A couple of thoughts for the day

1) Whether you want to call it the liberal project, or simply the creation of a country in which all the people are free and happy and generally not in danger of want or starvation, it has to be fought for and is always in danger. Too many people in the media and elsewhere seem to think, naievely and in ignorance of history, that once we've got a nice happy country everything will carry on like that.
Whereas a short study of the work it took to get, for example, equal rights for black people in the USA, or health and safety legislation, or schools and hospitals for the entire population here in the UK, or to stop horrendous pollution killing people and ecologies, indicates that such victories are up against perennial factors, like greed, hunger for power etc. So as we see in the USA, the greedy and power hungry have gained control and are planning on doing everything to ensure more money and power for them and their friends, no matter what the cost to everyone else.
See also Russia in the last 30 years for more examples.
The election results in the USA are the result of decades of well funded activity by said greedy and power hungry people to utilise the openness of society against itself, and to encourage divisiveness and all the old evils which too many people assume aren't around any more. I wasn't particularly surprised by the rise in xenophobia and nastiness post-brexit, but too many people in their own little bubbles have been.

2) One of the reasons for the resurgence of nastiness is the media dropping all ideals of honesty and accuracy (Seen with the way they failed to properly compare Trump and Clinton's actual policies and spent more time talking about her emails) and taken an approach which is based on pushing the most red meat high impact stuff they can (e.g. all these stories about immigrants in the Mail etc; note too that the murderer of Joe Cox had a big Mail habit). This has come about under pressures of commercial greed and in the case of individuals, because they want to make as high an impact as possible. And what better way than portraying someone in the worst possible light?
Meanwhile, it turns out, as if any sensible person hadn't already noticed, that twitter and facebook are good for spreading and encouraging nasty ideas and ideals, and also stochastic terrorism. They are also useful ways of keeping in touch and spreading good ideas, but I think all this would balance out.
Except that the mainstream media is bankrupt in every way. So we're left with a fog of poor reporting based on a handful of media conglomerates who basically shape the news to fit their own agendas, whereas in the good old days we did have more variety of sources who were beholden to different power bases, so although many of them lied at various times, there seemed to be a better chance of actually getting the real news out there. Now though, everything is so centralised, that that is impossible.

How the government experiments with your money, and doesn't achieve anything useful with it

So, via the Yorkshire ranter, we find this:

The Supervised Jobsearch Pilots (SJP) trial was
one of two trials of intensive job seeking skills
support designed to facilitate effective full-time
job-seeking. ... The intention of
the trial was to test whether supporting and
supervising job-search activity made claimants’
job search more effective, and increased
their likelihood of moving off benefit and into

Okay, sound great, doesn't it? Only what is full time job searching? It doesn't say, and thanks to unclear grammar could mean spending 40hrs a week searching for work, or searching for full time work.

Anyway the result is clear- some of the people taking part found it ueful in improving their skills at job applications. And the statistics are pretty clear when you read closely that it's not that much help, let alone expensive to do:
The impact assessment shows that those in the
intervention group did spend less time on benefit
and more time in employment than the control
group. For the pre-Work Programme (pre-WP)
pilot, it is estimated that, per participant, SJP
led to an average of 10 (±11) fewer days spent
on DWP primary benefits and an average 5 (±9)
more days spent in employment. For the post-
Work Programme (post-WP) pilot, it is estimated
that participants have spent 19 (±11) fewer
days on DWP benefits and 6 (±7) more days in
employment. These figures are based on the
sum of the central estimates of the daily impacts,
measured from the point at which a difference
between the intervention and control group
emerges. We chose not to measure from when
the daily impacts were statistically significant
with a 95% degree of confidence as, in our
view, this would provide an unduly conservative
measure of the overall impact.
A cost-benefit analysis, using the standard DWP
framework, has been undertaken based on the
positive impacts summarised in the previous
paragraph. This shows that the return to the
Exchequer of reduced benefit expenditure
and increased tax returns are, by a significant
margin, insufficient to compensate for the
relatively large costs of running the programme.

Meanwhile out in the real world, marginally improving someone's ability at something merely means they are a bit more likely than the next unemployed person to actually get a job. If you applied it to all unemployed people, it's like adding an inch to everyone's height, the shape of the distribution of heights won't change. Plus ultimately, what controls unemployment is the availability of work itself. If there aren't jobs, you can't get one.

So basically this sort of trial is a waste of time, since it doesn't take into account the bigger picture and has no overall effect on the entire job searching system, and is of course also very expensive. But I bet someone made a decent bit of money out of it. You should note also the matter of forcing people to go onto it. Making someone do something on threat of starvation isn't a good way to do things.

On the ongoing death of journalism

There's an American company called Tribune that produces newspapers, such as the Chicago tribune and the LA times.
It seems to be in a bit of trouble, so it's owners/ managers have decided to rebrand and move into online stuff in a big way.


The new name is Tronc, short for Tribune Content Online.

I'm sure most of you are starting to have flashbacks to various 1980's films.

The Guardian, which is way ahead of Tronc in online stuff, reports here:

In a press release, the company said that tronc Inc would be “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels”.

The name, according to the release, is a shortening of Tribune Online Content.

“tronc pools the company’s leading media brands and leverages innovative technology to deliver personalized and interactive experiences to its 60m monthly users,” the release continued, using the lower-case t despite the word coming at the beginning of the sentence.

The release also announced the launch of “troncX”, an “online curation and monetization engine” which utilizes artificial intelligence technology “to accelerate digital growth”.

Note how management speak is probably content rich within the highly constrained levels of upper management, but ridiculous outside them.
Anyway, the point I'm heading towards, is best summed up by a commenter here, whose user name also suggests they are a child of the 80's:



There’s no version of using machine learning in journalism that still qualifies as journalism. If you are tailoring your news to each individual user based on what you think they already want to see, you’re effectively engaging in self-censorship. Hey, this user never clicks on links about police brutality? Might as well not tell them about it anymore. That user has never read an article about misogyny or transphobia? Let’s not risk showing it to them. A happy user = reliable CPMs! Happy users mean happy tronc!

Seriously. This is what happens when you stop thinking of what you do as telling the news, and start thinking of it as "generating content".

You know those dystopias in 80's films? They are here, right now.

A problem with the great person approach to history

is that it covers up, deliberately or indavertently, all the other influences upon history, and the various groups and people and ideas that the Great Person (usually a man) needed to get to their greatness.
This thought sparked by reading "Who financed Hitler", which surely has its flaws, but it does lay out clearly the social circumstances of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. Without the followers, the dedicated people willing to donate their last pfennig, the rich people who financed it, the racist people, rich and poor who donated because they believed it would help restore the glory of Germany, Hitler wouldn't have been leading Germany and caused WW2. It is also clear that even without him there was a possibility of WW2 anyway, because of the racism and nationalism that was so strong in Germany in a large part of the population. Not to mention the poverty as well of course.

But if you focus only on him, somehow what he did appears magical and unreal, and all the others who helped him into power fade away into the background, escaping their responsibility.

Safety in the hills

This post has been sparked by the deaths of 5 people just this year in this hills. Two are not yet confirmed dead, but have been missing on Ben Nevis for 6 days now, and there is no chance that they are still alive. Historically I have read of a number of occasions when people's bodies have not been discovered for 2 or 3 months, only with spring melting the snow and ice are they revealed.

It seems clear to me that the most lethal period in the hills is the winter, with many deaths caused by avalanches, weather and simple falls. In the winter, the chance of slips and falls is greatly magnified, and the consequences when the temperature is 0C instead of +16 much greater. It is the exposure overnight that killed the two walkers in the borders. They were apparently experienced and knew the area well; unfortunately few details are available but it is likely that one or all of them had an accident that reduced their mobility.
Climbers who climb in winter have a pretty bad accident rate, for obvious reasons. Avalanches kill a surprising number of people, sometimes none in a season, and 4 or 5 the next, in part because they can engulf an entire group, and not so many people are equipped and trained to survive them.

Of course part of the reason for writing this post is also to reassure myself that I am walking reasonably safely. For instance I don't go climbing, and I choose the walking conditions carefully, so as not to be out in a storm. This appears to be part of the problem with the borders fatalities, I recall that the weather on the day in question was not great, with rain and cloud and wind. (The following links were found when searching for information about incidents in Scottish hills)
The danger of the weather can be seen by this old incident from 1971:
6 children and adults dead on Cairngorm.
Collapse )

It seems that 2 days out on the hills was too much for them, and was not actually intended, but soft snow impeded their walking and meant they were not at the shelter of a hut when a storm and blizzard arrived. Nowadays I'd like to think that most people would see the weather forecast and not go out at all, but the death last April or May of someone on Ben Nevis in weather that was far worse than I would go out in, indicates that is not the case. Mind you I have been on Cairngorm in conditions halfway to a blizzard, with visibility maybe only 10 or 20 metres. Fortunately my party was reasonably experienced and used compass bearings to navigate and a barometer to cross check location. Another time on the western plateau we were all adults, and as such were much better able to forge our way through the snow, whereas the 1971 incident involved teenagers who were much less physically able.

Regarding the accidents that occur in the hills, I found this interesting post from the BMC:

Bob Sharp’s study also reveals that the most common causes of incidents are poor navigation (23 per cent), bad planning (18 per cent) and inadequate equipment (11 per cent). Common shortcomings with equipment include the lack of compass, head torch or crampons on icy ground.

The only times I recall getting lost (and it was my fault) were when I didn't actually bother using a compass, and were in the borders, where it didn't really matter. (There have been another couple of wee incidents, involving groups of us, but they ended happily) Bad planning sounds familiar, although again with experience I know not to do it. These days I carry more equipment and am careful about the routes I take, sometimes discarding some because of the steepness or exposure. I recall once skiting across the plateau of Lochnagar because snow had melted and refrozen as ice, making it hard to walk across, jumping from non-iced rock to rock. I had crampons in the minibus but had underestimated the requirements, there being little snow and ice visible from below.
I do though always carry a couple of torches, including a nice new headtorch with a better performance than most of the risible wee things sold in outdoor shops.

Just before the above quote, it says:
As Ged Feeney, statistics officer fro MREW, puts it: “the prime causes of incidents in British hills are a failure to develop skill and experience in controlled conditions, failure to temper plans to suit the ability of the least able in a party and failure to have and know how to employ the proper equipment, particularly relating to map and compass.”

Yup, all those are things I have experienced, but mostly in controlled conditions and only rarely with a bit of luck to get us out of a scrape.
The report that is referred to is available here:
Scottish Mountaineering Incidents
Covering incidents from 1996 to 2005, so a little out of date, but might make interesting reading.

However, it is important to note that, according again to a quote from the BMC article:

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), you are far more likely to be injured playing sports like football and cricket than hill walking or rock climbing. ROSPA reports 1,000 accidents per 100m hours for walking and 4,000 for rock climbing. Cycling scores 7,000 and horse riding 10,000.

So as you would expect, the more severe your activity on the hills the greater the risk, but, one of the issues compared to say horse riding is that help is not a phone call and an ambulance drive away, it is often many hours away. Hence the deaths that hit the headlines.

The above article from last year is somewhat interesting, and reiterates the important point that training and experience is important. I have a fair bit of experience, but have spent the last 18 months re-learning it after being off the hills for years. I have invested in newer equipment, and take a more risk avoiding approach and carry more food and clothing than I used to. I've also just recently bought a new watch which has barometer/ altimeter and compass function. The latter is only for backup, but it is useful, and the former are very useful, for both weather prediction and estimating your location. This works by it telling you that you are at 802m, which means you must be somewhere around the 800m contour line, so you compare what little you can see of the landscape with the map. It is also handy for telling you how close you are getting to the summit.
One of these days I shall get a GPS, but I note the various articles above keep complaining about people who are over reliant on their GPS or phone or whatever and there's always the battery issue.

In fact back in January the mountain rescue picked up some lucky people from Ben Lomond who were using their phone for a torch in the dark and hadn't proper location finding equipment:
This is not a new thing either, it happened in 2013 too:
This group had no map or compass, torch and two were wearing trainers!!!!

However I am happy to report that when I did a munro by Loch Lomond back in September last year or so, everyone I saw was at least wearing boots and seemed to have clothing and rucsacs and food with them.

It turns out that back in early 2013 there was a bit of a media storm over the number of deaths in the Scottish hills that winter. Now most of you know I hold much of the current field of newspapers and journalists in contempt for their general uselessness and inability to enrich and inform our lives. Although to be fair it appears the contretemps also took place in the broadcast media.

Anyway, here's Cameron McNeish's February 18th 2016 take on why people go walking, note he's also fed up with saying it again and again, so he reprinted it from 2013:

He takes on 3 general points made by numpties:
One: mountaineers should be made to take out insurance.
Two: the mountains should be closed off during and after bad weather; and
Three: mountain rescue teams should be professional.

As you can see, all three would involve more spending of taxpayer money and government bureaucracy. We see this too in the world of sailing, where it is possible to buy a boat, sail out the harbour in a storm and drown yourself and your friends, as happened at Whitby a few years ago. So every now and then possibly well meaning people, or just blethering idiots with no life, suggest it should all be tightly controlled and monitored.

But as has already been shown, hillwalking is pretty safe compared to many activities, it's the sheer numbers that do the damage. (As they do to the hills too)

One of the idiots responsible for the Feb 2013 brouhaha has a stupid article here:

Naturally most of the comments disagree with her, although it is rather amusing that an article that appears to encourage government restrictions on people's activities has a side bar poster that says “Keep calm and read Friedrich Hayek”, who was a right wing liberal economist sort of person who wrote “The road to serfdom”, which argued that the welfare state was part of a slippery slope leading to evil socialism, and made a living writing about how bad government intervention is.

Anyway, it should be fairly clear by now that I think that education and encouragement of learning about and gaining experience of mountaineering/ hillwalking is a good thing, and big government schemes would not be practical or desirable.
More facts and arguments against such numpties can be found here:

the author noting that
Tragic though mountain deaths are, every week we lose so many to drink in drugs in the UK. Yet it seems to be an accepted fact that this happens, day in day out. The government is pushing for a fit society and to get people out for the health benefits involved; yet we had to spend an hour on a programme defending our sport!

Mind you last year some fell runner got lost in a mass run in the highlands, and got a bit hypothermic before being found. Radio Scotland convened a discussion with a mountain rescue person, a fell runner and someone else, seemingly expecting that they could get a good argument going between the different people with different backgrounds, but instead they all nicely agreed with each other about the importance of being properly equipped and good navigation skills. Which was nice to hear.
You'll always get accidents and things that go wrong through nobodies fault at all. Good equipment and experience can help ameliorate such things, although obviously I have less sympathy for the non-equipped. The trick is how do people get the experience without being exposed to some risk, an issue that parents will be aware of, and indeed I just read about in a short story by Rudyard Kipling in “Plain Tales from the Hills”, from 1890. So it isn't exactly a new problem.

In my own case, I built up the experience by walking in Scouts, led and trained by leaders who had more experience and skills than I did. After that I walked a lot in my local hills, mostly on my own. Then at University I went for walks with more experienced people and got more experience that way too, despite their sometimes cavalier attitude to safety and equipment.
I also own a number of books about safety on the hills, and have read and digested them and compared them to my own experiences. Of course the Sharp report referred to above indicates that experienced people also get into trouble through overconfidence.
What I suppose I need to top things off would be a proper training weekend somewhere like the famous ones held in the Cairngorms.

So stay safe out there, and remember to walk carefully.

At last, I have a new hillwalking waterproof jacket

Even better, it is a sensible light blue colour, not a bright screaming orange. Unfortunately it was not possible to find one with proper zips and a decent length to it, but this one does at least have a sensible protective hood, with some wire in it, and is bulky enough that I can wear it over layers. It is a Montane Direct Ascent jacket. It was in the sale too, so I got it at a decent price.

Of course I tried on 5 or 6 other jackets first, some were very good jackets, but all had rubbish hoods with minimal protection. At least one was actively badly designed to be as useless as possible.

On the new QUeensferry bridge?

I saw this nice bit of film on the BBC website, showing you round parts of the new bridge.


The bit they don't show you is the south end. They spend a lot of time at the north end, but not the south.
Why woud that be, I wonder?

Well, if you look closely at the south approach to the bridge, there are 5 supports that have the road deck on them before the towers take the strain.
The first 3 and last one are fine and full height and the road deck has been rolled out onto them. You can find photos of it all online if you look, but I couldn't see one showing what I want to show, and it's hard to take such a photo when driving over the older road bridge.

So you'll have to imagine it instead, although I'd rather use a photo.
THe 4th support out though was, as of last week, still barely even halfway complete in height. This is a little odd given the fact that the other 4 are fine and complete. My source from Port Edgar Yacht club tells me that they've had more than a little trouble with getting the foundations right for this 4th support and that it has been leaning a bit. Which explains why it isn't finished yet. And also why the bridge builders might encourage the camera crews from going near the south end of it.

Sure, there is a good possibility they'll manage to sort it out in time to finish the bridge properly, but at the moment it looks rather like they're keeping it quiet in the hope that they can and everything will come right in the end. Hopefully other parts of the build won't develop a lean.

Always important to note

that the your average American worker hasn't had a pay rise for 30 years; all the benefits of the last 30 years of growth have gone to a tiny minority. Sure, there are more electronic toys and you can buy a greater variety of cheap clothing, but actual standard of living are not improved.


THis is not a new issue. I was looking through a book I have, published in 1997, "The United States of Anger" by Gavin Esler. It describes situations very like in the above article, despite being 20 years younger. The descriptions of people's hopes and fears and actions, and associated anger, match those seen now, when if anything things are worse now for even more people.

Unfortunately similar things have been happening here in the UK, cushioned only by our welfare system, which has become increasingly tyranical, as if you can make people get jobs that just don't exist. THe trend is downwards, except for the top few percent in income.
So the question as always is what can be done about it?

On childrens books and their popularity over time

I noticed at work today that there's now a fuck of great big light industrial/ pharmaceutical/ biotech park beside Radnor Mere, which features in "The weirdstone of Brisingamen" by Alan Garner.

It was published in 1960, and became a major success that decade, and continued to be popular certainly until the 1980's and probably 1990's. There was a sequal, and a third book in 2012 makes it a trilogy. He also wrote a number of other books set in the same area of Cheshire.

Now, the thing I was wondering was, if we've now moved into another era of childrens books, when books that were popular with our parents generation, ones that my generation and people a little younger could read and enjoy even in the late 20th century, are now not so popular, or else harder to read.

At this stage I do not have any real information about whether it is or not. And I think it likely that it is still somewhat popular amongst a smaller segment of the market, the point being that it's mass appeal which made it so famous over 50 years ago is less likely now.

The reason being simply that as time has changed, reader expectations and willingness to work with an author or read through confusing bits also changes. For instance, in the Weirdstone of Brisingamen the children are picked up from the railway station in Macclesfield by someone driving a horse and cart.
There are no mobile phones, no calling for help when you are stuck out in the countryside. No internet to ask if that sound is from a ghost or not.

Having said that, there are some very strong things in the books favour, from the scene setting and the horror that is evoked and the characters. Yet I think back to some of the childrens books I read as a child, the classics from the late 19th and early 20th century, and even then I found them dated, hard to read and sometimes dull. I wonder what a modern child makes of what we would regard as classics, that are now 50 or 60 years old?

I've been busy and tired, but have a rant

I need to buy a new waterproof jacket for hillwalking. Not skiing, so it doesn't need to be padded and warm. Not climbing, so it doesn't need to fit like a glove and stretch and have lots of seams for water to get in.
No, it should be waterproof, breathable and importantly, have a good deep hood within which I can hide my face.

These points are fairly simple, after all.

But I cannot find a jacket with a decent hood. I'm willing to accept that the current fashion for unflapped zips that are somehow magically waterproof by themselves, is something unavoidable. And that I'll have to pay in the 3 figures for something long lasting, strong and properly breathable.

But every jacket I've tried on, by all sorts of manufacturers, many expensive, high class ones included, has a titchy wee hood that is of no use at all.
Every fucking one! It's hopelesss. You'd think stupid corporations would like people using their product to have a good time, but no, they want me to get a wet face, to have my nose freeze off from all the snow on it, or piling up on my glasses. Having a good deep hood is a matter of safety and comfort. It's hard to see out of glasses that are coated with water or snow, and cold wet noses or chins are no fun at all.

So I'm going to have to start a campaign for them to make real jackets with proper hoods.

One way you can tell the manufacturers are following each other and some moronic idea of fashion is that 99% of jackets are cut short. You'd think the stupid bastards had never been to business school and not heard about product differentiation. Why should I buy manufacturer X jacket over Y when they have identical features????

Longer, mid-thigh length jackets are ideal for walkers, because they help catch the drips from rucsacs, and give better protection all round. They also make walking more comfortable because a lot of the time you don't need you waterproof trousers on because there is only a small gap between gaiters and jacket, but that gap is big enough to let moisture out. But if the jacket is short like they are now, you will need to put your waterproof trousers on as soon as it starts to rain because of the water coming off the jacket and the bigger target your bottom and thighs make.

It really is stupid how naff some areas of walking gear are now. No attention paid to detail and effectiveness. Some thought has gone into some parts of the jackets, but mostly it is clear they are just being fashionable and not asking what walkers actually want and what will be best for them.
So a pox on all of them.