Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve: JD's Celtic Miscellany

JD offers a Caledonian collection to see out the Old Year and welcome in the New:

To see large version, please click on the link below:

It is New Year's Eve and the Rev IM Jolly, the BBC's hogmanay chaplain says a few words as is customary at this time, but this was his last appearance, from Hogmanay 1999. (Rikki Fulton 1924 - 2004. R.I.P.)

One of my friends was at Ibrox on 2nd January 1971 when 66 people died in a crush on one of the exit stairways. He and his father had left before the end of the game and called in to a pub for a drink on the way home. This was in the days before every pub had a TV (or even a radio) so he and his father were unaware of what had happened and were later than expected in getting home. But his mother, sitting at home, had heard the news on the radio or seen it on TV and spent an hour or so worried that her family had been caught up in the tragedy. Little things mean a lot, and that was a very sad day for Glasgow, for Scotland and for football

...and a happy new year to one and all!

Sackerson adds: I believe the traditional good night in Scots Gaelic is "oidhche mhath!" {pr. oichhy va!}

... and for a further Scottish lesson, here is a dialogue for Hogmanay (see p. 203)

MR MACDONALD: Tha e dà uair dheug! Siud na clagan!
A H-UILE DUINE: Bliadhna Mhath Ur dhuibh!
MR MACDONALD: Dè a ghabhas sibh – fìon, no còc, no uisgebeatha?
MRS MACDONALD: Tha deoch air choreigin aig a h-uile duine a-nis.
MR MACDONALD: Glè mhath. Air ur slàinte!
A H-UILE DUINE: Slàinte mhòr
MAIRI: O, seallaibh air na rionnagan – tha tòrr dhiubh ann. Agus tha an sneachd cho brèagha – tha
e coltach ri cairt Nollaig’.
CATRIONA: Seo na caraidean againn a’ tighinn. Tha pàrtaidh anns an talla. Bidh oidhche mhòr againn!
MRS MACDONALD: Feuch nach gabh sibh an deoch!
CATRIONA: Chan eil sinn cho gòrach ri sin idir!

Which, Google-assisted-guessing [native speakers very welcome to correct!], translates as:

MR MACDONALD: It is twelve o'clock! There go the bells!
ALL: Happy New Year to you!
MR MACDONALD: What will you have - wine, or coke, or whisky?
MRS MACDONALD: Let us all have some drink now.
MR MACDONALD: Very well. Your health!
ALL: Very good health!
MARY: Oh, look at the stars - so many of them out! And the snow is so beautiful - it looks like a Christmas card!
CATHERINE: Here come our friends. There is a party in the hall. Here's to a great night!
MRS MACDONALD: Don't drink too much!
CATHERINE: We are not so foolish as that!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: New Year's Eve, Scots-Style (I Love A Glassie)

JD plans a traditional Caledonian celebration...

"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true." - Tennyson.

Yes,'s hogmanay!

My father loved the hogmanay so I shall take a glass of The Antiquary and drink a toast to his memory -

Here's tae us
Wha's like us
Damn few,
And they're a' deid
Mair's the pity!

May those who live truly be always believed,
And those who deceive us be always deceived.
Here's to the men of all classes,
Who through lasses and glasses Will make themselves asses!

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is he
In the hope that he drinks to another,
And the other he drinks to is me!

- Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A curio: China, Iceland and the book trade

Icelandic Review reports that China and Iceland are marking 45 years of diplomatic relations with recognition for a prizewinning 2015 book by Einar Már Guðmundsson called Hundadagar (‘Dog Days’), named by the Chinese as one of the best foreign-language novels of the year.

Storytelling is baked into the Icelanders' culture. Readers of the thousand-year-old Icelandic sagas will be struck by how very modern they are - pithy dialogue, graphic violence. Perfect noir. And the current vogue for Nordic crime fiction includes successful Icelandic writers such as Arnaldur Indriðason, one of my wife's favourites.

This latest announcement is timed to coincide with the island's annual jólabókaflóð ("Yule book flood") - the custom of giving books as Christmas presents.

Hundadagar is a historical novel featuring Joseph Banks, the great plant-collector who accompanied Captain Cook to the South Seas. It seems Banks also collected Icelandic manuscripts.

Everything is connected to everything else.

It seems books of the right kind (pornography such as Fifty Shades is banned) may have a huge market among China's 1.3 billion people:

- provided you can maintain your copyright.

The market works both ways, e.g. the growth of Chinese science fiction, as the generation-long superfast economic growth of China stimulates the imagination as to what could come next:

Online publication also has enormous potential, though there are issues around State control:

We live in interesting times. Maybe, despite the distractions of electronic toys, authors and publishers do still have a future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Boiling candy floss

Recently, Nick Drew of Capitalists@Work introduced us to an essay in The New Enquiry entitled "The Scapegoating Machine" (

The writer, Geoff Shullenberger, refers to Peter Thiel, a hedge fund manager (and founder of PayPal) who is now on the executive committee of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, and links Thiel's thinking to that of his former professor and "philosophical mentor" René Girard.

There may be some good ideas in the article but they are couched in that horrid jumble of jargon from sociology, psychology, Marxism etc that resembles a parody of mediaeval scholastic theology, bristling with unnecessary references and appeals to allegedly established authority. My reaction is typical of the Anglo-Saxon attitude to Continental theoreticians: we like our abstractions to be more concrete.

In my schooldays the way to determine whether there was any substance was to do a précis. Typically this would cut down the original word count to, say, 40%. But one can be much more radical with guffmeisters such as Russell Brand - I got him down to less than 8% (

I challenged Nick to do the same for this latest, reducing the 3,445 words of the original to no more than 250. Heroically, he has done so. I now challenge the reader to see if it could be boiled down even further, and then challenged on logic and fact!


Humans desire things because others desire those things, and we unconsciously mimic them. By having the object of desire, the Other makes us desire it, but also makes us resent the Other’s having it: mimetic desire and violence are inextricable. Desire is potentially a source of conflict (especially when the desire is for something intangible such as honor, status, respect, recognition) - a basic problem for human societies.

The ancient solution was substitution of the scapegoat for the rival - the original “breakthrough” moment of human progress, breaking the cyclical repetition of mimetic violence. Religion ritualized the scapegoat mechanism into sacrifices - symbolic acts that created gods, myths and hierarchies.

The rise of techno-scientific rationality and secular governance correlates with the decline of the sacred. But since religion has been the primary form of regulating violence, its displacement raises the possibility of uncontained violence and a panicked return to violent forms of religion.

The imitative basis of desire can explain the success of social media, which intensify universalized competition, feeding rivalry and ressentiment. They also create the space for new modes of scapegoating. Bullying and “forming communities” are connected: scapegoating is the cement of group identities. Voters in demographic decline turn against the Other. “The 99% vs. the 1%” is modern-day scapegoating.

Developers of technology need to accomplish something comparable to what religions did: the creation of superstructures that blunt the tendencies toward dissolution currently threatening global society.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Mind is Flat

Nick Chater again. Many people won't like the ideas he promotes here because they cast aside traditional notions of how our minds work. I find the framework convincing enough to have spent far more time on it than just this video. Chater's framework explains too much to be fundamentally wrong.

However, it is worth pointing out that the flat mind idea is probably not convincing if one simply views Chater's experiments and rationale from a traditional outlook. The video definitely requires a willingness to change perspective, but once that is done the elegant simplicity of it becomes clear.

We are improvisers - we do not have mental depth to draw on in the traditional sense. We improvise our current behaviour, thoughts and opinions within the context of current situations and a need to be consistent with our perceived personality. One might almost say our current personality.

At first sight it all sounds too fluid and unstable to be satisfactory. Surely our personalities are more stable than Chater suggests? To sweeten the pill this approach does allow us to tie in the creative aspects of human life. To improvise is to create. We must improvise so we must create. We cannot stop. Not necessarily a good thing because we may improvise honestly or dishonestly, but worth remembering if you choose to watch the whole thing.

Here's the video introduction.

This talk presents the case that there are no hidden depths, whether evolutionary, psychological, or economic, from which the real motivations for human behaviour emerge. Motives are, indeed, astonishingly shallow, with the illusion of depth sustained by our mental projection of meaning into the actions of ourselves and other. But the illusion of depth is of crucial importance: it helps us reign in our behaviour, which would otherwise be even more capricious and inconsistent. This thesis has implications for theories in psychology, economics, and ethics which are explicitly, or implicitly, committed to "deep" motivations underpinning human life. It also provides a new framework for thinking about how to make choices, whether as individuals, in business, or in public policy.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: JD's Christmas Box 2

Lifting out the first tray, we come to a fresh selection from JD, who says:

"Music for this week is a continuation of Christmas festivities and Nollaig Chridheil, feliz Navidad, joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Bo Nadal, счастливого Рождества, क्रिसमस की बधाई, Eguberri on, buon Natale, Nollaig Shona to one and all!"

Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: JD's Early Christmas Box

JD writes: A very mixed musical miscellany to lead us up to Christmas-

Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 09, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!

A JD compilation to brighten these dark evenings:

This week's musical offering features some 'new style' swing music -

- plus a last-minute bonus:

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Do you remember when...?


From Science Daily we have another story about implanted memories.

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

In a study on false memories, Dr Kimberley Wade in the Department of Psychology demonstrates that if we are told about a completely fictitious event from our lives, and repeatedly imagine that event occurring, almost half of us would accept that it did.

Hmm - wait until virtual reality takes hold and millions think they were educated at Hogwarts. We ain't seen nothing yet.

Monday, December 05, 2016

If the 2016 EU referendum was not binding, nor was that of 1975

"The referendum result was not legally binding due to the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty. However, it was widely accepted that the vote would be the final say on the matter. In a 1975 pamphlet, then Prime Minister Harold Wilson said: "[. . .] I ask you to use your vote. For it is your vote that will now decide. The Government will accept your verdict."[2] The pamphlet also said: "Now the time has come for you to decide. The Government will accept your decision - whichever way it goes." ",_1975

If the 2016 vote to leave is worthless, then so was the 1975 vote to remain. The real constitutional crisis was inherent in making the abdication of national sovereignty merely a (heavily downplayed) plank in party politics.

Three other countries had a referendum on the issue beforehand, in 1972 - and Norway said no. The UK waited for 3 years and held a referendum only because the Labour Party opposed EEC membership while in opposition.

Either we are headed out, or we were never in.

Dumpster Journalism

Jim in San Marcos writes:

50 years ago, when you picked up a newspaper, you got a report of tragedies, deaths, assassinations, wars and weather reports along with the sports and business pages.

In today’s world, we have people writing the news before it happens. The US Presidential election comes to mind. The problem is, it didn’t happen as written.

What is not appreciated here, is that the manipulation did not go as planned. Journalism failed the common reader by interpreting too many facts and arriving at a conclusion that the reader was expected to reach after reading the article.

The Great Depression of 2006 is now being referred to as the Great Recession of 2006. My point that I made in the past, was that the people of the 1929 Great Depression had no idea that they were in great depression. Something was drastically wrong and they had no idea what it was. It was only when you picked up a history book in the 1950’s that you discovered the Great Depression. It was only when things started to get very noticeably better did people look back and see what they had been in.

I used the newspaper example of how Hillary had the election won to show how the truth about the economy has been stretched a tad. We are being told the economy is just great. 95 million people no longer looking for work and 45 million on food stamps. The fact you can earn more money from an interest perspective, spending money, rather than saving money turns every rule about financing upside down.

The stock market hits new highs. Most all stocks are divorced from the company they represent, the only thing that connects the buyer to the stock value is the dividend. Every stock has an owner and it is not the company (from a technical aspect). The price is determined by what another person is willing to pay for it. So a drop in the price of IBM of say $100 would revalue the net worth of shares issued, but not reflect in one bit the real assets of the actual company.

Right now, the world of journalism says everything is just great. Kind of reminds me of the many newspapers that flat out stated that “Donald Trump could never be elected President.” A reality check seems to indicate that whatever opinions are available to us right now don’t know any more than we do, absolutely nothing.

Admitting that we know nothing gives us the ability to discard common sense if we feel it necessary. We all want to be comforted thinking we made the right decision by looking for company that shares our views, and that leads to problems. The herd is often wrong when it really matters.

The problems that we are about to face have been around 6 to 8 years. My only advice, if you have a job, keep it for the next two years and see how things progress in the immediate future. I get my first Social Security paycheck in two weeks at the age of 70 and I am still working.

We do have to realize that whatever solutions are proposed to fix the current problems will be solved by people who have saved money in the system (you can't tax people that are broke). The most visible taxable assets are wages, real estate and bank savings. What we need to understand is, the whole population is the target for any solution to the problem, not some sort of spend until we drop, financial boondoggle by Congress. We could end up with a Value Added Tax for manufacturing and production. In the future, for Congress, it should be, "Real money in, Real money out."

Remember when you buy a newspaper, they give you what you want to hear, otherwise you select another news source. So, in today’s world you get to pick your own perceived reality. The trouble is, there is no feedback until it is too late, if you are wrong.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Night Is Music Night: Happy Feet!

JD says...

"Dance like nobody is watching!"

I plead guilty to that! Starting at school, as we all did surely, with Scottish country dancing. And then in the Church's youth club trying to master the waltz- stomp two three, stomp two three! And then into adolescence and the local palais de danse followed by local jazz and beat clubs where it was the jive and twisting the night away. Further down the road, I met an ex- Bluebell Girl who tried to teach me the tango among other things and one night, after the cabaret show she was in, she and I along with the other dancers moved on to a bar somewhere in the old part of Madrid where 'the show' continued - dancing and singing and a glass or two - the joy of life arises in such moments. And now I find that my local working men's club has dancing most nights of the week and it is very popular. That is good to know and it shows how these things go in cycles, in and out of fashion; as long as there is music, there will be the urge to get up and dance.

Now that I am ancient and with limbs that creak, dancing is a fond memory but I reckon I could still dance as they do in this first video! -

""Jesus says that God’s grace is dancing, and that they ought to join up with it. “If you don’t dance,” he says, “you will never understand who God is, or the joy that could be yours.” (“Ye who dance not know not what we are knowing".) It’s like the people at parties who, for either lack of interest or self-professed lack of skill, just sit on the sidelines of the dance floor, observing the fun from afar; they don’t understand what’s so great about dancing, because they’ve never experienced it for themselves. If we would only let go of our fears and insecurities of looking stupid or not being good enough, we would find that “dancing” (worshipping God, and following his lead) is a very fun and fulfilling and natural activity—it’s what we were created for.""
Sackerson adds:

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Nudge Unit

Nick Chater is co-founder of the research consultancy Decision Technology; and is on the advisory board of what was the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), popularly known as the 'Nudge Unit'.

Whatever one thinks of the Nudge Unit, he is an interesting guy.