1978. Easter hols from university. I was wandering through my mum’s kitchen – being a student, I was, as usual, in search of anything that could be eaten without dire consequences. I was also, just as usually, ignoring the Radio 4 she always had on in the background. Except that, this time, the sonorous notes of The Sorceror rang out across the kitchen as I slouched past. That stopped me: as a West Coast hippy misplaced in time and space by a decade and a few thousand miles (here I cite my cowboy boots, bell-bottom flares and a fine collection of Jefferson Airplane albums), anything from The Eagles was OK by me. But on Radio Four?
The picture above is ASCI Red, the world’s fastest supercomputer in 1999-2000. It was about the size of a large tennis court, sucked a couple of MW and cost around $55M (it went through various incarnations). And that’s not to mention the staff of acolytes and air-conditioned buildings required to make it work. Its delivered performance was about 2.4 TFlops (Thousand Billion Floating Point Operations per second), with a theoretical maximum of around 3.2TFlops, delivered by an array of nearly 10,000 processors, all chuntering away in parallel.
The future is accelerating towards us – silently – as the age of the internal combustion engine comes to a close. That’s after 130 years of mobilising, democratising, suffocating and poisoning society (rearrange those to suit your personal priorities). And it looks as though, of the available technologies, battery storage electric vehicles (EVs) are going to win the day. I don’t want to get into a VHS/Betamax argument – in fact, I do, but I’ll be posting that separately – other than to note that the most viable alternative, the hydrogen fuel cell, is in the process of missing the boat.
In two days, we elect a government. In the recent history of things, we’d normally be following our historical party affiliations, where a small number of marginal seats tip the balance between parties who pivot around a vaguely centrist axis where, whatever the outcome, most of us can live with it for another five years, the while employing the traditional British relief valves of dark muttering, sarcasm and cynicism. And so the world turns.
But not this time. This time, the stakes are far greater than a short-term opportunity for an elected government to tinker with the parameters of policy, income, debt and stimulus. This time, the stakes are no less than the future of both the UK’s place in the world and, as a consequence, the future of the UK itself. This is an election whose ramifications will play out, not over a five-year term, but over generations.
This is aimed, in no small part, at my many friends in the US, who I see alternating between despair at their own ‘government’’s behaviour and angst-laden apology to the world for their current Liar-in-Chief. Please, folks, relax, a little at least.
Yes, the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement will do damage – indeed, it already has – but that damage is less to the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change than to US influence in the world.
So, it appears that the UK now has a ‘parliament’ where most members don’t actually understand their job description or the nature of representative democracy itself.
At its most basic, their duty is to represent their local electorate, not blindly, but through the filter of their judgement and experience, to balance and reconcile what is actually in the best interests of the constituency and of the country as a whole. There, there is a system, evolved over a millennium or so, that has put them where they are, to be the buffer between the baying of the wilfully uninformed, the ill-intentioned and the fear-driven, and the common good. That system now seems to have been abandoned, in the name of bigotry, personal agendas and party dogma. Continue reading Dumbocracy Rising
Thoughts for our US friends, from the “sneering liberal elite” (as apparently we now are) of the UK. We’re a few months ahead of you in trying to work out why our country has taken the ‘Samson’ route of pulling down the temple whilst standing inside it (there will be more on that), and we’re starting to see how the stages of bereavement from principle and reason play out. This isn’t entirely serious – it’s a play on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s long-discredited model for the stages of grief, nor is the language safe for those of a nervous disposition but, for all that, it’s been well received…
Yes, we’re screwed. And we’ve done it to ourselves. But it isn’t over yet, not by a long chalk, baguette or würst. And there are so many factors and factions in play that attempting any firm predictions would be an act of senseless and misdirected hubris. Rather like the referendum itself. But there are a couple of semi-logically consistent scenarios that could play out and a few key decisions and tipping points that would make one or the other more likely. So, without further ado… Continue reading Apocalypse Now vs Yes, Minister
For those voting for Brexit on the ‘it can’t get any worse’ principle, don’t you believe it. It can, it will and it already is: the uncertainty around the outcome is already impacting the pound, the markets and investment in the UK. An actual Brexit vote would accelerate that immeasurably. You’d like a little certainty about your future in an increasingly uncertain world. I get that. But the contradiction here is that voting us out of the institution that does most to facilitate trade and protect workers’ rights would only achieve greater uncertainty. This world is not that of your grandparents but an ever-developing tapestry of trade between nations and blocs, the dynamic of which is part of the warp and weft of society and the generation of the wealth that keeps us going. If you try to unpick the part of that fabric labelled ‘Britain‘, the whole thing starts to unravel and everyone suffers, not just the UK. There is not (and never was) a mythical Little England to retreat to and, if you try to make it so, you will discover this, in the hardest possible way. A Brexit would emphatically not be a ‘Victory for the common man’, it would be playing directly into the hands of those self-serving demagogues whose only interest is to profit from disunity, from corruption and from the demonising of the innocent.
So much of the agitation for a Leave vote in June seems to be in the fond (as in, “absurd, foolish“) belief by some that a Brexit would return us to a mythic age of independence and freedom from bureaucracy. Well, here’s some news for them: they simply don’t understand either the modern world or the very British ability to bureaucratise a good idea into something completely untenable and then blame it on someone else. Here, the EU is an appartchik’s godsend: the ability to create pointless process that does nothing but perpetuate the salaries of those involved and then be able to duck responsibility by saying, “It’s the EU’s fault“. No, in this case it isn’t and we really need to remind ourselves that there’s a tolerable correlation between those parts of the world known for overweening bureaucracy and those bits of it that used to be coloured pink. Continue reading Deflecting Blame: Britain, Bureaucracy & the EU