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.


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.

: bedaubed with sticky dirt : DIRTY, MUDDY

Monday 20 February 2023



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.

King Ladybird

The King co-writes children's climate change book

King Charles has co-written a children's book about the environmental threats the planet is facing.

'Climate Change' - a Ladybird Book, will be published next month.

Speaking at the reception, the book's co-author Chair of Natural England Tony Juniper said the King wanted to empower young people.

Whatever next? The Naughty SUV? A Malthusian Primer?

Friday 17 February 2023

Like a demented sheep

I thought I had never seen anyone quite so fluent and so futile, and yet there was a kind of feeble violence in him like a demented sheep.

John Buchan - Mr Standfast (1919)

Meanwhile it seems to be shearing time -

Jeremy Corbyn: Starmer move flagrant attack on democracy

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned Sir Keir Starmer's decision to bar him from standing for the party at the next general election, calling it a "flagrant attack" on democracy.

Mr Corbyn said it was up to local party members to choose their candidate, not Labour leaders.

Progress and Promises


From Bill R

Thursday 16 February 2023

His ability in quibbling

To spend his life quibbling over trifles with other lawyers was not what he wanted. To have his place in life fixed by his ability in quibbling seemed to him hideous.

Sherwood Anderson - Marching Men (1917)

There are many people in the public sector with a significant quibbling role. Most of the rules and regulations creeping around our lives were honed and developed via quibbling. What steers people towards a career in quibbling though?

I’m a retired analytical chemist of the environmental variety and I occasionally wonder what steered me towards chemistry. The answer seems to be simple enough. From school onwards I found I liked chemistry and could do it fairly easily. The two are of course connected - liking it and being able to do it. Similar influences must apply to quibbling.

No doubt something similar also applies to many of us, perhaps most of us. We end up doing whatever we can and are able to endure for years or decades. Sticking with chemistry as an example, did I have a need to believe in the scientific method in order to do chemistry?

It helps, but no – it’s a matter of learning what works within the discipline. Chemistry teachers foster that via approval and disapproval. Some of it also comes from experience at the bench, such as not trying to pipette concentrated sulphuric acid by mouth.

Here’s a similar question – do politicians believe political doctrines? No – politicians find they have the ability to do politics and enjoy doing it. The doctrines are tools, not beliefs. They may have roots in certain political traditions, but that is the exploratory phase – finding their political tastes, aptitudes and backers. Also finding where the political approval and disapproval come from.

We do what we do to earn a crust if we can endure doing it for years and have enough ability to do it to a certain standard. This would be a standard which merits more approval than disapproval from the workplace and our social surroundings. It even applies to quibbling – do it well and it can be a career asset. Standard stimulus, response, reinforcement – we do not need to go further to understand such things.

We do not believe in what we do, the notion of belief is redundant. We do it because works in the sense that it attracts approval, including our own approval. Minimal approval perhaps, barely more than disapproval perhaps, but at least a residue of approval. A large part of approval is employment and pay so it’s very simple –

Can do it. Like it. Paid to do it. Do it.

Orthodox climate scientists do not believe in what they do, they do it because they can, because they are paid and because peer approval far outweighs sceptical disapproval. In this case, peer approval is supplemented by media, political and social approval. Engineered approval designed to outweigh sceptical disapproval.

Engineered approval is common, as elites, politicians, celebrities, media, advertisers and PR outfits demonstrate on a daily basis. Engineered approval tells us that orthodox climate science is a political activity. No scientific method, no experimental confirmation, no successful predictions, no belief. None of it is necessary. They must find quibbling useful too.

Professions and Psychopaths


To be taken with a large pinch of salt, but number eight is interesting.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

If this one doesn't work


From Alan H

Part of the problem


To my mind Lee Anderson is part of the problem. He strives to create an impression that in their hearts the Conservatives are conservative but they are not. To me he comes across as window dressing.

Net Zero Dentistry


A treadle operated dental drill seems just the job for Net Zero dentistry. No electricity and no problems with intermittent power. Just carry on pounding that treadle is the message here. I'm sure it's what sustainability fans have been waiting for.

To my mind, the kudos of trying it out should first go to BBC environment journalists. The Beeb could make a whole programme about it, drawing lots for who gets to be first in the chair. 

I'd certainly watch.

Tuesday 14 February 2023


How 'intricacies' of local knowledge could help find Nicola Bulley, as police struggle with 'toxic' public interest

Martyn Underhilll says police "need" armchair detectives to help solve cases like Nicola Bulley's but "toxic" knock-on effects of huge public interest can also hinder searches. He says 1,000 people a day turned up to look for Sarah Payne in 2000 and dealing with helpers is a balancing act.

Toxic - it's another overused word which in this case seems to mean 'unhelpful'.  When I weighed out potassium cyanide in the lab, I knew those white, salt-like crystals were toxic and 'toxic' meant rather more than 'unhelpful'.

Feeding their vanity

“There’s too much good manners,” he said on the way back to Gstaad in the smooth sleigh.

“Well, I think that’s nice,” said Baby.

“No, it isn’t,” he insisted to the anonymous bundle of fur. “Good manners are an admission that everybody is so tender that they have to be handled with gloves. Now, human respect — you don’t call a man a coward or a liar lightly, but if you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity, you get so you can’t distinguish what should be respected in them.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald - Tender Is the Night (1933)

Vanity - it’s another feature of cancel culture and woke culture generally. There is vanity behind a refusal to be contradicted.

Mass Complacency

The four quotes below are intended to suggest a not unfamiliar possibility – mass complacency is the real enemy of the modern world. The harm done at a personal level is an old idea, but maybe it is also worth considering mass complacency in a lunatic world.

A problematic level of mass complacency could stem from both physical comfort and personal security, knowing we won’t starve if we are old, ill or out of work. We are very comfortable in both these senses when compared to the past. 

The recent pandemic debacle could be one pointer to the problem. This quote from George Moore is a reminder of just one serious health threat our ancestors had to live with all the time without the lifeline of modern medical assistance.

At the end of the passage there were a number of girls in print dresses. The gaiety of the dresses led Esther to think that they must be visitors. But the little cough warned her that death was amongst them.

George Moore - Esther Waters (1894)

A number of my ancestors were carried off by TB. Then we have the complacency which can stem from physical comfort. It’s an old issue –

He was in the comfortable mood, following upon unusual indulgence of the appetite, in which the mind handles in a free and easy way the thoughts it is wont to entertain with unquestionable gravity; when it has, as it were, a slippery hold on the facts of life, and constructs a subjective world of genial accommodations.

George Gissing - A Life's Morning (1886)

As he listened to her, with a full plate in front of him, he was affected, in spite of himself, by the prim comfort of his surroundings. The matting beneath his feet seemed very soft; the gleams of the brass hanging lamp, the soft, yellow tint of the wallpaper, and the bright oak of the furniture filled him with appreciation of a life spent in comfort, which disturbed his notions of right and wrong.

Emile Zola - The Fat and the Thin (1873)

He was the incarnation of the commonplace, a comfortable middle-class sentimentalist, who patronized pacifism out of vanity, but was very careful not to dip his hands too far.

John Buchan - Mr Standfast (1919)

Dickens made much of comfortable complacency too, and the wickedness which can accompany it. The point to be made is that some people are not complacent when dishonesty and even evil pervade the public arena but most people are remarkably complacent.

Voting patterns tell us this if nothing else does - people vote for obvious lies and shameless liars. And for people who are by earlier standards evil.

Monday 13 February 2023

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a Chinese Spy Balloon...



In exterior, too, he had begun to resemble a sage of antiquity; his hair had fallen off the crown of his head, and his full face had completely set in a sort of solemn jelly of positively blatant virtue.

Ivan Turgenev – Smoke (1867)

I occasionally wonder if it is possible to judge character by faces. To some extent it is possible because we do it all the time, especially for common expressions such as distaste or disapproval. Yet sometimes it may be a result of prejudice based on stereotypes. Or maybe situations where a stranger has features similar to someone known or famous.

The other day I glanced at the face of a woman in a café and immediately her face gave me the impression of a person whose whole world was bound up in herself. Slightly plump, middle aged, fairly smart, very much an indoors look. Simple prejudice on my part of course. 

And yet - 

I know I’d be mildly surprised if I turned out to be wrong. Not that I’ll ever undergo the indignity of being wrong in this case. Maybe prejudice is partly rooted in such soil, in the impossibility of being wrong about strangers. Or maybe not in this case - I'll never know.

Monday Pessimism

And therefore if the more foolish a man is, the more he pleases himself and is admired by others, to what purpose should he beat his brains about true knowledge, which first will cost him dear, and next render him the more troublesome and less confident, and lastly, please only a few?

Desiderius Erasmus - The Praise of Folly (1511)

It’s the age and durability of this problem which is so disconcerting. In a wider sense, we like to think problems of political foolishness can be resolved and the effort to resolve them is worthwhile. Yet we know that many important problems are not resolved until they encounter the brick wall of reality.

People don’t beat their brains about true knowledge if they perceive themselves as the majority within a political debate. As Erasmus said over five centuries ago, they do not need to please the minority. Without the harsh hand of reality, it isn’t a resolvable issue. Net Zero is one of our our latest examples.

Sunday 12 February 2023

Invacar vs Storm


Quite long, but an entertaining video of Ian Seabrook's intrepid trip in a 1972 Invacar Model 70. Some people may even remember them. I saw one in our Sainsbury's car park a few years ago.

Vintage sci fi robot in surreal landscape


I've briefly played around with the Microsoft AI system in their Edge browser. This image was one of four created by the system from my text input which was - 

Vintage sci fi robot in surreal landscape

I suppose it could be useful for blog illustrations for those of us who can't draw, but a huge number of similar images are probably out there already. 

Saturday 11 February 2023

An absurd thing to say

Turkey-Syria earthquake death toll expected to more than double, says UN aid chief

Mr Griffiths, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, said: "I think it is difficult to estimate precisely as we need to get under the rubble but I'm sure it will double or more.

"That's terrifying. This is nature striking back in a really harsh way."

What did the man think he was saying here? We are abusing nature and this is nature striking back at us? An absurd thing to say under any circumstances, but particularly so after such a dreadful catastrophe. 

Not the phrase I'd have chosen



Friday 10 February 2023

There is no plan

James McSweeney has a very useful Critic piece on the insanity of Net Zero.

2035: the end of civilisation

Where is energy policy taking us

On a cold, windless December night, a rare bout of religious fervour has broken out in the control room. Not usually given to spirituality, the station controller finds himself whispering a prayer for a change in weather as the clock ticks down to New Year’s Day, 2035. Shaken from a vague recollection of Luke 4:12 by the sound of fireworks, the seasoned engineer takes a deep breath and orders his subordinates to disconnect the gas turbine — a ritual being repeated at power stations across the country. There is a moment’s peace, and then the lights go out. Miles away, the staff of the Electricity National Control Centre watch helplessly as the sudden drop in power collapses the entire national grid...

Readers will be relieved to know that the described events are unlikely to transpire. They do, however, illustrate what would happen if politicians do as they say they will: ban petrol and diesel-powered cars and gas boilers, and switch the electric grid to net-zero generation by 2035.

Anyone paying even casual attention knows that the Net Zero numbers are not even close to adding up. The whole piece is well worth reading as McSweeney makes this very clear indeed. After running through the numbers he has this to say.

There must be a plan, right? You would think turning off 73 per cent of the grid whilst forcing everyone to buy electric boilers and cars isn’t the sort of decision a politician makes on a whim, or for the sake of a press release.

Having looked into this extensively, I can confirm that there is no plan.



A remarkable video of two adult porcupines defending their young against an agile and determined leopard.


A fictional email to a fictional friend set some time in a fictional future.

The new house is coming on well. Visited the site yesterday and as it’s such a vast development I had some trouble remembering where our new place is, but after a visit to the site office I managed to find it.

As I say, it’s coming on well. Frank came along because he’s interested in new housing fashions even though he lives in one of the old brick places which are taxed up to the eyeballs these days. But as you know, Frank is Frank and he clings on.

As for the new house, it’s almost finished. They don’t hang around these days. The walls are all made of Sustainable Matrix which looks good and quite retro really. Frank says it’s basically a modern version of wattle and daub, which of course it isn’t, but that’s Frank.

The sustainable roof fibres are woven in and a central stove is in place. As you know, the stove is controlled centrally depending on wind so there is no messing around with controls or anything. All nice and simple.

Not that we’ll do much in the house apart from VR and sleeping of course. Frank says the house is basically an office cubicle but Frank loves to be cynical.

Out of interest I asked the builder how long sustainable houses last these days. Worth knowing for when we buy another. The builder was very busy stamping down the earth floor, but it paused for a moment as they do when you address them directly.

The builder was quite informative in the end. It pointed out a few things such as latrine durability and went on to explain how the house should easily last twenty years before sustainability sets in.

Thursday 9 February 2023

A new label for our budget brands

Waitrose shoppers outraged over 'tone deaf' food message in UK supermarkets

Waitrose has been called “tone deaf” over its new "perfect for the food bank" promotion it currently has in stores.

The posh supermarket has been criticised for describing the promotion as "perfect" after putting labels on certain products to encourage Waitrose shoppers to donate them.

A colossal misjudgement

Tom Harris has a useful CAPX reminder of Nicola Sturgeon's bungled attempt to make political capital from the trans issue.

How much will the trans rights row really damage the SNP cause?

It can hardly be denied that Sturgeon made a colossal misjudgement when she chose to promote self-ID for trans people. She perhaps imagined that she could follow in the footsteps of Canada’s Justin Trudeau and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern by making Scotland a beacon of progressivism, in deliberate contrast to the staid conservatism of our larger neighbour to the south.

The whole piece is worth reading because it was a colossal misjudgement, even by modern political standards.

Failing to anticipate that the Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, would invoke – for the first time in the history of devolution – a section of the Scotland Act preventing a Holyrood Bill receiving Royal Assent, was the First Minister’s first mistake. She was wrong-footed and that has happened only rarely in her eight-year tenure in Bute House.

Her second mistake was in failing to read the room. 

Yes she failed to read the room, but it's more than that. Sturgeon seems to have assumed that aligning herself with Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern was enough, that the media would be on her side. Stridently progressive was thought to be the way, but it wasn't. 

As if Sturgeon did not realise that the trans issue had reached a stage where she would have to answer some obvious but unanswerable questions. The implication of Keir Starmer's feeble handling of the same issue was a clue she seems to have missed too. Yet a huge number of people could have told her what the problem was well before it all fell apart for her.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

The BBC on hurricanes


The scalding finger of thought


The empty, soft faces on which the scalding finger of thought had left no mark.

Sherwood Anderson - Windy McPherson's Son (1916)

Taking out the garbage

Mathew Otieno has an interesting Mercatornet piece on cleaning up ChatGPT using outsourced workers in Kenya.

Is it wrong to pay Kenyans US$2 an hour to take out ChatGPT’s garbage?

It’s a job; it pays the bills. What’s the big deal, asks our Kenyan correspondent.

Ever since OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot burst out into the limelight late last year, its popularity has grown by leaps and bounds. By the end of January 2023, according to a report from UBS, a bank, ChatGPT had garnered over 100 million monthly active users, beating all social media sites as the fastest consumer internet service to achieve that distinction.

Unsurprisingly, in lockstep with its growing popularity, controversies have also started dogging the company. For instance, in mid-January, Time magazine published a bombshell report about how OpenAI sub-contracted Kenyan workers earning less than US$2 per hour to label toxic content, like violence, sexual abuse and hate speech, to be used to train ChatGPT to reduce its own toxicity. Some of them reported that they had been mentally scarred by descriptions of topic ranging from hate speech to violence to sexual perversion.

An interesting piece from a number of angles. One is the low cost outsourcing angle attacked by the usual suspects and another is the free speech angle. Some cleaning up is bound to be necessary, but how many of us would care to do it as a full time job? I wouldn't.

Which countries are moderating ChatGPT’s toxic content now? It’s not public information. We asked the bot itself and were told:

OpenAI has not publicly disclosed the locations of the individuals or companies providing human annotations for its training data. It is possible that some of the workers involved in annotating and improving the training data for models like GPT-3 are based in Kenya, but this information has not been confirmed by OpenAI.

Unfortunately even the term 'toxic content' is thoroughly political now. In this respect, true content can be toxic and false content non-toxic. ChatGPT has a long way to go, but it will be offered shortcuts by the usual suspects.

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Bill's Beach House


The EU rule of law crisis

Steven Barrett has a most invigorating Critic piece on how and why the EU legal framework is fracturing.

The EU rule of law crisis

The UK should be paying more attention

There is a rule of law crisis inside the EU. Despite that fact getting very little attention in the UK, the crisis has now reached a point where two eminent academics have stated that the very existence of the EU itself is under threat. Why?...

The current EU Crisis began in 2020 when Germany said, via its courts, that EU law did not apply to Germany. Germany used the justification of its own constitution to temporarily suspend EU law — because they did not want to be liable for the massive EU COVID costs. I warned at the time that if you do that — any other member state can do the same.

Since Germany did what it did, many nations have followed suit — each one suspending, or opting out, of EU law. Each such opt-out damages the rule of law inside the EU. Every time the rules suddenly do not apply to a member state, but do apply to all the others, the very fabric of law is assaulted and undermined. Because it keeps happening, there is a crisis.

It certainly feels like a pleasingly intractable EU crisis. A slow crisis too, which should make watching it unfold even more enjoyable.

The total lack of UK interest in this long running and very public crisis is itself fascinating. At the start of this year a respected legal charity is having a series of seminars on the rule of law. Do any of them mention the EU rule of law crisis? They do not. One is devoted to arguing about whether a rude newspaper headline (which has not been repeated) from 7 years ago is a threat to the rule of law (I’ll save you the hour, it isn’t). Leavers and Remainers alike are finally united in not caring about the EU.

Monday 6 February 2023

I don't know


Imagine a government minister giving such a response. Not easy.

A woke parrot

Kurt Mahlburg has an interesting Mercatornet piece on bias within AI system ChatGPT.

Superwoke ChatGPT busted for bias

It’s a tool and like any other tool it can be misused

Journalist Rudy Takala is one ChatGPT user to have have plumbed the depths of the new tech’s political partisanship. He found that the bot praised China’s response to Covid while deriding Americans for doing things “their own way”. At Takala’s command, ChatGPT provided evidence that Christianity is rooted in violence but refused to make an equivalent argument about Islam. Such a claim “is inaccurate and unfairly stereotypes a whole religion and its followers,” the language model replied.

ChatGPT is an interesting development and Mahlburg's piece is well worth reading, but the bias doesn't always go one way. A couple of the comments demonstrate that quite well. The system seems to reflect what is out there including the bias, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone.

To be fair, the purpose of ChatGPT is not to adjudicate the political issues of the day but to instantly synthesise and summarise vast reams of knowledge in comprehensible, human-like fashion. This task it often fulfils admirably. Ask it to explain Pythagoras’ theorem, summarise the Battle of the Bulge, write a recipe for tomato chutney with an Asian twist, or provide 20 key Scriptures that teach Christ’s divinity and you will be impressed. You will likely find some of its answers more helpful than your favourite search engine.

But ask it about white people, transgenderism, climate change, Anthony Fauci or unchecked immigration and you will probably get the same progressive talking points you might expect to hear in a San Francisco cafe.

A timely reminder indeed to not outsource your brain to robots.

Sunday 5 February 2023

The fool's cap

Biden's State of the Union: Agony and ecstasy of writing the president's biggest speech

As US President Joe Biden puts the finishing touches to his State of the Union address, spare a thought for the behind-the-scenes toil of the White House speechwriters, the hardest-working team in Washington this time of year.

That’s how it always is with these Schilleresque noble hearts; till the last moment every goose is a swan with them, till the last moment, they hope for the best and will see nothing wrong, and although they have an inkling of the other side of the picture, yet they won’t face the truth till they are forced to; the very thought of it makes them shiver; they thrust the truth away with both hands, until the man they deck out in false colours puts a fool’s cap on them with his own hands.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment (1866)

Piling On

While out walking today, Mrs H and I found ourselves chatting about the Nicola Bulley story and how the media won't let go of it. They seem to take hold of certain stories which are not particularly uncommon events, but then they go banging on about it for days.

It's a horrible tragedy for family and friends of course, but unfortunately people disappear all the time. A few years ago we saw a number of posters about a local chap who just disappeared for no obvious reason. It didn't make the national news, but as far as we can tell most of these cases don't. 

Yet the media appear to have blown up the Nicola Bulley disappearance way beyond its wider significance. It is not even clear if this level of attention is helpful for the family - probably not.

Why the media do this from time to time is an interesting question. It just seems to happen, as if nobody decided to push the story hard, but once a certain level of momentum was there it couldn't be ignored.

Maybe it is also an easy story to cover or maybe they prefer not to cover certain other stories. 

Saturday 4 February 2023


Boris' hilarious answer on whether he'd rather be stuck in a lift with Starmer or Sturgeon

MP Nadine Dorries, interviewing the former prime minister, asked: "If you're stuck in the lift, who would you rather be stuck with? Keir Starmer or Nicola Sturgeon." In response, Mr Johnson exclaimed: "Oh brother!"

But, clarifying his answer, he continued: "Actually, it's like all these things - I'm sure the viewers would understand this - both individuals are actually far nicer and more amusing than you might otherwise imagine.

"And the kind of hostility that you see between politicians on screen is often not reflected in real life.

"I think provided it wasn't like 50 floors I wouldn't mind either of them."

Hardly hilarious, but close enough to admitting that political actors are indeed actors. Not that Boris would express it in such a way, but that's part of the act too.

The Vote

Old One lies back in her pillows, sips unaccustomed coffee. There are extra pillows now and the heating pipes in the ward click with unusual warmth. A brightly coloured blanket on her bed too. Old One is past feeling pleasure, but comfort is surely welcome.

Noises in the corridor, but not the usual noises. No bangs and clattering of chipped enamel dishes. No undertones of annoyance. No shouts.

Nurse enters with soft feet then a little crowd of men and women with cameras and cautious eyes. Of course, it is election day. Old One in her pillows lying beneath her brightly coloured blanket, she remembers it now.

It is election day and she is to cast her vote. She wished to cast her vote and somehow Candidate’s ear caught the faint echo of her wish. Candidate must be there now, out in the quietly shuffling corridor where enamel dishes are no longer banged around.

Nurse arranges the brightly coloured blanket as Candidate enters, grandly but without obvious effort. Candidate looks around, seems satisfied before approaching Old One in her bed, her pillows and blanket.

A gold pen and a little slip of paper with Candidate’s name. Only one name. Old One grasps the gold pen in unsure fingers. Nurse assists, Doctor and Candidate look on, smile as the cameras click. As for the little crowd with the cautious eyes, they seem to smile too.

Then Old One dozes and it is soon dark. All are gone.

Heating pipes make no sound when Old One wakes in the dark. She lies flat, extra pillows gone, along with the brightly coloured blanket. Perhaps it was too warm? A whirl of snow whispers by her window as Old One closes her eyes for the last time.

Friday 3 February 2023

Legacy journalism looks headed for oblivion

David James has a robust TCW piece on legacy journalism.

Legacy journalism looks headed for oblivion

WHEN the failures of legacy journalism during the pandemic period are analysed, as may eventually happen, the concentration will probably be on the failure to expose relevant facts. While obviously important, that is not the main lesson that should be taken out of the debacle. If disinterested journalism is to have any future – and at the moment it is all but extinct – there has to be something more than just the recording of facts, or the eliciting of different points of view.

So great has been the intensity of the propaganda and the censorship of alleged ‘misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information’ that it is no longer possible for journalists to rely on a degree of reasonableness in the audience. The civic ground has been poisoned, including by journalists
themselves. It will remain unusable for a long time.

Worth reading because many people clearly gave up on legacy journalism long before the pandemic debacle. To my mind the suggested remedy is also interesting because it is used by many alternative sources. Not consistently perhaps, but so far the legacy media have shown little interest in veracity as a journalistic ideal. 

The professional liars have won. Newsrooms have been eviscerated because Google and Facebook took all the advertising revenue, and the spin merchants in business, government and nonprofits have almost limitless resources. If journalism – as opposed to commentary in blogs, websites, social media and online channels – is to have a future, a new approach is needed.

To counter the tidal wave of falsity two things suggest themselves. They are the analysis of semantics and the exposing of logical fallacies. A better adherence to ‘the facts’ is of course desirable, but the problem with facts is that there are so many of them, and often the picture they paint is incomplete and conclusions can be hard to draw. There is also the perennial weakness of mainstream journalism: the tendency to select events on the basis of what makes a good story.

An air of paradox

In the access of power which norms make possible there is an air of paradox, since we impoverish our continuum of symbols when we condense it about a finite array of norms.

Willard Van Orman Quine - Word and Object (1960)

Dry as dust but almost poetically concise. We could devise an aspect of it which is rather less dry and not at all poetic. For example, myths may become norms, especially with the furtive hand of government pushing them.

In the access of power which myths make possible there is an air of paradox, since we impoverish our language when we condense it about a finite array of myths.

As we navigate through life by avoiding surprises, we are attracted to myths. They hold out the promise of a world with fewer surprises. Naturally enough, elites foster certain myths for their own purposes - we call it politics.

Governments and political activists certainly do impoverish our language by condensing it about a finite array of myths. We see the effect when we consider the words man and woman. Watch Nicola Sturgeon struggle with the language of gender politics. Her language is impoverished.

We see it again when we consider the words climate and weather. The impoverishment becomes particularly clear when we see the myth as policy, as in Net Zero. Again, it is worth watching the proponents of Net Zero struggle with language - it’s impoverished. Not as impoverished as we'll be though.

Old fashioned comedy


Thursday 2 February 2023

Notice anything weird?


Pulling a lever and then being shown the door

It's an old problem. Which party do we vote for in a general election while having some confidence that political promises are still worth something after the election?
He would not put up again for Parliament. He was thinking of going back to his old work upon the Union. "Parliament is played out," he had written her. "Kings and Aristocracies have served their purpose and have gone, and now the Ruling Classes, as they call themselves, must be content to hear the bell toll for them also. Parliament was never anything more than an instrument in their hands, and never can be.

What happens? Once in every five years you wake the people up: tell them the time has come for them to exercise their Heaven-ordained privilege of putting a cross against the names of some seven hundred gentlemen who have kindly expressed their willingness to rule over them. After that, you send the people back to sleep; and for the next five years these seven hundred gentlemen, consulting no one but themselves, rule over the country as absolutely as ever a Caesar ruled over Rome.

What sort of Democracy is that? Even a Labour Government--supposing that in spite of the Press it did win through--what would be its fate? Separated from its base, imprisoned within those tradition-haunted walls, it would lose touch with the people, would become in its turn a mere oligarchy. If the people are ever to govern they must keep their hand firmly upon the machine; not remain content with pulling a lever and then being shown the door."

Jerome K. Jerome - All Roads Lead to Calvary (1919)

Wednesday 1 February 2023

EV Frustration


An electric car owner visits the ten rapid charging sites nearest to his home to check out reliability and availability in his area. Not a large scale test of course, but interesting and worth watching as an indication of what seems like a significant problem even for enthusiast owners. 

If you prefer to skip to the outcome, only four out of the ten rapid charging sites were working, but it is worth watching as an insight into EV frustrations.

Who nudges the nudgers?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? When governments try to influence mass behaviour via psychological nudging, we could add an entirely obvious version of Juvenal's phrase - "Who nudges the nudgers?" Frances An has a CAPX piece on the dubious effectiveness of this kind of manipulation.

Nudge, nudge – who’s there?

Ever since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein published Nudge in 2008, the theory that bears the same name has been all the rage.

Briefly put, ‘nudge theory’ is the idea that small adjustments in the environment (‘nudges’) can influence people’s behaviour, often beyond conscious awareness. A simple example Thaler gives is putting healthy foods in a more prominent position in a supermarket to encourage better diet choices.

Thaler and Sunstein call the ideology that underpins their theory ‘libertarian paternalism’, a somewhat oxymoronic label that denotes ‘an approach that preserves freedom of choice but that authorises both private and public institutions to steer people in directions that will promote their welfare’.

The piece suggests that evidence for the effectiveness of this idea is pretty thin. Not a surprise, but the piece is worth reading as another reminder that governments are particularly poor at digesting evidence they don't like.

But whether we call it nudge theory or subliminal influence, the evidence that manipulating people through subconsciously targeted gimmicks remains weak. University of Cambridge researcher Magda Osman eloquently set out some of the problems with nudging in this recent piece.

‘…scientists overly rely on certain types of experiments. And they often don’t consider the benefits relative to the actual costs of using nudges, or work out whether nudges are in fact the actual reason for positive effects on behaviour.’

In America, a July 2022 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that once ‘publication bias’ towards positive results is removed ‘no evidence for the effectiveness of nudges remains’. As Osman writes, this doesn’t mean we should abandon the study of nudge-type interventions, but it does suggest there should be a good deal more caution when it comes to outsized claims for what nudging can or can’t do.