Please drink, gamble and fornicate responsibly

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Japan, China: the sun also sets

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning"

Pic source: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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


READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Assange and a coop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________

11 August 2010

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

14 August 2010

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

17 August 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lying about lines



This widely-known experiment originally devised by Solomon Asch is usually presented as demonstrating the power of group conformity. A brief review of the experiment can be found here.

Does the experiment demonstrate conformity?

Yes but one could also turn it around and say it demonstrates the power of lying. Each experimental collaborator lied to the subject about how they perceived those line lengths. Lying about lines was crucial to the experimental design. So Asch’s experiment also demonstrated the dynamics of group lying, how certain situations may persuade some people to assent to the most obvious lie, in spite of the evidence of their own eyes.

Were the subjects lying to themselves as well as the rest of the group?

Afterwards the subjects were interviewed and those who made false responses gave various reasons for doing so. They presumably knew they were giving false responses even though they were participating in an experiment. For all they knew, their false responses might have ruined the experiment, but still they lied.

Did they really know they were giving false responses? If so what do we mean by “know”? What we observe is that in different circumstances these subjects exhibited different behaviour. In the interviews they admitted their responses were false – different circumstances, different behaviour. That’s all we observe.

So what would we say if the subjects had never been interviewed afterwards, if the different circumstances had never occurred? In a sense it doesn’t matter because what we are interested in is the behaviour, not hypothetical possibilities going on inside the subject’s head.

We are social animals and a group’s preferred modes of language and behaviour may exert a powerful hold on its members even to the extent of lying to the rest of the world. When we add in the endlessly subtle and deceptive resources language has to offer, how even the most blatant distortions can be obscured by evasive words and phrases, then it is easy enough to see how lying can become a feature of any group. Even those with a diffuse international membership.

EU referendum anyone?

READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

1975: we were warned

Tony Benn, 27 May 1975

Congratulations and thanks to The Boiling Frog for scanning a 1976 study of the previous year's Common Market referendum. What is clear is that the sovereignty issue was buried in a heap of other, more temporary concerns (including the oil crisis and inflation), and biased and personalized media coverage.

Plus a consciousness among the media bods of the risk of boring the voters, which opens another debate on whether democracy is really able to deal with complex matters.

Back to bias: Peter Hitchens has pointed out the way the Yes and No pamphlets differed in their treatment:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/08/the-1975-common-market-referendum-campaign-documents.html

- but that the truth was there if we cared to look closely:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/08/there-was-no-excuse-for-thinking-the-common-market-was-just-a-free-trade-group-in-1975.html

... which was even less obvious in the 1970 General Election that preceded Heath's move to get us into "Europe":

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/08/what-the-main-party-manifestoes-said-about-europe-in-1970.html

I wonder whether the campaigns and coverage will be any better in the lead-up to the promised 2017 Referendum?


READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

No black scorpion


But if you ask me what is the good of man, I cannot mention to you anything else than that it is a certain disposition of the will with respect to appearances. 
Epictetus

Many dreadful events unfolded in the nineteen thirties, events which changed the world, but something else was unfolding too, a certain pragmatic clarity of outlook with more subtle consequences. Or perhaps there were no consequences at all. Perhaps that’s the point.

No black scorpion.
In 1934 behaviourist B F Skinner attended a dinner where he sat next to philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. After Skinner had explained his work on behaviour to the great man, Whitehead remarked “Let me see you account for my behaviour as I sit here saying ‘no black scorpion is falling upon this table.’”

Next morning Skinner began work on his book Verbal Behavior, in his view his most important book. An account of language in terms of stimulus, response and reinforcement, it took him twenty years.

Language, Truth and Logic.
In 1936 philosopher A J Ayer published Language, Truth and Logic, a short and accessible philosophy book which rattled the teeth of the staid world of philosophy. In later years Ayer rejected much of it as wrong, yet for most of us it is near enough, a starting point, an engaging account of what makes sense and what doesn’t, what a personal philosophy can do for us and what it cannot do.


Skinner was 30 and Ayer 25. Young and keen as mustard. Both were empiricist in outlook, believing that what we know of the world is mainly derived from what is observable. Both were interested in the way we use language, knowing how deceptive it can be. Skinner was interested in how we use language to mould our personal and collective behaviour, Ayer in how we use it to deceive ourselves and others.

Unfortunately there is a problem with the essentially straightforward approaches used by both men to tackle the endless complexities of the human situation. Vested interests, hierarchies, the power of politics, authority, academia, status and money all benefit from otherwise pointless complexities.

There is another glass ceiling apart from the one we hear so much about these days. Cause and effect are all very well in their place, but allowing such ideas onto the hallowed ground of politics and power is a different matter. Everything would have to change. Everything would have to adapt, to accommodate the cold blue light of reason emanating from even the lowliest peasant, from even their children. Whatever next?

When Ayer and Skinner were young men, science, engineering money and optimism were helping to transform their world into what appeared to be a better place, not merely physically better but intellectually better too. The stultifying deference of centuries appeared to be crumbling away before an onslaught of merit, education, curiosity and cool reason.

Perhaps the onslaught still goes on at a slower pace, but the horrors of war intervened, diverted our attention into less useful directions. Other imperatives and influences choked off anything which might damage the status quo. The imbecilities of popular culture began to take hold. The mindless thump, thump of popular music, mawkish sentiment, idiot lyrics and faux rebellion.

The embarrassing crassness of celebrity culture grew and grew as mass communication grew and grew, as the technology of influence became cheaper and cheaper. An endless diet of dumb piped into almost every home via millions of radios and televisions.

Ayer and Skinner were revolutionaries in their way. If we had listened, if we’d absorbed the essence of their message then perhaps in time we’d have learned to control the world. But we didn’t. And we won’t because of the sheer weight of pressure to bend the metaphorical knee, swill the beer and dance round the maypole just as our medieval forebears did.

Democracy and mass education went nowhere because how could they go anywhere? The peasants would have to get up off their knees, throw aside the beer mug, burn the maypole and that would never do. So we have cheap wine instead of beer, cheap food, cheap jobs, expensive homes and mass voting instead of democracy. Maybe our suspicions should have been aroused as the franchise grew because surely a vote wasn’t worth anything if millions could have it for nowt.

As for education, no doubt it serves its purpose but we aren’t about to teach the radical stuff which so enthused Ayer and Skinner eighty years ago. We aren’t about to teach kids how to think clearly, how to slice through the mental shackles because in the end it still doesn’t suit the way we are, the way we seem content to remain.

Behavior used to be reinforced by great deprivation; if people weren't hungry, they wouldn't work. Now we are committed to feeding people whether they work or not. Nor is money as great a reinforcer as it once was. People no longer work for punitive reasons, yet our culture offers no new satisfactions.
B F Skinner

It seems that I have spent my entire time trying to make life more rational and that it was all wasted effort.
A J Ayer

READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Education

Look at the first five minutes of this (thanks so much, JD) (for the impatient, from c. 3:30 on):

Mother told by her father to sacrifice everything for a good education for her children... 1944 Education Act... grammar school... competitive ethos... grant to go to University... free public access to museums and art galleries...

Sir Roy Strong - son of a commercial traveller... Sir Peter Hall - son of a railway station master...



READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Drugs, games and talent

"90% of the adults I know are on drugs because of what they think is the normal stress of life. Here I am counting the doctor-prescribed meds, the binge-drinking on weekends, the medical marijuana, porn, tobacco, wine before dinner, or even the exercise addiction that gooses the body to release feel-good chemistry." - Scott Adams: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/127569040096/digital-distraction-syndrome#ixzz3juvGloFN

Dumb kids go for drugs, my brother tells me, but modern temptations - e.g. computer-based role-playing games - trap the bright ones. His daughter knows several lads who were thrown out of college because RPG stopped them working.

Actually I think clever kids go for drugs and booze and all the other vices, too. Horace's "Genus irritabile vatum" (which I would paraphrase as "excitable creative types") often try to fight fire with fire, adding more stimulation to an already over-stimulated mind. Writers are infamous for the indulgences that have often burned up their gifts.

A combination of academic dilution and anti-elitism, with a cornucopia of distractions for the young, could lead to poor harvests of the talent we need to sustain our civilisation.


READER: PLEASE CLICK THE REACTION BELOW - THANKS!

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.