Monday, 20 July 2015

On games, brilliance and philosophy

Here are some thoughts inspired by this article, in which David Papineau asks why there are so few women in philosophy (a fair comparison being academic English literature or history).

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Who actually supports the EU?

Owen Jones wants to rebrand 'Brexit' as 'Lexit', the left-wing eurosceptic cause he sees the great and the good from George Monbiot to Caitlin Moran espousing. The story of Greece is not a story that shows the EU to be a harmless and reliable friend of the Left. So why should the Left be its friend?

Here is John Kay describing it as an imperialist project: "The empires of history have generally collapsed from overstretch, which led to restive populations on the peripheries, and then to doubts about the wisdom of the project in the home country itself. These symptoms are recognisable in Europe today." I detect no real sadness in his diagnosis or implied prognosis.

Here's the Economist in ironic mood: "the experts (which means economists) know better. The people are not wise enough to understand that a short-term stimulus will boost their long-term wealth; better to go ahead with it now, and have results prove the experts right. Of course, this argument (dubbed output legitimacy) is how the EU let too many countries into the euro, and ended up in this mess in the first place." 'Output legitimacy' - surely Orwell would consider that too horrible even for newspeak?

And here's Timothy Garton Ash speaking some sense: "The reality of European democracy remains national, and behind that truth is an even deeper fact: there is hardly any more of a European public sphere today than there was when I started studying and travelling in Europe 40 years ago." (I hope it is clear, Mr Garton Ash, that the 'who' in my headline means 'who in Britain'.)

None of these comments is unusual. Only Owen Jones is saying something a little new - and, as he points out, he is really resuscitating something old. But all of this leaves me wondering what the constituency is in Britain for the EU. Not necessarily the constituency in the sense of particular people, but rather the emotional constituency. Certainly not socialists, little Englanders or immigration-sceptics. If your family ties are to the Indian subcontinent, Africa or the Commonwealth then it will have no claim on your emotional sympathies. Is it the way of the future, the shining path to a bright new tomorrow? Not any more. Free-marketeers? Not nowadays. Pragmatists? No - where's the output legitimacy without the output? How many people feel 'European'? I bet TGA could fit them all in his drawing room. There are a large number of non-UK EU nationals in Britain who might be worried about their immigration status if Brexit took place, but if they were given the right assurances, would they care about the principle? (And is it really for them to decide?)

The only emotional constituencies I can think of - the only reasons you would oppose Brexit with anything more than a feeling of fear of the alternative and a mustn't grumble shrug - are (a) dislike of Nigel Farage, (b) being Scottish and disliking government from London and (c) a nostalgic attachment to those years - say from 1975 to the Single European Act of 1986 - when 'Europe' was the future. Surely the Brexiters (and the Lexiters) have more of the emotional energy. I can well imagine it might be enough to shift the inertia of the bulk of the population into their camp.

Some striking sentences

1. What It’s Like to Face a 150 M.P.H. Tennis Serve. (A little video)

2. "I think that neural privacy is something we should worry about". I think so too.

3. "according to its eccentric creator, the majestic building is neither a chicken nor a church".

4. "If they want to get married at a gun range holding a big fat Uzi, far be it for me to keep them from it." And from the same story: "The only thing not allowed is a real shotgun wedding: Pregnant bride aren't allowed to shoot because of the sound reverberations from a MP-40 can negatively effect the unborn child."

5. "Both men and women erred in estimating what the opposite sex would find attractive. Men thought women would like a heavier stature than females reported they like, and women thought men would like women thinner than men reported they like."

6. "After somewhere in the neighborhood of ten billion games of Pac-Man had been played, Mitchell achieved the first ever perfect game. The very first thing he said: “I never have to play that damn game again.”" (I'll let you in on a secret: he didn't have to play it in the first place.)

7. "Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle." That "we" is the people of Seattle, Portland and so on in the Pacific Northwest: if you know your interstates, you might want to know that the "operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast."

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Tower Hamlets stole a Henry Moore statue - and got away with it

Well, sort of. This is the judgment. in short:

- The GLC had a Henry Moore sculpture - called 'Old Flo' - installed in Stepney.
- The GLC was abolished and the sculpture passed to the London Residuary Body.
- But Tower Hamlets Council seems to have thought it has passed to them instead.
- So they lent it to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where it stayed for 18 years.
- And now it is too late for the London Residuary Body (now Bromley council, for reasons that don't matter) to get it back. Their title has been extinguished and it belongs to Tower Hamlets.

In legal terminology it's a bit like what you hear referred to as "squatters' rights" or "adverse possession", but the strictly correct term for it is "chutzpah".

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Things that went wrong

1. The palaces of African dictators.

2. Virtual reality in the 1990s. "After Dactyl Nightmare players, convinced they were being carried 20 feet into the air by a killer pterodactyl, fell to the ground, the company installed padded rings around the machines." But that was just a teething problem. PlayStations were worse.

3.  My Dad Tried to Tame a Wolf. The headline tells you just what to expect. "I was afraid of Dusty after the glove incident, but I hadn't learned my lesson. He was so beautiful. The way he howled at the moon was art, and I wanted him to love me like he loved my dad." The people who first domesticated dogs, horses and cows must have been pretty odd too.

4. Greece. But here is an interesting little glimpse into the once (and perhaps future) fightback plan: "Everybody knew what a fight would mean. ... They would "requisition" the Bank of Greece and sack the governor under emergency national laws. The estimated €17bn of reserves still stashed away in various branches of the central bank would be seized. They would issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOUs denominated in euros to keep the banking system afloat, backed by an appeal to the European Court of Justice to throw the other side off balance, all the while asserting Greece's full legal rights as a member of the eurozone. If the creditors forced Grexit, they - not Greece - would be acting illegally, with implications for tort contracts in London, New York and even Frankfurt. ..." Meanwhile, Varoufakis intends to "wear the creditors’ loathing with pride", he says. Wrong but Wromatic? Perhaps, but Piketty says: "When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations."

5. Possibly America? Here is Charles Murray advocating "massive, systematic civil disobedience" as a cure.

6. Finally I am shoehorning in this, the Ballard of Steinbjørn Jacobsen, which is about a trip that did not really go wrong, although at times it looked as if it might. A Faeroese poet meets the great and good of US academia, and the mini-bar, answering questions about Gawain and the Green Knight with a children's story about a snow-white kitty.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Is there any chance this is a spoof?

Not the fantastic "relocate the people of Hong Kong to Northern Ireland" plan, but this.

It's by Jess Phillips, MP (Labour) for Birmingham Yardley. She seems to have had an odd mother ("my mom, the mother of three sons, and me her only daughter, whispered in my ear every day from birth, 'there's nothing they can do that you can't'" - every day?), but she's a grown up now.

The story is this. The Opposition tabled a motion "to task the Equalities and Human Rights Commission with performing an 'Annual Equal Pay Check' to collate and analyse information published and recommend actions to ensure we close the gender pay gap this generation". They lost the vote. And then Phillips got upset. She writes: "When the votes were declared and we lost, I lost it. And Nicky Morgan laughed at me. She stared across and gloated because I was upset. But I remain unapologetically upset. Maybe if she had wiped the blood off a women who was left for dead she wouldn't laugh." Whoa there! Where did all that blood come from? Lack of gender pay gap information collation?

Phillips concludes: "Today I shall sit in the cupboard in Parliament where Emily Wilding Davison the suffragette hid to show her worth. I shall whisper, "there's nothing you can't do." Then I'll step out in to that fancy Palace of Westminster and know that those around me think I don't matter quite so much." I really hope Morgan doesn't catch Phillips whispering to herself in a cupboard - she'll just laugh even louder, and then I dread to think how upset Phillips will be.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hillary Clinton on David Cameron - "wacky"; on D Miliband - "sorry"

Some of her emails are here. I searched for "Cameron" and got some moderate gems (see below). I am pretty sure that Clinton calls Cameron "wacky", but you can read the email yourself below. And she felt sorry for David Miliband in 2009, when a number of people were out to get him.

For anyone interested in reading the searchable private emails of one of the most powerful people in the world in modern times, this is a great resource. You can follow the ups and downs of Tony Blair's attempt to become President of Europe. You can .... well, I leave it to you.