Monday, October 16, 2017

Time to go post-Google

For a long time I used to not care about Internet privacy. And then Google got into SJW mode and ceased to be my friend. I read about its business model, the Amazonian torrents of cash that advertisers pour into its coffers .. and I wondered if it would always have my best interests at heart.

So I decided to use DuckDuckGo for all those searches which I'd like to keep from the planetary AI. But Google, and my ISP, still know way too much.

... but you're never alone with a keylogger

On my Android devices, the DuckDuckGo app has a setting to 'enable Tor' which I checked. It then helpfully prompts you to install the Tor router Orbot and the Tor browser Orfox. It's easy.

Orbot does not provide generic anonymous Internet access; programs have to be configured to work with it. Basically things work best if you access websites via the Tor Browser .. which is the search term for Windows PCs.

The thing is, I know that the AI assistant we're slowly crawling towards will only work if it knows more about you than your closest confidante. And it will live in the Cloud. But I would pay to have that knowledge base under my control and lodged with a trusted third party (like the folks running ProtonMail).


Google's middleman offer to advertisers and you & me is based on the twin peaks of narrow domain expertise, increasingly based on neural net AI such as Google Translate and voice recognition, and its ability to integrate across its apps which thread to so much of our lives: email, photos, calendar, notes, search queries, etc.

Google does the bulk of this information centralisation and synthesis in the Cloud: that is, on its own servers. The resulting real-time data model of you both repopulates your apps (Chrome talks to Gmail talks to Calendar talks to Google Now talks to GPS talks to Maps ...) and is sold to advertisers for targeting.

If we're to bring that level of integration back into our own hands, then we need to capture our activity across many different apps and device functions. Perhaps one day all apps will have a standard API with which to talk to our personal assistant app .. but until then it's a benign keylogger I'm afraid.

The other people who are big fans of keyloggers are the intelligence services and those vendors (like Microsoft) who are losing out in the race for ubiquitous ownership of our most popular apps.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Diary: Black Rock and Velvet Bottom

For those of you rolling your eyes and muttering, "Not another physics post!" here is gentler fare.

Our lunchtime excursion today was to the top of the Cheddar Gorge, to Black Rock leading to Velvet Bottom. Did I mention it's been raining?

Rain, did I mention it?

The lead cow thinks it's the boss. Concurring, we hide behind barbed wire

The famous (and crumbling) 'Black Rock' - Clare has found a rock armchair

It's been crossed off our list till next summer, hashtag #quagmire.

MWI, plus entanglement leads to GR, maybe?

In this video Sean Carroll lectures at Kings College on the 'Many-Worlds Interpretation' of quantum theory and his attempts, with collaborators, to conceptualise general relativistic spacetime as an emergent phenomenon due to entanglement.

Apparently the degree of entanglement between distinct vacuum states falls off as the distance between them. But perhaps this can be inverted, so that the concept of distance could be seen as an emergent proxy for the degree of entanglement.

The 50 minute lecture is 'aimed at undergraduates who haven't necessarily yet taken a quantum mechanics course'. If you are such, Carroll's talk will be as compelling as a presentation on Summa Theologica from Thomas Aquinas.

On the other hand, a passable familiarity with Hilbert space, quantum superposition and the Schrödinger equation plus a hand-wavy feel for QFT and Einstein's field equations will allow you to properly appreciate Carroll's approach to physics (and would make you a physics graduate).

In a nutshell, it's believe in the maths. Once you appreciate the ubiquity of superposition (ie, it's everywhere) you're kind of committed to the reality - in some sense - of Hilbert space. The observed phenomena simply can't be explained by theories which restrict themselves to our classical-looking 4D spacetime.

Carroll's talk is not technical in argumentation, he mentions rather than uses the theoretical apparatus of modern physics. That does put the burden of getting his drift wholly on the theoretical preparation of the listener of course.

In the final part of his lecture, he describes the research programme which seeks to obtain geometry from entanglement in quantum field theories via entropy and then, through considerations of energy, to reconstruct the GR field equations as the classical limit.

He seems encouraged, though this is work-in-progress.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

1917-2017: the collapse of the revolutionary left

I recently surveyed the top thinkers on contemporary Marxism. By comparison with 1917 they're almost all academics or independent intellectuals. Compare this with the talented leadership of the mass working-class socialist organisations so dominant a century ago.

"Lenin lived, lives and will live!"

I find it remarkable.

The discourse of contemporary Marxist theory, while as acerbic as always, is incredibly introverted. The top issues still the 'transformation problem' or the validity of  'the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit'.

Where are the analyses of how developments in genomics and psychometrics impact upon Marxist theory? Surely the nature of the individuals who create the social relationships of society - across classes and across the world - are pretty relevant? So why the visceral hostility to such research?

And where are the serious debates about the transition to socialism? No-one analyses why the Soviet Union imploded. No-one asks where China is going. No-one thinks deeply or plausibly about the nature of revolution when the Leninist vanguard-insurrection model seems completely off the agenda. No-one thinks about how to organise a post-capitalist society in a way which wouldn't collapse into something like bureaucratic-socialism, a cure far worse than the disease.


Ironically the 'mass-leftism' we see (Corbyn/Momentum in the UK, the SJW phenomenon all over the place) isn't based on a Marxist analysis at all. It's liberal-egalitarian in ideological content. An under-analysed aspect of capitalist society is the production of ideology. Sure, enough Marxists have emphasised that cultural leaders, public intellectuals, op-ed writers don't just sit down and think to themselves, "How can I dream up a narrative which justifies the global exploitation of workers by the neoliberal bourgeoisie?"


The way it really works is that earnest, well-meaning people have had their horizons reset since the 1980s by the eclipse of the workers movements and the rise of globalisation.They now reflect upon a world bound together, as they see it, by the ties of global production and trade.

They buy in to the civilising and developmental benefits of world-wide manufacturing and global supply-chains, and are naturally keen that people everywhere have unimpeded access to a plethora of meritocratic opportunities. Why wouldn't they be opposed to racism, sexism, and phobias of all description, which seem to impact on equal outcomes?

Global capitalism is wholly on board with such morally-uplifting campaigns, which smooth the way for frictionless utilisation of labour power across the planet. The whole SJW thing is in no sense anti-capitalist at all, which is why the establishment so indulges it. You'd think that the more profound Marxist thinkers might be drawing attention to this, rather than simply aligning themselves uncritically with 'the movement'.


My final point is that the death-throes of capitalism have been trumpeted prematurely by Marxists for 150 years. Really, there is very little evidence that the historical work of capitalism in developing the productive forces has been achieved. The abolition of capitalism will come about through the dynamics of its real innermost contradictions, those whereby capitalism seeks to abolish the proletariat itself.

From 1917 to 2017 we've had a century of capitalist progress; for another century we will see more of the same. When it's time for capitalism to go, we surely will know it without having to dig deep into Marxist theory to discern the hidden patterns of the tea leaves.

Diary: Burleigh Court Hotel (Stroud)

Monday evening we stayed at the Burleigh Court Hotel in Stroud. We liked it so much that our hotel room yesterday morning looked liked Tracey Emin had stayed (video).

We drove to Bath, specifically Debenham's to buy Clare some trousers. As we queued to pay on the first floor I noticed a rack displaying a dozen DVDs of the movie "Fifty Shades Darker".

I asked Clare: "We're on the womenswear floor. Why are they prominently displaying DVDs of a young ingénue who gets chastised by a handsome hedge-fund hunk?"

Clare was surprisingly speechless; I was rewarded only with a glare.

Up the escalator to menswear, where I had to buy a couple of shirts. Doing my best 'incompetent male' thing - not hard as I have no idea how to buy a shirt - a succession of middle-aged women fussed over me, measuring my neck size, choosing the right kind of shirt (slim, single-cuff) and giving me feedback on fit.

I found it curiously agreeable - perhaps I could pitch the idea to a film director?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wendy Payne (1935-2017)

Wendy's funeral was held yesterday in Stroud. Wendy was my mother's (much younger) cousin - she said she always regarded my mother (Beryl Seel) as more of a sister.

Here are the presiding minister's remarks (the Reverend Brian Woollaston).

"Wendy was born in Bristol in 1935. The family moved to Haydon near Radstock shortly afterwards as her father worked on the railway as a steam locomotive fireman. She thoroughly enjoyed life in the Somerset countryside, going to school in Kilmersdon.

Her father had a promotion when she was 15 to a locomotive driver at Gloucester, and they moved to Longlevens on the outskirts of Gloucester. Wendy, being a country girl, did not like living in a city, but having left school found an office job in a local printers.

After a couple of years her father got her an office job at the locomotive depot at Barnwood, checking the drivers' time sheets etc. She settled down in Longlevens joining Holy Trinity church and the choir there.

When the depot closed she moved to the other locomotive depot at Horton Road and then to Eastgate station (now ASDA!) in the area manager's office. She was well known for riding a 'sit up and beg' bicycle to and from work in the early days.

She met Derrick at Eastgate station, as he was also working on the railway, and travelled from Stroud daily, calling in at the station to collect mail etc. They were engaged in 1975 and married in 1978, and for a while Wendy continue to work at Gloucester, travelling daily by train from Stroud where they lived at Cashes Green.

As this involved a long day she left the railway service and had several jobs in Stroud before becoming a full-time housewife. Her interests still involved the church and she regularly attended both Randwick and Cainscross churches, enjoyed flower arranging and gardening and the simple things in life. She knew flowers and loved gardening.

She would help anyone and would go out of her way to do so and thought well of everybody."


Here are some other photos of Wendy.

Wendy (aged 3) and my mother (aged 16) at Radcliffe bay in 1939

Wendy and Beryl Porter in the late 1940s

Wendy with Clare and myself in April 2017

Wendy was incredibly organised and full of energy. She bore her final illness with extraordinary stoicism and was truly thinking mostly about the future of others through her final days.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

Abigail Nussbaum wrote a scathing review of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest book.  Here's how she ends:

Amazon link

"... underneath The Buried Giant's polite surface, there is a genuinely misanthropic heart, that sees the flaws in its characters as a reason to hate and punish them, not pity them.  The point of the novel isn't that war and conflict are inevitable, or that no love is perfect, but rather that it is foolish to hope otherwise, and that people who do--both the characters and the readers--are to be derided.

The only good thing that has come from my choice to read this novel is that I no longer have to wonder if I was wrong about Ishiguro ten years ago, and hopefully I won't make the mistake of picking him up again."
Opinions on Amazon seem to be mixed but I am more optimistic.

In any event, it's the next book to be read to Clare, starting tomorrow.

A Marxist Economist in Academia

Sam Williams writes about Anwar Shaikh.

Amazon link

"Shaikh has lived and worked in an era dominated by the reaction—the back side so to speak—of the Great Russian Revolution, whose one-hundredth anniversary we celebrate this year (2017). In the United States, where Shaikh works and lives, there has been no socialist organization that was either capable or willing to support the great work that Shaikh has performed. This stands in contrast to the eras of the Second and Third Internationals. As a result, Shaikh has had to earn his living as a professor of economics at the New School. And the New School should be complemented for allowing a man of Shaikh’s stature to perform his work.

This has enabled Shaikh to earn a living and live in relatively comfortable material conditions—at least compared to that of Marx. And he has been free from the kinds of political pressures that existed in the Second and Third Internationals. But the price he has paid for this is that he is subjected to the pressure of “official” economics. Under the “publish or perish” pressure that dominates the academy, he has to show that he is a “real economist”—unlike the writers who produce articles on basic Marxist economics that occasionally appear in the small newspapers published by the small U.S. socialist organizations.

As a result, “Capitalism” is written in such a way that few political activists—even those who specialize in economics—will be able to understand. Instead, “Capitalism” is directed at Shaikh’s fellow economists, who won’t be able to understand it either—though for quite different reasons.

It is also reflected by Shaikh’s definition of “the classical school” of economics, in which he includes Marx, the neo-Ricardians, and his own work. This differs radically from the definition of classical economics as defined by Marx.

In contrast to Shaikh, Marx saw classical economics as something already in the past in his own day as a result of the growing intensity of the class struggle. In contrast to Shaikh, he also put himself outside of all political economy, seeing it as a “bourgeois science” that he was critiquing as an outsider serving the working class.

Modern universities, though they support “free thought” up to a point, cannot but help but be organs in the final analysis of the capitalist ruling class. As such, they are the chief sponsors of “official economics,” which has done and continues to do great harm to the working class and other exploited people. In recent decades, unlike in the past, university economics departments have been willing to hire a few Marxists, but they not surprisingly show a strong preference to those Marxists who concentrate on criticizing aspects of Marx’s work—especially those who have the effect of stripping away all its revolutionary implications.

Neo-Ricardian-inspired critiques of the law of labor value that invalidate Marx’s theory of surplus value, and criticisms of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, which imply that capitalism can last forever, are much appreciated. This is all the more true since the great majority of bourgeois economists are trained only in neo-classical marginalism and are therefore so profoundly ignorant of Marx’s work that they are incapable of criticizing it. Therefore, an economist or two who are familiar enough with Marx’s work that they can critique its most revolutionary conclusions are considered in many university departments a valuable addition to a department otherwise consisting entirely of marginalists—most of whom are allied with the right wing of bourgeois politics.

Almost all professional economists, whether of the right or left, “know” that gold plays no important role in the modern monetary system, though strangely enough operators in the financial markets who are obsessed with every movement of the dollar price of gold have failed to get the message. And the economists also “know”—especially “progressive economists” but not only them—that getting rid of the role gold formerly played in the national and international monetary systems is key to the capitalist state’s alleged “successes” in avoiding “depressions,” which are now defined only as downturns on the scale of the 1930s or greater. Indeed, any attempt to return to a gold standard under current circumstances would have appalling consequences.

While upholding some version of the labor theory of value can be barely tolerated in university economics departments, it generally can’t be Marx’s version but some “MELT” [monetary expression of labor time] or MELT-like version of labor value. The revelation of all the contradictions of accepting Marx’s full theory of value is simply too revolutionary.

Shaikh’s work is all the more remarkable considering the political environment in which he has been obliged to work. However, it cannot in its current form be accepted as a finished product. It is more like a semi-finished product that is almost there but needs a little more work—the most important of which was fortunately done more than a century before the time of Shaikh by Marx himself. Once Shaikh’s MELT-like theory of value is replaced by Marx’s full theory of value, Shaikh’s work will come fully into its own. Correcting and completing Shaikh’s work will be a key task for Marxist economists in the coming years, whose primary job is to wage the now rapidly intensifying class struggle in the field of ideas."
Sam Williams has written an enormously erudite ten part critique of Shaikh's book, starting here. Look to the bottom of his sidebar to find the links to the next nine parts. It's essentially a pamphlet, or a small book.

Anwar Shaikh's video lectures are here.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Marx and the party girls

I think it's fair to say that Marx didn't write a great deal about prostitution and brothels - but he certainly wasn't a fan.

In the Marxist tradition, a 'sex worker' (in a business framework) is just another worker selling her (it's usually her) labour power to create surplus value. Once a brothel has employed her, their interest is to maximise the value of her activities. Her own choices in the matter are not a major concern.

This creates an ideological problem for those naive enough to believe that brothels have, as their main function, to make 'sex work' safer. So in this recent BBC website article, Sabrinna Valisce writes:
""They started talking about how stigma against 'sex workers' was the worst thing about it, and that prostitution is just a job like any other," Valisce remembers.

It somehow made what she was doing seem more palatable.

She became the collective's massage parlour co-ordinator and an enthusiastic supporter of its campaign for the full decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex trade, including pimps.

"It felt like there was a revolution coming. I was so excited about how decriminalisation would make things better for the women," she says. ...

But she soon became disillusioned.

The Prostitution Reform Act allowed brothels to operate as legitimate businesses, a model often hailed as the safest option for women in the sex trade.

In the UK, the Home Affairs Select Committee has been considering a number of different approaches towards the sex trade, including full decriminalisation. But Valisce says that in New Zealand it was a disaster, and only benefited the pimps and punters. ...

"I thought it would give more power and rights to the women," she says. "But I soon realised the opposite was true."

One problem was that it allowed brothel owners to offer punters an "all-inclusive" deal, whereby they would pay a set amount to do anything they wanted with a woman.

"One thing we were promised would not happen was the 'all-inclusive'," says Valisce. "Because that would mean the women wouldn't be able to set the price or determine which sexual services they offered or refused - which was the mainstay of decriminalisation and its supposed benefits."

Aged 40, Valisce approached a brothel in Wellington for a job, and was shocked by what she saw.

"During my first shift, I saw a girl come back from an escort job who was having a panic attack, shaking and crying, and unable to speak. The receptionist was yelling at her, telling her to get back to work.

I grabbed my belongings and left," she says."
It's reminiscent of children aged 9 or 10 working 18 hour days, which Marx wrote so scathingly about in Capital Vol 1. Surprisingly, despite their liberated views on sexuality, the elite don't seem very happy that their own daughters should move into sex work.

Evolutionary psychology reminds us of what we all know. Women in general are quite choosy who they have sex with, since their mate will provide half the genes of their children.

The corresponding and innate emotional, psychological drives are violated in both prostitution and rape.

Because the former is generally economically-motivated rather than inflicted by violence, the sisterhood gets confused. Muddying the water is that phenomenon of social parasitism, female psychopathy, exhibiting a strategy of promiscuity which can apparently make prostitution a congenial occupation for them. You can always find a woman to tell you that prostitution is great.


Anomie, the felt pointlessness of life, is frequently seen on the evening streets. This is the subject of a new Channel 5 TV show (which screams 'trash'), entitled "Bad Habits, Holy Orders: what happened when five party girls moved into a convent" featured in The Times today.

"Five new girls arrive at the Daughters of Divine Charity convent in Swaffham, deep in rural Norfolk. The first, Paige, 23, has, between her red go-go boots and her miniskirt, a gap large enough to display the entire face of Nicki Minaj that is tattooed on her thighs. She is struggling to pull a suitcase the size of a small wagon across the gravel courtyard. It’s full of her clubbing lingerie. She is joined by Rebecca, 19, another committed hedonist who seems to sum up their situation when she realises what their new home is, crying: “F***, I’m in a f***ing nunnery.”

"It’s a fair guess that this Channel 5 reality-TV experiment, called Bad Habits, Holy Orders, wouldn’t have taken much of a “sell”. “Think Sister Act,” the executive would say, “crossed with St Trinian’s.” Then, more sheepishly, wiping the froth off his chin: “It’s basically some party girls in G-strings in a convent.” And lo it came to pass."
So what do you think? Wildly self-centred, tantrum-prone party girls met by uncomprehending, disapproving nuns? It all ends in some gigantic, collective hissy-fit?

You wouldn't be more wrong.
"Then it is time to have tea with Sister Thomas More and Sister Francis, a double act of smiley, grandmotherly types from mother-superior central casting. I open with what I think is a small-talk question about why modesty is important for nuns. “They seemed to be in the habit of wearing very little,” says Sister Thomas More of the visitors. “I think it’s a turn-on isn’t it, for men? If you are completely naked, you are asking for trouble . . . We have ourselves to blame sometimes. So I think modesty is important.”

"At this the PR woman looks up from her laptop: “But no means no for women, doesn’t it?”

"Sister Thomas More says: “Sometimes they don’t know what no means, do they?”

"I try to help out: men should respect consent no matter how a woman is dressed?

“That’s all right if you’re with men who are going to respect it.”

"We move on. Their views are representative of a generation who grew up in a more restrictive age for women. Their calling as nuns, they tell me, has given them a life of travel and freedom that surpassed the alternative life of domesticity that was awaiting them.

"In practice, their attitude to the young women is fond and non-judgemental; mostly they are worried for them. Sister Francis clucks over them, concerned that they are “chilly” in their minimal garments and sympathetic to the aesthetic pressures society puts on them."
And what about the effects (of the nunnery) on the girls?
"Rebecca, as no one would have predicted, loves her session with the nuns in an old people’s home. After she leaves the convent she gives up clubbing, starts a long-term relationship, returns to college to do a healthcare qualification and reconciles with her father, who says that her going to the convent had achieved all that he never could. “You broke me,” he tells Rebecca.

"Gabbi says she felt her Instagram feed was all that people valued her on. “I felt useless.” The convent helped her to “remember being back when I was 14, the last time I felt like my real self”.

"Tyla is volunteering with the homeless. Paige gets a tattoo of a crucifix and Sarah changes her hours — she used to sleep from 7am to 5pm; now she works as a personal assistant. Her friends tell her to stop talking about moderation. They say: “Sarah, we don’t even know what it means.”

"There’s only one word for the young women’s attitude to their transformation: evangelical. If they do post on social media, it is to urge compassion, with the hashtag “love yourself”, which they thought up together at the convent. It isn’t quite “love God” or “love thy neighbour”, but it means a lot to them just the same. "
The God who gives a value system and sense of community to the nuns may be illusory, but by believing in Him their lives do gain purpose. In an evolutionary sense it's hopeless - as 'Brides of Christ' their genes are terminated - but in the environment of evolutionary adaptation which selected for their sense of communal dedication, their instincts were aligned with best and most successful social practice.

In a society where the economic structure assigns the orderly 'production of surplus value under the direction of the capitalist enterprise' as the individualised purpose of each non-elite person's life, the constellation of human psychological drives do struggle to gain traction in daily routines.

The failure of the Tory party to inspire people, the success of Momentum ('The World Transformed'): these phenomena are not hard to understand.



It is commonplace, in this sort of article, to say that anomie will be overcome under socialism or some such. Sadly, no further justification is ever given.

The previous generation often observed that life had never been more meaningful than during World War II. There was a sense of comradeship and community in the war which they missed ever after.

One is hardly surprised. Humans evolved in small groups faced with towering existential problems which only collective teamwork could overcome. We are descended from those who succeeded in that, so it's no surprise we feel fulfilled by collective teamwork in situations of existential threat.

But wasn't socialism/communism going to eliminate existential threat? Won't we all be terribly bored? And wasn't that always the critique of Heaven and all utopias?

A compelling criticism indeed, perhaps only to be addressed by the directed modification of our own psychologies under communism. Marx wrote,
"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Marx, German Ideology (1845).
Not everyone will think this a description of their own utopia! But Marx is plainly on to something in the matter of choice. We'll have to identify worthwhile objectives (as a Darwinian I'd be thinking pro-survival and pro-expansion), arranging that we self-engineer both capability and desire.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Diary: Capital Vol 2 and other stories

Up bright and early this morning. A ten past eight appointment with the dentist to have my new crown fitted. Except that it didn't fit. Apparently this happens one time out of five or six.

The tooth-stub was re-impressed (uncomfortable-to-the-cheek process with a mould) and I have to return in a couple of weeks for the next attempt to fit it.


I am working through Capital Vol 2 (£2.99 on Kindle .. slightly easier to read than the free PDF) and what a trial the first four chapters are.

Things they don't tell you. Volume 2 was never written as a book by Marx, instead it was assembled from his voluminous notes by Engels. It's dry, insanely-repetitive .. and a less reverential editor would have cut it down to one tenth the size.

There are occasional nuggests buried under pages of Marx pecking away at the same material, over and over again. Marx was clearly just writing this stuff for himself, trying various thoughts out in an obsessive manner.

I'll grit my teeth and persevere, and then let someone else take over the heavy burden of distilling its real content. David Harvey is meant to be the go-to guy and I have his Limits to Capital.

Unfortunately I have to say I side with Michael Roberts against Harvey in the fundamentals of Marx's dynamical thinking, summed up in the reproduction schemes and Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTRPF).

Update: Vol 2 chapters 5 and 6, where Marx reverts to coherent narrative, are considerably more interesting. I'm learning quite a bit and hoping for a continuing trend here.


BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg has an insightful piece on the BBC website today about the inner decay of the present Tory government.
"The fuss around Boris Johnson is the symptom not the cause. The problem that is increasingly on people's minds at this grisly conference is that the Tories might be only at the start of a decline, which becomes impossible to escape.

"One former minister says, "there is a smell of decay", another, that it is "hopeless, but we are resigned to the nightmare". Cabinet ministers fret that Theresa May simply doesn't have the ideas or imagination to reboot either her leadership or their party. ...

"One of her colleagues says "how did she blow the party up in 12 months?", lamenting how her premiership has paralleled Gordon Brown, who after years of hoping to get to Downing Street arrived there with little to say, bewildered by the sudden challenge of the top job. Another says she looks "bent and broken". ...

"The fear here is not really that Boris Johnson is grabbing all the attention, it's that this party could be dying inside, and it finds itself with a leader who might struggle to stop the downward spiral."
Time to finish up here and go listen to Boris.



Performance-wise, it was a pretty decent speech and the conference standing ovation looked genuine. The message - economically-globalist, politically-liberal, strategically British-Empire-lite - was tailored to appeal to smaller capitalists operating within the national market, those companies aligned with US and other non-EU markets and the culturally-nationalist fraction of the more traditional working class.

Its tragedy: the Boris vision is not aligned with the interests of the dominant financial and industrial wings of the British ruling class, which heavily value economic integration within the European Union. It also fails for the idealistic middle-class young, those who buy into euro-ideology and fill the ranks of Momentum.

So yet again we've seen the deep fissure within the British elite and in the mass of the population, as refracted through the Tory party. Boris, despite his charisma, does not bridge the divide. No-one can.

Tory party dynamics, going forward, should be fascinating.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Free Will (!)

Given the existence of the laws of physics, of course there can be no such thing as free will.

It might be considered pointless to make this argument in court.


Let me explain.

The notion of dialogue and argument seems to require the concept of free will: you are trying to get your dialogue-partner to change their mind.

Hence the 'no such thing as free will' argument seems self-defeating: if you believe it, why are you bothering to argue with me?

It can be rescued by a kind of instrumentalism. If I say the words of the argument, they could cause your brain-state to alter so that you'll behave differently .. in a way that could be described as 'no longer believing in free will'.

Perhaps then I'll 'get off'. Or the same argument may be used to justify convicting me.

This highlights the autonomy of self-consciousness over mechanism (neurobiology). Free will is part of the architecture of the intentional level, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and others, but it's not present at the neurological level, where it all happens.

Scott Bakker would approve - ordinary mortals not so much.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Roadmap of Crisis Theories

This post could also be entitled, 'The Gurus of Contemporary Marxist Theory', interpreting 'Marxist' rather broadly.

A year ago, when I started to pay more attention to economics, I was clueless as to where to go for high-quality Marxist analysis (even at the start of my search I was not in any doubt that neoclassical economics - in its denial of the class structure of capitalism - was intellectually bankrupt).

I knew about Ernest Mandel of course, but who else was worth reading, and what were the key issues in contemporary debates?

On the latter question I soon discovered that the most important issue was, of course, the Marxist theory of crisis.

From Michael Roberts

On page 15 of Michael Roberts's book, "The Long Depression", he shows a variant of the roadmap below from the San Francisco Bay Area Marxist Study Group (click on image to make larger and more legible).

San Francisco Bay Area Marxist Study Group via Nick Johnson

Incidentally I'm comfortable with Michael Roberts's take on the world because, like him, I'm hard left on the diagram above all the way down 😎.

Roberts is also not that tribal, seeking to understand rather than denounce. This is just as well as he secretly seems as convinced as I am that capitalism has at least another century before the imminence of total automation make production solely for the valorisation of capital essentially impossible.

This view of capitalism's likely future rather depends upon Marx's law of the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ (TRPF) applying over the long-term. I'm good with that as an empirical reality, increasing automation being the causal mechanism.


So who are the top gurus of Marxist thinking today? I've already mentioned Michael Roberts who has a prolific blog. I should also mention Sam Williams at "A Critique of Crisis Theory".

Moving now to the superstars, we have Dave Harvey, Michael Heinrich and Anwar Shaikh. I have bought books authored by all three. I'd also mention Andrew Kliman, whose book (below) I've just acquired.

Amazon link

While not a Marxist, radical Keynesian Steve Keen gets an honourable mention for bearing the wrath and fury of the entire neoclassical establishment with courage and fortitude. Roberts writes about him here.

So I'm very much a work-in-progress at the moment, struggling hard to get an intuitive view of the dynamics of capitalist economies at all time scales (Michael Roberts's views on cycles are persuasive).

In the background Marx's own writings, Capital Vols 2, 3 and 4 are still on the stack.

Bed bugs: from holiday to home

From The Times today:
"“Bed bugs are having a global resurgence,” William Hentley, from Sheffield University, said. “There’s quite a lot of research looking at how they disperse in apartment buildings, but very little is currently known about how they get from one country to another.”

"We assumed they hitchhiked on humans, but how? For an experiment published in the journal Scientific Reports, he and his colleagues decided to investigate. They had a hunch that the weak link may not be humans, but their smelly luggage. Members of his laboratory spent a day wearing clothes, then piled them in a heap in a room with an infestation. In an identical room they did the same, but with clean clothes.

“We found twice as many bugs on bags containing dirty clothes,” Dr Hentley said. Thanks to the smell, they “found what they thought was a human host.” Then the human takes the bag home, and the bed bugs spread."
I notice they found bedbugs in all the clothes, dirty or not.

We normally take a plastic bin bag and store dirty laundry in that. Probably the slippery sides would be a deterrent .. if we ever frequented the kind of establishment likely to house cimex lectularius.
"Dr Hentley said that when he travels he now keeps a tightly sealed bag, and tries to put it on metal luggage racks, as bed bugs can’t climb shiny surfaces."
The bane of our lives is usually the whining mosquito.


Weird fact from the Wikipedia page: "DNA from human blood meals can be recovered from bed bugs for up to 90 days, which mean they can be used for forensic purposes in identifying on whom the bed bugs have fed."

Here's my tip, which depends on a successful genome to facial appearance mapping. Collect blood-DNA from the collected insects, transcribe each separate genome and reverse-engineer facial appearance. Compare with photos of the prime target. You've identified his or her genome.