I’ve just finished Afghansty by Sir Roderick Braithwaite. The parallels between what the Soviets tried to do, and what ISAF is trying to do, are striking.

Like American and British forces, the Soviets lost no tactical engagements, and left with a compliant regime in place. Like the Soviets, we’ve been there for a decade, nominally at the request of the Government in Kabul. Like the Soviets, we’re actually taking part (again) in a 300-year-old inter Pashtun civil war between Kabul and Kandahar/Quetta, for control of Afghanistan.

Like the Soviets, most of our kit is heading North when we leave.

If they’ve any sense, the Americans’ll avoid the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya into Uzbekistan where the picture above was taken. Nevertheless There will be a picture of American troops and vehicles crossing the same border, over a bridge, somewhere. Whether Karzai and democracy survive in Afghanistan for 5 years or 500, that picture will be the legacy of a decade-long adventure, that the media narrative will decide was lost. Like the Soviets, that will not be entirely fair.

Traffic and why “I Hate Cyclists”

Why do cyclists evoke such strong feelings from some drivers?

It’s not that cyclists behave dangerously. On any objective measure, cyclists are far, far less dangerous to other road users than cars. According to one study, In over 90% of the cases of death or serious injury to cyclists investigated in Toronto, the motorist was at fault, not the cyclist. Cyclists kill pedestrians substantially never, and when they do, it makes national news. It’s not that cyclists hold the traffic up. Compared to the endless queues caused by other cars, cyclists rarely cause any problems. It’s not that cyclists disobey the law more than drivers; other motorists routinely break speed limits, run red lights (motorists tend to do this as the lights are changing to red, rather than going early), and park illegally. Cars, not cyclists are the major cause of death in healthy people in the developed world. Yet the risks posed by cars to their occupants and everyone else are accepted, yet people seriously talk about compelling cyclists to wear helmets, something which would save few, if any lives.

So what is the reason for the extreme hostility cyclists experience? Ultimately it’s down to a series of subliminal messages experiences noted by a motorist’s hind-brain causing instinctive reactions that young, stupid, low-status men driving shitty cars in particular (as well as the kind of arsehole who thinks buying a BMW is something other than the behaviour of a cunt) are ill-equipped to handle.

First, there is a lack of understanding. Few people cycle. The laws of the road, and indeed the roads themselves are designed by drivers of cars, for drivers of cars. Other car drivers’ actions can be understood in context. Cyclists’ actions are not so comprehensible: nipping in and out of stationary or slow moving traffic for example, seems a LOT more dangerous to someone sitting in a car than it does or is from the point of view of someone on a bike. Ditto going through a light on red, when it’s safe to do so. A motorist understands and condones the “amber gambler”, but not the guy on the bike going through the crossroad during the pedestrian phase (obviously, without getting in the way of pedestrians of which there are often none). If more people cycled, more motorists would understand what cyclists are doing and why. Usually they’re getting out of the way of several tons of angry steel.

Cyclists flash through motorists vision. Objects, road markings, for example move across a motorists vision at “human” speeds, and they do so by design. The dashed white line on the motorway moves across a driver’s retina at the same speed as a human running towards you ten yards away. Other cars move towards you on the other side of the road rather slowly, before almost instantaneously accelerating through your peripheral vision and vanishing. Cars ahead and behind going the same way are almost stationary. Cyclists, pretty much are the only things which move faster than this relative to the driver. When passing a cyclist at speed, the car flashes past at relative speeds of up to 50mph. When a car is in traffic, stationary, cyclists flash past close to the driver at 15-25mph, often crossing the stationary motorists’ vision, unexpectedly and from behind, without aural warning. This causes involuntary endocrine reactions in the driver, increasing stress and reinforcing a subliminal message: cyclists are dangerous. This reinforces point one. This is also true of pedestrian’s reaction to cyclists.

Cyclists are people, and this is obvious to the subconscious, as well as the conscious brain. Cars, on the other hand depersonalise the person within. Look at the language used when discussing traffic. Often people will talk about the CAR doing x,y or z. Whereas people talk about the CYCLIST doing a,b or c. Cars are impersonal objects. Cyclists are people. When a slow driver holds someone up, it’s not subliminally felt as SOMEONE deliberately getting in your way, but as SOMETHING. A cyclist is a person, therefore when inconveniencing a driver, (however mildly) it’s taken more personally than when a mere object does so.

Finally, there is a message delivered by the very obviously human cyclist holding you up: He’s probably pointing his arse directly at you, perceived by the hind-brain, subliminally not consciously, as an extremely hostile act. Riders of upright bicycles report far fewer hostile interactions than those of racing or mountain bikes where the handlebars are lower than the saddle. Cyclists don’t mean to do this. It’s just a function of wind resistance!

The motorist is not consciously aware of these subliminal signals, but feels much more hostility towards cyclists as a result of the subconscious interactions and the result is the almost daily threats the cyclist experiences.

People are simply not designed to drive. Our lizard-brains simply can’t cope. The road environment and the cars on it have been made forgiving to the inadequacies of people driving cars, but it is something no-one can do successfully. Don’t believe me? Ask the insurance industry. Racing drivers, those who ACTUALLY can control a car better than anyone else are not considered a good risk. People tend to compensate for extra safety features in their car or any extra skill, by taking more risks. The risks are most keenly felt by people without a ton and a half of steel wrapped around them.

Ultimately, the feedback loop doesn’t work. Every journey completed without incident may be one in which you discombobulated another road user without knowing it, leaving no opportunity to learn from mistakes you never knew you made. Every “close call” noticed, on the other hand results in self-congratulation about an accident nearly avoided. This creates the belief common to all drivers that they are more skillful than they really are.

Sooner or later, cars will drive themselves and the problem will be moot. But until then, if you drive, assume you’re an idiot, barely capable of the task you’ve set yourself and drive accordingly. Drive like you’re drunk and there’s a police-car behind you. And if you’re not a motorist, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Either way, read this: Traffic, why we drive the way we do, and what it says about us. Tom Vanderbilt is not responsible for the theories about cars vs cyclists, I am. These are just the thoughts I had when reading his excellent book and extensions and extrapolations to the central thesis. He is more interested in the theory of traffic congestion, but his book will hopefully make more humble drivers of us all. It is a more fascinating read than it should be.

Yesterday’s Sun

A book called Yesterday’s sun by Amanda Brooke turned up in my house for some reason. Having read the first 24 pages, filled with such eruptions of literary onanism as…

“…the tell-tale white buds of of spring sparkled against the night…”

I decided the book was an unreadable, cliche-ridden depiction of dreary people, about whom I felt nothing. The descriptions are flawed:

“…Her bed was a writhing mass of bed-linen..”

…”Writhing”? Is somebody still in it, or are there a lot of bed bugs? The story is melodramatic nonsense: she’s been whisked into the future for some reason and seen herself dead, something she described as

…the tentacles of her living nightmare…

It’s as if she’s thrown a dart into a thesaurus for descriptions. Similes are sprayed onto the page with the care and attention of a man urinating after ten pints. Above all the dialogue is, frankly, unbelievable…

“…I hope you can see me; I hope you can hear me, sweetheart because I don’t think I can go on if you’d completely left me.” Tom’s voice was a crackled whisper, and he closed his eyes tightly, suppressing the tears that had sprung to his eyes.

and later

…”Good morning, my light, my life” Tom chirped. “Good morning, my compass my anchor”, replied Holly.

I’ve left skid marks on the U-bend with more literary merit than this story about the human equivalents of magnolia paint. The good news is I don’t have to read it, nor do I have to measure what I say about it. I have read 24 pages so YOU don’t have to. Nevertheless for all its faults, the book it raises some profound questions about the human condition: THIS gets published? Why? For whom?

The Darwin Economy

Robert H. Frank, professor of Economics at Cornell university has written a very interesting book called the Darwin Economy. The central Idea is that Humans are prone to decision-making which is optimal for the individual, but damaging to the Group, in a manner similar to the evolutionary Arms race which sees Bull Elk producing enormous antlers every year. Such adornments are costly, not only in the resources of calcium and protein, but also in the difficulty of moving in forests with such ungainly headgear, leading to predation by wolves.

Thus spending on such display items as cars and houses is excessive and sub-optimal. Humans being status-conscious beings, we feel it necessary to keep up with the Joneses, leading to an arms-race of consumption cascading from the super rich all the way down to the very poor.

This is market failure, but not in the way the left thinks, as is explained at some length in the book. Instead Professor Frank suggests it is a failure in the basis of taxation. Why do we tax things that are good, like income or jobs which we need more of? Why not tax things like status consumption or use of scarce resources, in which the effect of the tax is beneficial (lower mileage driven, fewer resources consumed, less excessive status arms-race) over and above the tax raised?

This isn’t to say that tax doesn’t take out of the productive economy, of course it does. But that the blow would be softened if IN ADDITION to the tax raised, there was some compensating behaviour change which made some people a bit happier. No-one benefits from a payroll tax like National Insurance in the UK. Many people benefit from lower congestion as a result of high fuel duty, not least the people paying it who would otherwise find traffic much more problematic than they do now were taxes less than 65% of the cost of their fuel. Perhaps a brand-new BMW (which as everyone knows will immediately turn you into a sociopathic tail-gating arsehole) should be taxed at a higher rate than a more utiliarian vehicle?

It’s an interesting idea, but is perhaps over-argued. I’m not sure I appreciate the endless repetition of the zero-regulation, zero-tax Libertarian caricature in the book, which has me screaming “STRAW MAN” in almost every chapter. Most libertarians, on this side of the pond at least, accept the need for some regulation, especially in competition. Zero tax isn’t a realistic propostion either and I am convinced by the Rahm Curve, with a peak at around 20%. Many Libertarians (including this one) even accept the need for some redistribution of income, to compensate people for the extent to which people’s station in life is defined by luck (a lot more than most people think). Finally, redistribution is an important guarantor of social cohesion, preventing, in final analysis, the rich ending up swinging from a gibbet.

Where the book is strongest is in its defence of free markets. Many leftists think “market failure” is the observation that the rich have more options than the poor. It isn’t. I would urge my left-wing friends to read it simply to hear a cogent and well-thought out explanation of how markets benefit ESECIALLY the poor. It is also why cash transfers are better at increasing utility, especially for the poor, than “free” top-down administered services, all areas which had me nodding in agreement.

I am not wholly convinced that the steeply progressive consumption tax Professor Frank advocates, should be the proper basis for Government revenue, but it certainly got me thinking. Certainly a properly constructed negative income tax or citizens’ basic income fulfils many of the benefits of the free market that Professor Frank supports, in that they give the poor agency in how they spend the resourses available to them, rather than ceding all that agency to well-meaning bureaucratic agencies. Where I disagree with Professor Frank is the extent to which status displays and positional goods (especially access to education) hurt the poor. The mansion-extension example which crops up though the book may lead to bigger houses further down the income distribution, but I am not convinced this is a wholly bad thing. Maybe amongst vulgar americans, where relative size is everything (over here, of course, we pay up for age, which is um… better or something). And the benefits felt by tradesmen who will build the mansion extension appears to be completely ignored.

Everyone engages in status displays amongst those either side of them, and by and large, aren’t that fussed by the lives of the rich & famous with whom they’re not competing, however much media bien pensants think they shoud be. A progressive handicap system to status displays, as proposed, won’t really change that desire to compete in status display. To decry as fundamental a human desire as competition as “waste” seems like social engineering and I’m not convinced by Prof Frank’s explanation. Even Guardianista’s eschewal of status displays can become competitive, as parodied in Viz’s Modern Parents. The evidence appears to be that the demographic most upset by high GINI coefficients appears to be relatively wealthy lefties who frot themselves into a state of deep mailaise over the statisitics. If there is one group of people for whom I have zero sympathy, it’s Hampstead sociailists. I like much of Professor Frank’s analysis, but I remain a flat-taxer.

British Manufacturing – It is about the Bike.

I’ve just finished reading Rob Penn’s It’s all about the Bike, about one man’s perfect bicycle, based around a hand-built British Frame. In doing so the book reveals the history of the Bicycle, and how the bicycle was the invention which built the modern world. Indeed the car would not have been possible without inventions which sprung from the Bike: Pneumatic tyres on wire spoked wheels, driven by chains. Nor would cars have been able to navigate pre-bicycle roads. Cyclists have long been agitators for smooth roads. Most of the early car makers sprung out of Bicycle makers: Pugeuot, Hillman and so on. Bicycles generated a corps of people skilled with metal & machinery which enabled the early unreliable cars to survive a journey. Even aviation owes its early days to the bicycle: Orville & Wilbur Wright were bicycle mechanics, and based the principles of stable flight on the self-centring mechanism a bike uses to stay upright.

Because I am in the market for a new Bicycle, I have been researching of the custom frame-builders. For the same reason I buy Tailored suits (I can highly recommend GD Golding of St. Albans) I would like a custom bicycle to replace my aging Condor (whose bikes are made in Italy). There are plenty of guys out there who can build bikes & make a living from it. Rob Penn went to Bob Jackson in Leeds, but there are others: Woodrup, also in Leeds, Wilson cycles in Sheffield, Mercian cycles in Derby, Roberts in Croyden, Villiers in Kent. Burls‘ steel frames are UK made, but their Titanium frames are Russian (the same company which used to make Soviet submarines). Only Enigma makes Titanium frames in the UK.

By far the most popular frame tubing for high-end bikes is made by a British company, Reynolds, who make their tubing in Birmingham, and remain along with Brooks, who make saddles, as the few remaining remnants of the once mighty West-Midlands bicycle industry.

So British manufacturing may have declined, but it ain’t dead, and what’s left is amongst the best in the world. Most volume bicycle production has moved to China & Taiwan, even Raleigh, and as a result, you can get a lot of bike for £500. However some companies have managed to maintain British volume manufacture, albeit in clearly defined niches, Pashley and Brompton are two, and have done so using design and commitment to quality and have developed a loyal following. I am a proud Bromptoneer, for example. But even in the list of fine companies listed above is perhaps the reason we, as a nation, by and large don’t make things any more.

Have a look at the websites of the companies listed above. They are catalogues, not a shop window. They are utilitarian ways of saying “if you want it, this is how much you pay”. The bespoke frame-builders have waiting lists and see little point, it seems, in SELLING. Compare the British frame-builder‘s shop-window with his Italian or American equivalent, whose websites ooze “lifestyle” and desirability. Mercian, Condor and Enigma at least make an effort, but they’re still lacking in imagination. Roberts cycles may make beautiful bikes, but you’d hardly know it from the website, which does not linger on the details like the welds and lugwork which set them apart as objects of desire. It’s not just frames, it’s true of components too. Hub manufacturer, Royce whose beautifully machined wide-flange hubs come with a track & racing pedigree in excess of that of Chris King (whose hubs, by the way freeze in cold weather unless you use the right grease) could be a global components business, if he could get out of his machine shop comfort-zone and SELL with half the alacrity with which he MAKES. If you didn’t know about Royce hubs through word of mouth, or reading Robert Penn’s book, you’d quickly end up with Campagnolo, Chris King or SRAM. The British craftsman presumably thinks that ‘selling thing’ vulgar, and maybe he’s right. Perhaps the British Frame-builder is happiest brazing tubes together, not creating an image.


Business is, in part, creating the image. It’s about creating desire for your product. If a British Frame Builder could make an image and sell a brand, he could sell 100,000 frames a year with his brand on (even if they’re made in Taiwan) as Gary Fisher did and then he could charge even more for a frame hand-built by the MAN HIMSELF. Ralph Lauren doesn’t tailor all his own suits. He does however still cut SOME for his most important clients. As a result of failing to invest in the most basic of marketing such as SEO, the guys with the real skills are missing out on business which is being taken by hipsters making for hipsters, and worse, people making the cheap mountain bike whose sole purpose is to put people off cycling. Try googling “British Frame Builder” First up is Wilson Cycles halfway down the page, whose informative but dated-looking site inspires beard-growth through talk of headset angles, rather than desire with high resolution picutres of his handiwork. The bicycle is coming back, whatever my co-blogger thinks. It’s a British invention and we’re bloody good at making it, but because there’s little magic dust being sprinkled, the industry nearly died.

This is what went wrong with the British car industry. Who, really, honestly wanted a rover? Vauxhall is not an object of desire. This is more a problem of marketing than engineering. And where the craftsmen operate – really good engineers in TVR, Hillman, Marcos, Lotus they lacked the marketing & business skills to make their businesses really work. It’s not about the product selling itself. It’s not, unfortunately, about what you want to sell. The best businesses create their own desire, and make their customers feel a bit special. Ferarri do this. TVR didn’t. Cielo does, Woodrup – well you wouldn’t know, unless you walked into their Leeds shop.

The mountain-bike revolution was apparently led by a bunch of pot-smoking bums in Marin county California who enjoyed racing old balloon-tyred cruisers down a hill called Repack. Despite this background, Gary Fisher built a successful mass-production business, though eventually sold the bike busiess he started to Trek, who subsequently killed the brand, but Ritchie, the original MTB frame builder’s business still lives on as do Orange, Specialized, Marin are all names from the early days of the MTB revolution, a revolution which changed the bike industry for good. Why are so few British craftsmen able to create a brand? Chris Boardman has made a brand, but on Bikes made in China – it’s more an endorsement than a business. Now, with single-speed bikes fashionable, Oil pricey and exercise difficult to fit into the day, Car design crippled by environmental and safety legislation, the moment for the bike has arrived. It just needs a bit of thought from a few people to make a British hand-built bike as much an object of global desire as a British handmade suit or British hand made luggage. Or shoes. Or Cars.

I want to go to these British frame-builders and shake them for their spelling mistakes on their sites, for their cluttered and ugly web-pages. If they took half the care over their Internet shop-window as they did over their lug-work, the best guys could charge twice as much, and in doing so, there would be more people seeking the work, and so more choice for someone wanting a bike. Hand-build bikes needn’t be a luxury out of reach. Bike shops across the land would not be selling on auto-pilot mass produced stuff from Taiwan, instead they would be selling beautiful objects which could be fixed, not thrown away. More frame-builders would create more demand. Carbon fibre may be great for the racer, but it’s to brittle for everyday life – it’s not the best you can buy. Tailoring your frame to your dimensions & riding style (like my first Condor – how I miss that bike, damned BMW) means comfort and stability. And you get a bike which lasts, and which no-one else has.

It’s not just bikes, but the whole of British industry needs to have the self confidence to sell. ‘Made in Britain’ should be about quality and is, if the naturally diffident British craftsmen & engineers can be persuaded to shout about what they do so well.

Anyway. Seeing as you’ve read this far, and in the unlikely event that you’re interested in my dream bike, here’s what I’m going to go for, as and when I can afford it: Either an Enigma Ti or Mercian in reynolds 953 audax frame. British Racing Green as the main colour & Yellow details. Campagnolo 10 or 11-speed (depending on budget). Bottom bracket by Royce, Chris King or Campagnolo. I will go for a traditional Quill stem, unless someone can suggest a reason to not go for one. I already have a brooks saddle, but I might put that on the Brompton & splash out on a Green Ti Swift. Speedplay frog pedals. Wheels with Royce hubs, DT swiss spokes, Mavic rims with 2-cross front, crow’s foot rear lacing and I’ll build ’em myself. There’s a “donate” button to the right if you want to help me get my dream bike sooner…

Chasing Rainbows

I’ve finally got round to finishing Tim Worstall‘s book Chasing Rainbows, which can be yours for the trivial sum of £6.49, and it really is very good. Tim, an economic scribbler and Scandium wholesaler by trade applies the prinicples of economics to environmental questions with his usual wit. The tone reads like an extended blog post, and whilst some of the popular culture references grate occasionally, (what percentage of the potential readership are familiar enough with ‘South Park’ to get the “M’Kay” reference?) the argument that pigou taxes are better than cap ‘n trade mainly because the latter is at risk of political and bureaucratic meddling is particularly well explained and compelling.

If you’re looking for a complete junking of the hypothesis of climate change, you’re in the wrong place. On the other hand, Some of the assumptions of environmental activists: growth always involves the use of more resources, international trade is wasteful for example, are shown up to be not only wrong, but utterly counterproductive. Wealth leaves spare resources to enable people to take the more expensive “green” option. Only growth leaves the spare resources for healthcare and female emancipation that will reduce population growth. If you’re a climate activist however, perhaps you’ll be most surprised by what the scientific and economic consensus – the Stern Review and the IPCC conclusions are taken as gospel – actually say. We’re already doing enough…

This is an excellent, easy-to-read book which applies uncontroversial economics with uncontroversial climate science and winds up being surprisingly optimistic about the future. Of course, this being Britain, this will please nobody, but he’s probably closer to the truth than either of the more polarised camps.

Well worth a read.

My Shit Life So Far.

The autobiography of Frankie Boyle.

In any case the whole of television and celebrity is simply a distracton aimed at keeping you sedated while your pockets are picked by vested interests which may or may not be lizards. You’re going to end up with celebrity reality shows piped directly into your eyes in the same way that classical music is played to fatten cattle. What kind of person buys the autobiography of a panel show contestand? WAKE UP YOU CUNT.

It continues in this vein for some 300 pages.

Sex At Dawn, The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

Sex at Dawn is a very engaging book about who we are, and why we think about sex all the time. It takes the form of challenge to the standard cultural narrative idea that ‘Man + Woman = Family and always has’. Instead, Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jethá argue that the monogamous families are a social adaptation to the pressures of agricultural societies which runs contrary to our socio-sexual evolution in small bands of hunter-gatherers.

The Genus Pan, which were we not so self-reverential would probably also include the Homo lineage, is an unusual group of species for whom sex is more about social bonding than reproduction, though many authors have glossed over this part of our make-up, perhaps embarrassed at our nearest cousins’ licentiousness. The authors argue that much of the focus on P. troglodytes’ perceived social and sexual aggression in the wild is in part due to the difficulty of studying groups in the wild without influencing behaviour, and in any case, our genitals and behaviour are in many ways more like that of the rather more peaceable, free-lovin’ Bonobo, Pan Paniscus, who are basically at it, all the time, with anything that moves.

Here’s a video of a Chimpanzee raping a toad, which whilst not strictly relevant to this review, I’ve been dying to shoehorn into a post for a while, and this is as close as it’s going to get.

One area where I question the authors’ conclusions is the degree of sexual dimorphism: They cite around 10-20% difference in body size. I don’t think this is the relevant figure: Human males’ upper body strength ranges from 50%-200% stronger, especially in forearm grip. This is clearly an adaptation to fighting, and even more disturbingly suggests that rape formed part of our evolutionary history. Of course human females are going to be able to keep up on a march, we evolved as free-ranging hunter-gatherers, which is why women have long legs. Just 9% separates Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebreselassie’s marathon records. The puny female upper body when compared to the (still puny) adult male shows the real sexual dimorphism of the Human species: The Clean & Jerk weightlifting records show a 41% difference between the sexes and the powerlifters’ difference is greater still at over 100% for the deadlift.

This matters because the greater the sexual dimorphism, the greater the degree of Polygamy. Humans are not as co-operative as bonobos, but nor is our natural history one of Harem building, winner-takes-all male competition as extreme as that of the Gorilla. Our genitals certainly point to sperm selection which means an Alpha male cannot guarantee the fidelity of ‘his’ females as can the big silverback, but there is DNA evidence about how few males bred in history: around 40% compared to the female 80% (can’t find citation), This indicates a degree of competition for the spoils amongst our male ancestors, where size and especially strength mattered. The authors reckon we’re more matriarchal Bonobo than patriarchal Chimpanzee. I was not completely convinced. I think we were quite violent even in hunter-gather society.

Anthropologists look at existing cultures and the records of explorers who came across the last remaining hunter gatherer societies and try to interpret the findings through the fog of cultural conceit, misunderstanding and arrogance, but often have their own preconceived ideas too. Megafauna the world over dying out a thousand years or so after humans arrived on any given continent, gives the lie to our ancestors ‘living in harmony’ with nature myth, and I think it is important to reject the ‘noble savage’ in matters sexual too. It is tempting, therefore to engage in wishful thinking that just because the last remaining hunter-gatherers perched on marginal terrain in the Bornean rain-forest or the Botswanan desert don’t fight the neighbouring tribe this doesn’t mean this follows for the prime land now given over to agriculture. Germans and Brits stranded on arctic island weather stations cooperated to survive in 1944 whilst their friends were fighting over France. I contend there’s not much to fight over in the Bornean highlands, but a band of Hunter-gatherers would fight their neighbours for the right to forage in prime riverside forest in the Ardèche. The authors do talk about localised plenty being cause for strife, but don’t follow this through to its conclusion, that our ancestors existed with areas of localised plenty, and would have fought over it.

Any book challenging the recieved wisdom is going to leave itself open to attack on a few matters, but the authors make compelling observations, well backed up by data and certainly along lines that made Kinsey so controversial. You might also be interested in ‘the Mating Mind‘ which deals with the evolution of language and intelligence as a ‘peacock’s tail’, which fortuitously became adaptive after the fact.

The Authors conclusions about modern society’s obsessive focus on fidelity causing of great stress is utterly compelling, especially when compared to societies which use sex as social bonding without the deep taboo about infidelity. Our religious history has poisoned the relationship between the sexes by making females chattels of the males, and we would all be happier if you let your partner have the odd fling once in a while. Ladies, you will benefit from his higher testosterone too, and gents, you can’t have your cake and eat it. Play fair and let her take a lover once in a while! This is especially true now women are in conscious control of fertility. The authors may believe that paternity didn’t matter in highly co-operative bands. It does now, and I can see no way of changing society so that it doesn’t. However, the conclusion stands: We can, if we take care about Pregnancy, STIs and AIDs, build a happier society with a bit of Free Love.

Well worth a read.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig wrote a facinating Book.

He has attempted to tie in several strands of thought and link them to an overarching philosophy. The book is described as and enqiry into values and describes two simultaneous journeys. One physical, across the USA on motorbikes and one intellectual, following roadsigns left by Pirsig’s alter-ego, Phaedrus. He does so in elegant, yet sparse prose.

He describes the Technophobic “romantic” view of the world and the scientific, rational “classical” world view in a way that would be familiar to readers of “Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus”. The Narrator’s Friends, a couple on a BMW motorbike provide the “Romantic” foil to his “Classical” viewpoint. He offers the opinion that this Split personality in the western zeitgeist is irreconsilable. He explains the modern world’s vulnerability to snake-oil salesmen of the Occult and Mysicism is more than filling the void left by deference and religion, more a function of science’s increasing specialisation and remoteness from everyday experience.

The satisfying intellectual trip is concluded by the time the party reaches the home of a friend from Pirsig’s past, and the last exploration of this bit of the mind-map concludes in comfort.

As this intellectual journey ends and the Couple leave, Pirsig breaks out onto the “High Plateau of thought” as he hikes up into the mountains with his son, Chris. He tries to find a link between the Romantic and the Classical. As they climb, he tries to define “quality” as , to borrow a phrase from cosmology, “the unifying theory of everything.” During this process he offers the reader a summary of Hume and Kant’s “Critique of pure reason”. The difference between the subjective and the objective measures of “Quality” (is “quality” inherent in an object or thought, or is it a function of the observer?) leads to an impasse. It is this inability to define “Quality” that causes failure in this intellectual summit attempt. This is reflected in by Pirsig’s paranoid reluctance to get to the top of the hill he and Chris are climbing.

As this intellectual and physical journey continues, we find out more about Phaedrus and his descent into madness. Scraps left behind give clues to the man Pirsig was before his Electro Convulsive Therapy.

As with many philosophical works, addressing the reader almost as one chosen to recieve wisdom flatters the reader into thinking wonderful things of the author. Nietzsche doe this explicitly with “we free thinkers”, and I find myself agreeing with what is being written in this book, but unable to explain why afterwards. I’m not convinced the “Romantic” and “Classical” need reconciling, and I feel that Phaedrus felt the same before his descent into madness. Indeed the attempt to define “Quality” as the link drove him mad. I find much of this part of the book a pointless excersise in Philosophical semantics, which is never likely to acheive a satisfactory conclusion.

Nevertheless, I find myself caring about Pirsig and his son, while I enjoy the prose and the many Ideas this book throws at you. As for what happens to the father and son? You’ll have to read the book. This is certainly one I’d recommend to a friend.