Monday, July 24, 2017

NSU: The End Of The Road, by Wiggia

Sometime ago I mentioned in a small piece that was an adjunct to a quiz on what make my first motorbike was, that the company had an illustrious history in motorcycle racing and motorcycle production.

NSU, an abbreviation of the town of Neckarsulm near Stuttgart, originally started its life in 1873 as a producer of knitting machines. After rapid growth they started making bicycles and by 1892 bicycles took over all the production. The first NSU motorcycle appeared in 1901 and the first car in 1905.

They never managed to break through with their car production so that by 1932 under pressure from the banks the car factory at Heilbronn was sold to Fiat for assembly of Fiat cars in Germany. The company continued to make an increasing range of motorcycles, some innovative including supercharged race models up to the Second World War. During the war they made a half track motorcycle that saw service mainly on the Russian front; this was continued in civilian form after the war:

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-725-0184-22, Russland, Soldaten auf Kettenkrad.jpg

It was after the war that the company regrouped and the totally bombed out factory started production of the pre war models, but in ‘49 the new designs starting with the Fox appeared These were revolutionary, using a pressed steel monocoque frame. In ‘53 the Max appeared with a 250cc four stroke engine that had the overhead cams driven by con rods and by ‘55 NSU was the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Many will remember the original moped, the Quickly, that sold Europe-wide in huge numbers.

At the time of the Max coming on stream NSU were breaking world speed records for motorcycles at the Bonneville salt flats and in ‘56 an NSU became the first motorcycle to top 200mph. In the same period they entered Grand Prix racing with a very advanced 125 and 250cc twin cylinder Rennmax machines that were at the time in a class of their own. This is the ‘53 250cc Rennmax  - the later racers had full “dustbin” fairings:

In ‘54 NSU stopped factory racing but had developed a race version of the single cylinder Max known as the Sportmax that in a private rider's hands became the only production racer to win a world championship. Only 32 were ever made and went to selected riders with a spare engine. They became the mainstay of the 250 class for many years, and alongside many road going Max’s were converted to racers with Sportmax parts; these too had many successes in club and international racing.

Sadly by ‘63 motorcycle production finished for NSU as the drive towards car production was seen as the way forward for the company, plus by then the ominous presence of the Japanese companies was beginning to be felt.

To complete this short section on NSU's racing pedigree, one of the selected riders to become a Sportmax owner was John Surtees. He won numerous races on his and set many class lap records. His lap record for the old Crystal Palace circuit stood for over twenty years, something unbelievable in today's racing: he also won the 1955 Ulster Grand Prix on his version.

In 1957 Surtees' father, a friend of Mike Haiwood's father, was pressured to sell the bike for Mike to ride.He took it to SA for a winter's racing and won every race he entered, setting many lap records. In ‘58 aged 18 he won 25 races with the Sportmax and his first world championship points and his first TT podium.

Surtees was known to always want to retrieve the bike for his collection but it sadly never happened: in 2014 the motorcycle was sold at auction for £69,000, a record for the marque. It must have a unique pedigree with the two owners being two of the greatest of all time on two wheels.

Here it is in all its glory with the Hailwood team colours:

So in ‘68 NSU ended its association with making motorcycles. In ‘57 NSU had re entered the car market with the Prinz, a small car with a doubled up version of the Max engine. This as a small runaround was fairly successful and was produced until ‘68 but in the meantime NSU was preparing for something totally different, a car with a rotary engine designed by Felix Wankel.

In ‘64 NSU offered the public the world's first rotary engined car, the Spyder:


A version of the Prinz followed, one having a twin rotor engine. At the time many believed this was the dawning of a new age in automobile propulsion but under the surface problems were already beginning to emerge: unreliability in the rotary engines was mainly caused by unsuitable materials to seal the rotor tips and rapid wear was causing failures and the warranty bill was rising.

It was in ‘67 with the unveiling of the company's first hopefully mass production car with a rotary engine that the clouds of failure started to gather. The NSU Ro80 was a very modern design with independent suspension and disc brakes and the twin rotor engine giving 115bhp and for then a very modern design one that has stood the test of time.

Virtually every car manufacturer in the world had taken out licenses for the rotary engine, though only Citroen who had share of the hopeful engine plant built a rotary car. The model was aborted. NSU had had great hope that royalties would pay for their investment in ever increasingly costly development, but it was not to be: there were several prototypes built by other companies including a Corvette by General Motors with quad rotors, but nothing went into production.

Despite winning the car of the year award in ‘67 and several design awards, the car had slow sales:

- and the increasing heavy costs of engine replacements even at low mileages was sinking the company. In ‘69 the company was taken over by VW who used the factory for Audi production though the Ro80 staggered on until the last NSU was produced in ‘77. The name was never used by Audi after that time.

The only other company to produce a rotary engined car was Mazda, in fact under license they pre-dated the Ro 80 as a mass production car with the Cosmo, a sports car that stayed in production for twenty years:

Mazda have persevered and improved the rotary unit over many years, even largely overcoming the main problem rotor tip sealing using ceramics. In 1991 Mazda won Le Mans, the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans; they had overcome reliability problems with earlier race efforts:

Le Mans promptly banned the rotary engine from competing again, though the ban has since been lifted, to late to save a unique exhaust note.

Mazda have of course until recently persevered with the rotary and the last model the RX – 8 had overcome most of the reliability issues and this lovely car deserves a successor, but the fuel economy was still poor compared to peer cars and the emissions , that are now such an issue were also sub standard,  Mazda stated that they would come back with a rotary engined car in 2019, but that is with the charge towards electric and hybrid vehicles now in doubt.

So now all that effort to produce a better fuel driven power unit for automobiles has come to naught, save a very prestigious Le Man win which Felix Wankel would have been ecstatic to see as proof his design worked; for NSU it was a very costly venture.


Some years back I saw a Rs80 on the road when I lived in Essex,:very modern and distinctive in style, many of the cars having used up their engines were converted to Ford V4s the engine being short enough to fit in the smaller rotary engined bay, it was probably one of those.

Friday, July 21, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Screamin' The Blues, by JD

In a previous music post featuring some of the original Blues artists I had included Screamin' Jay Hawkins but then changed my mind because he was more than a Blues singer.

He was hoping to be an opera singer but instead turned to popular music, presumably to follow his idol Paul Robeson.

It is also possible that Opera was too 'serious' for him. Starting out as a straightforward blues singer and piano player he soon developed his own style which was less than serious: very theatrical shows with great humour and, above all, a wonderful sensational voice. His most famous song is the first one here "I Put A Spell On You" which has been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Bryan Ferry. But he could be serious when he wanted to as the final video here proves.

So fasten your seat belts and pin back your ears to be 'assaulted' by the most electrifying and outrageous performer I have ever seen. I saw him in the sixties in one of those dingy, sweaty beat/jazz clubs and these videos do not do him justice!

Friday, July 14, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Let's Go To Le Hop, by JD

Ce soir, c'est musique 'jazz' des grenouilles:

We hope you enjoyed these cloves of Gallic.

Pour le dessert - these are not French, they are Italian but alors... que faire?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Car manufacturers force everyone to switch to electric vehicles after June, Part 2 - by Wiggia

The forerunner to this piece was posted on June 24th. (*) The speed with which manufacturers  are heading towards the land of silent cars and emission-free cities grows apace.

Nothing of course is really that easy, but the story that Volvo will not make any more diesel or petrol vehicles after 2019 is the first sign it is going to happen, come what may. 

However the headlines - as in this from the Telegraph: “'End of the road for fuel as Volvo goes all-electric” - are being slightly disingenuous, because the hybrid cars they will produce will not only make up the bulk of production for some time but of course employ petrol engines alongside the batteries. Nonetheless despite the protestations from the motoring press the end is nigh, just not as soon as the headlines make out.

The Volvo statement that they sell 40,000 plus vehicles a year in the UK however does point out one glaring problem for this country, something I have indicated along with others many times,.Volvo state that they do not consider the UK to be a prime market for electric cars as it has the worst infrastructure to accommodate them in the European marketplace: basically no charging points and no signs that they are about to magically spring up even in the no-go zone for gasoline-powered vehicles many of our major cities are soon to become.

Infrastructure has been a subject for ridicule in this country on a general level for decades and is not getting any better, so installing charging points (unless the motor industry itself is going to intervene) will be a long and slow process and you would have to ask, if the government of the day decided to make it a priority, why? when so much else is falling apart or is in short supply or no supply at all.

We can all form our own opinion of the merits of electric vehicles, in a perfect world we would be hastening the coming of such, but we aren’t. As I pointed out before, the governments of the Western world are already back-pedalling on the "electric is cheap and clean" push. As regards the cheap part, they have already drawn up plans to claw back the impending loss in fuel revenue, the incentive schemes are dwindling fast and in the long run there will be no difference in costs to running an electric vehicle as against one powered by oil, however that clawback is managed.

The cost factor is being diminished as manufacturers give sight of plans to make “affordable” electric vehicles. Logically pure electric vehicles should be cheap: after all, they are only the descendants of milk floats, relatively simple mechanics and a simple motor as against ever more expensive oil-driven engines with their cumbersome emission controls. We are assured in the future they will fall in line price wise; we shall see.

As regards hybrids they can never be as cheap as a single-engined vehicle, two propulsion units and expensive batteries make that impossible, and the advantages of hybrids are slight: emissions may be better but consumption figures are not that much better, weight being a factor here, for a lot more layout,  one you are unlikely to recoup.

So in the long game it is electric only that will prevail, all of course if the basic handicaps of today's electric vehicles are overcome, the infrastructure is provided and there is sufficient energy supply to charge them all. So we are nowhere near that point at the moment, in fact a surge in all-electric vehicle sales could end up with the buyers being very frustrated and feeling short changed as they queue for hours at the only available plug in, something I saw the beginning of recently at a motorway services, with only five vehicles involved all requiring thirty minutes for a “quick” charge.

And don’t forget in the event of a major energy failure the motorways could look like the set of a disaster movie with electric vehicles out of juice like the opponents of the Duracell bunny and the RAC unable to help with a can of petrol to get you home Over the top? Maybe.

In reality the range for electric vehicles will improve but at the moment only the likes of Tesla have a range that is approaching the range of a tank of fuel in an orthodox oil powered car, the smaller models are nowhere near that and unless you are a second car owner using one for town use where they make sense, you have problem if you actually cover a higher mileage.

All the manufacturers are going electric, even petrol stalwarts such as Ford and VW now have hybrid models in their popular ranges and will expand the options, but again at this moment in time it is going to take a leap of faith for the man in the street with one car to go this route and not be constrained and disillusioned with the reality over the spin in that which he has parted a lot of money for. As with all things revolutionary the first to buy are the guinea pigs, the ones who will get their fingers burnt; it was ever thus.

* Sackerson says: the "forerunner" was intended as a spoof, aimed at Microsoft for forcing us to buy new computers because of their refusal to continue supporting Windows Vista. It hadn't occurred to me that the powers that be would be sufficiently crazy to try to force such a rapid, radical switch in the car industry!

Friday, July 07, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC (and not for the shockable!): Singin' Slutty, by JD

You think the modern female pop singers are vulgar and 'slutty'? Well it is a long tradition in popular and folk music but these vintage performers show how to do it with great panache!








Sunday, July 02, 2017

"What is the purpose of work?" by JD

Today's essay follows on from JD's earlier post:

- and the two together are a response to Sackerson's piece on capitalism vs socialism:


Apart from the production of necessary goods, what does the worker get by working? What does 'useless toil' do to the psyche of the worker?

Brian Keeble's book (cited in part one of this discussion) has the title "God and Work" That title was a deliberate choice and is explained in the introduction and in the preface:

"The words God and Work are seldom closely associated in the modern mind. The former denotes something remote from daily affairs, even unlikely and outmoded for a significant number of people. Work, on the other hand, concerns only what comes to hand in the expenditure of time and effort required to secure a livelihood. Is this division healthy? Is this division inevitable? We spend the best part of our lives at work. Are we to conclude that during all those hours of using our mental and physical faculties there is no reason to connect our effort with possible answers to those persistent questions we have concerning our identity, place and purpose in the world?"

We must go back again to the beginning of the machine age after which the 'division of labour' became part of the process of speeding up production. The idea of 'division of labour' is a traditional one with its origins in the Perennial Philosophy. It is the root of the caste system in which some are born to rule, some are born to serve, others are born to the priestly class or the warrior class or the mercantile class etc.

And whatever you may think of a caste system, the idea of a division of labour has a valid natural justification. We are all inclined to follow a career path which matches our inner sensibilities. In the past people would follow their vocation and work as 'artisans' in a trade or profession according to their ability and temperament. That was the traditional way of life up to and even into the industrial/machine age.  Work, in the traditional sense, is about husbandry and caretaking. Work  involves the co-ordinated use of the hand, the eye, the mind and the heart in following the chosen trade or profession. To work in this way is to concentrate on the task at hand with the care and discipline necessary to do it well. And such concentration causes the 'monkey mind' to fall silent, to cease the endless chatter that goes on in our heads. As the mind focuses on and becomes absorbed in the task then work is transformed; laborare est orare, to work is to pray.

"The tradition of the handicrafts as instruments of livelihood, conceived and elevated to the level of a spiritual discipline, allowed man to live for millenia in harmony with himself, in harmony with his fellow men and in harmony with nature."

That may sound strange, alien even, to the modern secular mind but it is nevertheless true and the idea of division of labour following a natural order is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita -

 All mankind
Is born for perfection;
And each shall attain it
Will he but follow
His nature's duty.

The ignorant work
For the fruit of their action:
The wise must work also
Without desire
Pointing man's feet
To the path of his duty.

That division of labour was steadily further sub divided with the introduction of the 'production line' as a means of producing more goods in less time. Work was divided into tasks and the tasks were sub-divided and with each division the worker was further distanced from his or her own particular skills. Eventually the worker's skilled input was reduced to merely carrying out a task designed by others. At this point the worker has become part of the machine and because time was now the governing factor of production the worker had become little more than a galley slave; don't think, don't stop, time is money!

Where work had once been vocational it had now become repetitive and boring and tedious. The worker thus has no outlet for creative energy but that energy does not disappear, it will be transformed and manifest itself as dis-ease as outlined in this video by Terence Mc Kenna (apologies for the unnecessarily overloud music in parts of it)

McKenna mentioned how we now have shoddy products in the shops and that is partly a consequence of divorcing the worker from the craftsmanship that was needed for work in days of old. As stated above, the worker now carries out a task designed by others. That applies equally in the office environment as it does in the production line. Those previous skills, being no longer required, become atrophied and eventually disappear. The result is that, as time passes, the average worker loses the ability to discriminate and can no longer tell the difference between a well-made product and a badly made product. Hence the shoddy goods in our shops.

This inability to discriminate has been encouraged by an educational system which has itself become a sort of production line, the end product being the piece of paper or certificate of competence in whatever discipline. Such certificate does not guarantee the recipient is competent, it merely tells that the recipient has been 'approved' by the
"pharisees of verbal orthodoxy" as Aldous Huxley called them in his many essays on the educational process.

We now call it 'dumbing down' but it has been predicted for many years; Huxley saw it coming and so did T.S.Eliot -

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

 -from "The Rock."

Were Eliot alive today he would have added another line thus "...and where is the information that has disappeared into the black hole of data processing?"

The politicians and business 'leaders' continually speak of the 'skills shortage' without ever specifying what these missing skills are. They are blind to the atrophying of the skills we used to have, stolen by a mindless production process and an equally mindless education system.

And the future of work? Do we continue on this path or do we go back to 'the old ways'?
I don't know the answer to that question. The politicians do not even ask that question so the long predicted financial crash is inevitable. When it happens our western 'civilisation' will collapse. But vast areas of Asia, Africa and other parts of the 'primitive' world will not collapse. They will continue with their lives, living as they have always done. They might even improve after a, no doubt temporary, absence of interference from the West. And there are large parts of our western world where people will very quickly pick up the pieces and continue. The older generation, those of us with practical knowledge, those who were of the 'make do and mend' generation, the rural and farming areas etc will survive; the smartphone generation in the big cities will be well and truly

In the old traditions it is said that the end times are the most enjoyable of all so, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

That is the fatalist view, that nothing can be done. Politicians are famous for doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result; a well known definition of insanity.

The alternative is to go back, to stop worshiping the false god of progress. It is not as if we came blindly to this impasse. "Coming events cast their shadows before" (cf Thomas Campbell's poem Lochiel's Warning)

Those shadows are first 'seen' by artists, particularly poets and the more percipient of scribes. Think of Huxley's "Brave New World" or Kafka's "The Trial" or perhaps Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn" adapted from Ecclesiastes. Think of McKenna's optimistic outlook in the above video and think of Hamilton Camp's song - Pride of Man:

Turn around go back down back the way you came.
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of God is raised.
On Babylon that mighty city rich in treasures wide in fame.
And it shall cause the towers to fall and make of thee a pyre of flame.
Oh thou that dwell on many waters rich in treasure wide in fame.
That bow unto a god of gold thy pride of might shall be thy shame.
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again.
And only God can lead the people back into the earth again.

It is not too late to pay attention to Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote:

“Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”

That is the way it used to be, that is the way it ought to be and that is the way it can be if so desire.

Reading list:

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
-René Guénon

Revolt Against The Modern World
-Julius Evola

Art: For Whom and for What?
-Brian Keeble

Bhagavad Gita
-Sir Edwin Arnold (tr)

A Guide for the Perplexed
-Ernst F Schumacher

La rebelión de las masas
-José Ortega y Gasset

The Perennial Philosophy
-Aldous Huxley

The Perennial Philosophy; a critique
-Jules Evans

The Holy Science
- Sri Yukteswar Giri

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Robert M Pirsig

- Walter Scott (tr)

Friday, June 30, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: The Kronos Quartet, by JD

Music this week comes from the Kronos Quartet

I saw them in concert many years ago and they were excellent. Some of their choices of music are unwise in my view, trying to play the music of Bill Evans for example doesn't really work in the context of a string quartet. (A piano is not a 'string' instrument, it belongs in the percussion section of an orchestra.) And playing 'Purple Haze' is ill-advised, however much they may like the original version. But overall they do produce wonderful music.

It was interesting to hear them in a Q&A session after the concert, to hear their 'philosophy' of their open approach to all types of musical genres. It was also interesting to hear them say that they would never change to using electrically amplified versions of their instruments. Some things are quite rightly sacrosanct!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Where there's a will... by Wiggia

Two little gems emerged this week midst all the political shenanigans. 

The first was inevitable in one form or another. Anyone who believed purchasing an electric car was saving the planet and would be rewarded for it by not paying fuel duty and getting 100+ mpg to boot for threepence was being naive, to put it mildly.

In fact, it could end up costing you a whole lot more than the equivalent petrol-engined car at current prices. A study sponsored by government has emerged, suggesting ways to claw back the lost fuel duty when these cars finally sell in numbers. Anyone who thought the zero road tax and all the other goodies would go on into the sunset of motoring is now having their eyes peeled as suggestions emerge of toll roads in place of tax, or probably alongside ? Or mileage charges depending on when and where you drive, allied to city restrictions and zone charging. Running a car is going to be a lot more expensive than now. Add in the current disparity in prices for electric vehicles and many will not bother and maybe that is what they want regards cities.

There is no silver lining with this as you can’t strangle car use without having to make up the shortfall in revenue in another way. Going green has always been a con and whilst the spaghetti knitters will be cheering from the sidelines the man on the Clapham Omnibus, if he can get on one, will suffer the costs and inconvenience. Why do the hordes of gold plated civil servants that are put onto these schemes always come up with something that pleases a few and costs everyone else?

On a similar track is the announcement the supermarkets are starting to roll out “surge pricing.” This little wheeze involves electronic labelling that can  change the indicated price in twenty seconds. Ostensibly this is to reduce waste, yesss, and in their words……

“This would let them react to events and remove or introduce offers increasing the ice cream price during a heat wave for example.”

Needless to say “concerns” have been voiced from consumer groups that ultimately most shoppers will pay more. A 3% increase in profit margins is possible with this system, so once again those that work and have limited time to shop and have to do so in lunch hours and similar times will not only have to put up with the crush at those times but pay more for the privilege.

And just to round off the lightening of wallets by stealth - or diktat, in the government's case - the same supermarkets that now control the bulk of petrol retailing want to use the same surge pricing for their petrol forecourts. So the commuter who has to use his car will pay more for the privilege of using roads that as a taxpayer he has already paid for; will, if he uses a petrol station during the same commute periods, pay more for his petrol; and his wife, shopping during the lunch hour at work or on the way home, will pay more for their food.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said, “We always look at ways that technology can help us improve the shopping experience for our customers.”

And just to make you shuffle nearer to the cliff edge, the energy companies would also like to charge you according to demand with cheaper prices when nobody uses energy and the reverse when we do. Looking at all that, the only small chink of light is your very expensive electric car can be charged at night at a cheaper rate, though I am sure the government or energy company can fix that in no time at all.

Oh, and I just noticed the BMA want GPs to shut doors amid safety fears. Another spokesman said, “There has to be a limit on what you can do in a day, it is not about money it is about patient safety,” so shutting the doors when someone needs to see a doctor is a safety measure. That’s one way of looking at it, and of course there is only so much anyone can do in a day, but that day in the case of my surgery and most others is in effect a half day: the majority of GPs working there are only working part-time.

They want to able to declare a black alert as hospitals do when not capable of providing a safe and sustainable service and in order to protect patients (they are thinking of us, really) practices are enabled to self-declare a safety alert and direct patients to alternative service providers such as a "local hub", a walk-in centre or A&E. I have no idea what a local hub is but our one and only walk-in centre is overwhelmed, their doctors are working full-time and overtime; and the A&E department will be overjoyed that GPs  are wanting to direct even more patients their way than they do now.

This particular problem in the NHS is not about money. It is about someone somewhere insisting that the contracts that enable most GPs to go part time not work evenings and week ends are changed. The Blair government cock up , if that’s what it was, is costing us dearly - regardless of their independent business status GPs are paid by the taxpayer but you wouldn’t think so sometimes.

On my last visit to my surgery's web site they made great play of the fact ”they are a self care surgery.” Intrigued, I clicked the link and found they are advising everyone to help themselves in all ways possible: “Seek advice from your pharmacist, phone the NHS helpline, query whether your doctor's appointment is really necessary and try to treat yourself if you believe you only have a common ailment.”Do you get from that they perhaps are not wanting to have to deal with patients at all? Along with the fact that getting an appointment has reached the stage you have either cured yourself, self cared (!)or died waiting. 

Perhaps shutting the doors is the sensible thing to do. Not a lot of people would notice.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

JD: work to live, not live to work?

Following on from this recent post , a few thoughts.

"Both Right and Left should aim for a productively employed workforce, that can pay enough taxes to make the books balance."

First question is: how do you define a 'productively employed workforce'?

There are two main economic theories, one followed by the 'left' and one followed by the 'right' as I understand your definition of those two poles. The left believe in the theories of Karl Marx and 'Das Kapital' and the right believe in the theories of Adam Smith and 'Wealth of Nations.'

Both are perfect economic models but only in theory and both have failed in practical terms for exactly the same reason: they do not include people in their calculations. As far as the theories are concerned, production of goods is of utilitarian value only. The produced goods have a value but the workforce does not have any value except in economic terms and are classed as 'productively' employed only on that basis.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the beginning of the machine age where machines took over more and more of the production process and the contribution of the workforce gradually diminished to the point where they ceased to be 'producers' requiring skills and became nothing more than machine minders. 

"What began as a way of duplicating human skill on a greater scale will end by replacing skill altogether in order to produce goods regardless of any human intervention. As a necessary part of the process any call for the control of machines, however desirable in human terms, is bound to seem illogical since it amounts to the destruction of the system for generating the wealth needed to perpetuate the consumption that underpins the social fabric."

"Such is the remorseless pressure of this process that it becomes, in due course, a sort of cannibalism, first of all destroying the machine minder through automation then in a further step destroying the machine by an economy based on the virtual reality of computerised information. At this stage the question of human needs hardly arises, having been displaced by the internal demands of the productive system itself. This 'system' possessing no vision of an end other than its own perpetuation, must eventually bring about its own destruction."

The above two paragraphs are copied more or less verbatim from Brian Keeble's book

The ideas of left vs right or socialism vs capitalism are obsolete because everyone now believes absolutely that the purpose of production (i.e. work) is as stated above. Endless growth and over-production can only end, not just in the system's own destruction but in the destruction of life.

In fact it can really be summed up in this video by Alan Watts (which I have referred to previously)

In reality the 'productively employed workforce' has been diminishing rapidly and will soon cease to exist. 
What then are people to do with their time if work, as previously understood, is no longer an option? A life of leisurely boredom? I think not, "the devil makes work for idle hands!" as, no doubt, your granny would often remind you.

The unasked question in your post is "what is the purpose of work?" and that question will be addressed in part two.

Reading list:

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
-René Guénon

Revolt Against The Modern World
-Julius Evola

Art: For Whom and for What?
-Brian Keeble

Bhagavad Gita
-Sir Edwin Arnold(tr)

A Guide for the Perplexed
-Ernst F Schumacher

La rebelión de las masas
-José Ortega y Gasset

The Perennial Philosophy
-Aldous Huxley

The Perennial Philosophy; a critique
-Jules Evans

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It is abduction all the way down

But fortunately not that kind of abduction. 

A few weeks ago Aeon published a fascinating article by Karl Friston, but first of all it may be worthwhile to see what Wikipedia says about the man who wrote it.

Karl Friston pioneered and developed the single most powerful technique for analysing the results of brain imaging studies and unravelling the patterns of cortical activity and the relationship of different cortical areas to one another. Currently over 90% of papers published in brain imaging use his method (SPM or Statistical Parametric Mapping) and this approach is now finding more diverse applications, for example, in the analysis of EEG and MEG data. His method has revolutionized studies of the human brain and given us profound insights into its operations. None has had as major an influence as Friston on the development of human brain studies in the past twenty-five years.

In which case we may take it that Friston is no professional waffler. However, it is not easy to summarise his article because there are a number of interwoven strands, but his starting point is to focus on processes rather than things.

I have a confession. As a physicist and psychiatrist, I find it difficult to engage with conversations about consciousness. My biggest gripe is that the philosophers and cognitive scientists who tend to pose the questions often assume that the mind is a thing, whose existence can be identified by the attributes it has or the purposes it fulfils.

But in physics, it’s dangerous to assume that things ‘exist’ in any conventional sense. Instead, the deeper question is: what sorts of processes give rise to the notion (or illusion) that something exists?

To accept consciousness as a process rather than a thing is not at all difficult and many people may do that anyway, but from this simple adjustment to our thinking some remarkable conclusions follow.   

I hope to show you that nature can drum up reasons without actually having them for herself. In what follows, I’m going to argue that things don’t exist for reasons, but certain processes can nonetheless be cast as engaged in reasoning. I use ‘reasoning’ here to mean explanations that arise from inference or abduction – that is, trying to account for observations in terms of latent causes, rules or principles.

This perspective on process leads us to an elegant, if rather deflationary, story about why the mind exists. Inference is actually quite close to a theory of everything – including evolution, consciousness, and life itself. It is abduction all the way down.

Friston then moves on to the oddity of life as repetitive, self-organising behaviour which as he says, seems contrary to how the universe usually behaves.

Complex systems are self-organising because they possess attractors. These are cycles of mutually reinforcing states that allow processes to achieve a point of stability, not by losing energy until they stop, but through what’s known as dynamic equilibrium. An intuitive example is homeostasis. If you’re startled by a predator, your heartbeat and breathing will speed up, but you’ll automatically do something to restore your cardiovascular system to a calmer state (following the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response). Any time there’s a deviation from the attractor, this triggers flows of thoughts, feelings and movements that eventually take you back to your cycle of attracting, familiar states. In humans, all the excitations of our body and brain can be described as moving towards our attractors, that is, towards our most probable states.

A little further on we get to a crucial point in the whole piece.
It’s at this point that we can talk about inference, the process of figuring out the best principle or hypothesis that explains the observed states of that system we call ‘the world’. Technically, inference entails maximising the evidence for a model of the world. Because we are obliged to maximise evidence, we are – effectively – making inferences about the world using ourselves as a model. That’s why every time you have a new experience, you engage in some kind of inference to try to fit what’s happening into a familiar pattern, or to revise your internal states so as to take account of this new fact. This is just the kind of process a statistician goes through in trying to decide whether she needs new rules to account for the spread of a disease, or whether the collapse of a bank ought to affect the way she models the economy.

Now we can see why attractors are so crucial. An attracting state has a low surprise and high evidence. Complex systems therefore fall into familiar, reliable cycles because these processes are necessarily engaged in validating the principle that underpins their own existence. Attractors push systems to fall into predictable states and thereby reinforce the model that the system has generated of its world. A failure of this surprise minimising, self-evidencing, inferential behaviour means the system will decay into surprising, unfamiliar states – until it no longer exists in any meaningful way. Attractors are the product of processes engaging in inference to summon themselves into being. In other words, attractors are the foundation of what it means to be alive.
As suggested above, there is little point in trying to summarise Friston's article, not because it is too difficult but because all the steps are worth following. However, one more quote may give a flavour of the whole piece.
Applying the same thinking to consciousness suggests that consciousness must also be a process of inference. Conscious processing is about inferring the causes of sensory states, and thereby navigating the world to elude surprises. While natural selection performs inference by selecting among different creatures, consciousness performs inference by selecting among different states of the same creature (in particular, its brain). There is a vast amount of anatomical and physiological evidence in support of this notion. If one regards the brain as a self-evidencing organ of inference, almost every one of its anatomical and physiological aspects seems geared to minimise surprise.

So consciousness is a process of navigating the world to elude surprises. That at least is no surprise, as indeed it shouldn't be if Friston is right.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two socialisms, two capitalisms

There are two kinds of socialism on the market (if one ignores the madness of millennium revolutionaries). One is the kind being touted by Jeremy Corbyn - raising workers' pay and public expenditure, without a clear idea of how to achieve it. I shall come to the second in a moment.

Opposed to it, we are told, is free-market capitalism. A good example of the propaganda for this is ex-banker James Bartholomew's "letter" article in The Spectator this week. Here young James (he is not near sixty yet) talks condescendingly to his nephew, contrasting what he saw of the rapidly advancing prosperity of Hong Kong in the 1980s with the condition of the communist countries he subsequently visited.

Of course Hong Kong prospered! It was the time when China, encouraged by a USA bent on driving a wedge between the Middle Kingdom and Russia, was given the chance to build a massive industrial economy on the basis of increasingly debt-fuelled Western consumer demand. Hong Kong was to be its showcase and middleman.* This suited the Western entrepreneurs who surfed the flood through the all-open canal locks as capital flowed East, much of it sticking to their fingers in Western tax havens and much of the rest recycled first into US Treasury bonds and then into purchases of land and businesses in America and elsewhere. 

The result? The American rich became super-duper-rich and the American economy was hollowed out to the point where voting for Donald Trump seemed to the middle class a last desperate chance to stop the rot. Now the panhandlers by the roadside are not winos but people who can't make ends meet even when both partners are working.

Still, well done, the Chinese! No-one can blame them for using the opportunities they were given, especially since it wasn't they who made the most out of the arrangement - James Kynge estimated that Chinese businesses kept perhaps 15 cents of each dollar of export.

And China was learning capitalism of the original kind, the kind that made Britain rich in the Industrial Revolution: investing in factories, labour skills, infrastructure. The capitalism that made Josiah Wedgwood's fortune as a potter, that encouraged the Duke of Bridgewater to use his own money to cut a canal for transporting finished goods. Capitalism that made good profits and wages from making good products.

But there is another, more modern type of capitalism - the type that did so well out of the Chinese economic miracle for the Westerners who made deals with them. This one is like Blu-Tack: a big ball of money that is rubbed onto smaller bits, not to stick up the poster but simply to make the ball bigger and then to put it away in a drawer. The poster can flop to the ground after that; who cares?

As an example of this latter kind of predation, look at the case of Southern Cross Healthcare and NHP.  These companies - one a chain of care homes and the other a landlord - were acquired by an American private equity group that then put Southern Cross on a lease agreement requiring 2.5% annual rent increases for 35 years, floated the company so as to extract a billion in capital, and abandoned Southern Cross to its inevitable collapse and the misery of the vulnerable humanity for which it had to provide.

This kind of debt-bloat ram-raid capitalism continues and will continue, until suddenly it can't. We saw that in 2008, but the dreadful reckoning was, and is being staved off with public money, and nobody seems to know how to stop the process.

"Labour and the Tories are like a pair of corpses, stiff with rigor mortis, propping each other up," said Peter Hitchens, back in 2005. "They no longer represent the true divisions in British society, which is why Labour can win only 22% of the popular vote, and the Tories a mere 20%." His wish was for both to collapse.

Despite their vote share rising to 40-plus per cent, for various reasons, they have collapsed. They haven't quite stopped twitching, is all. 

At the moment - pace the screams from Socialist Worker and Day Of Rage types - we have Giveaway Tory versus Giveaway Labour. Neither has the answer. Staring us in the face is the destruction of the Welfare State.

Instead of these gruesome bookends we need a reformed pair of parties. Both Right and Left should aim for a productively employed workforce, that can pay enough taxes to make the books balance. 

Before Wilson's turn on a sixpence in 1975, he and his British Labour Party were against membership of the EEC. At the Oxford Union, Peter Shore explained how the country was losing billions annually as a result, already; behind him the sulky face of the - I think it's not too much too say - treacherous "Conservative" Ted Heath deepened its scowl. 

I suspect that there were those on the Right who hoped that Europe would "sort out" the unions, blinding themselves to the harm done to our competitiveness by a business class that had failed to reinvest for decades, so that many soldiers returning from the Second World War doffed their uniforms to handle tools and machines dating to before the First World War; and goodbye, the British motorcycle industry as the Japanese listened to Dr Deming and went for quality and continuous improvement. 

In any case, the Americans wanted to tell Europe what to do with one phone call, not a couple of dozen. But that was no reason for us to join the new bloc.

Yes, new bookends, please: patriotic Conservatives with an economic and investment plan for the country that will improve the lot of all the people, and Labourites who, while rightly defending the pay and conditions of the working class (including, one would hope, the self-employed), support prosperity through work rather than envious dispossession. 

* The  "New Territories" and the rest of the colony were returned to China at the end of  the 99-year lease on the former, in 1997;  but that end was well anticipated, as shown in population movements, especially emigration:

" Citizens who were born in Hong Kong were beginning to migrate to the UK, USA and Canada in large numbers due to the uncertainty of the handover in 1997. From 1980 to 1986, an estimated 21,000 people left Hong Kong permanently every year. Beginning in 1987, the numbers rose sharply to 48,000 people a year.[3]"