Sunday, June 18, 2017

Heat and Fire

Europe is sweltering in the traditional late-June heatwave and even here in beautiful Ruislip we have 31c with several days of it still to come. The rich smell of barbecues is drifting along the breeze. Recent summers have tended to be disappointing but this one has already delivered a long sunny spell and now, in UK terms, some real heat and little prospect of a set of traditional thunderstorms to ruin it.

Alas, there is far less satisfaction to be had than might have been the case. We woke on Wednesday to hear the hideous news that an entire tower block of flats in Kensington had been consumed by fire, with 58 confirmed deaths so far and many residents missing. Normally such fires spread gradually either up or down but this one spread so fast in both directions that the whole block was quickly ablaze and no possible rescue could take place for the hapless folk trapped inside. A public inquiry will establish what happened but it seems that cheap cladding, rather than slightly more costly fire-proof cladding, was the reason that it spread so fast. That this should happen in the richest borough in London speaks volumes for our divided society.

A more natural type of disaster, but just as devastating, began yesterday in northern Portugal and is still on-going, Temperatures in Iberia have topped 40c and massive forest fires have overwhelmed the emergency services, spreading so fast that many died in their cars trying to escape.

The downbeat public mood was made visible in the Trooping the Colour ceremony yesterday to mark the Queen's official birthday. The crowd that flocked down the Mall to join the royals as the RAF flypast thundered overhead at 1:00pm was noticeably down on recent events.

All this amidst the chaos of a Government that has thrown away its majority and must now cobble together some sort of policy. These are troubling times, my friends.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thank you, Facebook, and goodbye

I have never used facebook (except years ago under a false name for reasons connected with my job). Recently I wished to join one specialist group and created a new profile under my real name. No problems getting in, other than:

  • FB insists on my address being Ruislip, Slough.
  • It refuses to recognise the "high" school I went to (it requires selection from a list, the school is not in the list and it won't let me add it)
  • It persistently changed the dates of my various jobs forcing me to re-enter them several times to get it right.
But today I am told for "security reasons" I must send them a photo of myself and the account is disabled.

I have done absolutely nothing with this account other than connect to the group I mentioned above. They have not told me what the security reasons are. They have no way of knowing if the new photo I sent is really of me because I only uploaded one other selfie before and both could be of someone else.  I registered my mobile with them but they have not bothered to use it to help to verify my account.

I don't need this frustration.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Election 2017: Is Mrs May bonkers or just daft?

Prime Minister Theresa May is widely reported as having said that, following her wilful destruction of her party's majority in the House of Commons, that she would now govern with the aid of "her friends" (The DUP) and then said "Let's get to work". The "work" is the Brexit negotiations.

Nobody asked you to call the election. Nobody is preventing you from getting to work. You were at work before, were you not?

A less deluded person might have mused that maybe the mood in the country should be taken into account. But no, somehow the votes cast last night are irrelevant. The only thing that appears to matter is the votes cast in the referendum a year ago. Those votes are sacrosanct. The wishes of the electors now are not.

And politicians wonder why they are often regarded with contempt.

Election 2017: The Fickleness of Fate

After the election nobody wanted, the result that nobody expected. The nation rejected "strong and stable" Theresa May, snubbed "Another Independence vote, mebbe" Nicola Sturgeon, gave a resounding two fingers to UKIP and hesitantly moved a little toward the distinctly non-strident Labour and its hitherto much-derided leader Jeremy Corbyn.

May's gamble - calling a snap election to achieve a strong majority in the House of Commons - has failed. The Tories have lost 12 seats overall, despite some significant gains in Scotland (up 12 seats). There should have been a swing to the Tories against both UKIP and Labour, based on their incumbency and the presidential nature of May's campaign. But packing the cabinet with Brexiteers who projected a "We won the referendum so we can do anything we like" attitude has backfired badly.

The results in Scotland, where both Labour and LibDems recovered seats swept up by the SNP last time, makes the overall picture harder to interpret but it does seem to fair to suggest that voters are split 50:50 between broad right and broad left in England & Wales and more tilted to the broad left (including SNP) in Scotland. This strengthens the hand of the Remainer /Soft Brexiteers. However, with Brexit negotiations due to start in 10 days and a weak government about to be take shape (minority Tory propped up by the DUP according to this morning's news reports), the UK is in a febrile state. Will this make the outcome worse, with the government unable to make any compromises and unable to make any deals for fear of plunging itself into turmoil?

Just as in those dramatic days in 2010, we now face a period of intense horse-trading, bluffs, personality clashes and individual bids for power. Will a tired and undoubtedly shaken Mrs May (no matter what she might attempt to portray in public) have the strength to see it through? We will find out very soon.



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

London Bridge and the Election

Mrs Commuter and I escaped the election for a blissful week of cruising down the Rhine and into the Main, visiting several spectacular medieval towns in the "Franconia" region of Bavaria. Alas, we could not escape the terrible news of another terrorist attack on London; in a copycat of the Westminster Bridge attack, a group of lunatics attacked people near Borough market and killed eight before the police got them.

The pressure on politicians to make instant reactions is overwhelming. Today it seems that the Conservatives would like to ditch some of the human rights laws and have longer prison sentences; their inability to understand that the attackers do not care about prison is deeply worrying. This is the same party that is proposing to cut the budget allocated to the police.

On our return we found another A4 flyer from the Green party, a leaflet from the LibDems (who continue to make Brexit the key issue) and no less than two colourful leaflets featuring Brexit betrayer B. Johnson. His slogan "standing with Theresa May" may well send shivers down the spine of the PM when she reflects on he supported his dear and faithful friend Dave.

The election is tomorrow and we shall be glad to be shot of it, to be honest [I thought we were always honest: Ed]. How this country negotiates a new future with the EU remains the single most important political choice and I don't have the slightest idea what the options are, not least because so much depends on the other 27 member states who are themselves considering their positions. This country will presumably opt for "strong and stable" (and she never panics, at least not too much, well,okay a bit, well, quite a lot really but no worse than anyone else would) Mrs May in the same way that Germans have put their trust in "mutti" [Angela Merkel:Ed]. Labour will have another bitter period of in-fighting and I look forward to UKIP splitting into "Continuity", "Real" and "Original" factions who can spend the next five years denouncing each other.

Or will Jeremy Corbyn confound the polls (and this columnist) by winning?

 Anyway, returning to the holidays theme with which I started, it's been a long time since I put up a tram photo. Here is one in Wurzburg where an inattentive tourist is about to get a nasty shock (it's ok, she was not struck)


Sunday, May 28, 2017

De Rerum Congegnites

A lavish two page advertisment in the colour supplement to my weekend paper, paid for by Virgin TV, has introduced me to a brand new giant on the massive-brainbox scene. Never mind intense speculations about the cause of the Universe, the meaning of truth and the underlying rules of mathematics, this is a philosopher for the twenty-first century with a logic that defys all criticism. The towering intellect in question is one Ella Williamson, hitherto unknown to me, possibly because she appears to ply her trade on morning television at a time when some of us are still in bed. And this is the nub of her interpetration of the world.

My philosophy is that gadgets should be easy to use, make life better or, in some instances, save you money or keep track of your usage

I think it was Descartes who established the fundamental principle of things
 There are two types of things. Everything divides naturally into one of these two types. Things that are nice but too expensive and things that are not so nice 1

and Bertrand Russell, in a technically ferocious appendix to the Principia went further

If x, being the quotient of desirability, is less than y, the perceived value of the device or gizmo in question, then, if z is the propensity to waste one's hard-earned cash and k the likeliehood of being arsed to do anything about it, it follows, trivially, that should x/y>{k...k0}.log z/(x^y)=z!!k, that the object will be purchased but remain unused in its box until the wife throws it out in the next round of spring-cleaning. 2
However, Williamson's tenet, or axiom, that gadgets should be easy to use or make life better is revolutionary. Who knew? I always thought that a gadget should come with an undecipherable manual (albeit in twenty languages), that the cardboard box it comes in should break no matter how carefully you try to open it, that the power button should be as close as physically possible to the operating buttons (so that you turn it off instead of doing what it was you wanted to do), that any cables and power supplies should be unique to the gadget, forcing the accumulation of drawer-fulls of such stuff and that the manufacturer will in any case produce an updated version that makes your recent purchase obsolete shortly after you finally understand to use it. And therefore my philosphy was one of resignation and despair at the sheer alien nature of the universe.

I was wrong. Hitherto I shall be a loyal follower of the Williamson Thesis. I shall expect gadgets to be easy and life-enhancing. It is a tough faith to keep. I hope I can prove myself worthy.

Footnotes
1. Les choses qui sont jolies, Paris, 1678
2. pp832-3 (I have cut out the lengthy digression about the best colour for a fitness watch strap)
3. Pedants may quibble about the word 'congegnites' that adorns the title of this piece. I tasked the Editor to find a Latin word for gadget; he claims there isn't one but there is an Italian word 'Congegno'. OK?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Election 2017: 4 - After the bomb

Out on the campaign trail the Manchester bombing is forcing a change of agendas. Jeremy Corbyn's speech suggesting that British involvement in foreign wars makes us a target of terrorism is both superficially true and yet entirely misses the point. The UK would be a target anyway because we have a free media which will report all such actions, giving the terrorists the publicity they are desperate to have. Our values are fundamentally opposed to theirs, especially on the equal treatment of women and men, freedom of religion and the creation of laws and Government through democratic participation. This is why terrorist attacks are indiscriminate and why they will have no significant effect - everyone who lives in this country is potentially a target and therefore everyone, bar the deranged, will continue to defy them.

On a different note, a single sheet of paper from the Green party informs me austerity will be ended, all cuts reversed and loads of money will be available for everything, apart from HS2. This last promise has a genuine local appeal although the accompanying illustration - of Frays Fields in Uxbridge - may or may not represent an area under threat if the proposal to put the railway in a tunnel up to the Colne goes ahead.

As with the Labour leaflet received yesterday, there is nothing to make me sympathetic to the candidate himself because it doesn't tell me why he wishes to become an MP.