Number of the Month

April  2008

The lost world

At times of ill health, which have become all too frequent of late, your bending author retreats into his collection of classic crime novels, especially Maigret and Nero Wolfe. They are full of interesting cultural nuances as well as being great entertainment. Here is a bit from Death of a Dude by Rex Stout, which seems to say so much about the America the world has lost.

… hanging on the wall back of Woody's desk a big card in a homemade frame which said in homemade lettering by  Woody:

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Wolfe had asked why that had been chosen for display in a frame and Woody had said because he thought it was the greatest sentence in American literature. Wolfe had asked why he thought that, and Woody had replied because it said the most important thing about America, that no man had to let anybody else decide things for him, and what made it such a wonderful sentence was that it wasn't a man who said it, it was a boy who had never read any books, and that showed that he was born with it because he was American.

The zealots march on

That lone purveyor of truth, Christopher Booker, notes the characteristic carve-up by which the EU coup d’état was shuffled through the House of Lords, with the help of those whose snouts are already firmly in the trough. But he goes on to highlight the latest piece of gratuitous spite by the zealots in Brussels with Drink-driving laws way over the limit. This will mean the end of the English rural pub and, as always, picks on the elderly and disabled. Your bending author has recently joined the ranks of the officially disabled; so, not being able to walk there, will have to give up one of the few remaining pleasures in life.

Here is what Sorry, wrong number! had to say about it eight years ago:

It so happens that, being an academic, I had done a considerable amount of research into the threshold  for increasing probability  of accidents occurred. It happens to be exactly where the limit was set in the UK , 0.08%.

Let us consider one of the more thorough investigations, which was carried out by Kruger et al  of the University of Wuerzberg and was a refined version of an earlier study in Grand Rapids . In view of my confessed “criminality” in this area, I will not go into my worries about the statistical methods employed, but take them at face value. At least they considered drivers who had caused an accident and tried to provide a comparison with the general driving population, which are both rare in such studies. Going straight to the conclusions drawn from this investigation, with respect to the likelihood of accidents and BAC  (Blood Alcohol Content):

If no one with a BAC  greater than 0.08% drove, a reduction of 96% would result. Thus, if the legal limit for DUI (Driving Under the Influence) in Germany (0.08%) was an effective deterrent against driving with a higher BAC, this would mean that nearly everything that could be done to prevent alcohol -related accidents would have been accomplished. Thus, countermeasures directed at those persons driving at BACs higher than 0.08% can be expected to be most effective in reducing the number of accidents attributable to the effects of alcohol. In contrast, measures directed at drivers with BACs less than 0.08% cannot be very effective. At most, 4% of all accidents attributable to the effects of alcohol may be prevented.

Note that these percentages are of the total estimated to be due to alcohol , i.e. 10.8% of all accidents. Thus if all driving at above 0.08% were prevented it is deduced that about 10% of accidents would not occur. Acting below this threshold would prevent less than 0.4%, which is well below any reasonable level of significance .

The conclusion must be that the right threshold was chosen for the original legislation and any limit set below this threshold would be purely punitive. It saves no lives and satisfies only the SIFs . The person who has a pint while driving home from work poses no extra risk  to anyone. In fact the two studies mentioned above suggest that there may be even less risk at this level than in the general population. To be consistent the SIFs, who are addicted to marginal statistics , should insist that all drivers should have one drink before they start. Furthermore, there was a very strong relationship with age, and younger drivers were much more likely to have an accident due to alcohol  than older ones. In general, the driver at the legal limit is no more likely to have an accident than one with no blood alcohol, but above this the risk begins to increase rapidly. The research can never be done again because legislation is in place in most countries that prevents comparisons being made.

Those pushing for harsher legislation should think through the consequences. Of particular concern are rural communities . These days we have, more than ever, urban governments  for urban people. Country dwellers have had their railways and buses taken away by the politicians  and then find themselves under attack for driving the cars upon which have become so dependent. It is all very well telling them take a taxi or share a car, but those options are pie in the sky for many country dwellers. With the decline in the church, the country pub  is often the last cohesive institution in remote areas and it is heartbreaking to see some of these businesses being destroyed by policemen  lurking around them in the hope of improving their computer  ratings for arrests, without getting into the difficult business of catching burglars. 29% of English parishes now have no pub  and the proportion is rising. A rural pub closes down almost every day. A frequent comment heard when policemen are seen skulking around country pubs  is “When you get burgled they don’t want to know.” I am ashamed to say that I am one of the many people who no longer call in on my friends’ pub – not because I would be intending to commit an offence, but because I have a horror of the harassment and intimidation that goes with it. Once the local police  spy has your number in her book that is what you are in for.

I would not wish to leave this subject without a further reference to the members of pressure groups. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) began in 1980, after a 13-year-old girl was killed by a drunken driver who had several prior offences. This was an appalling crime that deserved to be punished by imprisonment with the key thrown away.

Drunken driving is a crime against humanity that deserves punishment. Drink-drive is a technical offence caused by instrumentation and zealotry. There is nothing we can do about this insane progression of coercion. Our politicians have surrendered, without our permission, our right to self-government, while we can expect our own bureaucrats to gold-plate any dictated action to their own satisfaction. The whole case for it is based on the usual lies and distortions, including a completely fictitious number of lives saved. Another usual side effect is a huge diversion of labour into a non-productive area, while real criminals will continue to enjoy the freedom of the streets.

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Oh to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!
Browning - Home thoughts from abroad

The back garden in April (believe it or not a colour photo). Nothing startling about that. Oldies have seen it all before; last time about twenty years ago. Species get caught out, sometimes tragically. There was one year in the eighties when almost an entire generation of amphibians died under the ice in famously mild Southampton . It’s not as though snow represents the coldest weather, as it coincides with cloud cover. Still it gives the media something to get excited about.

It’s only weather, like that warm spell in January. Furthermore, though it is hard for the British to understand, the island of Great Britain is not the globe. The northern hemisphere as a whole has had some of the harshest winter weather for many a year. A bigger mystery is how someone can get to be Curator of Kew Gardens without understanding this, but that’s religion for you.

All right, it's a bit of a cliché to quote Browning in the circs, but why should THEY have all the best clichés?

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Essential viewing

For any number watcher who has omitted to subscribe to CCNeT:


An old friend of Number Watch, Michael O’Ronain, has turned up on Watts Up with that, with a telling animation of the BBC’s abject surrender to the zealots.


You could not make it up

Your bending author is seriously thinking of giving up attempts at satire. How can you compete with the absurdity of the new real world?


The Junk juggernaut rolls on

It is rather a depressing thought that the Telegraph is the nearest thing that Britain has to a serious newspaper. This week it has featured an outbreak of empty scares based on meta-studies, absurdly small studies and, of course, ridiculous relative risks (RR).

The first was a scare involving a popular vehicle for of self dosing, vitamins. While it is clear that people on a normal diet with a normal metabolism are wasting their money on these supplements, this is no excuse for spreading unnecessary alarm. With one possible exception, extra vitamins are simply useless. The exception is vitamin A. While a deficiency of this compound can cause serious diseases, including childhood blindness and death, an excess can suppress growth; stop menstruation; damage red blood corpuscles and cause skin rashes, headaches, nausea, and jaundice.

Nevertheless, a meta-study yielding RRs of  1.16 or less adds nothing to the sum of human happiness and merely fuels pointless scare journalism.

Breast cancer has long been a favourite of the scare-mongers. For understandable reasons it roused fear in all women. It is frequently used to provide ammunition for the zealots, so the research tends to be directed towards their favourite targets. Now we are told that one glass of wine a day increases the risk of breast cancer (RR 1.07). Sandy tells about the provenance of this vital "research".  In the very same week other “experts” picked on another favourite target, obesity. A small study (Trojan Number 547) indicated that fat women with breast cancer are more likely to die than their slim sisters (RR about 1.4). We are not told just how many were regarded as obese, but even if it were about a half of them, the number of excess deaths would be of the order of 12.

As we have observed before, small studies are not just useless, they are malign, as the phenomenon of funnel plots reveals.

Just in case you did not get the message from our sponsors, the risk of Alzheimer’s is increased for smokers, drinkers and those with raised cholesterol. The inclusion of tobacco is interesting, because before the Great Censorship, it was widely accepted that smokers were half as likely to get Alzheimer’s as non-smokers (likewise Parkinson’s to boot). Indeed, this promoted one of the first uses of the word paradox as a paranym.

What a strange coincidence it is that the causes of these diseases all happen to be the favourite targets of various groups of zealots and not something else, such as lettuce.

That was the week that was.

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Footnote: Sandy does vitamins


Yesterday’s joke – today’s politics

Your bending author coined the term “passive drinking” for the 2000 book Sorry, wrong number! Coupled with “toe-nail cancer” it was meant to be so absurd that no one could mistake it for a real example. It has subsequently been used in these pages to help explain such concepts as Trojan Number and Publication Bias.

But there are no jokes in the world of the zealots, so now we have this.

It illustrates so many of the contentions in March of the zealots, particularly the way the success of the anti-tobacco campaign has inspired the other puritans.

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Footnote: We are reminded that Number Watch featured the headline It was meant to be a joke twice in its early days, appropriately in the month of April in the years 2001 and 2002. The satirical inventions that became true were "microclusters" and "potato crisps cause cancer". Risky business, making little jokes!


Flowers in the desert

When you have spent years of your life attempting to defend a cause, such as scepticism (i.e. traditional science), it is easy to become despondent in the face of an implacable and ruthless foe: more so when your opponents appear to have absolute domination over the establishment media.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that, while the faithful have achieved control over enormous financial and communication resources, all is not well for them among ordinary thinking folk. Whether it is in addressing groups of intelligent, informed people (such as engineers or insurers) or just talking to people in the remaining pubs, it becomes clear that a strong vein of scepticism (even cynicism) survives among the populace. While, for example, the self-satisfied political and media classes prattle on about global warming and the necessity of economic sacrifice to the new gods, when anybody bothers to ask them people in the street reveal quite different priorities.

The other cheering observation is that independent journalism still survives locally across North America. This is revealed to Number Watch by links that come up in the on-line statistics of hits to the site. Regularly, supportive comments turn up from the most unexpected sources, such as Canadian local radio stations or US local newspapers and web sites, e.g., most recently, Dakota Voice.

The disjunction between the politico-media establishment and ordinary people is a feature of our age. A glaring example is the conspiracy (a much abused word, but no other will suffice) to deprive ordinary European voters of a say in the imposition of a grotesquely undemocratic constitution. There is little doubt that most countries of Europe, given the choice, would reject this option, as they have done in the past; so the new elite have decided to deprive them of that choice. Just browse through EU Referendum to see some of the extraordinary deceptions and manoeuvres that this campaign has required. Small, impoverished groups, such as UKIP or the Freedom Association, stand up to the Goliaths of bureaucratic control, but they struggle to make their voices heard.

The big question is whether the isolated blooms of free-thinking human independence can survive and prosper in the wasteland that is modern politics, or whether Orwell’s gloomy vision is our future.

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23 April

Today your bending author dons his red rose for St George’s day and Shakespeare’s birthday, while joining in the cry of rage from the Englishman in his castle at the perfidy of the traitors in our midst.

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Footnote: perhaps this is a suitable day to link to the frequently asked question of the origin of "bending author". It was explained back in 2001 here.


There are increasing signs that the global warmers are rushing out to place each way bets on which way the climate will jump. The motto is “Get your rationalisation in first”. A correspondent who rejoices in the soubriquet of Perigo Minas draws attention to this attempt to establish that even if it gets colder it’s still your fault. It will delight collectors of non sequiturs. In particular, apparently the Little Ice Age was caused by the Mediaeval Warm Period. It now seems that the latter actually happened after all, Hockey Stick notwithstanding, but we are not offered an explanation as to why it happened. It must all have been some political incorrectness that those naughty Plantagenets got up to. Let us be thankful that we are so much more sophisticated now and have discovered the true religion.

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It wasn’t me, Guv!

Satisfying to see the RSPB caught out in hypocrisy. They have prevented the traditional control of raptors and then blame everyone else for the decline of songbirds.

Declaration of interest: this is personal. We saw our treasured song thrush carried off by a sparrow hawk a decade ago and have never had one since. We have had to stop feeding birds at the bird table because the sparrow hawk took to arriving in time for lunch. Magpies and carrion crows are spreading remorselessly.

They have now been casting round for villains to blame for the loss of migratory birds, including (wait for it, wait for it) global warming. How few small birds do they think it takes to raise a family of raptors? Yet they celebrate the resurgence of birds of prey.

In the old days farmers took it upon themselves to maintain a sensible balance by controlling raptor populations. But nowadays, of course, we know better.

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And more good news

For a change the US courts have reined in one of the more egregious examples of the venal repression of free comment by means of legal harassment. Sandy reports.



Just another outrage

Cooked up by the Eurocrats and their lobbying friends in the big industrial cartels that haunt Brussels, this will produce the usual deafening silence from the political classes.

The tyranny tightens the screw

To get the following into context it is important to remember that it refers to a time when violent crime is worse than ever. Children are shooting and stabbing each other in the streets and burglaries, theft and shoplifting are carried out with impunity in the almost total absence of police on the streets. We are governed not by elected representatives, but by officials.

In the Democratic Socialist Republic of Hull a mother was fined £75 for dropping a piece of sausage roll when feeding her toddler. It was immediately gobble up by pigeons.

Draconian laws that were forced through Parliament as being absolutely necessary to track criminals and terrorists have been used for a variety of quite different purposes. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council for more than two weeks. Their crime (of which they were innocent) was to be suspected of the grievous middle class sin of trying to do their best for the children in defiance of rules of socialist equality.

The common characteristic of these tawdry tales is the employment of enormous numbers of people at the taxpayers’ expense, a non-productive army who are dragging down the already precarious economy. They have no connection with police or judiciary, yet are empowered to act as judge and jury in the imposition of fines on a scale that is out of all proportion to those imposed for what were once real crimes.

For this is Envirocrime,  Orwellian Newspeak for a whole new raft of offences, mostly inspired by EU directives (but don’t let the public know that, because our  leaders like to maintain the pretence that they are still in charge) which have given rise to an era of surveillance and oppression that realises Orwell’s nightmare. This leads us to:

Number of the month - 4

A father of four in Cumbria now has a criminal record. His crime is to overfill his refuse bin so that the lid was ajar by all of four inches. The prosecution claim that this was in fact seven inches (clearly a hanging offence). Perhaps his offence would have been mitigated if it were for ten centimetres.

Here in West Wiltshire we received a full colour leaflet with the mind-numbing headline Exciting developments in recycling. One of the pleasures of moving here had been to find that the binmen were so helpful; nothing was too much trouble. Then recently, they were accompanied by a man with a clipboard, clearly teaching them how to be intractable. We are not only to have two different bins, but we are provided with plastic crates for recyclables. How is anyone who walks with a stick supposed to carry a crate? A separate large refuse vehicle, fully manned and spouting dreaded pollution, collects cardboard only. One poor old lady was seen this week struggling down to the community recycling bins with a large plastic bag in one hand, because she could not carry a crate through her house. In some areas people who leave for work before 7 am are faced with fines for putting out their rubbish too early.

Elderly people live in fear of breaking complicated rules that they do not understand and do not seem to make any sense. They do not realise that the whole purpose is to force them into ritualistic behaviour for reasons of religion.

Madness, or what?


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