“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

DeepMind. Can't wait.

It's not that I don't know much about "cognitive neuroscience". It's not that, like most of us, I had never heard of Demis Hassabis until a couple of days ago. It's not even that I'm surprised that the former games designer and child chess prodigy was able to sell a start up company that has never actually produced anything to Google for $400 million. No, what I'm really concerned about is how little time is being spent debating how artificial intelligence might change our lives for the better rather than consolidate state power on the one hand and corporate wealth on the other. We seem to be peering into the abyss. Into a future of total state surveillance and ever increasing economic inequality. The games of course will be more lifelike and addictive than ever and may even provide some consolation for the barren tedium of real life.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Many a cook……...

The ships cook is a wondrous creature, able to conjure up food in the foulest of weather and in circumstances that would try a saint, I have always respected them even if I didn't necessarily show it at the time. During my years at sea I came across all kinds of extraordinary characters who ended up, for better or worse, as ships cooks. In the old days of the British Merchant Navy many cooks were former deck seamen who had grown too old and unfit for their trade and had graduated to the galley. At one time the cook was also expected to act as ships surgeon and hence the nickname "Doc" traditionally given to the cook. The cook/surgeon had mercifully passed into history long before I trod a deck but the hard drinking ex-deckhand was still a respected inhabitant of the galley on many ships when I first worked on coasters. When a new cook arrived you just never knew what to expect. One claimed to have been in the chorus of Ivor Novello's Dancing Years, another had fought in the International Brigade. All had a story to tell and, if you played your cards right, would let you warm your hands on the galley range.
Later on, when I prostituted myself to work on millionaire's yachts, I found the cooks to be no less interesting; but not necessarily any more skilled in the culinary arts. One incident may serve to illustrate this. We were tied alongside one of the Italian ports favoured by the idle rich, I can't remember which one. One evening a very drunk guest appeared in the galley and failed to notice as a diamond bracelet slid from her wrist and fell to the floor. A quick sideways flick of the foot propelled  the piece of tom under a stove to be recovered later. In the morning the loss of the bracelet was noticed - as was the disappearance of the cook. After the port carabinieri had departed with much shrugging of shoulders and wringing of hands attention was focused on the important matter of replacing the cook. The replacement was to prove to be the very embodiment of the myth that all Italians are great chefs. All kinds of gastrocide were committed during his stay on board but perhaps the worst was the time when the evening meal was very late because the meat was "very tough" and was taking an inordinate time to cook. Further investigation revealed a vat of boiling water into which the "cook" had tossed a dozen or so prime T-bone steaks!
I did think about writing a book of favourite recipes with anecdotes of cooks various. I might still do so one day.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Where is today's English Journey?

For me, reading JB Priestley's English Journey has always been a bit like decorating the hall, seems like a good idea but I just never get round to it. Well the hall remains as scratty as ever but I have finally got a copy of what Priestley described as, "being a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England during the autumn of the year 1933." It's a wonderful celebration of England and English working folk written during hard times  when there seemed little to be pleased about. Priestley had been through the First World War and in the year that Hitler came to power could have had few illusions about what the future had in store. But the book remains an incredibly optimistic one. Priestley beams out at us from the pages. An avuncular figure who  never seems to doubt for a moment the potential of ordinary people to stand together and build a bright socialist future. Today, in a world where talk of a 50p in the pound tax on the very rich is considered radical, I find it difficult to imagine a JB Priestley for our time.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

One banker too many.

When ever the matter of pay restraint for the upper echelons of the finance racket is raised the cry goes up that we will drive all this "talent" from our shores and they will all decamp to Zurich. Even Boris Johnson pointed out that anyone who had ever endured an evening in Zurich would know how unlikely this is. However, galvanised by the threat of an imminent red tide of socialism many city spivs have fled UK to such places as Singapore. Meet 39 year old fund manger Anton Casey, a creature of such unpleasant arrogance that some of the good people of Singapore think that he should be marched onto the next plane back to Blighty. If he is deported I just hope that young Casey is given the complete works by Heathrow Border Agency. Left standing around in socks and knickers for hours, same questions asked over and over, full anal search. Welcome home Anton!
For an interesting insiders look at the ex-pat spiv lifestyle check this out.

A Cornish funeral.

As a life long atheist all religious involvement sits uneasy on my conscience. I avoid all of it if I can and try not to judge one faith against another because although I don't think that the Quakers are as repressive as Wahhabi Islam I remain convinced that we would be better off with none of it. Think that Buddhism is all about peace? Tell that to the Sri Lancan Tamils. But yesterday I had to attend a Church of England funeral. The demands of friendship far outweighed my misgivings. It was a traditional Cornish affair,   The vicar seemed a pleasant enough cove. The church was beautiful and we sang Jerusalem, Will Your Anchor Hold, and the rousing Cornish anthem Trelawny. To be truthful I found it all quite uplifting.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Luton 1919 - Lest we forget.

As the festivities to mark the beginning of the most dreadful slaughter the world had so far seen get underway we would do well to remember how ex-servicemen in 1919 Luton greeted similar celebrations. As the Mayor of Luton and his worthies gathered for a "peace banquet" disgruntled ex-servicemen, many of them disabled and unemployed, gathered outside. Eventually the building was stormed and trashed before having a match put to it. The riot continued as the ex-squaddies sang "Keep the home fires burning" to the accompaniment of a piano looted from a nearby music shop. That's the kind of thing we should be celebrating. Excellent article on the Luton Peace Riots over on the Libcom site. (I believe the author crops up on this blog from time to time!)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Chan 4 and the Big Fat LIbDem Peer.

In my opinion Channel 4 produce some pretty nasty programs and seems at times to be trying to be a 21st century version of the Victorian freak show. And of course there is the Big Fat Gypsy Benefit Scrounger genre that the station seems to have made it's own. But for all of that Channel 4 News is outstanding and I could forgive them almost anything for the nightly ever wider smirk on Kathy Newman's face as the odious Lord Rennard digs a deeper hole and the LibDems unravel before our very eyes.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Ed Miliband. Saviour of the middle-class.

Looking for all the world as though he was about to flog you some dodgy double glazing Ed Miliband is in fact about to bound through the French Windows and save the middle-class. A rescue mission that, if you believe the Telegraph, only Mr Milibean is up to. Worried about being able to afford school fees?
Can't face the neighbours after having to downsize the second car ? Concerned about pensions, kids getting on the housing ladder, the cost of next years skiing holiday? Well Ed's your man. Having failed to look after the interests of the working class the Labour Party is now all set to stand up for that valiant backbone of Middle-England, the chattering classes. Out with New Labour and in with er… New Labour. The tragedy is that the Labour Party is full of decent men and women of the left who year after year, election after election, fail to see through all this shit. So come on then Ed. Do your worst.

Monday, 13 January 2014

A nation of fat.

A report just released by the National Obesity Forum suggests that by 2050 50% of the UK population are likely to be obese. That's a pretty shocking claim. On the face of it there has never been so much awareness and concern about a healthy lifestyle. State of the art gyms are everywhere and it's difficult to open a newspaper without being assailed with more information about what this or that healthy diet can do for your waistline and well being. Yet still the pounds pile on and a walk around any town centre reveals a depressing display of sagging guts and humongous hips. Certainly the food industry must bear considerable responsibly for this outbreak of obesity and certainly processed food is chock full of cheap fillers like refined sugar and palm oil. But if a lot of the blame can be attributed to our diets  I am convinced that lack of exercise is the real culprit. By exercise I don't mean driving to the gym in order to spent half an hour on a running machine but rather the daily accumulation of physical activity that was at the core of our lives until fairly recently. Well within living memory almost everyone had a job that required physical effort and only a minority worked in sedentary admin posts. No one who has endured hard physical labour over long periods is likely to romanticise it. Back breaking hard graft, like much else in life, was nice when it stopped. But there is a price to be paid for everything and perhaps the price for a relatively easy life is an overweight one.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Moon investment for beginners.

A new art exhibition at the OXO Tower draws attention to lunar ownership and exploitation.
The International Moon Treaty that was designed to ensure that no nation state could claim ownership of the moon has never been ratified by any state that has a space program so a pretty meaningless document you might think. But anyway, even if governments did renounce all claims to moon ownership there is nothing to stop individual corporations making such claims and it would be naive to think that the major players have not considered the moon's potential mineral reserves. Some of you might wonder if science and technology might not be better deployed coping with climate change and the increase in extreme weather events that we will all be facing in the years to come rather than strip mining the moon. Yet again, some of you might ponder that all this talk of moon real estate calls into question the whole concept of land ownership. Well good luck with all those lunar cogitations but if in the end you opt for a tranche of lunar ownership this is the place to look. At least I now understand why it's called lunacy.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Caring, sharing?

Economics is not my strong point and the world of "business" tends to leave me very irritated or mildly somnamulant. I have also tended to have serious misgiving about ethical capitalism and corporate social responsibility which seems to me to be oxymorons on a par with "police intelligence" and "left unity". All of the above combined with that most human of conditions, inertia, means that while all around me pointed out the ethical advantage of banking with the nice CoOp I never got around to switching. Eventually I did succumb and transferred my allegiance and not inconsiderable wealth to what I naively thought had something to do with Robert Owen and workers weaving their own bread and growing their own IPad. I was only to enjoy a couple of years basking in the glow of self-righteousness when the shit hit the fan big time. How was I to know that the whole shooting match was being run by a coke fuelled god-botherer with no grasp of the world of finance at all and that the bank would soon be in the hands of a bunch dodgy offshore hedge funds? As I say, economics, not really my strong point.
For a more serious take on the CoOp's ethical stance check out Johnny Void -http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/co-op-campaign-stop-the-atos-contract/

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A hollow future for London.

The concave hollow earth hypothesis found considerable favour in Germany during the first decades of the 20th century. The idea that we all live on the inside of a hollow spherical world and that the whole universe is contained within this sphere was first proposed by one Cyrus Teed of the good old US of A back in the 19th century and would later find favour with leading members of the Nazi Party. I suppose that Hollow Earth fitted in well with the hodge-podge of racist, occult pseudoscience and folk pseudohistory that seems to been at the core of Nazi social theory. These days we look back at Hitler and his gang of half-wit thugs and wonder how such hopeless specimens could have been able to seize power and plunge Europe into a living hell. Such is the wonderful gift of hindsight.

Future generations may well look back on what is happening to London today with equal incredulity. For we seem to be in the grip of a "Hollow London Theory" where the centre of the metropolis is scooped out, "developed" and sold on to the international bourgeoisie as an "investment". The working population of the centre will be relocated to the outer crust of Hollow London. Walk across Waterloo Bridge and look downriver to the City skyline. Apart from St Paul's it could be Dubai or any other ubber rich shit-hole. It could be anywhere. Our grandchildren will demand of their parents why they allowed this to happen and they in turn will no doubt plead their ignorance and innocence.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

1914 and all that.

World renowned historian and great philosopher Alfred E Neuman reaffirms that First World War was a thoroughly good thing that we can all be proud of.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

P J Harvey treads on a few corns.

The New Year guest editors on the BBC Radio 4 Today Program are bound to offend some listeners but this morning's choice of P J Harvey seems to have really put the cat among the pigeons. "Left-wing tosh", thundered Middle England and such reaction was gleefully reported by the Mail and Torygraph. I don't have a view about P J Harvey one way or the other and like many people my morning routine takes place against a background of the Today Program and a lot of it is only half listened to. What got me far more animated was having Barclays boss Antony Jenkins as guest editor earlier in the week. Jenkins used the opportunity not only to mount a PR exercise about the ethical provenance and high ideals of the financial services industry but also to run a three hour advertisement for Barclays at licence payers  expense. Now that did piss me off.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A flood of biblical proportions etc.

As low pressure systems form an orderly queue in the Atlantic and await their turn to buffet the shores of Albion the nation's journalists sharpen pencils and perform wrist exercises in preparation for the long hours to be spent at the keyboard. The rain shows no sign of abating and continues fall on an already saturated catchment. Further floods seem inevitable and how fortunate for hacks that they can use much of the same flood copy, give or take a bit of mild editing, to describe the arrival of our Romanian and Bulgarian comrades. All these people from small countries of which we know little, but small countries mind you with surprisingly large populations, all these people will "flood" in. There will be a "deluge" of Bulgarians and a veritable tsunami of Romanians battering our island home, seeping into the very foundations of our national culture.  And so on, and on and on.
There is no escaping the fact that a large influx of new arrivals places a burden on infrastructure but it is nothing that a wealthy country like UK can't cope with given the political will. Anyway, reading the reports coming out of this country most potential immigrants may well conclude that Britain is such a senile, miserable, moaning, inhospitable and unwelcoming dump that they might be better off staying put.