Author Archive: Keith Marshall

A controversialist and catalyst, quietly enabling others to develop by providing different ideas and views of the world. Born in London in the early 1950s, I trained as a research chemist and retired in 2010 from being a senior IT project manager. So far retirement is about community give-back and trying to find some equilibrium. Founder and Honorary Secretary of the Anthony Powell Society.

Career Criminals Twain

The kittens (huh, some kittens, they’re a year in 2 weeks time and both over 4kg!) caught this morning trying to convince us that butter wouldn’t melt in their hot little paws.

Rosie (behind) and Wiz for once not practising for their Assassin’s Guild exams:

But then, “You ain’t seen me, right. It was him.”

And well might Rosie try to shift the blame, because the last two nights she has brought mouse (fortunately already dead) into the bedroom at about 4AM and proceeded to play with it, noisily. Monday night’s was confiscated after she’d kept us awake for half an hour; last night’s she took away and lost somewhere. (It was later found hidden in the dining room.)

[As always you can click the images for a larger view]

Worse than Chernobyl

Yesterday, New Scientist posted an interesting news item on the Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan in the 1950s.

The tests were known about, but what’s new is that New Scientist have seen a hitherto unknown secret Soviet document containing scientific evidence of the effects of the tests; something which was hushed up at the time.

Needless to say the tests were conducted with total disregard to the local population. The Soviets knew this – even setting up a (disguised) research institute to monitor the medical effects – but carried on regardless. As a result it seems the effects produced a worse human “disaster” than Chernobyl.

Read the full news item at New Scientist.

Monthly Quotes

Our round-up of quotes interesting, amusing and thought provoking encountered in the last few weeks. And oh so many at the moment are rooted in current affairs …

I think there never was a bureaucracy – royal, parliamentary, democratic, autocratic, whatever – that didn’t naturally seek to grow. They all do it. One may as well condemn human nature for being acquisitive. 
As for the Ponzi scheme aspect, that is also part of nearly every national government. That is, they spend more than they take in and pass the deficit on to future generations, who will be able in their turn to bear the debt for two reasons. First is that in a well-regulated economy the debt decreases in value due to inflation. Second is that what remains of the debt will in its turn be passed on to the future. 
So, if socialism is the tendency for a organization to grow, and a Ponzi scheme is so-called because it passes the cost of doing business into the future, then all organizations are socialistic, Ponzi schemes, businesses as well as governments. It is not a reason to condemn them – though it might be a reason to rein them in every so often.

[Prof. Michael Henle]

There is much more outside your area of influence than inside it. This is true no matter if you’re a two-bit writer of trashy Zen blogs or Leader of the Free World. None of us has very much individual power to control the external world. That’s another one of our silly illusions. You can, however, learn how to change your habit of obsessing about stuff you can’t change.
[Brad Warner at]

A free Press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty, the Press will continued to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.
[Winston Churchill, 1949]

The truth is hard.
The truth is hidden.
The truth must be pursued.
The truth is hard to hear.
The truth is rarely simple.
The truth isn’t so obvious.
The truth is necessary.
The truth can’t be glossed over.
The truth has no agenda.
The truth can’t be manufactured.
The truth doesn’t take sides.
The truth isn’t red or blue.
The truth is hard to accept.
The truth pulls no punches.
The truth is powerful.
The truth is under attack.
The truth is worth defending.
The truth requires taking a stand.
The truth is more important now than ever.

[New York Times]

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.
[Alexandra K Trenfor]

If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.
[Zen Proverb]

All babies look like Winston Churchill.
[WH Auden]

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.
[Douglas Adams]

Human beings are animals. Animals don’t like change. Lots of animals will die if their environment undergoes rapid change, even if that change could be defined as an improvement. Humans are more adaptable than most other animals, but we are not infinitely adaptable. And we respond just as badly to sudden change as any other species.
[Brad Warner at

A democracy relies on an electorate of critical thinkers. Yet for­ mal education, which is driven by test taking, is increasingly failing to require students to ask the kind of questions that lead to informed decisions.
[Dennis M Bartels; Scientific American, March 2013]

White men are prized by poachers for their thin skins and their enlarged sense of entitlement, which is used in some traditional medicines.

We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall still not have made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made any choice at all, not having a free will to do so.
[Edward N Lorenz (1917-2008); The Essence of Chaos]

Not all cultures are created equal. Any culture that sweepingly and maniacally oppresses half their population is what I would call evil. Moral relativism be damned: that kind of crap is wrong, plain and simple.
[Phil Plait;; 26 April 2010]

Our attitude towards what has happened to us in life is the important thing to recognize. Once hopeless, my life is now hope-full, but it did not happen overnight. The last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, is to choose one’s own way.
[Victor Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning]

And finally, boys and girls, remember the (alleged) words of Abraham Lincoln:
Whatever you are, be a good one.

Auction Amusements

Here are a few of the amusements from our local auction house’s recent sales. Some are from last December and some are recent, although I don’t seem to have kept any from the February sale (I was probably too drugged up following my knee op to notice!). Anyway enjoy the different ways in which the toot people sell can amuse.

A large red Russian flag, two small Russian pendants, four Russian medals, a silver and red enamel army cap badge, Russian lead toy soldiers, a large ship medallion 1917-1987, etc.

An old sailing boat in a bottle, Tri-Ang [sic] model ships including HMS Vanguard, RMS Caronia, HMS Centaur, also a Tri-Ang M885 floating dock, and a breakwater straight M827, and two miniature boats HMS Virago and HMS Tenby, also a brass wirework photograph frame and a miniature antique ivory sewing table with implements.

A collection of first-day covers with accompanying commemorative coins of various denominations, featuring royalty, sport … including 1948 and 2012 London Olympics, mint presentation commemorative coins, football and other medals, 3 books on coin collecting and a pair of gloves; also a pair of musket shot recovered from the ‘Invincible’ (1744-1758), with certificate of authenticity

A John Lewis nativity set, a decorative Christmas tree made from pipe cleaners and an advent light

A pair of mounted oryx horns

A large quantity of carved wooden figurines mainly from Africa, taxidermy deer head, vintage telephone, cat figurines, pipes, brass car horn in the form of a serpent etc.

A stuffed and mounted antelope head with twisted horns

Two large vintage commercial projectors by Ross of London … a commercial-use Hitachi SK91 camera, a stirrup pump, and an Elf transformer
What do the elves get transformed into, one has to wonder?

A shelf of interesting decanters including musical and 1950’s poodle plus a musical bird cage automation and another modelled as a light

Two cartons of tools, wires, etc.
And that was a pretty good description too.

An unusual early 20th century mahogany chair cum trouser press by VG Bond of London …

An amazing bangle, spray brooch and matching necklet by Sonia Rykiel of flower buds and stalks [above]

Two teeth filled with dental gold, and a 9 ct gold cufflink
For use as spares, presumably [below]

A suitcase containing a small quantity of postcards and a large quantity of empty plastic sleeves

Two tribal skin shields and an ornate wooden knife rack, a doll with crying action and pink cloths

A fascinating collection of American Civil War lead bullets displayed in two wooden cases, with documentation

A stuffed and mounted pike in glazed wooden case [below]

A black Dunn & Co bowler hat and four Venetian masks, two with bells and two for wall-hanging
As so often I’m struggling to see what these have to do with each other.

A pine trunk containing vintage Christmas decorations plus another mental [sic] bound storage box

A WW2 USN portable bomb hoist MkVII marked Manley MFG Div York PA … serviced in 1965 and 1985
An essential garden ornament [below]

A Hoover Nextra Reverse Action 6kg dryer, an old cabinet radio by Blaupunkt, an old-fashioned style radio, a Sony mini hi-fi, two gentlemen’s grooming kits and a large filled fabric dog

Most Important People

I came across the attached article from the Naples Daily News (Florida) at the beginning of the year.

I don’t know I 100% agree with the author – well it is American! – as I think he has tilted the balance too far from the current norm and I think there is a balance to be struck. However from what I see around me the best adjusted children are those where the family apparently adheres, more or less, to his tenets.

Here’s an image of the article, and in case you can’t read it easily I reproduce the text below.

Click the image for a larger view

Naples Daily News, Sunday 1 January 2017

Your kids should not be the most important in the family

John Rosemond, Family Psychologist

I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”

Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”

“Why?” I then asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.

So, I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.”

I went on to point out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids – typical stuff, these days – are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.

Furthermore, without them. their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.

This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States of America, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.

It was also clear to us – I speak, of course, in general terms, albeit accurate – that our parents marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more – a lot more – with one another than they talked with you. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and much more successfully than have children since.

The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family are the parents.

The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.

“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.

You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.

XKCD Phone

I’ve been amused over the years by the curious, and ever more imaginative, evolution of the XKCD Phone – all the way from a “clear screen” via a screen that “goes all the way through” to a “stained-glass display”! There are just so many brilliant innovations I think we should view the whole range. Enjoy!

XKCD Phone 1 (May 2014)
Features I especially like: side-facing camera

XKCD Phone 2 (December 2014)
Features I especially like: dog noticer; coin slot; bug drawer

XKCD Phone 3 (July 2015)
Features I especially like: magnetic stripe; fingerprint randomiser; licensed to perform wedding ceremonies and does so at random

XKCD Phone 4 (July 2016)
Features I especially like: voice intergration Siri, Cortana, Google Now and Alexa respond simultataneously; new BrightGlo™ display incorporates genetically spliced jellyfish protein; Gregorian/Julian calendar switch; exposed ductwork

XKCD Phone 5 (March 2017)
Features I especially like: Supercuts partnership: trims hair fed into charging port; stained-glass display; background task automatically catches and eats Pokémon

I reckon we should expect the XKCD Phone 6 somewhere around the end of this year, maybe even in time for Christmas, and with innovations we can’t even begin to guess!

The XKCD webcomic is the creation, and copyright, of Randall Munroe.

Fukushima Latest

Thursday’s Guardian ran another article on the clean-up of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear site following the tsunami six years ago today. They point out, quite correctly, that two robots have now failed in trying to investigate the inside of the Reactor 2 containment vessel. I don’t see why this is such a surprise to everyone, or why quite so much recrimination continues.

Let’s be clear, again, once and for all. The containment at Fukushima did its job. It contained the reactor cores (admittedly only just) under stresses (earthquake and tsunami) way beyond its design specification.

What failed were the cooling systems. And they failed because of major shortcomings in the risk analysis, and therefore the placement and design, of the plant.

Yes, there was a radiation leak – small in comparison to Chernobyl – as a result of fractures in the buildings surrounding the containment vessels. And yes, this is a disaster for the 160,000 people who were evacuated – the disaster is their displacement and, medically, the psychological effects, rather than the risks due to the actual radiation encountered in the time between the leaks and their evacuation.

The tsunami killed around 19,000 people. The radiation, as far as I am aware, has caused zero direct deaths (although a handful have died in accidents during the clean-up operation).

Of course the clean-up is going to take a very long time and be hugely expensive. The radiation level inside the containment vessels is going to be incredibly high – high enough to kill a human within minutes. So without robots there is no way to find out what actually is happening inside; and they will succumb to high radiation levels and blocks in their access routes. And yes there is a huge quantity of contaminated groundwater to contend with. Why would we expect otherwise?

The current estimate is that the clean-up will take 30-40 years and cost $189bn, although many believe this a significant underestimate in both time and money. On that basis one has to ask whether the clean-up should continue, or whether the whole plant should be permanently encased as has been done recently at Chernobyl – but I’ve seen no-one even mentioning this as a possibility. I’d be interested to see some analysis of the possibilities.

Ten Things

A slightly eccentric mix for this month’s Ten Things

Ten Desert Island Discs

[Yes, I know the radio programme Desert Island Discs asks only for eight records, but this is Ten Things, OK?]

  1. Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers
  2. Bach, Christmas Oratorio
  3. Yes, Close to the Edge
  4. Pink Floyd, Wish You were Here
  5. Beatles, Let It Be
  6. Handel, Messiah
  7. Granados, Piano Works
  8. William Byrd, The Battle
  9. Caravan, In the Land of Grey and Pink
  10. Moody Blues, Octave