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All posts for the month September, 2011

A sequence of two items on this morning’s BBC R4 Today programme had me shaking my head.

A study on autism as a grey continuum of characteristics, followed by a debate on the definition of good & bad businesses in terms of yesterday’s Milliband speech. I ask you, who is autistic – the BBC subjecting rhetoric to logic? Autistic economics is an old subject. “Predatory” is a pejorative  adjective for competitive growth.

Stumbled across news from 8 to 24 months ago, thanks to a hit on this page.

Tickled to come across Noel Webster refurbishing the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (3614 Jackson Highway) back when we were living nearby in Alabama. He was in the process of protecting the heritage of the name and the studios as a national historic place at that time. The web-site is pretty dead, but that’s because the action is over at FaceBook these days, where I discovered today, that not only is the studio operating successfully, it was where the Black Keys recorded their Brothers album in 2009, which was No1 in 2010 and Grammy winning in February this year.

3614JacksonHighway

Congratulations Noel Webster.

Great to see Roy Harper on Jools Holland’s Tuesday preview of his Friday “Later” show last night – seems odd to have a 30 minute preview of what is only a one hour show anyway – wonder if this is going to become the norm.

Roy Harper finally returns to the BBC in his 70th anniversary year with a classic song or two from his new archival collection Songs of Love and Loss.

Looking good at 70, slightly nervous wave to the audience in acknowledgement of their applause – last night he played a straight acoustic version of Another Day. Looking forward to another couple on Friday. I updated – repurchased – my CD & MP3 copies of his back-collection just earlier this year – currently re-listening to the live version of Another Day on Flashes from the Archives of Oblivion – and been playing the immense Lord’s Prayer to death and Lifemask generally, in the car over the summer. Apart from the obvious Highway Blues, it’s very un-driving music. Weird to remember all the words and sing out loud to so many long complex wordy songs amongst the more conventional 3/4 minute folk / blues-rock ditties.

There once was a man from the old stone-age,
and he used to follow the weather.
But now he’s got hung-up on fillin’ a page
upon whether to go altogether.

Apart from no doubt a few phonetic fillers for the odd originally mis-heard lyric, something I can now never correct even having checked the actual lyrics, I can recite the whole of that. Also reminds me of one particular evening with Des (Hughes) and Dave (Metcalfe) around 1974ish (maybe slightly later when HQ came out) debating Harper vs Dylan; a la Beatles vs Stones or more recent Blur vs Oasis idea – so this quote tickled me:

“Forget the Dylan at 70 celebrations that will be all over the media this year, there’s another unique septuagenarian voice equally deserving of your attention.”

This only approximately right, from free lyric sites with a few of my own, err, corrections.

There once was a man from the old stone-age
And he used to follow the weather
But now he’s got hung up on fillin’ a page
Upon whether to go altogether

And he’s been around for so damn long
With his whooping and wailing and crushing questions
between right and wrong, and impaling
the best he can hope and the worst he can fear

On the solstices of this whacking illusion
And massive erection
of pushy defence
Of the whole of the prosecution

Ah, great solace the wound, great relish the pain
To be loosing the reins of a poem
To bleed from the tip of my tongue yet again
That part of my heart that is showing
These children conceived in the womb of this crash
To be the sponsors of nothing much other
Than rearguard directions of crossfingered sections
Of purpose. Pot-looking for nothing

But what is this last desperate vestige of heart over head?
But another conjecture
No more the tomb of the martyred dead
Than the ghost of our parting gesture
And a hundred billion crystal balls
Represent a remarkable failure
To swell the song each moment long
At the counterpoint of nature
As four thumbs flick the tarot deck
And two tongues fork eight aces
Maybe sixteen fingers feel
The fool lives in two places
Where rosy lee can read this tea
And leave me living the story

A white dove with a hawks’ head
And an open mind before me
To sail for a land where life is a high
Not a word to be heard or be spoken
But the soul – woven web of the endless touch
Of a child who could never be broke-ken
Who plays a new world on the brink of the ebb
As the fish cats prowl in the harbour

And now soars high on the beckoning tides’ long arm
To weigh his last anchor
And the sou’westers sing as the lifeboat bells ring
In the heads on the faces of changes

The heavens collage on excalibre’s edge
The star in his movie converges
With fate, in his task, and doom on his brow
And a ship in his eye in a bottle

Who speeds, to force, to want, to have,
To find, to further fortune,
Who comes from the north, south, west and east
Of the passions of a spirit
With all the flight of the wildest beast
To ever spurr a stirrup.

Whose pulse is the master of action
Whose heart is an everlasting secret
Whose arms are desire
Whose lips are welcome
Whose eyes tell stories
Whose head is a journey
Whose hands unfold
Whose feet fly
Whose face is the stained glass window
of a continuous orgasm.

Whose being is mine
Whose wounds are precious
Whose poem is a flower
Whose gentleness is the devil
Whose indentity is naked
Whose magic is a gift
Whose power is the transparent
tapestry of history.

Whose stamp is a freak
Whose wits are battles
Whose cousin is dog
Whose times are well fought for
Whose stone-age is clever
Whose poets know
Whose music is barbarian, barbarian
Whose artists are helpless spherical mirrors
spinning on the horns of a tidal wave.
Oh, the tidal wave

Whose information is belief
Whose complexes become religion
Whose foundation’s spread
Whose word is god
Whose books are projectiles
Whose message is must
Whose excuse is holy
Who passed it down to me
Whose enemies are landmarks
Whose fear is himself
Whose hope is lust
Whose wish is fresh
Whose position is wary
Whose mottoes are covers
Whose name is hidden
Whose nose is suspicion
Whose technology is a tangent
Whose strategy is dissent
Whose thoughts are games
Who shares his lot
Whose ace is death

Whose fingers invent
Whose tales weave
Whose knots are tied
Whose mouth is open
Whose ears pierce
Whose direction is out
Who is aware of disease
Who feels the need to cleanse his soul

Whose style is disguise
Whose dream is innate
Whose woman is soothing
Whose little children are the delicate blossom
of an orchard of electricity

Whose spell is for conflict
Whose quest is strength
Whose wars are declared
Whose suicide is noticed
Whose shadow is cast
Whose vibes you feel
Whose pedigrees are haunted
Whose age is unknown
Who takes under his wing
Whose freaks are real
Whose reality is hunger, hunger
Whose reality is hunger

Whose words are jagged
Whose tears are shed
Whose sick hang
Whose weak are kicked
Whose cities are bad shelters
Whose sanctuary is an idea
of sat round a fire
Whose teeth chew
Whose faith is change
Whose old age comes quickly
Whose youth burns
Whose systems are white sticks tapping walls
Whose prize posession is the planet
The poor planet, the big lady I’m playin’ with.

Whose wildest lust is escalation
Whose cul-de-sacs were feelers
Whose main route is acid
Whose run is a dance
Whose vehicle is fantasy
Whose home is high
Whose role continues
Whose bearing is savage
Whose saints are dead
Whose sons bark
Whose daughters play
Whose strength is against

Who grows in the sun and sleeps in the moon
Who roams the deserts, the plateaux,
and the ice-caps and the mountains, and the forests
and the plains with vast armies, with vast armies
Who am I, who am I?

The spirit of those who were not here
And never knew it
Who left this prayer to elope
A lover’s journey through it, through it

So children leave your windows open
Across the sea
Join your hands across the many lands
You and me

Never grown old
Seeing without ever being told
Something to say
Shut away
Blackboard so grey
Anyway

I’m dreaming
Out along the back row
Out the window
Cast away
Be free with me
Today

Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak

I got myself a problem when I built myself a wheel
I set myself another when I rode a horse to feel
The plains underneath my reins
Just as fast as running water

And the big lady I’m playing with
Has played a game of poker
With me and cat and this and that
Until she scored my joker

Now we ride in chariots
By the side of one another
Her soft side
My rough ride,

Nothing to fear
The unknown soldier’s grave is already here
Is it too late
To create
A world made with care?
Is it there?

Or fleeting
Here today and gone
Tomorrow’s child
Looking so wild and free

Are we a choice
With no voice
Can it be?

Great heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Brave heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak
Nobody helps me, look away
Faint heart, mean streak
Spare part, speed freak

Roy Harper, 1973

That epic is of course not one the songs of love and loss. [And of course those repetitive "Who's" owe more than a little to Ginsberg's "Howl" - incidentally the inspiration for the band name HowL - another CD I'm playing to death at the moment. Small world.]

[Post Note Sept 23rd – on the Friday he did a “2 verse” version of I Hate the White Man – probably his most important song – his favourite he said, and invited the audience to guess which song he meant. Good in the interview with Jools beforehand that he didn’t fall for agreeing that love and loss had been his main inspiration – the future of humanity he said – just noticed with hindsight that he did have quite a collection of love songs. Needless to say this track is not one from his latest compilation. I don’t own a copy of Flat Baroque and Berserk, the album it comes from. Yet again, I find myself knowing so many of the lyrics – truly weird – of course there is an impromptu insert of White Man lyrics in the extended live version of … Highway Blues (check ?).

[snip]
And the bowels of his city
Have been locked into a safe
Where the spew stains on the side-walks
Are defenders of his faith
While back inside his kitchen
The bowler-hatted, long-haired saint
Cleans with soap and water
But it`s really just white paint
[snip]
And I hate the white man
And his evergreen excuse
Oh I hate the white man
And the man who turned you all loose
... and the man who turned me loose
...]

Some important threads on giving serious consideration to anthropocentric views of physics, rather than simply being dismissive of  “fine tuning” arguments and the like. [Previous posts, Goldilocks, Island links ... etc.]

Saw these quotes in the preface to Thomas Metzinger’s “The Ego Tunnel – The Science of Mind and the Myth of the Self

“Any theory that makes progress is bound to be initially counter-intuitive.”
– Dan Dennett

and

“Wittgenstein greeted me with a question: “Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth?” I replied: “I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.” “Well,” he asked “what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?”
– Elizabeth Anscombe

Clearly we see our current position as the centre of our world model – me, my planet, my solar system, my galaxy, my universe … (As I said once before this is what Ptolemaic and Copernican views have in common. “We” are at its centre.)

Our view from nowhere, is a lways a nowhere seen relative to where we are. Meta is the word – again.If I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start from here. What we know about there is always known from here. [Also that "what's it like to be" Nagel concept in there.]

PS – I don’t have Metzinger’s book yet, but I see why I recognize him – he was part of the Tuscon school of consciousness and co-founder with Chalmers of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness.

I kept close watch on the earlier reports, so here adding the link to the final report from 16th September 2011. Herewith [almost] the entire summary:

The Events

At approximately 9:50 p.m. on the evening of April 20, 2010, while the crew of the Deepwater Horizon rig was finishing work after drilling the Macondo exploratory well, an undetected influx of hydrocarbons (commonly referred to as a “kick”) escalated to a blowout.  Shortly after the blowout, hydrocarbons that had flowed onto the rig floor through a mud‐gas vent line ignited in two separate explosions. Flowing hydrocarbons fueled a fire on the rig that continued to burn until the rig sank on April 22.  Eleven men died on the Deepwater Horizon that evening.  Over the next 87 days, almost five million barrels of oil were discharged from the Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Findings

The Panel found that a central cause of the blowout was failure of a cement barrier in the production casing string, a high‐strength steel pipe set in a well to ensure well integrity and to allow future production.  The failure of the cement barrier allowed hydrocarbons to flow up the wellbore, through the riser and onto the rig, resulting in the blowout.

The precise reasons for the failure of the production casing cement job are not known.  The Panel concluded that the failure was likely due to:

(1) swapping of cement and drilling mud (referred to as “fluid inversion”) in the shoe track (the section of casing near the bottom of the well);

(2) contamination of the shoe track cement; or

(3) pumping the cement past the target location in the well, leaving the shoe track with little or no cement (referred to as “over‐displacement”).

[Nothing about the Halliburton cement job being at the limits of good design, testing and implementation ? Difficult conditions and decisions mentioned later, and one reason why the critical test failure later should have been on everyone's radar, not just the guys at the workfront.]

The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last‐minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon.

BP, as the designated operator under BOEMRE regulations, was ultimately responsible for conducting operations at Macondo in a way that ensured the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources, and the environment.  Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, was responsible for conducting safe operations and for protecting personnel onboard. Halliburton, as a contractor to BP, was responsible for conducting the cement job, and, through its subsidiary (Sperry Sun), had certain responsibilities for monitoring the well.  Cameron was responsible for the design of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer (“BOP”) stack.

At the time of the blowout, the rig crew was engaged in “temporary abandonment” activities to secure the well after drilling was completed and before the Deepwater Horizon left the site.  In the days leading up to April 20, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations, added incremental risk, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the cement job.

These decisions included:

  • The use of only one cement barrier.  BP did not set any additional cement or mechanical barriers in the well, even though various well conditions created difficulties for the production casing cement job.
  • The location of the production casing. BP decided to set production casing in a location in the well that created additional risk of hydrocarbon influx.
  • The decision to install a lock‐down sleeve.  BP’s decision to include the setting of a lock‐down sleeve (a piece of equipment that connects and holds the production casing to the wellhead during production) as part of the temporary abandonment procedure at Macondo increased the risks associated with subsequent operations, including the displacement of mud, the negative test sequence and the setting of the surface plug.
  • The production casing cement job.  BP failed to perform the production casing cement job in accordance with industry‐accepted recommendations.
[Very clearly cited as BP decisions, which they were ultimately despite the complexity and shared responsibilities.]

The Panel concluded that BP failed to communicate these decisions and the increasing operational risks to Transocean.  As a result, BP and Transocean personnel onboard the Deepwater Horizon on the evening of April 20, 2010, did not fully identify and evaluate the risks inherent in the operations that were being conducted at Macondo.

On April 20, BP and Transocean personnel onboard the Deepwater Horizon missed the opportunity to remedy the cement problems when they misinterpreted anomalies encountered during a critical test of cement barriers called a negative test, which seeks to simulate what will occur at the well after it is temporarily abandoned and to show whether cement barrier(s) will hold against hydrocarbon flow.

[As it says, the "critical test" misinterpreted. The critical point in earlier reports too. Snipped-out more description of the various processes and actions - but nothing new here, except the report of a near identical near miss on the same rig just weeks earlier, with many of the same crew & management, from which they hadn't learned fast enough.]

Scheduling conflicts and cost overruns.

At the time of the blowout, operations at Macondo were significantly behind schedule.  BP had initially planned for the Deepwater Horizon to move to BP’s Nile well by March 8, 2010.  In large part as a result of this delay, as of April 20, BP’s Macondo operations were more than $58 million over budget.

Personnel changes and conflicts.

BP experienced a number of problems involving personnel with responsibility for operations at Macondo. A reorganization that took place in March and April 2010 changed the roles and responsibilities of at least nine individuals with some responsibility for Macondo operations.  In addition, the Panel found evidence of a conflict between the BP drilling and completions operations manager and the BP wells team leader and evidence of a failure to adequately delineate roles and responsibilities for key decisions.

At the time of the blowout, both BP and Transocean had extensive procedures in place regarding safe drilling operations. BP required that its drilling and completions personnel follow a “documented and auditable risk management process.”  The Panel found no evidence that the BP Macondo team fully evaluated ongoing operational risks, nor did it find evidence that BP communicated with the Transocean rig crew about such risks.

Procedures & Regulations

Transocean had a number of documented safety programs in place at the time of the blowout.  Nonetheless, the Panel found evidence that Transocean personnel questioned whether the Deepwater Horizon crew was adequately prepared to independently identify hazards associated with drilling and other operations. Everyone on board the Deepwater Horizon was obligated to follow the Transocean “stop work” policy that was in place on April 20, which provided that “each employee has the obligation to interrupt an operation to prevent an incident from occurring.”

Despite the fact that the Panel identified a number of reasons that the rig crew could have invoked stop work authority, no individual on the Deepwater Horizon did so on April 20.

The Panel found evidence that BP and, in some instances, its contractors violated [the following] federal regulations:

[snip]

Although the Panel found no evidence that MMS regulations in effect on April 20, 2010 were a cause of the blowout, the Panel concluded that stronger and more comprehensive federal regulations might have reduced the likelihood of the Macondo blowout.

Might. The critical failure was not recognizing how critical this particular cement job and testing were. Basic stuff. (Ironic, as I noted before, that much of my own experience of criticality procedures arose from BP projects in the 70’s and 80’s.)

Captured this BBC news story link because it says:

Formal delineation of dolphin species is notoriously tricky.

Whenever people complain about the poor parallels between genes and memes, this is something I often point out, that despite appearances, even species (of anything) are not nearly as well defined as our more obvious daily experience suggests. The distinctions can be woolly, and quite dependent on the context for making the distinction.

Memetic speciation is no less precise than genetic speciation.

[Post Note : In fact scientifically speaking there are no such things as "fish" even. It's only a conventional class of other classes - bony fish, cartilagenous fish and jawless fish. The classes of class "fish", have less in common than these constituent classes have with other excluded classes.]

Men cause evil by wanting to heroically triumph over it.

Ernest Becker, 1975

Simple statement of the problem(*). Taken from Roger Griffin’s 2007 “Modernism and Fascism“. Reading this slowly, because it is intellectually / technically wordy, but also because several other recent reads referred to it (including McGilchrist IIRC, though I’d bought it before I’d read the latter.). A study of what made modernism and the responses that lead to the (re-)invention of transcendent narratives – eg eternal beauty – when these are dismantled by enlightenment thinking. Depressingly true. So far (1/3 through) Nietzsche, particularly Zarathustra, is a major source for Griffin.

Never did write a complete review of McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary“. Excellent read (incidentally a title also taken from Nietzsche), but most of my thoughts distributed in various blog comment threads, not just this one.

Come back right-brain, all is forgiven, incidentally also a theme of this latest summary by Alan Rayner of his approach to The Hole of Education.

(*) And still further incidentally, when I read the quote, I thought immediately of why I cannot stand Ayn Rand, and flicked to the index and bibliography to discover she was not one of Griffin’s references. I only had that in mind because there are Rand fans talking about a film release of her Atlas Shrugged.

Thanks to Marsha on MD for reminding me that I started this blog exactly 10 years ago, two days after 9/11 – not quite coincidentally – see the footnote to every page.

There’s something solid forming in the air,
And the wall of death is lowered in Times Square.
No-one seems to care,
They carry on as if nothing were there.
The wind is blowing harder now,
Blowing dust into my eyes.
The dust settles on my skin,
Making a crust I cannot move in
And I’m hovering like a fly
Waiting for the windshield on the freeway.

(Fly On A Windshield, Peter Gabriel 1974)

And it ain’t funny …

As I walk through this wicked world
Searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, is all hope lost ?
Is there only hatred and misery ?

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love & understanding ?
Oh, what’s so funny ’bout peace, love & understanding ?

And as I walk on, through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So, where are the strong and who are the trusted ?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony ?

‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away,
Just makes me wanna cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love & understanding ?
Oh, what’s so funny ’bout peace, love & understanding ?

(Nick Lowe)

This sad news story reminded me I had recently read Oliver Sacks childhood memoir

Uncle Tungsten – Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Reminded me of myself, even the Nitrogen Iodide trick, though I never went so far as to get a fume-cupboard installed in the home.

This book underlies everything else Dr Sacks has written, and is worthy to stand with the great scientific memoirs, for its passion, its insight, its sense of history and its felicity. – Paul Theroux.

A must-read for anyone who’d admit to having learned the Periodic Table by heart ;-)

A couple of links via David Gurteen.

An interesting take from Robert Paterson on the usual science / evolution / religion debate generalising about Americans, which took me to his post on the (lack of) Wisdom of Crowds.

I am noting an emerging new dogma … :
“The best ideas emerge on their own from the Bottom UP”
I think that this is utter rubbish.

Me too.

And this Matt Taylor post in defence of brains.