Monday, 26 December 2016

Persia International Bank



There is no such place as Persia. It's called Iran. For quite a while it was on the Naughty Step, being removed by the EU in late 2015. Someone's been doing business there in the meantime.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gellner's Ironic Cultures Illustrated By Volkswagen Advert

The sociologist Ernest Gellner wrote a very good book called The Legitimation of Belief, and one of the many ideas in it that stuck with me was that of an “Ironic Culture”. He used this to describe the way that the middle-classes were embracing Eastern spirituality, various forms of mysticism and guru-based ways of living and thinking about the world, but when they broke a leg, they went straight to hospital and had X-rays, antibiotics and whatever else. When it mattered, they went to western rationalism and its by-products (science, modern medicine, engineering). All the spiritual stuff was there to provide a little cultural colour. It wasn’t really what they believed, it was an ironic costume.

Multi-culturalism is an ironic culture. The Good White People think that the West should welcome people from antagonistic cultures with open arms, but while the may have mutli-culti Saturday Nights, they marry assortively with other Good White People, work in organisations where the entry qualifications are attainable only by adopting White European personal values such as study, practice, self-control, and deferred gratification. So although the Good People say they are all for multi-culural life, and eat in Vietnamese, Pakistani, Ethiopian and Malaysian restaurants to prove it, their real lives are white, white, white all the way through.

And here’s Gellner’s idea illustrated as only a good advertising agency could. It shows why someone would want to believe all that hippy claptrap, and how they rely on technology when it matters, and even the love-hate relationship with that technology.

You may have seen the ad in your local independent cinema, but if you don't have a local independent cinema, watch it now. Or anyway. I love it.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Rama Burshtein's Through The Wall

The reviewers seem a little puzzled by this film. It’s about a thirty-something woman, Michal, who turned to God in her twenties, has a ditzy job (she runs a petting zoo), shares a flat, and suddenly feels the pain of not being able to live a conventional religious social life, for which she meeds to be married to a nice Orthodox Jewish Boy. Let me know when the penny drops.

Yep. This is a movie about the hazards of Alpha Lays and Beta Pays. In this case the Alpha is God, and the Betas are all those Orthodox Jewish men she meets. With the slight problem that none of them seem to be dumb enough or Beta enough for Michal to fool. All of them, from the hot indie singer to the various be-hatted guys sent to her by yentas, catch onto her prickly character, the fact she will be horrible to live with (there’s no father at home, and her much hotter married sister is in the middle of a screaming-in-the-streets row with her husband), and possibly notice that they are slimmer than she is. None of the men are shamed for being smart enough to realise she’s not relationship material: in fact, they each get to tell her she’s a nightmare and full of herself. That’s a clue right there.

The movie starts with Michal and her fiance tasting the food for their wedding. She makes which item to taste first a subject of debate - something her boyfriend point out, and which had a man along the row in the cinema curling up in laughter. She senses there’s something wrong and eventually verbally bludgeons the truth out of him: he doesn’t love her. Despite that, she goes ahead with her plans for a wedding. She’s got everything else, and all God has to provide is a husband. Everyone goes along with this, with increasing reluctance and foreboding, but no sense that perhaps a psychiatrist might be in order. She gets to the wedding room, takes her bridal seat and seemingly starts hallucinating (the script suddenly tells us she’s been fasting) a conversation with the Hot Guy who runs the wedding venue. Her BBW sister even asks her “who were you talking to”.

And then, right at the end, God sends her the hot guy who runs the wedding venue.

This film can be read that way: he only way an over-weight, contentious, socially-inept Four who has clearly bashed through The Wall is ever going to land a hot guy is by a miracle sent from God. Before you say that can’t be what Ms Burshtein intended, don’t forget that she is an Orthodox Jew herself. I’m guessing she feels about Michal the way Red Pillers feel about career-focussed Carousel Riders. In other words, Michal isn’t the heroine, she’s the deluded central figure.

I liked this film, though my reality-principle kept me wondering, in the last fifteen minutes, where the psychiatrists were. The painful lead-up to her groom-less wedding is necessary, because without it there wouldn’t be the miracle ending. There would have been a poor-Michal-strong-independent-woman-vicitim-of-the-Patriarchy ending. Or finally-someone-mans-up-and-marries-the-post-wall-woman. And those were not, I suspect, readings Ms Burshtein wanted.

It’s got moments of comedy and acute observation - the sequence with the snake and the schoolgirls is a gem - and it has moments of pathos where we feel sympathy for the seemingly doomed Michal.

I saw it at the Curzon Soho. I’ve previously written about their silly pricing. Since then, for reasons I’ll explain later, I joined their members’ scheme, got four free films which are almost worth the price of membership, and discounts that meant I paid £11.50 that Sunday. That’s a price I can live with.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Bicycle Baffle


I've just come out of the other end of my Annual Autumn Cold and Fever, which oddly always strikes after half-term. I think I'm thinking about something, but I can't think what it is: every time I try to have a thought, it vanishes in a puff of indecision. Hence all the photographs, taken earlier in the year when the sun was still shining.

I've lived through a number of social changes and political shocks, but never what we're seeing with Brexit, on a much larger scale with Trump, and will see with Wilders / Le Pen. The
Workingman's Left was destroyed by Thatcher / Reagan, and was replaced by a nomenklatura of teachers, social workers, university lecturers, political consultants, "left-wing" journalists and government-funded activist groups where what mattered was saying the right thing and an increasing adherence to the victim-based ideology of identity politics. The Populist Revolution is about unmasking the hypocrisy and self-serving goals of this elite and of everyone else who hides material ambition behind a mask of right speech, online activism and a love of all things distant that hides a contempt for all things close. It's about the self-image of the snowflake, and people will fight to the death to preserve their moral camouflage, and even the fact they are wearing any.

Reading the mainstream media now feels like listening to a bunch of spoiled infants being told that it's bedtime. They are squalling and pretending Mommy is cross with them, yelling "abuse" when Daddy picked them up, and saying what children of all ages say: it's not fair, we're not doing it, go away.

And I guess that's really what worries me. There's so much virtue signalling and moral posturing that someone might forget it's all for show, take it seriously, and drop a major economy into the middle of a constitutional crisis no-one even thought would happen. I'm still going with Trump-Wilders-Le Pen. (I can't decide whether Angela Merkel is a misguided but ultimately pragmatic politician who will see the light sometime in summer 2017, or is an East German agent still carrying on the good fight against the Capitalist West.) But I think there's just a chance that one of these adolescent snowflakes of all ages will confuse their image with their duty, sell out their people, and cause unrest the like of which we haven't seen since the Communist bloc really did hack the Trades Unions.

I'm pretty sure it's all posturing and attention-seeking and posturing. I'm pretty sure the snowflakes at the Guardian, the Economist and on US campuses everywhere are actually pleased that Daddy is putting them in the car and taking them home. I just hope that's the way they feel underneath all the posturing.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Newcomb's Problem Solved By Quantum Mechanics

Revisiting Newcomb’s Problem again, because I had a cold when I first wrote about it and at one point crawled into bed thinking that there was something about Quantum Mechanics that made perfect predictors impossible. It turns out there is.

On Monday our Perfect Predictor says what I’m going to do and acts accordingly (it doesn’t matter how). On Tuesday, I make my decision. With the aid of a Schrodinger box. No cats are harmed in this box, I press the button and after a while either a red or a green light shines. If it’s red, I take Box B, otherwise I take both boxes. This turns the Perfect Predictor’s prediction into a perfect prediction about the result from the Schrodinger box, and that’s the contradiction, because the behaviour of Schrodinger boxes is not predictable. There are no Perfect Predictors and in that case, you take both boxes.

One of my colleagues presented this problem as the warm-up brain teaser in our team meeting this week. The reason she liked it was because, she said, it showed that two different conclusions could be reached by what seem like equally plausible logical arguments. Some people like the idea that reason can’t draw conclusions. I was amazed at how some people bought straight into the inductive fallacy - that previous success meant future success for the Perfect Predictor - or indeed how people thought only taking Box B might even be a good idea. What was noticeable was that anyone whose job had “analyst” in the title went for taking both boxes.

Problems like these, and trolley problems, arise for the same reason that the problem of "what happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object” arises. There is a contradiction or subtle falsehood in the premises. In the case of the force and object, the question posits a contradiction: there can’t be irresistible forces if there are immovable objects and vice versa. Trolley problems rob you of morally-relevant information about the people that you would usually have in real life. Newcomb’s Problem posits something impossible according to our best theories, or slyly hints that it’s okay to be an inductivist, or to believe in causality that runs backwards in time, or some other mistake.

Beware of American Philosophers bearing paradoxes.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Feminine Solipsism and Masculine Empathy

I haven’t Sphered for a while, for various reasons, one of which is that I’ve really said all I need to. I do have one thing left. One of the commentators on Rollo’s War Brides post said this:
Simply put, feminine solipsism has a nasty tendency to sap masculine empathy. Sadly, when the pattern repeats itself enough, men lose the ability to connect to women on an emotional, trusting level. When emotional connection and trust is gone, what remains is the the conception of women as objects.
It has haunted me since I read it. There’s something in there I identify with, and something I think is wrong.

I’ve said before, but not clearly enough, that well-balanced adults do not need to make "emotional connections” with other adults. As children, they had their need for connection met by their parents, and as adults they are going to connect in the same way with their children. It’s the children who had bad or missing parents who become adults with un-met needs for connection. Since healthy adults are equipped to meet the emotional needs of children, the un-fulfilled people wind up trying to find comfort with other un-fuliflled people. Which does not work out well.

Well-balanced adults do not treat each other, or think of each other as objects. They have relationships of varying degrees of trust and sharing: from the purely instrumental relationship with a shop assistant, to the high-trust, high-sharing but non-domestic relationship needed for one’s attorney, to the medium-trust, cautious sharing of a domestic relationship. A well-balanced husband and wife know they are going to keep secrets from each other, and they know that the trust they have in each other is negotiable and circumstantial. A well-balanced wife / girlfriend doesn’t ask or insist her well-balanced man “shares” with her, she knows that he will tell her if it helps for her to know, and won’t burden her otherwise. A sensible man shares only as much as is needed to keep the relationship warm and functional. (If none of that makes sense, read Esther Perel.)

Pragmatic, moderated relationships like that can’t work for people with un-met childhood needs for connection. For them, relationships must be high-connection and high-trust, or purely instrumental. She’s his soulmate or she’s a waitress in a restaurant in a town he's never going to stop in again. And once he’s given up on the idea that she could be a soulmate, since he wants sex, he’s going to be having it with women with whom he has an instrumental relationship. That feels like ‘objectifying’ women to him. Well-balanced couples have sex with each other quote happily without having to believe they are each others’ soulmate. They treat sex as a shared experience that enhances them individually and hence confirms that their relationship provides value to each of them. It’s a glitch in the commentator’s thinking that sex without soulmate is objectification.

Let’s turn to the first sentence: that female solipsism has a nasty tendency to sap masculine empathy. I need to riff about empathy for a while.

“Empathy” is one of two things. One is an heuristic for anthropologists and negotiators: attempting to see the world through the eyes of the population they are studying, or of the people on the other side of the table they are dealing with. To do this, one learns what the other side values, what it believes about the physical and social world (or as much about that as needed for the purpose), how its legal and commercial systems work, and so on. One does not regard the other side’s ideas as true or false, better or worse, but as objects of study, much as one can learn Arabic and translate the Koran without becoming a Muslim. The ability to think like the other side without becoming one of them is empathy.

This is not the same as the ability to recognise when other people or animals are having emotions, and what the likely consequences and causes of those emotions. This is a standard-issue survival skill, possessed, along with a conceptual framework of varying sophistication, by pretty much anything that can move and has teeth. African lions recognise “angry bull elephant” and leave before the trouble starts.

In people, emotions caused by life-events, as opposed to stubbed toes or snubbed advances, are accompanied by a mass of thoughts about life, friends, the children, whether you need to take time off from work and what will that mean for your bonus, and a bunch of other stuff that might not be considered wholly appropriate to the event. These thoughts don’t arise from the nature of the life-event, but from the particular pre-occupations of the person. It is these thoughts that women need men to divine, since some of them can’t be said out loud without sounding gauche, tone-deaf or self-centered. No-one, of course, can say that out loud, so it gets covered up under “feelings”, and a feminised, therapeutic idea of empathy-as-the-ability-to-feel-what-the-other-person-is-feeling appears. These “feelings” are not physiological changes accompanied by behaviours, but needs, wants and desires for all sorts of things, that she “feels” she needs, because there is nothing in the circumstances that make those things actual requirements. That’s what men are “lacking empathy” for not intuiting.

And this is ambiguity that’s been nagging at me to be resolved. One the one hand, exposure to female solipsism does not reduce a man’s empathy. Empathy is an ability that most of us have and some of us consciously improve. Like sprinting or anything else. Once gotten, it’s hard to lose. He still has it, in fact, it’s what is telling him about her solipsism. It’s that empathy that will make him a good PUA if he chooses to go down that route.

What does get worn down is his willingness to divine her can’t- / won’t-be-said-out-loud “feelings” about what she thinks she deserves and needs. To guess well at these, he needs to know a lot about her, and unlike his male friends, who are one-and-done as regards insight, his knowledge of her ever-changing state of mind needs constant updating. That’s a serious drain on his residual energy and it’s one he is less likely to make as he gets more doses of her solipsism. And rightly, he feels that the less updating he does, the more he may feel he is treating her as taken-for-granted and maybe object-like.

But in fact, it’s exactly the right attitude towards a woman who is that emotionally unstable. She is not a good long-term partner, though she may be a fun short-term one. No-one is supposed to keep up with the twists and flips of unstable emotions.

So now I have to riff a little on solipsism. This seems to be a nineteenth-century coinage for the epistemological idea that while we can be sure of the existence of ourselves as a thinking mind, we cannot be sure that other people have minds. At least is our theory of knowledge that starts with the premise that all we can know is what we perceive with our senses. But then, the same premise leads us to taking seriously the idea that we’re all batteries in the Matrix as well. This isn’t the kind of solipsism we’re talking about.

The idea as used in the Sphere has two strands: the first is when experience and facts are interpreted through the filters of her feelings, needs and purposes; the second is when she clearly puts the indulgence of her wants, desires and feelings ahead of anyone else’s needs. Add to this some deliberate whimsy and tactical misdirection and you have something most men will recognise from at least one of their female acquaintances. This is not so much about women, as about anyone who has few or no resources of their own and must hi-jack other people’s time, skill and money, which is a lot of corporate types, government officials and politicians.

There’s some plain English for these traits: ‘selfish’, ‘manipulative’, ‘strategic’, ‘self-centered’: to name but a few. We don’t need to abuse a technical term from philosophy. Except we do. Because try reading the original comment as translated:
Simply put, women's selfishness, manipulation and utter whimsy has a nasty tendency to sap masculine patience. Sadly, when the pattern repeats itself enough, men lose the motivation to pay any attention to the whimsical and strategic changes and purposes of women’s “feelings". When that happens to man he stops caring about a woman’s wants and needs, and focuses on how she can satisfy his.
Really harsh. Best dress it up a bit. And round off the edges. By contrast “female solipsism” sounds almost cute: they can’t help it, the poor dears, it’s the oestrogen, or too much junk culture. It’s not subject to nasty moral words like “selfish’ and ‘manipulative’.

(This brings me to the heart of my reservations about the universality of the insights in the Sphere. Well-adjusted women are very rarely solipsist in this sense. A bad day here and an hour there, perhaps. Not every week, let alone every hour of every day. The women who are more frequently solipsist will be identified quickly by well-balanced men and other men with good radar, and will wind up with men who are themselves flawed in one way or another. And that’s who’s in the Sphere - and yes, that includes me. The Sphere describes the experiences of men who wound up with the less stable, less desirable women who make less co-operative and less supportive partners. As ever, misery seeks advice and solace while happiness stays silent.)

Let’s assume a man with hung-over needs for emotional connection and (unconditional) trust and examine that idea that he should focus on how the woman can satisfy his needs. A well-adjusted adult woman cannot and would not expect to satisfy those needs: a badly-adjusted woman might think she could, but of course she cannot. This leaves the man in the position of knowing that no woman can satisfy this unsatisfiable need, and that therefore he is always going to find that his relationships with women will leave him wanting more, and this is not always their fault, but arises because he cannot have the limited-trust-limited-connection relationships that well-adjusted people have. So there is a chance that he may not bother with relationships, for the same reason that he doesn’t bother with, say, polo ponies or concert violins.

What this man has to learn to do is to have relationships that meet other needs: for sex, entertainment and company. For some men, the same upbringing that left him with unmet needs for connection and trust will also have made him develop a life that is based around solitude and cultural consumption rather than the company of people, and these men are left with relationships with women that are mostly about sex, though there may be some entertainment as well. Whether he is one of those or not, he should consider a series of short-term (up to six months or so) relationships. There are plenty of sane women who, for one or more of over a hundred reasons, need a short affair. There is no reason for him to get involved with crazy people, though he may through sheer demographics find himself involved with other men’s wives or ex-wives. The mistake our original commentator made was to suppose relationships had to be long-term. He should focus on the realities: men want sex, women want attention. Short-term relationships provide both really effectively. In a short-term relationship, you can pretend to give a damn about the ever-changing weather in her head, because you’re going to split when you get tired of it.

I think the commentator is mis-lead by his own vocabulary, and by the need to avoid accepting that he’s a flawed case himself. The behaviour of un-balanced and damaged women doesn’t affect his empathy, but it does affect his willingness to pay much attention to them after the initial excitement of meeting has faded. Because he is flawed, he’s only going to meet women who don’t deserve much trust and with whom emotional connection would be ill-advised. That’s not exasperated by her behaviour, it’s right there in her damage. Sure, he’s stuck with women he can’t really trust and should not connect with, but if he could experience what a well-balanced relationship was, he would not find that met his needs either. He’s blaming the sadness he feels about his unsatisfying relationships on the crazy women he meets, but really he should blame the fact he only meets crazy women on the fact that he came into adulthood without experiencing connection and trust with his parents.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Newcomb's Problem

This appeared in the Guardian recently.
The problem: two closed boxes, A and B, are on a table in front of you. A contains £1,000. B contains either nothing or £1 million. You don’t know which. You have two options: Take both boxes, Take box B only. You keep the contents of the box/boxes you take, and your aim is to get the most money.

But here’s the thing. The test was set by a Super-Intelligent Being, who has already made a prediction about what you will do. If Her prediction was that you would take both boxes, She left B empty. If Her prediction was that you would take B only, She put a ₤1 million cheque in it.

Before making your decision, you do your due diligence, and discover that the Super-Intelligent Being has never made a bad prediction. She predicted Leicester would win the Premier League, the victories of Brexit and Trump, and that Ed Balls would be eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing. She has correctly predicted things you and others have done, including in situations just like this one, never once getting it wrong. It’s a remarkable track-record. So, what do you choose? Both boxes or just box B?
This is supposed to puzzle people. And puzzles that don’t seem to have a decent answer usually arise because they aren’t a decent question. Anyway, it originated with a physicist - a descendent of the brother of the famous Newcomb - and was popularised by Robert Nozick, and then Martin Gardener at the Scientific American. See where I’m going with this?

Suppose I say to a bookie: if I think Fancy Girl will win the 2:30, I will bet £100, and if I think Blue Boy will win, I will bet £50. His reply would be: all right which is it? I can’t place a bet that’s conditional on what I think will happen: the whole point of a bet is to pick one of the outcomes. The closest I can get to making a conditional bet is to put money on each outcome, and if the bookies are doing their job well, I will lose doing that.

What you want to do is this:
If I chose Box B alone, she will have predicted that and put the cheque in it. But if I chose both boxes, she will have predicted that and not put the cheque in. So I should choose Box B.
This assumes what the Special Theory of Relativity tells us cannot happen, that a future event can cause a past one. So let’s try this:
If she predicted that I would chose Box B alone, then she put the cheque there, and I should choose it. If she predicted I would choose both boxes, then she wouldn’t have put the cheque in Box B, so I should choose both boxes, because at least I’ll get £1,000.
The catch is that doesn’t tell you what to do, since you don’t know what she predicted and so can’t detach the consequents from the conditionals. The next one is silly...
If she predicted that I would chose Box B, then she put the cheque there and I should choose it. If she predicted I would choose both boxes, then she wouldn’t have put the cheque in Box B, so I should not choose both boxes, only Box B
That sounds good, but since there’s no cheque in Box B, you get nothing. But what you were going to do was this:
Suppose I choose Box B. Since her predictions are perfect, she predicted that and the cheque is there. But if I choose both boxes, again since her predictions are perfect, the acheque isn’t there. So I choose Box B.
This doesn’t require backwards-causality, but it does require someone to ensure the predictions are perfect. Russian hackers, presumably.(*) What we’re told is that she’s good, not that the game is rigged.(**) Now try this:
If she predicts Box B and I choose Both, I get the cheque. If she predicts Both and I choose B, I get nothing. If she predicts Both and I choose Both, I get £1,000. If she predicts B and I choose B, I get the cheque. So if she predicts B, I get the cheque no matter what I do, and if she predicts Both I lose if I choose B. So I take Both Boxes.
Those are the actual options assuming free will and imperfect predictions. The only way you get confused is to assume a) that her predictions are causal, or b) that your actions are temporally-backwards causal, or c) that someone is rigging the co-incidence between her predictions and your actions.

So how seriously you take her past performance on predictions? This starts to make it sound like we might want to use Bayesian Inference, and indeed the Wikipedia entry for this problem lists David Wolpert and Gregory Benford as having a Bayesian analysis that shows that the different arguments arise from different models of the assumptions, so that there isn’t a real paradox, just an old-fashioned ambiguity.

The real reason you choose both boxes In the Guardian’s example is this: it’s the only way you get anything. She’s a woman: the point was to get you to choose Box B, and now you have, by Briffault’s Second Corollary, she doesn’t have to give you the money, so she cancelled the cheque (***).

(*) Topical political joke.
(**) Another topical political joke.
(***) Robert Briffault

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Mathematical Joke

Why doesn't the Hamiltonian (operator) live in the suburbs?

Because it doesn't like to commute!

(Boom-tish!)

We're here all week folks!

(This was told me by a colleague at work, who says he made it up at university.)

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Sadness of Sixties Songs

I barely listen to the charts now, but the last time I did, most of the songs seemed to be about a) getting laid, b) getting high, c) how wonderful the singer thought his unstable, overweight girlfriend was. Or maybe I just heard too many songs written by Keisha and James Blunt.

Because we had real songs back when I was a lad at school. Oh yes. Like the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Suzy, in which the singer tells his girlfriend that they've overslept and their reputations are shot. Or Gary Puckett singing, on family US TV, about nearly getting tricked by some jail-bait into a statutory story.



Like that would get past the legal department now.

But mostly the songs were about unrequited love, loneliness, heartbreak and death. Ode to Billy Joe was a chart song and Bobby Gentry is loved for it. It's about the suicide of the singer's boyfriend and the callous reactions of her family.



Real family entertainment. These weren't indie cult songs. These were concert-hall filling acts whose records sold in the hundreds of thousands. This was what played on the radio and the juke-box. Mainstream.

The Seekers, a hugely popular Australian band, and as apple-pie as you could wish. Island of Dreams is about someone trying to forget a love affair on “the island of dreams”, and life in the real world cannot compare to the life there.



And as for the boppy escapism of A World of Our Own?



Traffic’s first hit single was Paper Sun in May 1967.



It’s the story of a young girl who winds up abandoned on the beach after a summer affair with a young man who spends all her money. That’s almost as upbeat as John Boorman’s 1965 masterpiece Catch Us If You Can, written by Peter Nichols (who went on to write other upbeat movies such as Five Easy Pieces), and is nowhere near as much fun as the song. Except that song isn’t really about fun, since the second verse says
Now we gotta run, mmmm-mm-mm
No more time for fun, mmmm-mm-mm
When we're gettin' angry, mmmm-mm-mm
We will yell with all of our might
Despite that, it reached number 5 in the UK and number 4 in the US in 1965.

One of the brightest, shiniest songs there is, The Happening, sung by The Supremes, was actually about the moment you find out that life is not a fairy tale, but is a little bit of a disappointment. That’s “the happening”. Check the lyrics.

Exhibt Two: The Hollies’ Bus Stop for one. They balanced that with the breezy Carrie Anne, who only went out with the older boys, had no time for the pining singer and has the immortal lines: “you lost your charm as you were ageing / where is your magic? Disappearing”. As for Stop Stop Stop, it’s about a man over-reacting to a stripper and being thrown out of the club. And in case you think Look Through Any Window is an upbeat celebration of everyday life, remember that the singer is inviting us to look through the window, so that we are on the inside looking out, and the singer is asking "Where do they go? / Moving on their way / Walking down the highway / And the by-way". Real life is out there, and we're behind the window.



What they hey was going on?

Regret, loss, sadness, emotionally distant, compromised lives lived far from an island of dreams are adult experiences. Don’t Sleep In The Subway is about a reasonably stable grown-up telling a more volatile one that whatever the row was over isn’t worth sleeping in the subway or standing in the pouring rain.



These were songs for adults dressed up with bright tunes and some sparkling misleading imagery. Films, songs and novels were still aimed at adults, since they made up the largest market. I grew up then, and one thing we were clear on: being a grown-up was no fun.

One function of culture is to provide us with emotions and thoughts we would not ordinarily have in our daily lives. If we are caught in a dull routine under grey skies, a sad song about an Island of Dreams can be as much a support or a means of escape as a jolly tune. If not more. It says there is something out there that is more and better, even if it is out of reach, and the idea of it can provide hope. If it is dangerous to feel sad about our actual lives, we can more safely feel sad about the distance between our lives and something easier and more pleasant. Nobody wants to be a full-time beach-bum, but if it's only for one summer, how bad could it be, when reality is a long bus-ride to a job in the town's only department store? At the end of Catch Us If You Can, the advertising mogul says to the runaway model "I got here in the end", and the model's reply is "Yes, but you missed the journey". If dull adulthood awaits us all, can't we have some fun on the way there?

And then we have Goffin and King’s 1966 song Going Back. Sung by Dusty Springfield, it takes on an emotional depth far beyond the music and lyrics.



Dusty sings with sadness and vulnerability that says she is choosing to return to the simpler feelings and truths of childhood because the compromises and isolation of adulthood have exhausted her. That's not the song that Carole King wrote. Going Back says that adulthood is not worth it. It's the song of a young person who has taken a look, had a brief taste, and cannot see any benefits. We cannot avoid growing older, but we can stay young in heart and mind, and see the world in simpler terms. That way we "can play the game of life to win" and "live our days / instead of counting our years". That was how my generation felt, and we were barely teenagers.

It turns out that the dreary adulthood of the Golden Age depends on some very specific economic conditions: near-full employment, job security, some opportunity for promotion, seniority-based pay scales, and the promise of a decent pension. With those you can trap people. And when everyone is living like that, one song can speak to millions. Under the present exact conditions of really existing Capitalism, we are broken up into economic micro-segments, each with its own fears and resources, each generating its own emotional needs and lacks, each unable to identify and act or feel in solidarity with the other, and each with its own special music to add to the highs and fill in the lows. One song cannot now speak to millions. But once it could.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

God Bless America - Viva Los Despicables!

I can remember Thatcher-Reagan. This feels like that, but it's about different things.

Thatcher-Reagan was about ideology, and May-Trump is going to be about practicality. Theresa May wants to go down in history as the ultimate professional politician, the first of a new breed, acting on behalf and in the interests of the electorate, not selling them out in the name of abstract elite ideals. Trump? Same thing.

This is about ending the rule of the technocrats and the dominance of a virtue-obssessed febrile liberalism driven by a hatred of regular (white) people. The Austrians have a Presidential election and the Italians are voting on constitutional reform in December. The Dutch have elections in March 2017, and the French start campaigning in April 2017 for elections in June 2017. There are more German State elections in the first half of 2017 and then a German General Election in October 2017 at the latest. By this time next year the European political world will look totally different and the EC technocrats  - the guys who, when it gets serious, tell lies - will look like 1980's hairstyles.

And it's around then that it will occur to everyone that the Brexit negotiations are not about what Britain gets and gives, but about what the new EU is going to look like.

And no matter what happens, capitalism will make money from it.

Monday, 7 November 2016

That Brexit Court Judgement Is All Just Part of The Plan

Are Teresa May and I the only people who understand what’s going on with the British political system and Article 50? Everyone is banging on about what a disaster it is that three judges have ruled that Parliament must vote, whereas that’s all part of the plan.

Of course the eurocrats wanted to rush the Conservatives into invoking A50 by royal prerogative. Then they could refuse to accept it at any point in the negotiations because their tame Euro Court had ruled on request that because the referendum was non-binding, the British Parliament had to vote on it. On the other hand, politics being what they are, May could not say that she wasn’t starting until Parliament had voted for it, because the arguments and posturing would have gone on for months, to be decided by a General Election. So by the same mechanism that gets some Private Members Bills through while others vanish, a legal action brought by a hairdresser and a banker gets fast-tracked and accepted. Because your barber knows who to call to start an action like this. Right? So now Parliament will have to vote, not because the Prime Minister has asked nicely but because the Law has told them to. How the MPs will vote is entirely up to their consciences and what the Whip’s Office decides.

The British negotiators will go into the room with a constitutionally solid backing and a remit to report everything to Parliament, who will then discuss it in public. This is the best thing that could happen to them. On the other side of the table is a Belgian lawyer who is used to having his negotiations covered by confidentiality clauses and has never had the press go after him. Any time he tries anything remotely dodgy, the British team can say that while they, no they can’t have secret talks, because they have to report the day’s proceedings to Parliament, and no they can’t do sell open borders for lower trade tariffs because the British people were quite clear they wanted border controls. The EU negotiators will have no such political support. They will have twenty-seven countries which have conflicting goals and will be unable to promise or deliver anything. The British negotiators will look like masters of decisiveness by comparison.

If anyone thinks that Britain is going to stop plundering the world of cheap labour and smart, socialised young people, they have to be crazy. Of course tourists, students and businessmen will be free to come to the UK. Of course builders and economics graduates who have job offers will be free to come to the UK. And more controversially for the workers who voted Leave, of course seasonal unskilled labourers will be let in. There’s no alternative in the short term. Who can’t come in for more than a holiday or a business trip? Anyone who doesn’t have a job.

It’s then up to the British government and British employers if they want to stop dumping large numbers of British-born people on the scrap-heap because it’s too much trouble to socialise them as children in schools and at work. The competitive advantage of Spain, Poland and a bunch of other countries is that they have better parents and better schools which raise better-socialised and more work-ready young people. That, bluntly, is not going to change in a generation.

Here’s what’s going to change: first, the UK will become legally sovereign again, EU laws won’t automatically apply and their courts won’t have jurisdiction; second, the UK will be legally able to secure its borders against un-wanted economic migrants and whomsoever else it deems undesirable; third, the UK will be be legally able to remove people it doesn’t want. Of course, none of the organisations responsible for any of this will have the practical capability to enforce it, so that Brick Lane will still be full of illegal Pakistani cooks and waiters, Midlands factories will still be staffed by under-paid temporary workers from Szeged and Cluj-Napoca, and gangmasters will continue to supply Norfolk farmers with cheap labour from farms around Starachowice. (If you care about bankers, sure, about fifty-seventy thousand jobs will leave the financial services sector in London, but almost none of those will be presently done by British people. All those Japanese and Indian banks will transfer their offices and staff to Frankfurt or Amsterdam.)

What no-one will tell you until they come to write their memoirs is that “everyone” in British politics and banking knew that the UK had to get out of the EU before the Euro destroyed it. There was no way of doing so without actually saying as much, which doesn’t bode well for any negotiations. So a reason had to be manufactured. The British political establishment had to stumble clumsily into Brexit. Which is way Nigel Farage and UKIP were treated as if they mattered. UKIP did get almost 13% of the votes in the 2015 election, even if that translated into only one MP. There was no reason to hold that referendum, but they did. And Remainers conducted a campaign of spectacular stupidity, doing the one thing guaranteed to turn the ornery British voter against them: they talked down to Leavers, and pulled Project Fear. Really? They couldn’t do better than that? Because I could. So could you. Saatchi’s certainly could have.

The catch is that “everyone” isn’t actually everyone. So a lot of people have to be brought onside. I’m surprised by how much allegedly smart people are still on the wrong side of history on this. I voted Remain, and I’m not ashamed to say it, and it took me less than an hour to understand what had happened. I’m with the Brexit because it’s going to happen and we had better get the best deal we can. Teresa May is with the Brexit because she’s a professional politician and negotiating a good deal is her job. If she does it well, she goes in the history books along with Margaret Thatcher. She’s been at the Home Office for several years and knows what the issues are. Oddly, the journalists and other Good People who are still deploring the Leave vote, and show it by their spin on the news, have not worked at the Home Office.

I’m writing this three days before the Trump-Clinton election. I think I know what’s going to happen, but I don’t want to bring down the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing.

Monday, 31 October 2016

That Uber Employment Judgement

"Uber loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed"

"Uber drivers win fight over over job rights"

One is the Guardian, home of all things Good and Decent. The other is that filthy rag of the capitalists, The Financial Times.

Which is which?

Uh-huh. That’s right. The one talking about a multi-billion dollar corporation losing its rights is….. The Guardian! It’s the FT that’s celebrating the workers’ victory.

The FT’s line isn’t as surprising as you might think. The FT is for investors and bankers, not faceless CEOs and managers. Uber is owned by its owners and some tech investors. These people might read the FT, but they aren’t its audience. The FT’s audience doesn’t actually like all these tech companies much: it prefers mining companies, oil companies, retailers, banks, car-makers and other such business that have actual assets, and are quoted on a proper stock exchange. Uber isn’t a quoted company, and the FT is about quoted companies. That’s what its readers can buy shares in. Private companies get mentioned for the sake of completeness and if they have plenty of outstanding bond issues. Uber is, as far as the FT is concerned, no different from the village garage. It’s just larger, incredibly loss-making, and very bad at making friends. The FT’s readers don’t consider platform operators like Uber and Air B’n B as real companies, and the sooner they go away, the better. So now you know why the FT was crowing about the workers’ victory.

But The Guardian? Oh woe is us. The Guardian thinks that Uber has a “right” to classify workers to its convenience. It’s hard to know if this is lazy writing, legal ignorance or a nasty ideology showing through. I’ll go for all three. Workers are classified as full-time, part-time or self-employed by the law, not by their employers. No corporation has any rights: only human beings have rights.

The Guardian is torn. Its urban elite staff benefit from the low prices and service of gig economy providers. They may even have friends whose children need to work these jobs because they cannot find a proper job. They may also know people who really do work these jobs to provide enough of an income to support their careers in the arts or music. It likes the idea that Uber and others are “disrupting” the present bunch of capitalists. The enemy of my enemy, after all. It’s been a long time since the Guardian was on the side of the workers.

Both papers quoted the same comments by the Tribunal judges, the lawyers and the unions. The real champions of the people here are Judge Anthony Snelson and his two colleagues on the Tribunal, who dismiss Uber’s claims with high elegance: “The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.” Uber “merited scepticism” for the "fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology” in its documentation. Go judges!

What neither paper has noticed is that nearly all radio cab firms work on this basis and have done for a long time. And how will this affect courier companies like DPD, who are no less keen to pass on all the costs to their owner-drivers.

I’m with the FT: real businesses own assets.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Simon Kuper: Traitor to the People

Simon Kuper has an article in the FT Magazine about driverless cars. Amongst other things he says “Over the next 20 years, the mostly low-skilled men who now drive trucks, taxis and buses will see their jobs decimated… If you thought Donald Trump was bad, wait for the next wave of male losers from modernity."

The Contempt is strong in this one. As is a total lack of any understanding of economics, business and engineering. He’s an anthropologist. I’m not going to discuss his vision of a driverless future. The man know nothing about rush hours, Poisson distributions, waiting times, school traffic, insurance liability, and the devil that is asset utilisation.

The reason he doesn’t is that he is a Good Person - notice the Donald Trump signal - and Good People don’t engage well with the real world (or they would be alt-Right-ers and conservatives). Notice the dripping contempt. The “mostly” in “the mostly low-skilled men who now drive trucks, taxis and buses” is so he can dodge comments about female trucks, buses and taxi drivers, and while the cab drivers in the Netherlands may rely on GPS, in London it’s very different. Black cab driving is a highly-skilled and literally brain-altering job. “Wait for the next wave of male losers from modernity”. Because the female losers will be silent?

The implication that “modernity” has resulted in waves of “male losers" is typical of a Good Person. “Male losers” since about 1970 have been created entirely by the failure of managements and governments to changes in the world economy. Faced with smaller, more fuel efficient cars from the East, how long was it before Detroit started producing what the market wanted? Uh. It didn’t. It moaned instead. Just as the job of government is to defend the borders of the country and advance the interests of the citizens, so the jobs of management is to change the products and services and re-train the people to meet and beat whatever the competition is doing. A government that opens its borders to one million unskilled young men of military age and foists them on every small town and village in the land is a failure and deserves to be damned in the next ballot and the history books. A management that throws up its hands and asays the customers don’t want what they make and they can’t compete at those wage rates is incompetent and deserves to spend the rest of its life on the dole queue, not enjoying a handsome pension. The job of leaders is to lead their followers to victory or at least from defeat, not to abandon them to the mud, wolves and thieves.

But no. Not in Professor Kuper’s world. In his world there are not treasonous politicians and self-serving managements. There is only the impersonal force of “modernity”, which, oddly, has very PC effects. If “modernity” created a mass of female losers, would Professor Kuper celebrate it then?

The article ends “[T]he smartphone…brought an epidemic of mass addiction. Let’s hope we can do a better job of handling the driverless car.” Ah yes, the usual 180-degree handbrake turn at the end of the article. They all do it. And the smartphone did not bring an "epidemic of mass addiction”. People always did dumb stuff before, the phone is a change of media, not dumbness. The smart people used to work on their papers and jot notes, now they work on their laptops or iPads-with-keyboard. The rest of the world read dumb books and now they read dumb Facebook or watch dumb TV.

Driverless cars are a concept. The spin-offs are in the precision of GPS, sensors and controls. Like Formula One technology reaching regular cars, driverless technology will reach regular cars as well. As for the whole no-accidents thing? You’re not old enough to remember when CDs were never going to slip, stick or lose data. But they were. How’s that working out for you?

All those cameras and sensors are mechanical things, as are printed circuit boards, and it all gets bounced, vibrated, shaken, heated up, frozen, expanded and contracted… Heck, the torque sensors on my Punto are playing up after twelve years and 50,000 miles, and those would be feeding into the self-driving software. As for the possibilities of hacking? If you think that anyone can make their car systems hack-proof, you need to read up on computer security. Yes, it really will be possible for hackers to stand on a motorway bridge and make your car swerve across three lanes while accelerating. (More fun and less dangerous than pouring oil on the road, so more likely.)

I’m seeing the use for an auto-pilot for motorways and main roads, but not some country back road off the B359 at night.


By contrast, the contempt of Good People for ordinary working men and women is not a concept. It is very real. It affects livelihoods, welfare budgets and everyone’s quality of life.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Mod

Recently I read Richard Weight’s best-selling book on the Mod Movement. I assume it was best-selling, since it was out on the tables at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. It’s one of those social history books that makes sense while you are reading it, but doesn’t quite hang together in the memory. Weight includes as 'Mod' a number of groups I don’t think belong there. Skinheads: nothing sharp, ironic or racially-tolerant about them. And Northern Soul Baggies are as non-Mod as anything that could be imagined. A lot of the cultural content he ascribes to the movement comes from a group of people who called themselves “Modernists” and went for jazz, continental cooking and design. I have a feeling those guys weren't grooving to Stax and popping uppers in Ham Yard Friday night. I have no idea what Neville Brody and Post-Modernism are doing in there either, even if Brody was a young Mod back in the day. Len Deighton’s creation Harry Palmer just about belongs, although I see Palmer as closer to the Nouvelle Vague and Godard’s louche anti-heroes.


However, this isn't the point. Weight's book is a good guide to some of the fringe groups of post 1960’s British Cultural History.

It leaves you with the sense there was and is a sensibility called Mod, and that it had to do with dressing sharp, liking black music, being racially-tolerant, with Vespa-riding as an option, rejecting mainstream ideas of career and jobs, and with a sprinkle of irony thrown in. But not much more. Misogyny. But then Weight has to say that, because he’s a Visiting Professor at Boston University, so he has to throw some ideological chum to the feminists.

The phrase everyone quotes to define Mod is from Peter Meadon: “clean living under difficult circumstances”. You may feel that since this was said by someone in the middle of drug use and nervous breakdowns, this is possibly a little rich, but let’s go with the words of the prophet and not his actions.

At the very least “clean living” means self-respect, or at least its outward show. Hence the sharp dressing, which is always good for outward show.

Here are some things that weren’t options in the 1960’s: junk food, super-sizing, sugar and soya in everything, snacking; couch-potato living, playing computer games for hours, sitting in office chairs for hours on end; staying up late watching television; central heating keeping your house at near-summer temperatures; wearing sports clothes on the high street; two hundred channels and nothing’s on; around one hundred and fifty genres of dance music; terraced houses in working-class areas that cost ten times median earnings; sending jobs to foreign countries; easy divorce; hours of soap operas on television; effective birth control for women; social media. More people did manual work, and all work was more manual. The entire country was closed on Wednesday afternoon and all day Sunday. Except for cinemas.

What would “clean living” mean now? It would mean resisting all those ways to turn into a slob. It would mean keeping fit, eating well, staying in shape, and not being distracted by social media or slouching in front of the TV. Add being informed about the new in whatever interests them. It would mean focussing on having a good time, getting done what needs to be done and not being drawn into random drama and outrage. Sound familiar? Exactly. Mod was a Man’s Movement. Girls were welcome, but they weren’t the point of all the sharp dressing, Vespa-decorating and dancing to Wilson Pickett.

That’s the insight Weight’s academic political correctness blinds him to. Throughout history, I suspect, there have always been men who simply have not seen the point of family life and producing offspring - though they probably produced offspring, since birth control was pretty haphazard. These men chose to live better than the family man. Whatever “better” meant back then. Mods were the post WW2 working-class take on that. That's why the skinheads and their offspring really don't belong in Mod. When the Mods faded away, leaving only Paul Weller and Paul Smith behind, there was nothing for over three decades until the internet-based self-improvement movement evolved from PUA. That's the real story.

Self-improvers are not Mods. Sharp dressing, and a particular style of it, is the core part of Mod identity. I never dressed that sharp, but I did prefer Stax and Tamla Motown when I was at school. My lot were too late for Mod. Or for Hippies. But I am, however late in life, a self-improver.

The book has a comment from a Mod girl about the Mod-Rocker fights. She recognised some of the Mods in the photographs. They were not the Faces she knew. The rioters were the boys in the lower streams and secondary moderns. The Mods she hung out with were much smarter and were going to pass their exams and have careers. (You could have a better career with five good O-levels then than you can with a junk degree now.) Weight half-absorbs the lesson of this. Mod was an elite, as self-improvement is now. Elite means elite, not hundreds of teenagers in parkas having a riot. Since he's not allowed to like elites, Weight has to conflate the rioters and the Faces, and that's what spoils the coherence of his story. In the end, the art-and-design Modernists just cannot be tied in with the Vespa-riding, pill-popping Mods. Every time he did it, I kept wanting it to work, but it doesn't. Paul Weller and Pete Townsend weren't Mods, for all the parkas, rounders and sharp suits. They were from the start, professional, dedicated and hugely talented musicians, who found in Mod a framework for their ideas. There's a difference between being the thing and being inspired by the thing. The caustic song "Substuitute" is at once man anthem and a critique. It depends how the listener reacts.


On the other hand it does give him something to write about the thirty year wasteland between the death of Mod and the growth of self-improvement.

If you really want to know what Mod was and how it felt, read the first two chapters of Tony Parsons' Limelight Blues. In fact, read the novel: it's Parsons’ best, and one of the best novels of the last quarter of the twentieth-century. Yes. Really. Here’s his protagonist David Lazar in full Mod righteousness:
They thought they were so special, the creeps on the team [at the advertising agency where Lazar works], but they reminded him of commuters. The suits of the men in the Tube made him smile. What was the point in wearing a suit if you looked like a sack of potatoes in it? They stared at him…and they hated him, because he wore a suit beautifully and for pleasure, and they wore a suit as a convict wears a fetter.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

My Second Favourite Video

Is Joe Jackson’s Stepping Out.

 

 Press play and enjoy.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Evolution and Culture Are Orthogonal

(Orthogonal = at right angles. Therefore changes in one do not bring about changes in another.)

Evolution cares about two things: that you breed and that some of the kids survive to reproduce themselves. It does not care who you are. The most ugly, ignorant, violent, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, wife-beating, child-molesting people can and usually do breed, sometimes prolifically with multiple partners. Evolution does not care. It does not care that the children grow up as the images of their parents. It only cares that those kids reproduce.

Evolution does not care if you painted the Mona Lisa. It does not care if you discovered penicillin. It does not care if you wrote The Golden Bowl or The Golden Bough or discovered the Golden Ratio. It does not care if you proved The Fundamental Theorem of Algebra or invented Set Theory. It does not care if you design dresses or skyscrapers, it does not care if you won the Indy 500 or the Wimbledon Men’s Final. It does not care if you are rich or poor, polite or an asshole. Evolution does not care about human culture, politics, science or morality.

The only dysfunction Evolution recognises is failure to breed.

(I am evolutionarily dysfunctional. Smart, pretty people often are.)

The Vulgar Evolutionists have a huge problem with evolution: they want it to be the explanation of the current human condition, and they want it to be a process that will guarantee that the present condition is not dysfunctional and the future development of the human race will be in a socially-approved direction. Accuse them of that directly and they will deny it. Read their books and articles you will get the unmistakable impression that’s what they are saying. They have an evo-explanation for everything: even when those things are opposites. Without the link between culture and evolution, evolution is just another natural macro-process and of rather less relevance than digestion, breathing or sexual reproduction.

But Darwin said that that sexual reproduction is an explicit evolutionary mechanism: the male proposes, the female disposes. Amongst peacocks at least. So far, so benign. At some stage Darwin or his publicist T H Huxley flipped the two around. The theory needed some window-dressing, and what could be better than the idea that well-brought-up Victorian ladies were executing Evolution’s Will in their choice of partners? Generalise this to the underclass and you get a bracingly-nihilisitic view of human sexual choice, which actually flatters the middle-classes: whereas the underclass female chooses her mates for thuggery because that’s how you survive in the underclass, the middle-class female chooses hers for education, manners and culture, because that’s how you thrive in the middle-class. Evolution, culture and progress all wrapped up in a big bag of middle-class smug.

It's tosh because evolution is the name of an effect, of which sexual reproduction is a cause: there is no process of "evolution", as there is of the water cycle. What there is a change in the total gene pool of a species (DNA differs between individuals: the genes shared by all members of the species is the common pool and the genes possessed by at least one member of the species is the total pool): either completely or in the proportions. It doesn't matter how this change occurs, only that it does. Species of microbe can evolve very quickly when exposed to anti-biopics. The change is not brought about by the microbes somehow changing their DNA, but from microbes with the wrong DNA being killed, so that only resistant ones survive and reproduce. Members of the species that are not exposed to the antibiotic will not change. This is what evolution is. It’s a by-product of the ODTAA of history. Evolution is just One Damn Thing After Another. There’s no plan, and today’s fit might well be tomorrow’s loser.

The change in content and distribution of the total gene pool of a species is brought about by many mechanisms: sexual reproduction is one, and typhoons, storms, droughts, harvests of plenty, harsh winters, plagues, flu epidemics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic baking-hot summers and any other extreme natural events are others working to cull the weak, if the weakness is has a genetic cause. Longer-term mechanisms are changes in crops, plants, predators, pests, diseases and climate conditions. Animals breed, and Nature lets them know which ones will survive.

So evo-psycho gets it exactly backwards. Evolution does not cause traits in female mate-selection: traits in female mate-selection cause changes in the content and distribution of the total gene pool of the species, and If it persists, that's evolution. Women don't make the choices they make because they are aiming for evolutionary success (breeding children who breed): they make their choices based on whatever random reasons made sense to them at the time ("muscles", "steady job", "great cocaine", "I want a baby”) and if those choices are awful then if we're lucky their children won't go on to breed, and if we're unlucky, they will. The mechanisms that cause total gene pool change do not select the fit, but cull the weak.

That's why Darwin needed the PR.

That's why the human condition is unchanging: human tribes and organisation have no basis in DNA. (And if it did, nobody would be allowed to say so.) Evolution cannot cull for assholes, because assholes are made, not born. Evolution cannot cull for fat and ugly, because fat and ugly can reproduce - even if no-one wants to know how. It cannot cull for crazy women, because a crazy woman who wants children can fool a gullible man for long enough to get the job done, and then live off the court-mandated child support. It cannot cull for good-looking playboys who won't commit because, well, you know why. It can cull for sane, smart and pretty, because sane, smart, pretty people tend not to have children if they can avoid it. It cannot promote cultural competency - even the Bachs and Bernoullis only lasted a couple of generations. Families with generations of influential and culturally contributing children tend to have strong traditions and to be well-integrated into the upper-class. Culture, not DNA, promotes culture.

This may be why the human race is so darn successful (aka "over-runs the world"): the cultural variation needed to make a society resilaint to attack is not caused by DNA that can be bred out, or on the other hand, swamp the other traits and produce a race of assholes or wimps.

All these thoughts were triggered by reading this article, recommended by Scott Adams. I drew the exact opposite conclusions that he did. He thought that the article talked about a proof that evolution trumps everything. Reading it, I realised evolution has nothing to do with anything except breeding, and that life is about a lot more than breeding. Often so much more that breeding becomes a distraction. That may not be evolutionarily successful, but then who wants to be a success at something you have to be smart and self-controlled not to do?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Why Grow Up? Susan Neiman Doesn’t Quite Explain Why.

Susan Neiman is an American academic who may still be suffering the trauma of having both John Rawls and Stanley Cavell supervise her PhD. She’s pretty darn highbrow, as many well-published American philosophers are. She says she read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason right the way through, unlike Lord Bertrand Russell OM FRS who fell asleep before the end. (I’ve had a crack at it and usually went away to read Hegel instead. Hegel is much more fun. I’m personally fairly sure that Lord Russell had the right idea.)

Neiman’s book is in a long tradition of American philosophising in which problems are discussed not in their own right, as a legal thinker, policy-maker, economist or other practical type might do, but through the lens of the thoughts of one or other of the Big Names. A praxis-oriented thinker would state the problem, throw some facts and concepts at it, and propose a solution. In a footnote they might then say that they swiped much of the proposal from a) Immanuel Kant, b) Jean-Jaques Rousseau, c) David Hume, just to ward off the cheap shots along the lines of “there’s nothing here that wasn’t already in Plato”. The praxis-oriented thinker takes inspiration from the past to understand a present problem. The American academic takes a current problem and uses it to understand the Great Works. It’s kinda bass-ackward.

And when anyone starts on about “the Enlightenment”, as Neiman does, we can be fairly sure they are not addressing the real world, but some part of academia and a few mavens who can’t find meaning in their lives without God or Gaia to put it there for them. Moving on...

I’m going to be pedantic: to answer Neiman’s question, we must first know what it is to grow up, how it might be possible to avoid doing so, and why we should not avoid it.

So what do we mean by “Grow Up”? Susan Neiman can mean anything she likes, and does, once she’s introduced Rousseau, Hume, Kant and the Enlightenment. She means that one should learn to think for oneself and to "balance the is and the ought”, to accept that the world is imperfect, but not to fall into cynicism and carry on with one’s attempts to improve it, nor to fall into an urbane “It is what it is” resignation of any effort to change. That’s a balancing act, and it’s not for adolescents or people who have to focus on getting the next promotion so they can start to save for Alice and Ewan's school fees. But it doesn’t really mean much in terms of the weekly round of mundane activity. Does it mean I have to get married or have children or what? Though Neiman quotes Rousseau’s denunciation of people who don’t earn their own livings as rogues, it’s not actually clear she’s much on the side of having a job, especially since, she says, so many are pointless, boring, morally compromised and concerned with providing goods and services that distract people from a Meaningful Engagement With Others and with the ssues of their time. Yep. Neiman believes in the Good Old Days.

In The Good Old Days, people wore suits all the time, unless they were farmers, when they wore dungarees. In the Good Old Days, everyone had Meaningful Jobs in Communities to which people Belonged. Men and Women Got Married, and Toughed It Out when things got bad, and they had children, who were not indulged, were set to work as soon as they could toddle, and called everyone about a foot taller than them “Sir” or “Ma’am”. Unless the kids were Scamps, of course. There was Religion and Church Attendance and Sin. And then Bill Bernbach came along with his genius advertisements and lead all these Serious People away like the Pied Piper.

Utter tosh. The Good Old Days were horrible. Racism. Sexism. Child abuse everyone knew about but nobody spoke of. Spotty hygiene. Ghastly coffee and painful dentistry. Everyone smoked so the world was covered by a thin layer of nicotine. Smog that killed people, rigid border controls and nobody could take more than £50 out of the UK per holiday. That had to pay for the hotel, since there were no credit cards and cheques didn’t work. Yea the 1950's. Not.

The marriage-mortgage-children idea of “Growing Up” has vanished. It’s too expensive (house prices, school fees), too risky (divorce), and the world is too unstable. You can’t pay a thirty-year mortgage with a thirty-day job.

We have Grown Ups today, but they aren’t your great grandfather. A Grown-Up is someone who thinks through and accepts the consequences of their actions. Grown-Ups can choose the least-worst option in a situation we should never have got into and from which there is no right way out. Grown ups drive the kids home at the end of the day (metaphor alert). Grown-ups make decisions for themselves. Grown-ups take care of business. Grown-ups are practical, operate in the real world, and don’t always respect the delicate sensibilities of those with professionally-delicate sensibilities. Grown-up Do Deals and Get Stuff Done. Grown-Ups know how to use the system when it suits them, and how to dodge it when it doesn’t. Grown Ups know that circumstances trump principles. Most of all, Grown Ups can deal with the BS and not get disheartened or feel themselves compromised by doing so.

Who would not want to be this kind of grown-up? Someone whose profession requires them to pretend to delicate sensibilities; or who expects to be able to act on impulse and be excused for any awkward consequences; or who has to believe there is always a right way of doing things; or who can’t trust themselves to be able to drive the metaphorical kids home; someone who doesn’t trust themselves; or who welshes on a deal when they get their side of it; someone who doesn’t know the difference between a reason and an excuse. Someone who is not really suited to the rough-and-tumble of the political or commercial worlds, or any kind of competition. Someone who feels, for whatever reason, that they are entitled to be protected.

Today’s idea of a Grown Up abstracts from any particular economic or social organisation. Anyone in China or Tanzania would recognise this characterisation. Nieman couldn’t quite let go of the idea that being grown-up should have specific cultural requirements, but when she goes looking for some - jobs, travel - what she’s looking for isn’t there. Wisely, she stays away from making marriage and children compulsory. Which given that she’s the mother of three children is restraint beyond all expectation.

It’s possible you may want to have a go at reading Kant after reading Nieman’s book. Lie down and let the feeling pass.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

It’s The Simpatico, Not The People

Ed Latimore has a really good post in the "34 lessons I've learned from X" genre. It's well worth reading. I’d like to riff on this item:
People are the most important thing. No matter how much money you make or how good a time you are having, if you don’t have people you like to share it with then it really is meaningless. It is a special kind of torture to be around people but not really feel connected with them.
This is two unrelated points. Second one first.

It surely is a special kind of torture to be around people but not really feel connected with them. If you feel you should be connecting with them because you want to be one of that gang or because they seem to be having a great time. Otherwise you're just stuck with a bunch of people with whom you are not simpatico and being stuck with people like that is another special kind of torture.

As to the first point, there are some activities that don't make a lot of sense done on one's own. Playing (but not watching) any team sport, or playing in string quartets or other bands. Some things kinda necessarily involve people. Almost every other activity can be done alone, and the better practitioners often prefer to go solo. Ed Latimore isn’t talking about that though. He’s talking about “sharing experiences”.

“Sharing” experiences is a problematic idea. Consider a Cy Twombley painting, The School of Athens


Most people would see a series of meaningless scribbles. Over the years I’ve read a book on him, seen the exhibitions that came to the Tate and the Serpentine gallery, and it makes a little more sense to me, but there are people who can explain why it’s a great painting. Don’t even ask how much that would fetch at auction. Looking at a Twombley is not a shareable experience unless the on-lookers have very similar backgrounds in culture and education. What Ed Latimore is talking about is sharing-experiences-with-someone-a-lot-like-you, and I’m thinking that the real value there isn’t so much the experience as the being-with-someone-you-know-is-a-lot-like-you.

The older we get, the fewer people are like-us: we acquire a bunch of life events and experiences each one of which is shared by others, but very few people (very few = maybe two other people in the UK) has the combination, and it’s the combination that makes us who we are.

One of the skills a single person must learn to the point of reflex is being able to enjoy themselves on thier own: eat at the bar alone, read in the cafe alone, snooze on the beach alone, go to movies and galleries alone. Once he learns to appreciate cultural objects on his own, it seems strange having another person there. How do they add to his appreciation of the painting / movie / scenery / food/ whatever? Unless they are pretty damn special, they usually detract from it. He has to deal with their comments, boredom and need for attention.

There are people, of whom I am one, who have learned to treat the world as a giant art-exhibition-cum-obstacle-course. The obstacle course consists of finding and keeping jobs, clients, somewhere to live, something to eat, stuff to keep us warm, taxes, laws, regulations, HR policies, parking zones, and all that logistical / economic jazz. The art exhibition is everything else. It's there to be looked at, interacted with if it's one of those performance art or installation things, and otherwise appreciated and moved on from. People are both obstacle course and art-object. Then there are a handful of people who are actually people, becuase I have a history with them and they understand what I'm saying.

There's one little change I'd make to this piece of advice: Simpatico people are the most important thing. If you can't find those - and there is no guarantee you will, for many reasons - then learning to appreciate stuff without people to share it with is the next most important thing.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Why Your Sensible Friends Go In For Virtue Signalling

Your friend is a Good Person. Like you, he is not one of Donald’s Deplorables, he is not racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or Islamaphobic.

He has a decent job in a blue-chip company, lives in a nice part of town a mile away from the nearest public housing projects, watches art movies, read more than one book a year, and his friends don’t have football team logos tattooed on their bodies. He doesn’t come into contact with poor people, immigrants or other races. It’s not deliberate, it’s just how his life works out. It’s a function of his interests and cultural choices, which are pretty darn highbrow European.

Catch is… the bigot next door lives the exact same lifestyle as he does. She works in a blue-chip because blue-chips tend not to sacrifice performance for social justice, unlike the public sector, which does. She lives in a nice part of town because the estate agents know to say that a house in "under offer” when the wrong people want to look at it. She likes art movies as much because the audiences are much better behaved and the mainstream cinemas are full of diversities. She does read, but it’s right-wing politics and female pornography fantasy where the hero is always a straight white man. If she keeps her lip buttoned in polite society, nobody will know she really believes that Muslims should go home if they like Sharia law, that white women should not consort with black men, that queers should not parade in public and damn foreigners should not take jobs from decent folk.

There is nothing in the way they live that distinguishes them.

Your friend is wondering if he should like Mia Hansen-Love movies, because she does.

How can your friend distinguish himself from her? How can he show that his is not a well-cultured bigot? Without getting into arguments about Deplorable beliefs, which can rapidly get heated, and are often a clash between bigoted facts and Good wishes for a different world.

Enter a hundred campaigns suggesting he wear a badge, wrist-band or colour, to “show his support” (which might giving money, but rarely means giving time) for some edgy cause. He flashes the hash-tag (#NeverTrump, #giveyourmoneytowomen) or works in a code-word or phrase that other Good People will recognise. No need for any arguments with the oafs, or for actual good works, all he has to do is speak or wear the password.

The problems start when Goodness gets hi-jacked. It used to mean a broadly liberal tolerance for people on the rather large fringes of a rather narrow society - which Anglo countries had in the Good Old Days (aka the 1950’s, which weren't). As tolerance for minor deviance become normal, two things happened: first, the intolerant people who are left are the more extreme ones; and second, that in order to appear more tolerant and hence morally superior to the normal person, one has to champion ever greater deviance.

(That’s where transgender activism came from. As soon as Gay Pride went world-wide and politicians all over the civilised world marched in high heels along with it, the moral elites needed a new cause to shock the now-accepting bourgeoisie. Gay now being non-shocking and hence passe, transgender became the new thing.)

So that’s why your seemingly sensible colleagues make silly remarks about how STEM oppresses women, or donate to Breast Cancer when they are men. They want you to know they are Good People. And they want to be sure that you are a Good Person as well. Because they are leading lives that look indistiguishable to the Bigot Next Door.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Government’s Duty to Repatriate the Non-Contributing Non-Native

The conceptual problem many people have with forceable repatriation of unwanted immigrants is that a person’s nationality is not morally relevant. Plenty of people born in a country can’t or won’t make a living for themselves either, but are tolerated and even housed, clothed and fed by welfare. The mistake of this objection make is that repatriation is not done on the basis of nationality, but of contribution.

It is a moral duty of any resident in a country to pay their own way, usually by being employed and paying taxes. This duty is waived for extreme disabilities of birth or accident. Someone who will not work or lacks the skills and temperament to be employable is a free-loader. They are failing in one of their duties as a resident, and if they can be sent home, they should be. Their place can then be taken by someone willing to contribute. No country or community is under any obligation to take in and support people who are lazy, work-shy or who lack the skills and temperament to be usefully employable. Nor is any country under any obligation to train or to socialise adults from other countries who force themselves across its borders.

Castro may have been the first to export his criminals and psychiatric cases to the West as a form of warfare. The Russians certainly exported their Jewish criminals to Israel. The latest version has been the influx of vigorous young men of military age from the Maghreb and other Muslim countries into Europe. They are not refugees.

Real refugees are families with children: equal numbers of men and women and of all ages and classes. If the young Muslim men are in mortal danger, what has happened to their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and nieces? Why haven't these young men died defending their women? Because their sisters and mothers are in no danger. Which means the young men are in no danger either. Most have been sent by their families, villages or local governments to farm welfare benefits from Europe. By definition of the process, they are the least-skilled, the least-well-adjusted, the least valuable in their own countries. (And some, the criminal and the disruptive and the mentally-ill, were let loose by governments and warlords.)

No country, wealthy or poor, Occidental or Oriental, is under any obligation to take these young men. Indeed, any government is under an obligation, to its native population, to remove them.

Removing over a million vigorous young men by force would be a mis-use of the police and armed forces. Since they have been sent to farm welfare, they must not be paid welfare. (Fed and housed for humanity’s sake, but the bill comes off that country’s foreign aid budget.) The unskilled must not be offered jobs or training and they must be confined to camps, where they can sit and rot until they sign up to be sent home. If they try to escape, they can be deported as criminals. They were sent because they were the least useful people in their families and communities, and they can be sent back for the same reason. They are not the receiving country’s problem. They are the sending country’s problem. Their fate is not on the conscience of the receiving country.

Look carefully, and what the people are doing is letting these young men rot. Some are not, and more fool them, for all their good intentions. It is the first duty of any government to protect and advance the interests of its citizens. The British reminded its government of that duty recently. The Austrians, Americans, Germans, French, Dutch and many others will follow. We can only hope.

I have no problem with Westernised people coming to the West and wanting to work hard and do well. If they are not Westernised, they won't be productive, and so they won't be making any contributions.

Today, in Greece, an EU country, poor Greeks cannot afford bread even at 50 cents the loaf. There is a scheme where people with money can buy a loaf for a poor person who comes in later.

If there is any wealth to spare in the "rich" EU, maybe it should go to the Greeks, fellow EU members first. Or what is the point of being in the EU, or any other association?



Monday, 19 September 2016

The Official Theme Song of This Blog

A couple of Saturdays I spent the day doing bits, pieces, printing out some photographs to make a collage, and playing not a few Cameo videos on You Tube. This is now the official theme song of this blog. The dancing is terrific, especially the solo guy on stage doing those whirls.

 

If you’re not familiar with Cameo and the weird imagination of Larry Blackmon, search You Tube for “Cameo”, hook the iPad up to the TV and settle down for a treat.

I’m not living the single life portrayed in the video. Not with plastic stuck to my teeth and a daily routine that means I’m getting to sleep when most people are starting to do something indiscreet after one drink too many. And with this much grey hair.

But I’m living a single life. I don’t thank God in my morning prayers for not having made me a married man but that’s only because I don’t do morning prayers. I would if I did.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Burqinis and Astroturf

The Burqini, was created in 2004 by a Lebanese designer. How many women have been seen on French beaches wearing one? Very few. This summer, the designer's PR company sent a handful of women to the beaches of Nice and asked them to go paddling in a burqini. PR stunt. Call the Press, make an anonymous call to the Mayor’s office and maybe the Police.

The Mayor of Nice played along. He, along with many of his colleagues, needed some way to indicate to the ivory-tower politicians in Paris that he has genuine security concerns that he doesn't have the resources to address. And that it would be very useful if France didn't take any more of Angela's Army. So he picked on Mutual benefits for the Mayor and the designer. Bright green astroturf.

A simple provocation can rapidly become "the biggest story from Boston to Budapest”. Whenever we see a provocative story, we should ask: which PR agency or organisation arranged it? Whose cause does it publicise? Is it genuine grass or just astroturf? The presumption must always be that it's astroturf.