Category Archives: Culture

Remotely Interested

Explicit content warning[1]

Quad 77I have a sort of love-hate relationship with the remote control for my Quad 77 audio system. I will come back to that in a moment, but first of all, a word about hi-fi generally.

A while ago, I was walking my dog in the park, and chatting to someone who, until recently, was in the hi-fi business. He said that the business is now very largely dead, for two reasons.

First, pretty much everyone who wants a hi-fi system has already got one, and what is available on the market now is really no better than what they have already got. I challenged him about this: surely the quality of sound that one gets from the new generation of tiny speakers is pretty amazing, and he agreed that there had been significant improvements at the bottom of the market. But in terms of the best that is available, technology has really not moved on for 20 years or so.

Secondly, he remarked, young people are not interested in hi-fi. They have been brought up on lo-fi MP3 music and often feel rather uncomfortable with hi-fi. And what they stream from the internet is very lo-fi.[2]

Now, if you are reading this, and you are a hi-fi nut, please do not reply to this saying that Continue reading

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Eurotrash

portugalIt is Eurovision Song Contest time.

Now, how the hell would I know that? You might ask, since I live on the far side of the world.

The answer is digital radio, and in particular SBS4. Normally, this excellent digital radio station quite simply streams the BBC World Service. I listen to it often, both at home, and in the car (which, rather surprisingly, has a digital radio facility). Except this month. During May, the SBS4 stream to BBC World Service has been cut off, and instead replaced by endless Eurovision pap.

It is no surprise that Australia loves the Eurovision Song contest. After all, this is the land of Continue reading

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Warming Old Scottish Tales

stonesThere has been some interesting archaeology coming out of Orkney, and particularly the Ness of Brodgar, recently. And some evidence that Orkney might have been at the cultural centre of Britain a few thousand years ago. Developing the technology that led to Stonehenge.

But why? It’s frigging freezing there!

But here’s the thing. In those days it was quite a bit warmer. Much warmer than today. So quite pleasant.  Despite what the bat-shit crazy neo-religious scare mongers are trying to tell you, the ice core data from Greenland (quite a good proxy for the Orkneys) tell us that the Medieval Warm period (when mankind flourished) was warmer today. And the Roman period (when mankind flourished) was even warmer than that. And the Minoan period Continue reading

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Whisky and Whine

Hugging_Face_Emoji_2028ce8b-c213-4d45-94aa-21e1a0842b4d_largeAccording to the United Nations, Norway is the happiest country in the world, edging out previous winner Denmark and third placed Iceland. The UK was 19th happiest out of 155 countries. Not bad. Of places with decent weather, Australia led the way at 9th.

But here is the thing. The top three all have quite high suicide rates.[1] Much higher than the UK. Which stands to reason, in a macabre sort of a way: if the most miserable people in any population commit suicide in substantial numbers, then those who are left will be, on average, less miserable. Continue reading

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A Rare Petition

575238_222880941184528_1973088916_nI am not big into petitions. But the recent By-Law designed to stop dogs running freely on local beaches really does get my goat.

So, if you can be troubled, and if you agree that dogs (including Perdita, of course) should be allowed to run freely on the beach, I really would be grateful if you would add your name.

You can read more and sign the petition here: Continue reading

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Ban the Book

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationI do not get nearly as much time as I would like, these days, to read, but I did recently seize the opportunity to read the History of the campaigns 1780 and 1781 in the southern provinces of North America by Lieutenant-Colonel[1] Tarleton. I had previously come across the somewhat glamorous figure of Banastre Tarleton for the purposes of my book 500 Fenwicks (still not finished).

Banastre Tarleton was a descendant of the Shakespearean actor (the subject of John Dowland’s beautiful lute piece Tarleton’s Resurrection). He was the son of a successful merchant in Liverpool; he early wasted his inheritance gambling and womanising before joining the Army, and then distinguished himself as the most successful cavalry officer fighting on the loyalist side in the American Revolutionary war, particularly in the southern campaigns, running from the loyalist capture of Charleston[2] in 1780 to the siege of Yorktown in 1781. That is a war which the loyalists would certainly have won but for the massive intervention of the French, hugely jealous of British success in North America, which was so expensive to the French as to drive them to virtual bankruptcy, and hence sow the seeds of the French Revolution. It was also a war which, perhaps not surprisingly, has been massively romanticised by Americans. At the time, also unsurprising, the Rebels were not big fans of Tarleton.[3]

After the war, Tarleton wrote his book about the campaign. It is interesting for its historical content, of course, but also for some serendipitous reasons.

He obtained promotion very fast: a mere cornet in 1775, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel within 5 years, at the age of just 26. He was essentially a cavalry officer, commanding loyal Americans, but his unit, which came to known as Tarleton’s Raiders, also consisted of some mounted infantry and horse-drawn light artillery (3 pounders). His unit was famous for moving at very rapid speed, and achieving several victories over the rebels despite being greatly outnumbered. He would have been about the same age or younger than most of the Americans he commanded, and from the side of the Atlantic, but was obviously held in great affection and admiration by his men for his skill and bravery.

One curious thing about the book is the way that Tarleton spelled Scottish names; hence eg M’Arthur, not McArthur or MacArthur. It is a fashion which has long passed, but is not that illogical. After all we have O’Reilly etc in Ireland and D’Estaing etc in Continue reading

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Seriously Obese Cats

fat-catsI am no believer in the notion that Jack is always as good as his master. Just occasionally, he might be. But far more often, the captains of industry are smarter, have trained more and now work harder than most. I have no problem with them earning, say, 20 times what the person sweeping the floor in their business earns. Or even 20 times what their average employee earns. As my old friend Will Hopper noted in his excellent book The Puritan Gift, that was pretty normal among the great companies of the Western World as they were becoming great.

But 200 times? No. That is obscene. No one needs 200 times. Not only is it grossly unjust, but it is bad for business. But it is happening, in the USA, and also in the UK. The Spectator Continue reading

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The Trouble with Occam


ciceroSome things, course, obviously either true or not true. “The atomic weight of carbon is 14” is not the sort of fact which admits of very much argument. Neither is it a fact which is very interesting to most people. Most people are much more interested in questions which admit of a great deal of argument. Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the United States. Global warming is an existential threat. The European Union does more harm than good. Hmm. Maybe, maybe not.

I have always thought that a version of Occam’s razor is quite a good place to start. It is the general notion that, where there are competing explanations of something, the simplest is the more probable. Or as Bertrand Russell put it:

Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities

One application of all of this is the cui bono rule, which is often attributed to Cicero, although Cicero himself ascribed to Lucius Cassius[1]. A court should ask itself who is likely to benefit from a particular crime; that person may well be the criminal.

It is not an infallible rule, of course. Nor is my variant, which goes something like this:

Where there are competing versions of the truth, the one most infected by cognitive bias is the one less likely to be true.

Putting flesh on the bones of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation as to why someone thinks something is true is often that Continue reading

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Deep water

2016_mirage-outback_studio_3-4_ivory-dune_shadowedA friend of mine was kind enough to let me try his Hobie kayak yesterday, off the beach of Hove.

These are clever. Instead of using your arms, you use your feet. They have paddle efforts, a bit like a turtle, so you can use the big muscles in your legs to cut along, instead of your arms. Brilliant.  After a while, I had not a twinge of backache, which is my usual problem with kayaks.  I thought it was great.

One of these chaps would be a good way of getting to the many coves around here which are inaccessible from land. They even have Continue reading

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Boxing Daze

rainyIt was 40.9 degrees C here at Myponga Beach yesterday, according to my weather station. But I woke up today to wind, rain and a less balmy Boxing Day 18.

There is something a bit odd, for someone brought up in the Northern Hemisphere, about Christmas happening mid-summer.  In the North, Christmas was of course the pagan mid-winter festival of Yule until it got highjkacked by the Christians.  The silly red Father Christmas suits look even sillier than they did at home when their synthetic threads sparkle like Babycham in the sun. Reindeers are not the sort of thing one finds in the wild around here. And of course, a big roast bird with lashings of brussels sprouts and walnut stuffing, followed by Christmas pudding with brandy butter, is not really Continue reading

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