Thursday, 30 October 2014

Disrupting your loyalty card

Tesco thought they controlled us. The other utilities, banks, public services and superstores, have designed customer service systems primarily with control in mind. They are designed to make us easier to process. 
This post by David Boyle will ring bells if you've ever been showered with a blizzard of loyalty-card-generated, time-limited money-off coupons from a retail giant intent on luring you into a co-dependent relationship, in the hope that you'll then stay together for the sake of 20p off your next sliced loaf.

People rightly resent losing control and and being manipulated, whether by an allegedly benevolent dictatorship of think-tank wonks nudging you "for your own good", or the empty suits at McKinsey advising forward-thinking retailers how to leverage your data in order to monetise you and your social network:
Retailers should use advanced analytics to make offers and decisions that are targeted and localized, as well as delivered in real time. These offers and decisions should be informed by product preferences and influences (for example, discounts to consumers who have “liked” a product on Facebook and have a desirable network of Facebook friends). They should also be customized by location (for instance, coupons that are targeted at regular coffee drinkers of a competing coffee shop a block away from where the consumer happens to be) and shopping occasions (say, an ad for a new bathing suit two weeks before a planned vacation).
It's a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. And yet the retail oligopolies' clever, data-driven business plans are being "disrupted" by old-fashioned good value and plain dealing. I'll raise a bottle of one of the discount retailers' surprisingly acceptable beers to that.

Friday, 24 October 2014

I don't need to hear that again

You'd think you could win an argument by showing that you're right and that the other person is wrong. But you'd be wrong:
How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity.
It seems that the public relations industry is to blame for diverting the energy of people who actually take the time to make reasoned arguments into an endless game of Whac-A-Mole with zombie ideas that keep popping back up, long after they should have been decently buried:
The best public relations operations involve repetition and media attention that you build on progressively. The more your name is seen, the more it is remembered.
Ignore terrible ideas and you surrender the floor to your opponents. If you try to demolish them, you feed your opponents the oxygen of publicity. Catch-22. 

I don't have a solution, although the next time you hear somebody using dumb repetition to enhance awareness of their particular brand of bullshit, maybe it would be better to treat them as you'd treat a persistent bore in everyday life:

"(Name). are you aware of how often you repeat yourself?"

"You've told me that before."

"Do you feel I'm hearing you well enough?"

"What do you need from me now?"

"When you need to repeat yourself, I feel _________ (and I start tuning you out)."

"That's the third time you've told me that."

"(Name), I don't need to hear that again."

"From now on, when you repeat yourself, I'm going to call you on it (or put my fingers in my ears.)"

"I'm going to hold up a finger for each time you repeat yourself."


"If you're not sure I'm hearing you, ask me for a hearing check, OK?"

From Response Options to a Repetitive Person - Peter K Gerlach

Because trying to win an argument by endlessly repeating the same point is a disorder, no matter how many public relations professionals try to normalise this sort of thing.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

He made their tiny wings

Apparently, Islamic State now has an air force. Which is great news for people who like Shetland ponies and chihuahuas, since it seems to be adorably tiny. It's also good news for almost everybody else since, if their comic inability to use tanks is anything to go by, it will provide even more opportunities for sociopathic half-wits to to get themselves killed.
Being a fighter pilot -- for that matter, simply taking off in a single-engine jet fighter of the Century series, such as an F-102, or any of the military's other marvelous bricks with fins on them -- presented a man, on a perfectly sunny day, with more ways to get himself killed than his wife and children could imagine in their wildest fears.
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff.

And Wolfe was talking about properly-trained pilots and an elite cadre of test pilots, flying properly-maintained aircraft for a superpower, not semi-trained nutjobs flying poorly-maintained kit recently captured from the motley inventory of a semi-failed state.

By the look of the Reuters vid, the only serviceable-looking planes amid the sea of wrecked MiGs and ancient Delfins are some Czech L-39 Albatroses, as used in the opening sequence of the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

I'm guessing that this well-paced, but implausible action sequence is how the wannabe Jihadi flyboys see themselves:

The plot of Tomorrow Never Dies, I seem to remember, involves an evil media baron who tries to suck the UK into a war, by manufacturing a deadly pseudo event with a large side-order of propaganda. Just saying.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Vanity project

Back in August, I wondered idly whether  the well-known anti-hair-greying product, Grecian 2000, (or Grecian Formula, as it's known in the States), could possibly work as advertised. So idly that I didn't get round to following it up until October.

So it sounds as if it doesn't magically select only the grey hairs, but reacts with all the hairs, producing an overall colour change that happens slowly enough to be imperceptible. But there are problems.

First, according to some contributors to the Straight Dope message board's Grecian Formula thread, it stinks. 'It smelled like I fell into a sulphur pit' ... 'smells like rotten eggs'. Other contributors contradict this, or think that the smell might only apply the recipe Grecian use in the US, but comments from the UK indicate that our version is also pretty whiffy ('The first thing I noticed when I squeezed it on my hands was its nasty smell, something between carbolic and a cheap hair lotion').

Second, and more worryingly, the US version is made with lead acetate, (the toxin formerly known as salt of Saturn). If you don't actually swallow the stuff, it probably won't end up killing you (like Pope Clement II and, possibly, Beethoven), but rubbing it into your scalp on a regular basis still doesn't sound like a smart move.
Here in the EU and in Canada, the lead acetate has been banned and has now been replaced with bismuth citrate. I'm assuming that the unleaded version is safer, although the EU's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety thinks there's still more work to be done on assessing how safe, or otherwise, bismuth citrate is.

Even if we find the UK version harmless until proven otherwise, I don't want to lose the grey, only to gain an eggy smell. Also, according to LordChaverly, it leaves your hair greasy, so I think I'll give it a miss.

People of a certain generation would probably tell me that a bit of grey looks "distinguished", whatever that means, but they'd be talking rubbish. Suppose there were men who really wanted to look "distinguished", say because the older-male-as-silverback-gorilla look conveyed status and authority. If that demand existed in real life, then somebody would be making money from marketing an anti-Grecian formula, designed to give ambitious younger middle mangers that senior executive-style sprinkling of grey hairs. Nobody is.

Of course, there are high-status men who "carry off" the silver fox look, but I think that status precedes the grey hairs, rather than being conferred by them. We can see this most clearly through the lens of gender politics. Men and women can suffer from ageism but men, especially high-status ones, suffer less. The greying male CEO of the Empty Suit Corporation attracts no comment, but the female academic who dares not to dye must take up arms against a sea of on line abuse. Nobody's aspiring to be grey, but men, especially high-status ones, aren't so harshly judged by superficial factors like fading hair colour.

Back in the decade that taste forgot, there was an aftershave called "Denim", advertised with the slogan 'For men who don't have to try too hard', which neatly summed up the essence of a particular view of masculinity.

We've moved on a bit since the 1970s, but not that much. Okay, if you're a slightly younger male, I dare say there's a bit more moisturising, exfoliation, hair gel and gym-fashioned muscle definition going on than there was in my day, but that's nothing compared with the beauty regime women are still routinely expected to submit to, if they're not to be accused of letting themselves go; the makeup, the uncomfortable, impractical, restricting clothes, the crippling high heels, the endless array of dubious anti-ageing products, the false eyelashes, the under-wired bra, the padded bra... When it comes to appearance, compared with the average woman, most men don't have to try too hard.

And the pathologically well-adjusted man hardly has to try at all. Grayson Perry calls him 'Default Man', looking down on the human objects in his world with his Default Male gaze:
... identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland...
... The Default Male gaze does not just dominate cinema, it looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. Every other identity group is “othered” by it. It is the gaze of the expensively nondescript corporate leader watching consumers adorn themselves with his company’s products the better to get his attention.

Removing as much grey as you want seems to be a doddle compared with removing the éminence grise.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The monetisation of everything, continued

Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the Academies Enterprise Trust, one of the largest chains, was planning to outsource all non-teaching posts in its 77 schools to a profit-making organisation. In the education investment community, this is known as ‘chore, not core’.
Matthew Bennett, at the LRB blog

'Chore, not core.' So there you have it - if you're doing a non-teaching job in a school, you're a waste of oxygen, at least until some profiteer can figure out a way of leeching a revenue stream from your worthless existence. That's what we're up against.

If you tolerate this your children will be next.

More whataboutery

MPs vote to recognise new Middle Eastern state

If Palestine, why not Kurdistan?
MPs including the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, have voted to recognise Kurdistan as a state in a symbolic move that will unnerve Turkey by suggesting that it is losing a wider battle for public opinion in Britain.

In possibly the single most important contribution in an emotional debate, Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said Turkey's recent air raids on Kurdish villages had angered him like nothing else in politics.

The former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the vote was not simply a gesture, because if it were, the Turkish government would not be as worried by the vote.

The Turkish government, he said, wants the recognition of a Kurdish state only when Hell freezes over. But Straw said “such an approach would give the Turks a veto over whether a Kurdish state should exist”. A vote for recognition would add to the pressure on the Turkish government, he said. “The only thing that the Turkish government, in my view, in its present demeanour under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan understands is pressure.”

Conservative James Clappison spoke out against the motion, arguing it would do more harm than good. He said: “I believe that international recognition of a Kurdish state in the terms of the motion would make a two-state solution less likely rather than more likely.

He said The PKK had “set its face against any peace deal with Turkey” and undertaken a “campaign of terror”.
Just wondering.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday service

I'm just back from church. No, I haven't asked Jesus into my heart or anything like that - I just felt that it would be polite to be there for the last service taken by the retiring rector of the Benifice of Newport Pagnell, seeing as he married me a couple of years ago (to my wife, I mean - the Church of England may be getting more relaxed and open-minded, but they're not quite that open-minded).

Anyway, I was quite impressed by the organ music that opened the service. I stopped enjoying Vivaldi's Four Seasons years ago - way too overused as irritating elevator/call-centre hold music, back in the day - but it makes an upbeat, rousing anthem when transcribed for the organ and I actually found myself liking "Spring" again for the first time in years. See what you think:

Friday, 10 October 2014

The flying canvases of Paul Klee

I've always liked Paul Klee's semi-abstract geometrical paintings, the ones that you could see as 2D impressions of architectural townscapes or just harmonious arrangements of pleasing blocks of colour. There's a sense of tranquility, rhythm and order that's both satisfying and very easy on the eye.
Red/Green Architecture (yellow/violet gradation), Paul Klee, 1922

I never knew much about Klee's biography, but in this Great War centenary year I've discovered something that suggests he got some of his inspiration from a less-than-tranquil source:
After finishing the military training course, which began on 11 March 1916, he was committed as a soldier behind the front. Klee moved on 20 August to the aircraft maintenance company in Oberschleissheim, executing skilled manual work, such as restoring aircraft camouflage, and accompanying aircraft transports. On 17 January 1917, he was transferred to the Royal Bavarian flying school in Gersthofen ... to work as a clerk for the treasurer till the end of the war. This allowed him to stay in a small room outside of the barrack block and continue painting.
To give you some idea of the connection I'm seeing, take a look at the patterns on the fabric covering this restored World War I German aircraft:

Fokker D VIII, covered in camouflage fabric featuring repeating irregular polygons, 1918.
Quite Klee-esque, don't you think? It's not a complete clincher, as Klee was camouflaging aircraft in 1916 and this sort of pattern above only became widespread in 1917-18, but if we take a nerdy look at the development of aircraft camouflage in the Great War, I think you'll agree that the connection still looks compelling.

In 1914, the air arms of the various belligerents were made up of mainly fabric-covered aircraft. The fabric, along with metal engine covers and visible wooden parts, was left unpainted. The fabric was stiffened with clear dope and the wooden bits were varnished. The first change came when the various other powers started to follow the French practice of applying national markings, in order to discourage friendly fire. Only when their aviators and aircraft were (relatively) safe from being shot by their own side, did  the various authorities turn their attention to using camouflage to protect them from the enemy.

The British took a minimalist, utilitarian approach, leaving the undersurfaces of their aircraft in unpainted fabric and painting the upper surfaces a uniform dull green or brown, which was probably reasonably effective, although the British colours were about as aesthetically appealing as a palette of ruminant dung samples from animals fed on varying amounts of fresh green grass.

The French moved from unpainted fabric, first to silver dope (this wasn't a really bad attempt at camouflage - the silver was there to counteract the degrading effect of the UV in sunlight on the fabric, not as a misguided attempt at concealment), then to various painted wavy, splotchy disruptive lines in the sort of greens and browns that we associate with military camouflage.

The Germans were more inventive and tried a number of paint schemes, from relatively conservative finishes (light greys and patches of greens and browns), to more interesting effects, like a streaky olive green finish over a turquoise base, or this rather pleasing purple and green combo, as seen on the wings of a blazing Albatros, in this painting by Airfix box art legend, Roy Cross:
'Take that, Red Baron!' (from "Biggles is Colour Blind")
Anyway, a lot of these sort of schemes were in use in 1916, when Klee was based in Oberschleissheim. But another, more complex, scheme was being developed, a pointillist-inspired pattern of coloured polygons. It would probably have been in the development stage at the time when Klee was serving as a skilled tradesman-cum-camoufleur, and would have been painstakingly hand-painted, but there is photographic evidence of this being done on an aircraft of the right vintage - an E IV monoplane produced by the Pfalz company, shown here, complete with hand-painted polygons.

As Wikipedia helpfully relates, those time-consuming early experiments with hand-painted  polygons eventually led to some bright spark realising that you could save time and weight by printing the complex pattern onto the fabric beforehand, like wallpaper or curtains, rather than painting it on later (if I'm reading this thread at The Aerodrome right, that bright spark was one 'artist working at Idflieg named Ltn. Reimschneider', although it may be that Reimschneider was just the originator of two particular types of flugzeug tarnstoff, known in English as five colour day and night lozenge patterns, not the concept of printing all such patterns). By 1918, Halberstädter Flugzeug Werke's textile mills were covering most of the Kaiser's military aircraft with pointillism-inspired camouflage fabric, printed with repeating abstract patterns, made up of irregular polygons or regular hexagons.

So I'd say that there's at least as much credibility in the notion that camouflage influenced Klee's art as there is in Picasso's anecdotal declaration that cubists invented camouflage:
I very well remember at the beginning of the war being with Picasso on the boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso amazed looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is cubism.
Gertrude Stein, Picasso

While we're (tangentially) on the subject, polygons eventually caught on with the Austro-Hungarians as well, as can be seen on this restored aircraft, formerly the property of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops, currently in the Prague Technical Museum:
Knoller C II (photo by Alfvan Beem, Wikimedia Creative Commons)
According to my sources, though, the Austo-Hungarians never got round to producing printed polygons and were hand-painting these complex patterns on their aircraft right up to the bitter end of the war. If so, this is one case where that lazy cliché about German efficiency actually seems to be true. If the reserved occupations were tied up in labour-intensive processes like painting complicated honeycomb patterns onto aircraft and the conscripts were anything like the ones portrayed in The Good Soldier Švejk, it's no wonder the Ausro-Hungarians lost not only the war, but their whole country.
Hi Ho Hi Ho , It's Off To Work We Go!!  (partly-polygon-painted Berg D I fighters in a factory somewhere - photo lifted from a Czech language website)
Mind you, the process may not have been efficient, but the flamboyant end result looked great.
C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre...
But for something even less warlike, get a load of the one aircraft camouflage fabric that I know the Austro-Hungarians did get round to printing. And this time it's not polygons:
Swirly whirlys
And in colour:
Man, that's trippy!
Printed by Johann Backhausen und Söhne, manufacturer of tablecloths, rugs and suchlike, as applied to aircraft like the Austro-Hungarian manufactured version of the Abatros D III, seen here in model form. From the art of war to the soft furnishings of war...

A plague on at least one of your houses

So, we've had a couple of by-election results. In one place, Ukip displaced the Conservatives, to gain its first MP. In the other, Labour held on to its seat by a narrow margin, with a Ukip surge pushing the Conservatives into third place. The supposedly neutral BBC have been presenting the narrow Labour win as a "Labour leadership crisis" story, echoing Ukip's claim that they've shaken up the whole of British politics and present just as much of a threat to Labour as they do to the Conservatives.

I'm not so sure. Labour only won by a narrow margin in Heywood and Middleton, but they won. In the 2014 by-election, Labour won 40.9% of the votes cast. The last time the constituency went to the polls, in the 2010 general election, Labour got 40.1% of the vote. The number of votes cast for Labour was down this time (6,866 fewer than in the general election), but the overall turnout for the general election was much higher (17,653 more people cast a vote in the general election than in this by-election).

Now look what happened to the Conservatives. They won 12.3% of the votes cast this time round, down from 27.2% at the general election.*

Wikipedia 1, BBC,0

Ukip, the ravening beast from the conservative id, is taking bites out of both major parties, but it looks pretty clear to me that it's taking far bigger lumps out of the Conservatives, which doesn't surprise me at all, given that it's a party largely led and funded by ex-Conservatives, built around a set of policies which mirror the narrow obsessions of a vocal sub-section the Conservative party.

I also noticed that Douglas Carswell, the Ukip victor in the other by-election did even more to Toryfy the Ukip brand with a victory  speech which was supposed to sound disarmingly emollient and inclusive, but instantly brought to mind The Blessed Margaret's 'Where there is discord, may we bring harmony' speech.

I've always thought (and hoped)** that Ukip would damage the Conservatives more than Labour and, so far, I'm  feeling vindicated. Mind you, I might have to revise my opinion of Jacob Rees-Mogg, after mocking him for his panicky call for the Conservatives to 'get into bed' with Ukip.

The imagery might be icky (the mental picture of Cameron - or Johnson, or May - and Farage in bed together, even in a platonic Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise sense, calls for industrial quantities of mind bleach), but his article shows that he's at least aware of the threat that the newly-independent provisional wing of the Conservative Eurosceptics poses to his own party. So maybe he's not quite as big a twit as he looks.

Well, I think I've done my bit to rectify the almost total lack of unsolicited opinion and political insta-punditry on teh Internets, so my work here is done. All part of the service, you're very welcome and so on...

*The figures for the Lib Dems show an even more dismal slump, although it seems unlikely that many disappointed former Lib Dems would find Ukip as homely as ex-Conservatives.

** Not that I think there's anything else remotely good about the rise of this pointless party of resentment-fuelled golf-club bores.


Update - a belated scan of my blogroll shows that some others haven't been taking the "Ukip coming second = Labour leadership crisis" spin at face value, either.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Actually, doing nothing IS an option

Here come the latest bunch of Designated Bad Guys. 'Something Must Be Done', say all Serious People.

'Something', in the case of the Middle East, involves bombing the Designated Bad Guys on behalf of a shaky alliance of former Designated Bad Guys and the West's reluctant,* corrupt and brutal regional allies, some of whom helped to create today's Designated Bad Guys in the first place.

So when John Quiggin asks the rhetorical question 'Will today’s allies become, yet again, tomorrow’s enemies?', past experience replies 'quite probably':
A rich and militarily powerful country has taken it upon itself to govern the affairs of millions of people on the other side of the planet, of whom it knows nothing. Its emissaries routinely elevate particular individuals, ethnic groups, religious sects and political parties as favourites, then just as quickly dump them in favour of new friends. Its tools vary randomly from overwhelming force to plaintive exhortation, with no clear or consistent rationale.
Serious People never stop asserting that 'doing nothing is not an option', but maybe it is, given the apparently disastrous results of the somethings that have been tried so far:
The ideal follow-up would be an announcement that, from now on, the people of the Middle East would be left to sort out their problems for themselves.
Maybe we could do with more inaction closer to home, too. The Liberal Democrat Conference was full of people who claim that, by taking the "tough" decision to go into government with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have restrained the worst excesses of their 'borderline immoral' coalition partners and insist that there really are loads of things they definitely won't let the Tories get away with in future, honest.

The obvious counterfactual is 'What if senior Lib Dems had decided not to act all grown up and go into coalition with the Conservatives?' If they'd not done that grown up "something", a minority Conservative administration would have been weaker and the Lib Dems could have had enough real power to stop the 'bordeline immoral' stuff happening in the first place, instead of just bleating about how dreadful their chosen partners are.

The "doing something" option of being the seven stone weakling who chose to marry an 800 pound gorilla, naively expecting not to get pushed around, looks like a disastrous miscalculation for the party and, more importantly, for the country (top-down reorganisation of the NHS, the bedroom tax, trebling of tuition fees, secret courts, merciless scapegoating of the powerless, yada, yada, all underpinned by increasingly bizarre boasts of economic prudence from a coalition united by its shared deficit-cutting fixation, which has seen the underlying national debt more than double on its watch,** while anaemic tax revenues have only just about struggled back to around their pre-crisis levels).

I don't say this because I think that certain things, from intervention in the Middle East to coalition government, should necessarily be ruled out. I'm just noting that a lot of Serious People always seem to be passionately in favour of "doing something", yet intensely relaxed about the well-documented dangers of doing poorly-thought-through "somethings" which often turn out to be worse than doing nothing.


*One pro-intervention article calls the current Designated Bad Guys [Godwin alert] the 'Waffen iSiS.' Granted, they're a vile bunch of people, but if you wanted to accurately run with the default Nazi analogy, I think the parallel would be with one of World War 2's murkier, more controversial and ambiguous episodes, rather than some clear-cut stand-up fight between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. I'm thinking of our reluctant ally, Turkey, with its tanks parked just shy of the fighting, in the role of Stalin, apparently reluctant to aid the Warsaw Uprising and perhaps finding it more convenient to let the Nazis do the dirty work of killing off the leaders of a nation/ethnic group which might be minded to oppose him.

**Not necessarily an insurmountable problem, depending on what you propose to do about it, but for a Conservative-led coalition that's routinely conflating 'deficit' with 'debt' so that they can claim to be 'paying down Britain's debts', it means they've utterly failed in their own terms.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Angels one five

In a previous episode we discovered that Ukip isn't just a party for disappointed grumpy old men,* but boasts 'Angelic Reiki Master Teacher, Shaman and Soul Midwife', Colleen Tucker, among its devotees. Now I see that Political Scrapbook has been having fun with Ukip's housing spokesperson, Andrew Charalambous, AKA "Dr Earth", who, according to his own breathless, caps locked account:






...HE BELONGS TO THE MYSTICAL ORDER OF THE ROSICRUCIANS WHICH DATES BACK TO THE FORTEENTH CENTURY, AND HERMEPIC ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN [it is, as far as I know, merely an unfortunate coincidence that a scary-looking Greek guy with a skinhead haircut just happens to belong to an occult organisation bearing an almost identical name to the Greek neo-Nazi party].
via the Skeptical Voter wiki

Two things:

1. Although it's by no means the most eye-catching thing about Mr (Dr?) Charalambous, it hasn't escaped my attention that he's a former parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives - there's a photo of him at a gathering of the 'conservative family' (© Boris Johnson), next to The Blessed Margaret herself on the Hope Not Hate blog, which tends to validate my impression that Ukip's leadership and major donors are almost exclusively breakaway Conservative Eurosceptics (see "Toryfy").

2.  I don't think that Dr Earth's wacky views are necessarily the main problem here. Although it's always fun and tempting to mock the wackier beliefs of public figures, people can display immense competence at the same time as espousing beliefs that most people would consider "out there." For example:
Lord Hugh Dowding (1882-1970) is a famous Air Chief Marshal of the Royal Air Force Fighter Command (RAF) during the crucial period of the Battle of Britain in World War Two. He made important public statements on UFOs in 1954, a year when a flying saucer wave hit Europe hard. Author Colin Bennett has called him “a very great Briton of truly mythological status.” Hugh Caswall Tremenheere, 1st Baron Dowding, was also a well known spiritualist, ghost hunter, vegetarian, and humanitarian, who published several books on psychic phenomena like Many Mansions (1943), Twelve legions of angels (1946), The Dark Star (1951), and God’s magic: An aspect of spiritualism (1960). Despite his eccentric beliefs, Lord Dowding had an impeccable military career and was a key of figure in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Dowding happens to be a bit of a personal hero of mine. By all accounts a dry, cantankerous man with no obvious charisma, he was in charge of organising the world's first integrated air defence system, the one that won the Battle of Britain. He was systematic and conscientious, with the patience and aptitude needed to absorb the necessary technical details of the complex system he was charged with overseeing, a genius for administration and an enormous capacity for single-minded hard work. Disdainful of office politics, he just got on with getting the job done, choreographed the blasting of Goering's Luftwaffe from Britain's daytime skies and, as soon as his years of hard work had been validated by victory, was rewarded by being unceremoniously sacked in favour of a self-promoting, clubbable back-slapper named Trafford Leigh-Mallory.

The ingratitude of his superiors notwithstanding, Dowding did a damn fine job, apparently unhindered by his unconventional beliefs. So I don't take the attitude that having weird beliefs necessarily stops people being competent, or even outstanding in their fields.

So what about Dr Earth? Well, I'll allow the man his foibles, but he's still no Hugh Dowding. Obviously some people are better than others at being rentier landlords, but the skill set involved is rather less impressive than the one needed to pioneer a nation-saving air defence network and, arguably, has more to do with avarice and lack of scruple than anything particularly admirable. Also, the boasting and incessant self-promotion make me think 'dodgy geezer' as opposed to 'eccentric maverick with touches of genius.'

*With a target demographic like that, I should be itching to put my cross in Ukip's box but, somehow, I'm still failing to be remotely impressed by their sales pitch...