Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Who’s Queen Of The Castle? Chelsea Clinton Accepts Democratic Party Nomination

Pic source:

As multiple controversies continue to swirl around her mother despite the partisanship of most mainstream news media and Google’s search-engine-tweaking, Chelsea Clinton today stepped forward into the limelight and accepted the emergency renomination in her favour by the Democratic Party.

“This not only reaffirms the established hereditary principle in US politics,” commented a senior campaign official, “but it also recasts Donald Trump as the ‘dirty rascal’, if you know the old children’s game. I don’t see how that oaf can recover from this.”

A visibly distressed Trump has been urgently consulting with his lawyers on the application of the Salic Law to the American Presidency.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: The Dance Of Creation

JD celebrates:

Your musical offering for this week is a personal one as I reflect on things 'from this high hill of my old age' :)

The music of my youth, the music of my old age, the music of my soul: "I hear it in the deep heart's core."




"Nos cojimos de la mano, como los Druidas de Bretaña y Le pedimos a Dios o a los Dioses que esa danza de la felicidad. En la que estabamos immersos no terminase nunca en aquella fiesta final. Todos soplamos juntos por la pipa de la paz, De las Culturas y del Amor."- Carlos Nuñez *

Six this time - it could have been 600 or 6000! :)

* "Let us join hands like the Druids of Britain and ask God or the gods for the dance of happiness. The crowning celebration  in which we are immersed shall never end. Together let us all smoke the pipe of peace, culture and love."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Smoking: could genetic testing help smokers' cause?

Genetic research holds out the hope that health advice and public policy could be targeted more precisely. The risks of smoking are not "one size fits all."

"Family, twin, and adoption studies also convincingly demonstrate a substantial genetic contribution to the development of addiction to nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Heritability estimates for nicotine, alcohol, and drug addiction are in the range of 50% to 60%." (1)

If this is so, then theoretically people could be genetically tested for their vulnerability to substance addiction and advised accordingly. And the others could continue in their habit, moderately reassured that they could stop if they so chose. 

Testing might also help with more precise information about health risks. A longitudinal study of male British doctors (2) suggests that the average reduction in life expectancy is 10 years, but "that is not to say that all such smokers died about 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have done: some were not killed by their habit, but about half were, thereby losing on average more than 10 years of non-smoker life expectancy. Indeed, some of those killed by tobacco must have lost a few decades of life." It may be possible to identify the ones who are most at risk of dying in their middle years.

The same study also suggests that smoking for a few years may not be significantly life-threatening. For those in the 25-34 age group - where smoking prevalence is highest (3) - if they give up during this time, their life expectancy is almost exactly the same as for never-smokers:

"Mortality in relation to smoking", etc. - Fig. 4 (selected area)

If potential smokers could be forewarned of their likelihood of developing an addiction, and of their chances of dying very early from diseases associated with the habit, then the life expectancy gap might be narrowed without blanket bans. 

Those who went ahead despite personalised warnings would at least be doing so on the basis of better information - and that then becomes a liberty issue, like hang-gliding (and cycling, the most dangerous form of transport).*

(1) "Genetic Vulnerability and Susceptibility to Substance Dependence" L.J. Bierut, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, February 2012 -
(2) "Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years' observations on male British doctors" Doll, Peto & Boreham, BMJ, May 2004 -
(3) ASH "Facts at a glance", June 2016 -

*I was wrong, I'm afraid. Motorcycling is worse: 1,789 KSI (killed or seriously injured) per billion vehicle miles vs. 1,036 for pedal cycles. 
I'm disappointed - I wanted something to get back at the Puritans of the road.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gaming Democracy

As a girl, Mother was a great reader. She would go to the glass-fronted book cabinet in the cigar-scented study and feel behind the rows for the good stuff father had hidden there, such as Madame Bovary: every system can be gamed.

She would also spend a lot of time in the school library. However, one day, she entered to find big gaps in the shelves: without warning, all the Jewish and socialist writers had been removed. The new government was cleansing the librosphere of ideological pollution: nothing was to seduce impressionable minds away from socially-agreed norms. This was, after all, the clean and progressive East Prussia of the 1930s.

Half a lifetime later, a classical student was in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, researching an incident in the Peloponnesian War. The index occupied a room on its own, full of massive volumes with pasted-in entries giving descriptions and locations of the millions of items. You felt you had arrived as a scholar, just lifting one of these, thumping it on the lectern and turning the crowded pages. Now, where was a map of the ancient harbour at Lesbos? Ah, here, coded with a Greek φ. He filled in the order slip, but was told he would have to wait for the senior librarian to come back from lunch. The time came, and my friend was taken to another room. There was the large brown envelope; the librarian snipped the corner and slid out the contents – “Lesbos: twelve unretouched photographs of lesbian love.” So that’s what the phi was for. Still, it was a publication, so it was stored, and could be consulted on request. That was liberalism in action.

Today, while Crown copyright libraries continue to grow like Topsy, ordinary public libraries are closing and selling off or throwing away their stock - but we have the Internet, accessible at all times. It is so great that more than ever, we need a librarian to guide us through its virtual stacks. But there is no leather-bound index; instead, we have search engines, chiefly Google.

Now, there is no need to destroy information: the trusted guide can bury it like a needle in a near-infinite haystack. In our world that is so very unlike “1984” (or so we are told) the hidden persuaders could – perhaps do - operate by deliberately bringing us envelopes that we didn’t quite ask for.

Twelve months ago, the former editor-in-chief of “Psychology Today” Dr Robert Epstein described a series of experiments in which people were significantly influenced in their political decisions on the basis of surreptitious manipulation of Internet search results. (1) Even with candidates well-known to the sample groups, voting could be swayed by “20% or more.” In a follow-up article last February he says, “we now estimate that Hannon’s old friends [i.e. Google] have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail.” (2) Yesterday, Pamela Geller wrote a piece relaying and developing Julian Assange’s allegation that one way or another, Google is working on behalf of one of the Presidential candidates and against the other. (3)

At this point I must emphasise that I am not American and not only cannot vote for either Trump or Clinton, but should be extremely perplexed if I could. 

 The point is, every system can be gamed. There is no need to burn material if you can hide it in some rarely-visited and unsignposted corner of the Web; there is no need to disappear dissidents if you can shut off their means of communication (imagine if Milo Yiannopoulos had no other outlet than Twitter); for every person moved by attending one of Trump’s mountebank presentations, there must be thousands making up their minds from their private, yet thoroughly-monitored and interactively-tweaked Internet searches.

The socialists have it all wrong. Great power comes not from owning the means of production but, as Rockefeller showed, from controlling its distribution. Social media and search engines are part of the modern Fourth Estate, the gatekeepers and guides of public information. If they cannot be impartial, democracy faces an existential threat from its persuaders.

Remember what happened when Athens listened to Demosthenes.

(3) _______________________________________________________________

This post appeared previously on Talkmarkets:

A painter on a painting: ‘Girl with a Kitten’ by Lucian Freud

Artist Catherine Beaumont looks at Lucian Freud's 1947 "Girl With A Kitten":

Image: Tate -

‘Girl with a Kitten’ by Lucian Freud, is to me as an artist, a very fascinating painting. It is a portrait of the artist’s first wife, Kitty Garman, who was the daughter of famous sculptor Jacob Epstein. Freud painted her in 1947, a year before their tempestuous marriage. The painter’s future wife is cloaked under the anonymous title, ‘Girl with a Kitten’, highlighting that this is a double portrait, equally of the ‘girl’ and of the young kitten who is clasped strangely by the neck.

The enigmatic pair are painted in muted, ashen colours, a myriad of dove greys and soft blues, set against the dark swathes of Garman’s mahogany hair, which seem frayed and static from the intensity of the painter’s gaze. The colours are a precursor of Freud’s later impasto flesh tones that would become so acclaimed, yet in this painting they appear restrained like the tight grip of the sitter on the kitten’s neck.

What so thrills me about this painting, as an artist and as a curious human being, is how impenetrable this portrait is. Freud structures the portrait with a three quarter profile of his future wife, with her gaze averted, making her inaccessible, yet he places the kitten staring directly out of the centre of the canvas. With such a direct gaze, it makes me feel that the kitten is more than just a passive addition to the painting, but an emblem of Kitty Garman herself. However, this is surprising as it is so unlike Freud to use symbols in his work, claiming that his ideal in art is to appear ‘in his work no more than God in nature’. But why is the kitten’s gaze so direct and unblinking? Why does it stare with such intensity at the viewer? To me it seems that the kitten plays with the sitter’s name, linking ‘kitten’ with ‘Kitty’, giving the anonymous ‘girl’ an identity and pairing their feline eyes and heart shaped faces.

If this is so, it would make me feel that it tells us more about Garman and Freud’s relationship. In the painting, the girl seems absent, with a look of almost horror in her eyes. She is distant from her grip on the kitten, which makes me wonder if this grasp reflects not herself but the artist’s grip on her, his ‘Kitty’, as her future husband. The look of tension in her eyes makes me think of ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning – “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall”… I feel that Garman becomes a possession of the artist, as in the Duke’s ruthless collection, to be collected with many other women that he would love and paint. In this piece, it seems to me that it captures Garman’s dawning realisation of her partner’s turbulent nature, suspending perfectly this line - ‘Then all smiles stopped together’…

On the other hand, on closer inspection you can see that Garman’s eyes are painted in startling hazel green, whereas the kitten’s eyes are a lucid pale blue, which more closely resemble Freud’s eyes.

Source image for second detail:

Perhaps then, the captured kitten is not Kitty Garman at all, but represents how Freud felt trapped and suffocated by this serious, pre-marital relationship.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Stark Naked

It’s the minor characters that haunt me, in fiction as well as in real life. On history charges, carrying the important and the celebrated, the camera of our attention pans with it, and for the rest, who remembers or cares?

In Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies”, one of the Bright Young Things, Lady Agatha, is made to drive a racing car, drunk and without a clue how to do it. The race ends, she has disappeared but her pals continue on their jolly; she is found later by someone else, incoherent, and taken to a nursing-home. Eventually the in-crowd come to see her, bringing (of course) plenty to drink. What fun! That night, her mind begins to whirl again and her temperature soars. Later in the story, we hear as a by-the-way of her funeral.

Again, in the same writer’s “Decline and Fall”, at the school’s sports day the useless teacher Prendergast gets drunk and starts a foot race with a military pistol, shooting young Lord Tangent in the heel. The boy asks “Am I going to die?” through a mouthful of cake given to pacify him; only much later do we find out, in passing, that infection set in and he did.

Some ten years ago, I was working with young NEETS and we had a weekly computer training session in a suite at Edgbaston cricket ground, guided by a man from a local college. One week, he told us he had just been given notice of his redundancy. As the group left, I looked back at his face, trying to find something to say, but the group was going and I had to turn to them; the moment passed. Next week, he was very late, in fact, didn’t come at all. Turned out he’d been found lifeless at his home, apparently having failed to take his diabetes medication. If only I’d found a way to ask him for a drink without sounding patronising. My colleagues tried to reassure me, but I knew what his face had said and that there had been a moment. I failed.

1964: a 29-year-old Ken Kesey gets a gang together on an old school bus and goes on a drug-fuelled road trip. On the way, they pick up a 27-year-old with a young daughter, whom she leaves with a friend so she can join the raucous adventure. She has a complete mental breakdown, is naked on the bus for days and eventually abandoned by the Merry Pranksters, who phone her boyfriend to fly in from San Francisco and pick her up. I often wondered what happened to this minor character – after all, some people are Lead Roles and others, well… - but thanks to the Internet, now I know. A site dedicated to Cathryn Casamo is here: (1)

She was lovely, she was charming, she had this great laugh… another pick-up for the daring boys of the Sixties. So long Marianne, goodbye Ruby Tuesday and so on. She did live, into her fifties and a deliberately nothing burial at sea off Marin County; a footnote. Some may say, she made her own choices. But Kesey himself felt he should answer for his irresponsibility, in a book published not long before his death called “The Further Inquiry.” (2) 

Leaders have to stand in the rye and catch their followers, like Holden Caulfield.

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” says the Talmud. (3)

Next time. Please.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Future culture: the Starknado phenomenon

Maenads are worse than sharks...


A worldwide smash-hit film series that began with the legendary “Starknado”.

Winkipedia summarises it thus:

“Starknado” is a 2017 made-for-television disaster film about a waterspout that lifts a group of female skinny-dippers out of the ocean and deposits them in Los Angeles. Hormonal and enraged, the women embark on a terrifying rampage through the streets of South Central LA, butchering gangbangers and creeps of every description until, screaming that they literally haven’t got a thing to wear, they storm through a shopping mall and into a series of high-end clothing outlets. They successfully effect their escape because none of the surviving witnesses can remember what their faces look like.

Aside from sequels and spin-offs, the film spawned many imitations, notably the Drawers series, of which the latest is “Drawers 4: The Revenge” (2022). Billions have been made from associated merchandising and computer games.

A noteworthy social response has been the massive increase in men applying to enter monasteries.