This is just a quick (unedited) reaction post. “Modern Money Theory” deserves more, but I have too many topics on the go right now, and I can’t claim to be expert enough anyway.

Big fan of @PaulMasonNews economic proposals in PostCapitalism, but can’t stand his partisan politics. (See Labour Populism). Long time correspondent David Morey has a banking background as well as deep philosophical interests, and has been posting on Modern Money regularly over the years. Chris @contronline posted “The Magic Money Tree is Real” in response to the recent political chatterings over government spending priorities. The popular reaction to the whole meme is the degeneration of partisan politics into tyrannical populism. However, as Chris says, Magic Money Tree (Modern Money) Theory is not partisan, it’s neutral theory. Same as the explicitly Marxist ideas in PostCapitalism, the mechanisms of how things could work can still be managed by our social priorities.

Things I get:

Debt or a promise to pay being a Government promise, the same monetary value linked to tax repaid in return. (But it’s also linked to bonds used to raise debt finance within the economy.)

Traditional relative competitiveness: with two sides of a trade one is always better off than the other, BUT the other is still better off than it would be in the absence of the trade. Implies not just between individuals, but between states or fiscal constituencies, there need to be trade boundaries with exchange value in the currency itself. The point of MMT is that even without this inter-state trade, the value in the money can still be maintained by the government promise in the state economy, and an isolated or even a single global economy is still possible. However big the state “debt”, the two-way trust is that ongoing liabilities will always be paid.

My remaining doubts and differences (on both MMT and PostCapitalism) are entirely about how things might actually work in practice:

These are still “just theory” and IMHO, the biggest problem with economics in general is that it is “autistic” to believe the economy runs predictively on any objective theory, capitalist / traditional money or otherwise. Goods and services as objects. Value as numbers. Decisions as arithmetic. (This is the root of my main agenda.)

In fact real economics is almost entirely about trust and psychology and gaming of these, and experience and wisdom and fault-tolerance and irreversibility and much more. There will always be unintended incentives to game the system and hence unintended consequences.

If there is only one economy (or each economy is monetarily independent) everything depends on trust in that money supplier.

Trust is the one thing the world is really short of right now. Apparently every statement must be backed by objective evidence. The default position is that everyone who makes a mistake, or makes a statement we disagree with, must be part of some evil conspiracy. Our job is to label them as evil or ridicule them as idiots apparently. Opposition politics has been replaced with populist tyranny – the free-democratic opposition concepts of criticism and holding to account have been totally lost.

And the real question – even if we “trust” in the new model for a brave new world – is the Irish question. How do we get there from here? We can’t start anywhere but where we are now. So, revolution or evolution? And whilst we don’t need to predict all the what-ifs, we have to know how we would handle classes of problem, plan B’s, escape-routes and off-ramps. There are the billions of people’s lives at stake.


[Post Note : Book review link from David.]

There’s a lot of bollox being reported about Grenfell cladding, its spec changes and “100%” failures on every other tower block cladding sample tested.

Purely anecdotal quickie – my opinions as an engineer – I have no inside knowledge on these tower block refurbishments

Pretty sure the “zinc” will have been some galvanised or zinc-coated steel. Heavier than aluminium, and less flexible in terms of possible finish appearance coatings. And, the claddings in question are entirely about aesthetic finish. Freshening-up the look of the ageing blocks.

Secondly I’d bet the saving here is in the “cassette” approach to modular fixing. Simpler and lighter weight fixings for lighter panels. Anecdotally in various media news film of cladding removal and inspection work, there has been enormous variation in the cladding SYSTEMS. Those like Grenfell seemed to have been as crude as (vertical) timber battens nailed into the old concrete with the cladding sandwich pinned onto these battens with a chimney airspace behind. No insulation, no convection-breaks. Others had both insulation and pre-formed (horizontal and vertical) metal supports. I’m sure there are many other system variations.

The cladding itself is a sandwich, pretty sure the price-per-sheet variation of the material (skin and core) has little to do with the material cost, more to do with the manufacturing and supply chain.

Nothing in these (strongly encouraged, always) value-engineering bid proposals – NOTHING – will have relaxed the actual regulations and specification required to be met.

Much of the testing appears to have been on the sandwich core material (as reported on @BBCR4Today today). There are several levels of SYSTEM being ignored here. The sandwich itself is more than the core, and the skins are variable too. The installation varies in terms of insulation, fixings, convection-breaks, geometric arrangements and more …

Pretty sure the BRE testing of just the core has simply been a conservative agreement to compare apples with apples, removing all the other variables for simpler testing interpretation. PE core is flammable, even with retardant fillers – no surprise, same result everywhere. True, but close to useless, like most simplistications.

Let’s stop rushing to judgement and let’s stop publishing half-baked stories to confuse a wider public.

I am not alone:

Had this Aeon piece by Philip Ball on my desktop for a day or two, and had it brought to my attention today by Robin.

Firstly I’m already a believer that the wave-particle duality and collapse of the wave function driven by the observer are fudges, as is the idea that many superpositioned states represent any kind of many-worlds model of reality. Quantum weirdness is only weird because we struggle to make it fit our classical common-sense world. A classical common-sense world already conditioned by generations of shared and evolved models of physics.

I don’t buy the full decoherence explanation (yet), but there are several good aspects to this Philip Ball explanation of Zurek’s work.

Each act of observation consumes (captures, processes and changes) information, and the environment between any event and our observation supports that communication. Photons (or some more fundamental info-ons) carry the information in patterns, imprints of the event. This is good. I go further and suggest the information field is the more fundamental aspect of reality than any “objects” we rationalise out of it at either particle or everyday levels. (See also Rovelli and also IIT.) Waves and particles are two different abstractions from the same underlying information patterns. The information is more fundamental than any physical embodiment, even though there must always be one or more manifestation in the natural (physical) world. (What is particularly exciting about recognising an information field underlying “apparent” wave-particle duality in physics itself, is that the same “trick” dissolves any mind-matter duality limiting our explanations of consciousness and will.)

Aside re “fundamental” particles of physics. In the same way as the word “atom” has evolved in the physics it represents, since Democritus original grasping for the most fundamental indivisible objects, “photon” may simply be redefined to be the most fundamental physical information object. Either way, if it really is both indivisible and fundamental (by definition) it may as well be Boscovich’s points in space. Everything observable is patterns of relationships between these; there’s no intrinsic nature or property of these fundamental “particles”. One corollary is that indivisible and fundamental are two different things. There are higher level indivisible (or basic) objects that are integrations (systematic historical outcomes that are more than the sum of their parts, that can never be resolved into their more fundamental parts, even though the more fundamental parts must have existed and interacted to evolve the higher objects.)

The real myth limiting scientific progress is objective reductionism. The above suggests routes out of this fly-bottle.

[Important Boscovich > Mach > Einstein thread behind this that was on the right track before “Copenhagen”.]

Loved reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the so-called “author’s preferred text” version from 2004 with the extra epilogue chapter. It made a big impression but I never did get round to writing a full review, beyond this passing reference.

Never been a fan of fantasy or sci-fi fiction generally, with a few satirical and philosophical exceptions, and I said the book felt like Douglas Adams  (Hitchhiker and Long Dark Teatime) meets Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses and Two Years) – on several levels. Both exceptions I loved. Now watching the Amazon TV adaptation, with Gaiman as exec producer, I would add Terry Gilliam’s Brazil to that impression. The production is magnificent. The real difference from those other three, is the added bonus of Americana of which I’m also a great fan.

Confusing to say the least. But then, like the book there are so many surreal aside scenes in any temporal order that following “the plot” is tough. I really wonder what anyone not already appreciating the book would make of simply trying to sit down and watch it? Confused myself even further when having watched the 6th episode on the understanding it was the final episode, I was bereft. That’s not how I remembered it and put the impression down to experience and moved on.

But of course it’s 12 episodes in Series 1 (how can there be more than one?) and I’ve now watched episodes 7 and 8 having recapped on 6.

It really is brilliant on belief in stories and reality. Practically theological as far as the eponymous gods are concerned. The allegories and metaphors are pretty thin and transparent, (eg Technology and Media) which is just as well because as I say it would be pretty opaque if not. Gillian Anderson is magnificently cast in her several cameo roles as Media. Even my first full read involved a couple of false starts before I could get to grips with it. I saw one reviewer complaining that the Ricky Whittle’s lead character Shadow Moon was a pretty dumb name and the plot hard to discern. If that’s your entry level then I’m guessing the point of the story will be lost to you.

And I’m also guessing consistent with the original read, the theological and philosophical positions underlying the allegory may not be that sophisticated, despite being heavily researched from every pre-existing strand of mythology. How could it be otherwise given that scope. But it is full of thought provoking material presented with wit and imagination. The more I watch and re-read, the more it looks like a “resource” to be unpicked at leisure afterwards. What I really need is a synoptic schema of all it’s components – I’m probably going to have to create one.

Recommended for anyone prepared to put in the effort.


[Post Note: And it seems Episodes 1 to 8 were “Season 1” …. So is Season 2 the remaining 4 (of 12) or are more planned, and when? Jeez.]

Despite the fact Piers often remarked “Yes, I have often agreed with things you have said in the past.”, Tommy also said “Yes, I’ve apologised for some of the misguided things I’ve said in the past.” Let’s face it Maajid Nawaz founded Quilliam entirely on reversing things he said and believed when he was younger and hot-headed. There’s no love lost between these parties, but learning from mistakes, ours and those of others, is to be encouraged.

One argument for keeping this kind of debate off mainstream media is because the angry hot-headed “debate” stokes anger (and violent hatred) without noticeably progressing any constructive argument. The hypocritical and manipulative Piers sets the bar to moral high-ground pretty low, so Tommy easily wins that one. The second reason is that the shock-jock sound-bite set-piece style set-up by the host is never going to progress any subtle realities beyond shouty and personal gain-saying anyway. Credit to Tommy he did force in plenty of “Islamic” material and prior research he’d come armed with, despite the obviously set-up control-freakery of Piers, and as a rule I’m a supporter of conventional host / guest “platforming” arrangements. Tommy is the first to admit he’s not the one to make subtle arguments anyway. Shouting his simplistic points onto other people’s agenda is his style. In that he no doubt succeeded, but the triumphalism of “Tommy owned Piers” is grotesque.

Having considered all these arguments at various levels of detail many times before I have little new to say:

In fact “Islam, we have a problem” is how I’ve said it before.

Islam has any number of problems, like any ancient factional religion. And compared to the other two Abrahamic religions, is well behind the curve on reforming its illiberal patriarchal misogynistic traditions within and between factions. And even the most benign of religions has obvious theological problems between supernatural faith and wider accepted rationality.

Adding Islamism and a Jihadi-mindset into that mix, is a whole other level of problems. In the real world difference between religious teaching and otherwise non-secular democratic freedoms are an obvious recipe for conflict, if religious adherents expect explicit exceptions and impositions beyond basic tolerance. Murderous terrorist extremism in the name of any cause or ideology, is evil full stop. Specifically Islamist extremism – in the name of Islam – is a problem for Islam by association, however complex and flawed the immediate and historical causal chains of justification.

So how many problems is that; several dozen? And how are they related; how long have you got?

Islam isn’t “the” problem. Islam has its own distinct problems. Islamism is “a” (big) problem, but there is no “the” problem, except maybe ill-considered hateful simplistic “us vs them” – anti-religious, islamophobic – gain-saying. That is a problem for us all. Initiatives like Prevent, Quilliam and Inspire work to address any and all of these problems collaboratively rather than undermine each other’s efforts and stir up anger and Islamophobic hatred in the process.


[Post Note 2 days later, as if to prove my point in a single Tweet.
Inspire supporting Quilliam supporting Prevent.
Constructive efforts.


Wrote a fairly comprehensive piece on #IdentityPolitics a year or two ago. Have a “Good Fences” thread on the go also, about classifying individuals AND groups and recognising “woolly” boundaries and less than objective definitions (amongst other things). Naming is always political, for reasons of policy objectives. ALWAYS. The individuals being named, fluidly straddle the definitions of the groups or classes being named. When it comes to naming and identity, (subjective) self-identity is the closest we can get to neutral objectivity. All others are “somebody else’s”, unwitting or deliberate, policy agenda.

[The “Good Fences” piece remains in draft for a possible wider publication, but many fragmented references.]

Anyway. 3 Twitter threads today on the topic

Clive on “Disabled cyclists”, the disabled and cyclists

The “political utility” of calling #FinsburyParkMosque perpetrator a “terrorist”. This whole thread:

The recurring “Islam is not a race” nonsense – supporting a couple of threads from Alom Shaha

Obviously the last two are related. The naming of the perp as a terrorist and the claims he’s not a racist. Generic point would have been clearer if I’d used “cultural tribes” rather than “religious tribes” in that tweet, but same-same … is the point.

All grist to the upcoming “Good Fences” piece.


[Post Notes – and there’s more …

50 years ago we sang “All you need is love” as the BBC linked up the world with the Beatles by satellite for the first time ever in the summer of ’67. The summer of love.

These days a catchy little meme like that is generated every few seconds and disseminated at the speed of light around the media bubble we might easily call our global village. Increasingly the medium is the message, but not all memes are created equal. Yesterday’s meme was the idea “Grenfell Tower IS political” or if you prefer “Grenfell Tower IS NOT a tragedy, it’s a monstrous crime”. And boy, are the Corbynista’s exploiting these shamelessly.

Sure Grenfell Tower is political, but it’s not Political, it is not necessarily or usefully partisan political. There are many questions of policy and implementation, about green & fire-safety standards in new and refurbished high-rise buildings, about social housing, about the cladding spec, building control practices as well as international experience and changes in these. Relevant all, almost certainly, but the cause celebre? Already a rush to judgement. Funding of social housing and cost-cutting in public services? Tory austerity or Labour budgetary control? Where to point fingers? Which heads need to be rolling? Boris’ “get stuffed” was in response to being called a liar. He did actually respond to the funding criticisms of fire-station closures. There was no shortage or slowness of funded firefighters at the blaze.

Anger is a fair human response following the horror and grief at the human tragedy. But it is not fair policy unless you’re promoting populism.

Corbyn and McDonnell are. Political opportunists of the most contemptible kind. Mass protest against a democratic election result (!) being stoked with the Grenfell Tower anger. Commandeer property from the rich (!) to house the poor. Corbyn man of the people (!) vs May’s awkwardness failing to deal directly with an angry public. Listen to ourselves folks.

I’m no fan of May or Boris. But as a Labour voter I was one to point out that “for the many not the few” was almost an ideal definition for a tyranny of the majority in the reality of an inhomogeneous plural society . Interestingly, listening to Peter Jones, Newcastle University professor of political philosophy last night, he paralleled the idea of a tyrant being a misliked king with the idea of populism as “misliked democracy”.

Populism is thin on ideology, more style than content. Sure it looks like democracy – a “popular” numerical majority may be involved (though let’s not forget in #GE2017 case Labour polled the minority), but it’s actually an attempt at tyranny. A brazen revolutionary coup.
It is classic populism to contrast “our people” with a liberal elite political class. Often explicitly anti-intellectual, anti-expert, anti-liberal, non-PC and anti-judiciary say in the Trump case. Often nativist or nationalist anti-other in UKIP and assorted anti-EU / anti-immigration populist parties. But always demonising other in contrast to us. They are the enemies of us, the people.
The rise of populist thinking can be a valuable corrective. It’s a symptom of failures in an established democratic system but it’s not an alternative to democracy, Churchill’s least-worst form of government. Outrage and anger must be addressed; questions and criticisms not dismissed, but they cannot be allowed to form the basis of “alt” policy or politics. Left or right. Trump / Farage or Chavez / Corbyn.
Problem is in our modern media we have a perfect storm where such wisdom gets trampled under foot in the rush to judgement on instantly available “facts”. Youth is fetishised over experience. Older voters are demonised for complacency about the future. WTF? I am part of the problem and someone has a final solution?
Whether we’re talking about electronically connected “traditional” print and broadcast media or entirely social media, there is a bubble effect. Does the Daily Mail reflect its readership or does it create them? Does a media consumer reject cognitive dissonance and self-select the content it wants? Such chicken-and-egg tensions should always suggest an evolutionary cycle at work. A memetic cycle working at the speed of light, where populist ideas, skewed to be thin on ideology and strong on catchy style, naturally win the democratic media arms race.
Demonisation beats love? The innocent victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy / crime deserve better. Careful what you wish for. I know which meme I prefer.
[Post Notes:

OK, so the rhetoric has changed today to empty properties, but still disgraceful grandstanding exploitation by Corbyn. Appeals for donated resources already swamped – even house keys – this is an issue for the local authority and mayor. Corbyn has a national government opposition to form and act. Labour have still not accepted #GE2017 democratic result. It stinks. It’s not democracy.

And a counter-view, albeit agreeing populism is dangerous. Yes I do know what it means; see above.

And Brexit this time, but still fighting the election. Knocking opponents capability and right to govern instead of policy:


I’ve had actual language lessons in maybe four non-English foreign languages at various times, studied a couple more as a precursor to needing to learn them and looked-up some basic vocabulary in a couple more for travel reasons. More generally, I’ve taken longer term interest in etymology, particularly from Proto-Indo-European roots and sometimes Sanskrit sources as well as the ubiquitous Greek and Latin classics. Any written language I can decipher phonetically, I can usually make a stab at the gist of an English translation.

On the only two occasions I’ve both learned a language and had the opportunity for immersion amongst native speakers, I’ve been in project working environments where the technical language of the main topic has been English and/or the native speakers have preferred to work on their English. To my shame I can’t speak or listen at conversational speed in any language other than English beyond a few basic context-specific sentences with a few key words. My own rationalisation of that failure is that on top of the technical interest in language, my priority has always been impatiently wanting to get on with whatever our topic is, at the rate the English thoughts run in my head, rather than use of the language itself. Anyway, at my age, I’ve no doubt paid that price.

My original loose interest in etymology has of course been focussed by my researches into epistemology and the philosophy of mind and in the reading in English translation of “great books” of literature with a philosophical bent. I was able to appreciate Andy Martin’s “MML The Film” Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge Uni back in 2011 which I came across after having already being a fan of the engaging and linguistically playful writing in his books and his blog.

I noticed Martin’s latest “long-read” in The Independent on “Speaking in Tongues” was on the the value of speaking a foreign language, in extending one’s monoglot appreciation of the world, more than the obvious and immediate multi-lingual communication value. I’d noticed the connection and the thought had crossed my mind to link to it when I mentioned the limits of exclusively anglophone thinking in this recent Pirsig Meets Foucault piece. However, by then the scope of that piece was set and there wasn’t room for the wider acknowledgement of lessons I’d learned from Martin’s appreciation of the French existentialists that really needed to be added to the French post-modernists I’d already name-dropped. Everything’s connected you know, world without end.

Well now I have read Martin’s latest.

In mentioning the value of some original linguistic appreciation in understanding the conceptual thought processes in Greek and French philosophy, I’d used the Savoir / Connaître distinction to make the crack about the difference between being acquainted with someone and “knowing” the same person biblically. Andy’s piece has an orgasmic thread running through it, from the Sonata Erotica to Last Tango in Paris. Couldn’t help but be reminded of my previous reference to Lacan’s use of “Jouissance” – the pleasure principle in the games we play with ourselves and each other.


Specifically Martin says “language was always an evolutionary mash-up of random phonemes” which resonated with my view that all language started out onomatopoeic and variously metaphorical body-language-by-association (after Lakoff), before it was ever formally captured as vocabulary with definitions and grammar with rules

His further quote “English doesn’t contain all the words you need” is so like the salutary Korean reaction to Pirsig’s suggestion that our 26 letter English alphabet was so marvellous and flexible we could express anything we needed. Martin goes on to reference the early and late aspects of Wittgenstein’s work before and after the Tractatus whereby the impression that language can somehow logically describe the whole enchilada is replaced by the idea that it’s all word games we play with each other. I go further and suggest that even Tractatus was a mind-game at the expense of Russell and the logical positivists. Cruel to be kind, pleasure in pain.

Your thinking necessarily stops when you’re lost for words since “words represent thoughts you otherwise can’t have”. In any event there is far more in heaven and earth Horatio than your language can capture.

Whilst obviously intellectually knowing, Martin’s language and turn of phrase is as ever witty even hilarious. A recommended read.

I have a friend in New York who tends to hark back to the good old days of truth-speaking. Yes, he lives on the eleventh floor of a tall building in Manhattan, but he occasionally looks out of the window at Central Park and he dreams of being a hunter-gatherer.

Ostensibly Martin’s piece is driven from the nostalgic idea that somehow our “post-fact” world is less concerned with truth and that the closing of our borders (eg with the EU) is closing channels of communication, but the fact is that whilst language enables both thinking and communication,  a single language really does restrict our own thoughts.


[Post Note: Reminds me I’ve still not read Martin’s piece on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which he mentions in this piece in terms of the power of her multi-lingual understanding. Certainly a crossing of contents I’d not envisaged.]