Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cavendish Grammar School, Buxton

I should like to think that this school was named after Lady Frederick (Lucy) Cavendish, but I have been unable to find any information about the schools origins. With Buxton's close relations with the Dukes of Devonshire there are of course many reasons why the school should have been given that name

Related post: Lady Frederick Cavendish

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No kissing allowed

Writing of amusement yesterday suddenly reminded me of this little ditty popular when I were a lass. We used to write it in each others Autograph books - ancient leather backed paper versions of Facebook

These days we know exactly what people - even young teens - are thinking at that final O! But to us, in the days when Agony Aunts regularly fielded the question Should I let a boy kiss me on a first date? Will he still respect me? it was literally innocent & devoid of double entendre

O please do not kiss me!
O please do not kiss
O please do not
O please do
O please

Then that one reminded me of the following, which appeared on one of those page-a-day calendars which my father was given when I was about 12. In that innocent age it seemed a tiny bit indecent, about the same as saying BOTTOM! in a loud voice when you are 3 or 4:

A kiss is the anatomical juxtaposition of 2 orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction

I just remember the frisson so clearly that it is impossible to judge now whether I would find it the least bit amusing if I heard it for the first time today

And another one; A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous

Related post: The Way They Live Now

Henrietta goes to France

If I were to choose a favourite poem by Thomas Hood it would be a toss up between this one & I remember, I remember, but Henrietta wins because I love the puns & because it reminds me of going to France as a child


When little people go abroad, wherever they may roam,
They will not just be treated as they used to be at home;
So take a few promiscuous hints, to warn you in advance,
Of how a little English girl will perhaps be served in France.

Of course you will be Frenchified; and first, it's my belief,
They'll dress you in their foreign style as à-la-mode as beef,
With a little row of beehives, as a border to your frock,
And a pair of frilly trousers, like a little bantam cock.

But first they'll seize your bundle (if you have one) in a crack,
And tie it with a tape by way of bustle on your back;
And make your waist so high or low, your shape will be a riddle,
For anyhow you'll never have your middle in the middle.

You'll have to learn a chou is quite another sort of thing
To that you put your foot in; that a belle is not to ring;
That a corne is not the nubble that brings trouble to your toes;
Nor peut-être a potato, as some Irish folks suppose.

But pray at meals, remember this, the French are so polite,
No matter what you eat or drink, "whatever is, is right!"
So when you're told at dinner-time that some delicious stew
Is cat instead of rabbit, you must answer "Tant mi—eux!"

For little folks who go abroad, wherever they may roam,
They cannot just be treated as they used to be at home;
So take a few promiscuous hints, to warn you in advance,
Of how a little English girl will perhaps be served in France!

Link to the whole poem

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Recent Economic Changes

The committee, like other observers, was early impressed by the degree of economic activity in these seven years. It was struck by the outpouring of energy which piled up skyscrapers in scores of cities; knit the 48 states together with 20,000 miles of airways; moved each year over railways & waterways more than one & a half billion tons of freight; thronged the highways with 25,000,000 motor cars; carried electricity to 17,000,000 homes; sent each year 3,750,000 children to high school& more than 1,000,000 young men & women to college; & fed, clothed, housed & amused the 120,000,000 persons who occupy our one-twentieth of the habitable area of the earth

This spread of higher living standards has been characteristic of our national life practically throughout our history

Report of the Committee of the Presidents Conference on Unemployment 1929
In the current economic climate I suppose that should be taken as an AWFUL WARNING
But oh for such prose in present day Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee reports
Or imagine if Gordon Brown felt it necessary to include the number of people he had amused when he reels off a list of stats. Or included amusement in his public service objectives performance indicator targets
On second thoughts ....

Surprise yourself. Think yourself thin

Just been reminded of one of those questions I keep meaning to find the answer to. Your brain consumes 20% of the total energy the body uses

Well obviously that is an average. What is the variance? What distribution does it have - between different people or in the same person over time?

I know that on some of my most exhausting days I have done nothing more physically energetic than sit at my desk

There can also be a kind of endorphin high from intellectual exercise - finally solving a knotty problem, getting that paper written, that statistical analysis completed. Not unlike, I assume, the kind people say they get from jogging or the gym

Is there a negative correlation between IQ & BMI? If so, is the causal link

  • High IQ → sensible eating → low BMI, or

  • High IQ → high energy expended in brain exercise → low BMI

Conflicting advice

If you are going through hell, keep going - Winston Churchill

If you are in a hole, stop digging - Ken Clarke


I was going through some old commonplace books again when I found that I had once been very interested in the distinction between stress, that modern disease which can seem just like so much whingeing, & distress, an emotion as old as time itself, the stuff of art & literature. Interested enough to check the etymology.

According to Collins dictionary they both derive from the Latin districtus, meaning divided in mind

The OED gives as one definition for distress:

2. a. The sore pressure or strain of adversity, trouble, sickness, pain, or sorrow; anguish or affliction affecting the body, spirit, or community

which strikes me as apt for the disease of schizophrenia. Could a new name be developed from the etymology?

Districtus does not sound right, because of the implication of physical spasm or rictus. But how about distrenia, or dystrenia? It is also reminiscent of the mysteries of dystonia

It is not in the OED & Google found no mentions.

Link: Irish jokes & schizophrenia

Binomial families

In a society where the average family has 2 children simple binomial probabilities will tell you that, compared with a society which averages, say, 4 children there will be fewer
  • fathers who have sons
  • mothers who have daughters
  • girls who have brothers
  • boys who have sisters

You do not have to be a complete biological determinist to think that, statistically speaking, this will lead to certain social or sociological differences

Even the most domineering paterfamilias might deign to educate a daughter if he has no son

More girls might be exposed to hobbies or casts of thought if their father involves them in pursuits which he might otherwise share mainly with his son

And so on

Of course couples might do their bit to confuse the statistics if those who have 2 children of the same sex are more likely to have a third child

Monday, January 28, 2008

The price of democracy

It is ironic that many of Labours 'sleaze' problems arise from the much-vaunted introduction of democracy into Party elections

Candidates for office had no need to find cash to finance the canvassing of fellow MPs in the Tea Room or the corridors of power

Why we lose precious data

Once upon a time a civil servant had to state a reason for using a taxi rather than public transport if they wished to claim the fare on expenses. Many moons ago an acceptable reason was Heavy box of computer print out to carry

It seems like the dark ages now. Green lined, sprocket-holed, concertina-folded page after page for what now seem like ridiculously small amounts of information. I should think a whole fleet of pantechnicons would have been needed to transport something like the Child Benefit database, which would have taken about a year to print out at 10 characters/second

Things moved on a bit when data could be transported on cinema-sized reels of magnetic tape. But even these could justify a taxi. You were not allowed to take them on the Tube because of fears of data corruption

Then there were the unintended security encryptions caused by the importing computer not being able to make sense of the header labels supplied by the exporting machine

So in a way I guess we are now losing data just because we can - it is just so easy to lose a CD down the back of the settee

Is a professor worth more than a footballer?

Isnt it odd how footballers are always described as earning £X thousand a week. Other sportsmen earn so much a year. Does Wayne Rooney earn more than Lewis Hamilton? Does any sports fan care?

I did not have time to finish what I had started there, so just left it. I had meant to go on to discuss how to make valid comparisons of earnings & then on to the vexed question of determining value. As in equal pay for work of equal value

When I went out I saw an extraordinary headline in the Manchester Evening News: HARD UP UNI PAYS PROF MORE THAN ROONEY

By Saturday the story had reached page 3 of The Times. Based on a rubbish comparison of hourly rates, which takes into account Rooneys training, preparation & playing time, but assumes the professor is paid purely & simply for his time in the lecture hall. That nothing he does with the rest of his time is of value to the university (he does not even need time to prepare his lectures), not to mention the value of his name as a recruiting sergeant

One quarter of The Times Page 3 is taken up with an extraordinary photo of Martin Amis outside the neo-gothic Whitworth Hall, lit from below, which makes him look like a cross between Dr Goebbels & Mr Hyde. Credited to MEN photographer Paul Heyes, it is obviously posed, not snatched. Still, with the popularity of horror films it probably works well as an advertisement: WOULD YOU DARE TO WRITE AN ESSAY FOR THIS MAN?

Somebody has got hold of the details of his contract under the Freedom of Information laws & is having lots of fun with them

Personally I suspect its part of the ongoing spat with another ageing lefty enfant terrible & recent star recruit as a Manchester professor

So far, so entertaining

What dispirits me, apart from the fact that even the august Times takes such an innumerate approach to questions of pay & value, is the idea that details of individual contracts have to be reported to the government: "Details of Amis's salary were released by the Government" (my emphasis)

I suspect - hope? - that the University itself was obliged by the Freedom of Information Act to make the disclosure

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Undesirable men

Notes towards a taxonomy

Pompous prat: Peter Hain

Not as clever as he thinks he is: Gordon Brown, Martin Amis

Gross: Mick Jagger, David Aaronovitch

Vacuous: Tony Blair

Choleric: Jeremy Paxman

Chippy: John Humphries

Not safe in taxis: Bill Clinton

Domineering bully

Ants & thunderstorms

We used to have trouble with ants when we lived in the tropics

Not big, fierce, scary poisonous, dangerous or damaging ants. Just red ants, very like the ones common in England, though perhaps a little bit bigger

The house was built on what are often called stilts - in fact breeze block pillars. A first floor bungalow

Nevertheless the smallest drop of water left on the draining board after doing the washing up would attract an army from the garden. They climbed up inside the wastepipe & up the side of the sink to drink before doing a smart about turn to return to earth

How did they know the water was there?

The simplest way to get rid of them was simply to mop up the water. But if I was feeling vicious I would take a kettle of boiling water & pour it over the head of the column. Boy, did they retreat quickly

What did they think was happening? Did they have any awareness of my presence or my agency as some kind of living being?

One person I discussed this with said Oh no. Ants have no consciousness

Well, suppose there is something we do not have. Call it pansciousness

We are pretty used to the idea that life on Mars, if it now or ever existed, is microscopic or bacterial

Our search for life in the wider universe presupposes, literally, something on our wavelength

Suppose life forms exist with dimensions literally beyond our comprehension, our ability to conceive or perceive

Then even phenomena we think we understand, governed by laws comprehensible in our own dimensions, might have another real but unimaginable cause

Perhaps the old childish reassurance might be a truer metaphor than we think

A thunderstorm is just God moving the furniture about

I see no reason to suppose that the air about us & the heavenly spaces over us may not be peopled by intelligences, or entities, or forms of life, as unintelligible to us as we are to the insects - Alfred North Whitehead

Related post

De mortuis

Much about teenage suicide & the internet in the press recently. I am still surprised to see no link made with suicide bombers

Link: Dulce et decorum ................Click on image to enlarge extract from Ben Macintyres column

Contrails again

A useful piece by the estimable Paul Simons explaining somehing about the conditions which produce contrails

One thing puzzles me though. He says they are left by jets flying at heights of more than 8km - over 25,000 feet

The ones I usually see are from planes landing at or leaving Manchester airport, which is usually less than 20 miles west of where I am standing. So I would have thought the planes were lower than that

Funnily enough it was only the day before yesterday I was thinking that I must try to find someone who can teach me how to estimate the height of planes or clouds

One of my school geography teachers was very good at that, but in those days I found climatology/meteorology the least interesting part of the subject, so never paid much attention.

Oh if only I had known, when I was young

See also: Mystery con trails

Friday, January 25, 2008

Teenage pregnancy

There is nothing new under the sun.

All along I had kept
My love dark, & stepped
Carefully. Now I’m in tears,

For my secret plainly shows:
My womb has grown, & grows,
And the child’s birth nears.

Mother scolds me all day,
Father keeps out of my way,
Two grim, unfriendly faces.

I sit in the house on my own
And daren’t go out alone
To enjoy public places.

If I do venture outside,
I’m curiously eyed
As though I were a freak.

At the sight of this belly, men
Nudge one another, & when
I walk past don’t speak.

Anon (12th century)

The most important man in C20th British politics

Denis Thatcher

Well OK, the title is an exaggeration. But I have been thinking about it recently because of the rumpuses about Bill Clintons behaviour on the campaign trail for his wife

It is difficult now to remember the almost universal sexism, snobbery & patronising criticism which Margaret Thatcher came in for when she was made Leader of the Conservative Party. Then going on to the kind of love her/loathe her attitudes when she was PM

Heaven knows it is hard to be a woman at the top. Could she have done it without the rock solid, discreet support of the man she was married to? I doubt it

After a hard day facing difficult negotiation & vituperation the last thing you need is a husband who spends the evening telling you how you should be doing your job. What you need is There,there, dear. Sit down. I'll make a nice cup of tea

Or a large glass of scotch


Trains & buses

Derbyshire County Council have announced that, from 1 April, concessionary half-price train fares will no longer be available within the county for the over-60s. This extra-statutory benefit has to go, to help pay for the new universal free bus rides

It will not affect me but there must be many who will be severely disadvantaged by this move. Perhaps it will be worth their while to buy a Senior Citizens Railcard, if these can be used for purely local journeys

I noticed recently that some bus companies use the acronym DOAP on tickets. Grounds for a complaint about hurt feelings & ageism?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clinical waste

One of the local councils has just announced that it will soon remove the bins for collecting dog-walkers mess. It has been re-classified as clinical waste, & the contractors price for collecting it has been increased accordingly. The council cant afford it, so people will just have to take it home with them

But where then do they put it? Does it count as normal household waste if it is put into the bin?

Why not make householders apply for a licence to dispose of clinical waste? We could put disposable nappies into the same category

The majority of people

A lovely new word which I got from Robert Cramptons column in The Times magazine


Not everybody

Perhaps we could also combine it in sentences like Mostbody men are taller than women to get round the Men are ... problem

See also: Philogamous ..... Tactile paving

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

When India won the World Cup, 1983

I used to love the 'old' Lords Cricket Ground. With its 'free' seats - wooden benches which filled the space under the old concrete grandstands at the Nursery End & on the side opposite the Tavern. So - unlike The Oval - there was plenty of cover when it rained

The seats may have been free but you still had to pay for a ticket for entry to the ground. Not available in advance for Tests or county matches, so you had to get there early to queue - at least for days 1,2 & 3 of a Test. An experience in itself

For one-day matches however all tickets could be purchased in advance. Sold out, in fact, at least for World Cups. Though you still had to join the queue early to bag a decent 'free' seat

India were very unexpected finalists in 1983 after beating England at Old Trafford. Almost no Indian fans had tickets. Nor did too many West Indians

For the free seats entrance was through wooden gates at the Nursery End rather than the famous Grace Gates. Security was rudimentary - a few elderly, blazered gents sitting at a table or standing to one side

In 1983 fans just poured through as soon as the gates opened - including many who were clearly ticketless

So the ground was full, & then some. A little bit scary from the start, as is any large excited crowd in a restricted space

We had however secured good seats at about (very fine) long off & settled down for an absorbing day. The weather was overcast but otherwise warm & dry

When the Indian innings ended, leaving the West Indies only 184 to get, the game seemed to be over

One-day matches can produce games of great tension - such as the 1975 World Cup final - where the balance of advantage constantly swings. But surely the great West Indian team of 1983 would be far too good for the Indian bowlers

Things started badly with Greenidge out for one, but then seemed to settle down.

Even someone non-sporty, who plays only occasional tennis or beach cricket for fun, knows the feeling when nothing works properly. One of those days. The ball, your arm, your feet, just refuse to do what they are supposed to do. Nothing clicks. You cannot find the groove or the zone

And so it was that afternoon

Wicket .... wicket ..... wicket. Haynes, Gomes, Richards, out in quick succession. Then my hero, Clive Lloyd

As soon as Haynes was out someone started to beat their hands excitedly up & down on my shoulders. As the balance swung even further Indias way the drumming increased in force. When I finally turned round to confront the assailant I found it was a young Indian guy, no more than 20, who looked more like an excited toddler. I turned back without remonstrating with him

Kapil Dev, who had been drawing the eye throughout the innings, clearly knew they had won

Although I was normally a keen believer in staying at a match until the bitter end - Oh ye of little faith - we left soon afterwards

See also: Cricket at Lords Tuesday 3 July 1984

The space between the words

There is much meaning in the space between the words

Sometimes - for the avoidance of doubt - that space needs to be made as small as possible, squeezed between lots of other, limiting words

People who know each other well, or know each others profession or expertise, can understand each other very precisely even with very big spaces surrounded by few words which do not mean much to outsiders. Civil servants used to know very precisely what a colleague meant if they asked for a response BY close of play. Mmm in the right tone of voice speaks volumes to a husband or wife

Sometimes people feel a need to fill up as much space as possible to distract from the fact that their words mean very little or nothing at all

And what is left unsaid can be just as informative as that which is said

Which is why I am not a great fan of the aggressive, nit-picking interview. They are like battles in the Flanders mud, gory & painful, in which neither side gains very much ground

It robs me of precisely that important information about what the interviewee does NOT want to say

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

One day we will be family

This poem reminds me of an astute remark made by William Russell - the Times correspondent - in his reports on his journey through the South in the build up to the Civil War. To the effect that the English might smugly congratulate themselves on having abolished slavery in their possessions in 1837, but they could never have done it if the plantations had been in Lancashire

And it reminds me of the panic about West Indian migration - (England is the Mother country; the Queen is our Queen) - which led to the passing of the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1961

I, too, sing America
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll sit at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed,-

I, too, am America

Langston Hughes

See also: l'affaire Patrick Mercer
Brothers under the skin?

Paradoxical policy

There is a real paradox at the heart of Labours education policies

On the one hand they issue jejune, even crass advice for parents on how to bring up their children. Read to them for 10 minutes each day

On the other they are outraged by parents who do their best for their children as prescribed by the well educated liberal minded middle classes - providing them with books, outings, computers, conversation (about ideas!). Not to mention pulling out all the stops to get them into good schools

Then they react like naughty children themselves. Yah boo swot! Teachers pet! Who do you think you are?

Related post: D's and E's don't count

Monday, January 21, 2008

Learning by Experience

I was gripped by another radio programme yesterday. This time it was Desert Island Discs with Rory Stewart

I will not attempt to record anything about this young mans life story here. Kirsty Young struggled to craft it into a 45 minute interview

But I was struck by similarities & parallels with Blue sky July

Superficially a very different story. This was a young man from a very privileged background (Eton etc)

What they have in common is the intensity of their connections to their experiences of the world

And, the importance of love. The love that Rory Stewart has for his father (& vice versa) shone through

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Putting an end to it all

The poem by Langston Hughes is very reminiscent of the one by Dorothy Parker. I do not know which came first

Oh the sea is deep
And a knife is sharp
And a poison acid burns,
But they all bring rest
In a deep, long sleep
For which the tired soul yearns-
They all bring rest in nothingness
From where no road returns

Langston Hughes

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Dorothy Parker

National Health Assurance

Even as a child I was taught the difference between INsurance & ASSurance

Assurance is for something which will happen. One day. A lump sum when you die, for example.

Insurance is something you buy just in case. In case you die before you are 60, for example, leaving a wife & children to be supported

The underlying calculations are different

With assurance you gets what you pays for. Insurance is more like a lottery. Though it is a moot point whether the winner is the one who scoops the pool - and is dead - or the others who, in the event, paid money for something which they did not need

With the increasing emphasis on monitoring & screening us for the slightest sign of potential disease & the provision of prophylactic treatment, should we be thinking in terms of how to finance schemes of health assurance rather than insurance?

Or even re-assurance


Related post

The universe as a flea

Is it still the case that nobody knows what gravity, g, IS?

One useful technique for dealing with such puzzles is to turn the problem round, look at it the other way

So - what if gravity is a pushing, rather than a pulling power? If Newtons apple was repelled by the tree, not attracted by the earth

I used to try pondering this. Obviously I am not a physicist or a cosmologist. The only answer I could come up with is that not just our earth but our universe must be spinning

Inside another universe

And so on, like fleas, ad infinitum

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The captain

Two versions of a poem by my patron, Archilochus. I prefer the first, but the second is more widely quoted

I do not like the captain, tall-standing, legs apart,
Whose cut of hair & whisker is his principal renown.
Give me the little fellow, with the bigness in his heart,
And let his legs be bandy, if they never let him down.

I don't like the towering captain with the spraddly length of leg,
one who swaggers in his lovelocks and cleanshaves beneath the chin.
Give me a man short and squarely set upon his legs, a man
full of heart, not to be shaken from the place he plants his feet
. - link

New philosophy

John Donne is one of the few English poets to deal with both science & religion

He often referred to the new philosophies - for example in his Meditations

This poem prompted me to find out when & how people would have heard the news of Galileos discoveries. Turned out to be remarkably quickly. The English ambassador to Venice sent a copy of the pamphlet straight away to the Court of King James, where it was eagerly discussed

And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, & th'earth, & no mans wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.

And freely men confess that this worlds spent,
When in the planets, & the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.

Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply, & all relation:
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, & that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.

John Donne . Anatomy of the World (The First Anniversary) 205

More Langston Hughes

Such driving rhythm. Such a cry of pain

Can you love an eagle,
Tame or wild?
Can you love a monster
Of frightening name?

Nobody loves a genius child.

Kill him - and let his soul run wild!

Counting in the Bible

Is there any possibility that the improbably great age attributed to Methuselah & others stems from a kind of misunderstanding or mistranslation of the original, ancient Zahlwort und Ziffer?
Click on image to enlarge

A Hedgehog Names Index D

This is an (intermittently) on-going experimental project
No links are provided. If you want to follow any of them up, use the BLOG SEARCH box above↑

In order to find all references it is probably best to use surname only in the search.

Angela Dale
Iain Dale
Sam Dale
Janet Daley

Hugh Dalton
Bobby Darin
Alistair Darling
Charles Darwin
Emma Darwin

Lord Darzi
Sean Davey
Elizabeth David
David Davies
Mandy Rice Davies

Mervyn Davies
Evan Davis
Richard Dawkins
Clare Dawson
Ivan Day
Peter Day

Baroness Deach
Terry Deary
Alain de Boton
Desmond Dekker

RF Delderfield
Lord Derby
Victoria Derbyshire
Lord Desai

Alain Desrosieres
Kapil Dev
Duke of Devonshire
Waljit Dhillo
Madar Lal Dhingra

John Diamond
Princess Diana
Charles Dickens
Paul Dickson
David Dimbleby

Jonathan Dimbleby
Rev Charles Dodgson
Sir Richard Doll
Liam Donaldson
John Donne

Maura Dooley
Nadine Dorries
Ginny Dougary
Charlie Douglas-Home
Duncan Dowson

Milton Drake
Derek Draper
Maurice Druon
Cecil Duckworth

Frank Duckworth
Tammy Duckworth
Carol Ann Duffy
Alan Duncan
Bob Dylan


Do you mind? Does it matter?

Over 40 years ago now I learnt that an awful lot of seemingly bad, or mad, or just plain rude behaviour is cause by relatively simple problems of eyesight

The particular case involved a girl, otherwise bright & well-behaved, who could become very disruptive at times. Turned out she could not read the blackboard, so the appropriate glasses fixed that one

Brain scanning shows us that subtle differences in the way the brain works - in either receiving messages from outside or in the way it processes them - can affect behaviour in all sorts of ways. Someone who has difficulty recognising faces can easily get a reputation for being stuck up or rude or just very absent mindedly living in a world of their own

But calling all of them, such as the inability to sing in tune or remember names 'conditions', implying that treatment or cure is needed would be a mistake. We need variation, not just to add to the gaiety of nations but to support division of labour & evolution by natural selection to adapt to changing environments

Having said that, the brain is plastic so practice & training can improve performance. Even so, just as I could never have run in Olympic time, no matter how much training I had, differences will remain

But then there are tricks & stratagems which help. One such I have been using recently after reading of research that people who are consistently running late, behind time - just getting to school or catching the train, not necessarily people with overloaded diaries - consistently overestimate the length of time available to them. In the sense that their internal clocks tell them that 5 minutes is much longer than it really is

I realised that I have the opposite problem, & so am always impatient at the time things - and other people! - take. If I were ever to be asked by a radio interviewer to sum up in 20 seconds I would say NO. Not to be curmudgeonly & unco-operative, but because I would think the 20 seconds used up by that monosyllable. So just recently, when I feel that cross look come on my face, I have started to count, slowly. Just the old remedy for keeping your temper, but with the added bonus that it is teaching me that things do not take nearly as much time as I think they do. You are never too old to learn

Gradually though I think more & more it is a mistake to think of things in terms of mind or matter. Just like nature in nurture, it should be mind in matter

And vice versa

Related posts

Putting ones foot down on psychosomatic disease Lighting Up The Brain
Babies on buses
Blue sky July
Compressing the Human Memory File
Elementary statistics: Non-standard deviation
The average man

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Tent

One for the Dangerous Book for Boys

A tent went up on the grass:
just room for a boy & his brother,
who waited for day to pass -
kept wishing that day would pass
as theyd never wished of another

At last they got their wish.
Darkness fell & off they went
feeling quite daredevilish -
yes, really daredevilish -
to spend a night in that tent.

Night is dizzy & deep;
the wall of a tent is thin;
they were almost too scared to sleep,
but whispered each other to sleep
as stars & ghosts listened in.

And the tent flew through the night
on the back of the turning world,
which brought them home all right,
them & the tent, still upright
and now lavishly dew-pearled

Christopher Reid

Cut the fat. Don't cut it out

Caitlin Moran wrote in her column on Monday of her secret belief that if you eat an apple after eating some cheese, the apple kind of eats the fat. She says that puts her out of the running for Sexy Lady Scientist 2008

Well I am not a scientist but I have long held a similar belief. I elevate mine to the role of hypothesis. I believe possibly a Nobel prize may await the nutritional/medical/biochemical scientist who demonstrates its Truth

I call it cutting the fat

Several things can do this
  • citrus fruit or juice
  • other fruits - including tomatoes
  • onion & garlic
  • vinegar
  • alcohol - especially cider or wine
  • herbs such as parsley, rosemary & thyme
  • sweet peppers, green beans

Is it a coincidence that these are all components of the Mediterranean diet? Then how come all our traditional accompaniments to roast meat fall into these categories - apple with pork, mint sauce with lamb, horseradish with beef?

Since I am not a scientist I cannot really say what the mechanism might be, except maybe that there is something which breaks up the long fatty acid chains, makes them more manageable to the digestion?

This is certainly the empirical, experiential basis for my belief. Food which would otherwise sit very heavily on the stomach, causing discomfort, slips down & through very easily

I guess that must be Caitlins experience with apples & cheese too

News flash: Grapefruit contains naringenin, a constituent that can cut levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol

Link: "Apolipoprotein B dependent hepatitis C virus secretion is inhibited by the grapefruit flavonoid naringenin

Andy Kershaw

I do not know Andy Kershaw. I am not a fan. I am not a fan of World Music as presented by those who call it such. All I know is what I read in yesterdays papers

I am sorry for anyone in distress

But this is a man who has, on his own admission, behaved badly to his partner. Who seems to feel aggrieved that the breaking point came over a one night stand which 'meant nothing'. Who seems unable to accept the break up

Who is known to be, or to have been, consuming way too much alcohol

Who seems to believe that his children have taken his side. Because they visited him for a weekend

If it were any of my business I should be deeply concerned about his family. Especially when he emerges from his 'stoically' borne time in jail


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Christina Rossetti

These 2 poems had a profound effect on me as a teenager. Part of my adolescent romantic ideas about death I suppose. Imagining myself still there to see it all

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:

Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad

See also: Dulce et decorum

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More con trails

Back in late November/early December we had a long spell of clear frosty weather, very good for the production of con trails. There were long delays on the A6 caused by resurfacing, so I had lots of time to observe the con trails while waiting for a bus to fight its way through

One thing I saw may provide an explanation for my mystery photos. There were 2 trails, crossing each other at angles like a saltire. One, thin & holding well together, was well below the other which was much less defined & cotton-woolly. But the thin one was rising quite rapidly, so that it eventually passed through & was then above, the fatter one. Unless it was an optical illusion, but I think not. I saw no evidence of a kink in either of them though while they were crossing over

The other thing that surprised me about these 2 trails, though it should not have done, was that they were both being blown across the sky. In the time I was looking, which could not have been more than about 10 minutes, the 2 trails moved about a mile to the (east) south east

Why are policemen like buses?

Because you dont see one for ages, then 7 come along at once

I was reminded of this when I saw 7 firemen rescuing 4 teenagers from a lift in JJB Sport on Saturday

The first time I noticed this mob-handed phenomenon was a few years ago when I saw 7 police officers escorting a young woman shoplifter out of Sainsburys. Admittedly she was not going to go quietly - she had been kicking up a heck of a fuss in the back of the store, heard by all the staff & customers. I only realised what it was all about when I left at the same time as the posse

In retrospect I thought it could have been to guard against accusations of racial harassment - in this case against a young black constable by a white female suspect, but that is only a supposition

In any case I have seen several similar incidents, when the number of police attending seems out of proportion

Health & safety reasons? Protection against accusations of misbehaviour? Forensic requirements, given the detailed evidence adduced in even the simplest trial these days?

Links: How much time do we have?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Could do better

Could do better was just about the most dispiriting thing which could be written by a teacher on your school report when I was young. You did not even get the kudos of being one of the really bad boys. They got the cane or suspended

Imagine how you would feel if all your efforts were met with that response. Cooked a nice meal. Cleaned the windows. Planted a garden. Bought a new car. Found a partner. Had a baby ....

The idea of having a job which consisted mainly in going around telling others Could do better all the time does not really appeal

Some can get very excited about it however, judging by the ad which has recently appeared in the press. Its hard to imagine a more high profile environment .... a huge step for us .... a challenge we are not underestimating .... should make a profound difference to the people of the UK

You get to go around departments on behalf of the Prime Minister making sure they do better in their capacity to deliver PSA targets. For £47k a year

The distinction between control & controls is a crucial one

The older you get the longer you live

The older you get, the older you will be when you die

For example, with average expectation of life I will die at 84. A newborn baby girl today can 'expect' to die before she is 82

This is not because of any increase in mortality due to rising obesity etc. Far from it. Expectation of life, in the statistical actuarial sense, depends on the assumption that mortality rates will stay exactly the same, age for age

It is because I have not been one of those unfortunate to die before I could draw my pension that my age at death can be expected to be higher than hers. The baby girls expectation of life takes account of the fact that some of her contemporaries will not be so lucky. Her 'expectation' of life is the average for all those born in the same year as she

I was pondering this because of a widely reported study that 'proves' a very significant extension to the lives of those who eat well, exercise, drink alcohol in moderation etc. I have heard only a report on the radio about it, have not had chance actually to look at the methodology, but the person talking about it (a scientist or doctor) appeared to be claiming that on average the goodie 2 shoes get an extra 14 years on average.

But the study lasted for only 11 years. So the extra years can only have been calculated by looking at age of death. And, by definition, many of those who died at older ages during the study period must have been older at the start of the study

Unless the results were corrected for this, the 14 years must just be an artefact, not a real effect

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Passing white

If a West Indian merchant could prove that he had always resided in England there was no fear of that mixture of negro blood which was so undesirable

Lucy Frances Horsfall: The West Indian Trade; in The Trade Winds edited by C Northcote Parkinson

Knoweth thy father & thy mother

There can be no right to know the identities of your biological or genetic parents. At least not one which is enforceable

What would/will happen if people who have doubts about their parentage claim the same right as those who are adopted or conceived through IVF with donor gametes?

The logical conclusion would be for everybody to have the right, at the age of 18, to demand DNA tests to establish whether the people who are their 'social' parents do really hold that genetic role

Links: Which twin is the father?
Shame and Scandal in the Family
Identity is a link

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shopping downturn

I was in Primark in Manchester on Wednesday. I have never seen it so empty of people before

It may have been just one of those days - weather not great, children & students just started a new term, credit cards all maxed out with Christmas

I was hoping to buy a pretty sweater to keep me warm in gloomy February, but no luck. The pretty ones were all too short & skinny - wont cover my kidneys & dont trap that vital layer of air for extra insulation. The bigger cardigan thingies were all a bit too cutting edge for me. To be fair though, I did see more than one group of girls exclaiming with delight at the clothes on offer

I tried the mens department - just moved downstairs into the space which used to be occupied by TKMAX. Even more gloomy & hopeless. But perhaps all the extra space is what makes it look so thinly populated. One of the till counters was closed however, so sales must be slow. Reminds me of the days after Christmas, when there were loads of families out & about but no queues at the checkouts in any shop I went to

On the train I saw a woman carrying a Primark plastic bag. Does this mean they have abandoned the brown paper ones, or was she just re-using an old one?

It's the men, stupid!

One-third of the men who participated in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary voted for NEITHER Barack Obama NOR Hillary Clinton. Only one-fifth of the women opted for one of the other candidates

Are the men just ornery, don't like bandwagons, or prejudiced?

Other categories from among whom a quarter or more failed to choose either Barack or Hillary were
  • voters from union families
  • long-time voters
  • independents
  • those with a college degree
  • earn more than $50,000

Source: The Times 10 January p6

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Three cups of coffee a day

I well remember the very first lecture I attended in economic statistics. By that lovely man, RGD Allen, whose main point was the vital importance of reading the definitions & explanatory notes before plunging into an anlysis of figures which might not actually represent what you think they do

Good advice for everybody. Not least in assessing contradictory findings about whether X, Y Z are good for you or not

You do not need to be in any position to judge whether the scientific or statistical methods employed were appropriate. Scientists (& the journalists who report these stories) have a very Humpty Dumpty approach to language, so just ask What exactly do they mean by that?

One recent example sticks in my mind, if only because it seemed to catch the imagination of several Times columnists who all referred to it in the ensuing weeks

Three cups of coffee a day can increase your risk of heart problems

What do they mean by 3?
What do they mean by cup?
What do they mean by coffee?
What do they mean by a day?

I feel pretty sure that the mug of instant you grab on the run while trying to get everybody out of the house in the morning has a different effect from the cappuccino you share with a friend & a blueberry muffin later in the day. Which has a different effect from the small cup of Turkish coffee you have in the evening after a really relaxed elbows-on-the-table supper with friends

Is it the metronomic regularity of 3 per day which matters, or the average over a life time?

Or what

And finally, how many people did they study, & how did they select them? Is there any reason to think that results which apply to them will apply to you in exactly the same way?


Don't I know that voice?

Is Robert Peston by any chance related to Lucinda Lambton? Where else could he have learned those vocal swoops & hesitations?

Potato blight

Yesterday Carl Mortished wrote an article for Times Business making a connection between last years rain & the Irish potato famine. Apparently the Soil Association was deluged by requests for permission to spray with pernicious Bordeaux mixture

Mortished used the article to make the connection, not the perniciousness of food miles, but of anti-GM campaigns

Body engineering

Nice to see some non-chemical aspects are to be researched. No mention of social scientists, though. Perhaps there are not any who are good enough. Perhaps they should look at What econometrics has to teach quantum physics

Links: Physical medicine

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Are men lognormal?

We can have fun speculating whether there are any a priori reasons why women should be normal & men lognormal

At the level of basic genetics we might expect there to be greater variations between men than between women because of the X & Y chromosomes. Any mutation in an X chromosome gene might be 'corrected' in a female by the copy provided by the other parent. And of course women do not have a Y chromosome at all to add variation

But if the basic distributions, not just the mean & variances, are different then that suggests that the processes by which the variations - or errors - are differnet [leave that typo - Ed]

Under the Normal Law of error myriad sources of error affect the deviation from the true, mean value of any observation, & all these small individual effects add together. But under the lognormal distribution the errors, or differences, will multiply themselves up

To take a crude example, if income depends on education, height & good looks, then a man lucky enough to possess a high score on all 3 will have a much greater advantage than a woman who is similarly lucky. He will get the compound interest, she will only get simple interest

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Is the Bell Curve female?

It is 20 years now since I looked at the actual frequency distributions of male & female earnings. When I did, I got a surprise. For it is not just the averages that were different, but the whole of the distribution

The female distribution was much closer to a Bell curve, with a very narrow spread & a high peak close to the mean

For men the distribution was positively skew, with a much wider spread, a lower, flatter peak & a very long tail out towards the very highest earnings

The differences between male & female variances are sometimes touched upon, but not nearly as often as the averages. It is well known, for example, that men are more likely to figure in both the highest & lowest classes of Oxbridge degrees. The concentrations of lead in blood have also been found to show a similar pattern, to that of incomes, at least before lead was taken out of petrol

You do not however often see the whole distributions being compared, so it is difficult to say whether the hypothesis that Women are Normal, Men are Lognormal has any legs

Irresistible urges

Not life, death or love. Just those silly little things which drive you to distraction & make it difficult to resist interfering in the lives of complete strangers

Sticky-up labels. At the back of the neck of a jumper, t-shirt, dress or jacket. Particularly if they are sitting in front of you on the bus or in the theatre. Sit on your hands to stop yourself leaning forward to tuck it in

Bottles on supermarket conveyor belts. Really ought to be laid parallel to the direction of travel. Not across the belt - when they start spinning round I want to lunge forward to rescue them. Even worse when they are standing up, wobbling & threatening to topple

Putting ones foot down on psychosomatic disease

I had my first really clear experience of mind over matter well over a quarter of a century ago now

Because of a nasty ulcer on the ball, I had been only able to walk on the side of one foot for weeks. When it healed, I found that, try as I might, my foot would no longer go flat to the floor. Putting a heavy book on top did not help, nor did the best exertions of friends make it go down

The person we then still called the District Nurse had been dressing it regularly for me. I had one last appointment for her to check that there was absolutely no sign of recurrence

I know this is a silly question, but how do I make my foot go down?

She giggled, always a good sign. Well, this sounds like a silly answer. It may take a while, but each time you want to walk, you will just have to think Heel! Toe! Heel! Toe!

I was walking normally before I got across the floor of the room to the door

Monday, January 07, 2008

Men & money

Notes & jottings & random thoughts on Equal pay

No male equivalent of Poor little rich girl
A fortune is considered an integral part of a mans identity - Bill Gates

A rich woman is not a nice woman. Even though we know even a man has to be ruthless to make a fortune he may still be considered nice - Richard Branson

Gifts for difficult boys. Its not just that it always seems easier to buy a present for a girl - cash would somehow seem not quite right, unless she is a relative

Paying for sex. Or company Manchester United party

A girl gains status from a rich husband/boyfriend. A man is just as likely to be pitied if the positions are reversed

It is a fact universally acknowledged (at least until the latest developments in divorce settlements)

Money makes a man powerful, a woman vulnerable

'Autistic' aspects of accounting. Money started as brilliantly simple tokens of promises (to provide future goods or services). Women may be just as happy with emotional tokens

Money intimately tied up with maths - the beginnings of arithmetic & systems of numerals

Boys toys

But - women good money managers - especially on tight household budgets?

Hip fracture & energy efficient light bulbs

Let me add to the list of horrors to come when we all have to go over to so-called efficient light bulbs

I hear they are slow to light up fully & provide only a dim light anyway. So they will pose a particular danger to the elderly, especially on the stairs. If you cant see properly you are much more likely to fall & fracture your hip

More seriously, has anybody checked that the level of illumination they provide is sufficient for elderly eyes to read by in comfort?

Even more seriously, will I have to replace all my light fittings? The energy saving website shows only 4 makes of bulb with bayonet fittings, available from only a restricted range of stores. Ironically it is now a good number of years since I decided to settle for bayonets in the interest of thrift & economy, since I was fed up of never having a spare bulb of the right type. I also rely mainly on table lamps, never got seduced by spots, just for ease of access (& safety) when a bulb needs to be replaced. I guess I wont have to worry about whether a low energy bulb might set fire to a lampshade, but its very difficult to tell, just by looking, at all the new shapes, whether they will fit under a shade or not

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jobs for the boys

A piece by Sarah Vine in Fridays Times2 quotes an unidentified survey which says that boys earn more than girls even from their parents. For carrying out domestic chores

It would be interesting to know if the same applies to pocket money which is given as an outright gift

Assuming the survey results are generalisable they provide further evidence for the thought that pay differentials depend on something deeper than straightforward discrimination

Games have rules

Connie Bensley reminds me in some ways of Elizabeth Jennings. Perhaps because her poems, though universal, are very womanly

They are also very funny

As a sometimes addict of games of patience I love this one

It also reminds me, obliquely, of a very bad poem I wrote called I wore pink at my husbands funeral

Modus Vivendi

Each night, as he played patience
she stood behind his shoulder
Jack on Queen, she would cry
just before he spotted it himself
How was it then, that she murdered him
rather than the reverse?
Some games have rules
which are difficult to understand

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Passing black

If Barack Obama wins the Presidency, will it become fashionable for Americans to claim fractional black ancestry?

The Way They Live Now

Elizabeth Jennings will definitely be on my list of Desert Island Poets

This is not one of her best, or even one of her better poems, but it makes an interesting point. Although it does not do to see the past through too rosy a glow, to ignore or forget its own particular pains & difficulties, I am one of those who has never been able to see liberation as consisting mainly in sexual freedom (or licence)

It is also instructive to remember the confusions which the different euphemisms used in different ages can cause. I remember how startled I was as a teenager to read in a novel by, perhaps, Jane Austen, a sentence like Mr Darcy had been making love to Jane in the garden because to make love had only one meaning for us teenagers in those days

You make love & you live together now
Where we were shy & made love by degrees.
By kiss & invitation we learnt how
Our love was growing. You know few of these
Tokens & little gifts, the gaze of eye
To eye, the hand shared with another hand.
You know of few frustrations, seldom cry
With passions stress, yet do you understand
The little questions that would mean so much,
The surging hope to be asked to dance?
You take the whole of love. We lived by touch
And doubt & by the purpose of chance
And yet I think our slow ways carried much
That you have missed - the guess, the wish, the glance

The consolations of poetry

Since it is not really possible at the moment to follow Sydney Smiths advice on being in the open air, I shall ignore one of his strictures & turn to the consolations of verse

Permit me then to inscribe to yourself a book which will sweeten solitude itself with best society, - with the companionship of the wise & good, with the beauty which the eye cannot see, & the music only heard in silence

Francis Palgrave - dedication of his Golden Treasury to Lord Tennyson

Down in the dumps

What with this weather, the children not back in school before next Tuesday, & February (that most drear of months) still looming, I am in sore need of reminding myself of the Reverend Sydney Smiths Cures for low spirits

1 Live as well as you can

2 Go to the shower bath with a low temperature

3 Read amusing books

4 Take a short view of life - no further than dinner or tea

5 Be as busy as you can

6 See as much as you can of friends that respect & like you

7 and those acquaintances who amuse you

8 Make no secret of low spirits but talk of them freely

9 Attend to the effects coffee & tea produce on you

10 Compare your lot with other peoples

11 Dont expect too much of life

12 Avoid poets, dramatic presentations, music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people


14 Be as much as you can in the open air

15 Make your room gay

16 Struggle little by little against idleness

17 Dont underestimate yourself

18 Keep good blazing fires

19 Be firm & constant in the exertion of rational religion

Friday, January 04, 2008

Lady Bountiful economics

I hate Fair Trade with what is probably an unreasonable passion. Salving ones conscience with an extra 5p or 10p on a jar of coffee, & giving a nice extra margin to others in the production/marketing chain to boot

Reminds me of those who used to argue against providing computers to Africa on the grounds that what was needed was jobs. So much better to create lots of Bob Cratchitt clerking jobs, without the Scrooge (we hope). And even more recently - What on earth do peasants need mobile phones for?

See also: William Morris Agriculture

The national birth, death & sickness service

Most of us cost the NHS the most during around the time of birth & then in the last 2 years, & particularly the last 6 months, of our life. Whatever we die of

Given that we are seeing the last stages, probably, in this country of what Sir Richard Doll called a smoking epidemic, clearly brought on & greatly exacerbated by two world wars, it is not surprising that smoking seems to be costing the NHS a lot, as its victims reach their dying days

But what evidence is there that smokers cost the NHS more in during-life, rather than end-of-life, care

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Banging the gong for child benefit

I once remarked to my boss, after 2 slightly surprising promotions to senior positions, that presiding over a disaster seemed to be no bar to promotion

He replied that he supposed it must mean that at least they had been able to have Kept their head put on their annual appraisals

Which I suppose goes someway towards explaining why Richard Summersgill, director of Child Benefit & Tax Credit Offices, HM Revenue & Customs, has received a CBE in the New Year Honours list

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The evolutionary purpose of ageing

The currently fashionable theory about the evolutionary purpose of the menopause is that it is to provide grandmothers - or rather a grandmothers wisdom, experience & assistance in caring for small children, with no danger that she might suddenly be distracted by having one of her own to care for

What might be the purpose, if any, of the other aspects of ageing? The fading of faculties, loss of acuity in reading & hearing, general slowing down?

Obviously one is receiving fewer sense impressions at a slower pace. Possibly this drops gradually from a very young age - just think of the rate at which young babies explore their world , at least while they are awake

But if one is taking fewer in, one has more time to consider, reflect upon, synthesise the meaning of all those zillions of experiences you have had already

To gain wisdom

If we are all living longer, does the amount of wisdom in the world increase? Or is it like a parabola, reaches a peak & then falls off in each individual

In either case it is, just like the light from a distant star, the sense impressions of years ago that the elderly are synthesising into wisdom, so they do need to die off & allow others with knowledge of a more recent world to take their place. Otherwise the progress of wisdom will just judder to a halt