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Home | 2016 | October

Scrapbook for October 2016

26.10.2016 – More intimations of mortality

Horse chestnut tree 2016

After a week of rain the conkers are finished, most of them have just rolled down the bank into the stream. Under the water's glaze they wisely let humans do their thinking for them: 'What was all that about, spring, summer and autumn?'. The leaves will follow them and then it's time for the tree to go to sleep until the next time round.

23.10.2016 – Alan Turing, useful genius

Poor old Alan Turing. Today we read yet another particularly egregious and violent puff into the quivering, overstretched balloon that is his modern reputation.

We learn that he 'saved 14 million people', that he 'decoded Enigma' where 'all the other experts had failed because the German military changed the code every day'. Turing 'broke it and built with his team a decoding machine', with the help of which 'the Allies could protect their transport ships and destroy the Italian fleet'. Churchill said that 'no other man had done as much against the war' as he. 'Experts say', we are told, that 'his work shortened the Second World War by two years'. In addition, Turing 'thought out the computer' and 'laid the groundwork of theoretical computing and the internet, discovered the Turing Test to prove artificial intelligence, developed a language encoding and much, much more'.

The trouble now is that there is no gentle way to deflate this reputational balloon to its proper size. If we go through these idiotic assertions and counter or relativise them one by one we seem to be attacking this modern day saint. A pin has to be wielded. On the other hand, if we leave the balloon untouched, we minimise or overlook the contribution of all the other experts in all the activities in which Turing was supposedly pre-eminent. It is true that he had a spark of mathematical genius in him, he made a valuable wartime contribution, his later life was distressing and ended badly. History demands a balanced judgement.

But such camp hyperbole, such balloon-blowing, is simply provocation by the homosexual community. Alan Turing has done nothing to deserve this mangling of his life and reputation. Nor have his colleagues and contemporaries done anything to deserve the implicit belittling of theirs.

Unfortunately, this balloon is inflated more and more, challenging attack. Who dares prick it? Such puffery is the equivalent of the outrageous (the word is used here precisely) dress and behaviour of the self-obsessed 'Pride' crowd at public events. It's a challenge. it's an outrage.

23.10.2016 – Dismantling Hillary

Pleading ignorance, we on this blog have so far declined to opine on the events of the US Presidential Election. Our only intervention so far has been to point out the way that powerful politicians can surround themselves with unprincipled underlings whose only goal is to serve unthinkingly their master or mistress. These underlings eventually do not need direct commands, the successful ones are capable of interpreting their leader's thoughts and even overshooting them in their implementation, so great is their zeal. So it has always been with courtiers down the ages.

As for all the claims and counter-claims: what do we know? But sometimes something pops up that is quite fascinating.

It is alleged that during the third debate (and possibly also the first), Hillary Clinton had the use of some kind of teleprompter built into her lectern. The fact that her lectern has an illuminated section that appears to go dark after the debate ends, whereas Donald Trump's lectern remains dark and inert throughout the proceedings has excited interest. But that could be a manipulated video, or an optical illusion – who knows?

But that suspicion has now been underscored by the intense activity around her lectern after the debate. Trump's lectern stands there dumb and friendless, its usefulness at an end. Clinton's, in contrast, is the most popular thing in the room. It receives a number of visitors in sequence who appear to be dismantling and transporting things from it. The questions are really simple: who are all these people, what are they doing, what is so urgent about what they are doing that it has to be done whilst the programme is still on-air and finally, if they are not employees of the broadcaster, who permitted them to be there? See what you think (h/t ZeroHedge):

21.10.2016 – Aberfan: a tale of two inquiries

It would be presumptious virtue-signalling by this blog to do anything more than note the fifty-year anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster. At 09.15 on 21 October 1966 an immense mass of colliery spoil from a hillside tip flowed as a wet slurry at high speed down the hill and into the village of Aberfan. It hit around 20 houses and most of the schoolhouse. 116 children and 28 adults died, crushed or suffocated under ten metres or more of sludge.

There was an inquiry by Lord Justice Edmund Davies, which lasted 76 days and resulted in incontrovertible findings of ignorance, carelessness and incompetence. Safety lessons were slowly learned, but no one was punished or dismissed for what had happened. There was grudging, slow and miserly remediation and compensation.

Fifty years later the UK government is desperately trying to implement the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Anyone who reads the media will be aware of this shambles, its delay and its immense cost. A recent gimlet eye on the proceedings has been cast by the estimable Anna Raccoon, who, as usual, takes no prisoners:

We now have an Inquiry, originally estimated to cost £100 million, assuming it only lasted 10 years – but can last for as long as the Chairman chooses it to last…'

In all the distant horizon of events which have been brought into the remit of this Inquiry it seems that no one has died or been physically injured. No child has been suffocated under ten metres of coal sludge and no parent has had to imagine that. Do we live in kinder times or have we just become hopelessly self-indulgent and spendthrift?

18.10.2016 – Matt Ridley: Global Warming versus Global Greening

An excellent lecture by Matt Ridley for the 2016 Annual GWPF Lecture at The Royal Society, London on 17 October 2016.

The bullet points for those in a hurry:

  • Global greening caused by carbon dioxide has brought astonishing benefits;
  • the models have been consistently wrong for more than 30 years;
  • the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low;
  • the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm;
  • the attempts to change to 'green energy' have been useless and an immense waste of money that could have been spent much more beneficially.

Read it all. You won't regret it, though it will change nothing – the madness has penetrated too far. Our own amateurish efforts on this tiny blog have been completely inconsequential, merely 'showing an affirming flame':
In praise of Stephen McIntyre
Climate alarmism – Carbon dioxide: the science is settling nicely
Suspension of disbelief: Solar Impulse
Carbon dioxide: the science is settled.
The discussion moved beyond the rational more than 20 years ago.

Update 21.10.2016 10:13 Bob Ward, a notorious warmist attack dog, attempted to discredit Ridley's lecture in a letter to the Royal Society. Ridley's response is an illustration of how maliciously inaccurate and untruthful the attack on him was. Let us hope that yet another attempt to throttle off all channels of discourse will fail miserably.

Update 23.10.2016 16:32 Bob Ward, the man himself, still defending the indefensible.

17.10.2016 – Snowflake of the Month

A large field this month, mostly brain-dead, over-sensitive celebs. We prefer to select snowflakes from unexpected quarters – the sort of people you might assume would know better. Introducing this month's snowflake, Dr Stephen Lewis of the Open University. Speaking of the ExoMars mission to Mars and the landing of its probe Schiaparelli he said:

It will be nerve-wracking six minutes of terror and by that stage there is nothing anyone can do if things go wrong, and there are 100 things that need to go right. These are incredibly complicated machines, and everything has to work, so all you can do is cross your fingers.

'Six minutes of terror', indeed.

Dr Lewis knows first-hand the heartbreak of losing a spacecraft which has been decades in the planning. He was part of Nasa's Mars Climate Orbiter team which disintegrated after entering Mars' atmosphere at a lower than anticipated altitude in September 1999.

'I’ve worked on missions which have failed and it is just totally devastating,' he said. 'It sounds silly but it is like a family member has died. You watch it coming round the planet and then it is gone forever.'

Yes, Dr Lewis, it does sound silly, but we are grateful to you for reminding us that you played a part in the expensive 'Mars Climate Orbiter' fiasco. On that mission, whilst the team was thinking of the '100 things that need to go right' they did not think of the one thing that went catastrophically wrong: the fact that the software had been programmed in such a way that it mixed up imperial and metric units. Instead of an orbiting satellite they ended up with a lot of crisped bits of deconstructed satellite on the surface.

As 'devastating' as it was for Lewis and the NASA team, the 'heartbreak' was really felt by the US taxpayer at paying 328 million USD to scatter half-incinerated technojunk over the Martian surface. Heaven knows what the Martians thought about it. No wonder they keep themselves to themselves these days.

The surprising part about the Schiaparelli mission is that it has no point. It appears to be merely an extremely expensive proof-of-concept for how to land on Mars, which in itself is quite a snowflakey approach. After the farce with the NASA 'Mars Climate Orbiter' and the embarrassing failure of ESA's 'Beagle 2'* lander in 2003 the team seems to be suffering from a loss of nerve. It seems they will now just be content just to get some meaningless piece of something onto the surface intact. The simple taxpayer wonders why, but the answer is unfathomable – it always is. Still, fingers crossed.

* The name was officially an allusion to Charles Darwin's ship The Beagle, which seems to be a bit of a stretch. Our suspicion is that the team, which was really quite anti-American in many of its over-hyped pronouncements, was just looking forward to the mocking moment when their rather eccentric team leader could announce that 'The Beagle has landed'. Hubris-Nemesis.

10.10.2016 – A grave question

The Church of England under the towering leadership of Justin 'the wuzz' Welby screams blue murder when a widow proposes to put a masonic symbol on the headstone of her late husband's grave, yet all the other much more important and difficult stuff – LGBT, clergy in homosexual marriages, immigration, climate change, even – goes through on the nod. Welby himself, whilst he was trying to engage with the Maker of the Stars and Seas, has even publicly doubted the presence of God, which, compared to a masonic symbol on a gravestone, seems quite an important piece of doctrine to give up on so easily.

The C of E should at least be consistent: ban Mozart – no more requiem and sacred music from him, please – and certainly not that work of the devil, the Magic Flute. Bald prangt den Morgen zu verkünden, that's far too hateful. Much as no Jew really should listen to that anti-semitic monster Wagner (quite right, too). A list of all the works of the Devil produced by Freemasons down the ages will be a long one. Ban 'em all. Do you get the impression that they haven't thought this through? Gravestones are so much easier.

09.10.2016 – More Waugh

It is a long abandoned belief that tourism, like competitive athletics, makes for international friendship. The three most hated peoples in the world – Germans, Americans and British – are the keenest sight-seers. There are very few English villagers who have seen an Egyptian; very few Egyptian villagers who have not seen an Englishman; the result is that the English generally are well disposed towards Egypt, while the Egyptians detest us. Sympathy for foreigners varies directly with their remoteness.

Evelyn Waugh, Robbery under Law op. cit., p. 5f.

09.10.2016 – The plague of politics

In the sixteenth century human life was disordered and talent stultified by the obsession of theology; today we are plague-stricken by politics.

Evelyn Waugh, Robbery under Law 1939, Introduction, p. 3.

05.10.2016 – Intimations of mortality

Conkers 2015 and 2016

Our chestnut tree drops the first conker of the 2016 season – glossy and plump. Alongside is its comrade from 2015 – matte and wizened. Is this some kind of metaphor? Possibly. But certainly the moral seems to be: drink more – never let yourself dry out.

05.10.2016 – Mummy knows best

Guido Fawkes previews Theresa May's conference speech for this afternoon: 'May attacks libertarian right'.

Government can and should be a force for good; the state exists to provide what individual people, communities and markets cannot; we should employ the power of government for the good of the people. Time to reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and embrace a new centre ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of the people.

The 'the-government-is-your-best-friend' model has never worked so far in the history of the world, probably because a government really isn't your BFF. Is this policy brave, foolish, stupid, or just ignorant? We shall see. Our bet: the last three.

05.10.2016 – Looking over your shoulder…

…or craning your neck. Have you have ever wondered about the detail of the great cathedrals, high up and out of sight of anyone?

The north rose-window of Notre Dame, Paris

The north rose-window of Notre Dame, Paris, built c. 1250. Virgin Mary, Jesus, prophets and saints.

Here's the answer:

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), 'The Builders', The Seaside and the Fireside, 1850, l. 20-23. Online.

01.10.2016 – Spare the rod

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are currently dragging their photo-opportunities kids around Canada on a royal tour of the colony dominion country. There is much modern parenting on view, requiring the children to be the focus of their parents' attention at every moment. Boredom, tedium, hunger, mischief and beatings, those essentials of a sound childhood, are nowhere to be seen. All other adults – among them the great and the good – are expected to descend into an immediate and unbecoming squat in order to converse with these tyrants at their own low level.

At a recent ceremony on a balcony somewhere in Britain, Her Majesty herself had to tell off publicly the doting dad for neglecting his duties. He was kneeling down in full dress uniform to converse with his demanding son like a playgroup helper when he should have been standing up watching a fly-past and waving at the serfs with affected interest. Heaven knows what Mr Gladstone would have thought of all this nonsense.

Alfred Morgan, An Omnibus Ride to Piccadilly, 1885

Alfred Edward Morgan (1835-1924), An Omnibus Ride to Piccadilly Circus, Mr Gladstone Travelling with Ordinary Passengers, 1885. The ordinary passengers are, in fact, the artist and his family. Morgan and his wife Jessey are seated in the far corners with daughter Jessie and son Owen seated beside their mother, the identity of the lady with the baby is unknown.

Both parents are stick thin and knobbly-kneed, clearly a result of letting their chubby offspring have first pick of the food on the table.

In contrast, during the up-coming visit to the editorial offices of Figures of Speech the children will be left alone to amuse themselves rummaging through the wastebins, but any subsequent mess will result in a sound beating. With us, the future of the monarchy is in safe hands.