Friday 27 September 2019

Sumpers speaks

[Copied here so I can reference it.]

september 24 2019, 3:00pm, the times
Supreme Court ruling is the natural result of Boris Johnson’s constitutional vandalism
lord sumption

Where does law begin and politics end? Any government’s relationship with parliament is bound to be political. Ever since the 18th century, ministers have made use of the power to prorogue or (until 2010) dissolve parliament for political advantage.

There was a consensus that they should not abuse the power, but what amounted to abuse was itself a political question, not a legal one. What is revolutionary about the Supreme Court’s decision is that it makes the courts the ultimate arbiters of what political reasons are good enough.

Yet the Supreme Court’s judgment should be welcomed even by those who believe, as I do, that politics is not the proper business of courts of law. The objection to judicial intervention in politics is that it undermines the democratic legitimacy of public decision-making. The court’s judgment, however, is not concerned with the political issues surrounding Brexit. It is concerned with the process by which those issues are to be resolved. Its effect is to reinstate parliament at the heart of that process.

The question for the rest of us is whether we still believe in the parliamentary model that the Supreme Court has vindicated. Underlying the debate about the merits of leaving the European Union, there is an even more fundamental conflict between two opposing claims to democratic legitimacy, one based on the referendum and the other on the parliamentary process. Most of our difficulties over the past three years have arisen from the misguided attempt to insert a referendum into a fundamentally parliamentary system.

I have lost count of the number of times that prominent Brexiters have declared that by authorising the referendum Parliament delegated its sovereignty to the majority. The argument is completely untenable. Leaving the EU and creating other arrangements to replace it requires new laws. It requires complex political judgments about our future relations with the EU.

Parliament is the supreme source of law. It is also the only body to which ministers can be continually accountable for their political judgments about Brexit or anything else. It is central to our whole political system. A referendum can serve none of parliament’s functions. It is not a source of law. It is not a mechanism for holding ministers to account. It is a snapshot of public opinion, and as such an important political fact for parliamentarians to take into account. But that is all it is.

The parliamentary process is fundamental in another, even more important sense. It is a mechanism for accommodating opposing opinions and interests in our society. To gain power, political parties have to appeal to a wider base than tribal faithfuls and single-issue fanatics.

A legislature whose membership reflects the balance of political parties is therefore a natural forum for compromise. In a Brexit context this might mean membership of the customs union or the European Economic Area or something similar under a different name. These half-way houses are in many ways impure and unsatisfactory. Few people would make them their first choice. But it is probable that a larger proportion of the electorate could live with them than with any other solution.
Appeals to the referendum as an alternative source of legitimacy are really calls to reject compromise. Proroguing parliament was a method of circumventing the political process, and avoiding the pressure to compromise that is inherent in it. It is absurd to criticise the House of Commons for being just as divided as those whom it represents; and dangerous to obstruct its attempts, however laborious and accident-prone, to accommodate our divisions and avoid the aggressive extremes at either end of the Brexit spectrum.

The British constitution famously consists of many things that are not law but political conventions. Some of them are rules of practice. Others are attitudes of mind, part of a shared political culture that is based on respect for the centrality of the House of Commons. Political conventions are a better, more flexible and more democratic alternative to law. But if we are to avoid a wholly legal constitution, we must honour them.

The present government has taken an axe to convention. It has sought to use the awesome prerogative powers of the Crown, but without the accountability to parliament that alone makes the existence of those powers tolerable. It has been determined to disregard our only collective political forum. This is something entirely new in British politics.

The natural result of constitutional vandalism on this scale is that conventions have hardened into law. That is the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision. It is infinitely regrettable that it should have come to this, but better than leaving a void governed by neither convention nor law, in which the government can do whatever it likes.

The moral is that under our constitution 52 per cent cannot expect to carry off 100 per cent of the spoils. They have to engage with the rest. That is what parliament is for.

[Lord Sumption retired as a justice of the Supreme Court in December last year.]

Saturday 21 September 2019

Book review: Wyrms

A book by Orson Scott Card. Wiki has a decent summary of the plot. Goodreads has... some reviews. I've just finished reading it for the second time, but I'd forgotten most of it. It's quite hard to summarise. I enjoyed reading it but... well, it's one of the many books where the setup at the start works quite well with lots of lose ends an unexplained matters; and he handles tying the threads together moderately but not very well.

Of the science: let's start with a simple one: the world's inhabitants are the descendants of some starship folk who came here ~3kyr ago; the world is poor in metals because "the starship captain used the ships weapons to destroy metal deposits". WTF? How would you even do that? Destroying iron ore deposits from space is like really tricky maaan. Perhaps OSC was bored with the usual "the planet was light on heavy metals" stuff but even so this is a poor piece of nonsense. Some of the "science" - headworms - is fun but implausible, but that's OK. The genetics on which the entire story hinges seems implausible to me; that's sort-of OK because, well, there needs to be something and it's pretty hard to expect a novellist to come up with new science.

Of the mind control: this goes totally unexplained. Not even a sketch of an explanation, let alone how it could reach out all the way into orbit.

Of the characters: most are implausibly excellent at what they do. The usurper, Oruc, is an excellent king, despite being an usurper. The usurped king, Peace, is wise, noble, an unparalleled assassin (techniques he learn from, errm...) and diplomat. and with unbreakable self control. His daughter, Patience, the central character is (like Ender) another unbelievably talented and grown up child. They happen to meet along the road a surgeon (in a mediaeval world that can be presumed to be rather short on surgeons) who can do brain surgery. A soldier-slave, Will, waits patiently for them to happen by. And so on.

Of the philosophy: the Goodreads folk seem to take this seriously; maybe OSC did; I don't think I can. The justification for slavery by the not-believably-noble characters is particularly odd: no-one can be a slave against their own will, and so on. Maybe there is something to explore there, but by delineating only perfect characters, it can't do it. How about me? I went to work today (it's a Saturday) and spent a few hours beating my head against Enhanced Logging (don't ask). I did this voluntarily. Or did I? Am I a slave of the company without knowing it. And so on. There's a alien race who have no "will", and so generally have a role in society of doing whatever people want them to. But in turns out they do have a will, just easily dominated, and when shielded from others are capable of acting for themselves. But... so what? It's more like ideas, than philosophy, which would require reasoned argument.

Of the prophecy: yes, it's yet another book that needs a prophecy, or foretelling, to keep the plot moving.

Monday 9 September 2019

No woman no cry

I thought I knew what this meant: with no woman around, you won't be sad. Or, a lament for the miseries of love. Perhaps you won't be joyous either, but it will reduce the depths. That's how I've interpreted it for years; decades.

However, looking at the lyrics, it is rendered as "no, woman, no cry" - which changes it to an instruction to a woman: don't cry.

Others have come up with more creative ways of misunderstanding: that "There is no woman who does not cry". That's from a non-native speaker, so it is unnatural, but possible. And yet another: "I always thought it meant that he had 'no woman' but he wasn't going to cry about it anymore".

But really that's all beside the point; the ambiguity is pleasing but the real meaning is in:

Said, said, said, I remember when-a we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown
And then Georgie would make the fire lights
As it was logwood burnin' through the nights
Then we would cook cornmeal porridge
Of which I'll share with you
My feet is my only carriage
So I've got to push on through

That calls to mind some of my father's stories of Jamaica. I wish I'd paid more attention. I wish I could ask him again.

Sunday 1 September 2019

The US of A: San Diego

The full set of pix is here. There are links to some GPS traces in this; some of those have their own pix attached.

After some vacillation I went for hand luggage only: the red bag, and a "laptop bag". In hindsight, I could have left the running shoes, and the climbing shoes and harness, and GEB, and taken just the one bag. But I couldn't have known that in advance.


Sunday: Mfd+J off to their new place, M off 9:30, E out partying, D up but quiet, I do a little gardening and sitting around before being picked up at 11:30,it's all very civilised. My checkin is 13:25, we get there early, breeze through security and I Itsu for lunch.I'm at a "B" gate so transit to that, have a coffee and then breeze through boarding. The plane turns out to be not full so my aisle seat turns into a full row; I sit in the window seat most of the time. After we leave Scotland the view is just a cloud sheet so Godel Escher Bach for a bit - but I've forgotten it is actually hard work if you take it seriously. Watch Crimes of Grindelwald (meh) and the Lego Movie (still superb; though doesn't quite match my memory; maybe I have the US cut?) then sleep. I can lie down cos I have 3 seats, though it isn't quite long enough to stretch out and (obviously enough) not made for lying down. They fed us earlier, and it's all fine, helped I suspect by sparsity of passengers.

Wake 12:30 so we have 1:30 ish to go. We're still chasing the sun so the shadows are now getting long which shows the central US desert off in relief. Pix. We pass over Salt Lkae City and Vegas but before that bits of the interior were just Empty.

Land, disembark, hand luggage only so first through passports and the immigration folk are very friendly, totally belying their reputation. Connect to airport wifi, get an Uber (my first ever; slightly confused by API since I mistook the car's line for mine; $27) which also goes smoothly and I'm at the hotel just after sundown. Checkout the gym (no Concept2, FFS) and the pool (15 m, still open past 8, so have a nice swim) then retire for the night. Alarm for 6.

Monday: set alarm for 6 but somewhat broken night so up 6:30 and walk down to the beach via the "Saigon trail" which I think has been wittily named for it's difficulty: there's a tiny bit of "jungle" but the eroded sandstone / sand of the cliffs is actually moderately challenging. GPS trace (which links to pix). This goes past the Salk Institute which is famous. The cliffs are ~100 m high. At the beach, some folk at surfing though it is before 8. Off to the L is a pier, and distant San Diego. Ahead, the Pacific. R, endless beach. A little way along is a more stepped way up, which I take, the "official" way, to the Torrey Pines soaring (gliding) club. And back for breakfast. Which regrettably isn't a buffet, instead it is waiter service. But the coffee is infinite and the orange juice is fresh; also have maple syrup pancakes and am now feeling rather full. Early it was overcast, but clearing now.


Uber to town and it turns out that the Bike Revolution is open and it has held my bike for me. Which turns out to be a very decent one. They put "normal" pedals on for me and I'm off, rather uncertainly on the mean streets of San Diego which aren't. Get as far as the Midway aircraft carrier before one of the spokes goes - or I realise it's gone - so go back and get it fixed. Trace. And thence... back to the hotel. GPS trace. I "go wrong" quite a few times but that's fine. The roads are generally fine, and the drivers well behaved and even polite, but it is a holiday so may not represent commuter mind. We'll see. Lots of beach front all full of life and people out barbecuing and stuff. I don't stop anywhere, being not in the mood, and anywhere decent looking quite full. There are hills, particularly around the Cover.

Back, shower, I've got rather sweaty; sit with a coffee over laptop and then over GEB and then another coffee. Then head out to find the Quangleplex. Google has given me a cycle route but obviously that is wrong, what do they know, so explore a bit, and discover that they do know something. One of the things they know is that when a road ends "for no obvious reason" around here, it's usually because there's a steep drop. It turns out that what the map doesn't make obvious is that there's a deepish cut, with the interstate in it, between the hotel and the Quangleplex; and there's a nice cycle path from the university down to the place I want to cross. Tonight it is all easy.

Back, swim, shower, sit, go to dinner: "three snacks" is enough; curiously, I don't feel very hungry despite having eaten nothing but peanuts since breakfast. And so to bed.

Tuesday: manage to get into work by 8:30 as I half promised, but it is quiet then, and I'm rather sweaty from the cycle - it is hot even this early; traffic was OK though and I nearly got the route right -, and so I end up going to the Quangleplex for a shower, AC not having one. And the gym there actually has a Concept2 (just one, in a corner, and ranks of running machines, such is life). Tim K drags me out at lunch for, erm, lunch; and then he breaks before 6 so we go to Karl Strauss for a beer and food; blackened Mahi tacos for me, which turns out to be a fish, who knew. Then the light is fading so head home, getting the route completely right this time; I have lights and need them. Early to bed.

Wednesday: finally sleep to my alarm. Work, and to "building K" after with Tim; back at the hotel, they've left me a snack in the fridge, which is nice of them. That I'd turned the fridge off cos it was noisy at night had escaped them, but wasn't a problem.

Thursday: work as ever; my clearance for lab 175 finally came through in the afternoon, but it meant I spent half an hour in the morning on fb and drinking coffee waiting for someone to let me in. Nothing post work today, just back to hotel; swim the usual 10 lengths; eat what's left of yesterday's snack.

Friday: work; after, to nearby Green Flash brewery with a couple of the guys and Tim. Loadsa beers, mostly stronger than I'd want, but the weaker ones are fine. They offer a "half pour".

Saturday: the big ride up the coast (GPS track, inc pix). How far? I wasn't sure. Carlsbad seemed an obvious target. Past there I was unsure. I could see form the map that past Oceanside, past Camp Pendleton, the mountains came down towards the sea and there were fewer roads; and the Maps bike trails pretty well died out entirely. What I'd failed to realise is that all the area up from Camp P is one vast military base / reserve. But that's to come.

I start after breakfast at 8:30 and it would perhaps have been better to start earlier, it's a cloudless day. I'm wearing my neckwarmer to keep the sun off, and my light yellow top with sleeves rolled down, and this does mostly work. As I head up the coast, starting through Torrey Pines reserve (it's OK; lots of eucalyptus though; I didn't stop) then a long downhill that will be pain coming up; to the oceanfront and a lagoon inland; with some difficulty pick up and follow the trail that avoids the "heights" but is along a railroad track, and isn't really great for a road bike; but it works and is interesting. Through Del Mar, pass another river with inland lagoon, Solana beach, Cardiff-by-the-sea, Encinitas. Probably I should have stopped somewhere around here, but somehow I wasn't in the mood, or the cafes didn't quite suit me, and I got into that keep-going frame that I've had before. I've forgotten to bring any water (idiot) but there are water taps, and indeed showers on some of the beaches. In fact it would probably have been better if there hadn't been, cos then I'd have been forced to stop at a cafe. And so, on to Carlsbad: 35 km, 1:45. Note that I'm not speeding; indeed, I'm supposed to be smelling the roses along the way. I'm passed by various tanned looking folk, some on very nice bikes, some in packs. At Oceanside some confusion; its 40 km 2:15, but then I spend 7 km and 20 mins bumbling around the harbour trying to get up the coast. This is where the Camp Pendleton nightmare finally hits me, as I end up cycling up to a military checkpoint where they really are checking passes, and they explain politely when I ask that I can't go through. So I have no choice but to join the freeway.

In fact that isn't really true. I could have backtracked a little, I see now, and gone inland on the San Luis Rey bikepath along the river. But: I wanted to go up the coast. So I did. I'm at 2:45 / 48 k when I join the freeway for 10 k of terror or thereabouts. In fact it isn't that bad; there's a wide "hard shoulder" which is clean, and I don't see anything wavering into it. But it is noisy. There's a rest area where I get a drink and consider options, which I don't have, but at 61 k / 3:25 there's a junction. I could turn back here by going under, but, there's an apparently-closed military road with a gap for cycling, and a group of people who are maybe just there to support cyclists, or a race? It isn't clear. They offer some water, but I don't need it, and confirm that the route is open, so off I go. It's a wide military road with a two-way cycle path drawn on it. After 2 k it goes under the freeway, and after a bit I'm on the "old pacific freeway". Agra is a 66 k but there's nothing much there. The San Onofre mountains are now close, and the only roads up into them look like wide military dust roads, so I guess that's all camp, too. There start to be surfers, and people on the beach, and people camping, and nice toilet / water / shower blocks, so I can refresh myself somewhat by putting my head under the tap, but I've reached peak sweat otherwise and it can't get worse. At 77 k I'm at San Onofre but am bitterly disappointed *again* as the enticing stuff to the N is another bloody military base. FFS. I am really starting to run out of energy at this point, and jsut about stumble into San Clemente, where the previous desert conditions are replaced by a suburban desert; but after wandering through this for a bit I finally hit Tommy's family restaurant, ah paradise.

I down two orange juices in a desperate attempt to restore calories, and some water, and order a veg burrito that I'm mostly unable to eat. But, I get to sit down for an hour which is what I need, as the juice soaks in. At one point I struggle up to go to the rest room and my head swims and it is not easy. I sleep lots of the hour. And eventually they put my burrito into a bag for me and I head off, wearily.

I'm really not looking forward to the trip back (GPS track part 1, to Carlsbad; part 2 to La Jolla). My arse is a bit sore, and I'm tired. I decide to chop it up into 10 k segments; 10 k is about half an hour, 8 of those can't be too bad. In fact it goes better than I'd hoped. The first 10 k gets me to one of the water stops, so I soak myself and have a 5 min break. 20 k gets me to where the cycle path started; sadly the nice people with water have gone, but I rest anyway. The next 10+ k are freeway, so I don't stop, but roll along Oceanside till I get to Carlsbad and stop at a nice "French Corner" place that offers me orange juice, a bowl of yoghurt and fruit, and some cool water. I've sort of lost track of distance on the day (now I know that's 40 k) and so I'm expecting the final "half" to be only about 35 k. I need to pay some attention to time; I'm heading off at 5:40, it will take about 2 hours, and the sun sets well before 7:40; happily, I brought my lights.

17 k and 45 mins gets me to the statue of the surfer dude in Encinitas; someone has put a shark costume on his head but more cruelly that that someone else has inscribed sub-McGonagall poetry on it, though the sentiments are fine. Sunset comes at 25 k / 1:20 and I stop to watch the sun sink into the ocean; no green flash. the bastard climb of 130 m up into Torrey Pines is indeed a bit of a bastard but I'm nearly home now; and then, I am.

Room. Put on swimming trunks. Dive into pool: bliss; it is warm as milk (as they say, though milk is normally cold nowadays) and not having any weight on my bottom is a relief. Float. Back to room, shower, decide to open the Red that the room left me on my first night, and after a bit gratefully tuck into the stored burrito.

Evaluation: as I more than half expected, it turned into an endurance event, through my own choice. I enjoyed it, overall.

Sunday: trip into town. This time, don't make the mistake of not stopping. In La Jolla village, stop at the Vons supermarket - very nice; local W'rose perhaps, lots of cheese - and but some ginger and jerky; then nearby Froglanders for a coffee.

End of day: back to Vons with a thought of getting more "gifts" but end up getting some Italian blue; sourdough; and fresh grapefruit juice which forms a very acceptable dinner.

Monday: o'cast early; good; cool. Ask at reception if I can stay an extra night, but they're full. I was not expecting that. Still I'll find somewhere. Cycle in and use the gym near AC, since I'm borring a "Park" card; it's good and features two ergs and really good showers / lockers and free towels. Contact the bike folk who can collect from work, which helps. Lunch (wx: full sun): to the food court with Tim and get the Indian this time, since for once they have no queue. Very good.

Leave 6, get to gliderport 6:30 and down to Black's beach for a swim in the Pacific. Lovely evening; orange sun slowly sinking in the west. What to wear? "Nakes" are tolerated here and I see some - old men alas, nubile young girls seem shy - so strip off and frolic in the waves. Lovely and warm, with strong waves bashing me about vigorously. But I get to swim a little too. Back at the hotel, swim briefly to wash off, then eat the remaining bread+cheese and drink a little red.

Tuesday: again o'cast, b'fast and check out, cycle in. Then off to building AY for the RF meeting, which I won't tell you about as it was Work. But I did get some b'fast and lunch from it; talk to various. Pm back to AC and Real Work. 6:30 off to Extended Stay America, which turns out to be OK, essentially a motel. Nearby is the Taj Mahal who do a quick dhaal and paneer with rice, naan and raihta; good, esp the dhaal. What makes this room worse than the other? Smaller; TV is analogue (good grief!), wifi needs crude sign-up, the door looks a bit armoured, the fixtures are a touch wonky (but only a touch; and the chrome at the back of the sink in the other was flaky); the A/C is bolt on and even noisier than the other; the furniture is cheap; I don't have a chair outside and a quiet area to sit in it; there's no pool or gym. But for one night it is fine. Oh, and also it is under the flight path :-)