Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A trip to Seville: day 4: Seville

Up just before 8 - the sun rises through my window around then, very quiet and peaceful on clear blue days - and go for a 7 km run through the nearby Parc, back along the railway line, along the river, and back. It's not an "obvious" running route though; I suspect that the far side of our local bit of "river" is the correct route.

B'fast, moderately quickly - only one coffee - to get to the Rowing by 10, but I needn't have rushed: there was some faffing around and we didn't get off till 10:30. The ladies had done their VIII as an early - 8 am - outing; we borrowed Sarah and Rachel so Simon E and Steve O could go off in the quad. It went well; better sat and more enjoyable; we got up to 30 whilst keeping our form fairly well.

After that I skipped lunch in favour of a shower and a walk into town; this lead to me walking in about 1 pm and it was quite hot any time when I wasn't in the shade, which was moderately often to start. I had intended to stop in a bar or somewhere for lunch, but as so often with me none of them looked quite right so I didn't stop till I got to the cathedral. Which is really very big. Bigger than you think in fact. It also had a big queue so I sat in the shade and waited for it to go down somewhat. Inside, as I'd half suspected from the outside, it is a touch disappointing; it is more big than anything else, but not more interesting. Doubtless my ignorance and lack of perception. But the stained glass, for example, might have been quite nice but with the walls being so big the windows are far away. The orange courtyard in the back is nice. The elliptical chapel makes a good pic.

After that I really should have found somewhere quiet to sit down but I didn't. I also managed to find a somewhat unsatisfactory path back along the riverside that probably wasn't intended to be walked. But, it was all fine really. Back not much before I'm due to row again in the 18:15 outing, which is Men Only this time. Me at 7 again, Conor for some reason hiding at 2. Also good; not quite as well sat as this morning, but faster. Towards the end we managed to snag an underwater wire not properly buoyed on the fin, resulting in amusing bending and a distinct steering problem. Fortunately the centre's Mr Fixit had only just left the site so we got him back and he replaced it, with some hammering and grinding and the second fin fitted to his satisfaction.

Dinner at the centre, then out on the town for those who wanted to; I stayed in.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A trip to Seville: day 2: Madrid to Seville

Day two starts with me going down to the lobby for breakfast, which doesn't work well, as breakfast is at the top on the sixth floor. But with that little error corrected I have the usual sort of buffet you expect in a 4* hotel, including lots of coffee and orange juice and. this being Spain, little bits of dried ham. After, after some internetting, it is time for a run: I go West, down the hill I didn't know was there, over the river, and into the Casa de Campo; see GPS trace. Despite that being a 12 km run I didn't get all that far into the Campo. A quick shower and pack and check out: time for the Prado.

Happily all is walkable so I trundle off; my bag isn't heavy and I hang my coat off it and keep to the shade and it's pleasant. At the Prado, there's a queue for tickets which I stand in for a bit before a functionary says go to the far end so we do and there's no queue. What am I to look at? First up is Goya's "black paintings" which are pretty weird but well worth seeing; "Saturn eating his son" is dead famous. There's a lot of other stuff there of course: the 2nd and 3rd of May for example. After more than an hour I break for the cafe which is a glassed-in courtyard at the back. Then another hour of pix, disappointingly I don't find the Bosch which I was expecting.

To the train station. I have an hour free so get coffee, juice and a goats-cheese sandwich on decent bread. The train goes from the first floor, it turns out that the whole "old station" has been turned into a jungle / boutiques, and the new station built off the back. And they have stupid security - why on Earth would you scan baggages for internal travel? Sigh.

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Train is swish and new; Eurostar-like. And not at all full. Countryside between Madrid and Cordoba is quite empty: few signs of habitation, mostly olives or oaks spaced with pasture, gentle hills. From Cordoba to Seville more habited and farmed. Cruise into Seville a little early; I walk from station to hotel Barcello and am just getting confused by reception when Dan turns up; it turns out I'm Angela, so to speak. Anyway I have a room and we wander off to the rowing centre which is very close, roughly as the VIII that is out, comes in. Thence dinner in the residence by the rowing centre: basic-but-plentiful rather like last year. After dinner to the Barcello for drinks and then, for me at least, bed; for the young folk, a walk into town for the nearest bar.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A trip to Seville: day one: Madrid

This year's rowing camp is in Seville. Ole. For reasons I dimly remember I chose to fly to Madrid, stay overnight, and get the train to Seville tomorrow. I'm at the hotel Eurostars Plaza Mayor, which is in a side street not too far away from said PM. It's fine; the room is clean and has Wifi and all the rest is just detail.

Miriam kindly drove me down to Stanstead; we got up before 6, went downstairs to discover that the noises in the night were indeed E and Mdy ensconsing themselves in the living room. Quick b'fast pick up back remember backup-printed boarding pass and we're off; it is a misty morning with clear skies and the orange sun rises as we drive down to a clear day. Couldn't it be raining here? Security, the traditional theatre, is crowded but everyone has got used to the pantomine so it is efficient and quick: 15 mins through. They don't query my I've-checked-its-legal 4.5 cm Swiss Army miniknife.  I have time for a coffee to relax then onto gate and a pain free boarding. The flight is full, I have a window seat, and read Hayek: tRtS. See Brian and P as they board later.

Land. Well, here we are, but where are we? I have totally not done my homework: I have no idea where in relation to Madrid the airport is, and I've failed to pre-load Maps onto my phone. Sort that out with airport grotty free Wifi and discover town is ~15 km SW. Well... I could walk. Why not? It's a sunny day and I want to see the place. Maybe it's too hot outside. Checks. No, it's fine. Let's go!

As usual, escaping the immeadiate environs in the right direction turns out to be the hard part, especially when it involves crossing the usual sorts of roads near airports, but I get there via some interestingly wild grass in the central reservations.

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The route in starts off well; pleasantly shaded through pines. Of course lots of it is city too. The one bit I do rather regret is this:

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That's the gates at the back of the Parque Quinta de los Molinos. Sadly, there's only one way in and out, so my detour into it became a dead end, the more so because of course I did climb the gate and squeeze through the gap you can see and go to the far wall and circle round it and eventually found a corner I could climb (with bees in the stonework!) but alas the drop down the far side was just a bit too big.

The GPS trace of the walk in is here. It took 3 hours, time well spent. Seen along the way: old folk playing boules; purple trees; small bars just like in France but I kept on going.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Manchester Man

Another spring, another marathon. This time, Manchester. Suggested, I think, by James Annan, who ran it last year. And I thought it might make a nice change. As it turns out, it was a nice change, though one way and another it wasn't significantly less hassle, travel-wise, then going to Holland.

TL;DR: I cruised 3:51:46.

You might ask: "if you cruised that, why not try a bit harder and do a bit better?" Which is a fair question. the answer is that I hadn't done any significant long distance training since Amsterdam last Autumn; only the Folksworth 15 and a 24k along the river. So I really just wanted to get under 4 hours again, which I'd failed at in Amsterdam by a whisker. And I didn't want to spoil that by running too fast and then blowing up. Arguably that only applied to the first, say, 3/4 of the race giving me no good excuse for the last 10 k. But meh; it was going well, I know my habit of falling off a cliff at the end, I'm happy.

Here's my full set of results, for reference.

Brighton 2011: 4:20:29
Rotterdam 2016: 4:16:51
Amsterdam 2016: 4:00:08
Amsterdam 2014: 3:58:00
Amsterdam 2011: 3:57:23
Rotterdam 2015: 3:55:54
Amsterdam 2012: 3:55:52
Brighton 2012: 3:54:28
Manchester 2017: 3:51:46
Brighton 2013: 3:46:32
Brighton 2014: 3:43:42
Amsterdam 2013: 3:43:06

So this is my best result since early 2014; and my fourth best of 12. I think that reflects my general fitness declining somewhat since the "great year" of 2013; largely due to pressure of work.

Of the run: the race makes the very sensible decision to have wide (2-road-lane) start area pens, which is then constricted down to about 10 feet wide briefly just before the start on a right-angle turn, before widening out onto the actual start line. Which means that you can run, unrestricted, right from the start. Excellent. They're also quite unfussy (read: I saw no marshalls) about exactly which pen you go into (which makes sense really: there are no constraints on what time you promise beforehand). So since it was convenient, I started just in the gap between C and D, just a little ahead of the 3:45 pacers. That lead to a steady stream of people overtaking me, but not too fast, so it was fine. I held the pacer off till 30 k, which was fine, as (since they started let-us-say 1 minute after me) that gave me ~14 minutes in hand over the last 12 km.

The first 21 km were fine; I started at 5:10 and faded according to plan to 5:20, and so got 1:50 for the first half, giving me a comfortable cushion for the second half. But! I've been there before and lost all that comfort, so I was more careful. One expression of that care was stopping for a pitstop at 25 k, mostly because I needed it, but partly to take off whatever time it would take early, so I could factor it in. As it was I managed a high-quality Formula-1 style 50 second stop. At that point my fade hadn't really kicked in, so I got 6:14 for that lap, and hardly lost any of my notional cushion.

Things started to slow a bit at 30 k, where my splits dropped from 5:20 to 5:40 and stayed there; then dropped to 6 at 35 and stayed there; but by 39 k I started to feel a bit ashamed of cruising quite so easily, and speeded up a little. Vignette from 2k out: man on bicycle cycling next to his son: "come on now, you're nearly there, and you're over the worst bit". Son: "No. I can assure you that this is the worst bit". For me, about 7-8-9 k out was the worst: still a ways for the line, and beginning to get tired.

One nice feature of the route is that between 14 k and 22 k the outward and returning streams are on two sides of a normal road; so you get to see the leaders coming back; and somewhat later I cheered on James as he went by. To my surprise the leading pack were all white; which will be why it was won in 2:20 rather than 2:08 or somesuch.

By happy chance I met Elissa Tennant-Brown at the start; she said, tentatively, "did you row the Boston marathon a few years back?" And indeed, yes, I had, when she was our cox. I also met her at 32 k when she ran past me; and then said hello past the finish. She got 3:44, 7 minutes better than me, probably accounted for by sticking to her 5:20 while I dropped half a minute or more per k over the last 10 k.

Of the arrangements: I had intended to B+B an hour south of Manchester, and drive to there and then from there. But quite late James turned out to have a spare bed so I slept with him; and this enabled me to take take the train. Less hassle than driving if somewhat more expensive. Cambridge to Manchester is not especially easy, and in some ways getting to Rotterdam is easier. The Holiday Inn in the MediaCity part of Manchester (well, Salford officially) is achingly clean, and there was a pasta place nearby that James had thoughtfully booked. And walking from the main station took only a bit more than an hour, all pleasantly along the canals. If I was going to do it again I'd probably turn up earlier and give myself some time to look around; on a pleasant weather weekend as this was it's a nice place, and a coffee along the canals would have been relaxing. And there's always the matchsticks to look at.

Friday, 31 March 2017

20170331_214653 (1) Tacitus on Imperial Rome (wiki) also known as the Annals or similar is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years AD 14–68.

I picked up my copy second hand after finding the phrase corruptissima re publica plurimae leges, or "the more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government"; although in the edition I read, it is translated as "corruption reached its climax, and legislation abounded". Which is the other way around. Never mind, it was a concept I was interested in - see that post - and it was enough to make me get the book.

To some extent I was disappointed; it is not, as I had half thought, a collection of aphorisms. Much of it is a rather dry recitation of history, much of which was, apparently, gathered from the records of the senate. What excitement there is comes from the underlying subject, which is a mixture of Imperial Rome doing stuff (conquering, ruling, whatever; see below) and the political machinations at Rome, much of which in the later parts is the hideous corruption and cruelty of the emperors. The death of Livia is touchingly told.

Of the "Imperial Rome doing stuff" there are things of interest. Mostly, as usual, upsetting my ideas of what it was they did. Quite a lot seems taken up by Rome, as a patient but not inexhaustibly so paternal figure, keeping the peace amongst the warring and nominally conquered tribes of Armenia, or Germany. Britain gets a brief mention. Egypt was the breadbasket of the Empire, and at some point is rather casually converted from subject nation to province. None of this seems to greatly trouble the power of the Imperium.

Of the corruption at Rome: this is all rather more familiar stuff. It is hard to pick out the more relevant bits; but it is all too familiar in the cases of Nazi Germany; or Iraq; or Gaddafi's Libya. In that taking down a tyrant is risky, so people don't, so they get killed anyway. But the tyrant is always uneasy; which provokes yet more paranoid culling of prospective rivals, which generates yet more unrest. And the populace has to be fed, and there needs to be some money in the treasury to bribe the populace with.

Many of their customs appear bizarre. People, when accused before the senate often implausibly, choose suicide over trial; generally by "opening their veins", though this is generally described as a painful slow death. The Papian Poppaean law prohibited celibacy; you would be preferred in the senate if you had more children; and so on. Shades of the "decline of the West" we hear in our society? "It had failed, however, to popularise marriage: childlessness was too attractive". But why?

Page 129 in my edition - its just before, well includes, the quote re abundance of laws and corruption - is a sort of idealised history of the process of law formation, which Tacitus mostly bemoans. But what it speaks to is the way that Rome never really found itself a stable constitution or proper set of legal principles. That's especially obvious during the period that the book covers. As I understand it, Tiberius ruled as Emperor, but with no legal backing. Formally, he ruled through the senate. And from reading the book, I get the impression it was a mixture of him wishing they would do more - he frequently leaves things up to them - and doing things because they're incapable of handling them. But, he had the power.

Tacitus doesn't much like Tiberius but he was at least competent, as far as I can see. And perhaps sufficiently secure not to need to brutalise his people. In subsequent emperors, that fails.

Part of the subsequent-emperor problem, and the lack of legal basis, and the longing for the olde dayes, seems to be tied up with Imperial Rome actually being a rather small place. I don't actually know how big it was, but the reason it seems small is that everyone is there. Being exiled is a severe punishment. Despite the carnage in Rome, very few people seem to run away to safety in the provinces.

But as I say, there is so much I can't understand. One of the principle perquisites of some class was a better seat in the colosseum. Really? That seems so petty. Unless they were really status-obsessed. Like I say, I just don't understand.

A folded down page: Nero punished the "notoriously depraved Christians... the deadly superstition had broken out afresh... in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital".

Another: after a foolish commander botches Corbulo's war in Armenia, there is no victory only peace: "At Rome, however, trophies and arches for victory over Parthia were erected... voted by the senate while the war was undecided they were not now abandoned. Known facts were ignored in favour of appearances".


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Chronicle of a death foretold

Poor Phoebe is approaching the End, I fear. She has been slowing down this past year, staying in more, going out less. She is, we think, about 12; not young any more though not especially old. Last week, last Sunday, we noticed that she was slower than ever and her breathing was very laboured - breath in, collapse out. We took her to the vet on Monday morning and £600 and a day's stuff later - including 4 hours in an oxygen chamber - we had a diagnosis of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and a largeish pot of yellow-orange fluid extracted from her chest cavity. And some pills to feed her.

The pill feeding was a total failure, but once we stopped doing that she settled down quietly and seemed to be breathing better. Another appointment on Wednesday taught Miriam the mystical trick of feeding pills to cats: hold them tight by the scruff of the next, pull back their forehead skin with a finger to give them the "bug eyed look" whilst lifting them off their forepaws. This was better, but still largely a failure and I had very little heart for it. Phoebe clearly hated it. Meanwhile, she was eating little or nothing, but drinking a lot.

Come her next appointment on Friday morning she could not be found! She had been somewhat in the habit of going out, and needing to be brought back in. And also of hiding in odd corners of the house, including in Daniel's sleeping bag. On Friday Miranda had left early, so we weren't even sure if Phoebe was in the house or outside. We looked both in and out, down the garden several times and in the road; but there are so many places that a cat that doesn't want to be found, won't be. In the end the vet's appointment had to be cancelled. Later, on Friday night at 9 pm when we were really quite worried, she came scratching at the back window a poor bedraggled thing, the weather had not been good that day.

Miriam took her in on Saturday morning, to discover that she had lost 400 g from her not-very-heavy previous weight of 3,100 g on Monday. Unless she can recover her appetite - we tempt her with goat's milk, with tuna, with sardines, with her own cat food, to no avail - then she is not long for this world. We have a pipette; we could try force-feeding milk or mush; but I am reluctant.

Why is this here? Well, for the bits I haven't written yet I suppose. What of the morality of it: we could spare ourselves some pain by having her put down, but would she want that? We owe her some love and some kindness at her end; and our best guess at what she would want. But she's a cat; they're inscrutable.

Sad update: in the early hours of Sunday I heard distressed noises; Phoebe was nearly at the top of the stairs. I carried her down to her bed and laid her there; she seemed quiet. In the morning she was quiet; as I got my breakfast she moved a little. Later, she walked around a bit but her back legs were not working properly. A little later she made more distressed noises from her bed; I stroked her; she quieted and seemed calm. When I came back ten minutes later she was dead.

In the afternoon Daniel came round to say goodbye. We dug a hole in the back garden and buried her. I chanted dust to dust and we threw the soil in, and put daffodils on top of her grave so that we will remember in future years. Miriam read the "a time to be born and a time to die" passage from Ecclesiastes and a short Buddhist piece.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Book review: The Dragon Masters

Jack Vance again. An old classic. I can still recall when I first read this, sometime in my teens, fresh I think from some Pern-y type stuff, and thought this might be more of the same - not being familiar with Vance at the time. And on a hot summer day I cycled through the English countryside near Berkhamstead till I found a nice empty field and settled down to read.

Oh was I disappointed! The book was completely weird and not at all what I expected. When a book isn't what you expect it is hard to get started. At first you don't realise it isn't what you expect; it just appears as hard to read, and you keep reading on for the familiar bit, or when the story will turn into the rut you were expecting. Eventually you realise and are either liberated, or you throw the book away in disgust.

I, of course, was liberated. This is more splendid Vance-type stuff with a weird situation and a ruthless hero and aliens and the end of times. I won't spoil the story by telling you more; see wiki if you want that or Goodreads for many more reviews.

Does the book have anything to say about the meaning of life, of slavery, or what it is to be a man? The Goodreads folk seem to think so. I confess it never really occurred to me it did. The Languages of Pao does have something to say, sort of; or rather, it is an illustration of a concept. I think Vance is more that than messages.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time

For reasons that I can't quite recall, I came across The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, by Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin. RMU I only know because some idiot insists on puffing him up on wiki; but that did make me suspicious. LS, to me, is just a physicist of some repute.

So when in the CUP bookshop (one of the benefits of living in Cambridge) I spent perhaps 10-15 minutes browsing through it. For such a tome you will doubtless claim - or anyone supportive of the work would doubtless claim - that is far too short a time. Well, tough. I don't have all day.

The book is perhaps 2/3 RMU and 1/3 LS. The RMU section I found to be meaningless and thus worthless. I use those words literally; there was nothing of any value in there that I could find. Peter Woit reviews the book and says " I found the long section by RMU rather hard going and not very rewarding, and realized that I have a fundamental problem with this sort of writing. Arguments about physics and mathematics made in natural language leave me often unable to figure out exactly what is being claimed". Which I think is him saying the same, but more politely.

So let's move on to the LS section, without pausing to wonder - because the question is unanswerable - why LS is wasting his time associating with RMU. What I'm going to say - I promise - are my opinions, formed before I read PW. Also, in case you think PW is merely a professional rival of LS and dissing him, read his review of The Trouble With Physics (though he is less happy with more recent stuff).

I'm going to cheat though and copy PW's "three ideas" that LS has:

1. The uniqueness of the universe.
2. The reality of time.
3. Mathematics as the study of evoked relationships, inspired by observations of nature.

#1 is no multiverses. Well, meh. That's hardly a controversial viewpoint. Multiverse or not is a thing you can argue about, but there's no strong evidence either way. Quite how this fits together with his prior support for Cosmological natural selection, I don't know. I would have expected a section reconciling the two, but didn't see it.

#2 is also rather meh, in that to me it simply seems bleedin' obvious, and scanning of the book didn't reveal much in the way of deep insight from LS expounding his thesis. Somehow he hops from this to the idea that physical laws themselves evolve; as PW points out, this begs the question of what law they evolve according to. It would, I think, have been much better if anchored in experience: is there evidence, or conceivable evidence, for the truth or otherwise of this proposition? LS seems to have gone the string theory route of speculation without evidence.

#3 was hard for me to make any sense of. PW points me to a shorter essay which may be about the same thing, from which I quote "My aim in this essay is to propose a conception of mathematics that is fully consonantwith naturalism. By that I mean the hypothesis that everything that exists is part of thenatural world, which makes up a unitary whole... If, on the other hand, all that exists is physical reality then mathematical knowledgemust be an aspect of knowledge about physical reality...". That doesn't make sense to me. PW's comment is "In his essay, Smolin gives a discussion of mathematics itself which I think few mathematicians would recognize..." and you should read him for more if you're interested.

I poked around for some other reviews and found Goodreads.

* Manny: "I am a fan of Lee Smolin, so it pains me to say that this one was a major disappointment... even if it's wrong it asks so many interesting questions that it's absolutely worth reading. The problem is that most of it appeared in Smolin's last book, Time Reborn"
* G R Reader: "Roberto, why don't you come clean and admit what's as plain as day? You ran out of ideas; you tried to solve the problem by repeating yourself ad nauseam with minor stylistic variations; CUP refused to publish the result; Lee came in at the last minute and saved you by writing (more accurately, cutting and pasting) 150 pages in a couple of weeks; it was then accepted with very bad grace; the final product still stinks."

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Article 50 ruling: Courts should never have got involved in Brexit, says dissenting judge

From the Torygraph, the minority (3/8) verdict in today's case:
Judges should never have been allowed to rule on how Brexit should be triggered because it is a matter for politicians and not the courts, one of the Supreme Court Justices said.
Lord Carnwath, one of three Justices who sided with Theresa May, said the courts had taken “too narrow a view” of the issues at stake and should have left it to Parliament to settle its own affairs.
What's annoying me now is that I wrote much the same myself, and had a long argument about it, and now can't find it. Grrr. It might have been on facebook.

What I tried to say was that "giving" to Commons the "right" to vote on whether we should trigger article 50 is meaningless. If the Commons aren't strong enough to take action, there's no point in a bunch of men in wigs "giving" them their "right". And it seems I am likely to be proved correct: following today's verdict, the government will simply put forward a short simple bill saying "right, let's trigger article 50". And it will pass. Note that today's verdict does helpfully clarify some minor matters for the government:
The court also rejected, unanimously, arguments that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly should get to vote on Article 50 before it is triggered.
Also note that Gina Miller appears to be an idiot, but that's rather beside the point.

I also dislike the creeping law-isation of life. The courts butt into too much, and should do less. Unfortunately, there is nothing to control them; they don't make law but they interpret law; so whether they're allowed to inverfere is entirely up to them. As Hobbes said.

The original High Court verdict is worth reading, though.

Refs

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges
Hayek vs Hobbes and the theory of law
Brexit means Brexit?
Post-referendum thoughts

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Obama's achievements

On my real blog I've just put up some comments on Trump; "predictions" for his term. But what of Obama? I don't want to spam that blog with politics, so I'll write here. Context: over there, I've just said "Trump will probably be minor". What might I have said before Obama's first term? I cannot now say. But, despite all the noise, I think I'd likely go with "overall, minor" as his record.

But what is his record? I'm going to (based on it looking moderately sensible and being a topish Google search) going to use Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments, Revisited, from http://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine, about which I know nothing. These are just quick reactions, not deep analysis.

1. Passed Health Care Reform: yes, but it was flawed, perhaps badly, and may not survive.
2. Rescued the Economy: yes. "Didn't do badly" might be better, but not doing badly in this context is indeed an achievement, many have fared far worse.
3. Passed Wall Street Reform: not really convinced.
4. Negotiated a Deal to Block A Nuclear Iran: yes, I think.
5. Secured U.S. Commitment to a Global Agreement on Climate Change: you know what I think about that stuff.
6. Eliminated Osama bin Laden: true; it happened on his watch. It's unclear how much he contributed. The article doesn't have the word "drone" anywhere in it.
7. Ended U.S. Combat Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan: this is mendacious. the US is still involved, and both places are still disaster areas.
8. Turned Around the U.S. Auto Industry: dodgy.
9. Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’’: I suppose that's good. Part of wider social progress.
10. Supported Federal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages: kinda the same thing.
11. Reversed Bush Torture Policies: yes, but failed to close Guantanamo; again, the article doesn't contain that phrase.
12. Established Rules to Limit Carbon Emissions from Power Plants: probably of some use. I'm not keen on govt fiddling like this. Establish a carbon tax instead.
13. Normalized Relations with Cuba: sensible. But things were heading that way anyway.
14. Put Medicare on Sounder Financial Footing: dunno.
15. Protected DREAMers from Deportation: dunno.
16. Established Net Neutrality: good.
17. Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: this is a rather weird one; it appears to be cheering partisanship on the court. Couldn't it have been entitled "appointed two competent judges"?
18. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards: stop fiddling. Carbon tax now.
19. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program, Expanded Pell Grant Funding: dunno.
20. Improved America’s Image Abroad: yes.

I got bored at that point. I assume they're in order; anything under #19 can't be important.

Overall: it's a reasonably solid record of careful work, but nothing major.

Brian disagrees with me.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Theatre review: An Inspector Calls

20170114_191332After AIC, the book, here's AIC, the visit to the theatre. E was doing it for English, and had been recommended to see the production if possible. And it seemed like a fun idea to go down to London and stay overnight. M found us Z Hotel, Orange street. This was very conveniently central, a few minutes walk from the National gallery and only five minutes from the theatre, and all very nice though the rooms are smaller than the bathroom we had at the Ritz last year.

But what of the play I hear you ask? Interesting, I reply. You've read my review of the book-of-the-play I hope. Actually watching the play, I came to realise, was a bit like having a conversation with someone about it: you got to see another perspective, and some fresh ideas, which you might or might not agree with.

The production is a revival of the landmark 1992 production and uses the same set, or so I'm told. This is, errrm, quite dramatic, which I suppose is the point: the dining room is inside a house occupying about half the stage and elevated by about six feet; and somewhat undersized, so the actors have to duck to get out of the door. This all is, I think, intended to give a feeling that the inside is all rather dolls-house, as opposed to the gritty reality of the outside world. Which is cute but facile: all the world is real; dinner parties just as much as gutters.

In the first scene the house is lit and the "understorey" is dark. As the play goes on the underneath comes clearer; and towards the end the house "falls down", and extras dressed in war garb for no clearly identifiable reason other than effect come on at the edges; so the effect is of a town ravaged by war. This fits into what I would call the "propaganda" aspect of the play, and of the staging. This clearly fits within Priestley's worldview: for him, Capitalism had caused WWI and WWII. And indeed some of the speeches within the play are intended to foreshadow this. However, there is no "evidence" for this within the play, so it all has to be done by innuendo instead; the "war" stuff is subtly mixed with the social-justice message, and by being persuaded of one (perhaps) you are insidiously lead to the other; which is why I call it propaganda. It is, effectively, dishonest; though doubtless Priestley believed it and meant well, as people always do.

Since it is a topic, I shall bang on about it some more: did Capitalism cause WWI? As already said, JBS (and many on the left) take it almost as a given, not requiring any form of evidence. The Economist disagrees; and so I think do I. In this, Old Man Birling is correct: business does not want a war, it would be bad for business.

After that, we;re back to the less arguable part of the Message: you should be nice to people and consider the effect of your actions on them. Put like that it is all very motherhood-and-apple-pie; part of the skill of the dramatist is then to wrap this idea up into some fresh garb to make you think about it again. And in a way you do... a bit. But then again, we come back to Old Man Birling. He sacks the girl, after she's asked for a rise, as the Inspector somewhat dishonestly sums up towards the end. Had he done that, he'd have been in the wrong. But he didn't: he sacked her after she'd lead a strike, which is different. So his behaviour seems excusable. If we turn to Gerald, his sins also seem weak: arguably taking advantage of a pretty young woman, but also providing her food, shelter and money and giving her a chance to recover after a difficult time. By contrast the Young Folk - Sheila and Eric - who we are invited I think to like at the end because they repent their sins - do seem to be the two characters with the most to repent. I ignore Mrs B, because she doesn't fit into my nice scheme.

On to the presentation of the play. When I read it through, it all appeared to be neat and tidy and to work well. It worked well in theatre, too. There was a slight awkwardness - to my mind - when after they realise he's not an Inspector, and that she's not one woman, it takes them ages to realise that she may not even be dead. That needs smoothing over, in my view. But that might be because I've recently read the book. Small note: was Sheila a catty over-privileged young cow who habitually dissed shop assistants, or a fundamentally nice young thing who made but one serious mistake? In the book, the latter, I think. In the play, the former: she delivers the line "I only did it once, and will never do it again" in such a way as to suggest the opposite. Such is the plasticity of language.


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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Book review: All Hell Let Loose

All Hell Let Loose is a history of WWII, by Max Hastings. One of the children had it; I read it; it wouldn't normally be my reading material. It is a thick book, with some illustrations. I thought it good.

Danger: spoiler alert: the Germans lose.

The main advantage of the book is it's sweep: it covers the entire war, in very rough proportion to the amount of death and fighting, and so covers the Eastern Front far more than the traditional English schoolboy education, that I received, ever did. It also, somewhat refreshingly, largely covers the actual fighting, rather than politics, or causes, or economics. It doesn't entirely ignore economics, of course - pointing out, for example, that pure weight of US industrial capacity doomed Japan from the start (so why did they fight at all? Because they were stupid enough to deceive themselves: they thought they could expand, and then offer peace, which the US would accept though being soft and reluctant to accept casualties).

Other "nice" things it mentions - again, an example from Japan-US - is that some of the land campaigns were strategically pointless. Not all; some tiny rocks captured for airstrips were valuable. But once the US had wound itself up, it's submarines and surface Navy had largely suppressed the Imperial Navy, and so large garrisons of Japanese troops on... the ?Philippines? - I recall the concept, of course, not the actual examples - were no harm to anyone. They could have been bypassed and dealt with after the war was finished. But all the obvious things - commanders who wanted to fight, an army that had been created and therefore had to be used, lack of will in the overall command - meant that a whole pile of mainly US troops would die pointlessly killing lots of Japanese troops.

Slightly to my disappointment he doesn't cover "what if"s much. The most obvious large-scale "what if" is perhaps what if the Germans had put up lesser, or even token resistance on the Western front and diverted resources to the Eastern (of which the "battle of the Bulge" would be only a part). Then the Western allies would have reached Berlin and parts East first, perhaps even in 1944, leading to much less misery for Germany but perhaps also a much altered post-war balance, since the Commies would have got to conquer much less of Eastern Europe. The answer to this is perhaps that Hitler was mad enough to think he was going to win - or felt obliged to claim this in public - and so couldn't adopt this as a policy; that would only have been possible if he'd been deposed by the generals, but in that case they'd probably just have surrendered, so we rapidly go off into "actually, it couldn't have been like that".

There are hints of other "what if"s: he suggests that the Africa campaigns were but a side-show and largely pointless; but also that better strategy from the Krauts might have cleared the British out of the Med entirely, in which case Egypt and so on might have gone rather differently.

Philip Hensher writes a review that promotes the "individual voices" in the book. And, true, Hastings does quote quite a few people, officers, men, and civilians. But I wouldn't count that as a major part of the book.

Another good bit of myth-busting (again, to this English ex-schoolboy) is how poorly our armies performed in the colonies in the Far East against Japan. There's a certain myth that though there were a fair number of blimps in charge the actual fighting men were good; but this doesn't really seem to have been true. Few of the British soldiers particularly believed in what they were doing, and so weren't good at it.

And, so it goes. Overall, he does a good jobs of grinding in the terrible destruction wreaked on hapless populations by the fighting going on over their heads, largely in the Eastern Front. And all so totally pointless.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Christmas 2016

A follow up to the immensely successful Christmas 2015. What changed?

Daniel didn't break up from school ages before Christmas, since he is now at university. Instead, he came down ages before Christmas. We didn't work Christmas Eve, instead  travelling to Marcham for a meal out with Si+B on the 23rd, who were off to Hayling Island for Christmas. We stayed in Marcham that night, and to Milton-u-W on the 24th after brunch, in time for afternoon coffee and a read of the paper before carols around the village tree.

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This year I managed a half marathon on Christmas morning, somewhat slow at 1:48. We didn't finish the washing up before the Queen's speech. Otherwise, reassuringly like last year. E now has braces; L too is at university, Leeds.

Which I see I didn't finish, another fine tradition. After boxing day comes the Trip To The Panto, this year Jack and the Beanstalk at Cheltenham, followed by Bella Italia (why C, not Oxford? I'm not sure; it used to be O, before 2015). We will probably think of something else, next year, the children are rather old for panto nowadays. BI is felt to be better than Jamie's Italian. The next day was a rest day and little was done - a lunchtime walk to the pub (the Lamb) for some.

Then the xfer to Marcham, which is rather less traditionally Christmassy, as is traditional. The meal at SoJo was on New Year's eve, after which E and I walked along the canal to Christ Church meadow and around. It was a grey day be we had a pleasant walk and chat, and (since she ponders the possibility of going to Oxford) she got to see some of it with new eyes. Then a sit in Blackwells cafe, and home.

When back home (having stayed an extra day, so that E could watch the Sherlock on New Year's Day) we were sad to find Little Cat not there; nor did she return next day. This, too, is in some danger of being traditional, as it happened once before. But a day or two later M was phoned up; P had been found, phew.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

When we were very young

shiptoship1 Looking for something else (I'll tell you later) I found GeoCities and diaries on the early web (James Baker, ‘GeoCities and diaries on the early web (preprint, 2016)’, in Batsheva Ben-Amos and Dan Ben-Amos (eds.) The Diary (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2017)).

 More that two years ago (my how time flies) I wrote The dim and distant history of climate blogging, but that was about blogging. Since it was irrelevant - and I thought probably lost - I ignored my even more pre history, which was a - gasp - Geocities website.

 Aanyway, a wayback machine archive of that early site is here and to make assurance doubly sure there's an archive of that here (which will probably load faster). The photo (if you're wondering) is taken from a scan of my work pass. The picture of Miriam is on the other side of the Cherwell high footbridge in the University Parks.

The picture (don't click on it of you are of a delicate disposition) is re-used as traditional from the "dim and distant" post.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Blood pressure, 2017

A follow-up to the exciting "blood pressure" of last year. Summary: generally just on the safe side of 120 / 80.

2017 / 01 / 01: just before...

* 125 / 85 (63)
* 109 / 74 (63)
* 114 / 72 (61)

...and just after a 10 k run. Readings taken about as fast as the machine would; perhaps at one minute intervals.

* 151 / 88 (101)
* 126 / 81 (98)
* 114 / 83 (94)
* 118 / 83 (88)
* 116 / 80 (87)