and even Santa Claus. A few months ago, some of them, also in their role as reporters, were used in a pro-China disinformation campaign, as The New York Times reported a few days ago.


I'm genuine by the way. I'm a real person living here in Derbyshire tapping away at my keyboard with real fingers - or rather one real finger most of the time. I've just finished a genuine mug of coffee and consumed a genuine piece of dark chocolate. 

Thought I'd add that.

Thursday, 23 February 2023

The great appointment scramble

 


Sir Kneel's Wizard Wheezes

 


Sir Keir Starmer has outlined the five "missions" he will put at the centre of his party's offer to voters at the next election in a speech in Manchester.

He vowed to make the UK the fastest growing major economy by the end of a first Labour term in government.

Making the country a "clean energy superpower" and cutting health inequalities will be other key priorities if the party wins power.

Sounds just as dreadful as the Tories. It would be good to have a choice, but we haven't. May as well get used to it. 

It's not much of a silver lining, but Sir Kneel's spectacles give him an even more cerebral appearance than his deputy.  

Couldn't happen today



With regard to the French portion of the story, it was not until I had written the first part that I saw from a study of my chronological basis that the Siege of Paris might be brought into the tale. The idea was seductive; but I hated, and still hate, the awful business of research; and I only knew the Paris of the Twentieth Century.

Now I was aware that my railway servant and his wife had been living in Paris at the time of the war. I said to the old man, “By the way, you went through the Siege of Paris, didn’t you?”

He turned to his old wife and said, uncertainly, “The Siege of Paris? Yes, we did, didn’t we?”

The Siege of Paris had been only one incident among many in their lives. Of course, they remembered it well, though not vividly, and I gained much information from them. But the most useful thing which I gained from them was the perception, startling at first, that ordinary people went on living very ordinary lives in Paris during the siege, and that to the vast mass of the population the siege was not the dramatic, spectacular, thrilling, ecstatic affair that is described in history.


Arnold Bennett – Preface to Old Wives' Tale (1908)


Today that old man and his wife would be bombarded with the dramatic, spectacular, thrilling, ecstatic affair. The vast mass of the population would be induced to feel part of it, which of course they were, but not in the modern, mass media sense.

Wednesday, 22 February 2023

When reality knocks



Josef Joffe has an interesting Tablet piece on problems piling up in China.


China’s Future Ain’t What It Used to Be
20 years after the Goldman report, the BRICS are floundering

In January, China’s National Bureau of Statistics made it official: After decades of fabulous GDP growth, the rate is now down to 3%. The culprit is Xi Jinping’s “zero-COVID” policy, plus ruptured supply chains and soaring energy prices. In the post-lockdown recovery, growth will of course bounce back, but not into the enduring double-digit rates prevailing since the 1980s, when China became the envy of the world.

Not unfamiliar developments, but the whole piece is well worth reading as a reminder of powerful and more long-term forces beyond government control. 

Beijing’s worst enemy is the steady decline of its working-age population, driven by plummeting birth rates. Also in January, China went past the tipping point, reporting negative population growth for the first time in 60 years—a loss of 850,000 inhabitants. By midcentury, China will be the oldest big economy in the world, with an army of 350 million pensioners who don’t produce but soak up ever more social support resources.

Then we have the familiar political story of how too much government control bears down on the feedback needed to maintain economic dynamism. Nobody is immune.

Since Lenin, Western sages—think George Bernard Shaw or Jean-Paul Sartre—have fallen for what I call “modernitarianism” as the fastest path to development. The state, they believed, was better than the market, delivering both wealth and equality. They kept missing the point. In the clash between power and profit, power wins. Even assuming that Xi’s henchmen had told him the truth about “zero-COVID” as an economy killer, why would a despot care? When reality knocks, control comes first, suppressing real-time feedback. Until very recently, Beijing methodically suppressed the horrifying COVID data.

Same story, different emphasis



From the BBC

Aldi joins Asda and Morrisons in fruit and veg limits

Pictures of empty shelves from various supermarkets have been circulating on social media in recent days.

The shortages are largely the result of extreme weather in Spain and north Africa, where floods, snow and hail have affected harvests.


In the Netherlands, NL Times described the same situation as "cold weather". The BBC seems to prefer the word "extreme".

Wim van Geest, the owner of a family business active in the fruit and vegetable trade, confirmed the current shortages. “At this time of year, we are always more dependent on imports. Then the tomatoes come from Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. But it was cold there, so there is much less supply,” he told the newspaper. The weather in Spain has improved since, but it will take a while for the tomatoes to ripen.

Same story, different emphasis and neither is necessarily inaccurate, but when the emphasis is always in one particular direction...

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Fifty Trillion Dollars

 


Obvious Enough



Oh, Lord, there are a lot of spots in life the mind of the average man and woman never touches at all. I wonder why not? Everything—at least most things—are obvious enough.

Sherwood Anderson - Dark Laughter (1925)


There are many things we should see if elites actually believe the orthodox climate narrative. Yet it is only a Malthusian political tool so we don’t see what we should. There are many pointers to this - flying around in private jets is only one. Of course the private jets also tell us how gullible they think we are.

Here in the UK, another pointer is immigration. From the orthodox climate narrative it follows that for years we have been importing millions of individual carbon footprints. To avoid this, a tough limit on immigration would have been put in place at least twenty years ago. As a matter of course it would also have been part of Net zero.

Everything—at least most things—are obvious enough.

Clarty



We buzzed off for a moorland walk today and after parking the car we paid a visit to the nearby café for coffee. It's usually a pretty good way to begin this particular walk, but this time we chose a sausage roll to go with the coffee and Mrs H said the sausage roll was clarty. I agreed - it was certainly clarty.

It occurred to me to check if clarty is a dialect word, which apparently it is and has various meanings. Here in our bit of Derbyshire it is often used to describe food which lacks texture and ends up sticking to the teeth. Those sausage rolls were definitely clarty so we'll avoid them in future.

clarty
adjective
-ti
-er/-est
dialectal
: bedaubed with sticky dirt : DIRTY, MUDDY
also : STICKY, GOOEY

Monday, 20 February 2023

Carnival



source

Out of interest I did a Google search for Guardian pieces mentioning Nicola Bulley. After ten pages of results I gave up counting. Not that the Guardian would be crass enough to join the carnival of hysteria. It must have had deeper and more socially responsible reasons. 

Books and the ghost of Thomas Bowdler



Ben Sixsmith has a Critic piece on keeping hold of physical book collections for a number of reasons, one of which is the current trend to produce expurgated editions for the woke reader.


Keep physical books

We have to protect cultural history

A couple of years ago, I had almost my entire collection of books shipped from England to Poland. They had been lurking in my dad’s attic but he understandably decided that he didn’t want hundreds of someone else’s books squatting there rent-free. So, I had to make my own decision: would I throw them away or have them brought to me? I haven’t had an easier dilemma since I had to choose between going to the pub and not going to the pub.

Part of it was sentimentality. I have a lot of memories wrapped up with those books — just as one does with a photo or an interesting shell pocketed on the beach. But I also had a conservationist instinct. Books are not like other objects. If a book is lost then a text might be lost as well.


The whole piece is well worth reading because of both the ephemeral nature of ebooks and the ghastly ghost of Thomas Bowdler. 

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported on how new editions of classic children’s books by Roald Dahl are being published after substantial alterations made according to the urges of a morbid and absurd class of people known as sensitivity readers. The Telegraph reports:

Language related to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race has been cut and rewritten. Remember the Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach? They are now the Cloud-People. The Small Foxes in Fantastic Mr Fox are now female. In Matilda, a mention of Rudyard Kipling has been cut and Jane Austen added. It’s Roald Dahl, but different.

Sunday, 19 February 2023

An MP in the making

 


A Tragedy in Blue

 







A Jeff Koons sculpture worth £35,000 has been accidentally smashed during a VIP event at a gallery in Miami.

The piece, a small, blue version of the artist's famous "balloon dog" series was on display during the preview event at the Art Wynwood gallery.

A number of guests initially thought the mishap was a piece of performance art or a stunt when it crashed to the ground.


I wouldn't pay that much for a car, but I'm not artistic.

Saturday, 18 February 2023

Fenced In



Grandcourt's view of things was considerably fenced in by his general sense, that what suited him others must put up with. There is no escaping the fact that want of sympathy condemns us to corresponding stupidity. Mephistopheles thrown upon real life, and obliged to manage his own plots, would inevitably make blunders.

George Eliot - Daniel Deronda (1876)


It’s an interesting quote with a fascinatingly grim analogy - Mephistopheles thrown upon real life. As Eliot points out, there is a link between lack of sympathy and stupidity. A necessary link too, because lack of sympathy is also a lack of information about certain situations. It can be a lack of important and even obvious information, but that's where the stupidity comes in.

We often see leaders caught by this particular problem. On the one hand too much sympathy renders decisive leadership difficult or even impossible, yet every now and then a lack of sympathy is bound to leave some pitfalls uncovered.

Nicola Sturgeon eventually discovered this the hard way. Politically she cannot be stupid, her success tells us that. Yet she had a fatal lack of sympathy with those who are concerned about the excesses of gender politics. Which was a stupid political lapse because the gender pitfall was obvious. To adapt Eliot –

Sturgeon’s view of things was considerably fenced in by her general sense, that what suited her politically others must put up with.