Number of the Month

September 2014

Trivial pursuit: Brussels rules

Vacuum cleaners were just a pilot sortie. Hair driers and electric kettles are now among other domestic devices under threat from the machinations of the beavering Eurocrats. The ill-informed nincompoops continue not only to pronounce on things that they do not understand but also to turn their ignorance into vexatious legislation.

They are totally unaware of the simple physics that covers the thermal properties of water, something every school pupil should emerge knowing. Water is the most vital substance to life on earth, yet the political and bureaucratic classes that rule our lives feel that is beneath their dignity to try to understand it.

The amount of energy required to dry a particular head of hair is largely predetermined by the mass of water and the latent heat of vaporisation of water, a physical constant (though in practice much of it goes to “waste”, which does not affect the argument as this happens regardless of the power). The amount of energy required to heat a kettle of water to boiling point is wholly predetermined by the starting temperature and the specific heat of water, another physical constant. Reducing the power merely increases the time taken. If you use too little power the water will never boil, since the rate of heat loss is also temperature dependent (try using a candle). Furthermore, there is the fallacy of the incomplete balance sheet to consider: even if energy were saved, the cost for half the year is simply added to the heating bill in the temperate zone.

There are, however, two overriding factors that reduce all this bureaucratic activity to a total farce. First, the threat these petty annoyances are meant to answer is all in the minds of the carbophobic religionists. Second, the proportion of total energy use that these targets represent is immeasurably small. The game is not worth the candle, though that might be what they intend to reduce us to (provided someone can invent the low-carbon candle). It is the sacrifice that matters!

01/09/14

Question time

Posed by Philip Johnston in the Telegraph:

Q. Why merge police forces?

A. Because Bureaucrats like big.

Next question.

09/09/14

Meanwhile, back at the BBC

The BBC’s reaction to those EU diktats on domestic electrical appliances was to wheel out its “expert”, who laid out a trail of red herrings without addressing the fundamental physical aspects. Roger Harrabin is one of the most determined and ruthless global warming propagandists in the world. He it was who devised the secretive committee to affirm the abandonment by the corporation of any neutrality in the climate debate. This was the so-called Twentyeightgate scandal (and how quickly that was brushed under the carpet!). People wondered at the inclusion of the head of comedy, Jon Plowman, in that group, but comedy is a major repository of the propaganda campaign. One of the proud features of BBC history, now abandoned, is its nursing of talent in comedy writing. Now it relies almost totally on so-called “stand-ups”, who are carefully vetted to conform to the mores of the new corporation rulers. These “comedians” infest populist programmes across the radio and TV network: almost every panel game, quiz or anecdotal programme is populated by permutations of the same group of people. With persistent regularity, the chairman of one will turn up as an ordinary member of the next.

The BBC’s two pet scientists are Paul Nurse and Brian Cox. Naturally they are true believers, otherwise they would not be remotely considered. Cox has received numerous high honours, including a professorship, despite having a relatively sparse publication list in his subject, Physics. He owes his fame largely to time spent as a pop musician, which has led to a career as a pop scientist, mainly for the BBC. He has developed a nice line in doublethink, his latest contribution (in the Guardian, naturally) being that science should not be controversial (but instead dictated by an establishment?) conveniently ignoring the fact that science has always progressed through controversy (until recently, however, mostly conducted in a civil manner). Paul Nurse is one of a line of geneticists who have established a stranglehold on the politics of science (see, or example, Robert May, annotated twelve years ago). They are mostly illiterate in the fields of physics and mathematics, but that does not inhibit them from pontificating on these. Nurse’s most recent contribution (in the Guardian, naturally, and on the same day as the previous link) is that anyone who disagrees with him and his ilk should be crushed and buried. This is not the language of a scientist: it is the language of a fanatic (political and/or religious) – just the job or the new-age BBC.

The adherence of the BBC to subservience to the EU is absolute. There is something more than a little malodorous about it. Dubious financial connections with the EU might be deemed quite improper in a public corporation that is generously funded by a compulsory levy on the population, supposed to ensure its independence.

“If in doubt, sow confusion” is the motto.

Even the sainted Booker is confused enough by the BBC to congratulate the EU on its trivia games, quoting the amount of “electricity saved”. Zero quantity of electricity (measured in coulombs) is used in devices (apart from capacitors or batteries), only electrical energy (measured in joules) is utilised; just as no water disappears within a water mill, it just emerges at lower potential. This might all sound like nit-picking, but the casual abuse of definitions and units is the origin of much of the pseudo-science that bedevils the modern world of politics and media. For every electron fed into your house from the mains another is returned (regardless of whether the supply is AC or DC). If it were otherwise, your house would be charged up to a high voltage.

But now or something completely different! You might have thought that the Scottish Referendum would be a topic that could be treated without bias. Think again! The first formal debate, conducted by an independent TV channel, and featuring the nominated campaign leaders, was not shown to the nation and large, but it was coolly and fairly presented. The second debate, produced by the BBC, was a different animal indeed. There was a brief protest in the popular press (e.g. Express and Mail ) but, as the BBC well knows to its own comfort, they soon forget.

As soon as the scene opened there was something odd and unconventional about it. The “neutral” chairman was to off one side, instead of in the traditional central position, and took little part other than announcing the stages of the debate. The gentlemanly (but ineffectual) unionist speaker maintained his position at the allocated lectern, as tradition in well conducted debates dictates. The separatist leader was allowed to go through a repetitive routine in which he left his lectern and strutted to the centre front of the stage whenever he was asked a question. Even while at his lectern, he was allowed to harangue and interrupt his opponent continually. The audience was dominated by a disorderly claque of separatists. It was all a new variation on the familiar BBC stitch-up. The most depressing thing about these crude shenanigans is that they worked, as the subsequent lurch in the opinion polls demonstrated. 

 10/09/14

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Thinking? Oh, but that is so yesterday.

 Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.
A A Milne (attributed)

Auguste Rodin The Thinker auction Sitting and thinking, once the pinnacle manifestation of human evolution, is now regarded as a sign of non-productive idleness. It is quite acceptable to sit glaze-eyed in front of a screen showing a banal national cooking competition: that is just being informed or entertained. Switch off and you are then doing nothing, which is deplored. Furthermore, modern instant communication demands instant action, with little cogitation in between. From political leaders to ordinary web surfers immediate unthinking response is the norm.

The mindless bellowing of the street marchers, tweets and those dreary, interminable and rambling discussions that follow possibly informative blog entries all testify to the absence of thought in modern communication. If ever there really was a need for a compulsory health warning it should be on hand-held computers: before engaging thumb engage brain. It is, however, in the realm of politics that the role of deep thinking has been most dramatically in decline. Modern political leaders have trashed their democratic national party organisations, largely because they were hotbeds of inconvenient deliberation and there are easier ways of obtaining financial support in exchange for sympathetic treatment. Likewise, party conferences, where policies used to be argued out vigorously, have been reduced to carefully choreographed televised ceremonials, in which predetermined policies are meted out in anodyne fashion. The prime objective of modern politics is the achievement and perpetuation of office, not power.

The political classes are thus more devoted to gerrymandering than they are to policy making; which is why, for example, devolution is such a hot topic in the UK. Blair’s New Labour Government, dominated by Scots, granted home rule to everyone except the English, who could not be trusted to vote Labour (one of Tony’s many and subsequently glaring blunders, fostering the rise of the SNP).  Both the Thatcher and Blair governments boasted of the sheer quantity of legislation they pushed through. Most of it was zealot-driven, ill-conceived and poorly drafted, with the result that the law of the land is now largely the law of unintended consequences. People have already forgotten the chaotic proceedings that produced our number for the month in June 2007 and this comment in December 2007:

Number of the Year - 7

This was the Number of the Month for June and is the number of new laws generated by the Blair Government every day. They were almost all poorly drafted and at best irrelevant to the hopes and aspirations of a benighted populace. At worst they were affirmations of the Orwellian nightmare as the future of Britain. The Blair Government created over 100 new crimes and over 1,000 new misdemeanours, yet there is murder and mayhem on the streets and the people live in fear for their lives and property. The police are notable by the absence (except in an outbreak of political incorrectness). So, particularly to those Australians who have ignored this example and have evidently tired of stability and prosperity by installing a Labour Government, thereby cutting off another line of retreat for Britons, here is a quotation to end the year:

Beware how you take away hope from any human being.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Those were the days of sofa government. It is self-evident that a minimum of thought went into that welter of lawmaking and only a small proportion has been tidied up since.

Long before that, had occurred the event that marked the beginning of the end of the independent universities. If sitting and thinking cannot be done in universities, where can it be done? In May 2000, as noted in only the second our monthly reports, university teachers were required to fill in time-sheets to show what proportion of time they spent on research. Only a bureaucrat would have supposed that this something that could be measured. Once you are engaged in real research you are doing it most of the available time – while digging the garden, sitting on the loo, driving the car, dropping off to sleep or (most disgracefully) just sitting in a chair. Very few breakthroughs are actually made in the lab; it is the thinking outside it that is creative. In the world of the bureaucrat, however, it is the appearance of being busy that is paramount, while the long hours of mental activity required to reach the frontiers of a subject count for nought. Your bending author turned to parodic poesy to express his rage and grief at this grotesque act of devastation, known as the “transparency exercise” but in reality a nationalisation coup. In the then less blatantly socialistic USA similar results were obtained by different methods. Incidentally, the only correspondents to identify the brilliant original source for that insolent lampoon (The naming of parts by Henry Reed) were an American couple.

As an apprentice I was taught by my fellows that you could wander round the factory, doing nothing in particular, so long as you held a piece of paper in your hand. The modern equivalent of that piece of paper is the endless reports, surveys and guidance issued by state bureaucrats. An egregious example is the repetitive biannual instructions they issue to the elderly on keeping cool or warm (appropriate to the season), which is by a long way easier than providing reliable and accessible energy: that would contravene their mindless, zealot-driven dogmas.

There is an ancient and oft-repeated cartoon in which a signwriter has started on a sign that should read “think ahead”, but he has run out of space before completing it. That is an enduring metaphor for modern governance.

Funny old world.

27/09/14

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Which leads us to:

Number of the month – 90

90 is the age of S Fred Singer, whom we join in celebrating that significant birthday. His wisdom and serenity have been a vital still point in the manic world that politicised science has become. Regardless of the many great personal achievements in his remarkable life, he has remained modest and generous with his time; such a vivid contrast to the egotistical mountebanks who set themselves up as his opponents.

One of his latter significant contributions was in the setting up of SEPP, whose weekly newsletters have been such a crucial tool for those who would defend the traditions of independent, objective science.

It is a privilege to have met him (and a delight to find that he was actually familiar with my own meagre efforts for the cause). Many happy returns, Fred, and much thanks for being there.

28/09/14

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