Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Shroud of Old Sodbury


I've been suffering from Man Flu for the last couple of days, being confined to bed by Hay. I've suddenly realised that the Shroud of Turin is not some magical resurrection artefact, it's the bottom bed sheet of some poor bloke who had Man Flu.


Today is my last chance to shake it off, as I have to fly to Glasgow tomorrow for a meeting.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Utrecht Palm


Overheard while watching Time Team:

Chairman: "The're conducting a dig in Utrecht."

Hay: "Is that Utrecht son of Utrecht?"

I thought that was quite witty of Hay.

Years ago, not sure how many, but it must be 4. I bought a small coconut palm from Lidl, not expecting it to survive for more than a few months and certainly not into the winter. Well, against all odds it thrived and grew into a huge palm with some 7 or 8 fronds.

A few weeks ago I decided to replant it due to it becoming constricted; however, I accidentally ripped one of the roots while trying to prise it loose. Since then it has been gradually dying, one frond after another shrivelling up.


I'm currently down to one not-too-healthy looking frond and a shoot. It may just survive.


Friday, 8 December 2017

The Dark Wall


Kitty's dislike of foreign cats has led to demands for a Cat Wall on our bed. Strangely enough, the request came not from Kitty, but from Blackie, who is constantly being attacked by Kitty.


We've been watching a Neftlix series called Dark, an extremely good German production, but Netflix has gone and dubbed it in American English. The story is so good that we can just about overcome the sight of what are obviously Germans in German settings speaking American. Personally, I'd prefer it in the original German with English subtitles.

The series centres around a town where teenage children keep disappearing, but I tend to get rather confused about which character is which, as all teenagers look the same to me - the only differentiator is that some are male and some female.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Socialism


I've been having an argument with some people about the difference between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.


Let's be clear, socialism, whatever its pedigree, demands ownership of the means of production by the state. That's all the means of production - meaning no free market economy. Democratic Socialism is merely the use of a democratic vote as the means, rather than violent revolution.

Social Democracy is a free market economy with social provision, through taxes, for education, housing, health, etc. - the model for most western democracies, to a greater or lesser extent. The Nordics are probably the best example of Social Democracy in action, whereas Russia (closely followed by USA with Trump in charge) is one of the worst. It purports to redistribute wealth through progressive taxation.

Jeremy Corbyn describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, which makes him a proponent of a fully planned economy and all that entails - collectivism, or Communism without the authoritarian nature; however, it's almost impossible to have a planned economy without strong authority from the top, as it requires a huge sacrifice of liberty. It's a 'means justifies the ends scenario' - an 'at any cost' philosophy. That kind of power is seductive to those at the top.

Too many people, in my view, are not aware of the distinction. Corbyn, as a political thinker and admirer of Karl Marx, cannot possibly be ignorant of the distinction. Most of the electorate, unfortunately, is.

That's not to say our current Social Democracy in the UK is in good shape - it certainly isn't, and a large section of the wealthy are not paying their fair share of tax to fund social programmes, squirrelling most of it in off-shore tax havens. Corporations too don't pay their fair share, as we are finding out. However, to go from one end of the spectrum to the other seems self-destructive. That, however, seems to be what happens in politics - the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. The swing from Neoliberalism to Democratic Socialism is a swing too far, especially when the destruction that can be wrought by a planned economy has to contend with the fallout from Brexit - if it ever happens - and it currently looks like it will be either hard Brexit, no Brexit or a General Election.

Some believe Corbyn has been persuaded that a less left-leaning programme is more suited to gaining votes, but that doesn't change his personal views and there's debate within the Labour Party as to whether Clause IV should be brought back.

Capitalism beats Socialism hands down in creating wealth, but it's not very good an ensuring that wealth is equitably distributed unless regulated. Capitalist monopolies are to be avoided, but state monopolies are allowed in the pursuit of a social agenda that cares for the less well off - they are a necessary evil. That said, monopolies don't exist for long in a free market, unless it's with state collusion, as technological advances usually take care of them (monopolies, by their very nature, asre not innovative).

Socialism, on the other hand, is awful at producing wealth precisely because everything is a state monopoly and ensures what little there is can be shared equally. It's the monopolistic nature and fact that the little wealth is shared equally that makes it so bad at producing wealth - there's little or no incentive. You can't argue on the one hand that capitalist monopolies are bad but state monopolies are good - they're both equally bad for the consumer, as nationalisation has proven in the UK; however, a few state monopolies are necessary. That's not to say that in a free economy there shouldn't be some competition to state monopolies to generate innovation, but it should be limited.

We are placing ourselves between a rock and a hard place through ignorance of the distinction between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy. Almost all social media references to Social Democracy fail to make this distinction, except in political lexicons. But experts, eh, what do they know...

To view the other side of the coin, and link today's post with yesterday's; where the Conservatives have been successful was to harness the lower instincts of the masses and direct the blame for all their failures to the poor, and now the EU. The centre and the left, being generally more selective and discerning in their value judgements, are not as strongly organised into a single voting cadre, but values may have to be tempered with expediency at the next election.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Demagogue


Interesting comment from Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:

"In a totalitarian society the question is not what do a majority of the people agree, but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible; or, if no such group large enough to enforce its views exists, how it can be created and who will succeed in creating it. 

"There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best, but rather by the worst elements of any society. By our standards the principles on which such a group would be selected will be almost entirely negative.



"In the first instance, it is probably true that, in general, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their views and tastes are differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a particular hierarchy of values. It is a corollary of this that if we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and “common” instincts and tastes prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards. It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people. If a numerous group is needed, strong enough to impose their views on the values of life on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed tastes, it will be those who form the “mass” in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind their particular ideals. If, however, a potential dictator had to rely entirely on those whose uncomplicated and primitive instincts happen to be very similar, their number would scarcely give sufficient weight to their endeavours. He will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed.

"Here comes in the second negative principle of selection: he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.

"It is in connection with the deliberate effort of the skillful demagogue to weld together a closely coherent and homogeneous body of supporters that the third and perhaps most important negative element of selection enters. It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off. The contrast between the “we” and the “they,” the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program. The enemy, whether he be internal, like the ‘Jew” or the “kulak,” or external, seems to be an indispensable requisite in the armory of a totalitarian leader. 

"That in Germany it was the Jew who became the enemy until his place was taken by the “plutocracies” was no less a result of the anti-capitalist resentment on which the whole movement was based than the selection of the kulak in Russia. In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations. It is the old story of the alien race’s being admitted only to the less respected trades and then being hated still more for practicing them. The fact that German anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root is of great importance for the understanding of what has happened there, but this is rarely grasped by the foreign observer."

He was writing in 1944, but this has a familiar ring to it.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Adversity


Some interesting comments on overcoming adversity:

"Those who can suffer most will win."

"The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

The first is by Ho Chi Minh, the second by Frederick Douglass.



Monday, 4 December 2017

Gregory Porter's AI Gardening Hat


You can't open a newspaper or news website with some astounding story about artificial intelligence and the fact we're all about to be replaced by robots. If that's so, why does it take Google Voice and Samsung Bixby about 4 attempts to understand what I'm saying, and still provide me with precisely the wrong information or open the wrong mobile app? I don't think we need worry just yet. AI, as it currently stands, seems to have even less intelligence than a slug.


Hay was reading something yesterday about a head gardener's course called A Head Gardener's Year. Believe it nor not, a head gardener's year is exactly the same length as my year. She bought a pair of Levi skinny jeans yesterday in Nailsworth - 27 inch waist (which, apparently, is a size 8) - and reckoned she could have gone an inch smaller. She's nearly as slim as me. Not bad for 52 years of age and 6 feet tall though.


Gregory Porter's ubiquitous hat - what's that all about? Good name for a band - Gregory Porter's Hat....

Tried a bit more yesterday with the spray-on frosting; there's no difference between the sandblasted glass and the sprayed one, but neither are the effect I'm looking for on the chandelier - a sharp, crisp, white frosting.


The one of the left is the spray frosting. Apparently a lot of frosting on glass these days is moulded on.
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Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Chandelier


Had a concerted effort with the chandelier project yesterday; tried the spray on frosting - bloody useless. Bought a few coloured glasses from the charity shop and then set to work.


We started loading it up with a few clear glasses, but staring at a naked bulb wasn't pleasant, so we removed the frosted shade from the old lamp, turned it upside down and started again.






I'd like to get some of these frosted glasses - the effect would be phenomenal - but at £60 for just 6 glasses when we need 21 is a tad steep. Maybe just one middle tier of 6 We'll also get a smaller frosted shade.



Saturday, 2 December 2017

Frosted Pumpkin Pod Capers


One Halloween pumpkin down, one to go...


Nice, curry-spiced pumpkin soup - delicious.


Hay bought some Aldi Nespresso-type coffee pods the other day - vanilla and caramel. There's absolutely no difference in the taste between these and the Nespresso ones, which are the only ones I buy as part of the deal on the machine: £8 for 60, as opposed to £18 for 60 Nespresso pods.

After a bit of a kerfuffle as regards pneumatic hose connectors, I had a go at sandblasting a test piece for the frosted wine glass chandelier I'm intent of making for Christmas. Not a good result. I ended up with a black, grit beach in the work area. It's far too industrial for something as delicate as a glass.


Glass etching cream is apparently very good, but it's rather expensive for 21 wine glasses. I've ordered some spray frosting, which is not my preferred option, but needs must - will let you know the results of a test.


Friday, 1 December 2017

Snowflake, Resident War Criminals


I do find it rather strange how the far right, who are fond of using the term 'snowflakes' for the left, are the ones constantly running scared of everything. The special relationship between the UK and the USA is between the peoples and does not depend on the tit currently occupying the White House. He'll be gone - hopefully sooner rather than later. As for his visit to the UK - he shouldn't be encouraged in his views and if he does come, he will only use it to manipulate his image.

There again, there's freedom of speech, but that also includes the right of reply to challenge his views and, if he does come, the visit will be stage managed to avoid embarrassment, protest will be stifled and the far right will capitalise on that - so no, he should not be allowed to come and be given a world platform for his vile views. He's had his free speech through the auspices of Twitter - not allowing him to come is our right of reply and will have far greater effect than him being feted on a state visit.

Trump is a congenital narcissist for whom climbing down and admitting he is wrong is anathema. Not indulging his smug narcissism is the most effective countermeasure.


This Bosnian war criminal who took poison - perhaps all war criminals should be offered poison in exchange for...., well, a much shorter sentence...

I was doing an online UK citizenship test for a laugh yesterday and found two mistakes. One concerned the date of the end of WWI and 1919, which is the official date at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and thus the end of the war, was not even an option - 1918 was merely an armistice as a prelude to talks to officially end the war. The other question concerned the rights of UK citizens and residents; the accepted answer included the ability of UK residents to vote in a general election, which they are not entitled to do without certain caveats - EU citizens who are resident here, for example, can vote in local elections and European elections, but not in a general election. I wasn't even born here, yet I seem to know more about UK citizenship than those who wrote the test.