Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Diary: Barrington Court (National Trust)

Barrington Court (National Trust) is a fifty minute drive from our home in Wells, Somerset; the temperature peaked at 24 degrees today.

Barrington Court from one of the walled gardens

Clare in a walled garden

Clare and myself at the front of the house

The flowers are colourful but a little past their best


En route home we stopped at RSPB Swell Wood to visit the Heron Sanctuary

In the Heron Hide was a small group of pensioners who had been bussed in to see the herons. They came equipped with high-power binoculars and rather sophisticated long-lens cameras.

Clare sandwiched between the real enthusiasts

The birds in question were (apparently) nesting high up in the canopy, quite a way off. I saw nothing, but Clare cadged a view through a telescope and claims to have spotted a chick.

Here's my video account of the Heron Hide experience:


And finally, we have a mini bee-colony in the birdbox in our back garden.

I gave her the option: cherish or kill?

Clare is not quite a 'friend to bees' but she doesn't fear them in the way she is panic-stricken about wasps. So they will be suffered to live and thrive .. very close to our clothes line.

I expect to be checking my shirts and underwear very carefully the rest of the summer.

Posts will be sparse here till mid/late June

Just to let you know that posts will be sparser and more random here over the next four weeks. A combination of engagements and guests.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The next Kondratiev wave?

Wikipedia article

Fortunate we are to develop our careers in the rising phase of a Kondratiev wave. As new platform technology is widely introduced, the economy grows, wages and salaries rise and a host of fascinating and challenging socio-technological problems present themselves. Work can be fun!

Yes, I remember the late 80s through the mid-2000s, when the Internet was bright and young and we made a new world of computing and telecoms!

The stagnation and depression phase of a Kondratiev wave is something else. The economy flatlines, wages and careers stagnate, everything is flat and immobile; the story of the last ten years.


A new wave starts with new platform technologies, sufficiently mature to make a practical difference, which revolutionise production at a higher level. At the same time, the required (and vast) capital investment has to be profitable with a promise of demand sufficient to absorb the new products.

Are we there yet?

It's been predicted for a while now that the next Kondratiev wave will be driven by a combination of AI (in its new neural net incarnation), robotics and genomics - driving industries such as pharmaceuticals and healthcare - but in practice almost everything.

I don't think we're at the lift-off point yet. None of these technologies are ready for prime-time: they're niche and require too much scarce expertise to make work. Nor is it clear that the political conditions are in place for massive new investments.

Peter Turchin has predicted that we're in for a rough decade, suggesting civil turmoil until the mid-twenties. His view may be no more than inappropriate curve-fitting: we shall see.


Ernest Mandel (Late Capitalism - PDF) correctly observed that massive investments in transformational new technologies will not occur unless they are profitable, which, he argues, requires that working class resistance (to losing jobs and perhaps lower wages) has been broken. He sees fascism and the second world war (thirties and forties) and Thatcher's union-busting (eighties) as typical precursors to new waves.

The next wave would, however, seem to require very little in the way of cheap unskilled labour (which in fact it proposes to - eventually - replace). If we take Google as the current industry leader in next-wave technologies, the economic and political strength of the working class en large hardly seems to matter as regards their truly enormous investment in AI and robotics.

But if the impact of the next wave will be the massive elimination of both middle class and working class jobs, then a precondition for across-the-board capital investment would surely have to be a belief that such high rates of job loss and unemployment could be successfully achieved.

Is such an outcome politically deliverable today? Plainly not.

I anticipate the next decade to be one of the steady imposition of job-elimination technologies, accompanied by increasing worker resistance. Those states which succeed by force and/or inducements in advancing total automation will open the floodgates for the next wave.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A field manual for Theresa May

Amazon link

Here's a summary:
"Several decades of greater economic and cultural openness in the West have not benefited all our citizens. Among those who have been left behind, a populist politics of culture and identity has successfully challenged the traditional politics of Left and Right, creating a new division: between the mobile ‘achieved’ identity of the people from Anywhere, and the marginalised, roots-based identity of the people from Somewhere. This schism accounts for the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the decline of the centre-left, and the rise of populism across Europe.

"David Goodhart’s compelling investigation of the new global politics reveals how the Somewhere backlash is a democratic response to the dominance of Anywhere interests, in everything from mass higher education to mass immigration."
and here's the author bio:
"David Goodhart is the founding editor of Prospect magazine and one of the most distinctive voices on British politics today. He is currently head of the Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit at the think tank Policy Exchange, and was previously director of the centre-left think tank Demos.

"His last book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration (2013) was runner-up for the Orwell Prize in 2014 and was a finalist for ‘Political Book of the Year’ in the Paddy Power Political Book Awards. David voted remain in the EU referendum and has been a mainly inactive member of the Labour Party since he was a student."
I was afraid I was going to get a typical liberal hatchet-job on Brexiteers and oiks. The familiar stuff about that section of the population notorious for being stupid, reactionary, nostalgic for times-long-gone, and so forth.

I'm pleased to say that David Goodhart's book is considerably better than that: it's well-written and quite a page-turner, despite a fair degree of repetition and the occasional splash of necessary but dry statistics.

Goodhart is open-minded, understands Jonathan Haidt's work on the differing moral foundations of liberals and conservatives, and sees how much light this sheds into his 'Anywheres' and 'Somewheres'. And although he never leaves the outer boundaries of the liberal paradigm, he does acknowledge innate differences in cognitive, personality and gender attributes (normally denied by liberals) and sees atomised individualism for the fanciful illusion it is.

Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory: liberal vs. conservative values

Using an approach grounded in history, economics and sociology, his book details the damage that decades of neoliberalism has done to the fabric of non-elite life across the world. Goodhart's 'Anywheres' are deliberately myopic about this - they either do not care or think it's actually positive.

He makes a further very telling point: with the demise of the mass-unionised manufacturing sector, the elites are no longer afraid of the diminished and fragmented working class. They pursue their own agendas with impunity.

Those chickens finally came home to roost with Brexit, Trumpism and the generic rise of 'populism'.

Goodhart is keen to propose a political solution: essentially Blue Labour or Red Toryism .. which happens to be the position Theresa May has adopted in the current election campaign. He favours policies for strengthening technical education, controlling permanent immigration and improving integration, reinforcing the family and encouraging job/career opportunities for the 'non cognitive-elite'. You can already hear the condescending insults of the 'Anywheres' to such 'reactionary tosh'.

I don't want to get into his detailed policy prescriptions (which in any case seem to have mostly ended up in the Tory Manifesto). His general approach is what Tony Smith would probably call 'the social state', a recasting of 1950s social-democracy for the modern age.

It may well be the least bad option we currently have, even though I'm sure the British elite will put up the same contemptuous, disparaging resistance that the US elites are currently inflicting on the Trump Presidency. (It won't be so strident over here since things are not so polarised and May is a far less abrasive and aggressive politician).

Goodhart is detailed and descriptive, but with insufficient analysis as to why the extraordinarily silly ideas of the 'Anywheres' (expressed most clearly and absurdly in the 'political correctness' of 'social justice warriors') have become the entrenched ruling ideology of the age.

The answer is surely that they happen to express the entrenched interests and practices of the globalised elites themselves. With such powerful economic buttresses, coolly rational critical thinking from people like David Goodhart has hitherto found little purchase. Any influence he may yet develop will depend upon the 'populist' masses in motion - which do seem to be unsettling the elites, judging by their reactions. So although I read the book with much interest, I didn't feel in the end much of a wow-factor, as if I had suddenly understood the world in a new and more profound way.

It's more like David Goodhart, Ambassador to the 'Somewheres' from the 'Anywheres', returned to write down his considered thoughts, careful not to appear to have gone native.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Care Home automation

We remain transfixed by the low-level of Care Home productivity.

If Care Homes were as productive as car plants, they could lower costs to the point where every old person could expect an affordable and superior level of intimate care until death.

Whereas at the moment ...

It is tempting to think that we're currently stuck - waiting for Google to invent that fusion of AI and robotics which would automate the Care Home worker at significantly lower marginal cost.

If that's so, we may be waiting a while yet.

But perhaps that's the wrong way to think about it ... ?


We talked about it on the way back from Waitrose.
"One of those trick questions they give beginning students of Automation AI: 'How would you design an AI system to paint a car on the production line?'"

Snorts. "Just dip it."

"Yep, absolutely on the right track. The students start talking about cameras, computer vision to steer the paint nozzles. Trying to reproduce a human on the job.

"At this point the lecturer takes pity and explains that the car is simply pinioned to a defined position by side-pommels while the robot paint-sprayer follows a blind, predetermined trajectory. It's considerably easier and cheaper."

"I had that idea already, about a kind of tipper-chair which could give an old person a bath ..."

"We could think of a Care Home as a car assembly-line for people. But here's another idea. The state-of-the-art chicken abattoir is entirely mechanised. Each chicken is stunned, hung upside-down, has its throat cut, bleeds out, is defeathered, eviscerated and steam-cleaned. Finally it's packed ready to be sent off to Waitrose."


"Brilliant idea. I can see how that might work as an inspiration for Care Homes. Could be a bit of a PR problem ..."


 ... But don't let me put you off a bit of lateral thinking.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Gmail broke the Internet

It all started so innocently.

Google developed Smart Reply, where its neural-net AI was able to comprehend emails sent to you and craft reply options (as above). All you had to do was to select a good option and your email reply would be automatically launched.

No typing.

Look at the image again. Those replies are good! And they're not just some random canned text from a small database of stereotypical small-talk. Those replies are crafted by a deep learning neural net trained on zillions of examples. Those replies are fresh.

After you've tried it a bit, it seems very natural - even obvious. How did we ever do without it? It became increasingly unnecessary to actually review the proposed replies. Over time the system learned your own choices and became better and better at anticipating. The Gmail equivalent of "I'm Feeling Lucky" worked so well that people took to just letting Gmail reply to incoming mail all by itself.

Well, that was great, except that soon pretty much all Gmail users were using Smart Reply and indeed, ceding it control of their inboxes. Since all messages received (courteous) replies, the volume of email on the Internet began to rise exponentially.

Smart Reply was smart all right, but not all that creative. As the proportion of emails on the Internet began to be dominated by AI-generated texts, the level of - well, literary excellence - began to fade, degrading the input into Smart Reply's response-crafting neural-net.

And then one day, the Internet finally seized up.

It failed trying to carry 1018 concurrent emails, all consisting of the single word: "Wow!".

Should I return this to Amazon?

Amazon link

And yes, I do get the Hayek reference.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

And this is the best you could do?

Over the last thirty to forty years, capitalism leveraged the developing Internet and a rapidly-industrialising Far-East to reorganise itself on a thoroughly global basis. It's just a fading memory now, the latter part of the twentieth century with its industrially-based national capitalisms, first-world manufacturing and millions of production-workers in secure, well-paid and unionised jobs with prospects.

The advent of globalisation coincided with massive overproduction in manufacturing (cf the car industry, steel)  so that the smart money moved into finance. Bailed out in the aftermath of 2008, and with a dearth of profitable investment opportunities, the global elite continue to enjoy their luxuries while the masses stagnate .. and wonder where their lives are going.

We all know something about globalisation and many of us want our politicians to fix it. Part one of Tony Smith's book reviews the leading proposals for reform.

Amazon link


As I mentioned in a previous post, I learned a lot from Tony Smith. Here is how he begins: the quotes below are taken from his chapter 8, "A Marxian Model of Socialist Globalisation".
"The various models of globalisation examined in part one are designed to ... provide a spur to reform existing institutions and practices.

  1. Proponents of the social state call for a renewed state commitment to social welfare and full employment. 

  2. Neoliberals advocate increased free trade and capital liberalisation, along with the dismantling of 'crony capitalism'. 

  3. Defenders of the catalytic state insist that public authorities must aggressively and comprehensively provide the necessary preconditions for a region's successful participation in the global economy. 

  4. Democratic-cosmopolitan theorists propose a global social charter guaranteeing the material preconditions for autonomy and substantive equality of opportunity."

Smith has little difficulty in establishing that all four schools of thought (since they accept the continuing existence of capitalism) fail to propose realistic measures which put a 'democratic' control of economic activity ahead of relentless global profit maximisation.


There is, of course, no end to the list of critics of capitalism. But the socialist alternatives are completely tarnished, are they not? By the disastrous experience of 'soviet communism'?

Smith tackles this issue with commendable rigour and honesty:
"A wide variety of objections have been proposed against Soviet-style bureaucratic central planning, widely taken to be either the only form of socialism or the form to which all others degenerate. I shall first list what I take to be the eight most significant criticisms of this framework. ..."
Smith's case against state bureaucratic-socialism is familiar:
"(i) Ownership of the means of production lies in the same hands as control of the coercive state apparatus. While this arrangement may not make the worst forms of totalitarianism inevitable, no one familiar with the historical record could deny its close association with authoritarian regimes.

(ii) Ownership by everyone in general is equivalent to a lack of ownership by anyone in particular. When private property rights to capital goods are not defined, no one has an incentive to use them efficiently.

(iii) Product quality tends to be poor. It is far easier for planners to formulate, implement, and monitor plans in quantitative than qualitative terms. The lack of an effective feedback mechanism connecting producers and users/consumers also leads to a neglect of product quality.

(iv) The informational burdens placed on bureaucratic central planning are now almost universally acknowledged to result in economic inefficiency. Central planners cannot appropriate adequate information regarding all potential inputs, all potential outputs, and all potential social wants and needs, when possible inputs, outputs, and wants and needs are all changing over time.

(v) If we take planners as 'principals' and managers of enterprises as their 'agents', centralised bureaucratic planning necessarily tends to generate severe principal/agent problems. Collective ownership leads managers to distort the information they pass on to central planners, underestimating the output their enterprises are capable of producing while overestimating the inputs required to produce any given level of output.

(vi) Authoritarian central planning is not able to develop successfully in areas where personal initiative and creative responses to unforeseen problems are important. Ordinary workers feel dehumanised and cynical, with pernicious economic effects.

(vii) State ownership of the means of production and centralised planning by a bureaucratic caste cannot match the technological dynamism of capitalism. In certain circumstances, bureaucratic central planning is able to attain considerable extensive growth, that is, growth resulting from the mobilisation of greater and greater inputs. And, in certain sectors where mass resources could be devoted and where success or failure was relatively easily measured (for example, space, military, heavy industry), significant accomplishments were in fact attained in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

But this sort of social order is unable to generate intensive growth based on the more efficient use of inputs. The lack of incentives for managers to engage in risky activities like innovative behaviour is surely a significant factor. Managers appropriate few of the fruits of such activities when they are successful, and may suffer significant penalties when they are not.

(viii) A lack of hard budget constraints allows inefficient firms to continue in production and even expand over time.

Taking all of these factors into account, most observers conclude, it should have come as no surprise that bureaucratic central planning with state ownership of the means of production eventually generated vast material and spiritual stagnation."
It's surprising how many nostalgic communists and left social-democrats have still not taken these forceful (and thoroughly correct and legitimate) points on board.
"These considerations appear to justify the conclusion that there is simply no feasible alternative to capitalist markets with private ownership of the means of production. Market competition appears to provide private owners with incentives to ensure a level of efficiency and dynamism unattainable in either bureaucratic socialism or market socialism.

"One can accept this conclusion without having to deny that capitalism brings with it profound social costs. Financial crises, environmental crises, extreme levels of economic and political inequalities, and so on, are not likely to ever be entirely eliminated. But the harms they inflict can be lessened over time.

"If there is no feasible and normatively attractive alternative to a capitalist framework, lessening these harms must be our goal, and the failed project of collective ownership of the means of production must be unequivocally abandoned.

"In the present historical context, the burden of proof lies entirely with those who continue to call for the socialisation of the means of production [my emphasis]. Meeting this burden requires developing an alternative model of socialism capable of avoiding the fundamental structural flaws listed above."

You can imagine at this point how excited I was that such an incisive and profound thinker was about to unveil a model of post-capitalist economics and politics which might actually work!
"I shall adopt the model of economic democracy developed by David Schweickart, adding three modifications to make it a more adequate alternative form of globalisation."
David Schweickart's book is called "After Capitalism" (2002) by the way: I haven't read it.
"The model Schweickart defends has the following essential elements:

(i) Production and distribution are primarily undertaken within worker collectives. Workers are not hired as wage-labourers by capital; they instead join worker collectives as fellow members. There is a basic right to employment, with state enterprises providing jobs for those unable to find positions in collectives."
Hiring is the easy bit. Smith does a fair amount of hand-wringing later in the chapter when he considers how you might have to get around to actually firing workers.
"(ii) Managers of worker collectives are democratically accountable to those over whom they exercise authority, either through direct elections or through appointment by a workers' council that is itself directly elected. These enterprises are required to have representatives from a range of social movements (environmental groups, consumer groups, feminist groups, and so on) on their boards of directors, accountable to those movements."
Given the intellectual coherence and balanced judgement observed in radical social movements in the real world, I think you can guarantee that they would wreck any otherwise-viable economic enterprise. I might also mention the ample opportunities for rent-seeking and intimidation.
"(iii) Worker collectives produce public goods, inputs into the production process, or final consumption goods. Funds for the first are directly allocated to collectives by the relevant planning agencies (see below). The latter two categories of products are offered for sale in producer and consumer markets.

"In Schweickart's view, attempts to centrally plan all inputs and outputs in a top-down fashion are simply not feasible, at least not in a complex and dynamic economy. But it does not follow that capitalist market societies are the only acceptable forms of economic organisation.

It is possible to imagine a feasible and normatively attractive society combining markets with the socialisation of the means of production, that is, a society making use of producer and consumer markets after abolishing both capital markets and labour markets."
This doesn't pass the innovation test. Would Steve Jobs have got the funds he needed from the relevant 'planning agency'?
"(iv) Workers in enterprises are granted use rights to facilities and other means of production. But ultimate ownership rights remain with the local community. Workers cannot use their enterprise as a cash cow and then walk away; they have a legal duty to maintain the value of the community's investments. If sufficient depreciation funds cannot be appropriated from revenues to maintain the value of these investments, it is the responsibility of community banks to shut down an enterprise."
Shutting down a community enterprise? Yes, that's going to happen. To be fair, Smith himself worries about that but his Pollyanna assumptions that everyone would 'do the best thing' are unfortunately just so much pie-in-the-sky.
"Once depreciated funds have been deducted, the remainder of the revenues from public allocations or sales in consumer/producer markets (apart from the taxes to be considered below) are then distributed among the members of the collective according to formulae set by the democratically accountable management."
Incidentally, this focus on local communities is endearingly Victorian but hopelessly anachronistic. Modern globalised industry (which Smith agrees is a productivity advance that post-capitalism needs to build upon, not roll-back) increasingly organises both production and employee-allocation globally. Localised, and presumably small-scale communities are simply not the scale at which state-of-the-art enterprises operate at.
"(v) The origin of funds for new investment and public goods is a flat tax on the non-labour assets of all enterprises. In Schweickart's proposal, the rate of this tax is initially set by a democratically elected legislature, operating on the national level. This legislature also decides on the appropriate division of revenues between funding for national public goods and funds that are allocated to democratically elected regional and local legislative bodies.

"Each of these assemblies, in turn, must also decide upon the level of funding for public goods to be supplied in the relevant geographical area vis-à-vis the level of funds set aside for distribution to the level below it. These legislative bodies can also set aside a percentage of funds for investment in areas of pressing social needs."
It's touching that Smith thinks that allocations of resources in the billions of dollars are going to be somehow resistant to powerful lobbying, rent-seeking and every form of power-play. Plainly the human nature that Smith sees is not the same as most of us observe.
"(vi) After all decisions have been made regarding the general level of new investment and the order of social priorities, and after funds required for public goods on the national, regional, and local levels have been allocated, the remaining revenues are distributed to local communities on a per capita basis (at least this should be the presumption in the absence of compelling reasons to do otherwise, such as the need to temporarily favour historically disadvantaged regions).

"Community banks would then undertake the actual allocation of new investment funds to worker collectives. The boards of directors of these banks would include representatives of a broad range of social groups affected by the banks' decisions. New enterprises would be formed, and existing ones expanded, through allocations by community banks rather than private capital markets."
Still this idea that 'local communities' are the essential unit of future social organisation. Leading edge corporations today operate globally and have to raise resources on global financial markets. Any socialist alternative is going to have to recognise that global is not simply the additive sum of hundreds or thousands of local community banks.
"(vii) When allocating investment funds for new worker collectives and the expansion of existing ones, community banks must take three main questions into account. Is there likely to be sufficient demand for the output of the given enterprise for it to maintain the value of the community's investment and provide adequate income for its members? Will the investment provide stable employment? And is the investment consistent with the set of social priorities democratically affirmed on the national, regional and local levels?

"Extensive external financial and social audits can be regularly imposed on all enterprises and community banks to assess their performances in terms of these criteria. These independent social audits are a crucial component of the socialist version of the principle of transparency, institutionalising a level of accountability and transparency far beyond the limited neoliberal version of the principle.

"Community banks can then be ranked on the basis of the results of these audits. The level of income of the staff of a particular bank, and the amount of funds allocated to this bank for distribution in the future, are determined by the bank's place in this ranking."
I think we're looking at an impenetrable veto-network here. How many crucial innovations were funded by capitalists taking a punt? There will be precious few punts in the above arrangements.
"(viii) In Schweickart's model, there are no markets for capital assets, and so there will be no capital flight in the form of cross-border investments in capital assets. There will also be little foreign direct investment, since worker collectives are unlikely to outsource their own jobs, and community banks are assessed according to the extent they create employment in their own communities. But there will still be trade across borders.

"For a period of time, this may include trade with regions that have not institutionalised a version of economic democracy. In such circumstances, regions committed to socialist globalisation should follow the principle of fair trade rather than 'free' trade. To ensure that this occurs, Schweickart calls for a 'social tariff'." If oppressive labour practices hold down wage levels in a given region, the prices of imports from that region will be raised to what they would have been had worker income been comparable to the level prevailing in the importing country.

"A social tariff will also be imposed to compensate for a lack of adequate spending on the environment, worker health and safety, or social welfare in the exporting nation. The revenues collected by this tariff will then be distributed to the groups in the exporting country with the best record of effectively implementing anti-poverty programmes, whether or not they are agencies of the government."
A touching faith in (chronically ineffectual) do-gooding organisations and a complete lack of insight into the intractable developmental issues in the third world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.
"I believe that three additions to this framework should be made:

"(ix) Schweickart does not investigate the monetary dimension of international trade in his model. I believe that the proposals made by Paul Davidson discussed in the last chapter are incompatible with capitalist social relations, but quite feasible if socialist production relations are established. In the latter set of circumstances, it would be possible to have something like Davidson's International Monetary Clearing Units serve as the sole form of world money. It would also be feasible to establish a set of rules that ensure that excessive trade imbalances do not persist, and that the burdens of adjusting to the imbalances that do arise are not disproportionately imposed on the most vulnerable regions of the global economy.

"(x) David Held's proposals for democratic-cosmopolitan law are also incompatible with capitalist social relations, as Chapter 4 established. But they, too, would be feasible if socialist production relations were in place. More specifically, a level of global governance above the state should be established. This would include a representative assembly selected more democratically than the United Nations, a global social charter, an international court of justice, and so on."
Ah yes, world government through a beefed-up UN. presumably with a world army to enforce its decisions. That will go down well. If only we could all get along, like a vast ant colony of genetically-related and sterile individuals.
"(xi) Schweickart holds that local communities within a nation ought to receive new investment funds on a per capita basis. In this manner, the material preconditions for both individual autonomy and flourishing communities are furthered. The force of this argument extends to the global level. There should be a democratically accountable socialist international planning agency to ensure the provision of global public goods. It must also guarantee that regions across the planet have access to new investment funds in direct proportion to their population in the absence of special considerations (such as the need to temporarily favour previously disadvantaged regions of the global economy).

"This is an extension of Held's proposal for global social investment funds, but with these funds now replacing, rather than merely 'complementing', global capital markets. In this manner, the systematic tendency to uneven development that afflicts all possible forms of capitalism could be abolished."
We know how popular transfer payments are.
"This model of economic democracy undoubtedly needs to be greatly supplemented and modified, and compared and contrasted with other approaches with which it shares 'family resemblances'. Once again, however, the goal here is not to provide a fully fleshed-out blueprint of the single best form of socialism. If the model is developed enough to show that a feasible and normatively attractive socialist alternative is possible in principle, that is sufficient."
So you can see how unimpressed I was by Tony Smith's model of post-capitalism. A fantasy of infeasible cooperation and general niceness. To be fair, Smith recognises that not everyone will be thinking altruistically of the greater good of all humanity all of the time, but his architecture kinda presupposes that.

It's what happens when you ignore biology and your model assumes a human nature which would indeed work if almost everyone was a sterile clone.

Still, even if the solution is utterly unconvincing, the analysis isn't bad. I listened to Professor Smith lecturing for an hour last night - to a rather sparsely-attended class at Iowa State - and I was impressed by what he had to say about current global economic difficulties.

He comes across as a slightly manic Bernie Sanders.


I am still waiting for the Martian Marxist, the social scientist who simple analyses without confected, activist rage.

I am also of the opinion that a post-capitalist future will emerge from a capitalism which has automated away almost all routine jobs. Call me a fan of AI and robotics.

What happens when the few remaining jobs are at a level of skill and intelligence denied to, say, 95% of the workforce? Those 95% will insist on a radical reordering of things, one which is probably incompatible with the reproduction of capitalist relations of production.

But it will be better.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"I have already been absent, non-existent"

Jenni Diski - writer

I thought this Jenni Diski (1947-2016) article worth noting. Here's an excerpt.
" I am appalled at the thought, suddenly, that someone at some point is going to tell me I am on a journey.

"But much as I hate it, the journey – that deeply unsatisfactory, often deceitful metaphor – keeps popping into my head. Like my thoughts about infinity, my thoughts about my cancer are always champing at the bit, dragging me towards a starting line.

From ignorance of my condition to diagnosis; the initiation into chemotherapy and then the radiotherapy; from the slap of being told that it’s incurable to a sort of acceptance of the upcoming end. From not knowing, to "knowing", to "really" knowing; from being alive and making the human assumption that I will be around "in the future", to coming to terms with a more imminent death. ...

"The end of the 'journey' doesn’t come until you either die cancer-free of something else, or die of the effects of a regeneration of the cancer cells. Good and bad; from here to eternity, and from eternity to here.

"But I have been not here before, remember that. By which I mean that I have been here; I have already been at the destination towards which I’m now heading. I have already been absent, non-existent.

"Beckett and Nabokov know:
I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet, only all over instead of in store.

From an Abandoned Work

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.

Speak, Memory
"This thought, this fact, is a genuine comfort, the only one that works, to calm me down when the panic comes. It brings me real solace in the terror of the infinite desert. It doesn’t resolve the question (though, as an atheist I don’t really have one), but it offers me familiarity with:
“The undiscovered country from whose bourn/ No traveller returns.”
"I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And it soothes. When I find myself trembling at the prospect of extinction, I can steady myself by thinking of the abyss that I have already experienced. Sometimes I can almost take a kindly, unhurried interest in my own extinction. The not-being that I have already been."

Jenni Diski's insight here is real, but for those who know some physics a deeper consolation (perhaps) is that our lives persist in spacetime, a consequence of Einstein's great discovery which I wrote about in my article "Sub Specie Aeternitatis".

National characteristics and MBTI type

In the previous post I mentioned that Theresa May came across as an ISTJ, and that this resonated with ordinary folk. I was sufficiently interested to google the subject of national character and found this.

Obviously countries present different facets of themselves - different national stereotypes - but it isn't completely arbitrary: the stereotypes do have force, a ring of truth. The methodology one instinctively applies is to think of an individual who seems to embody the character of a country, and then personality-type him or her.

For England, ISTJ seems pretty apposite but I think we need to differentiate between the 'England profonde' - England in the large - and the metropolitan and cosmopolitan elites primarily located in London, who are effectively inhabitants of a different country (the so-called 'anywheres').

ISTJ is indeed the type of 'John Bull', the quintessential English person, but the transnational London-elites are much more like George Osborne, an INTJ, or Tony Blair, an ENTP. So in Keirsey's language, those globalist politicians dealing in economics abstractions and cool self-interested logic are Rationals.

The average English person, concrete to the core, has always distrusted intellectuals 😑. One way of understanding the recent turmoil in the Conservative party is to observe that control has passed from that faction which was the government of London (as the UK-based outpost of the global elite) to the faction which considers itself the government of England, tolerating London as a financial entrepôt.

Theresa May is often, pejoratively, called provincial.


America has numerous distinctive national stereotypes. In political terms, the coastal policy elites (as represented, say, by Hillary Clinton, an INTJ), are plainly NT-Rational. Trump, a clear ESTP, represents the disinhibited force of nature we're familiar with from Westerns; the blustering and authoritarian 'Big Man', impatient with formal authority and rules, demanding personal loyalty. In this he reflects the yearning values of his mostly working-class base, which I visualise predominantly as STJs.


The EU leadership is part of the global, neoliberal cosmopolitan elite, and so NT-Rational. Emmanuel Macron is a personification of this type, as is the French elite. Beneath the surface, European countries diverge: Germany has, in Angela Merkel's public persona, a profound embodiment of the German national character - very STJ; France en masse, like the other Latin countries, inclines more SFP.


Does any of this matter? Yes: when interests fracture in a country, national types are strongly predictive of values, which then lend direction to political movements.


For more about the Myers-Briggs personality scheme, look to the link on the upper right sidebar.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Is Theresa May .. Stalin?

Dominic Lawson

Dominic Lawson's op-ed in The Sunday Times today:
"In truth, this secretive, politically friendless and yet virtuous woman has a surprising lack of self-confidence. It accounts for her evident shyness and the lack of spontaneity that so exasperates reporters — not that it matters what journalists think, as long as the voters respect her.

"The lack of intellectual confidence is in some respects a refreshing change from her predecessor’s excess of it: Cameron would make promises he couldn’t keep, in the belief that he could somehow bend the facts to his will — or just busk it.

"But a lack of intellectual confidence in a leader can have the unfortunate consequence that she (or he) finds it impossible to accommodate first-class minds in her top team. May’s replacement of Michael Gove with Liz Truss as lord chancellor is an example. Gove, admittedly, had already fallen out with May when she was home secretary; but Truss has now demonstrated the limitations of craven careerism as head of a judicial system that requires an intellectually rigorous grip at the top. ...

"Theresa May, to her credit, chairs countless cabinet committees and by all accounts does it well, taking account of arguments based on solid evidence and being prepared to change her mind. ...

"... the British public has always liked the idea of a strong leader who says what she’ll do and then does it. Mrs May is gaining enormous electoral traction by appealing to that tradition. Let’s hope such a mandate gives her the confidence not to run a cabinet of fearful mediocrity."
We used to live in Maidenhead, where Theresa May is MP, and once attended a hustings where all the parliamentary candidates made their pitches.

Theresa May - UK prime minister and ISTJ

It was clear that Theresa May was by far the brightest and most competent of those up for election. On the other hand, she did not impress me as scintillatingly bright. She's exactly how you would imagine a high-calibre ISTJ: no surprise that she's patronised by NT intellectuals .. and rather admired by ordinary folk.

It's early days. Too early to determine whether the reaffirmed PM will select a cabinet of the best intellectual talents (those signed up to the mission of course).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Latin's evolution to Romance

I have always been interested in the process by which Latin transitioned from being the common speech of Western Europe in the fourth century to its irretrievable fragmentation to the Romance languages - the sundry dialect precursors to modern French, Spanish, Italian, etc - by the ninth.

Why did it happen? Did people at the time even notice? Were there crisis points where definitive change occurred?

All these questions are answered in chapter 11 of Nicholas Ostler's excellent "Ad Infinitum".

Amazon link

"After the collapse of the Empire in the west, Latin began to split into what we now see not as a language but a language family, the vernacular languages of western Europe, collectively known as Romance. ...

"The middle and latter part of the first millennium AD was a period of social "hamletization," when horizons became narrower for many people, and the chances of wide-scale activity, e.g., travel, correspondence, or trade, were highly restricted outside the topmost elites.

"Without an overarching government, movement beyond the local market town became too costly and too dangerous to be undertaken without an exceptional reason. The resulting fragmentation of Latin, hitherto a highly unitary language across its wide range, is the best example we how a former imperial language can split when the political conditions of unity and mutual contact are no longer maintained.

"Latin was transformed on the lips of its speakers into a profusion of different dialects that were one day to become recognized as languages in their own right. The intrinsic changeability of language, the code passed on not quite perfectly from generation to generation, began to assert itself, and the speech of the different communities went off in separate directions.

"The story of how this happened is fascinating in itself, although the changes took place largely unconsciously. To tell it or understand it requires a certain tough-minded determination to see Latin not (as contemporaries did) as rule-governed text on the page, but as a vast set of spoken words, each taking its part in a system, the mental grammar, that made the language make sense.

"As local accents changed the pronunciation of certain sounds, various words' grammatical relations to other words became less obvious, or even quite impenetrable. New generations of language learners made sense of how the language worked in slightly new ways. The changes rippled throughout the system, causing new systems to form, which became the grammars of the new, Romance languages.

"First and foremost, then, Romance is the name for any more or less distorted form of Latin, as the language gradually evolved and split apart in the latter first millennium.

"Over the long centuries in which the new kingdoms established themselves, the stories of Rome's continent-wide imperium and single invincible army came to seem like legends. Societies became more strictly hierarchical, with most people bound into the feudal network of personal relationships, each man (and woman) recognizing his superior lord, but few outside the Church active in that wider world that had once been ruled through Latin.

"Within three hundred years from those fateful crossings of the Rhine, the people of France, Italy, and Iberia began to find it difficult to understand one another when they did meet. Ordinary speech, wherever it was spoken, was more and more called romanica rather than Latina lingua.

"Latin, as a single written language, was still taught in classes of grammatica and increasingly took its name from that. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Rome's old domains increasingly spoke a multitude of dialects, each called an idioma: this, when it could be recognized, arbitrarily marked out the origin of speakers. But the differences between them seemed to have no meaning.

"Nevertheless, there remained the constraint of the need to communicate with the neighbours; in practice the result was not so much a set of distinct idiomata as a dialect continuum, which varied gradually across the whole field of Romance speech. Picking out particular local varieties within this continuum as "national languages" came much later.  ...

"At the end of the eighth century, the Frankish kingdom that ruled northern France had become mightier than any other. Under Charlemagne (768-814) it united all of France, western Germany, and northern Italy, with an enclave south of the Pyrenees, and began to act in concert with the papacy in Rome in a way that recalled the glorious old alliance of Church and Empire in the century after Constantine.

"This political revival had an immediate cultural manifestation, what is to-day called the Carolingian Renaissance, when Charlemagne called scholars to receive his patronage at his court in Aachen. They came, first from Italy, but later and more notably from monasteries in England and Germany, and in 781 Alcuin, head of the cathedral school at York, was appointed the director of Charlemagne's Palace School.

"Alcuin was above all a teacher and a regimenter. He presided over the establishment of new standards for the spelling and pronunciation of Latin, an attempt to return it to its classical roots, seen as the source of its fundamental value in education, thought, and culture.

"Alcuin enjoined a new, universal style of pronunciation for Latin, deliberately reconstructed to be close to its original sound. Rather than allow each local community to pronounce its Latin as came naturally, he proposed that all should follow a single norm. In his own words:
Me legat antiquas vult qui proferre loquelas;
Me qui non sequitur vult sine lege loqui.

Let him read me who wishes to carry on the ancient modes of speech;
He who does not follow me wishes to speak without law.
"This would perhaps give scholars closer access to the true sound of Latin poetry and rhetoric; importantly, it would certainly make it easier for them to communicate orally in Latin, wherever in Europe they might hail from.

"As a reform, it did not in itself tend towards vernacular literacy: indeed, quite the reverse, for the immediate effect of the new pronunciation was to make priests reading out their sermons or their church offices more or less incomprehensible to their illiterate parishioners.

"In the favourite - somewhat extreme - example, the word viridiarium, 'orchard', could no longer be pronounced in northern France as vair-jair, by then its natural rendering in the local variety of Romance.

"With each priest following his home pronunciation, it was possible - at least in Romance-speaking countries - for the Latin text to have been read pretty much in line with the local language, hence understood by those who could not read. The newly antiquated, universal Latin, by contrast, was a foreign language everywhere, accessible only to those who had studied it.

"So quite soon after Alcuin's reforms, rulings were needed to guarantee that Church services would still make sense. At the Council of Tours in central France in 813, as at the Council of Mainz in Germany in 847, an explicit exception was made, to guarantee the continued understanding of the countryfolk: "... and that each should work to transfer the same homilies into rustic Romance or German language [rusticam romanam linguam aut thiotiscam], so that all can more easily understand what is said"

"One effect of Alcuin's reforms must ultimately have been to impress on everyone that Latin, as written and spoken, was actually now a foreign language, not just the written, quasi-eternal form of Romance speech.
To restate it: after Alcuin's pronunciation reforms, people suddenly realised that Latin was a different language to those vernaculars which everyone in their diverse ways were actually speaking. It must have been quite a big deal.

Ostler also observes that later, in Dante's time (1303), it had been quite forgotten that the Romance languages even derived from Latin (or indeed anything else); Dante was controversial for suggesting otherwise (p. 176).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Diary: Evesham, Winchcombe + the Cotswolds (NT)

A few days in the Midlands with Clare plus my sister-in-law and her husband. Click on any of the pictures below to make them larger.

The Library Bar at Dumbleton Hall

Dumbleton Hall, where we were staying, is a classic Cotswold country house in its own grounds. Very stylish with five-star levels of staff attentiveness. Not quite 'if you accidentally drop your fork a waiter appears and catches it before it hits the ground' but the staff were cheerful and engaged without overdoing it.

Evesham: a lower limit of five hours: bug or feature?

We thought we'd do the towns the first day, starting with Evesham. I had in mind that it might be classy, but it's just another undercapitalised and under-powered provincial town, far from the glitzy dynamism of Bristol, Manchester or London.

It's defined by its mobile phone shops, charity shops, bookmakers, shabby ethnic restaurants with fading, peeling paint, the drop-in pregnancy advice bureau .. and minimum-wage jobs such as the above.

We rapidly translated to neighbouring Winchcombe. It's surprising how often in the 'England profonde' we see a gritty, down-at-heel town partnered with an adjacent chichi one. So Winchcombe is golden Cotswold sandstone, mediaeval buildings, an ancient Abbey and Castle (too expensive) and way too many antique shops. No technology more recent than 'between the wars' that I could see; very Jane Austen.

The rich who make their money elsewhere come here to relax and wealth-signal.


Day two we ventured to Lawrence Johnston's legendary Hidcote (NT), with its famous Arts and Crafts gardens. Truly a delight in the sunshine.

The author and his wife at Hidcote - the kitchen gardens

Hidcote (NT): beautiful, colourful and dense

We followed up with Snowshill Manor and Gardens (NT), where the eccentric owner had filled the manor house with his eclectic collection of - dare we say - bric-à-brac?

Clare on the left: Snowshill Manor House in best Cotswold stone


Yesterday we returned home, calling in at Newark Park (NT) where I had a stand-off with a rather showy peacock.

The garden at Newark Park (NT)

We stare at each other: Newark Park

The National Trust is universally seen as a collection of traditional upper middle-class insulae. Nothing wrong with that. But it's Evesham which is more typical of 'the other England' - adrift in the 1950s with a sprinkled overlay of 21st century consumer tech.

Look no further for Brexit or Theresa May: it's not a happy place.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

This ritualisation of Marxism is getting tiresome

Another day and the Labour leadership will be asked once again whether they "agree with Marx". They will reply - again! - that there is a lot to learn from Marx, but that he was wrong about some things.

And they will be right.

I have been reading: "Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account" by the excellent Tony Smith,

Amazon link

and I have read no other account of globalisation so sophisticated, profound or analytic (a detailed review here).


We all want some kind of roadmap, a clue as to where human civilisation is heading in the twenty first century. Smith reviews four contemporary theories:

  • Traditional social-democracy: capitalism plus a redistributive national state
  • Neoliberalism: emphasising the benign power of global markets
  • The "catalytic state": exemplified by the Chinese activist-state model
  • A putative 'democratic world-state' checking the power of global capital.

All these models assume global capitalism and seek to ameliorate its more perverse or dire effects, those currently creating the popular backlash against the dominant neoliberal ideology - so-called 'populism'.

Smith then cruelly eviscerates each of these models, giving a master-class elaboration of the Marxist approach to economics. It might help to have read Michael Heinrich's "An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital" first.

Amazon link

Such criticism is fine: indeed, a breath of fresh air. Where Marxism fails is not so much in the analysis - who could deny that the 'structures' of society are, in any deep analysis, highly-sophisticated protocols of systematised (but malleable) human behaviour? - but in the remedy.

Describing capitalism for what it is should be ethically-neutral .. in the tradition of scientific analysis.No Marxist analysis has, for example, demonstrated that capitalism would collapse through its own inner nature through some terminal crisis.

But Marxists then add something new and extraneous: an ethical criticism.

They claim that capitalism is inherently unfair, oppressive and - dare I say it? - evil. In opposition, a communitarian solution is proposed (although the Marxist tradition was - and is - understandably sketchy on the details).

The model of future-communism is seldom subject to the level of rigorous criticism correctly bestowed on capitalism, but if it was, it would be understood to be an impossibility. It presupposes a biological human nature which does not exist.


There have been precisely zero attempts to integrate Marxism with current understanding of human (evolutionary) psychology, genetics or genomics. Attempts to do so are disavowed as if some category error is being proposed. Marxist blank-slatism reacts with horror to the idea that there could even be such a thing as human nature, detachable from specific and historic relations of production and exchange.

Such a lack of seriousness: the sure hallmarks of an ideology to be taken on faith.

If we learned one thing from Marx, let alone from the Stalinist experience, it's that lack of development of the productive forces is the root of all evil. Conversely, as capitalism increases those forces seemingly without limit, who can predict - yes, who? - as to how future-humanity may be able to organise itself?

In the meantime, let's just crack on and increase those productive forces, while ameliorating the consequences of their current inadequacy.*


* Yep, a lot of people think that. And then the arguments start 😟 ..

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Steganography with an AI flavour

Security sources say that in the old days, the bad guys used to encrypt their secret files. Bad idea: when the computer was forensically audited, the interesting files came pre-marked.

Nowadays, whole drives are encrypted, but the authorities have the right - under penalty - to make you divulge the decryption keys.

The solution has long been known: hide your secrets in plain sight. Steganography is usually discussed in the context of image tweaking, hiding your message in the least significant bits of pixel intensity or colour codes.

But that's a bit cumbersome.

Here's an alternative. Get an AI to write a plausible text which secretly encodes your message.

I'll illustrate with an example: your secret message, "Stuff here meet where?"

First we put it through some simple substitution code: "Fghss urer zrrg jurer". Then we get the AI to craft a little story .. each word starting with a letter from the coded message.
"Father gave her something strange. Underwhelmed, Rebecca earnestly recalled zapping relatively recent gifts. Justice underscored revenge, executed remotely."
OK, it's got going to walk by itself out of the slush-pile, but embedded in a folder of quotes it wouldn't get a second glance.

Quite challenging for the AI.


My example has a slight issue: the substitution cipher disrupts the letter frequency in English ('e' becomes 'r' for example). A computer analysis could pick up on that.

But it's easily fixed.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sigfrid von Shrink

The material below expands on some ideas from my most recent post.

Amazon link

From Wikipedia:
"Gateway is a space station built into a hollow asteroid constructed by the Heechee, a long-vanished alien race. Humans have had limited success understanding Heechee technology found there and elsewhere in the solar system. The Gateway Corporation administers the asteroid on behalf of the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, New People's Asia, the Venusian Confederation, and the United States of Brazil.

"There are nearly a thousand small, abandoned starships at Gateway. By extremely dangerous trial and error, humans learn how to operate the ships. The controls for selecting a destination have been identified, but nobody knows where a particular setting will take the ship or how long the trip will last; starvation is a danger. Attempts at reverse engineering to find out how they work have ended only in disaster, as has changing the settings in mid-flight. Most settings lead to useless or lethal places.

"A few, however, result in the discovery of Heechee artifacts and habitable planets, making the passengers (and the Gateway Corporation) wealthy. The vessels come in three standard sizes, which can hold a maximum of one, three, or five people, filled with equipment and hopefully enough food for the trip. Some "threes" and many "fives" are armored. Each ship includes a lander to visit a planet or other object if one is found.

"Despite the risks, many people on impoverished, overcrowded, starving Earth hope to go to Gateway. Robinette Stetley Broadhead—known as Robin, Rob, Robbie, or Bob, depending on circumstances and his state of mind—is a young food shale miner on Earth who wins a lottery, giving him just enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to Gateway. ...

" ... once back on Earth as a wealthy man he seeks therapy from an artificial intelligence Freudian therapist program which he names Sigfrid von Shrink."
Sigfrid von Shrink is an astonishingly insightful chatbot-psychotherapist.

In the spirit of 1977, Sigfrid is a timeshared program running on a mainframe.

Sigfrid: when AI was programmed in Fortran .. or BASIC?!

Robin, deeply traumatised and held on a floormat by restraining tapes, is instrumented to the gills for Sigfrid's benefit. The program fires (Freudian) model-based questions, trying to penetrate evasions and projections, forcing him to confront his unnameable terrors.

What a gulf between Sigfrid and Eliza!


What would we need, to build such a useful program in real life?
  • General conversation capability anchored by a sense of shared aboutness 
  • Real-world knowledge and psychotherapeutic task competence
  • Conversation-steering abilities.

If the world's AI companies can crack the long-duration contentful-conversation chatbot, Sigfrid is only a further small stretch. And given psychotherapeutic effectiveness in conditions as disparate as schizophrenia and PTSD, such an enormous social gain.

My guess? At least a decade, but not much more.


I first heard about Gateway in the early 1980s, when I was working at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories, one of ITT's five worldwide labs. An ITT colleague working in HCI recommended the novel, saying it had the best description of an ideal human computer interface he had ever encountered.
"But is the story any good?" I asked.

"It's not bad," came the answer, damning with faint praise.
Actually, Gateway is excellent, as suggested by this review.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Diary: flies + schizophrenia + fasting + reading

The fly menace: net curtains on the landing

A screen fronts the pantry

A dry, chilly, easterly wind gusts from the continent, so what do houseflies do? Seek nooks and crannies to avoid being dehydrated and swept away. Hence the plague of buzzing monstrosities in our bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen.

New net curtains have gone up, the pantry screen was reattached: nothing seems to work. My latest belief is that they are crawling between the floors and emerging from small gaps around the pipework.


Perhaps I was over-influenced by the BBC Horizon documentary on Schizophrenia, "Why Did I Go Mad?".  The programme was interesting throughout: strong on phenomenology though weak/misleading on analysis.

The usual BBC inability to accept that genetics can underlie anything of importance.

In fact schizophrenia is 80% heritable, and triggered by a variety of stress factors.

I was most interested in the schizophrenic's objectification of 'sub-personalities': auditory hallucinations (voices) and visual illusions - often eerily-scary monsters. Somehow the brain's attribution of agency is being misapplied to internally-generated subconscious events.

They say psychosis is like being awake, but living in a dream.


Jenni Russell had an interesting piece in The Times yesterday, "It’s worth going hungry for a healthier life". She says,
"Fasting’s complex effects are still being explored but one of its most important mechanisms is that it pushes cells into repair mode, through a process called autophagy. After 12 hours or so of no food, a starving cell starts burning up diseased and damaged proteins, tumours and viruses, in a kind of spring-cleaning that only takes place when there are no alternative sources of energy.

"Autophagy has been known about for 50 years but not until recently has its essential function been widely understood. In past centuries, when food was relatively expensive and scarce, autophagy happened naturally in the long gap between supper and waking up. Now that food is so easily available many of us eat continuously, from breakfast until late-night snacks, meaning that autophagy cannot take place. That is disastrous for our physiology.

"Junk and rubbish build up in our cells and cannot be cleaned out. It is as if we are in a car driving continuously with the accelerator pedal down, never pausing to stop at a garage to have the engine parts, brakes, wheels or oil replaced. ...

"One of fasting’s most exciting consequences is its potential to regenerate the immune system. As I have mentioned on these pages before, I came across this particular research three years ago, just after it was published and just as my own treatment for a long-running auto-immune illness was about to be halted by the NHS because of its tremendous expense.

"Valter Longo, a leading anti-ageing specialist at the University of Southern California, had discovered that when mice fasted for three days at a time they generated new stem cells from their bone marrow. This was astounding. It meant that over six months of occasional fasts they replaced damaged immune cells with perfect ones. Potentially, this had huge implications for anyone with an auto-immune disorder and indeed everyone else, since a major cause of ill-health is the deterioration of our immune systems as we age.

"Dr Longo warned readers not to try this themselves but I couldn’t wait. With considerable scepticism — but more despair — I imitated the mice, started fasting on water-only for three days at a time, was cured within weeks and have never relapsed. It has made me a reluctant convert to fasting since a few days without food have proved more effective than 20 years of medical care by devoted doctors and £200,000-worth of drugs."
Assuming you don't find it paywalled, it's worth reading the whole article. In any event, we're into the recommended 36 hour fast even as I write this.

Here's Jenni Russell's previous (and very popular) article on her fasting.


After Charlie Fletcher's final Oversight book, "The Remnant", I started reading Greg Bear's "Quantico" to Clare last night. Alas, the qualities which reward silent reading to oneself do not transfer to reading Bear aloud. In recitation, Quantico is leaden, stilted and confusing. So it's abandoned.

Tonight I'll hope for better with Frederik Pohl's classic "Gateway". The link is Readings to Clare.