I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years. I tend to dip into chapters now and again but I only recently realised it was available on the Kindle, which made it convenient enough to be my daily read. As a result I am rediscovering the way various strands of the plot weave together so elegantly.
I was also minded to dip into the large collection of supplementary material that is now available. I stumbled across this, from letter 52, written to his son on 29 November 1943:
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King Gerorge’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
I should have included this in my post about how language affects thought. And I am wondering to what extent reading Tolkien as a child led to my ending up here. And it has just occurred to me that I was introduced to The Hobbit by the same English teacher who lent me a copy of 1984 (which I did not return).
I was somewhat surprised to learn about the possibility of taking complete control of a Jeep Cherokee using a laptop and a mobile phone. It seems as if the car makers have added software features to their cars without properly understanding how to make them secure. I work with embedded software that merely has to prevent movies from being copied. If the hacking methods described by Wired are accurate, there are some quite obvious precautions we take that the makers of Jeeps appear not to. I am glad not to be working on life or death software; I expect more from people who do.
Nonetheless, this should all be fixed soon.
Carmakers who failed to heed polite warnings in 2011 now face the possibility of a public dump of their vehicles’ security flaws. The result could be product recalls or even civil suits, says UCSD computer science professor Stefan Savage, who worked on the 2011 study. Earlier this month, in fact, Range Rover issued a recall to fix a software security flaw that could be used to unlock vehicles’ doors. “Imagine going up against a class-action lawyer after Anonymous decides it would be fun to brick all the Jeep Cherokees in California,” Savage says.
Free speech and free markets seem to be working, then. Which makes this seem unnecessary:
It’s the latest in a series of revelations from the two hackers that have spooked the automotive industry and even helped to inspire legislation; WIRED has learned that senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal plan to introduce an automotive security bill today to set new digital security standards for cars and trucks, first sparked when Markey took note of Miller and Valasek’s work in 2013.
As an auto-hacking antidote, the bill couldn’t be timelier.
Meh. It sounds to me more like the government has come along after the problem is already being solved to take the credit. I suspect such a bill will end up protecting car makers from civil suits if they merely have to show they have complied with inevitably flawed regulations.
I’m sure Netflix is more popular than any politician
So says “Kilroy”, commenting on a DSL Reports post about Netflix being charged a 9% amusement tax by the City of Chicago. He suggests that Netflix should just stop selling services to people in Chicago and instead direct them to their local lawmakers. If it happened it would be a fine example of a company refusing to cave in, but it is unlikely. According to The Verge, “Netflix says it’s already making arrangements to add the tax to the cost charged to its Chicago customers.”
According to Ars Technica, what might stop this are conflicting federal telecommunications laws.
On Reddit someone pointed out that this is rather in conflict with the idea of net neutrality.
A side discussion on Reddit is about the extent to which companies can shop around for cities with favourable laws. Someone said, “see Detroit“. Did business move out of Detroit because of unfavourable laws and taxes?
I am often disappointed when a company apologises or pulls an ad campaign after receiving complaints. Paul Marks recently called this “corporate cowardice”. According to Martin Daubney on Breitbart London, things might be about to change. Fighting back against such criticism seems to be good for business. This story has everything: capitalism, SJW-trolling and even girls in bikinis. Via Eric Raymond’s Google Plus feed.
Here is the current draft of a letter I am considering sending to the head teacher of my son’s school.
I am writing to share some thoughts about the upcoming Wear It Wild day and similar events. There is a good chance that none of this is news to you, but I want to make sure because I do not think that communication to schools from the Worldwide Fund for Nature conveys the whole truth about that organisation.
I am sure that on “Wear it Wild” day the children will have lots of fun at school and learn a lot.
However, while helping animals in need is uncontroversial, the Worldwide Fund for Nature is a political organisation and its ideas and methods are not.
The WWF espouses a particular worldview, philosophy, moral outlook and political agenda. The organisation lobbies governments. As a small example, before the UK general election they published a report entitled “Greening the machinery of government: mainstreaming environmental objectives”, which is currently available from their website under “About WWF” / “News” / “Make the government machine go green“.
This report reads like a party political manifesto. It contains recommendations about the role of the state, the structuring of the economy, the allocation of resources, the redistribution of wealth and the regulation of industry.
All this means that it is reasonable for people to disagree with the objectives and teachings of the WWF.
Wear It Wild is a very clever piece of public relations. Children are encouraged to dress up in return for what a recent text message from the school describes as a “suggested donation”. Since no child wants to be left out, this strategy relies on peer pressure, leaving no real room to opt out.
While I am not suggesting that the school should not participate in such events, I do have some ideas about how they might be treated:
- I hope that the school treats organisations such as the WWF with due criticism and skepticism, in the same way that, while visits to and from industry are educational, National Coca Cola Day would be treated with criticism and skepticism.
- I hope that ideas and information from the WWF are filtered before they reach the children by teachers who are aware of the nature of their origin.
- I hope that primary-school-aged children are not made to worry unduly about how terrible the world is because it is full of evil people who are deliberately destroying nature. I am not intending to exaggerate but rather am predicting how my five-year-old son is likely to interpret simplified explanations of some of the WWF’s communication. For example, without due care, what the WWF calls “habitat destruction” and might be described by others as farmers trying to earn a living and to feed their neighbours, could be described by my son as “baddies hurting tigers”.
- In future communications to parents about similar events, please stress that donations are voluntary and that participation is not dependent upon them.
Please take my ideas and concerns into consideration in this and future dealings with outside organisations.
I recently returned from a family holiday in a rented cottage. A nice thing about staying in such places is poking around in the bookshelves, and having time to read random books. I ended up reading aloud to my son Five On a Secret Trail by Enid Blyton, partly for the nostalgia.
The Internet didn’t exist when I first read Enid Blyton, so I know little about her but vague memories of adventure stories. Obviously I ended up looking her up on Wikipedia, and boy, is that page a hoot.
Blyton’s work became increasingly controversial among literary critics, teachers and parents from the 1950s onwards, because of the alleged unchallenging nature of her writing and the themes of her books
This sounds like fun, and it is.
Many of her books were critically assessed by teachers and librarians, deemed unfit for children to read, and removed from syllabuses and public libraries.
From the 1930s to the 1950s the BBC operated a de facto ban on dramatising Blyton’s books for radio, considering her to be a “second-rater” whose work was without literary merit.
By now I am very much starting to like Enid Blyton. Literary critics and the BBC hate her: this is strong praise in my book.
Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate from 2007 until 2009, wrote that “I find myself flinching at occasional bursts of snobbery and the assumed level of privilege of the children and families in the books.” The children’s author Anne Fine presented an overview of the concerns about Blyton’s work and responses to them on BBC Radio 4 in November 2008, in which she noted the “drip, drip, drip of disapproval” associated with the books.
Fred Inglis considers Blyton’s books to be technically easy to read, but to also be “emotionally and cognitively easy”. He mentions that the psychologist Michael Woods believed that Blyton was different from many other older authors writing for children in that she seemed untroubled by presenting them with a world that differed from reality. Woods surmised that Blyton “was a child, she thought as a child, and wrote as a child … the basic feeling is essentially pre-adolescent … Enid Blyton has no moral dilemmas … Inevitably Enid Blyton was labelled by rumour a child-hater. If true, such a fact should come as no surprise to us, for as a child herself all other children can be nothing but rivals for her.” Inglis argues though that Blyton was clearly devoted to children and put an enormous amount of energy into her work, with a powerful belief in “representing the crude moral diagrams and garish fantasies of a readership”.
In other words, Blyton writes about children having adventures with goodies and baddies and it’s all jolly good fun, and the protagonists are middle class to boot. Literary critics hate that, and I rather like it. I also like the portrayal of children as independent and capable. In Secret Trail, George goes off camping on her own and her parents are unconcerned. The children suspect they are onto some criminals and they investigate instead of running for help. Someone complains of a broken ankle and Julian does not call an ambulance, he diagnoses it as just a sprain. Jolly good stuff.
Eric Raymond writes of literary criticism being at odds with good science fiction:
Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.
People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.
We do not want character development and moral dilemmas, we want adventure and sense of wonder. I can always spot a good SF read when the Amazon reviews are all complaining about two dimensional characters. Enid Blyton’s critics are unwittingly recommending her in the same way. My son wants to hear about camping in thunderstorms, hidden caves and mysterious ruined cottages.
There are also complaints of sexism and all the other isms. On the subject of the former in fiction, John C Wright (whose Golden Oecumene trilogy I reviewed, and, as I discovered Googling for that link, Brian Micklethwait received email about back in 2004) has interesting things to say.
I find myself being exhorted, by various Facebook friends who think they are being clever, to “vote or STFU“. Apparently, the right to vote is rare and precious, should not be wasted, and if I do not vote I lose the right to complain about the government.
This is all nonsense.
Firstly, nobody loses the right to complain about violence being initiated against them by anyone for any reason. Voting has nothing to do with it.
It is possible to dislike the policies of all candidates. In that case I am told I should vote for the least worst candidate. But this is not necessarily a good strategy. The least worst candidate might be evil, and win, and everyone will think they have a democratic mandate to do evil things. Low voter turnout could be a good thing, making governments nervous and full of self doubt.
My only alternative to voting, I am told, if I am so clever and don’t like any of the policies on offer, is to stand for election myself and find out how popular my own unique set of policies is. There are various problems with this. I am not a talented politician. Even if my policies were very popular, I would lose because of this. I have limited resources and wasting them on something I know I will fail at is pointless. I should spend my energies elsewhere doing something productive. And my policies are not popular. They are the correct policies, but the electorate still thinks that voting for other people’s money is in their best interests. Perhaps one day they will learn, and I hope to help them: there are more ways to be politically active than voting or standing in an election, such as spreading ideas or developing political strategy.
Finally, my vote is in any case statistically insignificant. Even if I didn’t live in a “safe seat”, the margin is unlikely to be 1. Even this blog post is more influential than my vote.
After a televised pre-election debate between UK opposition party leaders, I watched a political magazine programme called This Week on BBC One. I was pleased to hear former Conservative minister Michael Portillo repeat and reinforce to BBC viewers what might have been the only sense to come from the debate:
The other thing that struck me about the debate was the unreality of it all. The first question was from a young person who said, “you’re passing this enormous burden of debt to the next generation”, and Nigel Farage, in his own way, addressed that question. The others just kind of ignored it and started promising how much more money they were going to spend.
And this idea that we’re living under austerity — it was Nigel Farage, actually, who made the point — that the national debt has doubled during this government. Each year the government spends on us £90 billion more than it raises from us and the rest is passed to the next generations to pay back.
And I think the reason Nigel Farage reacted in the way that he did to the audience, whether he was wise to do so or not, was that every time somebody talked about spending more money there were great cheers, and every time someone tried to talk about reality there was stony silence.
Yes, people seem very keen to vote themselves other people’s money.
Libertarians on Reddit are calling out an executive order from Obama that appears to allow the federal government to seize property from anyone who donates money to anyone that the federal government does not like. The New York Times makes it sound far more reasonable and mundane.
How bad is it?
I was ill recently. In the end it was “just a virus” but I had symptoms enough one Saturday that I braved the local NHS walk-in centre. This is where you end up if you have the bad manners to get ill on a weekend.
It was functional, in its way. I was told there would be an hour-and-a-half wait and that is what it was. There are no doctors, only nurses, but they are skilled enough to determine whether you are likely to survive until Monday, or so I imagine. But the economics of this kind of place are such that every body through the door is nothing but a drain on resources, and no-one is making any effort to conceal this fact.
Truly it is a miserable place to be. I do not expect a medical waiting room to be jolly, but I saw not the merest hint of a smile from any staff, and the receptionist was very grumpy about my address being out of date on her computer. There is no welcome; no sympathy; no bedside manner.
If you want to find a deep root cause of problems with the NHS, I submit the inevitable hatred of the staff for the burdensome customers.
Here is another piece of evidence: when I said “thank-you” to the nurse, she replied, “you’re welcome.”
From the end of a BBC news article:
More than 500 Britons are believed to have travelled to join IS.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the UK government’s position was “probably going to lead to accusations of double standards”.
He said if Britons went to Syria and were suspected of trying to join IS they would get their “collar felt at Heathrow” – but there “seems to be a silence about people going to fight on the other side”.
In episode two of Our Guy In India, truck mechanic and Isle of Man TT racer Guy Martin visits the biggest slum in Mumbai, Dharavi. He is surprised to find how nice it is.
Most of what we see of Dharavi in the programme appears well looked-after: clean and tidy and with lots of decoration. There is also a lot of commerce. The people are well dressed; the children well fed. There are refrigerators and large televisions. The walls and floors are decorated with “right fancy tiling”. Some residents are more middle-class than might be expected: Guy meets a man who works as a backing dancer, choreographer and dance teacher.
The narrator explains that Dharavi generates £300 million in trade per year, though I am not sure how this is measured. He goes on to say that 85% of residents have a job; that anyone can set up a business; only 3% of Indians pay income tax; and many slum businesses are (unsurprisingly) unregistered.
We see one business that grinds spices, another making tread plates for stairs, another selling phone calls (though mobile phones are more common). Guy visits the Children’s Education Society’s Banyan Tree English School, which the sign says is a computer education center authorised to teach a course called MS-CIT. Also available here are free medical checks and treatment for children under 12.
It’s not all good. Some areas are so densely built-up that it is dark at street level in the daytime, though we see inside a house here and it is not unpleasant. And there is no running water or sanitation, though people are managing somehow. I also suspect the programme does not show the worst of it. What I do see is life getting better for poor people in India.
The programme is currently viewable online, at least in the UK, though I do not know for how much longer.