Frankenstein Rides Again, But Don’t Panic!

The previous post, was originally posted in 1999 on H2G2. It’s surprising to me that a post on a new technology should not have dated at all.

But what is H2G2 I hear you ask? Only the website Wikipedia could have been.

In 1999, Douglas Adams decided to set up a real world, Earth edition of the fictional HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy. The foundation of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was a real book “The Hitchhikers Guide to Europe” by Ken Welsh. Interspersed with Welsh’s text were sections of comments and advice from other hitch hikers. As the book was reissued over several editions, the advice sections could turn into a slow motion car crash. One edition would point out the similarities in coin sizes to different value coins in neighbouring countries. It would be suggested that vending or change machines could be fooled. The next edition would feature a follow up comment from some poor bloke who had followed the advice, alarms went off, he got arrested and then deported. Ken Welsh of course had a disclaimer along the lines of all advice is for information only and not actually advice. Nevertheless, these sections of the book constituted a slow motion collaberative information archive.

In the fictional Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy, the Guide had been set up in a similar way. Innumerable researchers were thumbing their way around the galaxy and sending back lovingly compiled reports on the planets they visited to the guide’s offices, where overpaid desk jockey editors would brutally take a hatchet to their precious prose. Harking back to Ken Welsh’s book, Douglas Adams described his guide as having  “many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.” That’s the risk of any collaborative system, the question is how much editorial control do you need.

For the real world version of the fictional guide, based on a real world book; Douglas Adams, with the company The Digital Village invited people to sign on as researchers and create their own articles on whatever interested them. These articles were then submitted to an editorial team who would assess them for quality. If they were approved, the editor would often rewrite the article, presumably to better fit the house style.

The H2G2 site was growing progressively but had still not gone far beyond a niche hobby site when, along with many other dot-com companies, it ran into money trouble. It was sold on but it is still carrying on today. I suspect there were two main reasons it never became the titan that wikipedia is today. First, it was not open enough. The editorial oversight slowed down it’s growth. Second, Adams’ fame as a humour writer meant many people did not take it seriously.

Here is the final form of my Frankenstein Foods post on H2G2 after it had been improved by the editors. Improved being meant in the same sense that Peter Jackson improved the Hobbit.


Returning to the subject of genetic modification, if you want to learn more about risk and how it applies to GMO, follow Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Frankenstein Foods

Correct labelling of foods is necessary to enable true consumer choice. However at present the media are representing genetically modified foods as “Frankenstein foods”. This is unfair. Frankenstein’s monster was not a GM product. He was (generically speaking) a Zombie. Fruit trees are the real Frankenstein foods, being made by the grafting together of the severed limbs of different plants.

So we still need a suitable name for GM foods. Dalek foods is more suitable, especially for tinned GM food or meals on wheels. This though is a bit too geeky to catch on. I suggest the branding of them as “Family Foods”, thus indicating both that you are eating a protein derived from creatures you may have been related to, and also that a large international organisation is with these foods making an offer we can’t refuse.

New Theory on the Extinction of the Dinosaurs.

The extinction of the dinosaurs occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period. The chief trigger for this was an asteroid impact, confirmed by both the structural evidence of a major impact in Mexico, plus the presence of iridium (from the asteroid) at the geological boundary worldwide.

It is straightforward to understand how all animals came close to extinction in the climatic chaos following  this event, the difficulty is explaining why birds and crocodiles survived, but dinosaurs did not.

I suggest a hypothesis. There was a structural difference between dinosaur eggs and those of simple lizards. Their shells were more porous and so the scent of their contents was more easily tracked by the acute sense of smell of the developing mammals. Birds were able to place their eggs out of reach of these oviparous scavengers, but the massive dinosaurs were not. Nest after nest was tracked and devoured simply because the mammals succeeding in sniffing them out.

Poor dinosaurs, they’re not around any more because their eggs stinked.

Boris is Foreign Secretary.

Chinese politicians and generals will all have studied the seminal book on warcraft and politics The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. My copy has notes by a former Red Army General.

Consider this quote.

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

Now consider this picture.


The Chinese are now absolutely terrified of how strong we are.

Who is Theresa May?

It should be easy to work this out. after all, she’s a politician with a extended period in charge of the Home Office. Let’s do a quick image search.


Well there we go. Clearly a politician who means business. Look at that purposeful stride. Flanked by elite police officers she is on her way to deal with crime personally. Or maybe the Home Office is planning a low budget Madonna tribute act.  Either way, this should play well with the law and order vote.

And here we are again. Who put this sign up?


Now here’s a politician who is serious about immigration. So serious, she is prepared to spend a small fortune on vans threatening deportation, and prepared to take the flak that comes with it. I think a pattern is emerging. Here is a new Iron Lady.


But hang on. Lets not get too carried away with image.  Remember this guy? Coincidentally the last person who became Prime Minister without the hassle of a general election.


In appearance and manner and voice, he fitted the stereotype of a dour Scot, careful with money. He explained, as shadow chancellor, the economic rules he would apply in government. He pledged not to exceed Tory spending plans. The country could be forgiven for thinking they had Private Frazer from Dad’s Army lined up for chancellor. Image, first impressions and confirmation bias carried him along for a while but eventually people noticed his spending plans were more like this.

fire hose.

So what is the reality of Theresa May like. Well she talked tough on immigration, but presided over an increase in net immigration from 244,00 to 333,000. So Theresa was to immigration control as Gordon was to fiscal prudence.

So should you vote for May if you like the tough image, or vote for her if you like a laissez-faire approach to immigration? Some people accuse politicians of not knowing what the public want. Theresa knows exactly what we want. She should do. She’s been reading our emails as Home Secretary for years. Lets look at her opinions in more detail. I asked Theresa May to give me her stance on an important topic of the day.


Hmm. I’m still not sure what that was about.

Let’s try again. A referendum was just held on EU membership. She was pro remain at the beginning of the campaign, so there must be lots of impassioned speeches from her online.


Perhaps now we get a clearer picture. Someone who will see an event with the potential to change the UK forever, and her approach is not argue loud and clear for what she believes, but to lay low, make no enemies, network.

This suggests an answer now. Here is a woman to whom the only important question is how do I become Prime Minister? We’ve met someone like that before.  In other words, who is Theresa May? She’s David Cameron in a dress.


The EU is the Village. Be seeing you!

In The Village, every few months there is a new face in the role of Number Two. The current Number Two (Also known as EU co-president) is talking to one of his charges, Number Six.

Number Six: Where am I?

Number Two: In the Village.

Number Six: What do you want?

Number Two: Information.

Number Six: Whose side are you on?

Number Two: That would be telling.

Number Six: Who are you?

Number Two: The new Number Two.

Number Six: Who is Number One?

Number Two: You are Number Six.

Number Six: I am not a number! I am a sovereign nation!

Number Two: [laughs]

Number Two takes Number six on a tour of the village. An army of workers is transporting the contents of one parliament building to another parliament building for one week. This happens every month. Number Two appears not to notice the chaos and smiles approvingly at all that goes on.

Number Two: Quite a beautiful place, really, isn’t it? Almost like a world on its own.

Number Six: I shall miss it when I’m gone.

Number Two: Oh, it will grow on you.  Any complaints?

Number Six: Yes. I’d like to mind my own business.

Number Two: So would we. Do you fancy a chat?

Number Six: I have a choice?

Number Two: Of course. You can do as you want.

Number Six: As long as it’s what you want.

Number Two: As long as it is what the majority wants. We’re democratic. In some ways.

Number Six: And how does your democracy work?

Number Two: If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’.  But that is not how we like to do things.  

We decide on something, leave it lying around, and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.

There can be no democratic choice against the The Village’s treaties. I have never understood why public opinion about The Village’s ideas should be taken into account.

Number Six:  Is that all right, if I call you a ‘piece of work’?

Number Two:  I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious … I am for secret, dark debates.

Number Six: Debates? So you do not all agree.

Number Two: The village-group decisions are always taken unanimously.  Society is a place where people exist together.

Number Six: Yes, sir. (mocking)

Number Two: That is civilization.

Number Six: Yes, sir.

Number Two: The lone wolf belongs in the wilderness.

Number Six: Yes, sir.

Number Two: You must not grow up to be a lone wolf.

Number Six: No, sir.

Number Two: You must conform.

Number Six: Yes, sir.

Number Two: It is my sworn duty to see that you do conform.

Number Six:  Then you have a problem. I also have a problem. I’m not sure which side runs this Village.

Number Two:  It doesn’t matter which “side” runs the Village.

Number Six: It’s run by one side or the other.

Number Two: Oh certainly, but both sides are becoming identical. What in fact has been created is an international community–perfect blueprint for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realize that they’re looking into a mirror, they will see that “this” is the pattern for the future.

Number Six: The whole Earth as the Village?

Number Two: That is my hope. What’s yours?

Number Six: In that case I’d like to be the first man on the moon.

Tiring now of Number Six’s inability to accept the inevitable Number Two takes them back to the Village cafe for some light refreshments. Number Six asks who is paying. Number Two takes Six’s wallet from his own pocket.

Number Two: You are of course.  Do you still think you can escape, Number Six?

Number Six: I’m going to do better than that.

Number Two: Oh?

Number Six: Going to escape, come back.

Number Two: Come back?

Number Six: Escape, come back, wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it and you with it.



Tall Tales and Tough Choices. Part Two

Part two. Boris Johnson.

Boris was on the victorious side in the recent referendum, but when someone wins, it’s fun to consider, is that actually what they wanted? You can play the game, hoping to lose, because that is what serves your interests best. This was the plot of the Producers. Lose, and the bigger you lose, the more you win. But if you win, you lose everything.

But why would Boris want to lose?  Well lets pretend for a moment that Boris isn’t some loveable oaf. Lets pretend he is a very intelligent and scheming politician who considers everything through the lens of what is best for him? Apart from the intelligent part, such politicians are very common after all.

Prior to Boris joining the Brexit campaign, all the smart money was on Remain. So why would a self serving politician join the losing side? Consider how things would have played out from there.  Boris joins team Brexit. Makes a decent impact. Gets a lot of TV exposure for himself, helping to build the Boris Brand in the long run. Throughout the campaign, he tones down the buffoon image, pivots into intelligent eccentric. Despite his best efforts however, Remain are victorious just as the polls had warned him before he threw his bicycle helmet into the ring. Boris loses with great magnanimity.

David Cameron, having backed the winning side stays on as Prime Minister. The leadership contest for the Tory party now happens 1 year before the next general election. Boris comes forward as a unifying character for the party. The pro Brexit MPs give him their support as one of their own, but so do many who had backed Remain. It turns out Boris is a very likeable loser. Here he is with his speech accepting Tory party leadership.

(Backstage, last minute preparations. He combs his hair. Dishevels it. half combs it again. crumples his tie. Then he straightens it but leaves it falling off centre. He shuffles his shoulders in his suit. For a moment there, it almost looked like it fitted him properly. In all he spends half an hour making it look like he has paid no attention to his appearance. His speech similarly, he has been writing for weeks, but he will read it as if he is making it up as he goes along. At times he will pretend to confuse himself, varying his speed, putting in distracted pauses. All part of the performance art character that is the public persona of Boris Johnson. For today he plans to be jovial and non threatening in introduction, but bring some steel towards the end)

“My dear friends and colleagues. Thank you for doing me the great honour of choosing me to be the leader of our great party.

The past two years have seen major change. Little did I suspect when our erstwhile leader Mr Cameron called a referendum for the British public, to decide on our future with Europe, events would unfold leading to me standing before you now.

It was the best of times! It was the worst of times! It was a tale of two demoses. Demoses? (Ruffle own hair in thought.) Yes that must right. I apologise if I am getting my Greek plurals confused in the heat of the moment.(Pause.)

But  I digress! I digress! Yes! The first demos!

In the referendum, we consulted the demos of the British Public, and the public gave us our answer. We are to stay within the EU. Now, although I campaigned for us to leave, I must  accept that the people have spoken, the case is closed. The peoples will shall be upheld!

I shall not, like some latter day Cato the Elder be declaring Brussels Delenda Est at the end of each and every speech. To those of you who did not benefit from a classical education, Cato the Elder was of course the father of Inspector Clouseau’s man servant.

I will however fight the UK’s corner from within the EU. You can rely on me to battle Brussels barmy bans on bendy bananas, and any other alliterative awfulness.

The second demos I had to face was you my dear colleagues. It has been said that the Tory parliamentary party is the most sophisticated  electorate there is. Well, as you selected yours truly, I am forced to agree. I look fondly back on those little confidential chats I had with so many of you. How we laughed as some of you made little jokes at my expense over the referendum result. I am not however a sore loser.

I look forward to some more private chats with you as we discuss cabinet posts. Oh! How we shall laugh once again!”

His speech continues. The rest of it primarily aimed at the general public as the general election approaches rather than the people right in front of him. Once again, good loser Boris, who will still fight the UK’s corner is seen as a unifying figure.  He is elected Prime Minister with a resounding majority.


Boris didn’t lose the referendum. He won it.

Boris-“Bug**r. Never mind. Plan B. Let the wounds heal. I’ve still got a good chance of party leadership in a couple of years.”

Cameron resigns. Election now.

Boris-“Bugg**r. You b*stard Dave. Quitting your job just to spike my progress. Never mind, I might still manage it. I still have allies I can rely on.”

Gove is running against you.

Boris-“Bugg*r! Bugg*r, bugg*r, bugg*ry bugg*r! Hmm. Tactical withdrawl I think. But I will return!”


Tall Tales and Tough Choices. Part One

Here are three tall tales. Speculations on motivations. Speculations on destinations. Of things that could have been. I know none of these men except from the media, so treat what follows as the fiction that it is.

Part one. Jeremy Corbyn.

I hope Jeremy Corbyn changed his mind. I hope that he really reconsidered his long held position that the membership of the European Union was bad for Britain. The idea that he would have held those opinions and simply threw them away to get the support of pro-EU Labour MPs would be a shame for the public. One more politician who cared more about position than principle.

It would be even worse for Jeremy himself. If he secretly still opposes the EU, he may always be haunted by the thought, “What if?  What if I made that speech?”

“Comrades. Members of the press. Members of the public. When I became Labour Party leader, I pledged to help the Labour party campaign to transform the EU. To help the Labour party reform the EU. To help the Labour party create a fair and equitable Europe for all.

I now accept that will never come about.  The Prime Minister has spent the last six months campaigning for reform from the EU. Even with the threat of our withdrawal from the Union, there have been no reforms on offer, of any worth whatsoever.

You know I have always been critical of the EU. I opposed joining the EEC. I voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. I told you all that the treaty takes away power from national parliaments and gives power to the unelected, who may impose deflation and high unemployment. Can any of you say I was wrong?

I talked about the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. I warned of secret deals being made that the public would have no say over. Deals that are being done right now. Unelected functionaries tying sovereign nations into deals like TTIP.

I hoped we socialists could reform this organisation. I now accept that hope was a vain one. Cameron’s failure to achieve reform reflects poorly on him, but even more so on the EU itself. Even facing the loss of a major member, they carried on regardless.

I will therefore in the upcoming referendum be voting to leave the EU.

I understand that it is party policy however to support continuing membership, and I accept that many of you will be campaigning to do so in good faith. Let us all campaign according to our conscience in this, and vote according to it too.”

Pro-EU Labour MPs considered a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, but the polls reassured them. Remain would win. They calculated that after Corbyn had chosen the losing side in the referendum, he would be terminally weakened and could easily be pushed aside.

With the Labour leader supporting Leave, the planned abusive rhetoric to aim at pro leave people was dialed down. Many of the working class were persuaded by Corbyn. Many of them had been Labour voters in the past, but had felt that the party had moved away from them. That it had other priorities. But here was a party leader who acknowledged the country’s mood.  When the referendum was held it was not even close. It was a landslide for Leave.

Now Corbyn had no concerns over his MPs revolting.  He had tapped into the mood of the nation. His Europhile MPs did not dare challenge him. They knew their constituencies would reject them the next time there was an election.

In the aftermath of the referendum, there was chaos in the Tory party. Soon after, Article 50 was triggered and a snap general election was held. Corbyn’s stance on the EU helped the Labour party reconnect with the working class who had been drifting away for years. This perfect storm saw a Labour landslide and Corbyn presiding over a socialist government that now had no EU legislation to restrain it.

So for the sake of Jeremy’s piece of mind, let us hope that he really changed his mind about the EU, and did not just do what he thought would be politically expedient.


End this foul culture that promotes racism

On the Sunday following the referendum last week, I was attending church. Two women, one born in the UK, one not, were discussing with worried voices the result of the referendum. I talked to them. Explained that I had voted out, as had my foreign born wife and that we had done so primarily because of democratic accountability. I told them that there will be no changes immediately, Article 50 not being implemented yet, and other than removing Brussels influence, any changes will be with parliaments consent.

I think the changes that come will be less than either side suggested prior to the vote, but how things all fall out in the end will depend on how rationally the politicians involved behave. Of course there is no guarantee of calm and rational political decisions at any time.

This was not what these ladies were scared of however. Something more distasteful was worrying them.  Neither of them had heard any racist abuse themselves, but they had friends who had reports of unpleasant comments. Things along the lines of “when are you going back?”
I apologised to them despite having done nothing wrong, and told them people like that are few. They were there before the referendum and would still have been there if it had not happened. Most people in this country are welcoming.

Later, I thought about this some more. Are there racists coming out of the woodwork now?  Was there poorly judged banter that was not intended badly and misunderstood? I saw Scots asked whether they were packed and ready during their referendum. But these were people who understood they were really amongst friends and gave as good as they got.

But the atmosphere has changed.

Something has definitely happened over the last few weeks and we need to stop it.

There are racists in this country of course. But I do not believe their numbers are large. At the referendum some of them will have voted leave. Some will have voted remain, because they don’t want non European immigration.

Though their numbers are small, they have listened to the debate. They, and the new people in this country, have repeatedly heard the slur that people are voting Leave because of xenophobia. Now, with the results in, Remainers are still portraying the Leave vote as xenophobic. The majority of the people who voted Leave know this is nonsense, but the message is heard by racists, and by immigrants.
This message, this lie, is emboldening racists and putting fear into immigrants.

So what can we do?

If you are someone who hates someone else because of where they were born or how they look. You’re a jerk. No one likes you.

If you voted Leave, if asked, reassure overseas friends and colleagues of the positive reasons you voted leave.

But if you are one of the remainers who is still spreading the lie that vote Leave is a vote for xenophobia;

When you lie that 52% of the country is xenophobic, you spread fear amongst immigrant families.

When you lie that 52% of the country is xenophobic, you justify anger and hatred against people who voted Leave.

When you lie that 52% of the country is xenophobic, you damage the social cohesion of the country.

When you lie that 52% of the country is xenophobic, you embolden racists. You tell them they are not some insignificant fraction of the country. You tell them they are the country.

When you lie that 52% of the country is xenophobic, you are the problem. You need to end your foul culture which promotes racism.