Monday, 30 April 2018

Kwik-Fit Thingie

Overheard while watching a documentary: 

Chairman: "What was Agamemnon's wife's name? It escapes me."

Hay: "Brenda?"

My conversation is increasingly becoming 'thingified' - I found myself racking my brain for the word Parmesan the other day. Try as I might, the word just wouldn't come to the front of my mind, although I knew exactly what I was thinking of. It came out as thingie cheese. The word Mozzarella was fine, but Parmesan had exited the building.

Had two new tyres fitted to the car yesterday at Kwik-Fit. Asked the price of the cheapest and was advised it would be £41 each, plus £36 for fitting - not bad. When I said OK, I was asked whether I would like the wheels aligned and, thinking it would be no more than a tenner, I said yes. It was £60 - I was horrified. It never used to cost that much to have your wheels aligned.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Food for Thought

A lot of restaurant chains are closing down - some high profile ones are cutting back dramatically. It would seem that it you target your audience too finely you risk cutting your throat. The ones that are surviving are those serving low-quality food at cheap prices - the chips-with-everything brigade - and that allow marauding bands of kids to infest the place. Not my cup of tea, I have to admit.

Some more up-market pubs are also surviving, but only if they don't make the mistake of trying to replicate their success too widely. A couple of pubs - 4 or5 at the absolute maximum - seems to be the optimal survival number, but even they have to be localised and not too far apart. 

We're lucky in our neck of the woods as we have a myriad local pubs that serve really excellent food at reasonable prices - we have 3 that are our regular places for a Friday evening, where you're not set back by more than £80 for a really good, 3 course meal for two, including drinks.

The problem that pubs have, of course, is that they live or die by the quality of the chef, meaning that a pub with a chef-proprietor is the best place to go. So long as he owns the place, you're guaranteed a good meal for a long time. Skin in the game?

Talking of food, I spotted an item on the BBC News website about weight and it contained a BMI calculator - here are the results:

BMI isn't the most accurate measure of health - rugby players regularly come out as overweight due to their muscle, but it's a reasonable guide.

A sobering thought that 79% of men in my age group are overweight or obese.

Here's some food for thought. Diesel cars are facing a ban due to their emissions - but Bosch has invented an exhaust system that will slash the nitrous oxides to 1/10th of the legal limit. I wonder what impact that will have on the ban, especially as diesels are more thermally efficient and pump out less CO2 than petrol cars. Banning something in totality, rather than regulating the output and allowing technology to provide a solution, seems to be a heavy-handed and perverse approach - but that's to be expected from politicians these days.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Rational vs Irrational

Another interesting though from Nassim Nicholas Taleb (I'm going to start calling him Nick Taleb - it's easier). He maintains that the definition of 'rational' is too grounded in the belief/science dichotomy and it shouldn't be. What is rational for one person can be totally irrational for another, depending on context. 

Nick defines the rational as that which is beneficial for survival and I find myself agreeing with that. If a religious belief provides someone with a psychological support or a friendship circle, then for that person it's rational. Similarly if someone counts lamp posts because they are OCD and counting reduced their level of anxiety, then that action also is entirely rational. Rationality of an action is therefore based on utility and is subjective.

He made an observation on the Jewish prohibition on pork which I thought quite rational. Pigs eat what humans eat and are therefore in competition with humans. Cows, on the other hand, eat things we don't. If it's a case of survival, keeping cows is more rational than keeping pigs.

In a section on success he quotes Warren Buffet, who said; "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything." What is meant is that really successful people have a much higher risk threshold - it takes a lot to stimulate them into taking a risk.

Should finish the book today and am then moving on to Nick Taleb's Antifragile.

Friday, 27 April 2018


Continuing the theme of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book that I'm reading, he says; “One should not mess with a system if the results are fraught with uncertainty, or, more generally, should avoid engaging in an action with a big downside if one has no idea of the outcomes.”

Now, this seems rather obvious advice from someone who studies risk and has implications for the Brexit situation; however, Taleb is, perversely, a supporter of Brexit. It should be said though, that his support for Brexit is not so much that he believes Brexit is a good idea, but that he's convinced the EU will ultimately fail because it has become too intrusive - but doesn't all government fall into that trap?

The wide disparity in economic forecasts proves that economies are extremely complex systems. Forecasts, however imperfect though, are a better guide to action than pure hope. While an economic forecast may be legitimately doubted (it's analogous to weather forecasting - the further one goes out, the less reliable it becomes), the link between price and demand is as close to a fact as you can get and a tariff on something that was tariff-free is a price rise – this is an indisputable fact - and a price rise will reduce demand.

That said, a forecast predicated on trading relationships that do not yet exist (and may never exist) has no more validity than an astrological prediction.

Taking the spark plugs out of a complex system like a car will not produce a faster car, or even a car that behaves like a car. The sensible approach is to secure another set of spark plugs before you remove the originals.

When the UK was outvoted in only 2% of cases, when the government allowed fishermen to sell their quotas abroad, when we’re already selling to the rest of the world, when the cost of membership of the EU is between 1/12th and 1/29th of what we stand to lose in GDP by leaving, when EU accounts have indeed been signed off by auditors, when we don’t send £350m a week to Brussels, when the UK government has as many unelected roles as the EU, when the UK won't be made to pay for future bail-outs, when Turkey stands no chance of joining the EU, when the UK would have a veto on an EU Army, for the average Brexiteer, no matter how much they protest otherwise, the issue was only ever about immigration - currently a thorny issue for Amber Rudd and Theresa May.

While this is a legitimate concern, it's ironic when fully 50% of immigrants are not even from the EU and demonstrates that any problem is a direct result of a failure of successive governments to implement the rules already available to them.

When Brexiteers complain about immigrants blocking access to the NHS, schools and housing - which is totally untrue if, one bothers to look into the facts - it's ironic that we can now no longer recruit NHS doctors and nurses from abroad, leading to an acute shortage of medical staff. The Brexit solution to what was only ever a problem within the confines of Brexiteers' heads has turned the perceived problem into an actual and very real problem that's killing the patient.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Need for Speed on Skin

Yet another speeding fine - 47 MPH in n  M4 variable speed area that was apparently showing 40 MPH. If I got done, then everyone else in my lane also got done. That's 3 offences within 3 months - and I've only ever had one previous speeding fine before in my life, and that was some 20 years ago.

I've some to the conclusion that Facebook should charge people for access. It's the only way to stop stupid people from posting utter garbage. If they were to put their money where their mouths are, they'd be silent. As an aside, do you know how Whetherspoons got its name? Tim Martin wasn't sure if his targeted clientele could use cutlery.

I'm currently reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book, Skin in the Game. He's an infuriatingly disdainful writer, yet he does have some very interesting ideas. I'm convinced this book has been nowhere near an editor, but given his disdain for 'experts', I'm not surprised. According to Taleb, the reader is the expert and his books will live or die by the reader's reaction. There's a certain validity to that, but and editor might make it easier to follow his trains of thought.

I'm only half way through, but the nub of the book is that there's no need for fancy regulation of financial businesses if the people running them have 'skin in the game'; in other words, their salary, bonuses and even position are dependent on performance and they could lose everything through a wrong decision - they're made to share the risk in a decision. He is furious that certain people during the financial crash were bailed out by tax payers and got off scot-free - gambling with other people's money without sharing the risk.

Just think if a CEO were to be limited by law to a basic salary of a certain multiple of the lowest paid employee - to reflect responsibility - and the rest was linked to performance. Risky decisions would surely decrease.

He maintains it's better to invest in a company where the name of the company is the owner's name, as the owner's reputation and personal money is at stake and any risk is calculated risk rather than speculative. He obviously excludes Lehman Brothers from that proposition. although, to be fair, the last Lehman to be associated with the business died in 1969. He maintains that as there are few penalties for bad performance, people who trash companies merely go on to repeat their bad performance in other companies.

He also has a problem with the manner in which wealth inequality is calculated, as it assumes no movement within the spectrum, whereas if movement is dynamic there isn't such an issue. He cites that while in the USA the families who are the most wealthy today weren't wealthy 30 years ago, those in Europe, and especially France, have been wealthy much longer - in the case of France, 400 or even 500 years, and with the connivance of government.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Last Refuge of Repetitions

The exercises are becoming easier - yesterday I increased the repetitions to 30 of each 6 times a day, but I've reduced the planking to just one minute, as there's no evidence to suggest more than a minute is beneficial. So, 1 minute of planking, 30 bicep curls, 30 side curls and 30 overhead lifts (remembering the law that says 6 contiguous sets of 5 are psychologically easier than one set of 30) - 6 times a day with 10 kg on each arm.

I do 4 reps before 10am and leave two for the afternoon. Each rep takes more than 3 or 4 minutes max and I'm heavily out of breath for a couple of minutes following a rep, so it's certainly doing the cardio-vascular system some good. The the muscle mass, however, is still outweighing the fat loss and I've plateaued at 81.5kg. With the increase in reps, the muscle mass will only increase, which isn't necessarily an issue.

What with St George's Day and the birth of a new Royal, a lot of flag waving was going on within many circles this week, but with some it was for all the wrong reasons - I'm talking, of course, about the Brexit Facebook pages where the usual xenophobia was being whipped up into truly enormous proportions.

Britishness is something that can be lauded when compared with some other 'ishnesses', but using it as a form of triumphalism seems somewhat crass to me. While some can choose to become British, for the vast majority it is a mere accident of birth. One can certainly consider oneself lucky to be born British, but no more so than being born Dutch, Swedish or being born in any comparable country with democracy, some nice countryside and the rule of law. It is certainly more lucky to be born British than, say, Ethiopian or Syrian.

Some sections of the British population have this almost unique habit of exhibiting Messianic triumphalism even in abject defeat. You can imagine the conversation:

"We'll show them!"

"Oh, that didn't go too well."
"No, but we showed them!"

I suppose one could call it an indomitable spirit which, if suitably channelled, can be an asset in times of adversity. When channelled in the wrong direction it's pure arrogance.

I've mentioned patriotism many times. Dr. Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. That's not to say patriotism is a bad thing in itself, but if it's used as a final defence when all other arguments have fallen, that's when it transforms into the Johnsonesque last refuge, as exhibited by Brexiteers who, in the complete absence of anything rational, are now all falling back on the forlorn hope of patriotism to justify their 'argument'. The Lords are once again labelled as traitors for exercising their constitutional purpose. So much for sovereignty.

When the UK was outvoted in only 2% of cases, when the government allowed fishermen to sell their quotas abroad, when we’re already selling to the rest of the world, when the cost of membership of the EU is between 1/12th and 1/29th of what we stand to lose in GDP by leaving, when EU accounts have indeed been signed off by auditors, when we don’t send £350m a week to Brussels, when the UK government has as many unelected roles as the EU, when the UK hasn’t paid for bail-outs, when Turkey stands no chance of joining the EU, when the UK would have a veto on an EU Army, for the average Brexiteer, no matter how much they protest otherwise, the issue was only ever about immigration. While this is a legitimate concern, it's ironic when fully 50% of immigrants are not even from the EU and demonstrates that any problem is a direct result of a failure of successive governments to implement the rules already available to them.

So, as the last and most important (to Brexiteers) cause to blame on the EU falls, patriotism becomes the rallying call in the face of imagined bullying by the EU.

Patriotism is aligned with pride - pride being, according to the bible, one of the seven deadly sins. We're all guilty of pride - seems rather ridiculous to have something we all engage in to some extent as a sin - you can't win, you miserable sinner!

Pride is something we can easily spot in others, but rarely manage to identify in our own actions and thoughts.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

I Just Don't Care About Th

Overheard watching Jurgen Klop on the news:

Hay: "Did I just hear him say de instead of the?"

Chairman: "Yes, it's a well known fact that the British can't hear the interdental non-sibilant fricative when we Dutch and Germans use it. Like when I say this, that and the other, you will hear it as dis, dat and de udder."

The news:

  • Government insists UK will leave customs union.
  • Martin Lewis seeks damages from Facebook.
  • Duchess of Cambridge has a boy (I wasn't even aware she was pregnant).
  • Capita raises £700m in financing.

I simply don't care! Why? Because I'm getting my ride-on lawnmower cutting deck back today from the welder. Nothing now matters to me - all is well with the universe.

My mower even has headlights!

Monday, 23 April 2018

New Atheists & Wood

I was reading a review of a book called Seven Types of Atheism by John Grey. The reviewer contends that the New Atheists' (such as Richard Dawkins) mistake, is that 'they fail to see that science cannot close the gap between facts and values - it cannot, for example, tell you whether slavery is wrong.' I would disagree - science indeed demonstrates that there is not a single reason why one set of people could be considered superior to another, which was the justification for slavery.

Science can also say why docking a lamb's tail is OK but docking a dog's tail is not OK - dogs don't suffer from fly-strike.

I do wonder whether science can determine why it's impossible to keep your socks on when wearing wellingtons. They always work their way off your foot.

Have any of you started to hoard wood? I'm finding myself gravitating toward this tendency - apparently it's a sign of ageing. You look at an off-cut and think; "Mmm - that could come it useful one day," knowing full well that you won't use it this side of the 2nd coming. I've also started drawing around tools that are fixed to a piece of hardboard in my shed. Am I getting senile?

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Cultural Appropriation of Dry Stone Walls

Remember not so long ago there was some argument about white girls having their hair styled in cornrows and some members of the black community somewhere (probably the USA) going on about cultural appropriation

Well, while watching an item on the BBC's One Show about the UK ladies netball team, there were 3 black members of the team and one black TV presenter. Every one of them had straightened their hair and were wearing it long. Isn't that cultural appropriation too, and isn't it more prevalent among the black, female population than white females wearing their hair in corn rows?

I really don't understand the cultural appropriation argument - seems just another thing manufactured so someone can complain about it.

We had a Village Comedy Night last night - 3 comedians and a 3 course dinner for £25. Hay was part of the 3 woman team that made the dinners and I was helping to wash up and serve, along with No.1 Son. Anyway, I was talking to a friend who is a retired local council planner and still keeps his hand in local issues. He was telling me that James Dyson is busy replacing 14km of dry stone walling sound his property, the labour alone for which is £150 per metre. That's £2.1m just for the labour. wonder if Dyson can give Trump some consultancy on his wall, which doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Diesel Social Media Fakes

Overheard in the garden:

Hay's Dad's Partner: "Brian - all this I hear about diesel cars being bad; your car runs on diesel, doesn't it?"

Hay's Dad: "That's right."

Hay's Dad's Partner: "Well, I think you should put petrol in it the next time you fill it up."

Hay's Dad: "Give me strength!"

I was reading an article on a study into fake social media profiles. The study focuses on profile networks and the probability of genuine links, such as family, work or school connections to determine whether a profile is genuine. A lack of genuine social connections is an indicator of the likelihood of a profile being fake, which makes eminent sense.

Over the last month or so, I've received an unusually high number of connection requests from people I don't know, or who don't know anyone I know. I usually delete such requests, unless there's some form of link through shared interests - you should too.

Here's a suggestion; Facebook gives every member a small nick from the advertising revenue as a reward for accepting adverts. You could probably build a business model around that. I'd be prepared to look at adverts all day - if they paid me...

Friday, 20 April 2018

Driverless Windrush Headlines

The media really must do a lot more to clean up their headlines:

I have no idea how many driverless cars there are on the roads, but whenever one is involved in an accident it makes headline news. Over the last few weeks there seems to have been a spate of news reports concerning cars with drivers that have ploughed into groups of people or into people's houses - incidences totally unrelated to terrorism. It does make me wonder whether driverless cars are any more dangerous than cars with drivers. Granted there will be far fewer driverless than driven cars, but I'd be interested in a statistical comparison. When all's said and done, there can be myriad causes for road accidents and they're not all attributable to the driver (or non-driver).

Regarding the Windrush debacle - having listened to someone who worked in the immigration department during the time the decision was taken to destroy landing cards, I believe this is simply an administrative SNAFU and everyone is too busy searching for a political scapegoat, rather than focusing on correcting the situation. The lady I heard on the radio maintained that an operational decision was made to destroy excess paperwork and the Windrush documents simply got caught up in the process, without any ministerial knowledge. A classic case of the law of unintended consequences coming into play.

I heard Michael Gove on Radio 4 yesterday morning assert that the UK was the most immigrant-friendly country in Europe. He may be correct from an immigration policy perspective (we don't seem to apply any of the rules we're meant to have - hence Brexiteers' xenophobia), but certainly not from the point of immigrants themselves, according to Statista / Gallup. We come 38th in the world, with at least 3 European countries ahead of us (click to enlarge), if not more.

It's also rather strange considering poll after poll has shown immigration to be the number 1 concern for the Brexit vote. Immigrants and xenophobia drove the whole thing and Brexiteers are desperate to hide that by clutching at any straw that diverts attention from immigration, even if the argument is beyond their comprehension or debunked.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Paranoid Victimhood

The number of right-wing, nationalist parties springing up in Europe is truly disturbing - there are literally dozens of them. When you speak to some of the individuals they maintain it's the liberal policies of the EU that's driving them to become nationalist. That's a bit like a violent husband blaming his domestic abuse on  his wife.

The liberal concept of freedom of the individual seems to be anathema to them. They want to control people; liberals, homosexuals, other races, other religions, other nationalities, etc. It's a fear of 'the other'. They go on about democracy, but democracy is exactly what they don't like - they want a fascist dictatorship, using the pretext of democracy to achieve it.

Another thing I've personally noticed is that the majority of far-right people I've encountered are ver angry and bitter ex squaddies.  Perhaps they just love order and control. They do seem to have a nostalgic penchant for red, black and white (or silver). Interestingly enough, Jackson Pollock had a painting (if that is the right term for a Pollock work) called Red, Black and Silver.

All this kerfuffle about Facebook - I personally couldn't give a toss about who has my email address or can see my Facebook pages. I know at least half a dozen people who have recently deleted Facebook from their lives as a result of the Cambridge Analytica debacle. I'm perhaps not so paranoid because I consider myself immune to advertising. Scraping my Facebook data with Data Selfie confirms to confirm that. Nor do I believe everything I read on Facebook - I treat everything on social media with a high degree of scepticism and am an inveterate fact checker. Facebook is a massive source of ill-informed opinion masquerading as fact. It's like reading Viz.

Whatsapp I find to be a pain in the arse - all I get is the same old suspects bombarding me with ridiculous memes that aren't even funny - some of them are just plain offensive. I hardly use it myself, except when the person I'm contacting doesn't happen to use Facebook Messenger.

NHS Beards

Overheard while watching the 1971 film Jeremiah Johnson, starring a hirsute Robert Redford.

Chairman: "Most women don't like men with beards."

Hay: "Oh, I like men with beards, obviously, but only proper beards."

Chairman: "My dad didn't have a proper beard. I think I got my beard from my mother's side of the family"

Hay: "Yes, your mum had a good beard."

An interesting graphic from the Nuffield Trust from 2016.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tea Party Trade

Came across this passage in a biography of Pitt the Younger, which has modern implications.

Trade in contraband goods had grown during the years of war with America until it was estimated to exceed 20% of imports, and the East India Company believed that the illegal trade in tea approximated to the quantity passing through customs at authorized ports of entry. Reports of a Commons committee set up by the coalition government recommended the strengthening of laws against smuggling but concluded that the most effective deterrent would be a reduction of duties ‘to make the temptation no longer adequate to the risk’. In the short term, the resulting loss in revenue must be made up by the increase or imposition of other taxes, but it was reasonable to suppose that a general expansion of trade and increased home consumption following the reduction in price would, in time, compensate for much of the loss.

Pitt’s previous discussions with the East India Company had brought him into contact with the tea merchants and he listened with care to their objections and suggestions. His Bill, introduced in June 1784, became law in amended form on 20 August. The varied duties on tea, averaging 119%, were reduced to a uniform 25% on value. There were, of course, complications: stocks proved to be inadequate, and the wealthiest smugglers banded together to force up prices in the auction rooms; but Pitt, with the active co-operation of the East India Company and the merchants, crushed or circumvented all attempts to break his policy. Within five years the quantity of tea passing through customs at the lower rates of duty had doubled, the smugglers’ trade in tea had been stunted, and the finances of the East India Company improved. A graduated rise in the window tax had more than compensated for the loss in revenue. At the end of the first year the Exchequer had benefited by an additional £200,000.

Neat trick!

Another passage describing Pitt's 1786 trade agreement with France:

There was nothing to prevent Britain from further reducing the duties on Portuguese wines, without any similar reduction for the French, and it was later accepted that Spanish wines might be dutiable at the same rate. The agreement on the carrying trade was unlikely to benefit the F rench since the possibility of Britain’s being engaged in a war that did not also involve France was remote; but it was possible, even probable, that Britain might remain aloof from a war in Europe that engaged France. Where reciprocal duties applied, it seemed certain that British manufacturers would gain the greater profits. The exclusion of French silk, on the other hand, protected the hand-weavers of Spitalfields who would have been ruined by direct competition with Lyon. Most important of all, the treaty opened to British manufacturers a market which, as Adam Smith had pointed out ten years earlier, was eight times as populous as the American Colonies and, because of its proximity, able to trade three times as fast.

Quite pertinent to the Brexit argument and the 'we'll trade with the rest of the world' trope. Proximity is key in trade for a number of reasons.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Social Value in Syria

I think the Russians may have nuked Castle Coombe in retaliation for the Syrian strikes...

Apropos of yesterday's post about Syria and it not being OK to use chemical weapons, but OK to deny refuge to people fleeing the bombs and the chemical weapons - here's a link to a list of MPs who voted to turn away 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian children in 2016. My own MP is on the list.

Here's a novel idea - pay people according to the social value of their work.

I found this article on the New Economics Foundation website - very interesting. If we did pay people according to their social value we wouldn't be finding it hard to recruit medics, police, teachers, etc. The tax implications would be quite high, but what price do you put on a society that values, well, society?

One problem would be deciding on what is social value and how to position jobs on the scale.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Charity Starts at Home for Hedgehogs

Overheard while watching a programme on hedgehogs:

Brian May: "You shouldn't give hedgehogs milk, as they're lactose intolerant"

Hay: "Are they gluten intolerant too? Nut allergy?"

I was having a discussion with someone about foreign aid. The chap said charity starts at home, to which I responded that it doesn't stop there though. He then launched into the argument that aid shouldn't be given to Indians because India has a space programme. I pointed out that you can't not help someone by virtue of a failure on the part of their government - exactly the same argument could be made against giving to British charities supporting the homeless or the elderly.

There's something I don't get about this Syria thing. It's not OK to use chemical weapons on people, but it's OK to bomb the shit out of them with missiles. It's also not OK to give refuge to people fleeing the bombs and the chemical weapons - or indeed to send in a combined UN or NATO force to stop the war dead in its tracks. There's something very wrong about this logic - an overt example of virtue signalling perhaps?

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Artisan Duerte

Read a story yesterday about President Duerte headlined; "President hits out at what he calls international effort to paint him as ‘ruthless and heartless violator of human rights’." He threatened to arrest an international criminal court prosecutor if she conducts any investigation into his activities. Sounds like  the kind of thing a ‘ruthless and heartless violator of human rights’ would do.

Have you noticed how everything that's expensive these days is called artisan? Artisan bread, artisan beer, artisan cheese, artisan biscuits, artisan gin, etc. It means nothing more than small-scale or homemade. However, the focus is quality over quantity.

Time was that the only place you could get bread and cakes was from an artisan - it was your local high street baker - every high street had one - and he had to start competing with mass-produced supermarket crap, so a lot were operating at a loss and had to close.

Now, however, the local bakery is on the rise (if you'll forgive the pun), but having made their name in the artisan market, they're faced with the desire to grow and spread - meaning they possibly have to use - to a limited extent - mass production techniques themselves to gain the benefits of scale.

 We have a local baker in Chipping Sodbury - Hobbs House - which spawned a TV programme called the Fabulous Baker Brothers. Hobbs House are now quote big, selling all over the southwest and even have the National Trust as a customer for sandwiches within their region. However, they still use traditional techniques and have focused on winning awards within a niche market as a means of keeping ahead of the competition.

There's a lot of pressure on the big bakery conglomerates to use lower quality ingredients, or ingredients such as palm oil (which has qualities similar to butter), which is resulting in vast swathes of rain forest being cleared for industrial palm oil production.

Yes, artisan can, and more often than not does, mean better and more sustainable products, but some are just using it as an excuse to charge an arm and a leg. I make my own sourdough, artisan bread and have been doing so for nearly 10 years. I simply couldn't go back to supermarket bread again.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Syrian Crisis

Pundits are questioning why Assad should, when he's winning his war, want to use chemical weapons on the Syrian rebels. Putin supports Assad for no other reason than the fact the millions of displaced refugees pose a threat to the EU, which he is desperate to destabilise due to it being a threat to his particular form of Russian democracy, which is an oligarchical dictatorship or a dysfunctional, federal democracy at best

To this end, Putin supports far-right groups within the EU and stimulates opposition to a refugee crisis he himself has helped to create.

If there's cui bono argument, the beneficiary is Putin, by creating a climate of fear which will result in yet more refugees knocking on the door of the EU. Assad obviously benefits by having vast areas cleared of rebels and potential rebels as they flee to Europe.

That said, the West needs to be very cautious. It's iniquitous that Russia, indeed any of the 5 Powers, have a veto at the UN and can block an investigation. The UN needs to change if it's to have any credibility.

Sabre rattling solves very little and Trump seems to have climbed down on his knee-jerk rhetoric, which makes him look weak - better not to leave yourself exposed to looking weak in the first place by keeping your counsel.

The West needs to isolate Russia using means other than war - war is the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz said - war is the last resort when all else fails.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Religious Social Media Dump

Christians and Muslims have created a competitor to Facebook - it's called Faithbook... Someone probably cracked that one before, but I just thought of it independently on hearing someone with a lisp say Facebook on the radio.

Just found the above image, so obviously I was late catching on...

Was listening to someone on the radio the other day talking about the human microbiome - or the bacteria that comprise a large portion of our body mass. He was talking specifically about the microbes in one's poo and how its analysis by DNA sequencing can lead to new methods of combating disease. He said that the data dump in our poo would take a tonne of DVDs to record. A rather good expression that - data dump.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Petition a Two State Solution for Hogs

Kitty and Blackie do not get along together, but they both like lying on our bed during the day. 

Hay has been called in as an international mediator and suggested a Two State Solution, to which end she built a Trump-style wall to de-escalate the tensions.

If you're going to go vegan (not that I would), can you go 'the whole hog', or is that not allowed?

Have you noticed how on-line petitions have gained an influence far beyond the numbers signing them? It only takes about 12 people to complain about a TV programme and it becomes major news. Now I'm no royalist, but 30,000 mean-spirited people have apparently signed one against naming the 2nd Bristol Channel crossing the Prince of Wales Bridge. 30,000 is the equivalent of the population of Yate or Dunstable - insignificant. There again, they could be arguing for it to be called the Prince Charles Bridge, as in years to come they'll be saying; "Which PoW was that then?"

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Nut Psychology

Overheard in a local kitchenware shop:

Hay: "Do you like these sandwich boxes?"

Chairman: "No - there's no separate compartment for things like a banana and your nuts."

Hay: "It's a sandwich box, not a pair of boxer shorts!"

The mind is a wonderful thing and can dupe you. As part of my weight-loss regime I've started using a much smaller glass for my weekend wine intake, which has resulted in a reduction of about 1/3rd over the weekend, amounting to a full bottle - which is a good number of calories.

Similarly, when doing my weight lifts I've found that trying to do 20 vertical lifts of the 10kg weights is only just achievable, but if I do the lifts in sets of 5 - counting 1 to 5 and then 1 to 5 again another 3 times - it's not only achievable, but I feel I can actually do one or two more by the time I reach 20.

I've increased the exercises by 25%, but still do 6 sessions a day and am maintaining the one meal a day regime. Each set is now 1.5 minute plank, 25 forward arm curls, 25 side arm curls and 20 vertical, overhead arm lifts (with the eventual objective of 25 verticals).

The result has been a reduction of my waist from 34 inches to a very comfortable 32. The weight has stabilised at 82kg, despite the fat melting away, which can only be due to the increased muscle mass in my upper body.

Had to go through my entire trouser and jeans wardrobe over the weekend and chuck out the 34 wait stuff. The charity shop has been doing a roaring trade from me buying new trews and even my T shirts are starting to get a bit tight around the shoulders.

Ever wondered why some charity shops sell clothes that still have the shop sales tag still on them? I used to think it was people with more sense than money buying stuff on-line and then giving it to charity shops when they find it's the wrong size. Apparently they are mainly 'returns', which account for over 60% of the clothes shifted, it being cheaper to donate them to charity than put them through an inspection process and put them back in the sales chain. Some high-end brands will actually destroy returns rather than sell them cheaper through alternative outlets as it diminishes the brand cachet.

Monday, 9 April 2018

I'm a Travellin' Man


Hay: "Why are gypsies called gypsies?"

Chairman: "People used to think they came from Egypt, but they actually came from northern India. And Ireland..."

Hay: "So they are nomads?"

Chairman: "No, the Nomads invaded England in 1066."

Gypsies. The ideological position of any town council, left or right, is that they cause a mess wherever they go, so they should be moved on. What happens though is that the problem is just shoved to somewhere else because no-one can think laterally.

Councils spend fortunes policing and clearing up traveller caravan sites, only to have to do it time, after time, after time. Gypsies are not going to disappear from the face of the UK - the most sensible solution therefore is to provide them with a number of permanent camps with some basic amenities. These can be policed and placed in areas where there is little disruption to community life around them.

Yes, there will be a cost involved, but far less than continually having to battle gypsies and their detritus year after year after year. Far too sensible though.

The ironic thing is that we're a nation of over a million caravan or motorhome owners, so a whole swathe of the population aspires to the travelling lifestyle. It's not so much the lifestyle that upsets people though, as the mess travellers leave behind. Mind you, some of the people driving along our road are not much better if the stuff they chuck out of their cars is anything to go by.

We were out for a walk in the Slad Valley over the weekend and on passing a farmhouse I spotted a kid of about 8 or 9 playing in the garden. I felt like telling him to get inside and play on the internet, just like other normal kids of his own age...

Sunday, 8 April 2018


I aspire to political agnosticism - political nirvanah and enlightenment - a letting go of ideology and political dogma. Buddha said; "Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings -- that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide."

Ideology, which isn't falsifiable, pervades politics. Whole areas of political thought are fact-free zones. You've probably heard of mindfulness - well, it's about time to develop something called factfulness, which is the ability to criticise daft, dogmatic ideas, no matter which party espouses them - and even if all tout them.

The problem a lot of people get into is that they will dogmatically follow a particular party, which inevitably ends with them having to defend some policy which is manifestly idiotic. You can always identify the partizan - just throw them a stupid party policy, bereft of any evidential support, and watch them tie themselves in knots trying to defend the indefensible. I've been guilty of this myself in the past, but have made a concerted effort to overcome the urge and divorce myself from any party and vote only on policies and trustworthiness to implement such policies.  I consider myself neither right nor left and more of the middling sort.

Politics, like religion, becomes enmeshed in your view of yourself and it's hard not be become biased once a decision to support a particular party is made. Essentially it's a form of tribalism. Once the untrained mind has made a formal commitment to a philosophy - and it does not matter whether that philosophy is generally reasonable and high-minded or utterly bizarre and irrational - the powers of reason are surprisingly ineffective in changing the believer's mind.

Giordano Bruno, a 17th C. Italian philosopher once said; "It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."

Auguste Comte, a 19th C. French philosopher said; "All good intellects have repeated, since Bacon's time, that there can be no real knowledge but which is based on observed facts."

Some political philosophies are nothing more than opinion, and no opinion is right or wrong. I may like blue cheese, but you hate it. It's an opinion and opinions can be ignored, in my opinion...

I see Boris Johnson is defending his ineptitude by accusing Jeremy Corbyn of peddling an 'avalanche of lies and disinformation' over the Skripal affair. A bit like Boris' Brexit 'avalanche of lies and disinformation' then. All I see Corbyn (who I have no particular like for) doing is standing up for British principles in relation to accusations, evidence and condemnation. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye (the Bible is full of this kind of handy stuff). It would have been far better for Boris to say; "I understand where Corbyn is coming from, but....."

There seems to be a narrative on the right of the political spectrum that it was wrong to arrest the pensioner who stabbed and killed a burglar. I was under the impression that the police had the task of ascertaining the facts before reaching a conclusion. Part of ascertaining the facts is to arrest someone who has killed someone else, no matter the circumstances, or am I missing something? Kill someone in a road accident, even if obviously not your fault, and you will be arrested - it is simply the procedure.

It may seem I'm repeatedly attacking the right, but it's simply that it's those on the right who keep putting themselves in the firing line through pure stupidity.

Saturday, 7 April 2018


Does anyone remember those little bottles of olive oil you could buy at the chemist? My dad used to heat a small amount and pour it into his ears to loosen the vast quantities of ear wax he produced. It was a popular remedy in before the '70s. He'd occasionally visit the doctor to have them syringed too.

Not sure olive oil would be recommended by a doctor these days - in fact, I'm certain it isn't. There is an old remedy for hair loss that uses shampoo and olive oil, so using it to get rid of your ear wax may result in a profusion of ear hair, although I doubt it.

Anyone remember when absolutely no-one took their kids to a restaurant? Those were heavenly days; we spent about 15 years of our lives not going to restaurants, or else used a solution that was developed specially for parents - it was a rather innovative solution called a babysitter. If only people would use them more these days...

Friday, 6 April 2018

Antisemites, Poisoned Spies & Hope

I find it rather strange that there are calls for anti-semites to be chucked out of the Labour party but no-one is the least bit concerned about the racists and xenophobes in Ukip and the Conservative parties. The calls for anti-semites to be expelled from Labour is coming, tellingly, from parts of the Labour Party itself, which shows there's a recognition of there being a problem and a discussion is underway. There is no such discussion going on within Ukip and the Conservative parties, who have based almost their entire Brexit strategy around the question of immigration. It's a funny old world.

The same illogicality surrounds the Novichok debacle; Corbyn is accused by the government's Liar-in-Chief (£350m a week to the NHS) of siding with the Russian propaganda machine when what he's actually doing is adhering to a basic principle of British law - innocent until proven guilty. Yes, Russia is the most likely candidate, but there has to be evidence before engaging in knee-jerk reactions that may come back to bite you in the bum. Has the Conservative Party learned nothing from Iraq? It's just common sense - but Bojo isn't noted for that faculty.

I use Flipboard a lot, as it draws content from a wide variety of sources. You can create your own Flipboard magazines and add content to it for others to see. I have had a long-running battle with a Flipboarder who aggregates pro-Brexit stories on his magazine, which he shares; however, he's finally barred me from commenting as I've debunked every story he's added to his magazine and I believe he feels threatened within his cosy, fact-free bubble.

Lies were spread by both sides in the Brexit debate; however, the Remain lies were nothing more than an over-exaggeration of the downside economics, whereas the Leave lies were factual lies – Turkey joining the EU (Vote Leave publicity), £350m a week for the NHS (Boris Johnson), it will hurt the EU more than it will hurt us (every Brexiteer having no knowledge of percentages), we will trade with the rest of the world (Liam Fox), we will still have access to the single market (Daniel Hannan), etc. Despite the mounting evidence that Brexit will be a disaster (which is why the government is desperate for a deal on access to the Single Market), Leavers cling to their discredited mantras like an alcoholic does to a bottle, or a heroin addict to a syringe.

Here's my armoury, every item of which I can debunk with facts, evidence and/or logic (if you require clarification on any of these, then just ask):

Leave Lies:

• We send £350m a week to Brussels,
• We can’t stop Turkey joining,
• We can’t stop a European army,
• We are still liable to pay eurozone bailouts,
• The UK rebate can be changed against our will,
• Our VAT exemptions will be ended,
• Cameron’s deal was not legally binding,
• EU law is adopted by unelected bureaucrats,
• We can’t control our borders in the EU,
• Criminals arriving in Germany can get EU passports and come over here,
• Health tourism costs us billions,
• EU needs UK trade more than vice versa,
• Past referendum results have been ignored,
• Auditors still refuse to sign off the accounts,
• CAP adds £400 to British food bills,
• British steel suffers because of the EU,
• Irish border will be unaffected by Brexit,
• UK can’t deport EU criminals,
• UK is always outvoted,
• 60-70% of laws come from EU,
• Renationalisation of industries is impossible,
• We get no veto on future treaty change or integration,
• The budget ceiling can increase without our consent,
• We thought we were only joining a free trade zone (EEC).

Remain Lies:

 • It’ll be very, very, very, very bad (rather than just very, very bad).

You may believe some of the Leave lies are straw-men, but I assure you they are not and are arguments that have been put to me many times by Brexiteers in the Lion's Den of the Get Britain Out and Leave.EU Facebook pages (not to mention the Tory press), where I regularly take on the Ultras. These sites are where I have honed my counter-arguments and thickened my skin, as well as learning about the mind-set of Ultras, which is based on nothing more concrete than dogma and hope. Forecasts, however inaccurate, are a better guide to action than plain hope. That's not to say that hope hasn't sometimes triumphed, but it's rare; business and war are littered with the casualties of hope.

I see John Redwood promised punishment a few years ago for firms that are sensible and daring to speak out against the Tory, Eurosceptic group-think.

Thursday, 5 April 2018


I do wish that online media outlets would design their systems such that when people comment on articles they can't do so unless they've read the article in question. You see so many comments from people who have splattered into action having either just read a provocative headline, or failed to grasp anything other than the most rudimentary understanding of the article.

An example is a headline I saw on the BBC News website saying; "N Korean missile could reach UK in months." Now without reading the story I could be forgiven for thinking it would be travelling very, very slowly and could be shot down quite easily. Another interpretation would be that the N Koreans are sending us one to test as a prelude to an international arms deal...

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


Trump and steel/aluminium tariffs - although it pains me to say so, I have a degree of sympathy for him a bit on this. Competition is all well and good, but China dumping excess production on the market is not fair competition when Chinese wages are much lower than those in the US and the steel and aluminium is being sold at below the Chinese domestic price. Putting tariffs on all steel, including the EU, is over the top and isolates the USA. A punitive tariff of over 200%, however, is plain daft and is not creating an even playing field and is inviting a trade war,

The Chinese practise is an object lesson in why no nation can simply drop tariffs on all imports, as Rees-Mogg and his cronies are advocating. Protectionism has its place, especially where the competitive field is not level.

Trump should be gathering global support for reasonable tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminium, as that's the only way in which unfair dumping can be brought under control. In 2016 the EU imposed import duties of between 13.2% and 22.6% on Chinese hot-rolled steel, which is used in pipelines and gas containers, and 65.1% and 73.7% on heavy plates, which are used in civil engineering projects. There didn't seem to be as much of an uproar about this, probably because the EU tariffs we not as punitive as the US ones and were part of a negotiated deal.

In early March of this year the levies were renewed for a further 5 years. Perversely, the UK government lobbied against these measures, which did not go down well with UK steel producers, and Tata Steel in particular, whose very existence in Port Talbot was under threat over Brexit when potential new buyers pulled out following the referendum. It's only the EU tariffs that have led Tata to continue to support the Port Talbot plant.

It's amusing that the Daily Mail is garnering support for the new blue passport contract to be given to the British company, De La Rue (ironic name), as a patriotic act that will result in an extra £120m cost to the taxpayer - which will be used to plug its pension fund gap. This is when the DM is an arch proponent of Brexit and dropping import tariffs a la Rees-Mogg and Mindford and risking British jobs in the process. Their argument is couched in philanthropic (aiding 3rd world farmers) and overall economic terms (lower shop prices), but ignores the effect of lost jobs and increasing wealth inequality.

There's nothing wrong with a bit of protectionism where there's an imbalance of competition in terms of wages, labour conditions, state aid, specification and product safety - that's what the EU is all about. That is also why the EU is against state aid, as indeed is the WTO - it distorts the market.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Poor Auntie

Apropos of yesterday's post - men's profusion of eyebrow, nose and ear air beyond a certain age must obviously be of some evolutionary advantage to men, but what that could be escapes me. Cushioning? Microbial filtration as the efficacy of the immune system diminishes with age?

Poor old Auntie Beeb: She started off being perceived as pro-Remain (as that was the Establishment view) and was accordingly accused of bias by the Brexiteers; however, since the Conservatives narrowly won the election Auntie is perceived as more pro-Leave and has consequently been accused of bias by the Remain camp.

The fact is that Auntie reflects the Establishment position - and the Establishment is currently the Conservative government; he who pays the piper calls the tune. It has always been thus and privatisation would lead to even greater accusations of bias by one side or the other, depending on who was in charge of the newly privatised corporation. Yes, it would be free of the Establishment Group-think, but imagine if Murdoch got control of it.

Polls concerning bias are as reliable as a sunny day at Easter, as those being asked are naturally biased themselves and will reflect that bias in their vote.

The BBC makes infinitely better flagship programmes than independent television, which seems to have gone into a race to the bottom in terms of quality and intellectual content. They're usually some excruciating, cheap-to-make, fly-on-the-wall nonsense posing as documentaries about bin men, sewer cleaners, or a contemporary remake of Opportunity Knocks.

The BBC is hamstrung by the demand that it is balanced in its news reporting, which has the unfortunate consequence that the most ridiculous and outlandish views get equal billing (and hence weight) with commonsense and truth. That's not balance, it's pandering to a minority. It results in Nigel Farage, who has failed twice to get a parliamentary seat, is no longer the leader of Ukip and hardly ever appears in the European Parliament, getting 32 appearances on Question Time - he's joint top for number of appearances. It results in pseudoscience getting equal billing with real, peer-reviewed science. Factual reporting tinged with commonsense is fading fast.

I have heard it said that Channel 4 News is better than the BBC, so I may overcome my deep distaste for adverts and give it a whirl.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Ear & Nose Hair

My nose and ear hair trimmer gave up the ghost a couple of months ago, leaving me bereft of stray hair control. I therefore treated myself to a new Phillips hair trimmer, which combines both the orifice trimmer with the standard hair trimmer, complete with several attachments for varying lengths. My old trimmer had only 2 attachments - very short and just too long.

It's absolute heaven to be able to trim the eyebrows to just the right length at any time - they simply grow uncontrollably and, if left too long between chops, sweep across my eyes like a curtain. The orifice attachment is quite novel too - it's like the one in the image below - you just ram it up your nose or in your ear and away it goes, flailing all the hairs like a scythe.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Meaning of Easter

I was most disturbed when buying my grandchildren some Easter eggs that those on sale at Lidl don't mention Easter at all. Religion is slowly being eradicated from traditional celebrations - it's disgusting.

Here we are in a country with a fine pagan heritage and not one mention of the dawn goddess, Eostre, on the very symbol of her fertility cult and for whom Easter is named. I know Christians like to claim Easter for themselves, but the symbol of the egg has nothing to do with them. Chicks, eggs and newborn lambs are symbols of spring and fertility, predating Christianity by millennia.

The mere movability of Easter, being the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, shows the reliance on the ancient lunar calendar of the ancient pagans. Christians added the Sunday business and perverted the calendar.

The ones on sale at Lidl are called Belgian White Chocolate Eggs, which is very obviously a ploy by Christians to get their St Belgian in on the act - I can't quite remember whether he was a martyr to Type II diabetes or died after being pushed into a vat of molten chocolate.

We really need to get back to the true meaning of Easter and Easter eggs...