The Reasons for WannaCry are Systemic

"we take the issue very seriously”

“we take the issue very seriously” – Really?

Years ago I attended a lecture given by the head of IT Security at a major oil company. He said that nobody takes IT Security seriously and nobody would until an attack was so severe as to bankrupt a major corporation. Yesterday we heard that the NHS, Nissan and many other organisations, have been severely hit by the, so called, WannaCry malware. Could this be the one?

Following incidents such as these there are cries of “Why did this happen?” and experts will make the usual recommendations about ensuring systems are patched and staff adequately trained but these are tactical measures. The real reasons IT systems are so insecure are deeper rooted and the bottom line is that management don´t take IT Security seriously. In addition, two systemic trends which underpin most large organisations, impede implementation of good security: Complexity and Business Process Reengineering.

Perhaps complexity is inevitable with technology today but the risks of massive complexity are not adequately appreciated and the NHS, in particular, has often been guilty of biting off more than it can chew. Risks, including security risks, are neglected by over ambitious managers egged on by service companies which over promise. IT professionals would do well to follow the U.S. Navy design principle from 1960s: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). The idea being that systems often work best if they are kept simple so simplicity should be a key design goal.

In a way, large organisations can be considered “systems” akin to computer systems with information and human beings as their components. Starting around the 1990s the corporate world began trying to design intelligence into the system. They called it Process Reengineering and, in part, it is responsible for efficiency gains in the past couple of decades. The idea was that you pay consultants to ask all your most gifted staff what they do and why. The consultants then draw up a lot of workflows and “processes” to reflect how the organisation works. After that they reengineer the processes to make them more efficient. That was the idea. In fact what happened was that, wherever possible, they ensured that each process was simple enough that it could be performed by a numpty so that staff costs could be drastically reduced. This was good for efficiency but it resulted in those idiotic call centres with people incapable of responding to new situations.

No problem! cried the consultants. We’ll build another set of processes called “Kaizen” or “continuous improvement” where failures will be recorded and teams will work to refine the processes. While removing the need for gifted people they would design intelligence into the system itself. This sounds good too but a problem is emerging which cannot be solved by more of the same.

We have become indoctrinated with the idea that all human endeavour can be reduced to a written document, a set of processes which can be followed like a computer program. But it can’t. The idea that the system can be intelligent is bollocks.

Modern organisations and systems are so complex that staff are given view of only a small part. Not all staff are numpties obviously but managers will use cheap, low skill labour wherever possible and most work in silos having experience only of following instructions and not thinking for themselves. As staff become more senior they move away from technical aspects and become bogged down in a set of management processes such as annual assessments and negotiating. Nobody is encouraged to gain any understanding of the system as a whole. Standards such as ITIL and PRINCE2 are useful but often seen as disciplines in themselves rather than tools to assist the technical process.

I recall being a member of an improvement team which gathered 8 people together for an hour in the first meeting where nothing was discussed but the name of the team! Another team had a mission to bring the elapsed time of a process down to zero and no matter how hard people explained that it was physically impossible to achieve anything in no time at all this could not be understood by the “customer representative”.

The nature of good IT security is that it exhibits no obvious results other than an absence of breaches. This combined with the obsession with process means that many companies pay lip service to security and cross their fingers. Security becomes, like everything else, a paper exercise where the staff tasked to operate the “security controls” to prevent malware are of such a junior level as to be unable to understand or defend the the controls’ importance in the face of constant pressure for greater efficiency from non-technical managers.

It is time to treat IT Security the way we treat Safety. In a reputable shipping company if a security officer decides that a ship is unsafe it doesn’t sail. They don’t blame the security officer they blame the guys tasked with keeping the ship in good repair. The management will not accept the risk of loss of expensive ships, cargo or, worse still, loss of life. Most large scale engineering infrastructure is also subject to stringent safety standards which must be met before passing into production. Contrast this with the sloppy way many IT systems are implemented.

The ongoing palava surrounding fake news is not a security breach in itself but it is related to the integrity of our information systems. In a recent BBC Panorama program the Facebook Policy Director, Simon Milner, was asked repeatedly to quantify how much money they make through “fake news”. Instead of being open or admitting that he didn’t know he flagrantly just repeated his silly little sound-bite preceded by “we take the issue very seriously” and this is what the IT industry does with IT Security. It trots out platitudes while treating security as secondary to business as usual.

At the time of writing the attacks on the NHS had yet to result in fatalities but it can be only a matter of time. Perhaps then, we’ll all start taking it seriously.


The Prince George to The Dog & Duck

Dalston Lane

Dalston Lane

Up The Smoke again Thursday. London Bridge Station goes from strength to strength. A new exit carved from the platform directly into a street packed with The Children of Thatcher. Now mature adults. All thoroughly indoctrinated. “No such thing as society. We are all individuals. We must all compete. No alternative to markets. Our work is our identity. Our preferences are our community”. A legacy of materialism bequeathed by a generation of hippies turned bankers.

Even so……it’s the month of May and I’m in London. Busy streets, tall buildings, big red buses and still a trace of soot in the air. Commercialisation of everything continues apace but London is big and complicated and it takes time. London endures. There is still time before some marketing “creative” decides to advertise brand London by putting a picture of a London bus on the side of a London bus.

12:30pm in Dalston but hipsters drink coffee so The Prince George is shut. The campaign to save the parade of run down shops along Dalston Lane has not been in vain. They have had a facelift to make them accdeptable to the gentry. Facades in tasteful green and authentic looking retro brass spot lights. As yet there are no tenants but we can have fun guessing the nature of the new retailers. Artisan bakeries? Cycle shops selling carbon fibre frames? A contrast from the ghastly Indian restaurant, the taxi office and the chippy.

In the West End technology has done for the area around Centre Point. No teenage school boys flock to Tottenham Court Road to gaze longingly at Quad and Tandberg but settle for a Garrard SP25 Mark IV. No letters fly between New York playwrights and antiquarian booksellers in Charing Cross Road. The Cross Rail development has doomed even poor Denmark Street. Attempts to save it merely resulted in developers realising they’d missed a marketing opportunity and its dead past is to be the theme for a commercial complex including “An 800-seat subterranean performance venue” (according to Wikipedia). Very soon tourists will flock there to buy T-shirts and tick off “Tin Pan Alley” from their bucket list.

Krishna Outside The Dog and Duck on Bateman Street a handful of punters stood enjoying their pints. I sank a few myself and the handful became a throng. A patrolling  bouncer ensured we stood behind a yellow line painted on the pavement. As the population increases more measures are needed to keep us in order. There are even ideas of introducing rules for where to stand on the escalators!

We talk of prehistoric man and Catalonia and motorcycles and science as a religion. We convince the potman that our friend in the dark suit is  an undertaker. A gaggle of Hare Krishna followers are heard before they are seen trooping up Frith Street as they have done for decades. Then tottering up Dean, across Great Marlborough and on to Oxford Circus. Then Victoria and home. Thankfully I no longer do this for a living so avoided the monstrous queue for cabs at Brighton station and took the bus.

Royal Academy of Arts – Propaganda and Culture

Grant WoodUp The Smoke Friday night. Two very good exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. “America after the Fall, Paintings in the 1930s” had a lot of work that had been overshadowed by more fashionable, abstract styles. Some, like Grant Wood, were almost childlike yet others dealt with gritty issues such as Thomas Hart Benton who depicted the lot of African Americans in the 30s.

Then “Revolution, Russian Art 1917-1932”. Very clever to juxtapose the two exhibitions. The Soviet art all industry and architecture, peasants and athletes. Mostly paintings but some sculpture and a few examples of tableware depicting socialist aparatchiks. A fantastic painting of Lenin showing humanity in his face perhaps painted before he was completely obscured by politics. Most of the work fairly authoritarian and ideological of course but, for me, this had an odd resonance with 21st century political correctness – Every TV American police chief a black man; a token gay in every sit-com and womans “turn” to play Doctor Who. Creative control managed by check lists. New York and London as templates for the world. 21st Century political correctness is no less social engineering than the Soviet art.

I’m starting to wonder if all ideologies follow a similar curve. They start with an optimistic minority encouraging various causes (equality, community, solidarity, diversity) and end by a  authoratarian minority “calling out” anyone with nuanced opinions for straying too far from the script.

Eat Up

Eat Up

Within the past week, Ming Campbell appears to have banned the word “foreigner” and the woman who has run Woman’s Hour for the last thirty years has been told her opinions on womanhood are “hurtful”. In the end people get sick of pictures of commissars on their dinner plates.

The exhibition was very busy and we had to book a specific time for the visit to allow the proprietor to maximize the profit from the art. Lou Reed claimed that he was an artist and not a businessman but these days you couldn’t fit a cigarette paper between the two. In the 21st Century all human endeavor is business and paintings are just another piece of capital infrastructure like cotton mills or computers. They must be worked continuously to maximise efficiency.

Many companies run night shifts to ensure work is constantly shoveled into their machines and the RAA should do likewise. Flexible pricing, discounts for coach trips and vouchers given away with donuts. Load smoothing. Bill Gates or Phillip Green might pay extra for a glass of champagne and the right to hold a party there. Students could be given discounts to squeeze in before 6am. The key is to ensure that at least somebody is being pushed past the art 24 x 7. I hear that they’ve installed a conveyor belt for the Mona Lisa…or was that the Crown Jewels? Of course nobody would want to visit at 3am so you could pack in the homeless. Have some art millionaire claim government funding for bringing “culture” to the masses. All the drunks and druggies herded in after closing time. Tab smoking warehousemen in khaki coats pushing them along with wide brushed old brooms.

Didn’t I see a BBC Four program about using Virtual Reality to view real art? Why not use HD cameras to import physical artworks into computers then kit out Battersea Power Station with ten thousand VR headsets. Have cruise ships dock there and herd the tourists inside and let them blunder around in the dark. Better still let them plug in from home. Email them the template file to print a VR headset on their 3D printers. While we’re at it we could also digitise the inside of a single London apartment and flog it ten thousand times as an investment.

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

As my train crawled back across Grosvenor Bridge I noticed that Battersea Power Station is now almost completely surrounded by luxury flats for Chinese investors. This is a key policy of the Vision for London. Every historical landmark to be entombed in a block of flats and the flats flogged to rich foreigners as investments. Battersea Power Station will be followed by St Paul’s Cathedral and The Royal Albert Hall. The Vision was developed by PWC and is entitled “Selling Our Arse – Profit through globalisation and diversity¨.

This is what The Soviets should have done with Chernobyl really. Built a sarcophagus of apartments around it and included a viewing platform and theatre as a sop to the left. That was the trouble with your Soviets, no commercial sense. Beautiful “wheat fields, Over Kiev and down to the sea” but a complete failure to grasp the economic potential of making a drama out of a crisis.

Who is Alain de Botton? – at Ropetackle

Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton

Who is Alain de Botton? Anyone? – A philosopher? Some kind of author…… isn’t he? …. That guy who did all the stairs going up and down?….Or was that Escher?……he wrote that book, didn’t he?…what was it called….

I know the name Alain de Botton but I have no idea why. Probably he’s been mentioned in the media so many times in relation to something or other that I’m interested in that his name is now embedded in my consciousness but I can’t recall anything he said or did. So, when City Books announced that he’d be speaking at the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham, I decided to go along.

The venue was packed and as Mr. Botton took the stage his head was strangely illuminated in electric blue and bright red like a poorly received television signal an effect not helped by his throat mic rendering his voice from speakers located elsewhere. For the first few minutes I had the imrpession of some kind of ventriloquist telepresence…..or was that just me?

For some reason I had expected a sort of puzzle solving psychological/philosophical slant to the evening. Tricks, techniques and lots of rhetroical questions. But Mr. Botton was having none of that. Like a comedian on a panel show, he was whimsical and insightful. I’m tempted to say that his style was that of a machine gun but it was not so aggressive or fast. Perhaps a child’s pop gun made from soft wood with plastic bullets chugging out digestible dollops of wisdom, thunk, thunk,. thunk.

Mr. Botton has just published a novel entitled “The Course Of Love” but I knew nothing of this. He told us that he would not discuss the novel but various ideas surrounding the novel.

His topic was love and how we go about it all wrong. How it takes us well into our forties to learn and accept failures in ourselves which can be spotted by complete strangers after talking to us for just five minutes. Our friends know of course but never tell us……. until it’s too late.

He blames Romanticism which, against thousands of years of tradition and all rational thought, presupposes that, for everyone alive, there is another perfect match if only we can find them. That, when we find this special someone, we shall know immediately that we have met the love of our life and that person will fulfil our every need.

In the 21st century we accept that education and training are required for every aspect of our lives from getting a job, to learning to drive to public speaking. We are obsessed with this idea and now even embrace the concept of “lifelong learning“. Only one area of life is excempt from learning and that is love. Romanticism rejects the idea that marriages should be founded on family ties and practicalities and dictates that we should choose our partners based on instinct. We should “just know”.

In truth we all have types that we are attracted to and these types are imprinted on us in our childhood. When we seek a romantic partner we are instinctively seeking someone who will love us in the same weird way that we were loved as children. And since, most of us are, in many ways, psychologically damaged by our childhood, we are really seeking someone who will torture us in the same was as our parents did. A remote father or an alcoholic mother translate into similar spousal choices.

Once we find this person we expect perfection. Again, this is the only area of life where this is applicable. We fool ourselves that our partner is perfect. We expect them to know what we’re thinking. There is no need to finish sentences, words are for the little people. We are in love.

We ignore their flaws…but we can only ignore them for so long and then one day we burst out: “Stop chewing so bloody loudly, you always do that and you sound like a cow!” – our partner us mortified. Or we sulk because they have done something that they SHOULD HAVE KNOWN annoyed us. But we wont tell them. We expect telepathy.

Mr. Botton’s style is conversational and chatty but he drops bombshells of well formed prose: “Catastrophic outbreaks of sulking”, “I may have married an idiot”.

We are expected to love EVERYTHING about our partners even the odd and grotesque imperfections. Mr. Botton, rarely pauses, he presses on with more and more examples of the idiocy of modern romance. The aversion we have to being changed. Again, contrary to every other aspect of our lives where we constantly seek improvement, if our beloved tries to change us, that’s it! Break up is imminent.

One of the most interesting ideas emerged during the question and answer session when Mr. Botton was asked if smartphone dating apps would assist in the pursuance of love. He pointed out that modern computer dating is a mere continuation of the romantic ideal as it places all the emphasis on search and selection. It assumes that there is a perfect partner out there just waiting for us to find them and then supplies the miracle of computing to attempt to identify the correct partner. It has no more hope of success than meeting random strangers at a party.

Mr. Botton seems to accept that our partners may change us and that we should allow relationships to grow. In previous centuries, when our 2 year old daughter threw her breakfast on the floor we may have punished her but in these enlightened days we know that we must try to understand her and teach her how to behave. Yet we would never dream of extending the same love and care to our romantic partners. He sugests that we need to nurture our partners. I guess his thesis can be summed up in his statement: “We need to learn how to love”.

Book Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2011

A couple of years ago I became excited about an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Book of the WeekSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. I have just read it and it’s fantastic! An insightful take on the complete history and pre-history of humanity. In short, Homo sapiens existed for around 70,000 years as hunter gatherers and then, around ten thousand years ago, transitioned to agriculture. Only in the last thousand years or so have we become industrialised. The book contrasts the different stages of humanity, how our physiology is still basically hunter gather and how, in many ways, humanity was better off before we settled down.

Mr. Harari is an Israeli tenured professor at the Department of History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a very clever man. He explains that while hunter gatherers may have had no access to the benefits of modern medicine, television or draft excluders their lives were spent fulfilling their instincts. They were not driven to work all the hours God sends. When we settled down as farmers the effect was not to give us leisure time but to make us work harder, support more people and have any excess value creamed off by an elite. Harari’s focus is not merely that of a dry history professor. He gives great examples such archaeological records showing that ancient farmers had severe back problems due to constant stooping.

He notices how our expectations change with society. Many young people start off in life thinking that they will work hard, make money and retire at forty only to become accustomed to good wine, luxury cars and prestige.

SapiensHe explains how our readiness to believe in myths underpins much of our civilisation and by myths he is not only talking only of King Arthur and Jesus. He’s talking about stuff that we believe in that does not physically exist. Money, Nation and the Public Limited Company. These myths depend on what he terms the intersubjective. That is something that does not objectively exist nor is it purely subjective. In a way, it is an illusion which is agreed upon by society because it is useful. The concept of the nation allows us to work together in large group and the concept of money allows us to trade with complete strangers.

In the early 21st century we all proclaim the mantras of equality and individualism but can it be coincidence that we all believe the same thing? Obviously our beliefs are, to a large extent, programmed by society. The belief in individualism and equality proliferates because it is useful for capitalism to have a population with few ties who can be easily moved from one task to another.

We all consider that a wide range of experiences are beneficial and it is common for young lovers to whisk themselves off to Paris for a romantic weekend. Yet, the elite of ancient Egypt would have never dreamed of wasting their wealth on taking their new love to some foreign land. They would much prefer to impress their intended by building a gigantic tomb.

To my mind Mr. Harari’s book begins to fade somewhat as he approaches the present and extrapolates the future as the themes he chooses seem fairly arbitrary. Yet as a whole the book is jam packed with ideas which must be well known in their respective disciplines yet unfamiliar to the layman. When placed together they represent a profound understanding of the state of mankind today.

2017-02-13-10-47-44Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindHe explains how, prior to fully developed capitalism, the rich would hoard or spend their money. Capitalism introduced the idea of investing capital to generate more capital which in turn produces economic activity and this has powered the industrial and technological revolutions. But the dependence of Capitalism on future profits raises the worrying concern that it is not possible for capitalism to reach an equilibrium. It must continually develop new products, services and markets in order to grow. Without growth, the system collapses. He suggests that capitalism has evolved a society which can only be run by capitalists. Perhaps this explains why opposition to capitalism seems so difficult: Other forms of society do not generate the material wealth to which we have become accustomed.

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindHe also considers that we have achieved, to a large extent, a global society. Most forms of currency are freely exchangeable and it is possible to trade across the whole of the globe. Our religions are stabilising around fairly similar concepts of a single god and similar moral standards. Written prior to BREXIT and Trump, Harari suggests that notions such as the extended family, nation and race are now withering and being replaced with brand loyalty and lifestyle communities. In many ways, society has been shattered into atomised individuals which more readily useful to a global capitalist system.

His predictions of the future are fairly conventional including genetically modification and silicon based life but it his easily accessible narative of the history of humanity and the context in which we live that Harari marks this book apart. The evolution of the human species is not merely biological but cognitive. Our society and our sociology is evolving and with this in mind we should probably not become overly obsessed or self-riotous about our current dogmas. These, like everything else, will pass.

Data Visualisation Meetups at The Skiff, Brighton

Star Trek

An Anomaly?

I watched an episode of the original Star Trek a few weeks ago. They encounterred an “anomaly” at least I think that’s what it was called. It usually was. The visual effects of this thing were pretty good considering the technology of the day. However, considering the technology of today, they were rubbish.

I’ve been messing around with data visualisation again after attending a Meetup in Brighton. Many years ago I experimented with graphics on old minicomputers and Tektronix graphics terminals. Then sometime in the late 80s bought an Amiga 4000 and some 3D rendering software named Imagine and built clunky 3D environments. I never really took it anywhere. There really wasn’t the time between the corporate day job and getting pissed. A dissolute but lucrative period of time I guess.

I signed up to a few years ago and recently it suggested a Data Visualisation meetup which takes place in The Skiff in Brighton. So I went along.

It’s extremely good! The first one I attended last year sometime, was about techniques for representing data in a fairly business like way as far as I remember. The second was a more artistic affair demonstratng generative art used in the comercial space. It had some fantastic video. The presenter’s name was Mike Brondbjerg and his web site is well worth a look.

Brondbjerg mentioned some software I’ve already used named Processing plus a sort of port of Processing to Java called Java P5. I walked away inspired and, as I left, I chatted to another guy who said that a MOOC named Kadenze was running a free tutorial on Java P5. So I signed up.

Tuesday night I attended the Meetup again and this time there was a guy named Berl Steiner demonstrating some software he’d written to visualise large datasets, not so much to dig out specific detail, but to gain an overall feel for the data and help spot outliers. It was excellent and the audience had many ideas for how it could be used. One guy suggested engineering data and I thought perhaps IT Security where specialist security systems and logging system which produce oodles of data which is often hard to assimilate. Another application which sprung to mind was Management Consultants and Auditors. These two roles entail specialist personnel who need to quickly gain an understanding of the finances of companies without prior knowledge. Steiner’s software might help them enormously and could be a good adjunct to data anlaytics software such as Idea or ACL.

I have to admit my progress through the Kadenza course has been slow. Christmas sort of got in the way. I have produced some micky mouse results but I can see the potential. I hope to get going on it again in the near future and have in mind interfacing it to a Raspberry Pi and use real world input to modulate the visuals.

Disneyfication of London – Peak Bullshit

Spot the tourist

What they want you to think it’s like

Like any great city London attracts tourists and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them on warm summer evenings over a pint. I recall an American submariner who’s boat had moored up in the South of France and who had hitch hiked his way up to London. Standing outside the Three Greyhounds, a mouse slid off the roof and landed in his pint with a plop.

Back then the south bank was not fully open and, as I cycled the stretch between Tower Bridge and Waterloo, I was often forced to pick up my bike and climb ancient stone steps. As the wealth of London waxed it was tarted up. The South Bank was made more accessible, Tate Modern popped into existence and The Oxo tower morphed from ancient relic to fashionable restaurant.  All this “Urban Regeneration” was funded by development trusts and public money with the best intentions and in many ways it’s fantastic but London’s becomming a bloody theme park! It even has a Big Wheel and a Cable Car!

What it's really like

What it’s really like

Something has been lost. I liked living in a ramshackle and chaotic city where much of the commerce resided at a human level. The Oxo Tower and Bankside Power Station were not “accessible” but they were iconic parts of the landscape along with Battersea Power Station which is now so besieged by luxury apartments that it is near invisible. I loved the way London had not been planned and designed but was a teetering balance between entropy and creativity. I realise that this is not a popular view; the majority of people embrace this new wipe clean world where art is delivered like pizza or football.

Tate Modern has even found a way of ensuring that the dullest and most disinterested are exposed to modern art – and their experiences monetised.

On Saturday the FT reported on the progress of the London Garden Bridge. Some may think that another bridge might help congestion but the Garden Bridge is not for traffic.

The Garden Bridge will be yet another vanity project using public money to build tourists attractions causing congestion and generating profit for big-corp.

Using the very space itself as a commodity to be milked for profit degrades the environment for residents and tourists alike. Last December a cheese festival was “brought to a standstill” partly by overcrowding and at Christmas it was impossible to walk on the pavement down Regent Street for the hoards of City-Breakers trudging their way through the freezing cold to tick another item off their fucking “bucket list”.

On Friday I attended The headstrong Club in Lewes which was discussing an Unconditional Basic Income and the subject of the 18th century Enclosures came up. The Enclosures involved the rich enclosing and taking possession of land which was formerly regarded as common land.

In the late 20th century enclosure went further with the commercialisation of public space, first for advertising, then for retail and then to exploit the growing tourist trade.

Vested Interests

Public squares exploited for profit

So whereas before, residents enjoyed shared use of the land they lived in, now Londoners are forced to compete with a transitory population of over 17 million. More than twice the residet population! This month The Economist reported that New Zealanders too are becomming  frustrated that every beauty spot is blighted by a bus load of selfie taking day trippers. The fact that we have all been tourists makes us complicit and prevents us protesting so the gradual degradation of our environment continues without comment. While we claim to respect the environment we only really think about climate change and trendy ethnic disputes. We’ll readily direct our hate online against the Keystone Pipeline as it’s thousands of miles away but the residents of Harlow North can be quietly ignored. It is a culture of double-think. We claim to worship individuality and diversity but in reality we herd together to worship a handful of individuals and opinions. I guess fashion was ever thus but it seems more fine tuned these days.

We live in a culture where legions of “creatives” work to portray herd mentality as individuality.

Lately this is done in such a formulaic and calculated way as to produce grotesque results. Watch any documentary on gardening or antiques and note the caricatures created by the costume department guided by a checklist of over used clichés. This is what happens when we stop thinking and just follow the herd. This is what happens when a twenty something wardrobe assistant with a degree in film making and a hangover gets told to dress an old bald git to look like an antique dealer.

We live in an age of bullshit but the good news is that we may have just passed Peak Bullshit. Last week a billionaire was elected president of the United States on a platform of representing the common people. Surely the tide must soon start to turn!

Peak Bullshit

Peak Bullshit

As usual Science Fiction authors are the only people with the imagination and understanding to get what I’m on about. This time it’s Michael Moorcock from his 2015 novel The Whispering Swarm.

The Whispering Swarm

The Whispering Swarm

Going Green – boundless bean boiling

Infinity Foods

Infinity Foods

Pursuant to a greener lifestyle I visited vegetarian ground zero in Brighton today. Infinity Foods is on the corner of North Road and Garden Street or North and Garden as our American friends would have it.

The staff were fairly chirpy but the customers had a somnambulist gate and I meandered my way around them. Eventually, I bought three 500g bags of Kidney, Butter and Black Turtle beans on advice from a serving operative. I have in mind a dish of pork, leaks, tomatoes, lime juice and chili but with beans instead of pork. I thought that might work.


Infinity Foods

On arriving home I discovered that the beans must be soaked overnight in water then boiled for 120 Earth Minutes. This seems absurd! I can whip up a pork version of my chosen dish in 20 minutes. Are my vegetarian endeavors to be rewarded by a life time in the kitchen? Is this why the inhabitants of Infinity Foods seemed so listless? Really, the Red Cross should have someone standing by with oxygen, iron tablets and blood transfusions from healthy meat eaters.

And what about the effects of additional C02 released by incessant bean boiling? And what happens when I arrive home from the pub? After ten minutes watching a bowl of soaking beans I’ll, more than likely, give in and make a sausage sandwich…..mmmm sausage sandwich.

I wonder if these Greens have thought this through.

Ecological Mindfulness

England - Worth saving too

England – Worth saving too

Sunday, morning,
Nothing in my head,
Aint it good to be in bed,
On Sunday morning

So sang somebody in my youth.

Sunday morning I slept late then arose and drank tea. After a decent interval I grilled some bacon, fried some eggs and sat down to Desert Island Discs. Sunday’s guest was Wayne McGreggor and his selection inappropriate so I switched it off. After pouring liberal doses of ketchup, Worcester and chilli sauce I munched my bacon in silence. My mind began the familiar trudge down well-trodden neural pathways. Why had I had that last glass of wine? Why had I not finished that book? Should I take that job if it’s offered? I pulled myself up – MINDFULNESS!

I attended a mindfulness class last year and still keep it up in fits and starts. It occurred to me that one could be mindful while eating. So I tried. Off went my mind like a greyhound with me hanging on for dear life….I am the inventor of a lucrative gastronomic fashion, plaudits abound, interviewed on the telly I say “Well, I got the idea when….” – I pulled myself up – MINDFULLESS! – Bacon and chilli on the tongue……mmmm…..sweet ketchup……Surely somebody’s done it already, that’s the thing with our over commercialised society, ideas are monetised in weeks not years – MINDFULNESS! – Tangy Worcester sauce and chewy granary bread….mmmmm. Eating must surely be one of the best times to practice mindfulness as taste and smell are such potent senses.



Individually we, in the West, live in a semi-permanent state of distraction. A dog and a child see the world as it is but we adults, we worry about the past and plan for the future and constantly struggle to make congruent the disparity between perception and the fantasy sold us by the commercial/political complex.

Collectively too, we ignore our surroundings and obsess over the abstract and the remote. We ignore the flowers in the park but sit in dark rooms watching wild life programs. We engage with national politics but have not a clue what’s going on locally. We jet off to the other side of the world to marvel at the wonders of nature while ignoring the decimation of British wild life and cheering increasing populations and expanding urbanisation believing that it somehow brings “diversity”.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

A recent BBC Four program on butterfly migration from the Atlas Mountains to Great Britain was as wondrous as anything on colourful fish off the Barrier reef but a third of Britain’s butterfly species are under threat of extinction or have already vanished.

Whenever I pass St. George’s Place in Brighton I like to visit ONCA, a charity which promotes conservation and the arts and often has thoughtful and interesting exhibits. Last year I had some time on my hands and thought I’d like to get involved. They were running a project to sail a yacht around the Caribbean promoting ecological ideas. For around £3,000 I could take part. I’m a competent sailor. I had the time, the money and the inclination. What’s not to like?

The pitfalls of this plan are obvious: The Caribbean is nearly 5,000 miles away and, though ONCA encouraged people not to fly, alternatives are mostly impractical. The idea of a bunch of amateur English ecologists bobbing around in a boat telling local people what to do is a great theme for the next Carry On film but will do nothing to save the planet.

If you drink 2 bottles of wine per week then one economy return flight from London to Puerto España will wipe out the gains from recycling 159 year’s worth of wine bottles*.

A blind spot has emerged in modern green activism as marketing has replaced action. We’re exhorted to  run a marathon or repost on Facebook as if this constitutes action. It does not. At best it promotes green awareness, at worst it is self-indulgent displacement activity.

It’s not just well meaning amateurs who miss the point. Around 40,000 people took part in the Paris climate change conference in 2015 flying in from all over the globe. Surely the majority of these must have been professional policy makers, lobbyists and journalists. How smug they must have felt and the great thing is, there’s a conference every year!

Paris Climate Change Confernece

One Paris Climate Change Conference  > 6 million years of recycling my wine bottles

Ecology is not just about sea level rise and shutdown of the Gulf Stream. A major United Nations assessment of human impact on the environment released in 2005 highlighted a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth, with some 10-30% of the mammal, bird and amphibian species threatened with extinction, due to human actions and much of this “action” is just expansion and industrialisation.

We have become so preoccupied by “climate change”  that we ignore the massive ecological damage that humanity is doing irrespective of whether the Earth warms up, cools down or stays the same.

This gradual destruction of global ecology is not just something that happens on TV; and it’s not just C02 emissions. It’s here and now. It’s the marketing of further expansion of Harlow New Town as “Garden Villages”; it’s the skyscrapers going up all around Vauxhall; it’s Heathrow expansion; it’s global corporations and urban MPs addicted to mass immigration and clever economists deciding that London no longer needs a green belt.

“Think Global, Act Local” is a common slogan for the environmentalist movement. We’ve become expert at thinking globally but the problems then appear so insurmountable that we’re stunned into inaction. Not only do we fail to act locally, we’re not even mindful of the effect of human activity on the local environment.

It is hypocritical to whine about the rain forest if you accept the continued urbanisation of rural England.

We all want change but nobody wants to change. We delude ourselves that some fantastic technology is just around the corner which will fix everything. It is not. Oil and coal are extremely efficient stores of energy. Diesel has an energy density more than 54 times that of a lithium Ion battery! The recently announced tidal lagoons will cause havoc for local marine life. A few wind farms are very pretty but sufficient wind farms to make a difference would ruin the countryside.

At some stage we have to decide just how far we want to go with the commercialisation and industrialisation of planet Earth. The future currently in mind by all sides of the climate change debate is a planet made up of enormous mega-cities and the rest of the land area given over to either industry or intensive farming.

This is a dystopian vision.

Population Matters. It’s time to start talking about it.

* Assumptions for claim that C02 emissions of economy return flight London to Trinidad and Tobago greater than saved by recylcing 2 bottles of wine / week for for more than 159 years: