The SNP: decline and fall (7)

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Er….

Perhaps the neatest summary of the state of play of the SNP in power is from the erudite and perceptive farmer/historian/Hellenophile/linguist, Victor Davis Hanson. He is describing the then mayor of NYC, billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s inadequacy in the basic tasks that he’d been given:

The Bloomberg syndrome is a characteristic of contemporary government officials. When they are unwilling or unable to address premodern problems in their jurisdictions — crime, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transportation — they compensate by posing as philosopher kings who cheaply lecture on existential challenges over which they have no control.

A second independence referendum is exactly that, something over which they have no control. Hanson poses a question, to which in Scotland the answer appears to be yes:

Do our smug politicians promise utopia because they cannot cope with reality? Do lectures compensate for inaction?

So with that in mind, here’s the latest choices from a cornucopia of SNP nonsense…

24. The creative use of the conditional

Thanks to Wikipedia for this: The conditional mood (abbreviated cond) is a grammatical mood used to express a proposition whose validity is dependent on some condition, possibly counterfactual. It thus refers to a distinct verb form that expresses a hypothetical state of affairs, or an uncertain event, that is contingent on another set of circumstances. So far then, regarding the fabled Indyref2, we’ve had:

The Scottish First minister claimed autumn 2018 would be the ‘common-sense time’

The SNP leader has claimed a vote on separation is ‘highly likely’ and has now given her clearest hint yet that Scotland could be just 18 months away from another vote…if that is the road we choose to go down.

Pressed on the timing of a possible second referendum while on BBC Two’s Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, the First Minister said she was “not ruling anything out”.

Sturgeon said that if May failed to do so, then “proposing a further decision on independence wouldn’t simply be legitimate, it would almost be a necessary way of giving the people of Scotland a say in our own future direction”.

A Scottish Government source said: “We have made clear an independence referendum is very much on the table as an option if it becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our vital national interests.”

Ms Sturgeon has warned another independence referendum is “almost inevitable” in the event of a hard Brexit and has hinted she could name the date for a new vote next month.

…and so on and so on and so on. I know that the highly overrated Sturgeon – who must now be looking over her shoulder at a predictably unpleasant sight– has to placate the noisy zoomer fraternity, but every sentient citizen of Scotland is rapidly getting fed up of this political footsie.

25. An opposition that works (a bit)

Which, bizarrely, is a Tory one.

26. There’s still no money

Says who? Er…says Salmond’s own economic guru, nice guy Andrew Wilson. Which lead to the correct response (from @murdo_fraser), “If the SNP is now admitting oil is a bonus, it must set out which taxes would rise and what public services would be cut in order to fill an independent Scotland’s £15bn deficit.”

27. A new referendum has never been less popular.

According to this poll: A Panelbase survey of 1,020 voters for the Sunday Times found that support for an “indyref2” before Brexit — which is scheduled to happen by March 2019 — dropped from 43% last June to just 27% last week. The poll also found that 51% of Scots oppose a second referendum within the next “few” years.

28. The SNP are hopeless at governing. Still.

The dismal education record of Scotland under the SNP actually lead to that very rare beast – a productive Holyrood debate. As Labour’s Iain Gray put it: “Yes, our schools need reform. But, above all, our schools need more teachers with more support, more time and more resources to do their job. That is the core reform. Failure to deliver it is the defining characteristic of the SNP decade in charge of education.”

29. Alex Salmond declares war, or something, by invading a playpark in Aberdeenshire.

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He’s increasingly reminiscent of Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, and if Eck thought this would be a credible photo-op, I fear he’s mistaken. However it did provide one comedy highlight of the culture that prevails in parts of The Democratic Republic of Scotland (see pics below, my thanks to ).

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Who’s Eck’s new pal on the right?

Obama and the groves of academe

You might reasonably categorise this as a trivial semantic moan (it is), but it’s been bugging me, so I will indulge myself. Here’s the problem: too often the adjectives academic and cerebral are deployed on people who lack much in the way of proof of these qualities. They have become a sort of shorthand for enigmatic and socially refined. The number one candidate, inevitably, is Obama, much of it centred around the nature of his emerging post-presidential career. I would imagine golf and money making will figure highly in reality, and good for him. It’s his gushing fanboys who misuse the terms.

Like most medics, I have had a fair bit of exposure to academia, and after the awakening of A-levels it hasn’t been too great a stretch in truth. One acquires degrees and diplomas in the course of things. Teaching isn’t tough, but being a really good teacher is. Higher degrees such as doctorates, and peer-reviewed quality research are a different matter. These things are very challenging and require a great deal of thinking, time, struggle, disappointment etc. I do alright with publications, but I have no MD or PhD and I admire anyone who has. I spent 6 years primarily employed by a medical school (though most of what I did was clinical, for the NHS). Genuine, productive, relevant academic activity is hard. You don’t wander into it, perform amazingly for a bit and wander off again.

So please don’t bandy such terms around unless you want to devalue them, as MENSA has achieved with IQ.  Here’s an example from Twitter. I was unnecessarily rude to @iainmartin1, whom I generally like and admire, as he kept putting superficial anti-Trump rants into the usually excellent Reaction (it wasn’t about defending Trump, it was the lack of any balance or attempt at understanding to which I was reacting).

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This is not, I repeat, specifically about Trump v Obama. My point is that it is very easy to assume the mantle of the sophisticated intellectual, whose mind is occupied by lofty thought, often in comparison to the low-minded alternatives who lack this visionary capability. It has an exact comparison in the NHS: people who claim to be ‘strategic, not operational’. The latter is tough, and is demonstrated by tangible results, the former tends to be associated with promises of a golden future and not much more. The classic visionary who caused colossal amounts of trouble was of course Tony Blair.

A similar situation arose with the ludicrous idea that had Hillary won, Obama could himself replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, hence gushing articles like this. Again, it is all about how ‘impressive’ ‘mature’ and ‘curious’ he is. Not about cases fought, heard, won, papers published, previous experience at the highest levels of the law – basically just what a dude he is. This sort of crap patronises everyone, including Obama.

Interestingly, if you take Iain’s point about Obama’s early career and mode of thinking (the latter phrase is a bit of a copout too), it’s not as glittering as you might have been lead to believe. Did he actually write his books personally? Do people usually get to the end of them? Are they any good? Neither is ‘academic’ as such.

If you do a Google Scholar search, there’s plenty of boilerplate almost certainly written by speechwriters and team members rather than BO himself. There is not really much else. Despite the hype around it, this piece in JAMA – and almost certainly not written by BO  – is not an academic paper at all. This, from 1990, is an adequate local magazine article, nothing more. Here is a fascinating if slightly bitchy analysis, by Jack Cashill, of the great man’s writing style and his output, it’s worth reading. Following on from that is a typically witty piece from a truly great prose writer, Bob Tyrrell, further deconstructing the whole Obama intellectual/reader schtick.

If you were wondering about his speeches, given his intermittently justified reputation as an orator (try this), well…they don’t read quite as well as they did in his Golden Era. I quote from Matthew Walther’s book review, starting with a strikingly Blairesque paragraph that also calls to mind a tedious NHS management workshop:

(we) are forever being asked with a steady, cloying, increasingly oppressive optimism to “rise to this moment,” to “have passion” and “a strategy,” to aspire to “a sense of purpose,” to “feel” things like “urgency” and “hopefulness,” to participate in “a conversation worth having,” to “summon a new spirit,” to remind ourselves that “change happens”—as if believing things or wanting to do them, considered in the abstract and putting aside the question of what exactly those things are, were a virtue

and

Its editors, E.J. Dionne and Joy-Ann Reid, set up our expectations very early—on the book’s first full page, in fact—when, after having compared him to Lincoln and FDR, they quote Obama responding to a compliment from Harry Reid, who had called one of his speeches “phenomenal.”

“I have a gift, Harry,” Obama replied.

Maybe, but I don’t think it’s particularly to do with speeches, writing and thinking.

Obama Speaks To Press After His Daily Economic Briefing
Spontaneous oratory in action

Things that I wish I’d written (1)

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Liddle, as he should be?

If you blog you have to hone your writing skills, and try to be concise. I’m sure that I often fail. However, you do occasionally sit back and admire something that you’ve produced with a friendly inner smug voice gently praising your brilliance.

There are a few writers though who consistently trump what you’ve done, and make it seem effortless. Wrong though he is about most things, Matthew Parris is one. Kevin D Williamson (right about most things) is possibly the dean of this school. Here is another, now a hate figure for half of the middle classes, Rod Liddle. Very funny, and peerless prose:

The remarkable thing is the change. The degree to which liberal lefties now cling to these most unlikely of heroes – a former right wing quasi fascist self-publicising dwarf like Bercow, or an investment banker like Gina Miller. Or a stupid bureaucrat like Jean Claude Junckers. And they do this because, I suppose, they have nothing left to cling to. Everything else is gone. They are left with these pathetic, bourgeois, right wing, half-wits. It really is all they have, so swiftly has the ground shifted beneath their feet. Sometimes I almost feel sorry for them.

Perfect

Great landscapes: Carel Willink

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Self portrait

I confess that I hadn’t heard of the Dutchman Carel Willink, and I owe my exposure to him to ace film critic, acquaintance of Russ Meyer, and all round arts maven, Anne Billson (whose extensive film database is a very witty and stimulating bargain on Amazon),

But if you like Giorgio de Chirico, Rene Magritte, Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Paul Delvaux, then you’ll like Willink. Technically very gifted and versatile – his portraiture is outstanding – he had the ability to produce startlingly evocative dreamscapes like the one in this post. The elegaic mood and unspoken history in them remind me of neighbouring Belgian Fernand Khnopff, albeit the style is very different. Khnopff was inspired by the unique gloomy atmosphere of Bruges (which is still there, despite the tourism), and his literary parallel is with fellow Belgian Georges Rodenbach, whose beautiful (and readable) Bruges-la-Morte is effectively a symbolist novel.  In Willink’s work symbolism mingles with surrealism, classical landscape and technical precision. It’s an interesting observation that notwithstanding the Greek de Chirico, all this is very Nordeuropa, in a line that stems from the fantasy and improbable landscapes of Bosch, Bruegel and particularly Patinir, the most obscure of these three giants.

 

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Carel Willink, Landscape with fallen image, 1942 .Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

The…er…science, of climate change

There are lots of problems with what passes for science much of the time now. Peer review is not all it’s cracked up to be, in fact Einstein hated it and his most famous work never underwent the process. The whole concept of statistical significance is under question (in medical matters it often bears no resemblance to clinical significance), and there has been a lot of flagrant bad behaviour in the hot political areas of science. Many ‘scientists’ (loosely defined) suffer from the same malaise as ‘experts’. There’s plenty of crossover between the two spurious groups. I hate putting such established terms in inverted commas, but one feels driven to it.

Part of the problem is the ‘publish or die’ atmosphere in many academic centres. The scientific and medical literature has expanded exponentially. One would sensibly doubt that the quality has kept pace.

But you know, there are some rules, generally accepted terms of reference. Here’s one fine example from the works of sociologist (not the rubbish kind) Robert K Merton. He is the man who originated those everyday phrases “unintended consequences,” the “reference group,” the “role model,” and “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Quite a body of work in its quotability, like a Shakespeare of Sociology:

In his landmark 1973 work The Sociology of Science , Robert Merton established norms upon which scientists should rely . These Mertonian norms include: communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, originalism, and organized skepticism… These norms have been described as follows: “Communalism: Science is public knowledge, freely available to all . . . Universalism: There are no privileged sources of scientific knowledge . . . Disinterestedness: Science is done for its own sake. Originality: Science is the discovery of the unknown . . . Skepticism: Scientists take nothing on trust…” Merton’s original work was done in the aftermath of World War II and is understood as making the argument for the necessity of these norms to scientific advancement in a democratic society.

The National Academy of Sciences built on Mertonian norms by establishing guidelines of its own that seek to foster a “community characterized by curiosity, cooperation, and intellectual rigor…” While the Academy encourages open debate and criticism, id . at xv, it treats the falsification of data, intent to mislead, and retaliation against critics as examples of serious research misconduct.

Great stuff, clear and almost noble idealism.  If you don’t have rules that are widely accepted, then you get dud science and useless outcomes. Just look at the problems with reproducibility,  which anyone who ever did O-level chemistry should intuitively understand.

You might have guessed that the reason I’m plugging Merton is his relevance to the scientific chaos surrounding climate change, and the quote above came from Mark Steyn’s update on his legal battle with the egregious Michael Mann. The provider of the quote is a real scientist, Judith Curry, who has heroically joined the fray.

Every medic knows that people more often than not publish for their CV and the career – it’s a necessity. Few  people are really good at scientific research. It’s a lot harder than surgery by and large, if you’re doing it well. Most of it is forgettable, irrelevant or possibly plain wrong. Scientific endeavour  from a position of preconceived bias will almost certainly be bullshit in, bullshit out.

To quote Anglo-Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney:  A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.

And there’s a lot of the latter about.

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..he said in 10 years we won’t know what snow is…