Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit week begins - it's quite something to pull the rug out from under yourself

For the next week or so I will post interesting insights and observations around the UK's historic decision to leave the EU.

My initial reaction is not one of shock but frustration. Having the rug pulled out from under you is one thing, but managing to pull it out from under yourself, well that is something to behold, a truly bewildering achievement in recklessness.

When looking at the broader landscape in terms of net benefits to UK and EU citizens, I firmly believe the economic argument is in favour of remaining - few economists would disagree. Beyond the economics there was a strong case for unity on the social and political side of things, but it was in these domains where the debate got really heated, and it was in this heat that the facts got twisted.

It's interesting to note that immigration and sovereignty are both issues that have particular psychological characteristics which played very much to the 'Leave' camp's favour. Firstly, both issues generate an 'us against them' mentality. The world over, we tend to hold negative feelings against the 'other'. The 'other' may be a neighbouring country that we make jokes about, a group characterised by skin colour, or maybe a group tied together by a different faith, etc. So long as they have a marker to place them in a foreign group, they can be alienated and we can blame them for some of our ills. Consider the communists and the Chinese in previous times. The threat almost always coming from the outside in. In this debate we had two 'others' - the EU beaureaucrats and the immmigrants. Add to this the ability to put a face to the perceived problem and you're onto a winner. Faces win over statistics everytime. We see documentaries about illegal benefits cheats who come over from Romania, we feel threatened by hearing the immigrants language and their influence on our society, and we see how our neighbourhood is changing for the worse because of the 'other'. I'm not denying any valid truths behind these fears and views, but they do appear to be heavily distorted by a type of availability bias, which was easily manipulated by the leave camp. The positives are harder to bring to the foreground and so are overlooked or underweighted. Narrative and the personalised case carries outsized weight against the statistics. This is why a charity asking for donations to alleviate a famine will focus on the single case instead of the vast, faceless thousands. We connect to the story, not the statistics. Annoyingly the remain camp focused on the fear of leaving instead of focusing on the positive stories, which could have provided the required emotional counter punch to the half-truth claims of the leavers.

The other thing I noticed was that many in the leave camp were deliberately not interested in looking at net benefits but focused on one or two of the issues, and even then the focus was a narrow one. For example, if we take the immigration issue, it is clear that UK will never have full control over immigration unless we want to destroy the economy, simply because this will be a central negotiation point when it comes to agreeing our terms of trade with the EU.  Not only will the EU will have the upper hand when it comes to negotiations but they won't make it easy for us as we have put the whole European project at risk. Many voters seemed to switch off when it came to the 'experts' and expert opinion, deliberately blinding themselves to valid arguments in order to retain an odd type of internal coherence. It's not that they denied the facts, but they chose not to pay heed to them. It's the opposite of paralysis by analysis. Pick your own issues and chose your own facts. Hearts ruled minds and rationalism paid the price. It kind of proves that we haven't come as long a way from the Dark Ages as we like to think. One of the 'Leave' camp's ignorance blind spots, for example, was the absence of any type of substantive answer to the question, 'What will happen if we leave?' It's kind of an important one.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

School of Life: Gustave Flaubert

Another quality video from The School of Life, this one's about the author Gustave Flaubert.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and the old media

Poor old newspapers didnt stand much of a chance when it came to the Brexit results. Even if they left their print runs to the very last minute, there wouldn't have been time enough to print a definitive story.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A log of animal observations in Englefield Green

In a couple of weeks I will be moving out of my current residence in Englefield Green. Here is a log of encounters with various animals over the past few months: 

Rabbits - the above photo was taken 10 minutes ago. These rabbits pay no mind to other animals but are easily started by the sight of humans.
Green Parakeets - boy are these birds noisy
Deer - when we had a fence panel down, a couple of deer would come into the garden a few times a week. Apparently one deer still jumps over the fence for the occasional walk around.
Rat - A monster sized rat was spotted scurrying about the garden.  
Squirrels - constantly scampering about the garden.
Duck with a string of ducklings - came in through the gap in the fence and took hours to find their way back out. 
Mouse - blasted critter found its way into my food cupboard, clambered up some bananas, having a nibble along the way, and destroyed my muesli. For several days afterwards, I could hear the creature scurrying around in the cavity underneath the kitchen cupboards. 
Hornets - A couple of these scary looking beasts found their way in to the house
Honeybees - Over a couple of days, loads of honey bees were crawling out through the fireplace in my bedroom and buzzing about the place. I was pretty sure they'd made a home in the chimney but within two days there was no sight nor sound of them.
Red Kites - These majestic scavengers are increasingly common in these parts.
Fox - never spotted but they made a loud howling/barking noise at night. Also, I left a pair of muddy trainers in the porchway and they broke in and ran off with them!
Cat - my companion when I'm enjoying a good book. He has his own chair:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Books - The Old Man and the Sea, and The Diary of Samuel Pepys

I recently re-read The Old Man and the Sea, by Hemingway. It is as enchanting as ever and there are many quotes to note for posterity. I'm also working my way through Samuel Pepys Diary (1659 to 1669). I'll comment on the diary in detail once I've finished, although this will be some months away as it comprises 778 pages of tightly printed text...for now though, it is one of the finest and most fascinating books that I have ever read.

Film To Rome With Love

If you like Woody Allen, To Rome With Love ticks all the boxes. It is light and airy and has the high quality dialogue that fans will have come to expect. The movie is worth watching for the Robert Benigi scenes alone; in Benigi's sub-story, Allen provides genius commentary on the fleeting and fickle nature of celebrity, and how the media latches on and obsesses about every little detail of the celebrity's life.


Michelangelo: He sings for pleasure, not money.

Jerry: Well, there's a great deal of pleasure in money. You know, you... it's green and crinkly. You can fondle the bills.


Jack: With age comes wisdom.

John: With age comes exhaustion.


John: John: And you buy into her bullshit because she seems to know all the right things to say. She knows names, she knows buzzwords, she knows certain cultural phrases that imply that she knows more than she does.


Jack: It's sort of charming that she's a con artist.

John: Yes. She does have a certain something, which trumps logic. So go ahead, walk into the propeller.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

TV: God of Noodles (aka Master of Revenge)

God of Noodles is my first attempt at K-Drama (i.e. a Korean drama series) and it is very, very good, with an excellent turn by the straight-faced villainous Kim Gil-Do, played to a tee by Cho Jae-Hyun. Give it a try.When it comes to all things revenge, nobody does it better than the South Koreans.

Film: Irrational Man - A Woody Allen movie

In the Woody Allen movie 'Irrational Man', Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a disillusioned philosophy professor who is stuck in the standard 'everything all meaningless' existential crisis - this is a flaw in the movie as a philosophy professor surely would have thought through all these obstacles in his early years of study, and yet the flaw is necessary to the plot so we'll have to forgive it. The overall story, which is filled with a pot-pourri of existential teachings, is actually quite memorable and exemplary, the insight being how an individual can suddenly find not only meaning in an irrational act, but that the new meaning can enliven and infuse the person with a new positive life force, even though the end may a destructive one.


Prof. Abe Lucas: "One day a person has a more as of complicated and unsolvable problems then in the batting of an eye, dark clouds part and you can enjoy a decent life again. It's just astounding. I'm Abe Lucas. I've had many experiences and now a unique one. This was the meaningful act I was searching for."

Prof. Abe Lucas: "Kant said human reason is troubled by questions that it cannot dismiss, but also cannot answer."

Prof. Abe Lucas: "It's very scary when you run out of distractions."

Prof. Abe Lucas: ... I'm blocked, I can't write.
Rita: Why?
Prof. Abe Lucas: I can't write cause I can't breathe.
Rita: What would get you breathing again?
Prof. Abe Lucas: The will to breathe, inspiration

Friday, June 10, 2016

Friday, June 03, 2016

This is the living

Video: On bullshit

A salient reminder to take the messages received from certain quarters with a pinch of salt:

BULLSHIT! from Think Nice on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Are we in a simulation? Almost definitely according to Elon Musk

Elon Musk has made this point before, but it sure is a good one.

The School of Life: Tolstoy

This video almost makes me want to drop everything and find some Tolstoy to read:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Film Noir deconstructed

The BFI have put together an excellent infographic on what makes a film a 'film noir'. Click on the image to view it in full. It really is very good.

 Thanks to Open Culture for the pointer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

hayfever strikes

the hayfever has come a knocking a week earlier than last year, and that was early enough. Here we go again with the itchy streaming eyes, constant runny nose and death by a hundred sneezes.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Photos: No bees were harmed during these photos

... because they had already expired.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Science: Swallowed a battery? is on the way

The Economist reports of the creation of a little robot type structure that can be swallowed and guided to accidentally swallowed batteries (before you ask 'is this even a thing?', it is - apparantly 3,500 Americans swallow batteries each year). The little origami robot finds and wraps itself around the battery and is then guided through the rest of its digestive journey, so to speak. Pretty amazing stuff.


3 things you really need to know about this blog author

Hah hah, made you click.

Listy articles with click-baity titles are spreading across the Internet like a the plague. I'm seeing them appear in the financial media with increasing frequency, even from the likes of the FT, who are actually doing an okay job of it so far.  Bloomberg however are once again are making a dog's dinner of things. I clicked on a Bloomberg article titled something like '5 things you need to know to start your day' and it was basically a short paragraph on five topics in the press. A better title would simply have been 'Morning Summary'. I do like the Bloomberg iPad app but their website layout doesn't sit right and they seem to be going after the millennial market with their naff article titles. It's an interesting demographic to go for, as I'm not sure that's where the money many millennial clicks equal that of a well heeled moneyed individual? I'd like to think they have done the analytics.

Bloomberg...a closed garden

So I'm reading a generic Bloomberg article on the currency markets and it finishes with list of `other things we've been reading'. The odd thing is every article linked to was also from Bloomberg. Either Bloomberg don't quite understand presenting link collections, or they are only reading their own material.