A live toad every morning

Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Scots Law
document giving evidence as to the existence or contents of another, missing document.

RLS - Fables


In the ancient days there went three men upon pilgrimage; one was a priest, and one was a virtuous person, and the third was an old rover with his axe.
As they went, the priest spoke about the grounds of faith.
“We find the proofs of our religion in the works of nature,” said he, and beat his breast.
“That is true,” said the virtuous person.
“The peacock has a scrannel voice,” said the priest, “as has been laid down always in our books.  How cheering!” he cried, in a voice like one that wept.  “How comforting!”
“I require no such proofs,” said the virtuous person.
“Then you have no reasonable faith,” said the priest.
“Great is the right, and shall prevail!” cried the virtuous person.  “There is loyalty in my soul; be sure, there is loyalty in the mind of Odin.”
“These are but playings upon words,” returned the priest.  “A sackful of such trash is nothing to the peacock.”
Just then they passed a country farm, where there was a peacock seated on a rail; and the bird opened its mouth and sang with the voice of a nightingale.
“Where are you now?” asked the virtuous person.  “And yet this shakes not me!  Great is the truth, and shall prevail!”
“The devil fly away with that peacock!” said the priest; and he was downcast for a mile or two.
But presently they came to a shrine, where a Fakeer performed miracles.
“Ah!” said the priest, “here are the true grounds of faith.  The peacock was but an adminicle.  This is the base of our religion.”
And he beat upon his breast, and groaned like one with colic.
“Now to me,” said the virtuous person, “all this is as little to the purpose as the peacock.  I believe because I see the right is great and must prevail; and this Fakeer might carry on with his conjuring tricks till doomsday, and it would not play bluff upon a man like me.”
Now at this the Fakeer was so much incensed that his hand trembled; and, lo! in the midst of a miracle the cards fell from up his sleeve.
“Where are you now?” asked the virtuous person.  “And yet it shakes not me!”
“The devil fly away with the Fakeer!” cried the priest.  “I really do not see the good of going on with this pilgrimage.”
“Cheer up!” cried the virtuous person.  “Great is the right, and shall prevail!”
“If you are quite sure it will prevail,” says the priest.
“I pledge my word for that,” said the virtuous person.
So the other began to go on again with a better heart.
At last one came running, and told them all was lost: that the powers of darkness had besieged the Heavenly Mansions, that Odin was to die, and evil triumph.
“I have been grossly deceived,” cried the virtuous person.
“All is lost now,” said the priest.
“I wonder if it is too late to make it up with the devil?” said the virtuous person.
“Oh, I hope not,” said the priest.  “And at any rate we can but try.  But what are you doing with your axe?” says he to the rover.
“I am off to die with Odin,” said the rover.


Two cheers forward, one cheer back

I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ooh, like that

"It's not necessary to hope in order to persevere.  It's the motto of William of Orange..."
"One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere."
"Hope is not necessary to engagement, [...] nor success to perseverance."
“I can undertake and persevere even without hope of success" 
and at last
"the motto ascribed (probably incorrectly, according to historians) to the House of Orange in its seemingly endless and hopeless 100 year struggle for independence from Spain: “It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere.” 

Whatever.  Fun, tho. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

A streetcar named disappointment

Saw the National Theatre film of Streetcar, with Gillian Anderson.
To begin with something not at all her fault, she's too big for the role of Blanche. When she's fighting with Stanley, I'd give her odds.
And too old - or at least her sister was too young; you couldn't really bring them together under the same roof as children, chronologically.
Other difficulties were to do with the updating to the present day.  They didn't have a feel for the shifts in class labelling.  The most striking example was that during the poker games Stanley and his mates were drinking light beer.  And at the end the sixpack that Stanley brought in was imported beer - Heineken. Implausible today; impossible to imagine then. It changes the ambience destructively.
Again, Blanche and her sister had too few common class markings; hard to believe that someone brought up in Blanche's family would wear cutoff shorts, even when a class traitor marrying beneath herself.
 And if you update the time, you bring the homosexuality subplot into difficulties; people today would react differently to the crucial revelation.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Turing Detest

A discussion at The Conversation about the historicity of The Imitation Game.
Unfortunately, the article attacks the wrong inaccuracies.
(spoilers spoilers)
Alexander and Dennison are caricatured as vain and clueless when they weren't, but then everybody else is shown as useless too.  The distortions are all in the service of showing Turing as a superman, a saviour who has to do it all by himself with no help at all from any mere mortals.
For example, at the end the film talks of how a handful of codebreakers defeated the Germans and shortened the war, when
1) Bletchley was about 7,000 strong by the end,
2) Breaking code never defeated anybody (the Poles had done it, after all; didn't help them much)
3) The war would have ended roughly on the day it did whatever had happened before that, only it would have ended with an A-Bomb on Berlin rather than one on Hiroshima.
The most irritating thing, for me, because of its implausibility within the movie, was the business with Turing getting 100,000 quid from Churchill to build a computer.  Utterly impossible.  Once they had cracked the code and built a computer - collectively, not as a magic wand trick by Turing - Turing wrote to Churchill to get more funding for Bletchley, and was successful; but that was after it had been shown that the thing worked. The movie - and how well I know this mindset - demanded that there be a pivotal scene - one scene, not two or three - where
1) the machine worked,
2) the code was cracked, and
3) everyone admits Turing was right -
and that's impossible; until the code was cracked, you couldn't justify a machine.
Again, in the film the machine's breakthrough comes when a girl in the pub tells Turing that the Germans are sometimes less than rigorous in their procedures; when in fact that was exactly how the Poles broke it, and how the early codebreakers broke it, and how (see above) the codebreakers justified their call for a machine to speed it up.
Other than pedantry, why does this matter? Because it fuels the Great Man/superhero delusion, where one person can make a critical difference and you don't need millions of soldiers to fight and die. When, in fact, you often do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Container Traffic

There's an argument over at antipope about whether the container trade could have been introduced any earlier, and I'd add to the discussion something George Shaw wrote in his introduction to The Apple Cart  in 1928;

And now a word about Breakages, Limited. The title Breakages, Limited, was suggested to me by the fate of that remarkable genius, the late Alfred Warwick Gattie…. I consented to investigate the alleged great invention in person on Gattie's promising to behave like a reasonable being during the process, a promise which he redeemed with the greatest dignity, remaining silent whilst an engineer explained his miracles to me, and contenting himself with the reading of a brief statement shewing that the adoption of his plan would release from industry enough men to utterly overwhelm the Central Empires with whom we were then at war.  I approached the investigation very sceptically.  Our friend spoke of "the works."  I could not believe that Gattie had any works, except in his fervid imagination.  He mentioned "the company." That was more credible: anyone may form a company; but that it had any resources seemed to me doubtful.  However, I suffered myself to be taken to Battersea; and there, sure enough, I found a workshop, duly labelled as the premises of The New Transport Company, Limited, and spacious enough to accommodate a double railway line with a platform.  The affair was unquestionably real, so far.  The platform was not provided with a station: its sole equipment was a table with a row of buttons on it for making electrical contacts. Each line of railway had on it a truck with a steel lid.  The practical part of the proceedings began by placing an armchair on the lid of one of the trucks and seating me in it.  A brimming glass of water was then set at my feet.  I could not imagine what I was expected to do with the water or what was going to happen; and there was a suggestion of electrocution about the chair which made me nervous.  Gattie then sat down majestically at the table on the platform with his hand hovering over the buttons.  Intimating that the miracle would take place when my truck passed the other truck, he asked me to choose whether it should occur at the first passage or later, and to dictate the order in which it should be repeated. I was by that time incapable of choosing; so I said the sooner the better; and the two trucks started.  When the other truck had passed mine I found myself magically sitting on it, chair and all, with the glass of water unspilled at my feet.  The rest of the story is a tragi-comedy.  When I said to Gattie apologetically (I felt deeply guilty of having underrated him) that I had never known that he was an engineer, and had taken him to be the usual amateur inventor with no professional training, he told me that this was exactly what he was: just like Sir Christopher Wren.  He had been concerned in an electric lighting business, and had been revolted by the prodigious number of breakages of glass bulbs involved by the handling of the crates in which they were packed for transport by rail and road.  What was needed was a method of transferring the crates from truck to truck, and from truck to road lorry, and from road lorry to warehouse lift without shock, friction, or handling.  Gattie, being, I suppose, by natural genius an inventor though by mistaken vocation a playwright, solved the mechanical problem without apparent difficulty, and offered his nation the means of effecting an enormous saving of labor and smash.  But instead of being received with open arms as a social benefactor he found himself up against Breakages, Limited.  The glass blowers whose employment was threatened, the exploiters of the great industry of repairing our railway trucks (every time a goods train is stopped a series of 150 violent collisions is propagated from end to end of the train, as those who live within earshot know to their cost), and the railway porters who dump the crates from truck to platform and then hurl them into other trucks, shattering bulbs, battering cans, and too often rupturing themselves in the process, saw in Gattie an enemy of the human race, a wrecker of homes and a starver of innocent babes.  He fought them undauntedly; but they were too strong for him; and in due time his patents expired and he died almost unrecognized, whilst Unknown Soldiers were being canonized throughout the world. … The last time I saw him he called on me to unfold a new scheme of much greater importance, as he declared, than his trucks.  He was very interesting on that occasion.  He began by giving me a vivid account of the pirates who used to infest the Thames below London Bridge before the docks were built.  He described how the docks had come into existence not as wharves for loading and unloading but as strongholds in which ships and their cargoes could be secure from piracy.  They are now, he declared, a waste of fabulously valuable ground; and their work should be done in quite another way.  He then produced plans of a pier to be built in the middle of the river, communicating directly by rail and road with the shore and the great main lines.  The ships would come alongside the pier; and by a simple system of hoists the contents of their holds would be lifted out and transferred (like myself in the armchair) to railway trucks or motor lorries without being touched by a human hand and therefore without risk of breakage.  ….Gattie was not content to improve the luggage arrangements of our railways: he would not listen to you if your mind was not large enough to grasp the immediate necessity for a new central clearing house in Farringdon Market, connected with the existing railways by a system of new tubes.  He was of course right; and we have already lost by sticking to our old ways more than the gigantic sum his scheme would have cost.  But neither the money nor the enterprise was available just then, with the war on our hands.  The Clearing House, like the Thames pier, remains on paper; and Gattie is in his grave. 

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