Wednesday 31 January 2024

Under a dim, impersonal sky

He was pre-eminently the son of a time between two ages — a past age of old, unquestioning faith in Authority; a future age of new faith, already born but not yet grown. Still sheltering in the shade of the old tree which was severed at the roots and toppling, he never, I think, clearly saw — though he may have had glimpses — that men, like children whose mother has departed from their home, were slowly being forced to trust in, and be good to, themselves and to one another, and so to form out of their necessity, desperately, unconsciously, their new great belief in Humanity. Yes, he was the son of a time between two ages — the product of an era without real faith — an individualist to the core.

John Galsworthy – A Portrait (1910)

Galsworthy’s essay is a portrait of an unknown eighty year old man whose life must have spanned most the Victorian era. This was one of Galsworthy’s themes, the changes he saw in the interactions between social classes, especially the effect on the upper classes, those who ran and still run things.

As Galsworthy saw it, many members of the upper classes were becoming aware that they were far more interdependent than they had supposed in the past. A servant was not merely a servant, but another individual who certainly saw and knew far more than was ever brought to the social surface. For some of Galsworthy’s characters it was a terrible discovery.

And Stephen’s self, feeling the magnetic currents of that ebb-tide drawing it down into murmurous slumber, out beyond the sand-bars of individuality and class, threw up its little hands and began to cry for help. The purple sea of self-forgetfulness, under the dim, impersonal sky, seemed to him so cold and terrible. It had no limit that he could see, no rules but such as hung too far away, written in the hieroglyphics of paling stars. He could feel no order in the lift and lap of the wan waters round his limbs. Where would those waters carry him? To what depth of still green silence? Was his own little daughter to go down into this sea that knew no creed but that of self-forgetfulness, that respected neither class nor person — this sea where a few wandering streaks seemed all the evidence of the precious differences between mankind? God forbid it!

John Galsworthy – Fraternity (1909)

We see today how terrible it still is, as WEF elites clearly intend to put the social class genie back in its bottle and preserve the precious differences between mankind. It would be naïve to forget that the upper classes have always expected to remain as the upper classes and are ruthless enough to make sure of it. The push towards sustainability is obviously an outcome of that.

Sustainability means the sustainability of a superior social class and a ruthless determination to avoid being pushed aside under a dim, impersonal sky.

Limited Appeal

Inside incredible eco-commune where friends live together and share all jobs

Residents of Cannock Mill live a very different sort of life than those in other neighbourhoods up and down the UK - with a focus on community, shared work, and building strong connections with each other.

Located on a 2.4-acre site just outside Colchester, Essex, Cannock Mill is the UK's first co-housing community and aims to provide a more eco-friendly, not to mention less lonely, way of living for members of the older population.

Residents muck in together to share chores such as keeping on top of grounds, cooking, and running their car pool. They'll also draw from the wealth of talent within the close-knit band of neighbours, to learn new skills, including beekeeping, pottery, and conversational French.

Ought to be a fascinating and worthy experiment and possibly it is. At least they were willing to make sacrifices to try and make it work. Decades ago I knew a chap who said communes tend to be financially strong, but somehow he wasn't the kind of chap to add much appeal to the idea of communal living.

Pure prejudice of course, but I have an idea that this commune wouldn't appeal either, although I think I've understated that conclusion - I know it wouldn't appeal.

We need a plan now

10,000 people a year could die as a result of heatwaves, MPs warn

According to a report from the Environmental Audit Committee, the increased frequency of extreme heat events could also cost the economy £60bn a year.

The committee's Conservative chair, Philip Dunne MP, urged the government to act, because "there is a lot of work that needs to be done"...

"We need a plan now.

"The longer we delay it, the more at risk we're going to be."

"We need a plan now," says Mr Dunne. No we don't. Any plan, even one backed by the most brainy MPs in the House of Commons is guaranteed to be well over 100% useless. Well over 100% useless because it will do more harm that good. 

Delete the entire UK tomorrow and there will be no causal change to global temperatures. None, zero, nothing, not the smallest fraction of a degree.

They know that, we know that.

The report recommends the Met Office should name heatwaves in the same way as storms to help raise awareness of the threats.

That's one way to send people rushing off to the coast.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Subtle intermingling of seer with thing seen

I never saw, in the flesh, either De Maupassant or Tchekov — those masters of such different methods entirely devoid of didacticism — but their work leaves on me a strangely potent sense of personality. Such subtle intermingling of seer with thing seen is the outcome only of long and intricate brooding, a process not too favoured by modern life, yet without which we achieve little but a fluent chaos of clever insignificant impressions, a kind of glorified journalism, holding much the same relation to the deeply-impregnated work of Turgenev, Hardy, and Conrad, as a film bears to a play.

John Galsworthy - Villa Rubein (1900)

It’s an interesting insight this, the idea of a subtle intermingling of seer with thing seen. Something George Santayana might have written. Perhaps contemplation is to be preferred over long and intricate brooding, but worthwhile insights do take time to acquire. And we know there are always better insights worth acquiring.

The fascination of the quote is that we seem to be at least as far away from it as people generally were in Galsworthy’s day. Ideology in particular has cut us off from anything resembling a subtle intermingling of seer with thing seen. Those who already know don’t need to see, especially when they are not supposed to see. 

As for modern journalism, it may still be a fluent chaos of clever insignificant impressions, but mostly without the cleverness. We don’t see much of that.

Our Roll-Call

He knew the idiosyncrasies of councillors and aldermen in committee; he had learnt more about mankind in the committee-rooms of the old town hall than he could have learnt in ten thousand London clubs. He could divide the city council infallibly into wire-pullers, axe-grinders, vain nincompoops, honest mediocrities, and the handful who combined honesty with sagacity and sagacity with strength.

Arnold Bennett – The Roll-Call (1918)

Things haven’t changed much, our roll-call of the political classes could be similarly divided.

Wire-pullers – yes

Axe-grinders – yes

Vain nincompoops – yes

Honest mediocrities – yes

The handful who combine honesty with sagacity and sagacity with strength – hmm. 

Tell it as it is


Monday 29 January 2024

Nicola Sturgeon’s nodding dogs

Time moves on, headline clamour moves on but Henry Hill has a useful Critic reminder of what he calls 'Nicola Sturgeon’s nodding dogs'.

Don’t forget Nicola Sturgeon’s nodding dogs

The SNP have been enabled by uncritical British media

The cult of Nicola Sturgeon, now unravelling before our eyes in such a spectacular fashion, took a lot of building and had a lot of builders. The Scottish media played a substantial role; at one point, the then First Minister appeared on the cover of Holyrood magazine, decked out with wings and a halo, above the headline “Can she do no wrong?”

But even so, Scottish journalists generally did a much better job of trying to hold her to account than their colleagues south of the border. (Perhaps living in SNP-run Scotland had something to do with it.)

It is well worth reading the whole piece, even though the territory is familiar enough to many. It highlights the damage caused by mainstream media when they choose play down the full extent of even the most obvious and egregious failures.

Sturgeon seemed to offer an attractive contrast with Boris Johnson. Whereas England was in the throes of Tory chaos, Scotland was blessed with sober, sensible, grown-up and progressive government. It was for a while not uncommon to see English people saying they wished they could vote SNP.

But although it wasn’t yet afflicting the Nationalists’ poll ratings the way it is now, the signs were already there about the real condition of Nationalist Scotland. The secretive, imperial style of government. The pressure on third-sector institutions to conform. Woeful school and health performance. The self-inflicted ferry fiasco. The sustained effort to undermine the autonomy of local government.

Yet with some honourable exceptions (I myself was memorably described merely as “outwardly respectable” by one Scottish commentator), the London press didn’t cover such stories often or in depth. Nor did they much scrutinise the similar tale unfolding in Labour-run Wales, save when the Conservatives made intermittent efforts to highlight it during elections.

The face of the BBC

Nicole Lampert has an interesting CAPX piece on the inability of the BBC to prevent Gary Lineker from becoming its public face. Interesting, because his banal self-importance isn't the public face the BBC has been nurturing for decades. 

Gary Lineker is running rings around the BBC

In it’s fixture with Gary Lineker, the BBC seems to be allowing the ex-footballer to referee his own game. Ever since fellow BBC sports staff walked out of Match of the Day in support of the presenter last March following his tweet saying the government’s language over immigration was like ‘1930s Germany’, Linker has held the upper hand.

New social media rules for BBC staff were created around him. Still, he managed to break them last week by retweeting a call for the Israeli football team to be boycotted. Ironically enough the idea of wanting to boycott Jews felt particularly ‘1930s Germany’.

The whole piece is well worth reading as a familiar but perennially topical story about the influence of celebrities and the distorting lens through which they often view themselves.

Any other person would have been sent off long ago. Bizarrely, at least two BBC employees (that I know of) have faced disciplinary procedures for writing on Twitter about the unfairness of Lineker not having to abide by the same rules as everyone else.

In a mainly back-slapping interview in The Guardian (of course, where else?) at the weekend, Lineker played the victim, saying elements of the press were trying to ‘destroy’ him. But in the same interview he contradicted himself – when speaking about the 1930s Germany tweet, he said he had worded it carefully adding: ‘Anything that is slightly borderline political, I put a lot of thought into.’ The only person harming Lineker’s reputation is Lineker himself.

Sunday 28 January 2024

Canada is a sinking ship


It's a stark choice - jets or soup

Greta Thunberg joins marchers in Farnborough Airport protest

Greta Thunberg has marched with activists to protest against an airport expansion.

Farnborough Airport has submitted plans to move from a cap of 50,000 to 70,000 flights per year.

The Hampshire airfield, which mainly serves private jets, said the change would meet demand for business trips.

But the protesters are calling for a total ban on private jets, which they say are up to 30 times more polluting than passenger airliners.

If there are no private jets, COP29 may as well be cancelled because the decision makers won't be able to get there. I don't think those protesters have thought this through because they could end up having to throw soup at paintings instead. It's not the same at all, no international jamboree, no celebrities, no speeches by King Charles, no amusing stunts for the media. 

No, not the same at all.

Mona Lisa: Protesters throw soup at da Vinci painting

Protesters have thrown soup at the glass-protected Mona Lisa in France, calling for the right to "healthy and sustainable food".

Yes because it's theatre

Analysis: Are we in for one of the dirtiest election campaigns ever?

There was general agreement at the Institute for Government's Annual conference last week that it would be a good thing for Britain if this year's election campaign is not "dirty".

This highfalutin notion was shot down in seconds with equally universal assumption by the assembled politicians and policy wonks that "that is not going to happen".

A clean campaign would concentrate on policies and competence.

A dirty campaign is built around slurs, distortions and untruths, with those competing for votes slinging mud at each other.

It's theatre. We end up with whatever the media choose to dish up and what most voters deserve for not paying attention.

Saturday 27 January 2024

Hot Pot

I made a hearty Lancashire hot pot for less than £1.50 per person and it tasted as delicious as it looks

Back in the day when pretty much everyone in Lancashire (children included) worked in the cotton mill and most homes didn't have a cooker (let alone a toilet), the humble hot pot was born.

On their way to the mill each family would drop off a pot filled with potatoes, vegetables and meat )if they could afford it) at the local bakers to be heated. And as they traipsed home they would collect their 'hot pot' and enjoy a hearty meal after a long and arduous day.

When I was a kid the likes of stew, hot pot and beef and barley were among my least favourite teas. But now they're some of my favourites.

It's the kind of meal my mother would cook and I know from the description that it is bound to be tasty. Presumably it's my age, but I still find it odd that people have to be told about inexpensive recipes such as this. 

Although it seems likely enough that the people who read such articles are those who already know how to cook in a traditional and inexpensive way. Maybe takeaway folk won't read it. 

A Net Zero power cut at the wrong time could spoil it of course.

And nobody is likely to be surprised

UK pauses funding to UNRWA over claims staff were involved in Hamas attack

Israel has alleged that 12 members of the UN's Gaza aid group participated in Hamas' 7 October attack. The UK's decision comes after the US, Italy, Australia and Canada all also suspended additional funding for the UN aid agency.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said on Friday it sacked "several" employees over accusations by Israel that 12 employees were involved in the 7 October attack.

Meanwhile here in the UK, UN sponsored climate nonsense threatens our ability to generate electricity reliably as well as fostering all the racketeering, scams, stupidity and lies associated with it. All attributable to UN sponsorship of deranged Malthusian politics within the developed world.

Oh - and nobody is likely to be surprised if these allegations are substantiated, which the UNRWA sackings do tend to confirm already.

Friday 26 January 2024

Probably not carbon neutral though

King Charles III is doing well after scheduled prostate treatment

LONDON (AP) — King Charles III is doing well after undergoing a “corrective procedure” for an enlarged prostate, Queen Camilla said Friday as she left the private hospital where he was being treated.

The 75-year-old monarch was admitted to the London Clinic, where the Princess of Wales, his daughter-in-law, is recovering from abdominal surgery, Buckingham Palace said Friday. The king, who entered the hospital with Camilla at his side, visited Kate at the clinic after he arrived.

I wish him well but it is worth noting that the procedure was unlikely to have been carbon neutral.

Electricity - probably not 100% sustainable.
Anaesthetic - not likely to be carbon neutral.
Surgical equipment - not likely to be recycled kitchen utensils.

Clean up your own backyard


The set stage and the convention of the theatre

The pageantry of his disillusion took shape in a world-old procession of Prophets, Athenians, Martyrs, Saints, Scientists, Don Juans, Jesuits, Puritans, Fausts, Poets, Pacifists; like costumed alumni at a college reunion they streamed before him as their dreams, personalities, and creeds had in turn thrown colored lights on his soul; each had tried to express the glory of life and the tremendous significance of man; each had boasted of synchronizing what had gone before into his own rickety generalities; each had depended after all on the set stage and the convention of the theatre, which is that man in his hunger for faith will feed his mind with the nearest and most convenient food.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - This Side of Paradise (1920)

To a significant degree, political disputes do not go much further than the set stage and the convention of the theatre. The political arena is effectively a theatre of political dispute with politicians as its actors. Only when matters become critical enough to threaten the theatre itself are actors required to become more than actors.

The oddity of political theatre is that it is so obviously theatre. Equally obvious is that it leads to a feeble democracy where political parties and vested interests subvert the purported point of democracy, the point of voting to change something - anything.

Yet if political parties were to provide effective political oversight of the permanent administration there would be no political theatre. The point of the parties is the theatre, not the oversight. The permanent administration mostly oversees itself.

It is certainly easy enough to imagine a situation where political parties do provide effective political oversight, where they require the permanent administration to adhere to standards, achieve results and remain within budgets. A situation where failure is dealt with as it would be elsewhere.

But this is an imaginary situation because so many voters seem to accept political theatre as democracy even when it is clearly no such thing. Most voters vote for an ineffectual vote.

Thursday 25 January 2024

Tories ‘serve no purpose’

Politics latest news: Tories ‘serve no purpose’, says Farage after Reform records highest ever support

The Conservative Party no longer serves a purpose, Nigel Farage claimed after Reform UK climbed to its highest ever level of support...

“This is not like Ukip, which was a way of saying to both Labour and the Tories ‘we hate your policies’.

“This is much more fundamental, much deeper, much more real. It’s a feeling that the Conservative Party doesn’t really exist anymore, that it serves no purpose.”

Farage does have a point - it is no longer clear what the purpose of the Conservatives might be. Even through the fog of political rhetoric it is possible to see very little which could be classed as conservative. Individuals within the party may be conservative, but the party itself isn't.

Labour serves no purpose either, but an outcome where both major parties crash and burn is too much to hope for.

Mars bars thickly spread with butter

While exchanging emails with my cousin, we happened to stray into the subject of health and the value of not paying too much attention to official health hectoring. 

My cousin emphasised this point by recalling the eccentric diet of an elderly lady who lived well into a healthy old age before she passed away. An anecdote of course, but as a contrast to official health hectoring, anecdotes can be entertaining.

The old lady with the eccentric diet was aunt of my cousin’s friend. The major features of her daily diet were Heinz Tomato Soup and Mars bars thickly spread with butter. On this delicious diet she is said to have lived to a ripe old age with no particular health problems.

Doesn't appeal to me, but I've never been partial to Heinz Tomato Soup. Yet thanks to the all the health hectoring, healthy people with odd diets are interesting. 

I once knew a chap who ate the same three meals every day with no variation at all. I can't recall what he ate, but mushrooms formed part of his diet together with a daily bread roll he'd baked himself. He baked a batch of seven rolls every Saturday and ate one a day through the week. One Monday he arrived at work moaning about a failed batch of rolls which didn't rise properly. He still ate them though - still one a day until Saturday baking day came round.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Maybe that's it

Harry and Meghan attend Bob Marley film premiere in Jamaica

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were surprise guests at the Jamaican premiere of a film about reggae singer Bob Marley.

Prince Harry had been to Jamaica in 2012 on a successful royal trip, remembered for his jokey meetings with Usain Bolt, where the Olympic athlete had called him "cool, very down to earth".

During that visit more than a decade ago, Prince Harry had been asked about Jamaica's drain of talent to the United States and had told reporters: "It doesn't matter how big you are, if you've got talent use it. Don't go running off to America if you've got a clear talent your country needs."

Presumably this means it is fine for Harry to go running off to America because he lacks the clear talent his country needs. Maybe this is his thinking and if so, he's right.

Watch crime

Paul Thorpe was a luxury watch dealer. Here he explains how mainstream media are happy to report luxury watch thefts from celebrities but not the background to those thefts.

Pity about the name

Are Tory MPs plotting to get rid of Rishi Sunak?

An opinion poll paid for by a previously unheard of group of unidentified Conservatives, the Conservative Britain Alliance.

A poll talked up and worked on by Tory peer Lord Frost, a long-standing critic of Rishi Sunak.

A poll timed and in its questioning framed, it would appear, to inflict maximum damage on the prime minister - published just as MPs were contemplating how to vote on the government's Rwanda plan.

The three biggest rebellions of Mr Sunak's premiership on proposed changes to that migrant plan and then a shrivelled rebellion of 11 on rejecting the plan in its entirety.

Next, yet another grouping of Conservative agitators, calling themselves "Popular Conservatism".

It must be a disadvantage when the political notion of 'conservative' has been dumped in favour of a mess of woke eco-lunacy where the state is supposed to be in charge of everything you can think of except when it goes wrong.

On the other hand, we have 'Labour', a party for people who don't do anything useful and the 'Liberal Democrats' for people who are neither liberal nor fond of democracy. 

On top of that we have strange words such as 'vote' and 'election'. It's a rum game.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Irony Overload

Freddie Attenborough has a very interesting Critic piece on another unfair dismissal claim related to gender politics.

A Phoenix rises

Professor Jo Phoenix’s legal triumph is also a triumph for free speech

A former Professor of Criminology at the Open University (OU) has become the latest in a series of gender critical feminists (i.e., feminists who believe sex is biological, immutable and should take precedence over gender identity in policy and in law) to win employment tribunals.

Professor Jo Phoenix, who established the OU’s Gender Critical Research Network (GCRN), has won her unfair dismissal claim against the institution. In its ruling, the tribunal also found that she suffered victimisation and harassment, as well as direct discrimination.

The OU’s failure to protect Professor Phoenix from harassment from colleagues and trans activists was, the panel’s ruling found, motivated by “fear of being seen to support gender-critical beliefs” and “fear of the pro gender identity section” of the university.

The whole piece is certainly worth reading, partly because of the weirdly emotional language used by OU academics and partly because of the horrible irony of it still being called the Open University.

When Professor Phoenix subsequently gave a talk at a Woman’s Place UK event in 2019 on the topic of trans rights, sex-based rights and the curtailment of academic freedom, more departmental pearl-clutching ensued. “I can hardly bear to open it,” quavered one staff member, having been emailed a link to the “video nasty” by another colleague.

Dr Downes also fired off an email to Prof Westmarland, complaining: “I watched it yesterday and had to take a walk. I found it very upsetting. Been a while since I cried at work.” The panel were distinctly unimpressed by that claim: “We considered the transcript of the talk,” the ruling states immediately after Dr Downes’ complaint is reproduced, “and there is nothing in the talk that we find that would be upsetting.” Ouch.

They seek them here, they seek them there

Whitehall chiefs pushed to get civil servants back in office for 60% of working week

Civil servants in some departments have been accused of being slow to return to their desks

Whitehall chiefs came under pressure on Tuesday to make sure civil servants are back in the office for 60 per cent of the working week.

Stepping up pressure on senior bosses to ensure staff are back at their desks in departments, Cabinet Office minister John Glen said “people expect, if you are paid by the taxpayer, to be working together”...

Latest Civil Service headquarters occupancy data showed in the week of January 8 the daily average staff rate was 48 per cent of the Home Office's capacity, 51 per cent for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 54 per cent for HMRC, 55 per cent for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and 58 per cent for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Some departments will have specific reasons for staff not being at their desks but the figures compare to 97 per cent for the Department for Education, 92 per cent for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and 88 per cent for the Cabinet Office.

Slow to return to their desks? I'm not convinced that 'slow' is the right word here, but selling their desks and renting out the office space would be a start.

The Armchair Campaigner

From an armchair in the office of his Tarrytown estate he directed against the enormous hypothetical enemy, unrighteousness, a campaign which went on through fifteen years, during which he displayed himself a rabid monomaniac, an unqualified nuisance, and an intolerable bore.

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

It applies to some more than others, but there is much to be said for the idea that our news media are campaigning businesses ranged against the same enormous hypothetical enemy, unrighteousness. We have modern versions of the campaign Fitzgerald invokes - media businesses with broad campaigns to guide editorial policy and encircle the audience with authoritative righteousness.

It is not news, veracity and unbiased opinion that big media provide. Nobody offers advertising revenue, political influence or social status in return for veracity. Veracity is cheap anyway. 

Instead, big media offer their audiences a veracity alternative - a comforting sense of being on the right side of something never quite specified exactly. Not the political right, but the right causes, movements, charities, celebrities, opinions, fashions and lashings of moral indignation. Big media roll it all up into an airy sense of being the active, supportive, very slightly superior audience for a broad campaign of armchair righteousness.

We could call it many things, but perhaps campaign farming is one. There are many others.

Monday 22 January 2024

Prof. Paul Christensen on EV Battery Fires

An interesting talk on the technical aspects of EV battery fires. At the moment, battery fires look like a low likelihood but severe impact type of risk with problems and consequences still to be officially admitted. Second-hand EV anyone? No thanks, I don't even want a new one.

Windy Night

A windy night it was last night, here in our windy bit of Derbyshire as storm Whatsit struck terror into our hearts. Yet on the school run this morning we didn't see a single roof with missing ridge tiles or dislodged slates, not a single fallen tree or branch, merely a few twigs on the road.

As Mrs H and I agreed when we wandered out for coffee, a few decades ago this degree of weather hype would have been followed by some visible damage. We'd have seen such things as one or two dislodged ridge tiles, maybe a slipped slate or two, fences blown over and some tree debris scattered around.

It is possible that the average house roof is stronger than in the recent past, fences are stronger and trees have a tighter grip on their branches. Or maybe people generally spend more money keeping their roof, fence and trees in good order.  

Yet it is also possible that the bar for hysterical weather hype has been lowered. At the moment I'll go for the lower hype bar as the primary issue.

Sunday 21 January 2024

A vomit-inducing cup


Don’t forget the quality, mum!

CAPX has reproduced an entertaining paper on arts policy by Kingsley Amis.

The idea of a novelist of the stature of Kingsley Amis speaking at a Conservative Party Conference today is, frankly, laughable. But in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher gave her first conference speech as Prime Minister, Amis addressed a fringe meeting hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies. Reading his remarks, it becomes less surprising that the author of Lucky Jim – the ‘Angry Young Man’ who satirised the stultifying conventions of post-war society – would associate himself with the early radicalism of the CPS.

An arts policy?

As you’ll see soon enough, what I have to say carries no special authority. I’ve been selling my work for nearly thirty years and living off it for over fifteen. I have some experience of other arts as what’s now called a consumer. I’m a member of the Writers’ Guild, but not a very active one, I’m afraid, and I’ve never sat on any panel or board or committee concerned with administering the arts. So at any rate I have no vested interest in the matter. I’ve a vested interest in surviving, like everybody else, and also like everybody else another one in not being told what to do. More of that in a minute.

You may not think so, but I chose my title with some care. An arts policy? Only one single policy for all those different arts? An arts policy? What a horrible bureaucrat’s phrase, with ‘arts’ used as an adjective. An arts policy? As Mr St John-Stevas asked, ‘Why should a political party have an arts policy at all?’ and I think any Conservative approaches the subject not with the eagerness of the planner but with the feelings of someone reluctantly settling down to a not-very-exciting duty. I hope so, anyway. The question-mark in my title is meant to show that reluctance. It also shows indecision: I’m not sure what policy is best. And that’s rare; my friends will tell you that for Amis not to be absolutely certain what he thinks on any topic from Aberystwyth to Zoroastrianism is almost unknown. The question-mark stands for another kind of uncertainty too: I had to give the organisers the title before I wrote the talk, and as usual didn’t know a lot about what I was going to say until I was down to the job.

The whole piece is well worth reading. In essence it is at least as relevant today as it was when Amis penned it.

I may have come a bit too far too fast. Anyway, clause (B) of the socialist arts policy goes: ‘To increase the quality and diversity of the arts with greater emphasis on those based in communities’. So my duty is clear. I must write better, which had never occurred to me before, and I must write more sorts of things, epic poems and introductions to catalogues of exhibitions of experimental paintings and gags for TV shows – remember they’re art too, even though they are often termed as entertainment. Actually, more than this is required. ‘A socialist policy’, they say further on, requires more books, and a wider range and higher quality of books to be published, written by authors of every sort of social background’.

Naturally. But why aren’t people writing these high-quality books already? Our friends seem to think quality is a sort of optional ingredient or extra like HP sauce on sausages: ‘Don’t forget the quality, mum!’ Years ago, when the universities were beginning to expand their intake, I wrote of university students, ‘You cannot decide to have more good ones. All you can decide to have is more. And more will mean worse.’ So with books, so with painting, so with everything. An artist is a special kind of man, or woman, there are never many around at one time and there’s no way of making new ones, even by spending money. Authors are certainly going to have some money spent on them, though, because literature is, ‘an underfinanced artistic area’. Would you let someone who talked about ‘underfinanced literature areas’ recommend you a book?

Saturday 20 January 2024


How the world’s elite fell in love with Labour

Rachel Reeves finally made it to the top table this week. The shadow chancellor may only be a finance minister-in-waiting but Reeves was selected to sit with senior world leaders at a dinner hosted by the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Billed as a gathering to discuss “Building Tomorrow’s Europe”, Reeves sat alongside Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland and Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo as they dined on marinated frisée salad and Swiss Gotthard pike perch.

Former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and EU trade minister Valdis Dombrovskis were relegated to nearby tables with the mere global elite.

“Building Tomorrow’s Europe” indeed. Is it the same as "Build Back Better"? Probably - it's one of those meaningless but curiously grim political phrases. Meaningless phrases are inherently grim in a political context. Chilling. 

"Building Tomorrow's Mendacity" would be closer, although we seem to be most of the way there already.  



Spotted today, one of Elizabeth Skilton's pre-woke posters from the fifties. Much idealised of course, but an interesting reminder of social change. Three children, traditional social roles, no tattoos and a fossil fuel heater by the door. Scary.

Friday 19 January 2024

The unstoppable trend

Michael Cook has an interesting Mercator piece on the declining population of China. Familiar enough, but one of those issues where the present is a plausible guide to the future and for China it doesn't look good.

China is failing to persuade women to have more children. Or any children

China’s population has declined for the second year in a row, despite desperate government incentives to persuade women to have children. In 2023, the number of people fell by 2.08 million to 1.410 billion. The number of births fell by 500,000.

This year, 2024, could see a temporary recovery. A demographer noted in the official newspaper, the Global Times, that this is the Year of the Dragon, a year in which couples traditionally try to conceive a child. But demographers agree that the trend downwards is unstoppable.

The whole piece is well worth reading, population decline being one of the main political justifications for mass immigration.

The New York Times pointed out that “History suggests that once a country crosses the threshold of negative population growth, there is little that its government can do to reverse it. And as a country’s population grows more top-heavy, a smaller, younger generation bears the increasing costs of caring for a larger, older one.” China’s problem is particularly acute. Other advanced countries like Australia, Germany, or the United States have offset low birth rates with immigration. But immigration into China is negligible.

Makers and Takers

However we view Elon Musk and his achievements, this video offers up a powerful comparison between Musk and the infinitely ghastly Elizabeth Warren.

The importance of not being earnest

Once more understand — in England politics must be pursued with gravity. We don’t fly about and chatter and scream like Frenchmen. No man will succeed with us in politics who has not a reputation for solid earnestness. Therefore, the more stupid a man, the better chance he has.

George Gissing - Thyrza (1887)

It's a rum quote this, one of those observations which is not without a kind of horribly familiar, sarcastic validity. 

I certainly came across second-rate people who used an earnest manner to promote poor ideas and somewhat silly viewpoints which didn't reflect well on anyone. Yet the earnest manner does work, it is used to promote everything from a tedious fog of irrelevance to the most blatant stupidity to outright lies.  

The Davos jamboree finishes today, a thoroughly earnest cabal if ever there was one.

Thursday 18 January 2024

6 Layers Deep

Google reveals $1bn UK data centre it says will create jobs and 'boost growth of AI'

The announcement marks a further win as Google joins Microsoft in boosting its UK footprint amid its battle for data centre and AI supremacy.

This video from 3 years ago gives an idea of what these facilities are like. Presumably the UK facility will be similar.

MPs yet to fathom the issue

Flood risk increased with new housing built without defences in vulnerable areas, MPs warn

Experts and MPs warn a lack of resources and time and weak planning rules mean developments are getting the green light despite warnings about flood risk.

New homes are being built on flood plains in England without defences to protect them and in spite of warnings about the risk, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on flood-proofing England also said an additional 203,000 properties are at risk of flooding because existing defences have not been maintained.

I first became aware of this as an important environmental issue in the early seventies, about 50 years ago. Of course we never bought a house anywhere near a flood plain and neither did anyone else who knew about the entirely obvious risk of flooding. Yet the builders of Tewkesbury Abbey knew what to do about it apparently.

Tewkesbury - Source

What I didn't realise at the time was that it would take MPs at least 50 years to catch on, but I was young and believed in the power of reality and reason. Not for long though.

The plain folk never rise

The last few lines of John Buchan's poem -


What if we rose?—If some fine morn,
Unnumbered as the autumn corn,
With all the brains and all the skill
Of stubborn back and steadfast will,
We rose and, with the guns in train,
Proposed to deal the cards again,
And, tired of sitting up o' nights,
Gave notice to our parasites,
Announcing that in future they
Who paid the piper should call the lay!
Then crowns would tumble down like nuts,
And wastrels hide in water-butts;
Each lamp-post as an epilogue:
Would hold a pendent demagogue:
Then would the world be for the wise!—

But ah! the plain folk never rise.

Wednesday 17 January 2024


Kristian Niemietz has a familiar but worthwhile CAPX piece on UK housing.

1997: the last year of pre-housing-crisis Britain

1997 was, in lots of ways, a watershed year for Britain. I’m not just talking about Princess Diana and Tony Blair. One could also think of 1997 as the last year of the pre-internet and the pre-mobile-phone age. Both technologies already existed, but for most people, it was still possible to ignore them, or even be unaware of them: only about 15% of households had a mobile phone, and 7% had internet access. A year later, these proportions would jump to 26% and 14%, respectively.

It was also the year when Britain relinquished control over its last remaining major colony, Hong Kong, which makes it the symbolic final year of the British Empire. It was the year of the Devolution Referendum in Scotland, marking the end of Britain as a fully unitary state.

1997 was also the last year of pre-housing-crisis Britain.

Short but well worth reading as a reminder that hopelessly inadequate housing policy combined with a policy of mass immigration doesn't make sense. Not unless we assume that governments are remarkably incompetent, remarkably indifferent or possibly both. 

After 1997, the situation went from bad to worse, and then from worse to much, much worse. By 2004, the ratio of house prices to gross annual salaries had jumped to 6.6. Today, it stands at 8.3 for England as a whole, 10.1 in the East of England, 10.8 in the South East, and at 12.5 in London. The homeownership rate among people in their early-to-mid 30s has dropped to below 30%, and the proportion of young adults still living with their parents has jumped to 27%.

A little revolt

If we are to believe certain oracles of crafty political views, a little revolt is desirable from the point of view of power. System: revolt strengthens those governments which it does not overthrow. It puts the army to the test; it consecrates the bourgeoisie, it draws out the muscles of the police; it demonstrates the force of the social framework. It is an exercise in gymnastics; it is almost hygiene. Power is in better health after a revolt, as a man is after a good rubbing down.

Victor Hugo - Les Misérables (1862)

This is a strength of what is effectively the UK two party political system. Voters occasionally vote out the governing party and vote in the party which previously formed the 'opposition'.

Such a little revolt, such a very little revolt but it still creates a frenzy of excited media comment before and after then on and on until the next little revolt.

System: revolt strengthens those governments which it does not overthrow.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Nefarious actors

Climate misinformation is mutating on YouTube – and the platform is profiting

Climate misinformation is rapidly mutating across social media, allowing nefarious actors to skirt restrictions and continue to profit, according to a new report...

Researchers analysed thousands of hours of YouTube content from the past six years and found that “old” climate crisis denial – which claims that global heating is not happening and burning fossil fuels is not the cause – is giving way to a new type of misleading content intended to muddy the waters.

The report, by the non-profit research group Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), found that this “New Denial” falls into a few broad groups: that the impacts of global heating are beneficial or harmless; that climate solutions won’t work; and that climate science and the climate movement can’t be trusted.

Of course the nutty aspect of this is that you are not allowed to have a contrary opinion without being grouped with those nefarious actors skirting restrictions and continuing to profit.

Oh well, what do we say about this kind of twaddle?

We could point out that claims which are too nutty to analyse do highlight a nefarious approach to skirting reality and unfortunately, not an uncommon approach. But as ever, we already knew that.

Own Goal Deleted

Gary Lineker: Match Of The Day host removes social media post calling for Israel to be banned from football

The 63-year-old shared a post by The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) calling for Israel to be banned from international football.

The former England star, now one of the highest profile presenters on the BBC, retweeted a post by The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on X, formerly Twitter.

If he wishes to do these things as a private citizen he could leave the BBC and get on with it. No footballing tears would be shed.

There would be some regrets among those of us who rather like the way he keeps reminding people that the BBC is far from being politically neutral.

Monday 15 January 2024

In 229 years

World's richest men 'double their wealth' in three years - as Oxfam warns of first trillionaire

Oxfam's boss says it's "totally unacceptable" one person could soon be so extremely rich while many around the world still live in terrible poverty.

The world's five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes to £688bn in three years - while the wealth of the poorest 60% has fallen, according to Oxfam.

It says the first trillionaire could emerge within a decade but that poverty won't be eradicated for 229 years.

In 229 years poverty will finally be eradicated according to erstwhile charity Oxfam. It would be nice if the momentous event were to occur on a Saturday afternoon, round about tea time. It could be an interesting little addition to the football results.

The image selected to go with the piece is of course a picture of Elon Musk, the rich chap they seem to be uneasy about in spite of his major contribution to battery-powered cars which they do like because they are supposed to like them. Perhaps the uneasiness about Musk is because he is said to favour free speech which they don't like.   

Careerist Mantras

As B.F. Skinner has said, we build our repertoire of responses to be consistent with our personality. We all have a consensus-seeking personality but some people seem to have little else, causing problems for all of us.

For example, sceptics and careerists often see that certain political mantras are absurd while believers do not. To begin with, believers cannot even see the mantra as political. They may, for example, be presented as scientific. Sceptics stand back from the absurdity while careerists weave the controlling mantra into their career, not necessarily a political career.

This continues until the political mantra becomes too absurd to deceive anyone with even the most gullible personality. But by then it is too late because careerists have established yet another controlling political game which is all that is left of the original mantra. As happened in the USSR under Stalin and is now happening in China under Xi.

Anthony Daniels, AKA Theodore Dalrymple, has reached the conclusion that communist regimes have used absurd mantras to humiliate and thereby control the general population. North Korea is a very good example of that, North Korean political mantras being riddled with obvious absurdities.

Eventually even the general population comes, via bitter experience, to know that the mantras are absurd. Careerist officials always knew they were absurd, but the mantras are established and it has become dangerous to be openly sceptical.

Even within supposed democracies we have seen careerists pushing absurd political mantras. They demean the mass of believers after smoothing the way for unbelieving careerists. Our political careerists are well on the way to discarding democracy in just this way - once they deal with sceptics.

Sunday 14 January 2024

Charming the Charmless

Streeting says Corbyn and Farage are 'two cheeks of the same backside'

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has been speaking at the Jewish Labour conference in the last half hour, and he was asked if Sir Keir Starmer's decision to stay in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet was the right moral one.

Mr Streeting said they had the debate at the time - some chose to serve, some didn't...

Turning it onto the Tories, he said those more moderate Tory MPs, that he described as "actually quite heavy on the lectures during the Corbyn period", should "look in your own mirror at the dangerous forces of the populist right".

He went on: "Because whether it's hard left, hard right, Corbyn or Farage, they're two cheeks of the same backside.

It may have become impossible to support the Tories, but Streeting seems intent on making it a little easier. Hold your nose and vote against the oafs? Yes - he may just have put that possibility back on the political table. Quite an achievement.

Winter in January shock

We'd better avoid Matlock from Tuesday this week. Either that or commit to digging out the woolly hat and gloves.

Five Year Plan

Luciana Berger returns to key role for Labour overseeing mental health strategy

Luciana Berger will oversee Labour’s mental health strategy five years after leaving the party amid its antisemitism scandal, the party has announced.

Ms Berger, the former MP for Liverpool Wavertree, has been appointed by Sir Keir Starmer to oversee a cross-government strategy to tackle mental health issues.

Under the plan, thousands of mental health professionals would be specially trained to support people who self-harm to drive down suicide rates.

Tone down the deranged political hectoring would be a fine start. Net Zero, climate change, gender politics, race politics, identity politics. Begin with sane politics and take it from there.

That's not in the five year plan? Thought not.

Saturday 13 January 2024

Sadiq Khan’s Fantasyland

Robert Colvile has a very useful piece on Sadiq Khan’s claims about the economic impact of Brexit. Useful because it reminds us that the issue of dodgy numbers is much, much wider than Sadiq Khan’s obsessive ambitions.

Sadiq Khan’s Brexit figures are straight out of fantasyland

Sadiq Khan’s new stats on the economic impact of Brexit have received widespread and breathless coverage, including in the international press. But on closer inspection, they appear to be inexcusably shoddy.

The Mayor commissioned new analysis from both Cambridge Econometrics and his own team at the Greater London Authority to show how much damage Brexit has done to Britain as a whole, and London in particular. But the core claims – in particular on growth and jobs – simply don’t stand up, whatever your position on Brexit.

Of course the numbers don't stand up, look at the guy who commissioned them. Yet the whole piece is well worth reading for that reason, because there is a major problem with politically commissioned numbers whatever the technical source. Not only is there a problem if the commissioning is political, but there is a problem with media failing to point out that it likely to be misleading at best. Makes a joke of media fact-checking on Net Zero, climate change, the pandemic and much else.

Now, to head off possible criticism – I am not making any claims at all about the economic impact of Brexit, positive or negative. I am saying that, as with so many of Khan’s other statistics (cough, housebuilding, cough), it pays to check, check and check again.

That said, it is pretty depressing how many people, and news outlets, seem to have swallowed these estimates whole, despite them being prima facie implausible to say the least (or at least dependent on a non-Brexiting Britain having a truly fantastic growth record, in every sense).

If the first lesson of politics is ‘learn to count’, then for Londoners the second might be never to take their Mayor at his word – at least on anything to do with data.

Cray-1 (1978) versus iPhone13 (2022)


Friday 12 January 2024

Starmer Grey

Although it was half-past three in the afternoon there was still a faint sun-stained fog about. He liked that sun-stained fog almost beyond any other weather that London provided, and it seemed especially kindly and reassuring now, for London had been so very dark of late.

Hugh Walpole - The Joyful Delaneys (1938)

It’s been a cold, grey day here in our corner of Derbyshire with barely a faint breeze to remind us that the weather hasn’t stopped altogether like a tired old clock which finally gives up on time. 

It has been quiet too. While disposing of the wood-burner ash in the garden, a woodpecker was so loud I thought it must be in the nearby cherry tree, but as usual I couldn’t see it.

A sun-stained fog would at least confirm that we still have a sun and the world hasn’t turned permanently grey. Starmer Grey perhaps.

Brush With Nanny

Labour 'wont stand by while children become fatter', Streeting says, in defence of 'nanny state' reforms

Labour has defended its 'nanny state' reforms to child healthcare, including policies such as plans to introduce supervised tooth brushing in free breakfast clubs, saying it "won't stand idly by" while British children become more overweight, unhealthy and unhappier.

The Opposition party plans to introduce supervised toothbrushing for young children in free breakfast clubs if it wins the next general election.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting brushed off criticism that the party is seeking to create a "nanny state" on child health.

The state continues to insert itself into our lives and there is no sign of it coming to a halt, no suggestion that some things are not the responsibility of the state. Approved toothpaste and toothbrush design probably come next.

Yet nobody will be particularly surprised if childhood tooth decay becomes worse. If it does, officials will not be responsible. 

Thursday 11 January 2024

Oblivious to the decay

J Meirion Thomas has a familiar but worthwhile TCW piece on the marked decline of the GP service here in the UK.

The damaging decline of NHS general practice

GENERAL practice has been in accelerating decline for more than a decade, and no significant effort has been made to arrest the process. Not by any of the responsible arms of government who also foot the bill on behalf of the taxpayer, and least of all by the hierarchy of the GP profession who seem oblivious to the decay they are overseeing.

Family practice was once a cornerstone of the welfare state and a source of reassurance and confidence for the public. I have been astonished by the complacency with which millions of people tolerate waiting for a month or more for a GP appointment and even then, possibly virtually. Unless, rather than seeing a doctor, they are offered an earlier appointment with a practice nurse, a pharmacist, a physiotherapist or a paramedic. Worst of all, in some practices by a Physician’s Assistant, who is not a doctor although patients may not be aware of this.

If a solicitor or an accountant treated clients in this way, their practice would fail, but GPs have a guaranteed income irrespective of performance. Of course, some GPs do their best to maintain standards but it is equally true that there is no incentive to provide a better service than some of their colleagues.

Nobody in the UK is likely to be unfamiliar with the serious nature of the decline, but the whole piece is well worth reading as a reminder that none of our major political parties has any interest in arresting it. If past performance is any guide, then the decline is likely to become worse.

The death knell for general practice was rung in 2004 with a fatal decision negotiated between the British Medical Association and the then Labour government. GPs would work office hours only and have no responsibility for providing out-of-hours services to patients: not at night, at weekends or bank holidays. In return, GPs would be expected to ‘improve access to medical services for patients’. Did that happen? At the time, GP friends of mine could not believe the windfall benefits of the new contract. Surely this change amounted to an abdication of vocational responsibility?

The pandemic was another fatal blow for patient services. In April 2020, NHS England enforced a ‘remote total triage’ model for general practice to protect their staff from the virus. All consultations would be virtual. There was nothing similar for A&E staff who bore the risks and workload consequences. Because virtual consultation was so convenient for GPs, it was continued after the pandemic and is now part of regular practice.

Missing the target

When key NHS targets were last hit in the UK (and 2 that have never been met)

The majority of key NHS targets across the whole of the UK have been missed for many years, new research has revealed, with two never having been hit at all.

A review of records going back through the last 20 years looked at key targets covering A&E, cancer and waiting times for planned care.

The three targets were all rolled out during the 2000s and have been used to track performance ever since with each country deciding how they are measured.

Key NHS targets in England were last hit on:
  • A&E - July 2015
  • Cancer - December 2015
  • Planned care - February 2016

Raises a few obvious questions.
  • What is meant by key NHS targets?
  • Is there a target for days not lost to strikes?
  • Is there a target for meeting targets? 
  • What does a GP look like?

Amusing the kids

A local coffee shop this morning - two young women nattering away over a coffee, one with a toddler in a pushchair. Mum drank her coffee with her right hand, while down by the pushchair her left hand held her phone about a foot from the child’s nose.

Colourful cartoons such as Peppa Pig were playing on the phone and as a damper on pushchair behaviour it worked very well. The child was clearly mesmerised and didn’t make a sound, not while we were there. Better than a bag of sweeties I suppose.

Net Zero goes to work

Wimbledon: Electric double-decker bus catches fire during rush hour

An electric double-decker bus caught fire during the morning rush hour in south-west London.

The Met Police said emergency services were called about the incident on Wimbledon Hill Road/Alwyne Road in Wimbledon shortly after 07:20 GMT.

No injuries have been reported but a critical incident was declared, police said.

Max Pashley, a local resident, told City A.M.: "We heard a huge bang. We were terrified."

Road closures and cordons are in place and are expected to be for some time.

Wednesday 10 January 2024

But is it art?

Not a surprise to those paying attention, but worth reading for anyone still wondering what kind of artist Hunter Biden might be.

Comer Statement on Interview with Hunter Biden’s Art Gallerist

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) issued the following statement on the committee’s transcribed interview with Georges Bergès, Hunter Biden’s art gallerist:

“The Biden White House appears to have deceived the American people about facilitating an ethics agreement governing the sale of Hunter Biden’s art. Hunter Biden’s gallerist never had any communication with the White House about such an agreement to make sure there was any sort of ethics compliance at all, and he provided information to the committee revealing how Hunter Biden’s amateur art career is an ethics nightmare. The vast majority of Hunter Biden’s art has been purchased by Democrat donors, one of whom was appointed by President Biden to a prestigious commission after she purchased Hunter Biden’s art for tens of thousands of dollars shortly after Joe Biden’s inauguration. The White House has a lot of explaining to do about misleading the American people.”...

Big money Democrat donors advanced and purchased the majority of Hunter Biden’s art. Georges Bergès stated the majority of Hunter Biden’s art has been purchased by Democrat donors, including Kevin Morris and Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali.

That sense of social and intellectual smugness

David James has a worthwhile CAPX piece on the death of satire.

Banksy and the death of satire

Among the various ‘news’ stories that came and went without much notice over the Christmas period was the installation of a new work of art by Banksy in south London. This time the elusive artist erected what was widely believed to be a call for a ceasefire in Gaza: three drones were superimposed on a traffic ‘Stop’ sign. It was stolen in under an hour, which either speaks volumes about how much the residents of Peckham appreciate his agitprop art or, more likely, that a couple of geezers armed with bolt cutters saw an opportunity for a nice little earner which would have made Del Boy and Rodney proud.

The news covered the crime, not the craft, and few actually spent any time analysing the predictably dreary image itself. Banksy isn’t an artist any more and he has nothing to say: his message is not even his medium, it is, instead, all about its location and whether a council or a resident will try to steal it or destroy it. It has as much personality as its artist.

The whole piece is quite short and well worth reading, particularly this reference to the sense of social and intellectual smugness we now see in comedians. It has been with us for some time too, Stephen Fry being an example. By the time I gave up on it, Private Eye was another example.

Of course, it is not news to claim that political comedy, once subversive, is now sanctimonious and monocultural. The satirical stance of That Was The Week That Was, and Not Only… But Also is long dead. Aaron Brown, editor of the British Comedy Guide, suggested that many popular comedians ‘have this air of intellectual superiority, using comedy to look down on those who see the world from a different perspective.’ That sense of social and intellectual smugness, encapsulated in comedians ranging from Steve Coogan to Stewart Lee, acts as a strong antidote to appreciating anything humorous they are likely to say unless you also subscribe to their views.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Couldn't resist this one either


'Minibrains' grown by scientists ignite ethical questions

Lab-grown blobs of human brain tissue are signalling in a new era of scientific discovery. An era that's bringing about a lot of ethical questions.

These blobs, also known as "minibrains" colloquially and brain organoids scientifically, serve as simplified models of full-sized human brains. They have the possibility to be useful in basic research, drug development and even computer science.

However, as the organoids become more sophisticated, there's a question as to whether they could ever become too similar to human brains and thus gain some form of consciousness.

New Year Manure

N. Koreans start the new year with the obligatory “manure collection battle”

"Women are mobilized to produce manure in the morning and then have to rush to the markets in the afternoon to make money to feed their families," a source told Daily NK

“As in past years, the first battle of the new year has begun at factories and enterprises, neighborhood watch units, schools, and other organizations,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. He added: “People have to prepare manure and transport it to farms, which is a lot of work.”

Meanwhile, some people expressed direct criticism of the North Korean regime. One person said: “There is no other country on earth that pesters its people all year, from January to December,” while another said: “People in other countries are able to live well without collecting manure, but we are forced to live frugally and our lives keep on getting worse no matter how many tasks we fulfill.”

Please excuse the word 'flavour' in this context, but there is a flavour of Net Zero about this story. Maybe a 'whiff ' of Net Zero would be better, but not much better.

Monday 8 January 2024

They were all lying to me

'They were all lying to me': defiant Lib Dem ex-minister Ed Davey insists civil servants and Post Office misled him over Horizon scandal amid questions over his role in miscarriage of justice - as PM backs call for company boss to lose CBE

In a TV interview today Sir Ed insisted he had been misled by those around him when he backed the prosecutions.

'I wish I'd known then what we all know now - the Post Office was lying on an industrial scale to me and other ministers,' he told Sky News.

'When I met Alan Bates and listened to his concerns, I put those concerns to officials in my department, to the Post Office, to the National Federation of Postmasters. And it's clear they all were lying to me.

Unfortunately we've reached a situation where it isn't sensible to assume that "Sir" Ed is being strictly truthful here. 

The default assumption for political leaders is that they do not place much value on veracity, especially when their personal status is threatened. It's not a good situation, but it's where we are. "Sir" Ed has played his part in steering us here.

The mind that finds its way to wild places

The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet’s; but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic’s.

G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

Sir Keir Starmer commits to clean power by 2030

Speaking to Sky News, the Labour leader said that Rishi Sunak was putting "vanity before country" by not calling an election straight away.

Asked about the 2030 commitment, he told Wilfred Frost on Sky News: "I'm not prepared to move that date. People keep saying to me, are you moving back on your goal? No, we're not - clean power by 2030.

Of course Starmer already knows one way back - redefine 'clean power'. 

Such a mephitic morass of slogans and cliches does offer us an extremely sobering perspective on the political huckster though. Sadly we have become accustomed to the smell and don’t expect anything better.

Another Gloomy EV Story


Sunday 7 January 2024


Nicola Sturgeon's flagship hybrid ferry now only runs on diesel as battery too expensive to fix

A hybrid electric ferry hailed by Nicola Sturgeon is now only running on polluting diesel because a £1.5million battery is taking 18 months to replace. The MV Hallaig was the first in the world to use a system which cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent when it was launched in 2012.

But the battery broke on the £10million vessel in September and bosses have admitted it could be April 2025 before it’s fixed because the replacement part is no longer available.

It’s now the third problem ferry in Scotland after the controversy over the MV Glen Sannox and MV Glen Rosa which are six years overdue and £260million over budget.

Alfred Baird, formerly professor of maritime business and director of the Maritime Transport Research Group at Edinburgh Napier University, said he was consulted on the hybrid ferries but advised against them. He claims officials at the Scottish Government then complained to his bosses about his work and tried to stop his research being published.

The last paragraph is interesting - it's what they all seem to regard as the standard approach they should take to criticism or even good but unwanted advice. 

Quiz Night With ChatGPT

From Dave R -

ChatGPT - Which person is now dead, was a male movie star, played a lead actor and died in 2007 at the age of 66?

Contestant – I don’t know, who was it?

ChatGPT – Chris Penn from Reservoir Dogs.

Contestant – Did Chris Penn die in 2007?

Chat GPT – No he died in 2006.

Contestant – Was Chris Penn 66 when he died?

ChatGPT – No he was 40.

The Loaded Dice


The great forward movement in modern industry of which he had dreamed of being a part had for him turned out to be a huge meaningless gamble with loaded dice against a credulous public.

Sherwood Anderson - Windy McPherson's Son (1916)

In Sir Keir Starmer’s case, the loaded dice are the mess made by the Tories, a mess Labour would not and could not have mitigated. The credulous public are those he hopes to persuade otherwise - that the dice are not loaded.

The basest of all responses

It was the ebbing light of evening that recalled me out of my story to a consciousness of my whereabouts. I dropped the squat little red book to my knee and glanced out of the narrow and begrimed oblong window. We were skirting the eastern coast of cliffs, to the very edge of which a ploughman, stumbling along behind his two great horses, was driving the last of his dark furrows. In a cleft far down between the rocks a cold and idle sea was soundlessly laying its frigid garlands of foam. I stared over the flat stretch of waters, then turned my head, and looked with a kind of suddenness into the face of my one fellow-traveller.

He had entered the carriage, all but unheeded, yet not altogether unresented, at the last country station. His features were a little obscure in the fading daylight that hung between our four narrow walls, but apparently his eyes had been fixed on my face for some little time. He narrowed his lids at this unexpected confrontation, jerked back his head, and cast a glance out of his mirky glass at the slip of greenish-bright moon that was struggling into its full brilliance above the dun, swelling uplands.

“It’s a queer experience, railway-travelling,” he began abruptly, in a low, almost deprecating voice, drawing his hand across his eyes. “One is cast into a passing privacy with a fellow-stranger and then is gone.” It was as if he had been patiently awaiting the attention of a chosen listener.

I nodded, looking at him. “That privacy, too,” he ejaculated, “all that!” My eyes turned towards the window again: bare, thorned, black January hedge, inhospitable salt coast, flat waste of northern water. Our engine driver promptly shut off his steam, and we slid almost noiselessly out of sight of sky and sea into a cutting.

“It’s a desolate country,” I ventured to remark.

“Oh, yes, ‘desolate,’” he echoed a little wearily. “But what frets me is the way we have of arrogating to ourselves the offices of judge, jury, and counsel all in one. As if this earth.... I never forget it—the futility, the presumption. It leads nowhere. We drive in—into all this silence, this—this, ‘forsakenness,’ this dream of a world between her lights of day and night time. We desecrate. Consciousness! What restless monkeys men are.” He recovered himself, swallowed his indignation with an obvious gulp

“As if,” he continued, in more chastened tones—“as if that other gate were not for ever ajar, into God knows what of peace and mystery.” He stooped forward, lean, darkened, objurgatory. “Don’t we make our world? Isn’t that our blessed, our betrayed responsibility?”

I nodded, and ensconced myself, like a dog in straw, in the basest of all responses to a rare, even if eccentric, candour—caution.

Walter de la Mare - The Riddle and Other Stories (1923)

Saturday 6 January 2024

Meanwhile in Spain…

Years ago I read a science fiction story where this kind of relationship with AI systems was common. Even then, years before it was technically possible, it was obvious that many people would be comfortable with it. Too many implications to list though - far too many implications.


If she can't manage her own money...

Labour’s Rachel Reeves complains that her £86k salary has left her financially 'short'

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said the cost of living crisis has left her “increasingly short” financially, despite her £86,000 a year salary.

The Labour MP has said she “winces” at her bank balance each month with her mortgage, gas, electricity and food bills all adding up.

She made the confession during an interview on Friday when she announced that her party would fight to allow people to have greater financial freedom and pay less in bills.

Seems dim to me. Voters may wince at the prospect of Ms Reeves becoming chancellor, but admitting to difficulties with personal budgeting, that gives voters a hefty reason to wince and wince again. 

That's the problem with being a UK voter, it's all wince.

The word 'potential' doesn't hide much from anyone

Post Office scandal: Met Police investigate 'potential fraud offences'

Neil Hudgell, a lawyer who acts for claimants, told the BBC that some of those seeking advice were former sub-postmasters who were prosecuted by the Post Office.

The Met Police said the potential offences could have been related to "monies recovered from sub-postmasters as a result of prosecutions or civil actions".

The force has already been looking into potential offences of perjury and perverting the course of justice in relation to investigations and prosecutions carried out by the Post Office.

Friday 5 January 2024

Another crack in the wall

Azerbaijan names a former oil exec to lead climate talks. Activists have concerns

Azerbaijan's ecology minister has been named to lead the United Nations' annual climate talks later this year, prompting concern from some climate activists over his former ties to the state oil company in a major oil-producing nation.

Mukhtar Babayev's appointment was announced on X by the United Arab Emirates, which hosted the climate talks that just ended in December, and confirmed Friday by the United Nations. Officials in Azerbaijan did not immediately respond to messages seeking to confirm the appointment.

Babayev has been his country's minister for ecology and natural resources since 2018. Before that, he worked at Azerbaijan's state oil company for more than two decades.

No wonder activists have concerns, they don't go anywhere without them, but at this rate the annual jamboree could become entertaining. It may even generate a chuckle or two, which is much healthier than being eaten up by concerns.

The career of a polemicist

Oliver Kamm has a very interesting CAPX piece on the late John Pilger.

John Pilger was a charlatan and a fraudster

‘I admired the force of his writing, even when I often didn’t support what he wrote, and he was always warm when we met.’ So wrote John Simpson, the veteran BBC foreign affairs correspondent, on news of the death of the campaigning journalist John Pilger on 30 December at the age of 84.

Those who know of Pilger’s work only in recent years and from the obscure far-left websites that published it may struggle to imagine that he was once a big figure in print and broadcast media, when newspapers sold in the millions and there was only terrestrial television with three channels. But he was, and generous sentiments like Simpson’s have abounded in the past few days. Pundits, politicians and others have typically praised Pilger for his journalistic integrity while making clear that they did not necessarily share his politics.

I avoided Pilger's work from an early age, so I'm not familiar with the details of Kamm's analysis, but the whole piece is well worth reading because of what it says about Pilger's lack of journalistic integrity. From this perspective, Pilger's approach was much easier than investigative reporting and there was a market for it. There still is a market for it. 

I immodestly claim to have the answer to this conundrum. There is an essential continuity in Pilger’s work. It’s not, as many believe, that his judgment dramatically deteriorated as he got older: he was always that way, and his reputation has progressively adjusted downwards to match reality. Pilger was not really an investigative journalist at all, for he never did investigations. As a reporter who once worked closely with him explained it to me, Pilger was a polemicist who went out looking for what he wanted to find.

Therein lies the essential transience of Pilger’s life’s work, for while there is much suffering and evil in the international order, a journalist’s first duty, allowing for personal biases and partial information, is to describe the world as it is and not as they might wish it to be. Pilger, by contrast, fabricated his conclusions in order to accord with his premises. This was always his method and I will give examples of this malpractice from his output on two particular issues. The first is his celebrated reporting from Cambodia and the second concerns the wars in the former Yugoslavia, a region he neither knew nor understood.

Thursday 4 January 2024

A Gloomy EV Story


Sir Keir invites mocking laughter

'Huge difference' between Labour and Tories, Starmer declares as he rejects 'cautious' criticism

Sir Keir Starmer has rejected claims he is being too cautious and timid in his offer to the public - and insisted there is a "huge difference" between Labour and the Conservatives

In his speech at a research centre near Bristol, Sir Keir urged voters to reject "pointless populist gestures" and pledged to crackdown on cronyism as he sought to outline the dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives.

Life is a huge farce, and the advantage of possessing a sense of humour is that it enables one to defy fate with mocking laughter.

George Gissing - New Grub Street (1891)