Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Back to the trees

The state of the Brexit debate reminded me of “The Evolution Man” (a very funny read by Roy Lewis, also entitled “The Evolution Man or why I ate my father”), which is centred on a protohomonim family that invents many new things, including fire and cooking. Uncle Vanya, whose teeth are not what they were, loves to come down from the trees and eat cooked meat, but he castigates all progress and his catchphrase is “Back to the trees”.


Uncle Vanya is a prototypical Brexiter. He would die if were not for the invention of cooking by his brother’s family, because poor teeth mean reduced consumption of raw food, which can only result in death. Uncle Vanya is a true mirror of the Brexiter in the UK and their homologues elsewhere. Despite reality check after reality check, they continue to fantasise about a world that cannot exist.


The level of fantasy is quite remarkable. For example, Andrea Leadsom stated that a central plank of the new Brexit UK economy would be tea, biscuits and marmalade. Many of the ingredients are produced elsewhere; oranges, sugar (if from cane), wheat (ours having too low a protein content, we need to cut our flour with that made from imported wheat) and, of course, tea itself. Global warming will be insufficient to allow us to growth these crops in the UK. Our 18th Century ventures into greenhouse culture of exotic fruits only succeeded due to Dutch help. Worse, a few meters of sea level rise (coming late this century) will wipe out a substantial part of our wheat belt (go to http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/ select 3 m and check out East Anglia). Salinity from one little flood will cause havoc with yields.


The refusal to engage in any sort of debate and to acknowledge that a number of things do not add up is seen in the HE Bill’s passage through Parliament. Outright rejection of all amendments from opposition MPs, despite the obvious fact that one possible future outcome of the Bill, is a UK version of Lysenkoism, a consequence of which was mass starvation in the USSR. It would seem appropriate for Parliament to consider such an outcome and ensure new legislation is proof against it.


Threads relating to the Article 50 court case are quite remarkable –  Brexiters paint this as Remainers whingeing and filibustering. Ears are firmly shut against the fact there are indeed points of law the relate deeply to our democracy – can the executive remove statutory rights of citizens without the agreement of Parliament? If it can, then the Parliamentary democracy that we are ceases to exist. We may, as a nation, agree on this course, but surely it merits discussion?


This refusal to listen and engage in constructive debate is worse than in the most opinionated toddler.


The term “post truth’ has been coined. This is a euphemism. It is simple delusional lying. The motivations behind the behaviour will vary in individuals. Two clues come from the political importance of panis et circenses in the Roman Republic and 1984. Those in power and with ambitions of power will look to all means to provide at least the illusion that bread and circuses are more plentiful and better than before.  In a time when they are manifestly not (austerity), build an illusion.  For the illusion to work, you need to be at war. Permanent war is the dream of political power seekers (as opposed to political problem solvers). So create an enemy that is permanent, weak and unable to fight back: the immigrant.


So this is where we are. Raging toddlers at the helm, with a posse of toddlers in tow. The outcome? We cannot tell, but there are two extremes.


The power ambitious continue to run the country (=Brexit). The consequence will be a decline in the UK as an economic, intellectual and political power. While the break up of the UK is not a given, it is certain that over time the country (UK or England and Wales) will become less attractive and net emigration will result: our best and brightest will leave, when their personal circumstances allow and few will wish to come.


The problem solving politicians come to the fore. No Brexit, some hard truths to swallow about being British (where are the billions of tax unpaid by that small number of wonderful patriotic citizens of ours?) and a lot of hard work (e.g., getting 90% of that tax into the treasury). The country then becomes extremely attractive and we will need take leadership of solving the problems that cause masses of people to leave their homes: war, global warming, etc.


So delusional toddlerdom or work.


I did say I was going to leave. I will at some point if the country choses delusional toddlerdom. Toddlers are great, but if you let them rule the home, you are lost.

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This post highlights links to the American Civil war that I have unknowingly walked by in two European cities at different stages in life. (more…)

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Lots of tweets on the subject of great reads in the run up to Christmas, and, reflecting my preponderance for following science, most have been science flavoured. At the start of October this year I came across an article in the Guardian on a new translation of Herodotus’ Histories.
This is my Christmas read and I am extremely impressed. I knew of Herodotus, but had never read his work. Not without controversy in the ancient and modern world, there is no doubt that he does indeed present evidence and the source, and often weighs up the quality of the evidence. I find this refreshing, because in science now we seem to have drifted into territory where the quality of data are often ignored and the conclusion, regardless of the quality of the data is all. The truth is the opposite; data are everything, though truth remains awkward at the best of times.

This impacts directly on the growing debate on the reproducibility of science, also called the replication problem, which has recently elicited a fair amount of discussion, e.g., here and here. (more…)

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I was at the Chungku restaurant in Liverpool last night – excellent meal and, of course, stupendous views across the Mersey – a little bit of foresight books a window table! My attention was drawn once again to a mound on the other side of the water, which had puzzled me before. Rog was sitting next to me and he is not someone to shrink from a puzzle. I reckoned the mound (or small hill) had to be artificial. Plus in front and down river the waterfront was square, so artificial. Rog looked around on Google maps and reckoned this must have been the site of Bromborough docks.
This morning, perhaps due to being fortified by coffee, Rog solved the mystery. Both hypotheses were true. Bromborough docks, opened in 1931, were closed by an act of Parliament in 1986 and used as a landfill site. The entire site is now being developed as Port Sunlight River Park.

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