Number of the Month

September  2006


He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Nineteen eight-four (last para)

In the tale of two Blairs, Eric had the rôle of prophet, while Tony was the messiah who brought the prophecies to reality. As in all such cases there are subtle differences between the divination and its realisation. The celebrity cult in politics had been with us for some years, Harold Wilson had a go by honouring the Beatles, but it really took off with the arrival of the Blairs in Downing Street. The guest lists at their parties provided a selection of the “Celeb” scene.

How one becomes a Celeb is a rather ill defined process. One woman, for example, was bestowed with celebhood, though totally lacking in beauty, charm, wit, culture, intelligence, knowledge or any other redeeming feature. How did she achieve this apotheosis? By appearing in a so-called reality show called, with ineffable irony, Big Brother.

The celebrity cult is the modern equivalent of Juvenal’s bread and circuses, which the Roman elite used to keep the population in a state of ovine contentment, but now it is reaching a higher level of control. This was one of the many games given away in that report, where we read, for example:

The use of celebrity and irony moved into the right area, offering the viewer a degree of pleasure and interest (something clearly needed if the public is indeed to be engaged)…..

What will really make people act? We also live in a culture in which celebrity rules supreme, and in which 44 per cent of the population is ‘outer-directed’. That is, they have esteem-driven needs, seeking success, recognition and status through acquiring and displaying the ‘right’ brands, fashionable lifestyles and other goods, services and experiences (Rose et al 2005). Cultural Dynamics’ work indicates that the outer-directed section of the UK population offers a ripe opportunity for climate-related behaviour change. People like this want to feel special, and are accustomed to achieving this feeling through what they do and what they buy, rather than what they do not do or do not buy.

44% of the population are far more than enough to elect a government, and these are the people who are to be manipulated via the celebrity cult. They are the new realisation of Orwell’s proles. Governments have taken away their escape routes (e.g. grammar schools in the UK) replacing education and edification with training and propaganda, subjecting them to ever increasing levels of coercion and bureaucratic interference. Spending on propaganda, now delicately called “spin” to avoid any association with that nasty Dr Goebbels, has become a major part of the governmental budget.

It is, however, all a bit more sinister than that, as this headline in The Daily Telegraph reveals: Celebrity children will get database privacy. Naturally, politicians will count themselves as celebrities. In Britain the leaderships of the main parties are virtually indistinguishable. Cameron and Blair are, in political terms, virtually joined at the hip. The only political commitment Cameron made in that tale of two speeches was to take Conservative MEPs out of the Federalist EPP, on which he subsequently reneged. He only needed it to buy the votes of the Eurosceptics. The bloodless Green coup that overtook the Conservative party virtually means the achievement of Orwell’s one party state. The three parties might have different labels, but their policies are indistinguishable. The nearest thing to an opposition is UKIP, but as they have no media outlets, and therefore no prole control, their dreams of power are just that.

So our duty as proles is to play the part of groundlings. We are required to gape at the celebrities, wonder at their displays at notable events, gasp at their couplings and acknowledge their ineloquent platitudes as the wisdom of the age. We must accept that, unlike them, we shall submit to databases without privacy, allow bureaucrats to make our life choices. In return we will be allowed occasionally to vote between indistinguishable shades of green and turn off our standby buttons as a mark of sacrifice to the true religion. We may then turn to our television screens and intone with Winston Smith “I love Big Brother.”

Fantasy Times

The Times of today is a specimen issue for number watchers. The front page is, of course, occupied by the long-delayed come-uppance of Mr Blair. It really has been a remarkable feat to bluff his way through almost a decade, evading the consequences of his insouciance, failure to think things through and compulsive gambler’s instinct that somehow he will get away with it. It is the inside comments page, however, that is a sign of the times. There are two articles that sum up the post scientific age. One is about global warming and the other about telepathy, both treated as though they were reality. Camilla Cavendish’s piece Eco-fatalism is for wimps neatly encapsulates all the standard fallacies on which the global warming creed is based. Among all the conformist codswallop in the online responses, however, your will find a couple of tart and relevant comments by sceptics. On the facing page is a piece by one Rupert Sheldrake, Gosh, I was just thinking about you, which contains such gems as:

Instead, I suggest that our minds may extend far beyond our brains, stretching out through fields that link us to our environment and to each other. Fields are more extensive than material objects: magnetic fields extend around magnets, and electromagnetic fields around mobile phones. Likewise, mental fields are rooted in brains but extend beyond them. The directions depend on our attention and intention.

Mental fields could help to explain telepathy, the sense of being stared at and other widespread but unexplained abilities. Of course this hypothesis is controversial. But science progresses not through dogma and polemic, but by exploring new possibilities and by paying attention to the evidence.

He is director of a project funded by (Heaven help us!) Trinity College, Cambridge. That once noble institution produced many Nobel Prize winners, including Lord Rayleigh, J J Thomson, Lord Rutherford, William Bragg, Lawrence Bragg and Neils Bohr. What would they have made of “mental fields”?

There is even more on the letters page under the heading Science resists the unknown. Much of it arises from the ironically named British Association for the Advancement of Science. What is it about Maxwell’s equations that these people think is wrong?

The comment editor at The Times is Daniel Finkelstein. He is the son of one of your bending author's most revered mentors and, from his photograph, there is no doubt about his parentage. Professor Finkelstein, your son is getting into some very dubious company.


The nutty professors

There is not much you can tell your bending author about nutty professors. The experience of working under a head of an engineering department whose sole interest in life was “psychic research” has left many scars. Somewhere in the world you can find a nutty professor to back almost any claim. One of their happier hunting grounds is among the conspiracy theorists. No celebrity death or spectacular terrorist strike can occur without them crawling out of the woodwork. Serial conspiracy theorist, Professor Steven E Jones, has found some like minded academics to form “Scholars for truth”. Funny how the title always gives the game away, like Real Climate.

As with the enginasters, they dwell on small sub-problems and ignore the great reality, which in this case concerns logistics.

It is a general principle of nutty professorship that you arbitrarily exclude all factors except you favourite; then (Lo and behold!) you can prove that your favourite is responsible for anything. There is another good example of this technique being used to explain the importance of –wait for it –wait for it –climate change. Put together the combination of the University of East Anglia and the British Association and what else do you expect?

By the way, did you notice that the Telegraph put the conspiracy theory under arts and entertainment?


The apotheosis of Bertie Wooster

"It's brain," I said; "pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?"
P G Wodehouse

The ever watchful Tim Worstall has noticed an outbreak of antimoonbattery in the Grauniad. It is from Ben Goldacre, who seems to be a sceptic fallen among believers. It is always difficult to predict what the faithful are going to take up next. Who would have thought that they would go for Islamic terrorists, as fascist as you can get? But, like all religionists, they have a need to populate their imaginary world with angels and devils, good cholesterol and bad cholesterol etc. The latest fad is good fatty acids (omega 3) versus bad fatty acids (omega 6). It has been taken up with enthusiasm by people who have not the faintest idea what those terms mean. If you try to follow up the evidence, you will find the usual trail of “mays”, “suggests” and “coulds”. Here is an account of one study from Sorry, wrong number!:

Even when the numbers are superficially reasonable you have to watch out for what is being slipped in under their cover. Here’s a headline to conjure with – Child allergies can be caused by margarine ( Sunday Times, April 12th 1998). The article concerned comments by one Dr Csaba Rusznak of the London Chest   Hospital  on a study carried out by Erika von Mutius of the University Children’s hospital in Munich. There is sufficient detail in the article to work back and calculate the numbers involved. 2000 children between 9 and 11 were studied in 1991 in Leipzig under the old regime in 1991 and a similar number in 1996. In the meantime the families had adopted a western style of life, including among other things more pets, central heating, fitted carpets and processed foods. The number of victims of allergy in the first batch is quoted as one in fifty, that is just 40 children. In the second batch this had risen to one in 20, 100 children. Now, by our rule of thumb 60 is clearly a significant increase, a change of 20 would have been more than enough. It is clear that the western lifestyle involves a greater risk of allergy, a not unexpected conclusion, but that is not good enough for our epidemiologists. Flitting past known and notorious allergens such as animal fur and house mites, they home in on margarine, in fact one just component of it, linoleic acid. So we are asked to believe that our sixty excess children, with all their variety of diet and lifestyle, establish that this one dietary component, linoleic acid, is responsible for an increase in hay fever. As they used to say when I was a child – pull the other one it’s got bells on.

Linoleic Acid is one of those that has its double bond in the wrong place and is therefore forever damned in the eyes of the enlightened.


Hair shirt, anyone?

Perhaps we can forgive a financial journalist for being taken in by the nutty professors, so we will pass over the early paragraphs of Ruth Lea’s account of neomediaevalism in modern Britain. When she comes to Kyoto and its progeny, however, she is right on the ball. Seasoned number watchers will be familiar with the ease with which Britain’s naïve politicians and bureaucrats were gulled into accepting a lap start in the Kyoto race to economic suicide, but it is really quite remarkable that they have learned nothing from the experience. They have fallen hook, line and cliché for the patter of the latter-day pardoners who are selling them indulgences at grotesque prices. The British alone have adhered to the flagellant version of the new religion. British industry is obliged to hand over further large sums of money to German industry. Not to worry, though. It is only the proles who will feel the pinch, especially pensioners and others at the bottom of the pecking order. It will have absolutely zero effect on the climate, but it is the sacrifice that matters. And if you ever doubted the irony of accepting advertisements, which makes your bending author so reluctant to join in, just look at the ones that accompanied Ruth’s article. 

Calculate CO2 footprint
We can help calculate your CO2, you can help save biodiversity.

Offset CO2 Emissions
CarbonZero flights, life, business. Help Stop Climate Change

BP: Target Neutral

There are a lot of snouts in this particular trough. They produce nothing and they make their living from taxes on the poor, much like the priesthood in the middle ages.


The enemy within

Talking of mediaevalism, the ex cathedra response from His Lordship to Ruth Lea’s simple but accurate observations has all the characteristics of the dogma and demands for tribute of a pope of the middle ages – no supporting argument, certainly no science, just doctrine. The barbarians are no longer at the gates, they have taken over the citadel.

Alas, poor science!

The eleventh great plague

That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright,
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight.
Tennyson – The Grandmother.

Heaven preserve us from experts. The very people who have brought devastation and misery to the whole experience of childhood and education are now scattering the blame around and demanding more of their own panaceas. Those who helped create the atmosphere of fear that binds our young ones up in the cocoons that so inhibit their normal development are now demanding yet more Government action, the very action that destroyed the best education system in the world. They make the word academic pejorative by linking it to the word tests. The truth is that we have abandoned the first in favour of the second.

Another of their untruths is that children cannot adapt to changes in technology. Children do not observe changes; they accept the world as they find it. Those of us who are now ancient once accepted the dropping of bombs as something that had always happened and always would happen. Modern children accept new technology for what it is.

It is the experts who have taken away from teachers the right to teach and from parents the right to raise their children as they see fit. It is typical that they use the chaos that they have helped to create as a stepping stone to more government interference, as prescribed, of course, by themselves. As for the signatories including an environmental campaigner who sees his life’s work as frightening young children with imaginary hell fires to come, what can you say?

Yes, it is a ghastly world in which children are forced to become mini-adults by commercial pressure. They are deprived of the freedom to develop that we oldies had, yet also deprived of the discipline that is so important, especially to boys. If boys are deprived of risk, leadership and discipline, they provide those commodities for themselves. The experts have feminised the education system, particularly by replacing exams with coursework, and then express wonder that boys do not thrive and are alienated.

Alas, poor generation!


And not a trace of irony

Apropos the enemy within and the hornets' nest Ruth Lea has stirred up among the faithful, the author of the climate change and civilisation theory, who seems to be under the impression that it is something to do with science, has come up with a quotation that would serve as an ideal motto for sceptical sites such as Number Watch:

The distortion of science for ideological purposes has a long history, and the results are generally ugly.

There is nothing to add really.


Says it all

Cameron inspired by TV game shows

Speaks volumes

Number watcher Chuck Redman spotted this collector’s specimen of a journalist getting confused about units of volume.


Can’t argue with that

50 ways to irritate everyone, but only for the British.

Leave of absence

Your bending author is off to Gothenburg as a guest of the Eurosensors XX conference.



 Further silence from your bending author was engendered by suffering the worst excesses of the proletarian travel experience, while feverish from a heavy cold. The plane at Gothenburg was just sufficiently late (flat battery) to cause missing the connection at Copenhagen . Trailing round that large airport trying to arrange the rebooking, followed by a long period in that purgatory that is the international airport, was only exceeded for misery by the experience of arriving at Heathrow just in time for the rush hour. Hell is a place very much like Heathrow. Stuck on the notorious M25 motorway in the airport bus and then perched on a tip-up seat on a crowded train back to the west country filled in a few more hours and completed the sort of day that would sap your will to live, if evolution had not provided you with the protection of selective memory retention.

Nevertheless, it was a great pleasure to be honoured as a guest at a European conference series that one helped to found two decades ago. Not the sort of thing one would normally mention (a bit un-English, blowing your own trumpet) but for a particular insult of a few months ago that still rankles. It was in a forum about bicycles. That humble machine that once liberated our childhood is now a Greeny symbol, flourished by the likes of Stuntman Dave. Being called unendearing and snide was not of great significance but the description xenophobic was mystifying and hurtful to one who had always revelled in foreign cultures and languages. It was only by timely accident that a piece in the Telegraph revealed that xenophobia is Lefty-Greeny code for failing to support the EU, apparently coined by the Observer.

The crypt of an ancient castle was not the easiest of  locations in which to give a post-banquet speech to an international audience, but it makes a change from holding forth in the village pub.

Recent experiences of transport have sorely tried the scepticism of your bending author, threatening to replace it with a belief in malignant deities. Fewer than twenty recent attempts to visit Southampton by train to lunch with former colleagues have included three engine failures, a flood, a landslide, a strike and a jammed door that resulted in being taken to the next station and returning just as everyone was going home.

Perhaps it is all part of being in modern Britain . Talking of which leads to a new blog by John Ray; called Eye on Britain: it is an outsider’s view of the nation that went mad, as indicated by its sub-title Stories from a very strange place.

A threatening letter from the accountant means that your bending author will be doing sums for the next few days. It is strange how a brain that revels in a set of non-linear partial differential equations of odd order turns to mush at the sight of a column of pounds and pence. Normal service (outbreaks of mild activity amid general torpor) will be resumed as soon as possible.


The glory that was

 The Royal Society

   It is an established rule of the Royal Society. ..never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.

Advertisement in each issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society up to the 1950s


Michael Faraday 1791-1867

 [On being offered the Presidency of the Royal Society]

 Tyndall, I must remain plain Michael Faraday to the last; and let me now tell you, that if I accepted the honour which the Royal Society desires to confer upon me, I would not answer for the integrity of my intellect for a single year.


Robert Hooke 1635-1703

 The business and design of the Royal Society is to improve the knowledge of natural things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practices, Engynes and Inventions by Experiments (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick or Logick) All to advance the glory of God, the honour of the King. ..the benefit of his Kingdom, and the general good of mankind.


Henry Oldenburg ca 1626-1678

 I acknowledge that the jealousy about the first authors of experiments which you speak of, is not groundless; and therefore offer myself to register all those you, or any person, shall please to communicate as new, with that fidelity, which both the honour of my relation to the Royal Society (which is highly concerned in such experiments) and my own inclinations, do strongly oblige me to.

[The first editor of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society writing to Robert Boyle]  


Above quotations from the marvellous Harvest of a Quiet Eye by Alan Mackay, published by the Institute of Physics. 

Now there is this.

 Alas poor science!


The near departed

Stand not on the order of your going, but go at once.
Lady Macbeth

 It was all still a bit of a joke for number watchers when John Prescott went off to America in his role as physicist. Five years later, the joke was on us, as he had gathered power into his hands to become the third most influential politician in the country. In many ways it was a greater achievement than that of Gordon Brown, who had inherited a department with a culture of territorial imperialism extending back over a millennium. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister grew from nothing to a huge bureaucratic army that controlled much of the lives of ordinary Britons, a juggernaut that crushed dissent. Then hubris gave way to nemesis, when he was caught with his trousers down. Now he has apologised, but only to the Labour Party and only for being caught.

In all the tarnished annals of British political history there can be few careers with such a record of failure and broken promises. In appearance, thought, word and deed he has proved himself a bullying thug without a single redeeming feature. It is not his failures, however, that matter, so much as his successes. His housing policies, for example, leave the sort of ruinous scars on the land that have only been matched by the likes of Henry VIII and Cromwell.  He has implemented policies of concreting over southern England , while bulldozing communities in the north to make way for the developers. He is the ultimate Philistine, indifferent to concepts such as beauty and love of country.

His worst offence, among the many, was crushing local democracy by putting in enforcers charged with gagging any local councillors who have a “prior interest”, so that anyone specifically elected to oppose, say, an ugly wind turbine scheme, is prevented from doing just that. It is reminiscent of the Soviet Empire at its height.

Of course, the fact that he manifests the sexual mores of a street dog do not necessarily relate to his political competence, but they all form part of a pattern of behaviour that reflects a general turpitude. His presence in such a position was just another indication of the insouciance of the Prime Minister. He was put there as a sop to Old Labour and kept there out of lack of concern for the consequences. He is a man of monumental stupidity and towering vanity, but with a bottomless well of congenital cunning that kept him afloat in the political sewage. Because of his offences against our beautiful language and simple logic, he was treated by commentators as a harmless buffoon, but harmless he was not. We shall not see his like again – with any luck.



Number of the month – 5

It being the height of the political conference season, it is apposite to list the choices facing the British electorate at the next election:

  1. The Green Party (Labour Branch)
  2. The Green Party (Conservative Branch)
  3. The Green Party (Liberal Democrat Branch)
  4. The Green Party
  5. UKIP



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