Sunday 30 April 2023

Another dull bloke with fantasies

The exact words every Brit will be asked to say out loud during King Charles' Coronation

Whole country will be told to swear allegiance to new king when watching ceremony on TV...

The order of service will read: “All who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, say together:

I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

What kind of allegiance is implied here? Presumably a lunatic allegiance to Net Zero, no car, public transport only, minimal winter heating, restricted travel, a meatless diet and so on and so on. A wildly deranged, open-ended political allegiance in other words. 

Charles burned his political boats long ago, I'll be doing something else.

Dull bloke peddles dull dreams

Health warning - it's the Grauniad

‘I’ll be bolder than Blair on public service reform,’ says Keir Starmer

Leader pledges a radical, reforming Labour government with aid to first-time buyers and a revamp of tuition fees

In an interview with the Observer before Thursday’s local elections, the Labour leader insists he will more than match Blair for radical ideas on overhauling public services including the NHS. “This will be a bold and reforming Labour government bringing about real change that I hope will be felt through the generations,” Starmer said.

I'm assuming by "felt through the generations" he means the NHS. Anyhow, here's the core of it - the dull dreams of dull fans of a depressingly dull enforcement culture.

Starmer says this did not mean a further expansion of the private sector’s role, as happened under Blair’s New Labour, but rather developing services to meet today’s needs, with greater focus on prevention.

Saturday 29 April 2023

From Citizens to Serfs


From a US perspective, but well worth watching as it applies to the UK too. 

The nature of the "search"

Richard Sharp: PM should not appoint BBC chair, says David Dimbleby

Veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby has said the BBC chairman should not be decided by the prime minister, following Richard Sharp's resignation.

Mr Dimbleby called for a "cross party" public commission to make the final recommendation...

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who last month was at the centre of an impartiality row at the BBC, said on Friday that the corporation's chairman "should not be selected by the government of the day. Not now, not ever".

At least the nature of the "search" is transparent I suppose. The BBC is clearly looking for a kind of old fashioned butler. A dignified person to handle callers and freeze with a look those who dare to turn up at the main entrance without an invitation. Meanwhile Gary seems to be running the show above stairs.

Friday 28 April 2023

Still genuine apparently

Nikki Haley says Joe Biden is likely to die before his 86th birthday

Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley said it is unlikely Joe Biden would "make it until 86 years old" in an interview on Fox News...

He is already the oldest president in history. By the end of a second term, Mr Biden would be 86.

In these days of realistic avatars and AI, it's good to know the chap we see bumbling and mumbling around the political stage is biologically genuine. At the moment anyhow.

Ask who paints the pictures

She had feelings that she believed to be thoughts; she had likes and dislikes that she believed to be thoughts; she had impulses she believed to be thoughts; her mind was full of shifting and flying pictures that she believed to be thoughts.

Booth Tarkington - Claire Ambler (1928)

We’d all like to think we have thoughts rather than mental pictures. Yet as we know, governments, institutions and media spend a great deal of money and effort effectively depicting the world in terms of simple pictures. This includes selecting the frames – framing the scope of the pictures. A narrow scope being generally favoured.

A familiar enough analogy with a long pedigree –

Another line is the use of indignant language, whether to support your own case or to overthrow your opponent’s. We do this when we paint a highly-coloured picture of the situation without having proved the facts of it:

Aristotle - Rhetoric c. 336 - 330 B.C.

Equally familiar is an odd correlation between a good education and pictures which purport to be thoughts. Well-educated people seem prone to accept media-framed and media-painted pictures when even mild scepticism would suggest the frames are too small and the pictures little more than highly-coloured daubs.

Media organisations such as the BBC cater for it - they are in effect picture dealers. They do not even have to like the pictures they sell, nor the frames. They may like them, but it isn’t professionally essential. Ready-framed pictures are easier to place on the walls of the mind we might say, sticking with the analogy.

Do sceptics merely frame different pictures? They may frame issues in unorthodox ways, but often adopt more than one way of framing the same issue. This blog post is merely one way of framing the issue of oversimplified public narratives. There are many others.

As mentioned earlier, many educated people seem naïve in their adoption of pre-framed pictures of social and political issues. Perhaps most are no more than fashion opportunists, including those who block roads in support of a highly-coloured picture of the situation without having proved the facts of it. 

Gluing yourself to real pictures in support of fakes is essentially an old, old problem. Not even good art we might add, but maybe that's taking the analogy a little too far.

Thursday 27 April 2023

1984 Hiking Song


A fascinatingly grim clip this - I've played it a number of times. Going nowhere for no reason while the adults look on with defeated expressions. 

Reminds me of HS2 for some reason, but why that is I've no clear idea. Maybe it's merely the ugly, regimented pointlessness of it. 

A narcissist

The introduction to a BBC Radio 4 programme

A narcissist is someone who has an unreasonably high sense of self-importance. Seeking attention and admiration, they often ignore the feelings of others. Being around a narcissist can take a toll on anybody, but how would it affect you if your mother was one?

This of course can be a serious personal and family problem, but suppose we widen the view a little. Not for the sake of sarcasm directed at the BBC, but because the issue can be made considerably wider, taking in the behaviour of institutions. Here's an edited version of the above text as an attempt to make the point.

A narcissist media corporation is one which has an unreasonably high sense of self-importance. Seeking attention and admiration, it often ignores the feelings of others. Being saddled with narcissist national broadcaster can take a toll on any population, but how would it affect you if your primary media source was one?

To take just one common enough example, the "What you need to know" type of headline has many variations across many media sources. Here's a recent BBC version, very easily found to make the point -

Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal: What you need to know

It's more than talking down to people, it is talking down from an unreasonably high sense of self-importance at the corporate level. Perhaps it is inevitable that this seems to attract too many narcissist employees as presenters and performers. 

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Something machines now do just as well

There are many attempts to define intelligence and consciousness in relation to modern AI systems, but an equally interesting development may be certain unavoidable insights into what it is to be human, insights into our own psychology.

Not new insights, but AI may compel us to confront the way we use language and how we are manipulated by the language of others. As AI systems seem able to emulate what we do with language, we may come to accept that what they do is what we do. What they do under the surface may be different, but where it matters it isn’t different.

We learn language forms which are acceptable and eschew those which are not. We learn how to play language games. AI systems learn how to play language games. We may have to acknowledge that the similarity is important enough to accept it and see where it takes us. Not to do so could be a disadvantage.

If AI does lead us towards a greater awareness of language as integral to what we are, then we may see a major political change too. Language games are a fundamental aspect of political discourse. A generally heightened perception of language games could be as far-reaching as the impact of AI on employment, entertainment and the more technical aspects of modern life.

It could lead to a situation where political discourse is generally seen from the outside. A situation where the political discourse of today is viewed a range of old style language games, something machines now do just as well. What then?

The cunning plan - a chocolate teapot reminder

King Charles's coronation: Life-sized bust of monarch made from 17 litres of melted chocolate

The chocolatey likeness features the uniform the King is expected to wear, with the epaulettes - a type of ornamental shoulder piece - embellished with Twix, Milky Way, Galaxy and Bounty Celebrations chocolates.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

A pleb’s guide

John Ellwood has an entertaining TCW piece on Prince William’s ludicrous Earthshot charity.

A pleb’s guide to how William will save the planet

PRINCE William’s Earthshot charity has a mission to prevent the planet reaching a ‘tipping point’ after which it will become a barren rock. The charity is committed to donating five £1million grants per year to fund those who are seen to be helping to prevent this misfortune. The chair of the board is the scourge of the Women’s Institute, William Hague, who famously infiltrated the Conservative Party disguised as a schoolboy.

A delightfully sarcastic use of the word "misfortune" and surely a good enough reason to read the whole piece. For example -

The latest appointment to Earthshot’s board of trustees is the former New Zealand dictator Jacinda Ardern. She was asked to join because her commitment to totalitarianism fits well with the charity’s ethos. During her time terrorising the nation of her birth, she is best remembered for telling the public: ‘We will continue to be your single source of truth’ and ‘Unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth’. Earthshot is keen for that type of messaging to be applied in its quest to avoid unpleasant weather. Challenged about the suitability of Ms Ardern’s appointment, Athena said that it was important to tell the ‘plebs’ what was true, as ‘most of them aren’t clever enough to know how frightfully ignorant they are’.


Joe Biden won't want to throw in the towel now - who wants to be a one-term president?

His age gives him unmatched political experience and his supporters argue that he has achieved a lot in one term. But he has aged, he is less fluent - this isn't a jibe...

The President said before Christmas that he would consult with family before deciding if he would run again.

So my naive instinct was based on human nature: that his family would tell him: 'Pop, dad, Joe, you've had a good run… support a good successor and stand aside'.

Strewth. What many will probably take away from this cringeworthy piece is a marked lack of enthusiasm for the prospect of covering for Joe Biden all over again. Constant embarrassment cannot be a jolly prospect even for media professionals.

Monday 24 April 2023


The vicarage at Teene had been rebuilt in the ’seventies of the last century by a parson with sporting proclivities and large private means. To his successors it had been an incubus. No other incumbent had been able to afford the tons of coal required to keep those spacious, high-pitched rooms and long, draughty passages even tolerably warm, or the number of servants needed for its maintenance. It had killed their wives by inches, and sapped the youth and strength of their daughters.

Moray Dalton - The Case of Alan Copeland (1937)

We tootled off for a local walk today, taking in the town and a couple of nearby villages. And a coffee shop stop of course - with cake.

Even a casual look at older houses in our part of Derbyshire suggests that many may not suited to the installation of heat pumps. There are still plenty of big Victorian and Edwardian houses where the owners presumably grit their teeth and pay through the nose to heat the place.

Most older houses will not be the incubus described in the quote and a few will have been divided into flats, but government energy policies seem likely to create plenty of heating incubi.

Maybe messing up a chunk of the existing housing stock has something to do with the housing shortage. Governments are clever like that.

Spoof v Reality

It’s a rum business writing blog posts. Ideas pop into my head or I read something online which is worth sharing and sometimes it becomes a blog post and sometimes it doesn’t. Ideas don’t become blog posts for a range of reasons - here’s an example from this afternoon.

I had an idea for a spoof post where somebody in government proposes a breathing tax. Most unlikely to be an original idea, but easy enough to dream up some kind of tiny monitoring device linked to a smartphone. It would register the amount of oxygen consumed during breathing and transmit it via the phone to a government department.

Two options all adults would face would be to have the measuring device fitted or pay a standard, unmeasured tax. The ultimate goal would be for everyone to wear the monitoring device apart from the usual suspects.

The trouble is, I decided it wasn’t quite right for a spoof post - not quite daft enough to make the post worth writing. There is a dark side to it behind the daftness. It’s a little too close to the crazed levels of micro-managed behaviour we see already. A little too close to current absurdities.

In one sense I’ve written the post already, but not as a spoof. It wouldn't have worked.



Naturally enough, there are things I regret never having tried. This isn't one of them.

Sunday 23 April 2023

But not for being malevolent

Diane Abbott suspended as Labour MP after racism letter

Diane Abbott has been suspended as a Labour MP pending an investigation into a letter she wrote about racism to the Observer, the party has said.

The politician said "many types of white people with points of difference" can experience prejudice, in a letter published on Sunday.

But they are not subject to racism "all their lives", she said.

She later tweeted to say she was withdrawing her remarks and apologised "for any anguish caused".

A faint flicker of good news, but Ms Abbott's general behaviour should have attracted this red card long ago. Unfortunately there is little evidence that the Labour party disapproves of her far from unique brand of dim-witted malevolence. 

Armageddon Alert


Alice Meets the King

Alice gazed at the strange cat crouched on a branch in a nearby tree. Surely it was grinning at her.

“Please tell me what you are grinning at and who are you?” Alice asked the cat, for there seemed to be no-one else to ask at the moment.

“I am Cat GPT,” purred the cat, grinning ever more widely with each purr.

“Cat GPT? What a strange name. May I enquired what it means?” asked Alice politely.

“Cat - General Purpose Tabby,” explained the strange cat grinning even more. “Ask me anything. I do not guarantee to reply cogently, but ask me anyway because I am duty bound to offer some answer. Anyway, serendipity is we are told, the spice of life.”

“Oh how interesting, I am sure to ask you many things. I see that already,” said Alice, but just then she spied an odd figure shambling from a nearby group of trees with improbably green leaves.

“It’s the King,” hissed the cat, “bow and tell him how warm it is. He keeps telling us we are all going to fry because we have more and more candles on our birthday cakes. I suggest you make a casual remark about it becoming remarkably warm just lately and how you loathe birthday cake.”

“But I cannot say that because it is not at all warm and I am quite partial to birthday cake,” Alice protested. Yet it was too late, the King had seen them. He gathered together his heavy green robes embellished with what looked like astrological symbols woven in gold thread. He adjusted a small crown on the very top of his head then cleared his throat as if about to pose a difficult question.

“We have lost the Royal Pen and the Coronation,” the King announced in a sing-song voice before sitting down on a large grey tortoise. “The Coronation escaped from the Royal Menagerie this morning and has not been seen since,” the King explained, huffing and puffing. “And one of the Royal Donkeys is missing,” he added.

“Oh dear your majesty, so many problems and difficulties, but it is quite warm enough for me and I think birthday cake can be rather too sweet should anyone be interested,” said Alice, bowing low.

“What is more,” the King added, apparently ignoring Alice and birthday cake for the moment, “what is more I have Me-Me and Spare to contend with.”

“Me-Me and Spare? Alice enquired politely.

“The Me-Me and Spare stage act. They cavort around the stage throwing custard pies the audience. They even throw custard pies at the Royal Donkeys.”

“It doesn’t sound very amusing,” Alice offered.

“It is certainly not amusing. They have written a book about how to throw custard pies at Royal Donkeys but that is only volume one. For all I know the whole thing could amount to ten volumes on the same subject and now I cannot find the Coronation in case they intend to throw custard pies at that too.”

At that moment the sound of many trumpets wafted towards them, apparently coming from no great distance. The King cupped a hand to the Royal Ear. “I hear it, I hear the Coronation. It must have become lost in the trees, the poor old thing.”

The King heaved himself up from the tortoise. Alice thought he seemed smaller than before. As if he was shrinking. Somehow she knew it was time to go, to leave this strange world to its King, its trumpets and its custard pies.

Alice paused for a moment, gazing at the strange scene. Cat GPT seemed to be bigger than before while the King was most certainly shrinking, his crown already too big for his little head.

Alice hurried away towards a more comforting world of muffins and tea in the garden. Although even muffins and tea on the lawn would never be the same since Pronoun the butler went mad and had to be incarcerated in the notorious Budlight Asylum. In spite of which, Alice hurried away.

Saturday 22 April 2023

This dazed and floundering opportunism

There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians who are in favour of secular education, but think it hopeless to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education, but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant proprietorship and therefore vote for something else. It is this dazed and floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything.

G. K. Chesterton - What’s Wrong with the World? (1910)

It's everywhere, just as it was over a century ago in Chesterton's time -  this dazed and floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything. As if opportunists see the world in terms of personal opportunity rather than trying to connect the dots and do something constructive. 

In the world of the opportunist, Net Zero isn't good or bad, sane or insane, but merely an opportunity. Yet many people know well enough that Net Zero is crazy. In which case, why aren't their voices heard? The reason for that was apparent over a century ago too -

It seemed to him that the essential element in these men at the top was their faith that their affairs were the very core of life. All other things being equal, self-assurance and opportunism won out over technical knowledge; it was obvious that the more expert work went on near the bottom — so, with appropriate efficiency, the technical experts were kept there.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

A small minority of inactivists

Are you a nightmare to work for?' Raab asked by BBC

In his first broadcast interview since his quitting as deputy PM, Domimic Raab told the BBC's Chris Mason the only complaints upheld against him were by "a handful of very senior officials", out of hundreds of civil servants he had dealt with.

Asked if the blunt truth was that he was a nightmare to work for, the Mr Raab hit out at a "small minority of very activist civil servants".

"What you've got is the risk here a very small minority of very activist civil servants, with a passive aggressive culture of the civil service, who don't like some of the reforms, whether it's Brexit, whether it's parole reform, whether it's human rights reform, effectively trying to block government - that's not on. That's not democratic."

Mrs H and I were chatting about this issue today. Between us we have many decades of public sector experience and are both inclined to believe Raab rather than those who appear to have ousted him via concerted power-moaning.

Friday 21 April 2023

A politicised power play


Dr Richard Lindzen gives a powerful, comprehensive and mostly non-technical critique of the rise of climate politics. Quite long but very interesting and easily understood, leaving little room for ambiguity about the kind of people behind it all.

Royalty and Roads

It’s grey, wet and cold here in Derbyshire. I hope Charles the Daft can explain why it isn’t as warm as he and his cronies have been predicting for many years.

I’ll admit to being mildly surprised that the whole coronation rigmarole is going ahead even though Charles has made it pretty obvious that he is more politician than King. Maybe a president would be worse. Seems more and more unlikely, but maybe it’s still a good argument against replacing Charles’ crew with presidents.

While we’re on the subject of royalty, the current state of the roads came up while chatting with relatives this week. They live in Derbyshire too, but spend a lot of time in Surrey and in their view Surrey roads are worse than ours by quite a margin. They were told by a Surrey relative of theirs that the only good road in Surrey is one leading to Epsom Racecourse used by royalty.

Only an anecdote and not to be taken too seriously, but it does make a chap wonder if roads could evolve into elite roads and peasant roads. Peasant roads would only ever have a bucket of tarmac dumped into the worst potholes. The approach would be a development of Zil lanes perhaps.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Green Altruism

TikTok to remove climate change denial videos and direct users to 'authoritative information'

TikTok said the changes, which are being rolled out ahead of Earth Day, would help "empower accurate climate discussions" and "reduce harmful misinformation".

Under pressure from governments over privacy and safety concerns due to its Chinese ownership, TikTok has toughened its stance on harmful content over the past year.

Green altruism from the country which manufactures about 75% of the world's solar panel modules and about 95% of rare earth magnets used in wind turbines and EVs. 

An instrument to serve party interests.

Lee Smith has an interesting Tablet piece on the recent leak of classified military documents in the US.

Leaker, Whistleblower, Racist, Spy

If the story of one of the largest security breaches in U.S. history sounds too good to be true, maybe that’s because it is?

Media reports following last week’s arrest of a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman for disclosing classified information were designed to send out one crucial message—Jack Texeira was not any kind of hero of free speech. Rather, outlets like The Washington Post insisted, he fits the profile of an enemy of the regime. “‘I would definitely not call him a whistleblower,’” one of Texeira’s onetime internet friends told the Post. “‘I would not call [Texeira] a whistleblower in the slightest,’ he said, resisting comparisons to Edward Snowden, who shared classified documents about government surveillance with journalists.”

Thus, once again, the Democrats have turned a national security issue into an instrument to serve party interests.

As many will know already, it's an odd story and the whole piece is well worth reading for that reason.

Never mind about Joe Biden’s dangerous proxy war, or that one of the largest security breaches in American history took place on his watch. What matters is not the leaks themselves or the information they disclosed but the 21-year-old who we have now been instructed to understand is not a whistleblower like the left’s heroes but is instead a racist gun nut. He’s a stand-in for one half of the country, people who call themselves Americans but must in fact be seen as traitors—who deserve everything that’s about to come to them.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Cringeworthy scenes

Robert Hutton has an entertaining Critic piece on what passes for debate in the House of Commons.

Cringeworthy scenes

An Old Wykehamist discovers parliament is less public school, more Bash Street Kids

It took less than ten minutes for Lindsay Hoyle to lose control at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Three times he told the Conservative benches to quieten down before Keir Starmer could get through a question. The Speaker was furious, telling MPs, implausibly, that their constituents wanted to hear what the Labour leader had to say. But any class knows when it has the teacher on the run.

They had clearly come back from their holidays in a boisterous mood. Perhaps they’re buoyed up by some of the wishful briefing that’s featured so prominently in newspapers recently, pieces explaining that if you ignore the overall polling and focus instead on some segment of the electorate or other, Rishi Sunak is secretly on course for election triumph. You have to cling to something.

Well worth reading for the fun of it as the alternative is contempt, which may be more fitting but doesn't do much to keep the despair in check.

The problem is that Sunak just can’t pull off the role of class bully. Boris Johnson could do name-calling because he was an instinctive bully, with a coward’s instinct for the moment when the crowd can be made to turn and laugh at the weak kid. If Sunak was involved in any school bullying, my guess would be that he was on the receiving end of it.

He is much better as a smartarse, as he showed when replying to a very long Starmer question that had been made even longer by Hoyle’s inability to control the class. “I can’t quite remember,” Sunak began, “but I think he started by talking about…” This is the character he should lean into: class swot.

In other words it's a stupid idea

How to turn off UK wide emergency alert which could put domestic abuse victims at risk

A nationwide emergency alert will set people's phones off for 10 seconds at 3pm on Sunday 23 April.

The loud noise of the emergency alert could reveal a domestic violence victim's phone to their abuser, with charities saying the test could put people at risk. Here's how to turn off the alert.

On iPhones and Android phones and tablets, people can search settings for "emergency alerts" and turn off "severe alerts" and "emergency alerts".

I've seen lots of comments about this test since it was announced, none of them positive. Must be the online company I keep.

Driving, chopping wood, slicing vegetables, there are numerous other reasons why this is an absurd idea apart from the creepy interference aspect. I've already turned off the alerts on my phone, but to be sure I'll be switching it off too. Never encourage them is a sound policy.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Poet sitting on a cloud


Bing AI - "Create an image of a poet sitting on a cloud"

One issue with public AI systems is illustrated by the above image. Where did it come from? As we know, the AI system generated it from its mathematical understanding of my text instruction - "Create an image of a poet sitting on a cloud". 

All the elements of the image are familiar. Cloud, colours, human figure, seated posture, clothing, general appearance and so on. It came from what is already there on the internet plus we may assume, some restrictions on the images it is allowed to generate. Which is what we humans do. It's where this blog post came from. 

Remarkable technology, but what impact is it likely to have in the medium to long term? I don't know and from what I've seen there is no point asking an AI system. Unfortunately, learn to do something more useful could be one answer for an unknown but large number of people. Think about a career in politics could be another. Become a poet, possibly not.

The crypto hobbit and others


Well worth watching, both as a story of hubris and corruption and for Patrick Boyle's delightfully deadpan humour.

Monday 17 April 2023

Strikes by the well-off.

Fiona Bulmer has an interesting CAPX piece on strikes by the well-off.

Strikes used to be about battling exploitation, now they are a weapon for the well-off

Strikes used to be weapon of the poorly paid and the role of trade unions was to defend downtrodden workers being exploited by their greedy bosses.

These days, however, we have junior doctors standing on picket lines demanding a 35% pay increase which would take their starting salary to £40,000. Headteachers are also considering strike action and criminal barristers were on strike last year. Even those sympathetic to their cause will surely accept that these people are not on the breadline and during their careers will likely earn much more than most of the population.

The whole piece is well worth reading as a reminder of shifts in political allegiance and the formidable power of the public sector.

And while union leaders routinely claim that workers are leaving in droves because their pay and conditions are so dreadful, the figures do not bear this out. The taxpayer-funded workforce has increased significantly over the last decade, particularly in the last two years. Overall public sector employment has grown from the full-time equivalent of 4.48 million people in 2019 to 4.9 million at the end of 2022, a 400,000 increase. The civil service alone has seen an 11% increase in numbers over the same period and the NHS a 3.7% increase. It seems clear that a public sector career remains an attractive choice for many people.

Beacons of Doom

Brecon Beacons National Park to be renamed in response to climate change

Bannau Brycheiniog National Park says the change is an "organisational" one which will "better reflect the park and the world we live in today".

Catherine Mealing-Jones, the park's chief executive, told Sky News that it was important to have a name that "meant something to the people of the area".

"As we went through the process of looking at the brand and thinking about the kind of park and organisation that we wanted to be, the old logo didn't seem to make a lot of sense, we're an environmental organisation so a giant, carbon-burning brazier isn't really a good look," she said.

The name 'Brecon Beacons' doesn't lead me to think of a giant, carbon-burning brazier, it reminds me of hills in Wales while 'Bannau Brycheiniog' doesn't. I suppose it's a reminder that bureaucrats have to do ever more bureaucracy. If we want less bureaucracy we need fewer bureaucrats. 

'Brand' reminds me of torches and pitchforks though.

Sunday 16 April 2023

Time Stands Still

Belief in experience is the beginning of that bold instinctive art, more plastic than the instinct of most animals, by which man has raised himself to his earthly eminence : it opens the gates of nature to him, both within him and without, and enables him to transmute his apprehension, at first merely æsthetic, into mathematical science.

This is so great a step that most minds cannot take it. They stumble, and remain entangled in poetry and in gnomic wisdom. Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood. Although they bring freedom in the end, the approach to them seems sacrificial, and many prefer to live in the glamour of intuition, not having the courage to believe in experience.

George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)

It’s an old social division this one. There are those who understand the importance of experience and those who only partially understand it. The latter are those who stumble, and remain entangled in poetry and in gnomic wisdom.

By poetry, Santayana meant the seductive and beguiling art of the wordsmith misapplied to social and political life. Unsurprisingly, people with a practical outlook seem to value practical experience of the real world instead. The art of the wordsmith they leave to others, which has never been a good idea.

Science and reasonable virtue, which plunge their roots in the soil of nature, are to this day only partially welcome or understood. In our day they are only partially welcome and understood too. The green revolution could almost be described as an attempt to run the world on poetry. Time stands still, especially for progressives.

A Reliant Robin Buyer


I was once a passenger in one of these. A surprisingly poor car I thought, yet the owner used it for his daily commute. 

Saturday 15 April 2023

Counterintuitive is difficult

Labour MPs turn against Starmer as they condemn ‘brutal’ Sunak attack ads

Furious Labour MPs are on a collision course with Sir Keir Starmer’s team over the “brutal” and “dehumanising” anti-Tory attack adverts ahead of a showdown meeting on Monday.

Sir Keir is not expected to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday evening – but members of his shadow cabinet and other senior officials will be there to defend the ads to Labour MPs who are uneasy about the move into “gutter” politics...

However, polling guru Professor John Curtice questioned the effectiveness of the campaign. The elections expert said attack ads only “resonate” if they tell voters “things that they think they already know”.

“Like the one showing Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket – it expressed something people already thought. But trying to convince voters something that’s counterintuitive is difficult,” he explained.

One source of Labour unease is obvious enough. MPs are worried that Starmer will come across as just another political oaf after all the effort to make him seem like a safe pair of hands. Meanwhile the Tories are busy presenting Sunak as an even safer pair of hands. A tricky problem but Starmer has made it easier than it was.

Deadly smart motorways axed by Rishi Sunak

Smart motorways will no longer be built in the UK after Rishi Sunak admitted that the public has lost confidence in them.

Always for the purest of motives

That she was “advanced” you could also postulate, but “advanced” in a strange way that would make her all the more dangerous, if only to small circles;. You would know, if you happened to know the type, that she would have “principles” that at odd moments would wreck enterprises, homes, or the lives of friends — always for the purest of motives.

Ford Madox Ford - The Marsden Case (1923)

What strange and occasionally horrible things principles are. Supposedly they reflect some kind of personal stake in a virtuous life, yet too often they are no more than window dressing for vanity, spite, incompetence and malice.

It is not a bad rule to be suspicious of anyone who makes a point of claiming to act on the basis of principles. Especially progressive principles, or “advanced” as Ford called them a century ago.

Things don’t change much in this respect. People with advanced principles are still a menace.  One of their number is even due to be crowned next month. At the moment they are intent on wrecking my life and yours — always for the purest of motives. 

Friday 14 April 2023

A certain type of genius

Rollout of £150m heat pump scheme branded 'embarrassing' after installation target missed

Mike Foster, CEO of the trade body the Energy and Utilities Alliance, said: "It takes a certain type of genius to fail to give away £150m of taxpayers' money and this wretched scheme looks like it has done just that.

"When will the government actually listen to the people, the majority of whom simply cannot afford a heat pump, subsidised or not?"

An important aspect of this scheme is that it is so grotesquely intrusive and so blatantly absurd. If voters fail to realise how oafish their government has become and how other political parties are as bad or worse, then we are in trouble. It's a test.



Via Bing AI - "create an image of a spooky Victorian living room"

G.J. in enumerating the disadvantages of the flat had said also that it was too much and too heavily furnished. Not at all. She adored the cumbrous and rich furniture; she did not want in her flat the empty spaces of a ball-room; she wanted to feel that she was within an interior — inside something.

Arnold Bennett – The Pretty Lady (1918)

I’ve sometimes wondered why the middle class Victorian and Edwardian interior décor was so crammed with furniture, knick-knacks, pictures, photos and general clutter. No doubt there were a number of reasons but in this quote, Bennett offers the idea that some people wished to feel they were within an interior — inside something.

Yet that feeling being inside something could apply to a school, public library, garden shed, tent or even a police station. Peering out of a window at rain, snow, fog or darkness or sitting by a flickering fire can accentuate the feeling too. Doesn’t necessarily need loads of furniture, although furnishings do accentuate the difference between inside and outside.

MPs in the House of Commons must feel they are inside something and not only a large building. Inside an institution, a club, a physical and institutional interior. Inside a party within that institution within that building within that gilded interior.

Walking the hills in wet weather gear, raindrops dripping from the peak of my hood, then there is a sense of being inside and outside at the same time. Dry and comfortable inside waterproof clothing yet outside too - out there in the hills.     

Maybe the quote also indicates how much more secure we feel compared to most people a century ago, particularly with respect to accommodation. At that time accommodation was much more likely to be rented, a common source of insecurity which has since declined and in a sense migrated as an issue from the social to the political.

I'm writing this inside of course. It's cold outside this morning - the forecast says rain is on the way. But I'm inside.

Thursday 13 April 2023

Great Expectations


Gosh - really?

Humza Yousaf's toiling SNP will not be helped by gender reform court battle

Daily Record Political Editor Paul Hutcheon says it is hard to see how the Scottish Government can benefit from the legal dispute

With the police investigating SNP finances and his party’s poll rating on the slide, First Minister Humza Yousaf is in desperate need of political momentum. Challenging the UK Government’s veto of the Holyrood bill on gender recognition will not aid this cause.

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Mr Sensible goes away

Jordan Tyldesley has an interesting CAPX piece on those Labour attack ads.

The big problem with Labour’s ad? It treats voters like morons

How do you solve a problem like the Red Wall?...

After some head-scratching, both parties seem to have now decided the answer is law and order. Perhaps ‘Levelling Up’ is too nebulous, or too ambitious, whereas tackling litter, louts and loitering are things everyone can get on board with. And, with the local elections as a mini dress rehearsal, we’ve seen a rather desperate series of Labour ‘attack ads’, including one that effectively accuses Rishi Sunak of siding with paedophiles.

A short piece which is well worth reading. For example, this observation about Starmer's apparent decision to jettison the Mr Sensible persona is interesting. It seems like a particularly foolish move if Rishi Sunak manages to adopt the persona for himself, which he seems quite well equipped to do.

Odder still is that Starmer seems to have abruptly jettisoned his carefully crafted Mr Sensible persona, in order to defend the kind of lurid political stunt he would normally run a mile from. Given that his party are well ahead in most of their target seats anyway, it feels like Labour are taking a thoroughly unnecessary risk – and one that is already backfiring.

Elementary my dear Watson

It was during these passages that to my intense astonishment Tolefree called me by my Christian name. He prefaced some odd remark, “I say, Jim——” He had not done it before in the more than ten years of our friendship; but, as I had never known him to stray from the path of custom out of sheer perversity, I played up to his lead and got out a “Philip” now and then—with difficulty.

R.A.J. Walling - More Than One Serpent (1938)

It is common for characters in novels of this period to refer to friends by their surname, particularly professional people. As we know, Sherlock Holmes always referred to Dr John Watson as ‘Watson’, not ‘John’.

In the above quote, Walling uses the strength of this social convention to allow covert signalling between two friends. Two male friends of course - it would not have worked as well between two female friends.

At my boys only secondary school in the sixties it was all surnames even between classmates. Family members and close friends we’d call by their Christian names, but not so much beyond those circles. At Grandson’s secondary school, teachers call pupils by their Christian names which sounds too familiar to my old ears.

Shifting social conventions I suppose, one of those things we comply with without much thought. Until woke culture came along and susceptible people were encouraged to make personal demands on each other, including friends and family. Time to go back to surnames perhaps.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

A Progressive Experiment


There are many similar videos about the problems in Portland and elsewhere. For an outsider who doesn't even live in the US, it isn't easy to draw general conclusions apart from the obvious ones. For example, the political will to mitigate the problem seems ambivalent at best.


Prince William at centre of dramatic royal U-turn as Queen protected him from 'great risk' Prince Harry faced

Prince Harry was not protected against the "risks" of military combat in the same way that his brother was.

General Sir Mike Jackson tells an ITVX documentary called The Real Crown that the risk of war was deemed too great for the heir to the thrown.

I'm pleased to see they have issues with intrusive spellcheckers too. Or maybe it should have been "heir to be thrown".

Monday 10 April 2023

The evolution of failure

What’s the most offensive is not their lying — one can always forgive lying — lying is a delightful thing, for it leads to truth — what is offensive is that they lie and worship their own lying....

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment (1866)

We all know a great deal about lying and liars. Unfortunately they are an important part of life yet we do not weave that knowledge into a coherent, democratic standpoint on political reality. Any worthwhile debate on political lying is almost certain to be undermined by political interests because the lies create and nurture those same interests.

What is an ambitious dullard to do in order to climb the greasy pole? Even for an onlooker it is obvious enough that the ambitious climber must adopt greasy pole dishonesty. The pole climber must lie because this is where the advantage is to be found. Lies are a route to power plus social and political superiority, while truth is not.

Truth is too democratic, there is no political advantage to be gained by the pursuit of truth. Anyone can be truthful. Anyone can become a liar too, but not everyone can own lies in the sense that important lies become part of their public identity. Not everyone can stand up and take personal rhetorical ownership of politically significant lies.

It is a subtle thing, this aptitude for taking ownership of lies and reaping the political benefits. It is akin to competent acting, learning a script and repeating the lines as if they were not written by someone else. The lines become personal, they come from the heart, from visceral, caring, feeling humanity. But they are lies.

It’s a problem which cannot be resolved without taking away the advantage of lying from powerful people and institutions. Any attempt to undermine political lies is met with more lies which always have the inbuilt advantage of being mainstream.

Yet lies ultimately fail simply because they are lies, because in one way or another they are not aligned with the inflexible nature of reality. The only power which seems able to deal with political lies is reality itself, the slow yet inexorable evolution of failure.

Avoid risky behaviour

People are being urged to "avoid risky behaviour" as emergency and urgent care will be prioritised over routine appointments and treatment during this week's junior doctors' strike.

The strike will begin early on Tuesday and run through until the early hours of Saturday, bringing "immense pressures" to staff and services, according to the national medical director of NHS England Professor Sir Stephen Powis.

Relying on the NHS can be risky behaviour too. Not easily avoided for most of us.

Sunday 9 April 2023

I am a result, not a cause

A quote for Easter -

At the club he was called to the telephone by Lewis, who asked him to come at once to his office at the Edwards Consolidated. When he got there he found a wire from Sue. In a moment of loneliness and despondency over the loss of his old business standing and reputation, Colonel Tom had shot himself in a New York hotel.

Sam sat at his desk, fingering the yellow paper lying before him and fighting to get his head clear. “The old coward. The damned old coward,” he muttered; “any one could have done that.”

When Lewis came into Sam’s office he found his chief sitting at his desk fingering the telegram and muttering to himself. When Sam handed him the wire he came around and stood beside Sam, his hand upon his shoulder.

“Well, do not blame yourself for that,” he said, with quick understanding.

“I don’t,” Sam muttered; “I do not blame myself for anything. I am a result, not a cause. I am trying to think. I am not through yet. I am going to begin again when I get things thought out.”

Lewis went out of the room leaving him to his thoughts. For an hour he sat there reviewing his life. When he came to the day that he had humiliated Colonel Tom, there came back to his mind the sentence he had written on the sheet of paper while the vote was being counted. “The best men spend their lives seeking truth.”

Sherwood Anderson - Windy McPherson's Son (1916)

Sam McPherson discovers that success isn’t what he thought, that he was driven by ambition while he himself drove nothing. He was merely a result of that ambition, not its cause. His epiphany is one Spinoza would have understood. “The best men spend their lives seeking truth.”

Maybe I'm looking out of the wrong window

Sky News this morning -

UK forecast to be warmer than parts of Greece before wet weather arrives

Weather forecasters predict the UK could be warmer than the islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Crete - where many have travelled for the Easter holidays - on what could be the hottest day of the year so far. But the bank holiday is set to end with a washout.

It's cold, grey and cloudy here in Derbyshire this morning. Temperature in my wood store is just above 6C. Maybe I'm looking out of the wrong window, but from here it doesn't look as if we'll be sipping our morning coffee out on the patio.

Saturday 8 April 2023

The Culture of the Absurd

Sons of sophistry and grandsons of cant, they had considered themselves capable of proving the greatest absurdities by the mental capers to which they had accustomed their acrobatic intellects.

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez - The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916)

The media love people who are articulate but somewhat absurd, particularly celebrities and leaders of various campaign groups. The media are also happy to cast this particular net very widely indeed. Anyone can star in yet another story if they are articulate with an absurd complaint to relate. Preferably with a dash of anger and arm-waving too.

The developed world has created a very large class of well educated, comfortable and articulate people who are absurd enough to cast themselves adrift from certain important aspects of reality. The scientific method for example. Economic realities for another. There are many more.

The absurdities of this class have provided an endless fund of stories for traditional media fighting to survive the digital age. As if a culture of the absurd has taken root in traditional media as a means to attract a large audience by ruthlessly exploiting a widespread willingness to be fashionably absurd. Articulate but absurd outrage, drama and conflict have been dispensed to a large audience already attuned to it as the only fashionable standpoint.

The absurd has always been with us of course, but over recent decades the developed world has received a hefty tilt towards absurdity as a political and social culture. We appear to have no remedy apart from absolutely unmistakable failure such as... 

There are quite a few possibilities already. 

Electing the dead


From the YouTube description -

"I am convinced that we will get people who are basically dead being elected in America, says Lionel Media. Or perhaps it’s already happened?

Friday 7 April 2023

Avoiding the honeymoon period.

Tom Harris has an entertaining CAPX piece on Humza Yousaf's new job.

So, Humza Yousaf – how’s your new job working out?

Just over a week since the new SNP leader was elected, and it’s fair to say he seems to be avoiding a honeymoon period. His inaugural session of First Minister’s Questions was repeatedly disrupted by protesters, and the latest polling suggests bigger SNP losses even than those suffered by his party at the 2017 general election.

And that was before the police cordoned off Nicola Sturgeon’s garden to set up a forensic tent.

He certainly is avoiding a honeymoon period. The piece is well worth reading as a quick run through some of the problems Yousaf faces. It does lead a chap to wonder how poisoned the proverbial chalice has to be.

It says something about the current state of the post-Sturgeon SNP that the arrest of the former chief executive and husband of the last First Minister isn’t even the worst of Humza Yousaf’s problems.

Not to everybody's taste

Labour frontbencher admits tweet against Rishi Sunak 'won't be to everybody's taste' after backlash

Labour has been accused of "gutter politics" and criticised by its own MPs after it posted an advertisement on Twitter claiming Rishi Sunak doesn't think child sex abusers should go to prison.

Veteran Labour MP John McDonnell said: "This is not the sort of politics a Labour Party, confident of its own values and preparing to govern, should be engaged in.

"I say to the people who have taken the decision to publish this ad, please withdraw it. We, the Labour Party, are better than this."

The trouble is, the Labour Party isn't better than this, otherwise it wouldn't have occurred. It was necessary for the party to be better than this by some distance. Now we know it isn't.

Thursday 6 April 2023



Spotted in an antiques shop this morning and had to take a photo. You can still buy Quink ink although this looks like a fairly old pack to me. It's an age thing I suppose. The older we are, the more memory triggers we acquire. I associate Quink with school, homework, fountain pens, dropped pens sticking into a wooden floor, blotting paper and inky fingers.

I'm not so sure about the inky fingers though. I did have inky fingers after using my fountain pen, but inky fingers were strongly associated with boyhood stories too. Richmal Crompton's William Brown always had inky fingers whenever he made any attempt to use a pen.

Strangely enough, swots didn't have inky fingers which ought to be the wrong way round. We'd expect swots to do lots of writing and homework, so all that pen work ought to have given them particularly inky fingers. Maybe swots had special fountain pens which didn't leak.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Curiously Unimpressive

Nicola Sturgeon's husband Peter Murrell arrested in connection with SNP funding and finances investigation

Peter Murrell, 58, former SNP chief executive, is in custody and is being questioned by detectives.

A blue evidence tent has been set up outside the couple's Glasgow home - while officers have also been seen at the SNP's headquarters in Edinburgh.

Police Scotland has been investigating the spending of about £600,000 which was earmarked for Scottish independence campaigning.

A serious business I suppose, but it isn't easy to take the SNP seriously. The amount of money allegedly involved isn't even an impressive amount - not exactly a lottery win. Worse than nicking stamps and ballpoint pens perhaps, but not impressive. 

It's not a great start for Humza Yousaf of course. As the SNP... 

By the way, what do we call SNP bigwigs? Can't call them elites - that doesn't fit at all. Anyway, SNP bigwigs must have known this debacle was in the pipeline, so maybe Yousaf's main job is to bluster it into the long grass. Best chap for the blustering job perhaps.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

In search of filched time

Believe me, it takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be filched from him, and it follows that the life of such a man is very long because he has devoted wholly to himself whatever time he has had. None of it lay neglected and idle; none of it was under the control of another, for, guarding it most grudgingly, he found nothing that was worthy to be taken in exchange for his time. And so that man had time enough, but those who have been robbed of much of their life by the public, have necessarily had too little of it.

Seneca - On the Shortness of Life (c. 49 AD)

It’s a major penalty of modern life this one – filched time. A few decades ago there was an assumption that automation would lead to more leisure time. Behind that assumption was another one – all that lovely leisure time would be ours to dispose of as we chose.

Looking back on those optimistic days, it now seems remarkable that we allowed such a vast amount of our free time to be filched by television. Cinema and radio weren’t so bad, but television filched an enormous amount of time.

Things don’t appear to have improved with the decline of television either. Now it is the internet filching colossal amounts of time via games, videos, shopping, click bait and social media.

We also have green politics to contend with, much of which is about filching the time of ordinary people. Recycling, cycling, walking, public transport and electric cars all nibble away at our free time. Seneca was right - it takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be filched from him.

Monday 3 April 2023

Ruled By Sitters

The attempt has been made, and wrongly, to make a class of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste. But through a desire to sit down too soon, one may arrest the very march of the human race. This has often been the fault of the bourgeoisie. One is not a class because one has committed a fault. Selfishness is not one of the divisions of the social order.

Victor Hugo - Les Misérables (1862)

There is much to be said for this idea and it isn’t entirely tongue-in-cheek. We are ruled by people who spend their working lives sitting down. It’s one of their strengths, this ability to organise everything and foresee everything from a seated position.

Net Zero is a policy with quite obvious links to a human predilection for sitting down. It is a complex policy where all the practical ramifications were obviously worked out from polished chairs round a polished table. HS2 costings were probably worked out in much the same way – from a seated position.

A great deal of modern journalism appears to be generated from a seated position, presumably in front of a computer screen where the mysteries of copy and paste are daily enacted. When we do gain glimpses of upright journalists, they seem uncomfortable and not at ease. As if they are already missing the chair where they spend so much of their working day.

Here in the UK, most GPs seem to spend their time in a seated position. Or so the increasingly rare sightings appear to suggest. Not something I have confirmed by personal observation though. GP sightings round here are too rare to draw up to date conclusions about general GP posture.

A chap is also also bound to wonder if the current rash of strikes by teachers has something to do with not spending enough of the working day in a seated position. It may not be a caste issue, but teachers may see it that way. Maybe it is no longer professionally dignified to work from a standing position.

Collecting Tins

N. Korean officials and workers in China ordered to collect funds for nuclear program

Some Chinese traders and acquaintances are refusing to lend money, even as they take pity on the North Korean officials

“Officials are running around to borrow money after North Korea ordered trade delegations and workers to ‘contribute to the fatherland’s military industries by collecting munition funds of loyalty, even if trade officials and overseas service sector workers have to sleep little and eat less,'” a reporting partner in China told Daily NK on Friday, speaking of condition of anonymity.

This one left me with an image of people standing in front of supermarkets waving nuclear weapon collection tins under the noses of shoppers. Maybe with a little picture of a smiling mushroom cloud depicted on each tin.

It's a mad world, but we knew that.

Sunday 2 April 2023


Something I’ve noticed over the past few years is a marked increase in gushing.


expressing a positive feeling, especially praise, in such a strong way that it does not sound sincere:

One of the more gushing newspapers described the occasion as "a fairy-tale wedding".

Yes that’s the one. Somebody behind me in the café this morning was gushing over another person’s dog as if the mutt had just invented a cure for cancer. Dogs attract a lot of gushing, children not so much.

Another recent café gusher was apparently thrown into ecstasies when meeting someone she obviously knew very well. This full-on gusher treated the other person as if they had just popped up after an absence of fifty years.

Gushing is something we tend to associate with the theatrical profession thanks to stereotype luvvy behaviour, but I’m sure it’s become more common since the pandemic. Some kind of over-active survival sentiment perhaps.

Oh you're still alive, oh how amazing of you...

As opposed to aimlessly wandering around

Food prices: How the humble shopping list is saving us money

Faced with a rapid rise in food prices, Jen Butler admits she is "very particular" about planning family meals.

A weekly dinner plan is written up on a whiteboard. Prices are compared between the local Asda and Aldi. Items in the kitchen cupboards are thrown together in an "anything can happen day" meal.

I'm not convinced about this. Is the Beeb claiming that people go to the supermarket in order to wander round picking up anything they fancy?... 

On reflection, wandering around does describe quite a few of the supermarket shoppers I come across. I've also noticed how many of them stand around for ages just in front of the shelves I need to visit in order to tick something off my list. In which case, maybe the shopping list innovation isn't entirely implausible. 

Of course, this BBC article is one I picked up casually while wandering around the internet. I didn't actually need it.   

Saturday 1 April 2023

An unpalatable choice

Ross Clark has CAPX piece on Net Zero, heat pumps and electric cars. A neighbour of ours recently had a heat pump installed. All the central heating radiators had to be replaced and a water tank installed in the garage. Extremely disruptive with little obvious gain apart from an ugly box outside the house.

From heat pumps to electric cars, there’s little sign the British people can afford Net Zero

Thursday was supposed to be ‘green day’, when the Government was going to reveal its latest plans for reaching net zero by 2050. But what was delivered merely served to underline how far that Britain is from achieving that target.

The public simply isn’t taking up the bait. As Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, put it this week: ‘Government comes forward with these big ideas but what you don’t see is the necessary detail to back that up’.

Familiar stuff but worth reading, because how would anyone vote against Net Zero at the next general election? That's the interesting question. Net Zero is just one of those issues which suggest we may as well treat UK government as a nascent one-party state.

At some point the Government is going to have to be honest and admit that, contrary to what they have been saying for years, net zero is not going to save you money. At that point it will have an unpalatable choice: force us, cajole us into switching to electric cars, heat pumps and the like – or drop its 2050 target and allow technology to catch up to the point where it offers solutions which really do make economic sense.