Monday, January 15, 2018

Our solar panels (Hanergy) - failed FIT meter


Dear Hanergy Customer Services,

Our solar panels were installed in February 2014. We went with IKEA, because we trusted their brand, and their subcontractor was yourselves, Hanergy. We were pleased at the time with your service.

On December 4th 2017 I called you to report that our Feed-In Tariff meter, the Elster meter, had ceased working. This is a problem because it means we can't claim revenues via the FIT. You said you would contact the local installer and get the meter replaced.

Eight days later (Dec 12th) I contacted you again, as I had heard nothing. You replied in an email that you would chase the installers up.

It is now January 15th 2018, almost six weeks from my original fault report. I have heard nothing from the installers, nor is there any evidence that you are progress chasing them.

Given this unacceptable level of service, we need to move to more effective measures.
1. Please let me have the contact details for your local installers so that I can chase them up myself.

2. In the event that they are as unresponsive as they have been to you, I reserve the right to appoint a qualified engineer to replace the Elster meter myself.

3. Please confirm that you will cover any charges incurred in the latter case and let me know the best process for billing you.
I understand that you are no longer subcontracting to IKEA, and that you have moved out of the residential solar panel business. Nevertheless you have a contractual liability to your existing customers and I intend to raise this matter shortly with IKEA.

Please feel free to escalate this issue within Hanergy.

Yours sincerely,

Nigel Seel.
---

We shall see ... .

Friday, January 12, 2018

British military strategy will converge to Russia's

In The Times today Edward Lucas writes about the dire state of British defence spending ("We can’t afford to rule the waves any more").
"Britain faces a £20 billion budget gap between what we want and what we can pay for. Worse, we do not know what our armed forces are for.

For decades, we tried to match America across the military spectrum in quality, if not in quantity. Anything our ally wants to do we aim to help with, from special forces to nuclear weapons.

That approach may be good for morale in Downing Street, where politicians enjoy looking like a superpower or at least strutting in the shadow of one. But it does not lead to sensible decisions. Our armed forces are expected to do everything but increasingly fail to do it properly. ..."

" .. we have broadly two options. One is to stay global and retain the ability to fight expeditionary wars, albeit mostly alongside the Americans and against weaker, poorer countries. We will devote the Royal Navy to protecting the two new aircraft carriers. We may maintain our token deployment in Estonia (where our force lacks air defences, naval backup or logistical support). But we will no longer be able to fight land wars against Russia. If things go wrong, we will hope, along with the rest of Europe, that the Americans can deter a military attack or, failing that, that they turn up in time to prevent defeat. ..."

"The opposite choice is to shed our global ambitions and concentrate on properly defending ourselves and our allies from Russia. That will mean a smaller but more heavily equipped army, most likely based in Poland (otherwise our troops will arrive too late for any likely conflict). It requires scrapping our amphibious warfare capability, which cannot operate against an advanced threat like Russia. The Royal Marines will be repurposed and probably slimmed down. The navy’s main task will be dealing with Russian submarines, meaning that the aircraft carriers will be white elephants. They can be lent to the Americans (who will be grateful, and have the fleet to protect them). Or they can fill some glorified trade-promotion and disaster-relief role.

The east European allies will be thrilled. So will non-Nato Finland and Sweden. None of these countries relishes being dependent on France. None views with equanimity a Europe in which Germany might eventually become the military as well as the economic hegemon. Moreover, the Trump administration has cast a grave shadow over the Atlantic alliance, and the Americans yearn in private for us to do one job properly rather than lots of them badly. ...

"My preference is for the second option. The Continent is our neighbour whether we like it or not, so we had better be involved as much as possible. Defending our own shores (not least against Russia’s nosy, quiet, modern submarines) is the top priority. Better ties with European allies could help."
Lucas concludes that there is not a chance in hell that the British Government will take his advice.

---

The problem we face is that, as with medical care, outfitting a first-world high-tech military is getting exponentially more expensive. The British economy simply can't afford it.

Does it matter? Well yes. As the Americans demonstrated in the Gulf, a state-of-the-art military can obliterate any adversary with anything much less.

Those states with leading-edge high-tech militaries include the US, Russia, China and - at a pinch - the UK and France, (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council).

---

We are not the first state to be torn between the desire for a first-class military and the reality of a second-class economy.
"The Soviet Union was famously described as "Upper Volta with rockets", a catchphrase that was updated by the geographically precise to become "Burkina Faso with rockets". It was a powerfully succinct description. The United States was rich and space-age powerful; the Soviet Union was poor and space-age powerful."
The Russians may have invested in their military in recent years, but their GDP is still only about the size of California. How do the Russians deal with this problem? They use a lot of people in the ranks (we can't do that) .. and their doctrine says 'go nuclear' pretty early.



The Russians perceive themselves to be encircled. They have inimical states to their west (NATO) .. and (hush!) they have a populous and competent rising-superpower on their depopulated eastern frontier.

I'd be worried too.

We Brits don't apparently have proximate enemies of any real capability right now, so our middle-tech military serves for anti-terrorism and police actions. But let's get real. If ever a first-class power were to move against us, on the current doctrine we'd be toast.

The really smart move in the upcoming defence review would be to follow the Russians. Work up a rich portfolio of multi-role nuclear options: to be deployed early and deployed often.

---

A lifetime ago, when I was in the International Marxist Group, I asked a senior comrade whether we really did support CND (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) at all those demos.

"Hell no," he replied, "When we take power, we'll need those nukes - it's the only way we'll ever stop the Americans!"

The Bishop's Palace in Winter

We dropped in this afternoon. It was five degrees, a kind of damp, insidious cold, and there were very few people around.

The lawn from the curtain wall overlooking the moat

This swan has just woken up

They raised the sluice gate to lower the pool for winter maintenance

Afterwards, we repaired to Costa in the town for a hot drink. They now have three kinds of Mocha: mine was a latte.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"The Zone of Interest" by Martin Amis

Amazon link

This is, I think, the first Martin Amis novel I've actually read.

Shocking.

I guess I had him pegged as a North London liberal, one of the golden generation who probably couldn't actually write that well, or who was transfixed by self-referential Islington-angst like Ian McEwan (am I being unfair?).

But no. Amis can write, he's interested in big questions and he's not restrained by bien-pensant shibboleths (or not much).

Hence a novel concerned in minute detail with human relationships between the Nazis at .. Auschwitz.

Very brave.

---

Here's a plot summary.
"The novel begins in August 1942, with Thomsen's first sight of Hannah Doll, wife of Paul Doll, the camp's commandant. (Doll's name is similar to Otto Moll, a notorious camp commandant in real life.)

He is immediately intrigued and initiates a few encounters with her. In time their relationship becomes more intimate, even though it remains unfulfilled. Despite their attempts at discretion, Paul Doll's suspicions are raised. He has her followed by one of the camp's prisoners, and is informed by him that they did indeed make two exchanges of letters.

While spying on Hannah in the bathroom (as he does regularly), Paul watches her read the letter from Thomsen secretly and rather excitedly, before destroying it. From that point onward, his wife becomes increasingly contemptuous of him, viciously taunting him in private, and embarrassing him in public.

Paul decides to assign Szmul, a long-serving member of the Sonderkommando, to the murder of his wife. He does so by threatening to capture Szmul's wife, Shulamith. The murder is scheduled to take place on April 30, 1943 - at Walpurgisnacht."
Thomsen is the nephew of Martin Bormann and leads a rather charmed life. Not that this saves him in the end.

In his afterword, Amis writes about the paradox of Nazism. Why the final solution? Why did they do it?

And quotes Primo Levi:
"“Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand [the Holocaust] is almost to justify ... no normal human being will ever be able to identify with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, and endless others. This dismays us, and at the same time gives us a sense of relief, because perhaps it is desirable that their words (and also, unfortunately, their deeds) cannot be comprehensible to us. They are non-human words and deeds, really counter-human...”
and then comments, "Historians will consider this more an evasion than an argument."

But Amis offers no analytical thoughts of his own.

---

Martin Amis is a novelist, not a sociologist. We look to his characters for explanations .. that is to say, their personality types. And here the Myers-Briggs/Keirsey schemes add value once again.

In the novel, Auschwitz presents itself as an environment of selection for Nazi staff. They are physically located at the gas chambers, the ovens, the pyres, the slave-labour factories and the centres for vivisection. It is impossible to ignore the smells, the screams and .. just what you see in front of you.

The primary screening attribute is empathy coupled with imagination. No-one with any degree of generalised empathy could possibly tolerate the place. Few Idealist NFs amongst the camp-Nazis.

Next focus on role: these are either abstract (policy and strategic) or concrete (operational).

Amis's hands-on characters, those who conduct 'selections' and 'actions' at Auschwitz are concrete ST types, generally logistical Guardian STJs. They have internalised that the jews, 'untermenschen', the handicapped and insane are to be classified as 'other', and are inured to 'the process'.

They're rule-followers.

The 'racial purity intellectuals' (like Goebbels and Hitler himself) do not physically attend the camps: for them, the raw physicality of death never intrudes. Their lack of empathy is abstract - the same as that of any military person or politician who is prepared to carpet bomb, or detonate nuclear weapons over cities.

For these people in themselves, Nazism is only an act of the intellect: either a deduction from certain principles or the righteous struggle on behalf of one imagined community ('the Aryan race') against its outgroups (the 'untermenschen'). Yes, the Nazis have their own version of SJWs - call them Racial Justice Warriors.

There is a third category of person: those who are caught up in the process but not directly involved in implementation. IG Farben business executives who are allocated concentration camp slave-labour, the protagonist Thomsen who serves as liaison between Auschwitz operations and Bormann's Party Chancellery. Thomsen describes his position as a 'Mitlaufer', (p. 148),
".. we were obstruktive Mitlaufer. We went along. We went along, we went along with, doing all we could to drag our feet and scuff the carpets and scratch the parquet, but we went along. There were hundreds of thousands like us, maybe millions like us. "
I think people like that, trapped by circumstance, were of diverse psychological type - though naturally all exhibiting an overarching deficit of empathy and imagination (few NFs then).

---

It's both interesting and sad that none of the four temperaments leads to good governance.

  • The rule of Rationals, Plato's Republic, leads to (always over-simple and inadequate) grand theory dominating humanitarianism. It doesn't have to be fascism .. Stalinism is another example. And the neocon-sponsored Vietnam and Iraq wars.

  • The rule of Idealists, which we have - at least ideologically - in the West at the moment, imposes (very selectively!) a normative model of human nature which sterilises human relationships. It's also profoundly reactionary in scientific terms, demonising research which 'feels uncomfortable'.

  • The rule of Guardians, as seen with Theresa May, is the domain of the concrete - without insight and imagination, politically ballistic, focused on operations over strategy. Destined to hit the wall when new thinking is required.

  • And finally, and perhaps most scary, the rule of Artisans. Those thrill-seeking adventurers who shoot from the hip, are easily bored and crave excitement. Welcome aboard, Mr Trump!
Yes, we are truly doomed to stumble from trap to trap.

---

What was Hitler's type by the way? Apparently INFJ, Of course, he never personally visited a death camp.

Hitler was an emotional and chaotic Idealist leader, whose moralistic drives had to be turned into policies and strategies by Rationals - and then implemented by Guardians and Artisans.

Reading his Wikipedia entry, Martin Bormann comes across strongly as a Guardian ESTJ.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Autism & IQ, Deep Learning, Quantum Computing

Three papers (PDF) for you today.

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1. Autism As a Disorder of High Intelligence - Bernard J. Crespi

Alterations of function in the autistic brain

Crespi's paper attempts to synthesise what is know phenotypically about mental pathologies such as autism with the genetics of intelligence. His thesis is:
"... alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ.

This paradox can be resolved under the hypothesis that autism etiology commonly involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence. This hypothesis is supported by convergent evidence showing that autism and high IQ share a diverse set of convergent correlates, including large brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory and visual-spatial abilities, enhanced synaptic functions, increased attentional focus, high socioeconomic status,more deliberative decision-making, professional and occupational interests in engineering and physical sciences, and high levels of positive assortative mating."
and
".. autism represents most broadly a disorder of high intelligence (and low imagination), and schizophrenia a disorder of high imagination (and low intelligence) .. ."
I think his argument works best at the Asperger-end of the spectrum, where brain architecture imbalances have not yet led to major social dysfunction.

---

2. Deep Learning: A Critical Appraisal by Gary Marcus



Gary Marcus says "I present ten concerns for deep learning, and suggest that deep learning must be supplemented by other techniques if we are to reach artificial general intelligence."

He begins by observing starkly that "Deep learning, as it is primarily used, is essentially a statistical technique for classifying patterns, based on sample data, using neural networks with multiple layers."

Deep learning typically "knows" no more than can be inferred from regularities in the offered datasets (images, sounds, texts). With such limited data it's generally going to be impossible to infer background theories such as folk physics and folk psychology, let alone the physical and social properties of objects, people and behaviours which condition our everyday lives.

He then examines in detail just how consequentially-brittle deep learning systems are at generalising correctly outside of their training sets. This does not augur well for applications in open domains (such as self-driving cars, Internet censorship and the construction of competent social companions such as chatbots).

I completely agree with this paper, together with its conclusions that some serious new thinking is desperately required.

[Via "The Wild Week in AI"].

---

3. "Quantum Computing in the NISQ era and beyond" by John Preskill

From the abstract.
"Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) technology will be available in the near
future. Quantum computers with 50-100 qubits may be able to perform tasks which
surpass the capabilities of today’s classical digital computers, but noise in quantum
gates will limit the size of quantum circuits that can be executed reliably."
This is a useful review of the field of quantum computing, aimed at (technically-minded) venture capitalists. It's accessible and describes what quantum computing is, the various ways it can be implemented and what a quantum computer can - and cannot - do.

Almost the ideal introduction.

[Via Scott Aaronson].

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The desert of diversity

Last night, ten thirty, and I was on the couch, flicking between BBC News and Sky News, and their respective reviews of the forthcoming Sunday papers.

Sky had a female and male journalist; the BBC two media women. They were all (including the hosts) fully paid-up liberals.



The main topic of the Sunday press was the continuing fallout from the Wolff book, "Fire and Fury", with Trump tweeting in rebuttal what a 'genius' he was.

The pundits were to-a-person in full triumphalist mode. Their eyes were gleaming: Wolff had sooo nailed the pig! They were outbidding each other in retelling juicy quotes from the newspaper excerpts. They were shocked, shocked!

I was going quietly crazy.

Wasn't it obvious that Wolff was not a disinterested analyst but a partisan liberal himself? Obviously he was going to use his weaselly-gained access to the White House to put the boot in.*

---

We're uniformly told that television is a warm, not cool medium. Translated, this means that feelgood emotionalism works well while objective analysis stresses and upsets the audience: they switch channel.

As a consequence, television has become (in Keirsey terms) an Idealist colony. More objective, dispassionate, and analytic personality types have been classified as outgroup .. and ejected. Toby Young is just the latest iconoclast to feel the antibodies clustering around him.

Truly they have made the media an ideological desert, and called it diversity.

I rejected throwing my shoe at the TV, and changed channel.

---

*  It is not that liberals/Idealists are stupid - far from it. It's that their intellectual powers are the servant of their primary emotional drives. Which are those of compassion and empathy towards imagined communities .. to the exclusion of most else. And vitriolic hostility to those who appear to question or violate those naïvely-inclusionary values.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Why liberals hate Trump (cont.)

Note: if you're unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs Type Theory or Keirsey Temperament Theory you might want to review this.

---

While researching yesterday's post on Donald Trump, I came across "Donald Trump ESTJ Personality?" by Ross Reinhold. Apparently quite a few students of personality type have been assessing Trump as an ESTJ.

It's quite an easy mistake to make: Trump can do a very good authoritative CEO impression when he feels like it. But there is more to it than that: his core (ST) authoritarianism hits a deeper nerve with the psychotherapeutic community, who are extremely liberal.




I equate liberal (in the Jonathan Haidt sense) with the Myers-Briggs/Keirsey category of Idealist.

Ross Reinhold writes:
"While we are supposed to respect and celebrate the values of all 16 personality types, deep in the hearts of many fans of personality typing ESTJ and ENTJ types are the bad guys in the type world.

The “types” of people most often reacting negatively to ESTJ/ENTJ (and to the kind of behavior Trump frequently exhibits) are what David Keirsey has labeled as having an Idealist temperament (see his seminal book “Please Understand Me”).

Keirsey also studied Myers work and identified four personality types who share the Idealist temperament: INFP, INFJ, ENFP, and ENFJ. All Intuitive Feeling types.

Since both ESTJ and ENTJ extravert their Thinking and are by nature “command and control” folks, by their very nature [they] are easily off-putting to all Feeling types.

Feeling types who also favor Intuition can be particularly sensitive. When they see some evidence of what they consider as improper behavior or attitudes they will tend to “intuit” there is more of the same, that what they observe is only the tip of the iceberg.

In a 1996 landmark study of Personality Type in the general population, researchers Allan Hammer and Wayne Mitchell found that 15.7% of the adult population fit into the four Idealist personality types. In a 2004 compilation of the type distribution of the membership of the Association for Psychological Type (at the time the largest worldwide association of type professionals) showed that these four Idealist personality types comprised 46.3 % of the membership.

While a minority in the general population, Idealists are easily the dominant temperament among professional users of and teachers of personality type. So when you understand that there is natural conflict between Extraverted Thinking types and Feeling-Intuitive types you can see how even among professional “experts,” the negatives associated with ESTJ and ENTJ can loom large.

Because Trump does exhibit some characteristics associated with ESTJ and he also offends a number of people (and a large number of Idealists I suspect) it is easy to conclude he must be an ESTJ because it is perceived as one of the two most offensive personality types.

... continue reading.
The author (who wrote the piece I linked to yesterday) suggests Trump is actually an ESTP.

---

Dick Cheney is an ENTJ - a classical hate figure for liberals. Incidentally Cheney is the main villain in super-liberal Charles Stross's "Merchant Princes" trilogy I was reading over Christmas.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Way too much Fire and Fury

Amazon link

I think it was David Keirsey in "Please Understand Me II" who observed that the feminism of the sixties and seventies was driven by female ENFJs.


Amazon link

The Keirsey/Myers-Briggs NF ('Idealist') temperament describes a combination of abstract-intuition and compassion which forms the essence of liberalism. The extraversion (E) and Judging (J) work to turn that abstracted-compassion loose on the world - let the campaign begin!

Rationals like myself (ineffectually inclined to Libertarianism) tend to value truth and logical coherence. We are prepared for our ideas to be refuted.

Idealists, by contrast, are driven by moral fervour, not intellectual rigour. When they meet opposition, their opponents get classed as heretics, their positions a value-atrocity.

It's no fun debating SJWs.

So when the liberals got their claws into Donald Trump for not being one of them (and for refusing to sign up to their agenda - as Obama and Clinton had done), it was very tempting to defend the current POTUS.

But the political enemy of my enemy can also be .. my enemy.

---

Trump is most likely an ESTP. The lack of interest in ideas or coherent policy-making is not unusual for a self-indulging, prickly and egocentric Artisan.

The higher ranks of modern society tend to be overpopulated with intellectuals. Rationals do strategy and policy; the Idealists focus on the people stuff: the media and the campaigns. People who traffic in ideas usually write off concrete types (Guardians and Artisans) as stupid.

But Trump has made a successful business and television career and by all accounts has a mesmerising eye for detail. Stupid he is not.

Out of his depth, aggressive and unintellectual? - Well, we are where we are.

---

I would advise to dial down the panic. Trump is not Hitler. There is no American fascist movement of any consequence. One person alone does not control what happens in any modern society. Trump is undoubtedly the boss from hell - Wolff can be relied upon in his numerous anecdotes of glazed eyes and childish petulance - but the managing of such people is a well-trodden path.

You give them options and ensure the right one is the most attractive. It does require a good chief of staff as butler-in-chief, supported by a solid team across the silos of government.

The military, however, excels at developing senior officers with that kind of talent. This last year has seen a Darwinian process operating in the White House to form a senior government leadership team which actually kind of works.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

A new SafeSearch for the epoch of hate

In the bad old days, just before yesterday, the main thing wrong with the Internet/Interweb was that it was awash with porn. Thankfully, browser providers such as Microsoft and Google came up with SafeSearch, which allowed you to automatically filter out this torrent of filth.

Today the Interweb is awash with people trying to convince you of fake news. Sometimes they distort information or just plain lie to you, sometimes they express discomfiting opinions which they ought to have self-censored .. and sometimes they expose you to true information about the world which is deeply upsetting or brand-damaging.




Google/YouTube has been slow to pull down (somewhat-popular) offending content. I was shocked, shocked to realise that there was a conflict of interest here. Luckily the big advertisers are on the case. In The Times today I read: "JP Morgan’s firewall blocks ads from YouTube hate videos".

Yes, hate. So bad for the brand.
"Google has been accused of failing to do enough to remove dangerous content from YouTube after a leading bank created its own tools to prevent its online advertisements appearing alongside hate-filled videos.

Politicians and advertisers said it was an indictment of Google that a financial company was able in effect to identify and filter racist and terrorist clips where the tech giant had failed.

JP Morgan Chase devised an algorithm with 17 layers, or filters, to separate what it deems as safe YouTube channels from unsafe ones. One of the filters assesses the total video count on a channel, which automatically cuts out channels with one-off viral videos. Other filters look at channels’ subscriber counts, the topics they focus on, the language of the video captions and viewer comments on their clips.

“The model Google has built to monetise YouTube may work for it, but it doesn’t work for us,” Aaron Smolick, executive director of paid-media analytics and optimisation at JP Morgan Chase, told Business Insider. “The attention of protecting a brand has to fall on the people within the brand.”
Do we even want Google or Facebook to be the arbitrators of what can be published on the Interweb? Times commentator David Aaronovitch is not so sure:
"We all accept that material inciting terrorism or showing child sexual abuse should be removed immediately. But what happens when companies are obliged to take down anything that constitutes hate speech or intimidation?

Leaving aside the question of how you define them, the approach would almost certainly involve creating algorithms that delete material with certain keywords or phrases as soon as they are posted.

For one thing, this would save tech giants the trouble of having to respond to potentially millions of requests to take down material that users found offensive.

Better to make the mistake of wrongful deletion of posts and accounts, for which there is no penalty, than to allow something bad to get through and get dragged through the courts."
The world according to Google. I'm sure Hillary Clinton and George Osborne would approve.

---

There is a better way.

Extend the concept of SafeSearch the JP Morgan way. Consider a firewall-like app which can download 'safe-to-view' rules. Anyone can design a rule set: the US Democratic Party, SJWs-against-hate, Fox News, The Sun newspaper, .. JP Morgan .. .

Any organisation which fears brand damage will simply white-list those rule-sets from organisations which filter content in an acceptable manner. The app will then block their ads in proximity to texts, pictures and videos deemed to be those of hate. The ads will only be served to those devices running the app with a white-listed rule-set; I think JP Morgan et al could swing that.

This decentralised solution removes our reliance on those compromised Silicon Valley giants. We can all live safely in our bubble of choice.

Seriously, what is there not to like?

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Two essays ..

For those of you with time on your hands (I know that's a set with measure zero, but so?), I have a couple of interesting essays for you to ponder.

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1. The Global Elite Is The Only Elite Now

Razib Khan is dipping into the same zeitgeist as I did with my post, "A Christmas message from the Bubble". He writes:
"First, the neoliberal order of infinite plentitude and a universal middle class collapsed in the financial crisis of 2008. Though the global order continues on neoliberal precepts, it is more a matter of not knowing what the alternative could be, rather than genuine enthusiasm.

Second, nationalism and localist movements which cut against the grain of global democratic liberalism have become vigorous. China shows no signs of embracing democratic liberalism, India is home to a Hindu nationalist movement that has the reins of power, and right-wing political movements are on the march in Europe.

Third, a genuine international global elite has taken on greater solidity since the financial crisis, because they understand that their interests are more important in concert than the nation-states which they are notionally citizens of.

Consider Rupert Murdoch. Born an Australian, but now an American citizen. He has media properties of note across many nations. He has daughters who are half ethnically Chinese, granddaughters who are part Ghanaian, and other grandchildren who are being raised British (and are descendants of Sigmund Freud!).

Murdoch may be an extreme case, but his life and ties are not atypical for the global oligarchic class. Below them is the global professional caste which moves between nations as needed, and views themselves citizens of the world. They are foot-soldiers in keeping the machinery of internationalism chugging along.

The banker in New York arguably has more in common in terms of public and private interests with the banker in London or Shanghai than they do with the citizens who reside in the hinterlands of the nation-states in which they live. ...

Over the next few years, we will start to see how the nation-state, and the resurgent nationalisms, deal with the reality of a supra-nation without a state, the cosmopolitan global overclass. At the pinnacle of the global overclass are the oligarchs. This group has always been of internationalist bent due to their reliance or positions in finance and trade.

But in the past few centuries, national patriotism was a feature present even among oligarchs. To some extent, the national and personal interest were commingled. ... And it is also true that during the great age of globalization before 1914 this class was still characterized by a powerful robust nationalist ethos which would be unthinkable today."

Razib is right to identify the ever-increasing domination of the globalist bourgeois elite (he doesn't use the language of Marxism although it's by far the best analytic framework). The neoliberals arrived with an economic ideology of weak government, low taxes and few immigration controls, buttressed by a social/political agenda of individualistic autonomy, a commitment to civic equality which was then taken to infer biological equality and thence extended to a demand for equality of outcome.

This faux-progressive manifesto for maximally-frictionless capitalism has been uncritically swallowed by the left.

 And so we segue to Charles Stross.

---

2. Dude, you broke the future!

I wrote about Charles Stross in my last post. He's an interesting guy, a combination of penetrating and incisive intellectual with ranting SJW. We Keirsey Rationalists always have a problem arguing with the INFJs of this world because their emotional values are always deployed to derail dispassionate rational analysis.

His essay is the transcript of a talk given to the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December 2017. It covers a range of topics including the Singularity, the alleged dangers of uncontrolled 'AI-runaway' (he is as skeptical as I am) and an interesting analogy between autonomous AI systems and profit-maximising corporations.

So far, so interesting. But his inner SJW keeps popping up, leading him into - dare I say it? - politically-correct dogmas which encapsulate scientific error.

I leave him be .. challenging his core assumptions would be as rewarding as debating a creationist.

Still, the emotionalism and factional tribalism which make his politics so tedious and tendentious are just what makes him a great novelist. Fiction is about emotion and conflict, not sterile ideas!

You can read his thoughts - they are unfailingly interesting even when infuriating - or you can watch his video.


It's an hour, though.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Another year ...

So I measured my weight this morning. After two weeks of unrestrained gluttony I'm three pounds up (68.5 from target 67 kg) and showing all the signs of advanced sugar poisoning on my increasingly-blotchy skin.

Dr Michelle Braude - "eat carbs and lose weight (but ditch the red meat)"

The Times this morning has another brain-dead diet article from the latest pretty-young-waif with a book-to-sell (cut out red meat!) - but I'm on the Matthew Parris diet. I may even run this afternoon. If the rain stops.*

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It's my birthday - soooo welcome as the years advance! - and a special commemorative photo shows off my birthday card!

Clare admires the skill of the photographer

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In those few moments whilst not engaged in eating I was engrossed in books over the Christmas period. From Greg Cochran's list I chose:

Amazon link

Sajer's account of his years on the Eastern Front as a very young soldier takes the reader to new depths of human suffering. How did any of those guys survive? And as soldiers of a demonised regime who ended up on the losing side, their experiences have been erased from history - can't be spoken of in polite company.

So the clue is in the title.

Amazon link

I can see why Dr Cochran liked this pulp classic. The focus is on biology and directed evolution, and the plot is interesting .. and very fifties in style although dating from the late eighties. Chase's books have been described as clever, rather intellectual but a little flat. I found it so and would not recommend it.

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I'm much more energised by the uneven but exciting Merchant Princes omnibus trilogy.

Amazon link

Amazon link

Amazon link

Don't want to go into the details of this vast sprawling saga - here's the Amazon summary.
"Miriam Beckstein is a successful reporter for a hi-tech magazine. So when she discovers a huge money-laundering scam, she thinks she's hit the big time. But when she takes it to her editor, not only is she fired, but she starts to receive death threats. And that's just the beginning.

"To distract her furious daughter, Miriam's adoptive mother unearths mementos from her real mother, murdered when she was an infant. But these reveal a secret that will ultimately throw entire governments into disarray. For what Miriam thinks is a simple locket has the power to fling her into an alternate timeline. In this less-developed world, knights on horseback wield automatic weapons, and world-skipping assassins lurk - all on the other side of our reality. Here, her true family runs a criminal empire - and they want her back. But Miriam has other plans.

Following The Bloodline Feud are two further omnibus volumes, The Traders' War and The Revolution Trade."
There is a follow-on trilogy: Empire Games and Dark State (with the third volume due in 2019). Charles Stross has 'crib notes' - beware spoilers.

Charles Stross is very bright and well-read across a number of disciplines, from physics to genomics to economics and contemporary politics. Some people have read this series as 'Economics Science Fiction' while for others it's a liberal-minded allegorical critique of US policy over the decades.

Stross is a good enough writer to leave his personal agenda largely to one side. All the factions have understandable motives. In a rather patchy way, it's an increasingly compelling read: recommended.

I particularly liked his Accelerando too.

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* Update (1.45 pm): I last exercised back in September: the winter recess. I am amazed at how fast - and how completely - fitness rolls off you. Five minutes on the exercise bike left me gasping and wobbly - literally weak at the knees. Then a run around the block: 1.23 km = 0.76 miles.

(The full run up the hill and back is 3.22 km = 2 miles - and 55 metres vertical. Took me 18 minutes, back in the day).

Last time I did round the block (in September) it took me 6 minutes and 45 seconds. Today 7 50.

Upon this sorry baseline, fitness will be rebuilt in 2018.