Number of the Month

February  2009

The crunch – two analogies from physics

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. – Herbert Spencer (1891)

Take a sample of gas between two electrodes and apply a voltage known to be high enough to cause electric breakdown. This was a system first described by Nobel Laureate, Max von Laue, in 1925. The breakdown discharge does not take place immediately: although the system is unstable, it awaits a triggering event, such as a cosmic particle. The observed time lags to breakdown are highly scattered (exponential distribution).

Imagine instead of suddenly applying a constant voltage we apply a ramp function rising linearly from zero. The voltages at breakdown are again random, depending on a triggering event (among other factors). The damage done by the discharge depends on the energy in it, which varies with the square of the voltage, so a long time lag means much more damage.

The tragedy of the Reckless Decade was the long time lag before an initiating event (the Lehmann collapse). If it had happened earlier, the damage would have been far less. The system was unstable for years before the dénouement. It was not a matter of risk. Breakdown was inevitable. The question was “when?” and the longer the delay, the greater the damage.

While emptying the bath, try steering a particle of detritus towards the plughole with a waft of the hand. Unless you have been practising, the offending matter will probably end up travelling in a direction opposite to that intended.  The bath water (described mathematically by a vector field) is subject to laws of continuity. Every part of the system is linked to every other part.

So it is in human affairs. Politicians (almost all innumerate) pass acts based on possibly noble but ultimately simplistic principles and are shocked (if they actually notice) when the results are the opposite of those intended. All of human society is linked in all sorts of complicated and ill-understood ways. Much of the damage in the Reckless Decade was adumbrated by previous political actions. Congress decreed that mortgages should be more egalitarian, Britain was made vulnerable by being too dependent on one industry (finance) etc. Both relaxed monitoring of financial institutions. Britain had a tripartite system that was so complicated (typical Brown) that everybody’s business became nobody’s business.

Recessions are generational phenomena. The new boys replace those who have experience of it going wrong. They know the history, but the inevitable and doomed cry is “This time it is different”. It is never different. Though the details vary, a collective euphoria builds up and all rationality is cast aside. Folly is a contagion. A long time ago we were taught as schoolboys the first rule of banking – Don’t borrow short and lend long. We did not really know what it meant. We do now.

Like the bath water, all the elements of society are interconnected. We do not even begin to understand how. This provides the reasoning behind the Conservative Principle – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It also explains the failure of the Socialist Illusion – Everything can be planned. That is why whenever we visited the Soviet Empire we had to take items like bath plugs with us.  Nobody understands how society works, though many academics claim to do so, despite the fact that they clearly cancel each other out.

A British central banker admitted that they were caught out by the crisis. Caught out? Did none of them turn on their televisions and see advertisements offering loans to people with poor credit records? Even those of us who were warning of the inevitable catastrophe had no idea that the insanity extended to foreign loans on dubious surety. The new generation of bankers were nothing more than professional gamblers. In a rising market they were rewarded for risk taking beyond reason. Many of them have retired from the scene, rich for life. Those that remain are rewarded for their folly by being loaded with unprecedented grants underwritten by the suffering taxpayer.

It’s a mad world, my masters!



"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."
Thomas Henry Huxley

A correspondent suggests that, in the light of Christopher Booker’s latest diatribe, there is an inconsistency between the Darwin piece that provided our latest number of the month and our oft-repeated support for Booker’s views.

Well, as that old chancer C E M Joad might have said, “It all depends on what you mean by Darwinist.” If by this term Booker means someone who has blind faith in Darwin’s principal theory, there is no argument. If, however, he means someone who accepts the theory as the least bad (by a long way) explanation for a range of phenomena then there is indeed a difference of opinion.

One question that determines the power of a theory is “Is it useful?” From Darwin we can infer, for example, that we will always need to develop new antibiotics and insecticides, which thus helps us to plan and direct research. From Global Warming we can infer that there is little need to stockpile salt and grit for harsh winters.

The Cambrian explosion is indeed a remarkable upwelling of different species, which so exercised Darwin that he wrote a whole chapter on it. Explosion, however, is rather an emotive word for something that occupied 80 million years of pre-history. Humanity has only been here for a couple of million years, and we are slow breeders. Flightless birds appear when there are no predators and disappear when some arrive, dead as the dodo. Many species have organs and structures that are obviously in the process of atrophy.

As for the stages of evolution, Booker selects two examples that are unconvincing. First, there is the relationship between the bat and the mouse. His argument is rather damaged by the current existence of an intermediate form in the flying squirrels, which illustrates the development of gliding membranes without interference with limb function. The flying squirrels are, in fact, highly subject to predation, so they may well be going through a rather rapid evolution by survival of the fittest.

The eye is a more difficult example, largely because the conditions for the fossilisation of soft tissue are rather rare. Indeed, fossilisation itself is a rare event and it is really quite remarkable how limited are the breaks in the fossil record.  Nevertheless, hundreds of millions of years is a very long time and an awful lot of generations. Chlamydomonas is an extant single-celled plant that has a light-sensitive organ. Exactly what stage is impossible to bridge between that and the eye of a hawk is never made clear. It is certainly a long and complex journey, but there is no reason to suppose that it is an impossible one over such a long time scale and so many generations. Any extended hypothesis would be pure speculation and rather fruitless.

The killer evidence triumphantly in favour of Darwin (and Mendel) that Booker skirts completely is molecular biology. We now have complete genomes for a variety of species. They are written record of how they are interrelated. We can create chimeras, such as fish that glow in the dark, by gene splicing. Before that, radiation was used to speed up the process of mutation to allow new plant strains to be developed by selection. Unnatural selection is evinced by the variety of dogs on parade in our parks. Their fitness to survive is determined by human whim.

Those of the atheistic faith like to cite Darwin ’s work as providing evidence of support. It does nothing of the sort, though it does rather blow a hole in Genesis as perceived by those who fail to accept it as an allegory. The likening of Darwinian Theory to Global Warming Theory is entirely specious. One has an enormous body of evidence to support it: the other has only infinitely tunable computer models.


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Insanitary insanity

The interval between prediction and outcome seems to be shrinking. Not that the rat explosion merits the title of prediction, since it was an outcome that was obvious to anyone except an idiot or a professional politician. It was adumbrated in a piece entitled STENCH in these pages less than two years ago. More worrying is the fact that related forecasts have serious outcomes that are not so obvious. When fly-borne diseases begin to increase in the warmer weather, it will no doubt be reported as an unfortunate random event (or even yet another outcome of global warming).

Meanwhile, there is a new plan to make millions of people ill in support of a money-making myth.

Insanity rules! OK.


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Plague is something that resides in history books and little history is taught any more. We now have hygiene, scientific knowledge, antibiotics, pesticides and many other resources to give hope that it is a thing of the past, though evolution will always be a powerful opponent. What has changed in recent times is that there is a new all-pervading political movement that is antihuman, glib and arrogant. Let us just remind ourselves of what plague can mean, from The Epidemiologists:

Plague was a rather vague term given to a variety of epidemic infectious diseases, but the most dramatic of them was the Black Death or bubonic plague. The sixteenth century occurrence was one of many outbreaks, from the Black Death of the fourteenth century to the great plague of 1665. The Black Death began with an outbreak in China in 1333 and over the next decade and a half it moved remorselessly westward, carried by merchants, pilgrims and other travellers along the established land and sea trade routes. It reached Constantinople in 1347, Messina in Sicily in October 1347, and Paris and the south coast of England in the summer of 1348. By 1350 it had covered most of Europe and reached as far as Iceland and Greenland . There were further outbreaks over the years, but in the final flourish the Great Plague of London (1664-1666) killed more people than any other epidemic, with approximately 68,500 burials of plague victims being recorded during its 18-month course.

The impact of the Black Death was profound, and it brought many social and economic changes. Land became less scarce, while labour became more expensive. After a few sporadic outbreaks, such as Marseille in 1720, the incidence of plague declined. Perhaps humanity had developed some immunity, but improved hygiene must have had an effect and the black rat was largely replaced by the brown rat. For as we now all know, the plague is carried by the black rat and transmitted by its flea, Xenopsylla cheopis. We should note that it is not undisputed that the Black Death was in fact bubonic plague and some authorities believe that it was more likely to have been a virus disease like Ebola.

As we have observed above, Green policies have promoted all sorts of risky behaviour in society, not least those that encourage the spread of pests, vermin and disease. Unfortunately, the mechanisms are so indirect that they are able to fend off any guilt by blaming something else, usually global warming. Now deaths have occurred that are clearly linked with Greenery. What more dramatic evidence can you have than the courageous Australian who endured intolerable legal harassment and draconian fines for taking decisive action that saved his home and family? Many have endured horrible deaths and injuries for being more conformist.

Bush fires are part of the long history of Australia . So much so that many plants have evolved (that word again) in such a way as to ensure survival. But now, of course, we know better than those ignorant aborigines

The basic problem is that the Greens have been able to create a situation in which they are not required to offer logical consistent argument, or to explore consequences. They appeal to ephemeral emotion. As in the case of our bath water example, simplistic actions produce accidental, unintended and often disastrous effects.

The undemocratic EU, in addition to dismantling the industries that feed its population, is now imposing an increasing risk of pestilence and famine. It is increasingly looking as though the USA will follow the same path. Yes, we can!


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Footnote: Further reading identified by Australian correspondents here and here.

…not forgetting

The other way that the Greens are going to kill people is with power cuts. A letter in The Times points out the lack of contribution by wind to power supplies during the recent prolonged cold spell in Britain . Number Watch has been banging on about the inevitability of such scenarios for years, even resorting to outright catastrophism.

One of the ways Greenies maintain their fictions is to ignore completely any salient facts that spoil their theories, such as the fact that wind power is available less than a third of the time.

The wind turbine programme is a sure route to disaster. It would be better to dig a big hole and pour billions of Euros into it. At least that would not wreck the operation of the Grid.

The laws of physics still under threat

For those, like Number Watch, who have wondered “Whatever happened to Steorn” our flabber has never been so ghasted to discover that it is still going strong. The bathos of the public demonstration in July 2007, when technical difficulties (in the form of warm lights) caused a postponement of the collapse of physics, appears to have been set aside. There is a new launch going on.



That’s entertainment

Give Steorn their due: they have provided a bit of light in the gloomy world of misanthropic prophets of doom, mealy-mouthed  politicians and murderous greenies that number watchers normally inhabit. It takes you back to the adventure stories in the boys’ comic books we used to read in a long-gone era.

.There is an old story about an editor who became very concerned about the state his author  had left the hero in at the end of an episode, tied by the wrists to a burning rope and dangling over an alligator pit. The author kept telling him “Don’t worry about it.” When the next episode came in it began “With one bound he was free.”

So it was with Steorn. For some reason they were committed to demonstrating the impossible on that July day in 2007. As it approached we all suffered the anxiety of the thriller addict. How were our heroes going to get out of his one? As was usual in the serials, the dénouement was rather bathetic. Nevertheless, a new episode has started and we can look forward to another knife-edge situation developing.

Regular correspondent  Dennis Ambler notes – One minute into the video there is a wall poster shown with the title "The begining of knowledge". It is obviously not the beginning of knowledge of the English language! 


A gross insult

A greenie propaganda website has published a list of leading deniers. Why have Number Watch and its author been left out of this roll of honour? Admittedly Number Watch deals with a wide variety of nonsense in addition to global warming, but is it too much to expect some acknowledgement for the thought and effort that went into, for example, the essays?

Of course the propagandists got the story arse about face as they usually do. Marc Morano does not send us original material. We send it to him and he kindly operates as a clearing house to keep the rest of us informed as to what others are saying. Note the ageism contained in the accusation “Others are aging scientists with strong conservative beliefs, motivating them to challenge action on global warming not because they disbelieve its existence, but because they are ideologically opposed to regulation of pollution.” There are two main reasons that so many of us are old:

  1. We were trained in the era when all scientists were taught to be sceptics (about everything) rather than believers.
  2. We are retired and therefore not subject to blackmail within institutions that rely on handouts from state propaganda machines. Many younger scientists would speak out if they did not live in a climate of fear and the threat of careers without research grants.

It is  even more ludicrous than usual to claim that we are ideologically opposed to the regulation of pollution. Many of us were active in opposing real pollution when it was a problem (your bending author, for example, gave much time and money long ago to the cause of water purity, when our post-war rivers were a disaster area). What we do not accept is that carbon, the basis of all life on earth, is a pollution. As for having strong conservative beliefs, the political position of this site and its author has been clearly stated. Now that words like conservative and liberal have completely changed their meaning, anyone who does not conform to the authoritarian message is vilified as a conservative.

Ad hominem attacks are symptomatic of campaigners who are aware that they have lost the intellectual argument. This is a big attack by big losers.


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Yet more apologies for absence

The shortage of postings has occurred for the usual health reasons. This time your bending author has been hosting a different group of little guests (Moraxella catarrhalis) which proved resistant to the long term antibiotic. Just another thread in the rich tapestry of life.  Meanwhile the following thoughts occurred towards the end of February.

A great American tradition

snake_oil.jpgWhen the pioneers opened up the West, in their trail were hosts of others of only a slightly less pioneering spirit – whores, lawyers, gamblers, bankers, real estate agents etc. Among them were a group we celebrate today, the snake oil salesmen.

As in related fields, their modern descendants have polished up their act. They are the climate change lobbyists, who have made two great improvements:

1.      They are selling a cure to a disease that is purely imaginary

2.      They are selling to people who are not spending their own money

As they say in the trade: no comeback.

Like everything else in this human life, climate is subject to the Law of It. As Deep Throat used to say, follow the money.

Which all brings us to:

Number of the month – 4

Four is the number of climate change lobbyists for every member of congress. With billions of dollars of taxpayers' money on offer by the new authoritarian socialist Government of the USA , it would be rude not to take them.


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