The iceman cometh?

I’ve been thinking about sunspots.

Now, cool your jets. I’m not going to start banging on about Maunder Minima and little ice ages versus global warming, CO2 and all the rest of it.

Reasons: a) I’m bored by all the arguments that generate more heat than light, and b) I’m not qualified (you might reasonably ask: on the basis of a piffling few hundred years of unreliable weather data… who really is?).

No, this blog entry merely asks a hypothetical and rather narrow question, viz:

If solar activity does hugely affect climate, and if we are the verge of a new ‘Maunder Minimum’ period that will bring much colder winters (all theoretical and unproven)… what would that be like on my vegetable plot?

Well, I guess it would mean more years like the last three.

Which, I gotta say, is bad news. Because 2011-2013 have brought average vegetable yields at least 20% lower than before – even worse in certain crops (potatoes are more like 40% down). Lots of rain and no sun, allied with longer winters, has been fairly crappy for me. Yet more rain and/snow plus even longer winters would presumably be disastrous.

And I’m just a humble one-man vegetable grower. Extrapolate these figures to northern hemisphere farming, as a whole, and they add up to a hell of a lot less food.

I don’t pretend to know how this would play out. Especially if lasted – like the 17th century ‘little ice age’ – for 70 years.

But I’m doubting humanity would feel it was an improvement on what’s gone before.

Posted on 7th June 2013
Under: Rants, Winter | 4 Comments »

Catastrophe unforeseen – as usual

Just heard Paul Krugman on BBC Radio 2. Standout quote: “I was never a big fan of the Euro, but I never foresaw this catastrophe.”

‘Catastrophe’ means to ruin and/or overturn in ancient Greek. It was the word used to describe a tragic dénouement to a drama – a disastrous one.

The piquancy in Greek tragedy derives from the audience’s awareness of that imminent disaster – contrasted with the characters’ ignorance and/or refusal to contemplate it.

We know it’s coming. They don’t. We wince.

It’s odd how such an effective device – so old, so well used and well known in so many cultures – fails utterly to inform human beings’ response to the real world around them.

You would think we would stand back more often and wonder whether catastrophe might, in fact, be around the corner. We so rarely do.

Very, very few people ever foresee catastrophe. Those that do are studiously ignored or ridiculed.

I’ve written before about optimism, and our preference for it. This is a related phenomenon, deriving from a riff on the Appeal to Tradition fallacy. Things have always been this way, goes the thinking, so they will likely go on being this way.

My favourite analogy (with thanks to Nicholas Taleb) is the farmed turkey on December 20th. It’s lived for about 8 weeks. In that time, it’s been fed every day, the same amount, at the same times, by the same people. It has eight weeks of experience of things being predictably comfortable and uncatastrophic. On December 20th, the turkey feels entitled to believe – on the evidence so far – that tomorrow will be the same as all the other days.

Catastrophes are rare (though not as rare as we think). Non-catastrophe is the daily ‘standard’. It is, and it seems, overwhelmingly normal. Catastrophic events are highly unusual. We even have a special adjective for them: “Unthinkable”.

The important characteristic of a catastrophe, though, is not its rarity. The important thing is its absolutely revolutionary, transformative effect (remember: it’s a ‘ruinous, overturning’ event).

We don’t remember catastrophes for their rarity. We remember them for their destructive consequences – consequences that can reverberate for years, decades or millennia to come. Some catastrophes have permanent, apocalyptic results.

Catastrophe, therefore, should figure more prominently in our imaginings. Instead of saying “That’s not worth considering – it’s unlikely'” we should instead ask: “If this did happen, how far-reaching might be the consequences?”

Sure, it’s unlikely. Perhaps very, very unlikely.

But if it does crop up… by God, things will never be the same again. The insane, the absurd – all will start happening.

Thus I mused as I listened to Mr Krugman on the radio. He’s an engaging fellow, full of useful and worthwhile insights.

But I did find myself wondering why one of the world’s brightest economists – a Nobel prizewinner, no less – hadn’t been able to imagine what a Eurozone bank/sovereign debt/fiscal catastrophe might look like.

Sure, it looked unlikely on January 1, 2002, when the Euro launched. It looked very, very unlikely indeed.

By 2007, I’d argue, it looked a lot less unlikely. By 2009, it was looking vaguely possible. By this time last year, money markets were betting on it.

But great economists still hadn’t – and still haven’t – imagined it.

You gotta ask: just what the fuck is wrong with human beings?

Posted on 31st May 2012
Under: Rants | 1 Comment »

Of cauliflowers and media abuses

cauliflowersAnd so the glut begins. Thought I was going to get no cauliflowers at all during the dry patch. Now that it’s been pissing with rain for three weeks, they’re going nuts. I cut all of these this evening, and there are more on the way.

I’d normally be triumphant – boringly, nauseatingly triumphant. But I can’t bring myself to gloat tonight. The News of the World scandal is profoundly depressing me.

It’s not the evil, amoral wankers who hacked that poor, dead girl’s phone – although they sicken me. It’s not even the risible, farcical denials from NOTW upper management that they knew nothing about what was going on.

No, what really bugs me is that several hundred decent journalists (most entirely unconnected with the scandal, and hired long afterwards) are now going to lose their jobs so that everyone in upper management can keep theirs.

There truly is something wickedly immoral at the heart of this whole revolting story. The stench that hovers around the Murdoch name and the Murdoch empire is suffocating – and I speak as a journalist and a NOTW admirer (easy to forget, but they used to do – and have done – some great journalism as well as the end-of-pier kiss ‘n’ tells).

It matters for Americans, too

To my American readers, to whom this may all seem arcane and irrelevant: It matters to you guys, too. The Murdoch family, through News Corp, owns vast media interests in the USA, and is bidding for more.

Americans who care about and have any say in good corporate governance need to have a long, hard look at how News International has been behaving on this side of the pond. Do you really think these behaviours have been confined to Britain? What on earth has been going on elsewhere?

Are these people you want running anything important, significant or influential in your country?

Thought not.

Posted on 7th July 2011
Under: Brassicas, Rants | 11 Comments »

Triumph of decency over hatred, ignorance and selfishness

first early potatoes "Orla"Got a bit obsessed by the royal wedding first thing this morning. By the time it started, of course, I was bored shitless and wandered off to see how my spuds were doing. Answer: OK. We could do with rain (when couldn’t we?).

Have thought about it since, though, and realised why I do find these formal occasions – despite all my better instincts – rather impressive.

It’s not the pomp. It’s not the pageantry. It’s not the horses, or the dresses, or the (mostly) ghastly royals. It’s certainly not the ‘atmosphere’ – the smell of horse shit at these events is overpowering.

No, what moves me about it all is that state occasions featuring the royal family are the only times when the TV screen isn’t full of tiresome fuckers, pompous shitheads, thought policemen, rabble-rousing demagogues, dotty dictators, take-offence industry spokespersons, Right Honourable liars, thick bigots, moaning inadequates, whingeing chisellers looking for handouts and/or evil cunts threatening to kill everyone they disagree with.

Crowded into the Mall and Horse Guards, today, were countless normal, moderate, fair, thoughtful, put-upon, tax-paying non-fuckwits who still – despite the BBC’s best efforts to convince us otherwise – make up the majority of UK citizens.

Particularly impressive were William’s three RAF colleagues from Search & Rescue. Decent, hard-working, dependable and honourable guys who risk life and limb daily to help others and will spend their time on this earth trying to do the Right Thing. Just because.

When I see and hear folks like that, and think of the many feckless, hate-filled, Entitled, lazy, illiterate morons whose freedoms they’re protecting… well. I run out of words.

Guess I’m just glad that breed still exists, albeit in low numbers. Today they put the wankers in the shade – for once.

Posted on 29th April 2011
Under: Rants | Comments Off

Sod the weeds, feel the vegetables

weedsI did promise you some hot weed action. So, in keeping with this blog’s tradition of ruthless honesty – even (especially?) when it’s all going tits up – here’s a picture of the Dark Side of Soilman’s allotment.

Yes, my friends, I am human (“very fucking human” – Mrs Soilman). There is bindweed on my plot. There is couch. There are nettles, and thistles, and brambles, and Fat Hen, and a thousand others besides.

But you know what? I don’t give the tiniest shit. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s just about one thing: the veg. Provided I get enough to feed us from time to time (regularly would be a bonus), I’m a happy bunny.

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted on 29th June 2010
Under: Rants, Weeds | 11 Comments »

How creatives work… poor bastards

I’m not usually one for posting YouTube virals, but I have to make an exception for this one. If you’ve ever worked for clients in the creative industries, in any capacity, you’re going to LOVE it. And if you haven’t… well, all I’m saying is: Don’t be the cretinous client. Please.

Posted on 9th October 2009
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Building sites, growbags and bent carrots

It’s here, folks: 2009’s most egregiously ignorant example of allotment bandwagon-jumping.

Laughed? I nearly shat. Growing vegetables on a brownfield building site – with or without bags, but definitely with industrial pollution heritage and a grandstand view of a builder’s arse crack – is just what I’ve always dreamed of.

But wait, there’s more. If you get past the first par without splitting a side, check this out:

The grow bags idea came from a music festival where she saw huge sandbags being moved around by fork-lift trucks. “I was thinking how flexible they could be. Grow bags would allow people to grow carrots and peas.”

Growbags on building site

Grow bags are – what? – 4-5″ deep. So the City of London has bred a carrot that grows sideways??

Honestly. I’ve spent 40 years hoovering the dustiest corners of Human Ignorance. I expect human beings to be wankers. But the profound dimness of Homo Stultissimus continues to blow my mind.

Anyone else spotted any good examples of allotment bullshit and bandwagon-ism? Please let me know. There’s a prize, for the best example, of something utterly irresistible (OK, so I’m lying about the ‘utterly’ part, and probably the ‘irresistible’ too. But you get the point).

PS Apologies to copyright holders of the pics I’ve bastardised here. Get in touch and I’ll apologise and pay in full (that’s if you accept payment in leek seeds).

Posted on 16th June 2009
Under: Rants, Roots | 15 Comments »