Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Patriotism


There are calls to patriotism from some corners of the Conservative Party. What exactly is patriotism?


When we all lived in caves, patriotism (or tribalism, as it was then) was a biological, gut reaction that ensured survival against other tribes. It still has relevance, perhaps, in times of war, but not necessarily for everyone. When someone is about to jump off a cliff and calls on your to follow them using the call to patriotism, the word is bereft of all intellectual meaning, not that it has much these days anyway. It is the last resort of a scoundrel, as Dr Johnson once said, by which he meant it's used when all else fails - logic, reason, etc.

If you call me to follow you today, citing patriotism, what happens in 5 years time when you are no longer in favour and have been voted out? Does the patriotism I exhibited when I followed you suddenly become treason? The current calls to patriotism seek to demonise a very large section of the population that disagrees profoundly with a certain party's actions (what's the opposite of a patriot?). That is morally reprehensible.

The mistake a lot of voters make these days - and probably have since time immemorial - is to dogmatically defend their chosen party, whether they be right or wrong. This inevitably leads them at some stage into the untenable position of trying to defend the indefensible. Rather than admit that an area of policy is just not up to scratch, they will argue black is white to justify their allegiance and end up tying themselves in logical knots in any argument. A dogmatic position in politics, as in religion, is a route to disaster and invariably makes one look stupid, as there is guaranteed to be a paradox or logical inconsistency somewhere that has to be defended.

A call to patriotism usually comes from a demagogue. Populist demagoguery appears when people lose a sense of identity and scapegoats are sought in order to lay the blame elsewhere. You become a victim and place your faith in a perceived 'strong leader', which is dangerous thinking, as that strong leader generally has feet of clay and cannot deliver on his or her promises anyway. Once this realisation kicks in on the part of the populist demagogue, tyranny can easily follow, especially if the demagogue has destroyed civil liberties in the name of 'strong and stable' leadership.

Like it or not, the world is going global, and turning inward and pulling up the drawbridge under such circumstances is dangerous. Whereas the free market is very good at generating wealth, it’s a terrible mechanism for distributing that wealth and leaves vast swathes of the population worse off and prey to the demagogue. Populist demagoguery, based on lies and deception, is the precursor to nationalism and nationalism, as a reaction to globalism, is a medication that’s worse than the disease itself.


Monday, 26 June 2017

Croagh Patrick


Yesterday's task was to climb Croagh Patrick - the mountain you can see from our accommodation in Murrisk.


Everything started well and we passed St Patrick, who reputedly climbed the mountain and prayed there for 40 days and 40 nights. I have doubts about this story, as there's no way he could have carried 40 days' worth of food to the top without a team of sherpas. If you ask me, St Patrick here looks rather similar to St Nicholas. I'm sure there's a factory somewhere that churns out thousands of saints that are identical and they just have a different name plaque slapped on them depending on what's required.


Anyway, Hay was suffering and wanted to give up at about 3/4 of the way up, but I persuaded her to continue. Here's a view from half way up.


We were literally within a hundred yards or so of the top and my vertigo kicked in on the rock-strewn 41 degree slope. I thought I'd conquered that decades ago, but no - up there you feel very exposed and I was about to freeze in a panic. Discretion was the better part of valour and we started our decent. Several coffin-dodgers passed me and I felt so ashamed, but when vertigo gets you there's nothing you can do.

Didn't expect to see a golf putting green half way up. I've since learned it's a helipad.


In this shot you can see Mordor in the distance.


And in this one is the Plain of Rohan.


Today is wall-to-wall rain, so we're going to have to seek out something cultural and indoors.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Crazy Bastard Gym


Walked from Murrisk to Westport and back yesterday (about 11 miles in total) to catch the Westport Food Fesitval and went past what looked like a kids' playground containing some rather sturdy looking playground equipment - but it wasn't the usual stuff like swings and roundabouts. It was real exercise equipment and, as well as a bunch of kids, there was a pensioner working out on the equipment. A free gym for anyone to use. Very enlightened.




I can just imagine the pensioners kicking the kids off the equipment...

There was a stall at the Food Festival selling some rather powerful sauce.



Saturday, 24 June 2017

Hot Water Crayons


Well, Ryanair managed to punish Hay and myself for not paying to reserve seats on the flight to Knock by seating us at opposite ends of the aircraft but, by good fortune, both of us ended up in the only rows in the plane with no-one either side of us.  Just shows they must have an allocation algorithm that purposely splits people who book together but don't choose to pay for seats, despite what they say in their PR.

Hay wondered how she could get water to drink in Bristol airport without paying an arm and a leg for designer stuff. I told her to just take an empty bottle and fill it from the cold tap in the ladies’ loo once through security. Well, believe it or not, you can only get hot water out of the loo taps and the only way of getting cold water is to buy it. Airports are becoming like RyanAir.

Hay was looking at some lipsticks in the “duty free”. They wanted £18 for what is essentially a crayon. 


Can you resell a Kindle e-book the way you can a paper book?


Friday, 23 June 2017

Trust in the News


Sussed out the RyanAir booking thing. We couldn't check-in without booking a seat as we'd selected to check-in for the return flight simultaneously, and the return flight is more than 7 days away, hence the mandatory seat booking. Checked in for the outward flight only and we managed to get the free seats, but while I was in 30B, Hay was placed in 05A. They punish you by separating you for not booking the seats. Bastards.

Is it me, or were Melvyn Bragg and Michael Palin separated at birth?

Trust in news media has been making headlines, especially in the wake of fake news in newspapers before and since the EU referendum.


Claims of BBC bias abound from both the left and the right (which I treat with equal scepticism for reasons articulated several times in the past), but what the BBC does report is at least factual, unlike the utter drivel published in many daily newspapers. I can, however, accept it's slightly left of centre, as expected from an organisation that employs university graduates.

I always listen to Today on Radio 4 in the morning and I predominantly use Flipboard for my daily e-news source - it collates numerous news sources covering whatever subjects I'm interested in, filtering out the more partizan and disreputable stuff; although, when this do slip through, the opposing viewpoint is also shown. Flipboard also has a more international view, publishing stories from other countries on a variety of subjects. It helps in seeing what other countries think about the UK, which is not flattering at present.

I use the Reuters website quite a bit too, as it regularly comes out as staunchly centrist and international.

I often quickly peruse the on-line versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian, just to see opposing views and have a laugh at some of the more rabid Daily Mail comments (the Guardian comments seem much more intelligent and measured, although they too can be quite extreme and bizarre at times).

Facebook is perhaps the least trustworthy news source in the world and, if anything does attract my attention, I will invariably seek corroboration elsewhere.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Thought for the Day While Sunbathing in a Hat


Thought for the day: is the free movement of capital as problematic as, or indeed more problematic than free movement of people?

OK, I'll get it out of the way and say the nights are drawing in.

Loved Mrs Queen's European hat yesterday - it couldn't possibly be accidental and I would suggest Prince Philip, with his usual mischievousness, was behind the choice. With complete and typical neutrality, it could be taken two ways - five stars for what it may end up as, or as a snub to the government, which has stupidly risked the breakup of her once United Kingdom.


RyanAir is trying to pressure us into buying a seat now for anything from £4 to £16 before we can check in. I strongly object, as I've paid the fare already and I'll bloody well stand all the way if necessary.

One of the questions in my YouGov daily poll yesterday was "Have you suffered from sunburn over the last few days," to which my answer is no. As a teenager, and well into my mid 30s, I wouldn't miss a chance to do some bronzying, especially when at sea in the tropics. It was the unspoken rule that a seafarer had to return home as brown as a nut. The desire to get a suntan tailed off from then on, to the extent that, since my 50s, I tend to shun sunlight, if at all possible. There again, it may have had something to do with me selling my soul to Satan and these long cuspids that appeared.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Phoenix RyanAir Kefir


What's this in the news about Phoenix Nights being cancelled? Didn't realise there was another series.

We're preparing for our holiday in Ireland, leaving the house in the care of my two teenage sons, Hay's dad and Hay's sister. Anyone who cares to attempt a robbery with that lot looking after the house is either very brave or plain foolhardy. 

We're flying to Knock and then driving over to Murrisk in Mayo. However, the fly in the ointment is RyanAir. They try to extract money from you at every conceivable opportunity. You have to pay 20 Euros to manually book in at the airport, which is fine, as we could book on-line for free. The problem is that you can only book in online two hours before your flight departure, and you have to print out your boarding card. That's obviously not possible if you're using a normal computer, as the availability of printing facilities is somewhat scarce in airports. The only solution is the use a mobile app and get an e-boarding card on your phone - but I'm fully expecting something to go squonk with the system when we attempt an app-based check-in at the airport with 2 hours to go, resulting in us having to check in manually for 20 Euros.


I've perfected the kefir making. I put the kefir grains in a one litre Kilner jar (actually one of IKEA's lookalikes) with the milk (semi-skimmed or whole), seal it so it's airtight and leave it in the fridge for a week. The conversion takes place slowly and under increasing pressure, resulting in the perfect, fizzy kefit drink by the end of the week. That's then decanted into plastic bottles for use during the next week while I'm making the next batch. One litre a week is about the right amount, added to which it is happy fermenting away while you're on a week's holiday. Being left a few days longer isn't a problem, and I dare say I could get away with leaving it to ferment in the fridge for 2 weeks without any problems.


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Varifocal Formations


Cloud formations in the shape of the UK/GB are all the rage at present. I snapped my own yesterday morning in the sky over Chipping Sodbury:


For some time now I thought I had scratches on my varifocals - either that or some smudge that I couldn't remove. Got Hay to have a look as, without my glasses, I can't see things close up. It transpires that my lens prescription is etched into the lenses. Apparently it's common practise with varifocals.



Why this should be done only with varifocals is a mystery.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Bloody Foreigners


During what started as a reasonably good-natured argument with several people on a Facebook group in support of Brexit (I'd gone into the lion's den), one person got a bit frustrated and called me a 'foreign piece of shit' on the basis of my surname. I have to admit, it was the only instance of someone using logic, albeit faulty, in the entire argument. It was more a use of assumption than formal logic and a case of adding two and two to get five.


I'd spent several sporadic hours throughout the day trying to get some Brexit supporters to articulate a single reason for their support of Brexit that wasn't based on a demonstrable fallacy, a misunderstanding of the areas under the influence of the EU, couldn't be immediately be demolished with a bit of simple logic or wasn't based on simple, naked xenophobia. Needless to say, there was not a single argument that could hold water and make me think; "Hang on, you have a point there." The argument, for what it is, is manifestly visceral and therefore immune to reason.

David Davies will today boldly go into Europe for what will inevitably be his Dunkirk moment. It will be interesting to watch events unfold, especially now that support for Brexit is crumbling in both the country as a whole and the government in particular.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Age Related Conservatism


a few weeks ago I received an invitation to join YouGov, the polling firm, to provide input to many of their polls. No idea why I was selected, but I thought it a good idea. YouGov has daily polls on some three subjects that are in the news and the result of the polls are fed back to those who participate. The results are broken down by gender, political leanings, UK region and age group, and they show some interesting trends, the most obvious one being that people move to the right of the political spectrum as they get older.


Psychologists have studied this age related conservatism (with a small c) and have identified a number of factors.

  1. As we grow older our thinking slows down, and intellectual curiosity stagnates. This leads to us becoming less inclined to seek out new experiences, which are proven to open us up to alternative views.
  2. After the age of about 40, and accelerating as we enter into our 60s, this slower thinking tends to make us see things as either black or white and we dismiss views that conflict with preconceptions, shutting out new knowledge.
  3. As we age we prefer to navigate life on autopilot, feeling more comfortable with the perceived certainty of our isolated views. Remaining open-minded causes uncertainty, leading to insecurity and self-doubt. Older people are less willing to admit they've made a mistake and cling tenaciously to old, discredited mantras.
Time after time, the daily YouGov poll feedback shows those over 50 generally have more reactionary views, while those at the other end of the age continuum are more progressive.

The strange thing is that the older I get, the more I seem to be moving to the left. It could be a lot to do with the fact that the older I get, the more frugally I tend to live life, meaning I've become less acquisitive and much happier in my skin, which makes me think a bit more about those less fortunate than me.

Having said that, like most people, I inherited my politics from my father - a Conservative - and voted that way for decades, not really questioning why. In my 40s I moved a tad left of centre and remained there, having developed a more analytical approach to politics and a social conscience. To be honest, I've not moved further left; the left seems to have moved closer to me. I'm constantly horrified by the number of people who never read a manifesto and vote on the basis of either blind, tribal allegiance (as in the parental example above), or the presidential attributes of the party leaders.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Images


Some one has spotted a cloud formation that looks like post-Brexit UK:


This image is concerned with symbols of the oppression of women. When I hear people having a go at the burqa, whether it be for genuine reasons or just masking something else (and it's usually the latter), I'm reminded of the quote; "First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."



Friday, 16 June 2017

Cat & Fox Game


This one's called Fight or Flight.



And this one's called Pincer Movement.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Covfefe


I think I've figured out the Covfefe thing. It's his Twitter account password.

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading a very interesting couple of books; Sapiens and Homo Deus, by Noah Yuval Harari.

Consider the following:

Artificial Intelligence is progressing at such a pace with billions being invested it it,, with that it could easily replace many areas of work within a decade or two - even areas we've always considered safe from computers, such as lawyers and doctors. Anything we can do, with only a few exceptions, probably around values, ethics and morals, can be performed by AI algorithms. Anything that involves pushing buttons, pulling levers, analysing vast amounts of data, can all be performed more efficiently by algorithms. This could lead to mass unemployment on a truly industrial scale. Costly training of professionals would disappear too, leading to huge savings. True, new jobs would appear, but nowhere near as many as those lost, and they would only be for the well educated in engineering and research.


Now, universal suffrage was itself a direct consequence of fears following on from the French Revolution, which showed that the proletariat could become a serious threat to the established order if they massed - and the Industrial Revolution itself massed them in towns. Agricultural workers on farms were not much of a threat, as they were usually fully occupied and dispersed, whereas poverty and unemployment in cities could politicise the new hives of industrial workers. Giving the new proletariat workers a say in the running of the country, on a gradually increasing basis, stopped the revolution spreading to the UK.

The voter is seen by the elite as a unit of production. The elite will therefore go some way to ensuring the unit of production remains productive through political bribes. If mass unemployment results from AI taking over from humans in various jobs, the human unit of production is no longer of value, and his or her vote is of no value either, leading to disenfranchisement.

The only way of stemming a potential revolution on the part of the disenfranchised is to give them free money - a universal wage - paid for out of the vast profits generated by the use of AI to replace humans. The mass unemployed have to have money in order to provide fees to the AI machine, or else the whole system collapses anyway, as there are fewer people with money to buy the newly developed and massively efficient AI services and products. However, it would be a minimum necessary to keep the system working.

A Doomsday scenario? Finland is already trialling it, and for the above reasons.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Foxy Well Politicians


The inevitable happened last night - Foxy came for his dinner only to run into Kitty. There was a bit of a scuffle and Kitty saw him off. As soon as Kitty came off guard duty he came back though.

Hay had an appointment yesterday at something called a Well Woman Clinic. Bloody oxymoron, if you ask me. A bloke doesn't even go to see his GP when he's ill, never mind about when he's well.


Apparently a team of scientists have used algebraic topology, a branch of mathematics used to describe the properties of objects and spaces regardless of how they change shape, to analyse the brain. They found that groups of neurons connect into 'cliques', and that the number of neurons in a clique would lead to its size as a high-dimensional geometric object. "We found a world that we had never imagined," says lead researcher, neuroscientist Henry Markram from the EPFL institute in Switzerland. "There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions." 

Human brains are estimated to have a staggering 86 billion neurons, with multiple connections from each cell webbing in every possible direction, forming the vast cellular network that somehow makes us capable of thought and consciousness. With such a huge number of connections to work with, it's no wonder we still don't have a thorough understanding of how the brain's neural network operates.

In order to simplify the study, I'm led to believe that the team will be working on Brexit supporting Conservative politicians' brains. They'll move on to something more complex at a later stage.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Having Your Cake by Semaphore


I find it rather strange that Tories are claiming Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto tax rises would make rich people and businesses move out of the UK while simultaneously claiming that a hard Brexit and leaving the Single Market would not do the same.

There's nothing like like ideology for showing up inconsistencies and cognitive dissonance.


Does anyone remember Monty Python's semaphore version of Wuthering Heights? I can't seem to remember that one...


Monday, 12 June 2017

Village Day Lessons


Each year we run the Village Day we come away with some lessons to make improvements on the numbers for next year's event:
  1. If there's something for kids, then that will attract the parents. This year, as well as the 'make yourself a funny hat' stall (run by Hay and her sister), we had the local primary school field a choir and, naturally, all the parents HAD to attend, albeit under protest in many cases. On the basis of that, I'm going to suggest that next year we kidnap the kids from all the local primary school on the Friday afternoon and hold them to ransom in exchange for raffle tickets on the Saturday event. It could prove an expensive strategy though, and there's always the risk that some parents would allow us to keep their kids.
  2. While the pork sausages and bacon baps went down well, we should have widened the demographic by offering halal bacon and pork sausages.
  3. I will also suggest we dress someone up as a traffic policeman (we have a semi-retired policeman on the committee anyway) and get him to divert traffic from the road, with the aid of a mock-up radar gun, into the Village Day venue car park on the pretext of catching them speeding (which they will be guaranteed to be doing anyway). They could either go to the Village Day Speeding Re-education Stand or pay a 'fine' for a raffle ticket.
  4. The armoured vehicle and WWII weapons stand proved popular - next year we should have a mock battle between Brexiteers and Remainers.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tug of War


So BoJo denies he's going to try to unseat Mrs May. Can't say I'm surprised, as the position of PM is now a poisoned chalice until the Brexit bomb is defused one way of the other. As for requiring the DUP to prop up any leader, if there's one thing that can be guaranteed to elicit sympathy for N.I. Republicanism it's the DUP, never mind the fact the arrangement may be illegal under the Good Friday Agreement. The situation is like Mrs May saying a bad deal is better than no deal. One thing's certain, Brexit means Shambles.

The Annual Old Sodbury Tug of War between different lanes in the village was held yesterday. It always descends into farce as ringers are imported from miles away (he's staying with us for a few days, so he's entitled to join in, etc.)  and team numbers seem to have the fluidity of the lottery.




While the videos above are not of the finals, last year's Champions lost. However, if you look at the bloke at the end of the rope on the left, in the men's game, he's clearly an international rugby player...

Next year we're obviously going to have to hire a Tug of War tactician from TWIF to coach the teams - I ask you, is bare feet a winning tactic?



Saturday, 10 June 2017

Strong and Stable


Overheard while watching the fox in the garden:

Hay: "How do you make signs to a fox that you aren't a threat?"

Chairman: "I think it helps if you're not mounted on a horse with a pack of hounds."

So we have a minority Conservative government propped up by a bunch of homophobic, young earth creationist, anti-abortionist, climate change denyers. That'll work out well then. She promised certainty, but I didn't think it meant the certainty of hell on earth.


Not only that, but it looks increasingly likely we'll have that buffoon and serial liar, Boris Johnson, as PM within 6 months. We've just elected a PM who wasn't elected when she came to power, only to have another one foisted on us soon. The UK must be an international laughing stock.

It'll make the Brexit discussions quite interesting to have a UVF hit squad and some Semtex at the negotiating table. I wonder if Mrs May is thinking of targeting the Loyalist paramilitaries on ISIS sympathisers? The one saving grace is that the DUP favour a soft Brexit.

Too many issues have clouded this election - and the elephant in the room is Brexit. In order to allow the electorate to focus on party policies and elect a majority government, the boil of Brexit has to be lanced once and for all. The sane thing to do (but since when have the Conservative party been sane) would be to have another referendum, using the 60% majority marker, which is the case in every proper referendum, followed by another general election shortly afterwards. Accepting a simple majority in the referendum was simply bonkers and doesn't allow negotiation from a position of strength.

No, it's not what the Brexiteers want, but it's in the interests of political certainty - whether we head into Brexit negotiations or not. If we are to enter into Brexit negotiations, any government negotiating from a minority position is in a position of inherent weakness.

Either that, or stick with the original, stated intent that the referendum was advisory and ditch the whole sorry mess, leaving us to cope with 5 years of austerity and tax breaks for the rich, rather than a total disaster that Brexit will wreak.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Power is Truth


If there's one thing this UK election has highlighted, it's the utter folly of accepting a slim, simple majority in any referendum, as the resulting division is guaranteed to bring uncertainty and uncertainty is not good for the economic viability of any country. Strong and stable demands a large majority. Are the long knives about to be wielded? The Conservatives have now proven, in the referendum and this election, that political opportunism is the order of the day. For the 3rd time within a couple of weeks, I repeat that any endeavour having self-glorification as its endpoint is bound to end in disaster.

I was watching the James Comey testimony on TV yesterday and at one stage a Senator said something like; "It's always good when truth speaks to power." Speaking truth to power was a phrase allegedly coined by Quakers in the 1950s.

The problem in the USA, and now the UK, is that, increasingly, whatever power says is rapidly becoming truth, even if delivered by Twitter, and anyone who disagrees is labelled a traitor.


Trump is an arch proponent of the Orwellian power is truth ideology, along with a lot of news media outlets.

The problem is that if enough people believe the lie and the myth, it's as good as a reality. You only have to look at the paper money in your wallet - intrinsically worthless and backed by nothing more concrete than the market's confidence in the country, yet we can't live without it, so it's convenient to believe the lie.

Myths bind people together to achieve great things that can't be achieved by individuals. Binding myths are things like religion, nationality, cyber-currencies, trading blocs, corporations, political parties, even government itself - none are real and exist only in the minds of the believers for so long as it's convenient. For most, it's far come comfortable to live in the Matrix than to unplug themselves. The irony is that the myths are also the things that deeply divide people.

On reality; if a politician says; "The reality is....," the one thing you can guarantee is that the last thing they're talking about is an objective reality - they're talking about the myth.

I recommend reading a couple of books, both by Yuval Noah Harari; 'Sapiens' and 'Homo Deus'. The latter goes into great depth about convenient myths and where humanity is heading. I read Sapiens last week and am half way through Homo Deus.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Reynard II


Reynard has visited us every evening this week except for one, when it was raining particularly hard. He (or she) doesn't have a set time, but it's anywhere between 8:30pm and 9:30pm,


The ritual is always the same - he come up to the tump outside our French doors and just sits there, staring into the house. I then get the day's scraps (possibly with a pouch of cat food added if there's not much in the way of scraps), go outside and the fox retreats to a safe distance until I've decanted the scraps on to the tump (a tump being local-speak for any hillock).

Sometimes he takes a mouthful and disappears for a few minutes before returning for another; at other times he snaffles the lot there and then. Once finished he hangs around for 10 minutes or so, hoping I'll take more out, but I never do.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Turing Test Bribery


So Banksy's planned give-away of posters for anyone who can prove they voted against the Tories has been declared illegal, as it constitutes a bribe. Call me old fashioned, but aren't bribes the very reason we have elections in the first place - what else is the promise of a tax cut if you vote for me, if not a bribe? There is also, however, the matter of taking a photo in a voting booth, which is frowned upon.


Do you think Diane Abbott has been decommissioned? She's certainly not been weaponised - not even sure if she'd pass the Turing Test for consciousness. Following yet another interview disaster where she showed she obviously hasn't mastered either her brief or the art of bluffing, she just has to go - she can't be trusted to run a playgroup, never mind a government department. She's even worse than BoJo and his puerile actions.

Talking of the Turing Test - will AI ever develop feelings? When you think about it, we are formed by feelings caused by experiences. Now AI could very well learn from experience, but feelings are a different matter. No computer could feel pain like organisms do. Sure, they could learn to react to stumuli to simulate a painful experience, but that would be for our benefit, not theirs. The same with empathy, love, fear, etc. These feelings are what make us human and enable us to have conscious morals, ethics and self-control (or the lack of it). You can't simulate the feeling of a toe being stubbed on a circuit board. A computer couldn't care less whether you switch it off or not - it certainly wouldn't exhibit anxiety, unless it developed self-consciousness, and as we don't know what that is ourselves, programming it must be a very long way off.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Arming the Police


There are calls for arming the police in the wake of Islamist terrorism; as always, there are two sides to the argument.


Would arming the police prevent an attack - highly unlikely given the terrorists are prepared to die. Would armed police prevent high numbers of of murders during an attack - possibly, even probably, if they were on site immediately, and that's only really possible in cities.

However, once police are armed as standard, what's to prevent a bunch of terrorists dressing as police and entering a venue with guns unchallenged? Once we become used to police carrying guns, we would not question people dressed as police carrying guns. That's a high risk.

Will arming the police lead to trigger-happy police? It's a risk and there are countless stories from the USA of trigger-happy cops making mistakes, although we don't seem to hear as many stories (if any) from the continent, where many police carry guns.

Do the number of attacks warrant arming the police? Probably not - despite recent attacks you're still far more likely to die of an obesity related disease than die in a terrorist attack.

The jury is out, but let's not be hasty and turn to a sledge-hammer solution in an attempt to solve an issue which still has a very low chance of happening, despite the perceived risk being understandably high among the public. Decisions made in haste usually come back to bite you in the bum. I remain to be convinced, and so too are many withing the police service.

Surely it's better to put more resources into intelligence led efforts to prevent attacks happening in the first place (for example, not ignoring warning calls from the public)? I do, however, believe the decision on arming bobbies should be left to the experts and not politicians bowing to popular pressure.

There's a lot of hoo-haa about Jeremy Corbyn's U-turn on shoot-to-kill following the recent attacks. No, he hasn't changed his mind on shoot-to-kill, because the action of the police in those cases was not shoot-to-kill. Shoot-to-kill is not taking out terrorists during an attack, it's taking them out on the mere suspicion they are going to conduct an attack. The shoot-to-kill policy was developed during The Troubles - they are extrajudicial killings. I don't believe he's changed his mind on that, which cost the UK government dearly at the ECHR (which is not a part of the EU, as Brexiteers seem to believe). It's arbitrary law, and that's a dangerous precedent within a western democracy.

As for the police numbers argument - and the public focus here is not counter terrorism, where funding has actually gone up, but visible, crime policing - numbers were cut due to falling crime rates, which, when you think about it, is a perfectly rational reaction to save money, can't really blame the Conservatives for that and the accusations doing the rounds smell more than a little of political opportunism. Would higher police numbers have prevented the attacks? There is a role for community police in gathering intelligence from the streets (but no more effective than the anti-terrorism hotline), but even if there was a police presence on every street corner, those perpetrating the attacks would still have gone ahead. Can't decide on this one, but there's always the question of public perception.

The main problem is that, in a western democracy, you can't lock up people for thought crime unless you want to enter a dark, Orwellian world. Some freedoms come with a price, a price we have to pay if we're not going to sleep-walk into a totalitarian, police state future - the very thing anti-terrorism fights.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Election Placard Cars


I can't think why politicians put up election placards. They comprise nothing more than a reminder that a particular candidate is standing for election. It's not even as if they contain any particular message - it's usually an image of the candidate and his or her party, and that's already known - or if it's not, then you get a reminder at the voting booth. Seems an awful waste of electoral expenses to me.

I came down on Saturday morning to find our freezer had packed up - we got it on Freecycle when we moved into the house some 5 years ago, so it's served us well for a freebie. Hurriedly bought a 2nd had replacement on eBay for £45 and went with my trailer to collect it in Bristol. When I arrived to collect it, I spotted this in the owner's garage.


Some 60 years old and not a scratch on it. Beautiful.

Yesterday we went to Avebury for a gander at the stone circles and the local manor, which is owned by the National Trust, and then took in Marlborough High Street. It's not often you see two Lamborghinis in one day.




Sunday, 4 June 2017

Trident


I've been thinking a bit more about the nuclear option in light of the question to Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time. Let's start with a few postulates:

  • A government's first duty in exchange for leadership is the defence of its citizens.
  • It follows that a government must defend against the possibility of nuclear aggression.
  • Nuclear weapons have only ever been used against non-nuclear states.

Global nuclear disarmament is an ideal - almost all nations have declared chemical weapons illegal (I think there are only 3 countries that haven's signed up), yet they're still in use in some parts of the world - as are other internationally banned armaments. They can't be uninvented and all it takes is a change of government - whether democratically or via a coup - for an ally or treaty signatory to become a rogue state.

I know this is pure semantics, but a retaliatory weapon, used when you're already dead, is not a defence. Defence is prevention, not something you do post mortem in revenge. It's a deterrent against a first strike, or a defence only if your opponent doesn't have nukes in the first place - as in the case of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and nearly, if reports are to be believed, as a last resort by Israel against Egypt in 1967. Nukes can be first strike weapons only in the instance of your enemy not being nuclear capable.

Using a first strike against a nuclear armed opponent without expecting a retaliatory strike is naive. So why launch one, unless you're 100% certain of eliminating the retaliatory strike with your first strike, which is impossible given nuclear armed submarines. Ergo, no-one in their right mind would launch a first strike against a nuclear capable enemy - it's like you both taking a suicide pill. History, thus far, has proven nuclear weapons to be an effective deterrent against nuclear armed states.

Given a government's first duty is one of protection, unless there's a non-nuclear defence against nuclear attack, nuclear arms are the most pragmatic deterrent against geographically bound nation states. They are not, however, a defence against a dispersed ideology that has no territory to lose - other means have to be found for defence against such enemies, even if they have acquired nuclear arms themselves (which is not beyond the bounds of possibility).

A deterrent is only effective as a deterrent if it deters, and that means you have to do some posturing or, at the very least, leave your enemy wondering whether you'd use your nukes in retaliation. What you cannot do is to categorically state that you wouldn't use them. It's like advertising your front door is unlocked.

Next we come to the question of whether not having nuclear arms makes you less susceptible to being a nuclear target. Nagasaki and Hiroshima would indicate this not to be the case - so far - and as we have seen above, there's an argument that they're more likely to be used as a first strike weapon against a non-nuclear opponent.

Any war is a dreadful thing, but nuclear war is the worst.

I've always wondered whether the Hippy movement in the 60s and its associated anti-war stance was shaped by a generation having been brought up by their mothers while their fathers were away fighting wars - the lack of a father and the heavy influence of the mother shaping their view of war.

Feel free to critique and add something.


Saturday, 3 June 2017

Trump's Nuclear Climate Fox


Trump maintained he didn't want to be part of a climate deal that didn't penalise the world's largest polluters.

For a start, America comes 2nd to only China in the world rankings of polluters by country; however, when it comes to pollution per capita, it comes 7th, after Qatar, Kuwait, Australia, Turkmenistan and Oman - all of which are signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement. America has well over twice the emissions per capita of CO2 than China. The irony is that America is undoubtedly exactly what he rants against.

Trump said no-one would laugh at America again. Ha, ha, ha! It would appear this is a desperate attempt to enact at least one election promise, but as I said a few days ago, any endeavour having self-glorification as its endpoint is bound to end in disaster.

What the hell - let's all go and dig coal, climb into a large gas guzzler, grab our guns and go bomb the hell out of some other nation to secure the oil for our gas guzzlers. Better still, convert our cars to run on coal.

I watched some of the Question Time Leaders' Special programme on the BBC last night. It strikes me that if you press the nuclear button first or in retaliation - and we're talking here about two nations with nuclear capability - we might as well kiss our arses goodbye anyway. If you use the nuclear option in retaliation, then that presupposes you're not dead already after having been struck first; if you use it first, by the previous argument, that's not a final event and you're going to end up having a retaliatory attack levied against you anyway. In either case, few will survive. It's something called mutually assured destruction.


To be honest, if I were Jeremy Corbyn, I'd have refused point blank to answer the question about whether he'd press the nuclear button, as deterrence depends on your potential enemy not knowing whether you'd press the button or not. It can't be denied that not having a nuclear capability makes a country less likely to be nuked in the first place. To be fair, nukes are an anachronism in this data driven and electronic age.

Perhaps the answer is to have a nuclear capability and elect an unpredictable and mentally imbalanced imbecile to run the country - a bit like America. The ultimate deterrent?

Our fox has been every night this week to be fed, except last night, when it was raining. Fair weather fox?


Friday, 2 June 2017

Biased Expenses


Saw a Facebook post yesterday comparing Theresa May's 2016 expenses with that of Jeremy Corbyn's and the SNP bloke and, yes, at first glance it looks as if Mrs May, on something like £4k, was being very frugal with her expenses and Jeremy, on £18.5k, is somewhat more profligate.

That is until you actually inspect the itemised expense report and realise that, as Home Secretary, she had little to do with her constituency and that there was a separate expenses pot for cabinet ministers with offices in London. All that showed on her Maidenhead expenses list was printer cartridges, staffing costs and a few train journeys between London and Maidenhead - not even any office rental (which points to the Maidenhead Tory surgery office - which actually has a Reading postcode - being owned outright by the party, or the rent possibly being paid by a donor).

Look at Jeremy Corbyn's expenses (£18,500) and you see that there's a large sum of £1,800 per quarter for office rent in Islington, which is a damned sight more expensive than a leafy business park on the outskirts of Reading.

The moral is that you should never believe propaganda on Facebook, as it's rarely accurate, or even if it is, the interpretation is usually biased. Do some digging - it's relatively easy to find the truth and expose the myth promulgator.

Accusations of BBC bias are legion - from both sides of the political divide, which is what makes the accusations so ludicrous. It strikes me that the perception of BBC bias against your party is directly proportional to your bias toward your own party. One seeks out the any criticism of one's own party and calls it bias, while simultaneously ignoring any criticism of the opposing party - it's called confirmation bias, as well as what we experts call a cheap shot.



Thursday, 1 June 2017

Broken Politics


So Mrs May would rather be on the campaign trail than participating in a TV debate. While she can easily ignore or evade voters' questions in a carefully staged and heavily scripted visit to a factory or a bakery, it's a bit more difficult on a national TV debate. Then there is that little matter of the uncosted manifesto, not to mention answering accusations of Tory smear tactics against Corbyn.


There is an impressive body of data to suggest TV debates help to inform, educate and encourage the electorate to participate more in democracy - greater numbers watch the gladatorial election debates than any other form of campaigning. They can even get the electorate to more fully inspect manifestos, rather than relying on slanted propaganda from a partizan press - whether the Daily Telegraph (or Mail) or the Guardian. They also equalise party access to the mass media, giving parties with a smaller election budget a better chance to get their message across.

Increasingly, in Western democracies, campaigns have become dominated by the trustworthiness of the political leaders, who are candidates for the highest office in the land. The Leaders' TV Debate is basically a job interview with the board of directors. The Americans have been doing Presidential debates since the 60s and the Swedes since the 50s.

If Theresa May saw the debate as a distraction from the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, then why the hell call an election 11 days before they're due to start, unless it was pure, but misplaced opportunism. Nothing essentially wrong with opportunism, but the fact she said one thing and did another makes one doubt her every utterance. If I hear the words 'strong and stable' once more, I'll throw up. A reduction to a 5 (or 3, if today's stats are to be believed) point lead from the massive one at the start of the campaign is not strong, nor are several policy U turns during the campaign an indication of either strength or stability, nor indeed principle.

No-one seemed to mention the absence of Nicola Sturgeon, who has always struck me as quite strong and fearless. It'll be an interesting election.

The winner? I'd say Caroline Lucas gave the best, most sincere performance on the night. Corbyn had the best policies and is also cam across as sincere.

The loser? Either Rudd or Nuttall. Hard to choose between them - Rudd was trying hard to defend the indefensible and I just can't take Nuttall seriously as a political force, or indeed a human being.

We watched Jimmy McGovern's 'Broken' last night. Utterly believable and a salient reminder to all about how hard it can be to live on the breadline.