Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Will the Establishment win again?

As we get backtracking on Elm House, Dolphin Square etc and even a jolly new film on the Krays, it's worth revisiting the Driberg-Boothby-Kray business to see how things are done when the Establishment is threatened. See John Pearson's article from 2010:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1304827/Sex-lies-Downing-Street-cover-left-Krays-free-kill.html

Perhaps now as then, only time will tell.


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Friday, September 25, 2015

Artificial intelligence: the rise of the machines - and of humans?

"The creation of robots has influenced a large number of industries, including the automation of journalism, of which some fundamental writing can be accomplished with certain algorithms." - John Ward

Machines recognise faces, and play pinball 25 times better than humans.

But they can write financial reports, too: "Before this program was implemented, the AP estimates it was doing quarterly earnings coverage for about 300 companies. Now it automates 3,000 such reports each quarter."

And research and compile technical guidebooks, and more "creative" works: "He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.
And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”

When I was at college in the early '70s and computing was far less developed, a graduate medical researcher amused himself by compiling a program to write porn using phrases randomly selected from a series of lists - "Painfully they peeled a grape for twenty minutes," etc.

George Orwell foretold this in "1984": "Julia was twenty-six years old... and she worked, as he had guessed, on the novel-writing machines in the Fiction Department. She enjoyed her work, which consisted chiefly in running and servicing a powerful but tricky electric motor... She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad. But she was not interested in the final product. She "didn't much care for reading," she said. Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces."
 
The link just given above refers us to an even earlier prognostication in the third part (Voyage to Laputa) of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" (1726): "Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study..." Following successive links leads us to the 13th century Franciscan philosopher Raymond Llull, himself possibly inspired by mediaeval automated Arab astrology.

Now it's entering the mainstream - I couldn't have written the above without the Internet, Wikipedia etc - and just as automation has undermined the labouring class, it is storming the gates of the middle class who until recently thought they were safe and superior in their cerebral citadels. Accountancy uses software, but so does the legal profession - we went last weekend to the 60th birthday party of a friend who retired early on the back of programming for lawyers.

As our work by hand and brain is increasingly performed by Illich's "energy slaves" (pdf), it may become harder to defend material inequality.

And we will have to return to philosophical questions relating to the purpose of our existence. Perhaps we will rediscover what it is to be human.



http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O80678/eve-tempted-by-the-serpent-tempera-painting-blake-william/

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The VW debacle

Most people are probably already aware of what Volkswagen has done with respect to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from a large number of their diesel cars.  The EPA Notice of Violation can be found here. A timeline of events is here.

Briefly, VW appears to have admitted that engine management software used various clues such as wheel alignment to detect when emissions tests were being run as opposed to normal road driving.

The EPA has discovered that if a test situation was detected, the software would turn on an "auxiliary emissions control device" designed to remove oxides of nitrogen from exhaust gases. Once normal driving was detected again, the software would turn off the emissions control. The reason seems to be related to vehicle performance, but there may be other factors.

The health issues are complex. Millions of UK citizens subject themselves and their children to atmospheric NOx pollution by living in cities, but for a number of reasons concentrations in the UK are declining. No thanks to VW apparently.




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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

#piggate - a taxi driver reminisces:



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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A new global crisis

source

New research from Dr Baz Broxtowe of Fradley University suggests the world is rapidly running out of crises. For professional journalists, charities, pundits and the global news media it would be a catastrophe, but Dr Baz claims the phenomenon is real and already observable in the field.

“We have been mining crises for decades and now it is payback time,” Dr Baz explained at his recent press conference. “For years we academics have been predicting Peak Crisis and now we have to face up to the reality of it.”

“What are the impacts?” I managed to ask amid a barrage of frantic questions from the floor.

“It’s simple enough,” Dr Baz shouted above the panicky hubbub. “We are about to enter a global crisis crisis. If we run out of crises we run out of motivation and if we run out of motivation we run out of reasons for doing anything, even reasons for living. Here at Fradley we’ve been monitoring the effect – it’s already noticeable and getting worse at an unprecedented rate.”

“Won’t the crisis crisis tide us over?” asked a young chap with spots.

“You think one crisis is enough for the whole world?” Dr Baz asked, visibly curbing his impatience. “In the recent past we had dozens of crises on the go all the time. The crisis community was huge, vibrant and massively caring on an industrial scale. Everyone was charged with enthusiasm, ready and willing to confront the challenges. Now...”

“What about the Middle East?” a BBC chap butted in. “Don’t you call that a crisis? What about global hunger, malaria, wars, drugs and climate change – what about all those crises?”

“Where is the angst?” Dr Baz asked quietly. “We have been consuming angst at an unprecedented rate, faster than any time since the Black Death. Actually many researchers think that was not genuine angst as we understand it today, but a medieval variety based on ignorance. So where has all the genuine angst gone?”

“I don’t accept that as a valid elucidation of the issue, conceding for the moment that it is an issue which I doubt,” said a Guardian journalist who probably subscribed to the female gender. “I see plenty of angst, more than enough to go round. Are you measuring it correctly?”

“The scientific consensus on this is rock solid,” Dr Baz explained. “Angst decline is real, there is no room for dispute on the issue. The reason is equally certain; we are becoming immune to crises. That’s the real tragedy of it all. The crisis community has become middle-aged, less angry and frankly less caring. That’s the real cause of the crisis crisis.”

“We care 24/7,” said the Guardian journalist with a touch of asperity.

“I’m sure you do,” said Dr Baz, “but who reads the Guardian these days.”

“Checkmate,” came an anonymous voice from the back.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Corbyn - Bill Brand and 1976?



40 years on - nearly... itself coming 30 years after the first UK production of "An Inspector Calls" (which was first performed in the Soviet Union in 1945).

Is it truly a choice between foolish hope and despair?

Maybe not: Douglas Carswell sees an opportunity:

""Labour is ... running off to the Left" suggests Fraser Nelson in today's Telegraph, and "the Tories must now run towards them."

"Anyone else spot the gap in the political market?" ...


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Corbyn the Nemesis?

Interesting that BBC is now showing "An Inspector Calls" -

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11841142/An-Inspector-Calls-the-message-behind-the-new-BBC-thriller.html

- is this another example of programme scheduling as disguised political commentary?
 
 
"Priestley seems to have recognised the wisdom of complicating, if not concealing, his messages. Although the Inspector’s final speech acquires a certain dramatic irony from the play’s setting in 1912, its tone of Old Testament prophecy leaves little doubt that its author meant it for the ages. “We don’t live alone,” booms Goole before stalking from the stage. “We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
 
"This reads equally well as apocalyptic socialism, pacifist prophecy or imitation of Christ, and it is the cryptic motor that has powered An Inspector Calls through 70 years of changing culture. Long may it run."
 
Funny that the play should screen just as the Labour Party's election of a socialist, pacifist and decent-hearted (though possibly mistaken in his policies) chap has both Blairites and Tory media gibbering.
 
For some decades, the two main parties in Parliament seem to have had leaders facing each other who somehow matched like bookends. Could this suggest that a replacement may be found, not for Corbyn, but for Cameron?
 
Peter Hitchens hopes so:

"Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character...

"My hope, most unlikely to be realised, is that a patriotic, conservative and Christian equivalent of Mr Corbyn will emerge to take him on, and will demonstrate, by his or her strength of conviction, that there is an even greater demand for that cause than there is for old-fashioned leftism."
 
 
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Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Broad-minded is no escape

Modern broad-mindedness benefits the rich; and benefits nobody else. It was meant to benefit the rich; and meant to benefit nobody else. And if you think this unwarranted, I will put before you one plain question. There are some pleasures of the poor that may also mean profits for the rich: there are other pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich. Watch this one contrast, and you will watch the whole creation of a careful slavery.
G K Chesterton – What’s Wrong With the World (1910)

In his social and political criticism old Gilbert was essentially a pundit with a love of paradox and a pundit’s weakness for hyperbole. He wrote much that leaves one wishing he’d been less sweeping in his judgement, more analytical, less fond of shaky analogies.

Nevertheless he had many penetrating insights if we take the trouble to examine matters from his idiosyncratic perspective. The above quote is a case in point. These days it is somewhat dated in that it refers to the poor who in Chesterton’s day were more numerous, closer to destitution and possessed of fewer resources than today.

His attack on the pursuit of money also seems dated from our opulent perspective because Chesterton’s poor are no longer with us and much of that is down to the pursuit of riches he so eloquently despised. From that perspective it is easy to dismiss his view as an irrelevant cry from another age.

Yet Chesterton still commands respect. He saw what we have almost lost the ability to see because modern life is so enfolding, so clamorous and demanding, so adept at diverting all but the most detached attention. He was both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. He saw both as social evils bent on crushing us all between the grindstones of big business and big government.

What did he mean by pleasures of the poor which cannot mean profits for the rich? Those which were so unprofitable that they were doomed to be rooted out by the rich and powerful?

Family life perhaps, the traditional work, comforts and pleasures of building a home. Pubs, clubs, a quiet smoke and a game of skittles. A Sunday walk in the park. A stroll by rivers unpolluted by factories. A traditional glass of lemonade rather than some fizzy, concoction made in a rich man’s vats, forced on the unwary by another of Chesterton’s bêtes noires - advertising.

Escape in other words, in a world where escape had become a necessary part of life even for the middle classes.

..to escape foul air, noise, hard hats, black uniforms, multitudes, confusion, incompleteness, elaborate means without clear ends.
Edward Thomas - The Country (pre-1945)

What about that intriguing comment on broad-mindedness? It’s obvious enough once we see it from Chesterton’s perspective. To be broad-minded is to be ripe for profitable exploitation. It offers no escape from the daily grind, nothing but the insipid palliatives of assent.

Chesterton may have been a reactionary, even a professional reactionary but one is left with a strong temptation to raise a glass in his memory. Before all the good pubs close down.

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Monday, September 07, 2015

A man who knew how to make chairs



Not a thing of beauty because it is merely an old rocker, but for me this sturdy little chair is appealing in much the same kind of way. Possibly late Georgian it is made of fruitwood – apple or pear probably. The rush seat is not original of course but authentic enough. On close inspection it is just possible to see the faintest hints of adze marks on the top rail.

Never designed for anywhere but the stone flags of a cottage, it is comfortable enough even without cushions. The maker added a curve in the back to give some lumbar support although one couldn’t sit for hours on it gaping at the TV. 

It has a subdued shine but most of that is down to the patina of age and my pot of beeswax. No servant was ever tasked with polishing it once a week on pain of a scolding. Maybe it was a woman’s chair, those low arms designed to allow elbow room for sewing, knitting or feeding the latest baby.

Or perhaps father sat there after work in his muck and pit boots while the tin bath in front of the fire was filled with hot water. Supping his pint mug of tea, pulling at his clay pipe, spitting black phlegm into the grate.

It wasn’t made efficiently as we so bleakly understand efficiency, but by a man who knew how to make chairs. 

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Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sides' take on cannabis: the inside dope

Responding to the previous post on marijuana, "Paddington" directs us to an article in the June issue of National Geographic, and "Cherrypie" has kindly emailed me the link.

The writer, Hampton Sides, emphasizes the fun and funniness of smoking the weed: "good for shoe-gazing" said The Stoner, lifting one of his ready-to-wear phrases. Yet if you read carefully, there are warnings in the piece. It includes an interview by Hampton Sides with Israeli professor and cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam, said to be the holder of "about 25 patents.*"

"... he’s not particularly in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. He doesn’t think anyone should go to jail for possessing it, but he insists that marijuana is “not an innocuous substance”—especially for young people. He cites studies showing that the prolonged use of high-THC strains of marijuana can change the way the developing brain grows. He notes that in some people cannabis can provoke serious and debilitating anxiety attacks. And he points to studies that suggest cannabis may trigger the onset of schizophrenia among those who have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

If he had his way, what Mechoulam regards as the often irresponsible silliness of recreational pot culture would give way to an earnest and enthusiastic embrace of cannabis—but only as a medical substance to be strictly regulated and relentlessly researched."

Sides slaps a little verbal salve on sore news. So not in favour becomes "not particularly" in favour, and when Mechoulam reveals that he has never smoked it himself, Sides adds a gently sceptical "he says." For one has to remember the "prodigious amounts of fan mail" that the Professor receives as a result of his celebrity in the "pot world"; there's no particular need to court unpopularity.

Why not "particularly" in favour? It's unsuitable for:

1. Potential schizophrenics - estimated as 1% of the population.
2. Those liable to anxiety disorders at some time in their lives - prevalence estimated at 14.6% of the population. - with signficant comorbity between cannabis use and anxiety.
3. Young people - i.e. 100% of the population for a proportion of their lives.

So despite his fan mail, the Professor's studies of chemical extracts are not an argument for recreational intoxication. Similarly, aspirin is useful, but there is no great movement to have us all chewing willow bark.

Having said that, perhaps if we have really given up on the idea of arresting the West's decline, maybe THC extract will do as a soma for the ever-growing number of losers; including, of course, a number who could have become winners.

_________________________________

*Actually, it's 58 patents, every one of which relates to cannabinoids and their derivatives, but strictly for medical applications, and a number of the outlines (e.g. this one) are careful to stress the absence of psychotropic effects.


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Friday, September 04, 2015

A little weed...

(found on...)

Cheech and Chong tirelessly propagandise on FB on behalf of dope, and quite separately one sees multiple claims of cannabis curing ASD, killing cancer cells etc - it seems only a matter of time before it's legalised.

And yet... did it give Bob Marley the cancer that killed him? Is it why Tommy Chong has had prostate cancer and is now fighting rectal cancer - in his own way: "I’m using it all. I’m using cannabis as a painkiller and I’m using cannabis oil as a preventative. I use a lot of oil and a lot of painkilling - you know, smoking the flower"?

Does cannabis relieve anxiety or increase it?

Is it a question of reasonable, limited use?

Or is it - as with alcohol - that the people that most want it are the very ones who shouldn't have it?...

Michael Gove, giving evidence to the Parliamentary Justice Committee on 17 July:

One of the biggest problems contributing to violence is drugs. First, it is still the case that there is an unacceptable level of illegal drugs use in our prisons. I remember the very first time that I visited Wormwood Scrubs being told that the mandatory drug-testing regime meant that one in 10 prisoners tested positive for drugs at that time. I simply could not believe that, in what should have been a secure environment, drug use was so rife. A subsequent chief inspector’s report into Pentonville showed that 9% of prisoners there leave with a drug habit, having entered without any evidence of drug use—terrible.

More than that, one thing that makes the danger of violence worse is that there has also been an increase, as the chief inspector pointed out, in the use of psychoactive substances. These are, as I am sure the Committee knows, synthetically manufactured drugs—cannabinoids and others. They have ridiculous names like Spice or Black Mamba. They are sometimes referred to as legal highs; my colleague Andrew Selous has pointed out that they are actually lethal highs. These drugs can have a dramatic effect, as the chief inspector recorded, on individuals. They can lead to psychotic episodes and examples of violence.
 
"And I think the little house knows something about it. Don't you?"



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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Japan, China: the sun also sets

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning"

Pic source: Wikipedia

I've just read Michael Crichton's "Rising Sun." A warning (hotly resented by some) about the hollowing-out of America's economy by Japan, it was published in 1992 just as the latter began its long stall.

And then the same happened all over again with China, which is seemingly following the same trajectory.

Underneath both is the unchanging process in the USA (and UK): loss of manufacturing capacity, trading away its intellectual property rights, ballooning debt, frozen real hourly wage rates, bright youngsters looking to get rich quick in law and finance rather than actually making anything.

Cui bono? And where is this tending for the West?


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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Assange and a coop

We walked back from the V&A and came to Harrods, since I wanted to see the police guard round the Ecuadorian Embassy at the back - the one costing £11 million over the last 3 years, or £9,000 a day according to LBC last year.

We could hear a megaphone, but rounding the corner we saw a woman bawling animal rights slogans outside Harrods' café. We turned left into Basil Street and there at the far end was a lone policeman by the Embassy door, who spotted our attention, slank away into Hans Crescent and disappeared.

£3,000 a multi-personnel shift. Maybe there was some scheme going there, or had been. I wonder how this would have been explained to the National Audit Office. Cheaper surely to spy on him from an upper storey of Al-Fayed's shop, which is what Assange is now claiming.

Allegedly, what is effectively a house arrest is getting to him. According to Buzzfeed News, which has "independently corroborated several details from within [leaked Ecuadorian] documents" - a phrase that could mean anything - he's going crazy there and the Ecuadorians have kited various ideas to get him out, including smuggling him out in drag, like Mr Toad's washerwoman.  The Telegraph obligingly re-rumoured this fluff, which originated with Brazilian journalist Fernando Villavicencio.

Villavicencio is described by the Latin Times as an "opposition activist", so again there may be another agenda at work. For the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is an anti-globalist and according to the Sydney Morning Herald warned the UK as he offered asylum to Assange, "You don't know who you are dealing with".

There's a reason for that ignorance, and Assange's outfit Wikileaks has tried to amend it, shedding light on transnational agreements being forged in secrecy, such as TISA and TPP. Previously also, Wikileaks leaked details of masses of US State Department cables relating to what many now see as the illegal war in Iraq, and footage and other information about the 2007 "collateral murder" airstrike in Baghdad.

Forty-odd years ago the USA was tearing itself asunder over the Vietnam My Lai massacre (Lt Calley ended up with three years' house arrest, like Assange - and then a Presidential pardon, something Chelsea Manning has so far been denied). Today we are encouraged to take a much more hawkish view. Clausewitz said "War is simply the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means"; Wikileaks is educating us on both, to the fury of the USA.

The pretext for the ongoing Ecuadorian Embassy siege? The BBC summarises, in part:

______________________________________

11 August 2010

Julian Assange arrives in Sweden on a speaking trip partly arranged by "Miss A", a member of the Christian Association of Social Democrats. He has not met "Miss A" before but reports suggest they have arranged in advance that he can stay in her apartment while she is out of town for a few days.

14 August 2010

"Miss A" and Mr Assange attend a seminar by the Social Democrats' Brotherhood Movement on "War and the role of media", at which the Wikileaks founder is the key speaker. The two reportedly have sex that night.

17 August 2010

Mr Assange reportedly has sex with a woman he met at the seminar on 14 August, identified as "Miss W".

[And then the sweethearts learned about each other...]

Some time between 17 and 20 August, "Miss W" and "Miss A" - the woman who arranged his speaking trip - are in contact and apparently share with a journalist the concerns they have about aspects of their respective sexual encounters with Mr Assange.

Cue the European Arrest Warrant - withdrawn 21 August 2010 ("I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," says one of Stockholm's chief prosecutors, Eva Finne) - but the case is reopened by Swedish DPP Marianne Ny on 1 September, who applies for extradition.

At first it is said that the law requires Assange to be questioned on Swedish soil; two years later it is said to be "a matter of prestige."

Some will see the Swedes as beaters, flushing out Assange for a vengeful American State, and the British Government as guarding the cage in readiness for the release of the bird.

What happens when "my country, right or wrong" turns out to be "wrong", and no longer your country?


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