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|Monday, June 22nd, 2015|
This is really insightful. Unfortunately it's split over several tweets starting from https://twitter.com/JWMason1/status/612960543524065280
, so I'm parking it here for my future reference.
(JW Mason is a reasonably credentialled economist, http://slackwire.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-j-w-mason.html
"Greece" is simply the label currently put on the underlying contradictions of euro project. Whether Greece "exits" or not, project remains allowing unlimited financial flows based on unanchored expectations of financial markets and then demanding that real productive activity and standards of living adjust to accommodate. And, since this would destroy society, stabilizing system with offsetting public flows, on conditions set by unaccountable authorities.
Something similar was going to be in my "Herald of Free Enterprise" thing that I never got around to writing. The argument was that the "Four freedoms" of the EU (people, goods, services and capital) suffer from both pooling effects (capital accumulates, people and businesses cluster into megacities) and sloshing
effects (capital flight, migrations of young people to find work leaving pensions unsustainable). The difference is like that between the open car deck of a RORO ferry and the sealed bulkheads of other ships: useful, but much easier to capsize and sink. While the ongoing Greece discussion is basically that the steerage passengers should not be allowed onto the first class deck despite the rising water levels as they haven't paid for the tickets. The Greek negotiating team have realised that their only negotiating card is a threat to scuttle the ship.
We're several years into "final, final deadlines". Eventually one of them really will be final, but there's no way to know in advance if this will be it.
|Tuesday, May 26th, 2015|
|And The Land Lay Still
I've been reading "And The Land Lay Still" on the bus, since I had it recommended as the definitive novel of Scottish nationalism. It's a substantial piece of work, certainly. It has a structure I recognize from science fiction novels, in that the characters exist to give life and motion to a world and a history, but the worldbuilding is the core point of the novel. It just happens to be a real place this time, and has not been done at the expense of warmth and humanity.
It also reminds me of the Tapestry of Scotland, in that it's an attempt to thread disparate history together for presentation to the public as a coherent whole from a series of vignettes. The author is excellent at evocative writing of place and time, although he occasionally leans on the fast-forward button and reels off a list of historical events flying by as we move forward a few years. He writes his Scotland into existence.
|Monday, April 6th, 2015|
|Not dead, just busy
Feel like I owe people a catchup, especially my Bostonian friends; last week I was on a "holiday" trip round the south of England which included a Eurovision concert, Tate Britain, a country house wedding, visiting my parents and various old friends, and an awful lot of running around between things.
|Monday, March 9th, 2015|
|Things not written due to lack of time
- political analogy for Europe involving MV Herald of Free Enterprise
- MP's pay and the long-term decline in recruitment quality, qv decline of Scottish labour
- anything about the Scottish ID database consultation, to which I actually managed to submit a letter
At home, more improvements: the solar panels are up on the roof and ticking away. "Build pi-based meter tracking system" has gone on the bottom of the round tuit list. Plans are afoot to put up a shed. I've booked a complex multi-leg travel arrangement to see my family and Colin's wedding over easter, but not made plans for the summer beyond that; maybe we'll make it to Nine Worlds this year.
The weather has just started to turn warm, ready to open the daffodils.
|Thursday, February 5th, 2015|
Further to that, we have a new paper up here. Yes, someone launched a daily printed physical newspaper in 2014. It has a frustratingly google-resistant name, the online section is subscriber-only and is some horrible PDFoid thing that's basically unreadable and certainly cannot be linked to. But it's pro-SNP and, unlike almost all the rest of the press, not very prone to fearmongering.
I'm still trying to work out what to make of it, while reading paper copies intermittently at lunch. It's closer to the Independent
than the Guardian
. They had a piece on Leon Brittan's death that I felt was a carefully written masterclass in libel avoidance; every statement hedged with sources, but the whole quite damning. In some ways it's an odd experience reading a newspaper that contains only reasonable things that I agree with. It lacks outrage fuel. While it's nominally leftwing I've also not noticed significant levels of knit-your-own-quinoa articles, language callouts, privilege checking, and other sorts of Guardian clickbait. Probably the lack of a comments section helps with that. It seems content to follow the news rather than trying to lead or drive it. I can't imagine how that will last; if it remains popular enough to stay in print it will be influential enough to be tempted to run a Campaign. Or someone will start using it as a vector for internal SNP politicking. We'll just have to see.
|Varoufakis by way of Tennyson
(not mine, this is from two comments http://crookedtimber.org/2015/02/03/greece-surplus-stimulus-strategy/#comment-607720
It little profits that an idle Greek
By this still economy, among these barren markets
Match’d with an evil troika , who mete and dole
Unequal laws unto our savage race
Who hoard, and sleep, and feed, and pay not debt.
Greatly, we suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loaned us, and alone, on shore.
. . . Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer deal.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The hounding Euros; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the market, and the wrath
Of all the western banks, until I die.
It may be that the Gulf will buy us up:
It may be we shall touch the Cayman Isles
And see the great Onassis, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved oil and cargo; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of expatriate wealth,
Made weak by various new reporting regulations, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to borrow, and not to yield.
At the Radical Independence conference in Glasgow were, among many others, speakers from SYRIZA. Following the indyref (lost) and the Catalan referendum (meaningless victory), they've actually managed to get elected. Now they find themselves trying to deliver. The conflict between whether Greece is run by its electorate or its creditors (or its creditor's electorates) is being forced. SYRIZA really don't have a lot of cards to play, and the ones they do have are self-destructive and illegal. French-style straightforward physical violence
is not yet on the table, but default-and-exit could be far more expensive than simply burning down a tax office.
I'm following this with avid interest, although nowhere near the level of horrible emotional intensity as the Indyref.
Meanwhile the SNP are looking at the wholesale collapse of the Scottish Labour vote and desperately trying not to have a "return to your constituencies and prepare for government" moment. It's less than 100 days to our own election which promises to be weird and chaotic.
|Friday, December 12th, 2014|
|Nimrod and Kinloss
Can't quite work out how to synthesize these stories, but there's an interesting thread:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-30434422
: Kinloss search-and-rescue closurehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Air_Force_Nimrod_XV230
The UK designs and builds the first jet airliner, the Comet, back in 1949. A few upgrades and 20 years later the same basic design becomes the Nimrod MR2 recon aircraft. And there it stays for thirty-seven years
, until eventually it catches fire and explodes in midair. In a spectacular bit of retroactive judgement, it's deemed to have been defective design all those years ago combined with neglect.
Why was the MR2 not replaced earlier? Well, the plan was to replace it with the MRA4 .. which was the same plane
, just refurbished to modern standards. This project had never got off the ground as it was discovered that the original airframes not only didn't match the design drawings but were all subtly different shapes and sizes as they were hand-built to 60s manufacturing tolerances. An approach which may have made sense when there was a need to churn out Wellington bombers in 24 hours from requisitioned furniture factories for an expected lifetime of a few dozen flights, but doesn't work for modern aviation or endurance recon. The MRA4 was eventually scrapped with extreme prejudice once it became clear that it consume money forever without delivering a flyable aircraft.
So, no recon planes at all shall fly from Kinross. So the airbase side has been closed and downgraded to a barracks. The search-and-rescue will be consolidated with the south coast 400 miles away (no doubt losing local knowledge).
|Thursday, November 27th, 2014|
Quick review of http://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf( Read more...Collapse )
Para 95 Mandatory Free Lunch: while it might be possible to set things up so that there's no change in the budgets on the day of transfer, this won't be the case in the future. One side of the border will end up doing better than the other. Scotland gets the downside risk as well as the possible upsides of this. This is the large carpet under which the details, and a few potential landmines, have been swept. Needs further analysis.
Unstated assumption: the Smith Commission is not a legislative body. This package will need to be legislated by whoever wins Westminster in 2015. That might be a Tory-UKIP coalition wrestling with a possible Euro referendum, or it might be Labour government with a confidence and supply deal from the SNP.
|Sunday, October 12th, 2014|
|Thursday, October 2nd, 2014|
|Tasty pork curry
Tonight's improvised dinner:
1 Onion, 1 Yellow pepper, Mushrooms
Turmeric, Garam masala, powdered ginger (lots), small qty soy sauce, salt, chili flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
Chop all ingredients and fry in wok in oil. Add seasoning. Serve on rice. Produces a nice yellow-brown light fresh flavour; might be improvable with more sweet/sour flavours (sherry, mirin, vinegar, more lemons)?
|Thursday, September 18th, 2014|
(This isn't terribly coherent, but I had to dump it to LJ to get it out of my head)( Read more...Collapse )
I'm nervous. It's like one of those World Cup matches that gets decided on penalties, except it's going on all week rather than just 90 minutes. There is still the risk that Scotland will bottle it, give in to the relentless scare stories at the last minute. It's making it hard to focus and hard to sleep. I've already booked Friday as a holiday off work. I doubt I'll stay up - watching it on TV can't be that interesting, and it won't be clear until the small hours. There are likely to be widespread recounts. I really hope it doesn't come down to a court challenge. If it's a yes, then we'll be off into town to join the party. See you on the other side.
|Tuesday, August 19th, 2014|
|Worldcon / Loncon 3 experience
Potted summary of good and bad things, almost all good:
+ we met lots of old friends! Both from Cambridge and from Boston. Lovely to catch up with you all.
+ considering "old friends" in the form of books. I attended several of the Banks panels and was reminded how inventive they are and how I half-remember the ones I read a long time ago. Now I'm keen to go back to them. Likewise from the videogames panels.
+ Other interesting things: British Interplanetary Society; Chris Foss doing a talk on his career in the 60s and 70s which contained a lot of "swinging London" stories. I chatted to him briefly at his signing stall. He had a stack of hardcover art books each of which was getting a fresh hand-drawn sketch inside the front cover, selling at £200. They were sold out.
+ the con seems to have been disaster-free. Not snag-free, but as far as I can tell no big problems affecting a lot of people nor nasty incidents reported on social media. (Someone will no doubt correct me on this, or point out that it will have drowned in discussion of Ferguson)
+ Speaking of which, the Hugo results were good for the John Scalzi Insect Army and bad for Vox Day, which is entertaining.
+ Positive opening discussions with a couple of publishers for Laura, especially the lovely people at Inspired Quill.
+- There was so much stuff on it was impossible to do everything; sometimes I felt I'd missed out on the interesting things other people had been to. Sometimes this was a result of overcrowded programme rooms.
- while we had a good time, it felt like it required a constant input of effort to do so and sometimes felt like an uphill struggle*. It felt difficult to meet new people, outside of the dedicated newbies event.
* there are few things more British than the phrase "we've come all this way and we're going to have a good time if it kills us", usually leading to eating fish and chips in the car in the rain.
- ExCel is massive. Its food court is of course overpriced, and some of the programme rooms has sound leakage problems.
- the crowd was mostly older and mostly American. Sometimes this gave me the feeling of having been swept up by someone else's tour group. Related to the "finding it hard to strike up conversation with strangers here" thing.
- (not con's fault) we booked too late to get a good hotel, and were therefore in a Travelodge on the wrong side of the river. Dinstinctly two-star experience, and the night we stayed out late cost us a lot in taxi fare.
|Thursday, July 31st, 2014|
is an item of high craftsmanship, intended to showcase the state of the art and its creators skill in traditional techniques.
What then is an anti-masterwork
? It should not be merely bad - incompetence is widely available and demonstrates nothing. Not should it be "outsider art", that is, made by someone who has no idea what they're doing or what the conventional techniques are. Rather, it should be aggressively offensive to the normal standards. Both layman and expert alike should recoil in horror from the determined ugliness. Trolling in craft form.
(fragmentary post, can be expanded on demand)
|Friday, July 18th, 2014|
|Reading on the bus
I keep meaning to write something about distributed social network software, and the set of social and administrative problems getting in the way of the "why don't we host our own data" ideal. In some ways the work I did 15 years ago with the SRCF is a precursor to this.
Recent things I have read on the bus:
- The Star Fraction, by noted Scottish Trotskyite Ken MacLeod. I mostly enjoyed it, although I felt it came unglued at the ending. Like a lot of cyberpunk, it's interesting to see how the future of 20 years ago looks now that we're living in it. There is a *lot* of politics in this novel, and I could have done with a better grounding in Marxism in order to tell what was historical, what was projected-historical, and what was projected-future-fictional. The franchise based fragmented political system reminded me of Snow Crash, which predates this book by a few years. There's a bit of Stafford Beer in the concept of technologically assisted/AI central planning. I had some specific thoughts about its ideas which I should probably have written down as I've now forgotten them :(
- Ancilliary Justice, cutdown Hugo packet version. Prose is a bit stark and functional for my taste, but the setting and characters are fascinating. I can see why this is a frontrunner for the Hugo. It does very well at expanding a world in the memories of a character, and the slow building of trouble in paradise.
- Thief of Time, Pratchett. A good reminder of just how good Pratchett is; humane characters, tone-perfect subverted pastiche, lovable world, spectacular drama, compelling fun.
Current bus reading is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hand_of_Oberon
; finding it a bit turgid. The whole Amber series is very popular but I suspect it's not my thing. Should probably work out what my favourite fantasy novel is outside of the obvious Pratchett and Tolkein.Edit:
also in the pile of unfleshed-out thoughts is the politics of the HRA. Why it's so unpopular in UK politics, and relating this to the rushed through omnisurveillance. Also relating the surveillance to civil service "target" culture.
And perhaps a "gaming made me" style about Colonization
, and some thoughts about "victory by compound interest" in games.
|Sunday, June 29th, 2014|
A few weeks ago we went to this strangely named attraction to the west of Edinburgh. It's a collection of large pieces dispersed about a wood, and on a fine sunny day it was lovely to walk around and take in the art among the natural beauty.
I thought I'd write about my responses to the pieces such as I remember. There's the whimsical signpost to Jupiter
, for example.Anthony Gormley's "Firmament"
stands out nicely against the sky. Sort of a wireframe cousin to the Angel of the North. Very insubstantial feeling for a steel structure; shades of deformed Buckysphere and rusted futurism. My brother is a fan of Gormley and has taken a lot of photos of his work, which tends to produce nice light patterns on nearby surfaces."The Light Pours out of me"
: looks expensive. Alien jagged surfaces. Amethyst comes up beautifully in the sun, but while looking at it you're in a pit. Actually, making a square pit and surrounding it with obsidian is such a Minecraft thing to do I can't help but wonder whether the artist was aware of the game. The narrow access trench is much narrower than any normal architectural feature, contributing to the hostility."Rivers"
: nice place for a boathouse. The structure is lit by sun reflecting off the water into the building from beneath, which then refracts through all the glassware. The river bottles aren't labelled; is this to convey that water is all the same once removed from context? Probably one of these things where the collection process would have made a good travelogue by itself."Temple of Apollo"
: perfectly conventional country garden folly. It's just unusual that someone would make one in the present day, given that it belongs so solidly to the classical revival. It's a good vantage point to look at the Xth muse
, and recall "where burning Sappho loved and sung". Having read up on Ian Hamilton Findlay
, I think I'd like to see more of his work. Trained at Glasgow School of Art, victim of recent fire."Weeping girls"
: Dr Who terror of the week. They don't have faces. Are they playing hide-and-seek or wandering victims of nameless catastrophe? Are they inhuman terror in incongruous little girl form? One of them stood, head down, in a natural pool of light between the trees; a fantastic bit of theatrical setting.
As I looked back at them while walking away, she was attended by two middle aged women, no doubt inspecting the construction, but looking for all the world as if they had found her and were going to make sure she was alright."Cells of life"
: now this is a cheerful thing. The artificial rolling very green hills of tellytubby-land or the windows XP background. Artificially organic. We climbed one, because whereever there is a hill humans must go to see what is at the top, and surveyed the scene. A little water feature, railway-like stone channel, feeds the central lake near the miniture stone arch. We sat and watched the swifts wheeling around the field, in constant motion. They strafed the water, gathering its insect life. I'd not seen one in person before; they're beautiful, with their crescent wings and tail, and fast jet flight profile. You wonder how they can feed that constant motion. More recently one circled us in the park, at a distance of a couple of meters, intimate closeup but impossible to track as more than a blur.
|Thursday, June 12th, 2014|
I have another half-formed thing to write, about loyalty and belonging. It would have been called "Loyalty: the most dangerous of the virtues", because I see it taking more and more of a role in people's conversation. Are you with us or against us?
But the tone of online discussion has got a lot nastier just now.
I've long held a couple of unpopular political views which I keep quiet about because they are difficult and time-consuming to explain without someone jumping to conclusions, mistaking for something nasty, getting outraged and refusing to speak to you. I don't accept that because similar views are advocated by unpleasant people that I'm automatically wrong or evil regardless of my intent or thought process. In fact, I'm repeatedly told that it's wrong to assume that atrocities by members of a particular identity group reflect badly in any way on other members of that group. I wish I could get people to apply that principle consistently.
So I'm hedging here. I'm choosing to go no further because I prefer the quiet life. I don't need to be surrounded by people who agree with me, nor do I feel the need to go on condemn-athons of views or actions I dislike. I do however make very sure that I can trust people to actually listen to what I say and consider it before I open up to them. If not, it's fine; you can have some blandly conventional answer. Or a question in return. I like questions; they're a slow but effective means of undermining someone's offensive certainty. Ask the right question and watch someone row backwards to a more measured, nuanced, defensible position. Contradict them and they'll charge in, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.
(Traditionally Yeats gets roped into this: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst // Are full of passionate intensity." but also "Those that I fight I do not hate, // Those that I guard I do not love")
|Saturday, March 29th, 2014|
|Good day out
Today's bit of Cambridge we'd never got round to visiting: the Scott Polar Research Institute. Compact, clear, and moving exhibition about the heroic age of polar exploration and "the worst journey in the world". Quite a few Inuit artefacts there too.
A few weeks ago we'd done the Anthropology museum, which was also from the pith helmet era. Striking huge totem pole in the middle of the first floor; slightly awkward and apologetic feeling about the whole place and the spears-and-funny-hats collection.
Lunch at a little newish Chinese place, North China Dumpling. Does precicely what it says on the tin: £5 gets you 12 very tasty meat dumplings. Bit slippery with the chopsticks. I'm a great fan of uncomplicated cheap dining; we'd recently been to the Pint Shop, which is something of a high watermark of posh pub dining. The pork belly was delicious; wide selection of expensive beers. Hipsterish.
One week left of work, and two and a half weeks to moving. It's an odd feeling, to be leaving a job with nothing wrong with it. I've ejected from a disorganised employer, been made redundant, quit after a decade when taken over by Cadence, and now I'm moving on by choice. The new job is more pragmatic than idealist, so we'll have to see how that goes.
Most of the books are now in boxes. Still a lot of things to pack...
|Tuesday, January 7th, 2014|
So, Laura and I are planning to move to Edinburgh.
This plan has grown over the past few years; it's a lovely place, and every time we go there I see a little more of it. It becomes more familiar and homelike. It has the liveliness of a city that Cambridge really doesn't. It has the Festival and Hogmanay, and many little things going on throughout the year.
It's also come to one of those times in life for reassessment; we've just got married, Laura's one-year job at CUP came to an end. We decided that our "it would be nice to move up north eventually" should have its "eventually" upgraded to a "now". Also, it's time to buy a house, and this could be cheaper
(although that one has gone). We could go out a bit and get more space
, or a nice family house on the other side of a park from the Parliament
, or even dead centre above a pub
. All at the same price as it would be to buy on our current street
Enough property window shopping. It was time to get serious. The downside to this whole plan is leaving a job that is currently rewarding, comfortable and well-paid, and having to find another one in Edinburgh. It took rather longer than I was expecting to get a decent recruitment agent and an interview, but finally I had an interview with a company called Zonal on the 23rd of December. And now they've made me an offer.
I spent a good part of Monday evening having a wave of Doubt about the proposition; one of the interviewers was offputtingly blunt and started a politics conversation, and I'm also feeling bad about leaving my current employer (Argon Design). There was some discussion of the possibility of me being a remote worker in Scotland after moving there, but it wouldn't be an ideal situation for either party. Potentially a little isolated, potential issues with us both working at home (unless we got the mansion). I also have the Fear sometimes about the amount of work associated with moving house, both bureaucratic and physical. Actually buying a house is a big scary decision too. So much potential for hidden problems.
But today I made a few more organisational phone calls, and it starts to feel more real and more of a Thing That Is Going To Happen. It's exciting as well; a big shakeup, a chance to do things differently. A house to lay out, decorate, maybe modify a bit. An opportunity to meet new people. My inner northerner will be more comfortable up there; and there will be plenty of opportunities to just wander the beautiful lowlands or coastline to ease the soul. There's a bit of Lake Isle of Innisfree* in this plan, and a bit of Waverly
(200th anniversary, by the way).
* Pedants will point out that central Edinburgh is nothing at all like a wilderness, and that Waverly went badly for its central character; although he did land on his feet. And pedantry is not such a popular pastime north of the border.
|Monday, April 23rd, 2012|
|Foundation and Empire
So, it's St George's day. This goes largely unremarked, other than by the
occasional pub bore or angry young man with an England flag on his van.
It's the date we might have our national day, if we were to have one. Other
countries do; usually marking independence day, or the day of some great
reform of state. The moment when the country was brought into existence by
gunshot or signature. In some places it's all over the street maps, just
to make sure you can't forget it. The same is not true of the UK, or Great
Britain, or England. We're built in layers and by stages, like the
medieval-on-Norman-on-Roman construction of York minster. We can't look back
and find a date with a clear dividing line when we can say, "From then,
England". Perhaps 1066, but it's problematic to have a national day
celebrating the invasion and conquest of your country.
Speaking of problematic things, our history presents a problem as well. We can't do the
day to day continuous construction of the concept of the country on its
history, as we keep tripping over discarded moral horrors and abandoned
foolish ventures. We need a clean break, a foundation myth to narrate
us into coherence again. However, we're also institutionally suspicious
of official efforts to do this kind of nation-building, as they tend to
produce the sort of tone-deaf bland earnestness of the Olympics and the
Millenium Dome, or further back the wave of Modernist town planning now
so widely hated. We like our reactionary incrementalism, it keeps things
as they were, in the good old days. Therein lies the problem; in as much
as there is a collective vision of the country, it faces backwards into
Avalon, noted for its lack of wind farms and nonwhite people.
There is something very close to a refounding myth, or at least a rebuilding
one, surrounding World War 2. There we locate "our finest hour", but also
the foundation of the NHS and national state education. Egalitarianism
was brought to the country at gunpoint, and it almost stuck. Could this be
the basis for a more comfortable national solidarity? Perhaps, but there's
nobody to make that case any more. All three parties are in favour of
privatisation of public institutions, and against the idea of competent
public administration per se. There is no universal leadership, just a
series of ever more finely tailored marketing messages to ever narrower
demographics. The Olympics is managing to unite people in the national
pastime: complaining. Not complaining to anyone in particular, or any
kind of organised complaining, nor the sort of complaining that might prevent
it, nor rallying round an alternative; mere complaint, without form and void.
Not for nothing do the Australians call us "whinging".
|Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012|
I think we can safely negate all of Clegg's statements, given his record on tuition fees and the NHS, and assume that it *will* be rammed through. What's really interesting is the phrasing of some of the rest of the article:
The proposed new law - which the Home Office says will be brought in "as soon as parliamentary time allows"
A senior Home Office source said the proposal "absolutely will not be dropped or even delayed", but its "passage through the Commons is still being discussed".
Let's be clear on this, it's a Home Office policy, like the perennial of the ID cards database; the Home Office will keep trying to push it through no matter who is in power. It is the job of politicians to distrust them and demand proper evidence and discussion. This almost certainly won't happen, but there is a chance that the proposals will get lost in the government's fiasco queue.
(Various people have already pointed out that trying to intercept every webmail-over-ssl website in the world is a non-starter, not to mention every corporate intranet, plus every chat system or point-to-point IP phone; which makes me wonder what the proposals actually are)