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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Label Update

As, yet again, there’s no burning issues going on in my head ATM and my present low(er) reading speed means I don’t have enough books in my review pile to ‘risk’ a review today… I thought I’d just do a quick update on my Label List (yes, sometimes SaLT gets THAT boring!).

Anyway…. Because ‘History’ is basically a far too big and (frankly) unwieldly topic I’ve been chopping it up into regions or countries I’m concentrating on. One interesting facet of doing this (of course) is actually realising what areas my butterfly brain is concentrating on! Timeline-wise I’ve only added ‘Ancient World’ so far. This essentially covers human history up to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I think that’s pretty uncontroversial. I might add Medieval and other temporal ‘chunks’ later but I haven’t decided that yet. Naturally having an Ancient label has alerted me to the fact that I haven’t read anything from that period in some time!

I’m happier with the geographical zoning than the temporal ones. Afghanistan already has 4 hits with many more on the way. I think it’s an important area globally going back over a hundred years and will remain so for the foreseeable future so I can imagine I’ll be reading about it for some time to come. China is another zone of the planet that is rising in significance and will continue to do so long after I’m dead. The whole Pacific area is important globally going forward and it’s somewhere I know very little about so there’s just two good reasons to know more. Empire is next – by which I (largely) mean the British Empire. I know it’s not ‘politically correct’ to be interested in such things – except to criticise it – but I’ve never been PC so….. No doubt other Empire’s will get a look in but only occasionally. Europe as a whole – rather than individual countries – will be looked at for a whole host of reasons, mostly because (despite the Brexit vote) it will still have a huge influence over our future as it has over our past going back over 1000 years.

Next is a whole group of countries that I have an interest in and expect to be reading about in the coming months/years: France & Germany will no doubt be read about extensively because of their interaction with British history and because they’re still at the heart of the European experiment. India doesn’t have many hits (just 1 presently) but that’ll change. Central to the Empire it’s had a huge influence on British history and culture. Ireland naturally appears and will end up growing well beyond the present paltry 4 books. It’s where my ancestors are from so I have a natural affinity with the place (despite never going there!). Japan almost speaks for itself. Interesting on multiple levels this will no doubt make a strong appearance (eventually). Likewise the Middle East will be an area of growing focus. The whole area is so complex and so messed up I just have to try to get my head around it if I can. Russia, resurgent and (potentially at least) a renewed global threat deserves attention for that alone. You’ll be hearing much more of that country in future. Scandinavia speaks to my ‘Viking’ heart so, well, duh! Spain, and especially the civil war just before WW2, has a strong pull on my imagination. I need to know why. Whilst the UK will be my main focus (as exhibited by the book numbers – presently 43) I am being drawn into looking more at the US especially from the political side, hence the comparatively impressive 12 books so far. Far more to come I assure you.

Finally an odd-ball: Self-Help. But don’t worry – being me it doesn’t mean what you might think it means on first thought. Listed there are essentially books that could assist you in combatting the bullshit surrounding how we are ‘supposed’ to be in today’s busy life. Just don’t expect to learn how to be ‘successful’ or be a better corporate drone. Not happening…. 

"In 1944, just after the success of D-Day, and at a time when the UK was being governed by a government of national unity led by Winston Churchill, Gallup conducted a poll in which it asked respondents whether they thought that British politicians were first and foremost out for themselves,, for their party, or for their country; 35% said they were out for themselves, 22% that they put their party first, and only 36% that they cared most about their country."

Mark Thompson, Enough Said, 2016

[TOUGH crowd!]

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Local elections: Mood on doorstep negative as campaign under way

By Andrew Sinclair for BBC News

25 April 2019

Whatever party they're canvassing for, everyone is agreed that the mood on the doorsteps this year is very different to normal. There are more stories of people having doors slammed in their face and being sworn at. And for the first time that anyone can remember there are a handful of instances of candidates being punched. Carla Hales, a first-time candidate for the Conservatives in Colchester, was out campaigning and had stopped to take a picture for her Twitter feed yesterday when a man shouted abuse at her and punched her in the back. She had difficulty breathing and was taken to hospital where she was found to be badly bruised and later released. The police are investigating and have described the assault as "a political attack". The leaders of all political parties in Colchester have condemned the attack.

Two weeks ago in Great Yarmouth, a Labour councillor Cathy Cordiner-Achenbach was punched in the stomach. "I was delivering a leaflet through the door and someone was quite upset and I was punched," she said. "There was nothing leading up to it. It did shock me. Some people ask you to leave, or express their feelings tersely, but I've never come across anything like this." She said a lot of people were "feeling disappointed with what's going on nationally". They want to be heard, she said.

I have heard stories of volunteers being reluctant to campaign or taking off their rosettes before going out. Canvassers stress that these are isolated incidents and the majority of voters are still civil and some even want to talk about local issues. But some have used words like "tense" and "ugly" to describe their experiences on the doorstep. "Negativity is high," said one Conservative agent this morning. Another said: "There is a lot of frustration out there over Brexit and they're blaming all the Westminster parties, not just the Tories. We're expecting the turnout next week to be very low."

[Turnout in local elections, and especially local Council elections coming soon, is traditionally low. This time, like the unnamed Tory, I believe they will be significantly lower than usual. It’ll be interesting to see what the numbers turn out to be. I’m not voting in our Council elections for a number of reasons. I’m still thinking about my response to the European elections coming up at the end of May if we haven’t decided to leave the EU by then. I think the vote for those will be at an all-time low or will be used to express the views of those who feel denied a voice in either a 2nd referendum or the ongoing debates in Parliament. Again the numbers of voters will be very interesting to see. But, as you can see from the article above, people generally are far from happy with our politicians no matter the Party or the level. Politics is definitely going through one of its period rough and nasty patches. You definitely have to be brave to knock on someone’s door and, sometimes literally, take it on the chin.]

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Replay by Ken Grimwood (FP: 1986)

42-year old Jeff Winston is more than aware of his failures in life. So many missed opportunities, so many mistakes, and so many things that could have been different if only….. With a career going nowhere, a failing marriage and nothing to look forward to he is at a loss. What to do? Just what to do? Then it hits him, hard, in the chest. A searing pain like nothing he has felt before. So, this is how it ends…… The world goes black….. and he wakes in bed. In hospital? No. At home? No. But in his dorm room….. 25 years previously… but this time with his full adult memories. It’s 1963 and his full life is ahead of him. This time he knows winning horses, winning baseball teams and which technologies to buy into on the ground floor. This time his life will be a success and nothing can stop him. Thoughts of why this is happening fade under the glare of possibilities. Then it hits him. If this is real and his knowledge is accurate….. Maybe he can prevent the upcoming Kennedy assassination and put the world on the right track. If he can change his own life so dramatically why not the lives (and deaths) of others?

Obviously this is an intriguing idea. Who wouldn’t want to go back 25 years and replay their lives with a perfect knowledge of upcoming events? Just think of the mistakes that could be avoided and the missed opportunities that could be salvaged. Just think of the good you can do or the harm you (and others) could avoid. Naturally, being a work of fiction (indeed Fantasy in this case) nothing goes as planned. The variables are just too many and time or history wants to stubbornly revert to its original course. Of course too much of a good thing can become a nightmare – and this is where things get really interesting – so what happens when you get a third chance, and a fourth and a fifth resetting back to zero each time with nothing to show for it but knowledge, experience and emotional loss. How long would it be before you went mad, became a nihilist, played God, or became completely numb to the whole experience?

This was both a fun and fast read. I do miss this sort of thing that used to be my ‘go to’ novel. Well told, often fast paced, full of big ideas and emotional pathos this was the kind of book that leaves you thinking about things weeks after you turn the last page. Throughout you’re constantly asking yourself – what would I do in this situation? Of course you judge the main protagonist but the judgement is always tempered by the thought of how you, the reader, might have done better or, maybe, worse. It’s all very sobering at times. The fact that there are (not really giving much away here) multiple replays never gets boring. Each one is very different as Jeff tries to figure out what’s happening and reacts to the previous replays as much as the present one. It’s one hell of a ride. A definite must read for all SF/Fantasy fans and most especially those who remember life from the 1960’s onwards! HIGHLY recommended.

Monday, April 22, 2019

...and people just don't understand.

Melting Easter Eggs

We’re having a lovely Easter here. So lovely in fact that temperature records are being broken all over the UK – with Northern Ireland breaking a 95 year old record. Naturally people have been out there enjoying themselves especially after a rather grey and drizzly last few weeks. However, when temperature records tumble the inevitable question always gets raised: Is this the result of Climate Change? The standard answer we get back from Climate scientists is that ‘no single incident can be directly tied to Global Warming/Climate Change’ which, scientifically, is true. But it does allow most people to dismiss their nagging doubts that, although we’re happily sunbathing now we’ll be roasting later. But for a few more months or years we can, by and large, put off doing anything drastic or demanding our politicians do something on our behalf.

But there does seem to be a growing realisation that we simply can’t go on like this. We’ve been putting things off in the hope that someone or something will ‘sort it’ without causing the rest of us too much pain. I guess we’ll all OK with a few extra percent on our tax bills or being encouraged to buy hybrid cars, to recycle our plastic bottles and so on but nothing too drastic. We are, essentially, hiding our heads in the sand whilst simultaneously whistling past the nearest graveyard. The problem, we think, is simply too big and just too damned scary to think about. But there are those who are thinking about it and who are acting too. There’s a protest group called Extinction Rebellion (good name) holding a series of protests in London over the past week causing a lot of traffic issues in the capitol. So far over 1,000 of them have been arrested. They’re SERIOUS people! I think also they’re the start (or maybe just the latest) of the new phase of climate protest. Over the next few decades I’m guessing, unless something starts to happen with a Government response, that the level of protest, the anger of the protestors and the violence of their actions will increase as the desperation increases. I can see the equivalent of throwing red paint over fur wearers happening with people who drive gas-guzzling cars or those who don’t have solar panels on their roofs. I can see attacks on petrol stations or coal powered power stations. How bad it will eventually get will largely depend on how much the people push for it and the level or the number of climate related disasters.

One thing we can be certain of is that these disasters will happen more often and will be increasingly deadly. We’ve already seen the wildfires in California and the deadly heatwaves across Europe and especially in India and Australia which reached eye-watering temperature levels. But the response to all of these has been, to say the least, sluggish and understated. Unfortunately humanity is going to need a number of kicks to its collective butt before it does anything radical in response to the threat. Presently it’s just a case of how many people will need to die or be displaced before we spend the money and reallocate the resources required to do something about what’s predicted to be coming down the road at us. But the longer we wait – maybe until we know for certain how bad it’s going to get – the more it will cost in blood and gold to fix it. I’m cynical enough to think that one climate disaster won’t be enough. Those in power and those with influence will call it a one-off, a once in a century event even if such a thing has never happened before (like a category 5 hurricane in the Arabian Gulf). We’ll need at least two and most probably three in reasonably quick succession. At that point we might just leap into action. At that point it’ll be too late to stop what’s coming but it should lessen the immediate impact and then start to reverse things. The response we’ll need at that point will be something along the lines of the efforts we put into both World Wars. The whole planet will need to be on a war footing for a decade or more before we turn the corner. I don’t believe that the war is over yet – far from it. I still have enough confidence in our abilities as a species to finally recognise we have a problem and to develop ways of dealing with it. We might even get a temporary halt to the insane squabbling we incessantly take part in. But for now at least we have more important things to do. First we need to save the planet and ourselves – we can fight about the rest later or we can fight over the scraps in the ruins of our civilisation. The choice, as always, is ours.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The booming trade in second-hand books

By Lucy Hooker for BBC News

28 December 2018

The rise of online has helped revive the second-hand book market, but what impact has it had on traditional, second-hand book shops? When a box of old books arrives at Oxfam's Witney bookshop in Oxfordshire, it's a bit like opening a treasure chest. Manager Sally Lee and her team pile up the bulk of them to go straight on the shelves: the Jilly Coopers, the Lee Childs and the John Le Carrés. Some, the ones that have been dropped in the bath or scribbled in, will have to be sent for recycling. And they always keep a sharp eye out for anything that might be a signed copy or a first edition. But there's a whole lot of other books to look out for these days that can be surprisingly valuable. "In my time the retail of second-hand and vintage books has changed beyond recognition," says Ms Lee, who has been working for Oxfam for two decades. "Things like Ladybird books, lovely old-fashioned or collectible children's books - in the past, people weren't really interested. If they remembered books from their childhood, the chances of finding it in a bookshop near them would have been nil." But thanks to the arrival of online second-hand book retail, there is now a whole new market for what Ms Lee calls "cheap collectibles" - mid-market books worth more than a couple of pounds, but not worth sending to auction. And Oxfam is making the most of it.

Today she has been listing online some magazines from the 1940s and 50s about the Royal Family for £50 that she is confident will find a buyer. Rare old books, such as Adam Smith's own copy of The Wealth of Nations that has just sold for £908,000 and first-edition Harry Potters, have always sold for eye-watering amounts. But now there is also money to be made from the kind of books that used to gather dust in the corner of charity shops: the thrillers, romances, celebrity biographies, and dog-eared children's books. There are no official statistics for the size of the second-hand book market. But a survey by Statista found that in both the UK and the US more than half of us are choosing to buy more books second-hand than we buy new. And Patrik Oqvist from World of Books, the UK's largest second-hand book retailer, estimates the market is growing by 8-10% a year. "There's no stigma to buying second-hand now," says Mr Oqvist. "We take them to the beach and spill coffee on them, but they don't stop working because of that." Then there's the lower price, and the fact that you're recycling. But there's also the chance of finding something unique. World of Books had a call last year from a grandmother in Australia who had ordered an annual that she remembered owning as a child, full of quizzes, mazes and puzzles. When it arrived, she found it was her own original copy, complete with the inscription from her parents to her.

World of Books started when its founders noticed surplus books being chucked out of a charity shop, destined for landfill. They bought them on the spot, determined to give them a second life. They've just opened a huge new warehouse in Coventry that will allow them to store more than the 2.8 million books they currently have in stock. Smaller rival, Lancashire-based WeBuyBooks, is also expanding, opening a second warehouse in Rossendale. "The majority of books we buy and sell are the everyday books people have on their shelves," says Ben Wadsworth, the firm's marketing manager. "Things like textbooks, anything academic tends to hold its value." Online giant Amazon spotted the potential of the second-hand market, and in 2008 bought AbeBooks, a huge Canadian marketplace for used books. Like Ebay and Amazon itself, AbeBooks simply matches buyers and sellers without handling any of the books themselves, and acting as another platform for firms like WeBuyBooks and World of Books. "It's all about volume," says Richard Davies from AbeBooks. Sellers can scrape a profit from prices as low as a penny plus postage and packaging, he says.

But what about the traditional, second-hand book shops? Aren't they undermined by the online trade? Mr Davies says not. "Those shops are also serving a global community of book lovers now," he says. He argues the online trade actually helps second-hand shops. "When they close their doors they're still selling. At the weekend if they're closed, we're promoting books on their behalf, and on Monday hopefully they've got some orders to process." Pom Harrington, who runs an antiquarian bookshop in London, agrees. He's noticing a growing market in Hong Kong for European first editions of Karl Marx's works that in pre-internet days just wouldn't have found him. And he says online has had an "immense" impact on the used-book sector, by putting information about the value of unusual books at everyone's fingertips, helping those less in the know make the most of valuable finds.

In the past charity shops were the only destination for piles of unwanted books. Now firms like WeBuyBooks and World of Books are offering book owners the chance to sell their used books to them, using specially designed apps. But will this hurt charities? World of Books' Patrik Oqvist argues its app will attract additional books onto the second-hand market rather than cannibalising donations to charity. World of Books is also about to add an option to its app, Ziffit, which allows book owners to donate the proceeds from their used book to charity. Oxfam says the rise of online, by making the market more transparent, and providing its volunteers with expert guidance, has helped to boost its income from books. But that doesn't mean you can make money out of every volume. There is still such a thing as an unwanted book.

[I used to be a bit of a book snob. I’d only buy new – either from a shop or from Amazon. Of course they both deal with books that are in print. If you want to get something that’s no longer easily available you had to look elsewhere. So I ‘dipped my toe’ when I needed books in series that I just couldn’t get. Each time I got what I wanted in the quality I wanted my confidence went up and my snobbishness diminished. Now I can buy a book that I can’t get anywhere else even if it’s advertised in only good or readable condition. I still prefer new (naturally) but sometimes you have to make difficult choices! I definitely have my preferred on-line sellers – World of Books being one of them – but I will take a punt into the unknown if I feel the (low) risk is worth it especially at the ridiculously low prices some places charge. Losing my fear of the Second Hard market is definitely one of my best decisions.]

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Just Finished Reading: The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama (FP: 1992)

In a way this is an understandable product of rational triumphalism. After all just prior to its provocative publication the Berlin Wall had collapsed and the Soviet Union, that great generations long enemy of the West, had collapsed and was starting to break apart. Across the globe totalitarian governments of both the Left and the Right were falling almost in response and democracies were flowering in areas long considered as too barren to sustain them. It really did look like the end of history – at least to some. Of course the message was misunderstood – sometimes deliberately no doubt. By the end of ‘History’ the author was very clear that he did not mean that historical events had ceased to occur or had ceased to have significance. What he meant was that the drivers of historical progress – being a firm believer in such an idea – had achieved their end point: Liberal Democratic Capitalism. With the failure of Communism – its only real competitor left on the world stage – there were now no political or economic challengers in the way of the ultimate triumph of the West. The way the future would unfold from now on – from 1992 – would reflect the spread of democratic government, western liberalism and, naturally, capitalist enterprise. All that was ahead of us now was the details of how the triumph spread. Eventually, within a very few generations, everywhere would simply be sometimes subtle cultural variations of the same thing.

Despite disagreeing with the authors underlying theory I not only found this book full of interesting ideas and insights but also quite a few persuasive arguments. I was both surprised and impressed by the work. Although I shouldn’t have been that surprised considering the impact it had on publication. An indicator on how controversial it was is how many books and articles were written in critical response to the authors ideas (some of which will be appearing here). Yet, despite the ideas and the arguments I still do not ‘buy’ his idea that democracy and capitalism have seen off all opposition for all time. The original mistake made by the author is a significant one – that rumours of western triumph were greatly exaggerated because, oddly in a book with so much historical perspective, it was published far too close to the end of Soviet Russia to have any real perspective on the event and its aftermath as the effects rippled across the world. With now almost 30 years of hindsight available such a book as this would simply not have been written. Democracy is seen by many to be in crisis across the globe and its ultimate salvation is far from assured. Likewise with the arguable collapse of globalisation, the financial crisis of 2008 and the recent triumph of authoritarian economics in China and elsewhere the singular ‘victory’ of Capitalism is looking more like being based on hubris rather than historical fact.

I can certainly see why this book was written. It appeared to a number of people – essentially right-wing neo-liberal neo-conservative thinkers – that they had been right all along. The Left, in all its guises, had failed. The Right was indeed now proven to be right. The only thing now stopping the total triumph of their worldview was the soft intervention of elected governments in the free market which was, when left alone, perfect. In the end Democracy and Capitalism were not the best of bed partners. But people, because of deep seated ideas of self-worth, would not likely give up their small piece of power. Capitalism would, therefore, always be striving towards perfection but never reaching the theoretical pinnacle it was capable of. Coming from an obviously neo-con world I did find myself periodically either wrinkling or holding my nose as the author made ‘obvious’ comments about the failures of other systems and passed over the problems of his own ideology. But it’s good, from time to time, dipping your toe into waters you would never voluntarily swim in. If nothing else it helps to define where your acceptable boundaries are. An important book written at an important time in global political thought and worth reading for that reason alone. Recommended. (R)

Monday, April 15, 2019


I’m pretty sure we did something like this at work – years ago: the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. It’s a personality test that is supposed to help managers build better teams. Typically fads like this ripple through various industries and managers dabble in the results usually to little effect. Lately the YouTube algorithm has been offering me videos on several of the ‘personalities’ and I’ve become a little intrigued by it all. But I can’t quite decide if I’m an INTJ or an INTP. Let me explain….

INTPs are quiet, thoughtful, analytical individuals who tend to spend long periods of time on their own, working through problems and forming solutions. [So far so good I think….] They are curious about systems and how things work. [Definitely...] They prize autonomy in themselves and others. They generally balk at attempts by others to convince them to change, at which they respond by being even less conformist than they otherwise would be. [Yup, tell me to stop doing something & I’m likely to do it more – and louder] They also tend to be impatient with bureaucracy, rigid hierarchies, and the politics prevalent in many professions. [MOST definitely… hate all three] INTPs have little regard for titles and badges, which they often consider to be unnecessary or unjustified. INTPs usually come to distrust authority as hindering the uptake of novel ideas and the search for knowledge. [I’ve always hated calling people by their rank and equally have always hated being called ‘Sir’ by anyone] INTPs accept ideas based on merit, rather than tradition or authority. They have little patience for social customs that seem illogical or that obstruct the pursuit of ideas and knowledge. [I’ve never accepted things on authority. I want you to prove it to me or at least show me evidence or decent argument before I’ll accept something] During interactions with others, if INTPs are focused on gathering information, they may seem oblivious, aloof, or even rebellious—when in fact they are concentrating on listening and understanding. [I’ve been accused of being aloof, distant or rebellious many times in the last 50+ years!] INTPs' intuition often gives them a quick wit, especially with language. They may defuse tension through comical observations and references. [I am very good with language either spoken or written and I’ve always been the joker in the pack. Sarcasm is my happy place] They can be charming, even in their quiet reserve, and are sometimes surprised by the high esteem in which their friends and colleagues hold them. [My charm – or as my friends sometimes refer to it – my flirting can even catch me off guard sometimes. But I’m always surprised with compliments and most especially if people remember me after any length of time] INTPs are often haunted by a fear of failure, causing them to rethink solutions many times and second-guess themselves. In their mind, they may have overlooked a bit of crucial data, and there may very well be another equally plausible solution. [Now this bit doesn’t really fit. Although I don’t like being shown to be wrong I am definitely not haunted by the fear of failure. If I was I’d hardly try anything and certainly wouldn’t put myself ‘out there’ to be shot down in flames]

INTJs [meanwhile] apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake. [I do look at the practical side of things wanting to know how things work and if existing practices do the job adequately] Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause; both perfectionism and disregard for authority come into play. [Well, I’m definitely mot a perfectionist. Good enough and fit for purpose, yes. Perfect? No]  Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel ... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals ... Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. [Oh, I gave up on the idea of people making sense a LONG time ago. It took me a while though. I did make a great effort trying to figure people out. Failed!] INTJs are prepared to lead if no one else seems up to the task, or if they see a major weakness in the current leadership. [Now leadership is not really me. I will start the ball rolling if there’s absolutely no one else or the person nominally in charge is an idiot but if any ‘rank’ gets pulled I’m out of there] INTJs are strong individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things. They enjoy coming to new understandings. [Again, most definitely. I love learning new stuff and mixing it up with stuff I already know to create even more new stuff] They work best when given autonomy and creative freedom. [I always love it when my boss gives me a task, smiles, and says ‘Be creative’] They are often acutely aware of their own knowledge and abilities—as well as their limitations and what they don't know (a quality that tends to distinguish them from INTPs). INTJs thus develop a strong confidence in their ability and talents, making them natural leaders. [I am confident when I know what I’m talking about but I’m also acutely aware of what I don’t know. Still not a natural leader though!] They generally withhold strong emotion and do not like to waste time with what they consider irrational social rituals. This may cause non-INTJs to perceive them as distant and reserved; nevertheless, INTJs are usually very loyal partners who are prepared to commit substantial energy and time into a relationship to make it work. [Emoting all over the place is not something I ever do. People have called me cold more than once. It’s just that I view being over-emotional as unnecessary and, honestly, tacky. But I do put a lot of thought and energy into a relationship though – as long as I feel it’s valued] At times, INTJs seem cold, reserved, and unresponsive, while in fact, they view emotional expression as an irrational weakness. In social situations, INTJs may also be unresponsive and may neglect small rituals designed to put others at ease. For example, INTJs may communicate that idle dialogue such as small talk is a waste of time. [People have a really hard time ‘reading’ me. It’s far easier and much more efficient to ask me if you want to know what’s going on inside my head]

So, I actually can’t make up my mind if I’m an INTJ or INTP. Fortunately I read up on the whole Meyers-Briggs thing. The MBTI is based on the conceptual theory proposed by Carl Jung, who had speculated that humans experience the world using four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. There you have it – Carl Jung. So not actually evidence based at all. Apparently the MBTI test has had major holes shot in it for years by career psychologists and others because of its lack of any scientific basis. Yet it’s still used in businesses across the world to categorise the personality types of their workforces. Snake oil, I say…… [lol]

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Middle classes losing out to ultra-rich

By Sean Coughlan for The BBC

10 April 2019

Middle-class families are seeing their incomes stagnating as they are squeezed by the ultra-rich taking a bigger slice, says an international report from the OECD economics think tank. The report says the middle classes are being "hollowed out", with declining chances of rising prosperity and growing fears of job insecurity. The OECD says there will be political consequences for Western countries. It says middle classes have often been the "bedrock of democracy". Against a background of political populism and concerns about rising extremism, the report says that traditionally moderate middle-class families are feeling "left behind" and are increasingly likely to support "anti-establishment" movements.

It warns of a destabilising impact if this section of society - defined as earning between 75% and 200% of the average income - continues to feel that prosperity is slipping away. In the UK, almost 60% of people live in households classified as being in this middle-income group. From an international perspective, the OECD shows a changing economic model, in which high earners have accelerated upwards, while those in the middle have seen "dismal income growth" or a falling back. Across OECD countries, which include most of the big economies in Western Europe and North America, the 10% of highest earners have increased their income by a third more than middle earner. In the UK, more than a third of middle-income households "report having difficulty making ends meet", says the OECD. In the United States over the past three decades, the top 1% of earners have increased their slice of total annual income from 11% to 20%. "Middle incomes are barely higher today than they were 10 years ago," says the analysis.

The report warns of social consequences if the middle classes lose trust in the system, beyond their own economic self-interest. It says the middle classes have been important supporters of sectors such as education, health and housing and "good quality public services". But worsening income inequality could threaten "their trust in others and in democratic institutions". The study says that this perception of declining opportunities is causing "growing discontent". The "stagnation of middle-class living standards" has been accompanied by the emergence of "new forms of nationalism, isolationism, populism and protectionism". Instead of upwards social mobility and growing prosperity, the report says the middle classes are more worried about slipping downwards.

The report, Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, says that totems of middle class family life, such as access to housing and higher education, have become increasingly expensive. The rising cost of property, in particular, has outstripped the growth in income, with parents worrying about the housing prospects for their children. Another traditional middle-class advantage has been job security, but this has also been eroded. "Today, the middle class looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters," says the OECD's secretary general, Angel Gurría. The OECD highlights a generational divide - with a shrinking number of younger people in this middle-class group. The widening gap of incomes has pushed more people to the extremes of rich and poor, so that millennials in their 20s are less likely to be in middle-income households than baby boomers in their 50s and 60s. "A strong and prosperous middle class is important for the economy and society as a whole," says the study. But it says middle-class households feel a sense of "unfairness" and are "increasingly anxious about their economic situation".

[I’m shocked! The Rich are getting richer and the rest are getting shafted. How did this happen? What could possibly explain it? What could possibly go wrong? Why did it take people so long to see it? I see TROUBLE ahead……]

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (FP: 1962)

They say that sense is never common but maybe in this case it really should have been. Even in the abstract, without bringing in expert opinion, it should be obvious that poison kills things. Powerful poison kills things quicker and probably has other equally nasty effects too. What poison doesn’t do, again obvious when you give it a moment’s thought, is discriminate. Poison will kill anything, will kill everything, which comes into contact with it long enough or in enough concentration. If you spray an area with insecticide it will generally kill a great number of insects in the affected zone – and not just the pests you wanted to kill especially when we’re essentially talking about 1950’s technology here. At the time of writing the knowledge of genetics we take for granted today would seem like magic. The idea of tailoring chemical or biological agents to attack a certain aspect of a certain insect would seem fantastical. So we can’t really blame either the developers or users of chemicals such as DDT for not using them in a more subtle manner. Such a thing was barely thought of and, at the time, far beyond anyone’s capability. The only way these chemicals COULD be used was indiscriminately. Which in itself is no excuse. To use these deadly chemicals, and more deadly chemical cocktails, in the way they did was at the very least irresponsible and, with the benefit of hindsight borderline criminal.

Of course when these miracles of science were used for the first time the results appeared stunning. One spraying and the insect pests melted away as if in a dream. It was really a miracle for all to see. The companies selling the chemicals and the agencies approving their use – often with only minimal testing if that sometimes – pointed at the results and proudly proclaimed the end of famine, the end of the plague that had assailed mankind since his earliest days, the end of insect pests. It was a shining future that few could criticise despite worrying rumours coming from the farms and woodland so recently cleared of pestilential insect life. Days, or sometimes hours, after an area had been sprayed reports of dead birds came in along with equally worrying reports of other wildlife dead or clearly in distress. Lakes and rivers delivered up hundreds of dead fish sometimes miles away from the original spraying. Livestock from cattle to chickens took sick, sometimes died or spontaneously aborted their young. Residents of nearby towns reported strange symptoms to their doctors – shortness of breath, skin rashes, headaches, nausea and muscle spasms. Something was clearly wrong but what? The chemical companies denied that it could possibly be their products as they had been declared safe by government agencies. The killed insects, indeed they killed pests, and were completely harmless to other life. The sudden mass dying must have another explanation. Experiments by universities, reports by doctors and post-mortem examinations yielded much valuable information but no change in policy or spraying regime. The growing number of people raising concerns were cranks, ill-informed, anti-progress, wreckers and, just possibly, communists attempting to undermine the US Food Industry. But the author of this book – billed (rightly) as one of the most influential books of the 20th century – was none of these things which is why so much effort was expended trying to suppress its very publication. Thankfully it failed.

Written as an early example of popular science aimed at the general reading population this is a harrowing look at greed, short sightedness, obstruction and a callow refusal to accept any criticism of a programme that was not only costing millions of dollars to implement – for a very limited return – but causing countless millions of damage to the larger environment. It was not long before DDT had been found in the body fat of penguins who had never been directly exposed to it. Traceable quantities of the same chemical was even being detected in unborn children whose mothers had been eating contaminated food. Worse the new-born infant had its DDT levels increased through the medium of its mother’s milk. It was everywhere and potentially doing harm wherever it was found. It is no surprise that this book was in the vanguard of works directly responsible for the founding of the Environment Movement for the 1960’s onwards. Reading it even today with our knowledge of environment issues heightened by years of campaigns it is still a shocking piece of reporting. I can imagine how much more shocking it was more than 50 years ago. Be warned though, even after all this time this is not a light read and it will give you some sleepless nights as you inevitably wonder about the amount of DDT or other man-made chemicals sequestered in your fat deposits as well as that handy bottle of insecticide under the kitchen sink containing what exactly? Even today this book still has the power to change habits and change lifestyles. A very important book and a must read for anyone interested in the environment we must all co-exist with. (S)