Wednesday, April 30, 2008
As someone who has lived in other countries it surprised me (in a nice way) that nobody ever raised the possibility of fixed or fraudulent voting. Except for one short item about worries over the handling of proxy or postal votes from residents of one small old peoples home somewhere in the south west
Even with the restricted possibilities for voting other than in person which existed then, it was not hard to think of ways that the election could have been rigged
I am not for a moment suggesting that it was fixed, just commenting on the fact that everybody took it completely for granted that such things do not happen here
Hence, I suppose, the naivety with which the rush to postal voting on demand took place
Related post: Crime & government
Not that that stopped them from worrying about obesity
Queen Victoria's Cabinet ministers were seriously concerned about Her Majesty's increasing girth
And why was a large prominent stomach – on a man – called a corporation? Perhaps because it was a hallmark of the alderman, the powerful well-fed member of the city council
Sirrah! my corporation is made up of good wholesome English fat Smollett, 1753
By 1863 however William Banting was able to put figures (in stones & pounds) on his figure & published the first best-selling diet (avoid fat & sugar) to teach others how to avoid his fate
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
It is funny that we think of ourselves as having a weight, when that must be one thing about us which varies all the time
I first really thought about this when a friend who was not exactly on a diet but was watching her weight & hoping to lose a little told us proudly that she had lost half a pound that week
How could she know? Since even a pint of pure water weighs a pound & a quarter (unless you are American), ones weight must easily vary by ±½lb during a day. Choose the right moment to weigh yourself & hey presto!
In fact it is not all that long ago that it was quite hard to weigh a human being. Quetelet spent quite a bit of his paper discussing his methodology & describing the equipment used. Babes in arms & grown ups were relatively easy, but toddlers & young children were a nightmare – they just could not be persuaded to stand still for long enough. The solution was to have them held in the arms of an adult (of known weight)
Even today there are unexpected ways we can be misled by (or fool ourselves with) our scales. The ordinary step-on kind at home will vary according to whether they are standing on a tiled bathroom floor or the bedroom carpet
And then we weigh more at the equator than we do at the North Pole (or is it the other way round?)
I have not been able to find anything which looks at, or plots, diurnal variation in a persons weight – well it’s not really a very interesting question I guess. Of more value is the study of time taken to digest & metabolise food, not how quickly we dissipate its mass
I did once see a paper about variation in height however. If I remember rightly we are taller when we get up in the morning (muscles all relaxed) than when we go to bed at night (tense & bowed down by the cares of the day). Not by enough to concern most of us, but if loss of height, or failure to grow, is of serious medical concern, enough to make it important to check progress by measuring the patient at the same time each day
For the rest of us, if we want to minimise our BMI the answer is to organise a weigh-in session at the North Pole (or the Equator) first thing in a morning
Now I read of another one. The Athapascan Indians who live northwest of the Great Bear Lake in Canada have an expression rabbit starvation. This does not mean a shortage of rabbits, it means human starvation from having only rabbits to eat. The meat is so lean that digesting it takes more from the body than it adds
Then this morning on Womans Hour I heard that the new emphasis on fruit & veg means that small children are not getting the fat they need. One of the expert paediatric nutritionists even said that children should consume whole rather than skimmed milk up to the age of 5
Hooray. Three cheers. Bring out the flags & lets have a parade. On our way to the publishers with our draft multi-million best seller The Organic Fair Trade Home Grown Celery & Rabbit Diet book
Related post: Cut the fat. Don't cut it out
An unusually short piece appeared in a Times law report from the Court of Appeal under the intriguing headline: Bulk does not a case make
Papers of great bulk & complexity do not turn an unarguable, unmeritous claim into one which is arguable
Their Lordships were clearly greatly displeased. The work that had to go in to clawing out some sense from the bulky papers which had been presented to them had meant justice for others was delayed
Unfortunately the person appealing has already completed his sentence & is out of jail. This means that they were unable to make their displeasure plain by unhesitatingly ordering that the period he had spent in jail on remand before his trial should not be subtracted from the time he had to serve once sentenced
I assume that the guy was representing himself, since no defence lawyers are named. But if he had had more time in jail maybe he would have been able to use it to turn his long letter into a short one
Monday, April 28, 2008
And it is not just the children who are directly affected who dislike it
Last week I was walking past the new houses up the hill as a boy of about 7 knocked on one of the doors. No, David isn’t here, said the man who opened it
I could not hear what the boy said, but No, I said he’s not here. He’s with his Mum
Then, No, he’s not here at all this week, he’s at his Mums house
Crestfallen little boy returns to his own house (at least for tonight) two doors down
That reminded me of something you never see these days - the telephone cleaning company
In the 1960s these people used to come round to disinfect the office phones. There would tend to be only one or two handsets in each office, shared between staff, & were thought to be potent sources of germs with their deep shields round the mouthpiece
I always feel uneasy about using shared headphones
But why do I always feel vaguely insulted when my GP, who is scrupulous about such matters, washes his hands after touching even just, say, my neck? I ought to cheer
They are always nearby, but I have never seen one actually in the back yard before. He uttered a few piercing shriks of warning & flew off to the other side of the field
I have a horrible feeling that this means vermin are being attracted to the now fortnightly-emptied bins
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I was a schoolgirl fan of his music
Then of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue
And when I came across Lady Fred I felt a new tug of fandom. Although I do not know for sure, I assume that one of her 8 brothers must have been his (great …) grandfather
Thursday, April 24, 2008
When Tiger Woods first said he was not Black but comblinasian there was an outcry. He was in denial
My immediate reaction was to think: He is saying Hey! I have a Mom too, you know.
But “Woods' description of his racial identity led one observer to wonder how he could say he is only 25 percent Black, when his father is Black”
This is a salute to women who are destined to go through life with much of the rest of the world putting their children firmly into a different racial, ethnic or community box. As if this were apartheid South Africa
And themselves into the box marked Middle aged white woman who knows nothing about what it is like to be black
Even if they have now largely escaped the box labelled (in a pseudo-scientific polite version of the phrase I cannot use here) miscegenationist. Breeding children who, by a unique genetic process, were destined to inherit the worst vices of their parents respective racial groups
But it is our good fortune that Lewis Hamilton, Halle Barrie, Barack Obama … managed to overcome this appalling destiny of their genes
Not because of the brand particularly, though I do find it a much harsher taste
The tea bags no longer have that handy draw string which means you could remove it neatly without scorching your fingers & leaving a nasty trail of brown drips
To add insult to injury this switch is for so-called ethical reasons. PG tips are Rainforest Alliance Certified
If we really think the world needs forests we could start by replanting the Peak Forest & letting other people have their turn with the benefits of living on cleared land
Quote: The English forests sailed the oceans of the world & found new lands full of wildernesses & more forests waiting to be cut down - Kate Atkinson
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Oh no, they do not, I used to hiss. Silently
These days some of the confusion is removed by the adoption of the term probability, rather than random sampling to describe the method of selecting the people you are going to measure, study or question
It is disconcerting for someone with this kind of training to find that other scientific disciplines do not have this type of sample selection as an article of faith. Oh, we cannot use a random sample because we are only interested in diabetes
It is particularly difficult to understand how the medical profession can so loftily dismiss the need for probability samples, even on straightforwardly practical grounds. We cannot go around taking a MORI sample of peoples sperm counts
I have just read what I see as a very important paper: Design priorities & disciplinary perspectives: the case of the US National Childrens Study
The authors [Michael & O'Murcheatalgh] carefully & lucidly & sympathetically analyse the reasons why mature scientific disciplines develop different research tools.
Surprise, surprise, the main reason is the nature of the research question that is asked. But close behind come assumptions about the nature & extent of existing knowledge
Since the paper is published by the Royal Statistical Society it is perhaps not a surprise to find that in the end the US decided to go with a probability sample for its child development study
Nigel Hawkes wrote a full page article in The Times not all that long ago which covered some of this ground, in an attempt to explain to readers how science can come up with seemingly contradictory findings along the lines of coffee is good for you – no it is bad for you. If I remember correctly he used the word epistemology to cover some of the grounds for dispute. But even he did not, again if I remember correctly, give weight to the idea of using probability sampling in these areas
The media generally have got hold of the idea about the need for proper sample selection, because of their experience with opinion polls I guess. Which is a bit ironic, since opinion pollsters usually use quota samples
It is doubly ironic because the media generally prefer the term scientific sample when scientists do not usually use probability samples (if they are studying people)
The media have also got hold of the idea that size matters in a survey - though they seem a bit hazy about exactly how or how much. They do love a survey however - well they are fun, add a bit of lightness to a 3-hour news programme
Even when it is a totally non-scientific, off somebodys website or done by a PR company for a client with a deodorant to sell. And they will say Although it is not scientific they did speak to 8,000 people
Which leaves them in a bit of a pickle when they have to say Now this one is serious, it comes from National Statistics
It seemed to make sense, naming stochastic processes after what must be something like a game of Fives or Jacks
So much teaching of statistics begins with tossing dice
Except it was wrong information. Stochastic comes from the Greek to aim, to guess. Stragalos is the word for knucklebone
All societies have indulged in gambling games, using bones or other objects as primitive 'dice'. In fact, the word stochastic which mathematicians use to describe sequences of chance events derives from the Greek word for knucklebone
Link: Jack Stones By Dan Beard
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I wonder if he would be pleased or not to know that my most treasured memory is of an interview with Doris Day
He had expressed his opinion of the plethora of National * Days which we get these days. Could anybody have one? He asked listeners for suitable nominations
The winner was - a National Doris Day
The star agreed to an interview
What a trouper. She played the gracious lady to the hilt - Thank you so much. This is a real honour. Talking to the BBC!
It was impossible to tell which one had their tongue furthest into their cheek
Or was it, in those bad old days, all just a hoax?
Related post: Radio Bloke
My interest in this story is that I knew the boy, by sight at least. We lived in the same small country town, but he went to the Secondary Modern & I was a Grammar School girl
He was the eldest of a large Catholic family. I remember the photo in the local paper when the bishop came to bless the ninth child
He ran away from home & had barely arrived in London when he met Brinham
After the acquittal he came home – to a sympathetic welcome. Not long afterwards he got engaged to a sweet girl who was in the same Sunday school class as I was. I cannot remember if I can remember a wedding. We moved away soon afterwards
I was reminded of this story at the weekend so I Googled to see if I could get any more details
I found the rather alarming intelligence that Brinham who was firmly of the view that the young needed the guidance of their elders & betters & had been appointed to supervise the Young Socialist movement
The book Prostitution, Women & Misuse of the Law contrasts the leniency extended to his killer with the treatment of women who kill men who mistreat them sexually
The writers have a point – but not one which is all that well supported by this case
Monday, April 21, 2008
The ones who are most mad are those who really seem to believe this
David Owen has written a book about the illnesses of some senior politicians in the past. The implication seems to be that, first, we should know about this at the time – their doctors, presumably, are supposed to tell us
And secondly, by implication at least, they should be removed from office because their judgement is suspect. And it is downright dangerous for them to have their finger on the worlds self-destruct button or whatever
My problem is that a politician does not have to be ill – physically or mentally – nor to be using powerful drugs in order to show the most appalling judgement
It is not enough to show that some politicians who made what we regard as particularly faulty judgements could have been said to be ill. We need to analyse all decisions by the diagnosed health status of the individual who made it
You never know, the sickest people may have made the least worst decisions
But this is a note on the pleasure & gain to be had from sneaking a look at the end.
If the story is in any way one in which you are being held in suspense over the dénouement, the anxiety to get to the end can interfere with your enjoyment
You will fail to appreciate the clever way in which the author constructs the plot & slowly reveals the clues. You will not enjoy the character development & all the other aspects of the story
So look at the map, find out where you are going, then just sit back, relax & enjoy the journey
I saw this proposal in an article in The Spectator by Dawkins some years ago
Quite apart from the fact that I am not a member of his Church, I do not see any reason to label my precise degree of unfaith in religion. Any more than I see a need for a word to describe my precise degree of lack of faith in fairies
But if I did, I could not adopt the label Bright. First because of the ludicrous implication that believers are non-bright
Secondly because the name is primarily associated in my mind with John Bright, the nineteenth century radical orator, & campaigner for Free Trade
And noted Quaker
But I worry unnecessarily. The willow & hawthorn are breaking out now
I found a charming web site about April written in 1867. Always was an unpredictable month
And I remember that optimistic poem by Larkin, The Trees
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh
Link: April in England 1867 The Trees by Philip Larkin
Related post: Has spring sprung?
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The Prince of Love
He caught me in his silken net,
And shut me in his golden cage.
He loves to sit and hear me sing,
Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
And mocks my loss of liberty.
The Divine Image
The Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
For all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
The second was Mr Stone & the Knights Companion. A book which you rarely, if ever, see mentioned in articles or profiles of Naipaul
I have never reread the book but the impression which it made was profound. For one thing I was astonished that the young man who wrote such a side splittingly authentic (so my friends assured me) tale of a Trinidadian Hindu pandit could write such an affecting story of a lonely old English man
It was many years before I got around to reading Mr Biswas. Then I understood much better
Link: A Short, Painful Life
It is a question of agenda rather than gender. A style of questioning & argument
Victoria Derbyshire is a bloke
Anita Anand, Simon Mayo & Matt Smith are not
The non-blokes tend to flee to Radio4
Which also has blokes. Jonathan Dimbleby, John Humphries, Nick Robinson & Laurie Taylor for example
Friday, April 18, 2008
Obviously ‘I’ occupy - fill up - the bit of space I am in right now. But I must have displaced something
As I walk along what happens to the space I was in a moment ago? It must fill up with something. But not, presumably, exactly the same as it was before I passed through
Will the shape of the space be exactly what it was before I shifted it around?
Do I leave recognisable traces (not just DNA) which one day science may be able to detect?
I was disappointed in a way. I had not realised that the question would be so broadly focused on happy (& successful) lives. I already knew that making your own luck is what makes the difference
Something which came as a bit of a surprise when I first realised it, we were so used to the idea that people were not really clever, just lucky in exams. Not realy worth a higher salary as a reward for hard work & taking responsibility, just lucky in their family connections
I had been expecting a narrower focus on those areas where one would not expect the lucky recipient to be able to influence the outcome. Like raffles & lotteries
Is there any evidence to support the widely held popular view that some people never win prizes?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
New to me anyway. I got it from the otherwise mundanely titled A flexible marginal modelling strategy for non-monotone missing data by Ivy Janssen & Geert Molenberghs from Hasselt University [RSS(A) 171 pt2 2008]
Missing data provide a fascinating & frustrating challenge, of which most outside the world of statistics are unaware. That includes the designers of many computer applications such as databases & spreadsheets which do not allow you to code, let alone deal with them
An oversimplified version of the problem. We have the ages of 3 children - 3,4,5 - so the average is 4. But suppose we had only ?,4,5. The best we could do is to use the 4 and 5 & calculate the average as 4½. Beware computer packages which would just assume ?=0 & give you the answer 3
At least we can see what is going on here. But what if we are dealing with a survey of thousands of people or a census of 60 million?
Data can be missing for a whole variety of reasons, just as it can with any kind of form filling
Some people just refuse, or fail to return the form. Things go missing in the post
Some individual items of information might be missing, because of Don’t knows, sensitivity to the particular question or oversight
Some answers may be illegible
Or impossible - such as a height of 6.5 metres for a human being
When we want to analyse say health status by age, we have to decide what to do about those cases where we know only one or the other or neither because of missing values. If you then add income & education to the analysis the complexity multiplies alarmingly
Counting is no longer a simple process, which any 5 year old can do. Serious mathematics are required
Then suppose we are doing a so-called longitudinal study – going back to the same people to see how their circumstances have changed. We get a whole new set of possibilities for missingness
Think of that tv series Seven Up which has been following a group of English children every 7 years since they were 7, & the nightmare of trying to put together a programme of manageable length when you go back to them at age 42. One which will remind the viewers of the back stories & bring them up to date with those who are still willing to co-operate
In the jargon drop outs are said to produce monotone non-response (the number can only go up). Non-monotone missing data means all the other bits & pieces of data collected over time but of which we have no useable record
Postscript: A Google search produces 30k results for missingness so the word has been in use for a while
Related post: I love Radio Vlaanderen
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Assuming she really could speak Medieval French (how would they know?) I wondered if there could be a rational scientific explanation
Well, if memory is somehow encoded or recorded in molecules (I use that term loosely) in the brain then when the body finally decays those molecules will be released into the world. And since the amount of matter is fixed those molecules will over time quite likely form part of other human bodies. One day the molecule could end up in precisely that bit of someones brain which has the software & connections needed to decode the information
Related post: The Ilkley Moor Argument
1 Do not invest in a company with a whimsical name (except Google). Erinaceous sounds like a homeopathic remedy but actually means like or pertaining to a hedgehog. The founders [of the company now in administration] say they chose it because they have always liked hedgehogs
2 Do not invest in a company whose founders say they have always liked hedgehogs
Related post: A hedgehog writes
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This post is going to attempt to weave together comments on feet, a typology of human fatness, high heels & ballroom dancing
Between the ages of about 10 & 15 I was very good at falling over. No great damage was done, though I did hurt my right arm a lot trying to break my falls
My most notorious tumble came when I was doing duty as milk monitor – all schoolchildren got a daily 1/3 pint for free in those days. Our school was pretty old & we 5th formers were ensconced up a steep winding staircase. It took 2 milk monitors to carry the milk crate up & down. On this day I was in the lead bringing it back down when I fell, amidst a cascade of fortunately empty bottles. Only my pride was damaged but the noise was spectacular
Some time not long after I was referred to some kind of consultant. I never knew exactly what for, though there was a vague idea of worry about epilepsy
At the end of the examination the very avuncular man sat me down & said there was absolutely nothing to worry about. It was just that my feet were too small
I thought that this, though true in a sense (my feet were smaller than those of many of my friends despite my vastly greater height), was meant as a joke. Possibly a face saver to explain the otherwise medically inexplicable
In those days shoes with stiletto heels & very pointed toes were the height of fashion. Young teenagers would have been thought slutty for wearing them, but when I was 16 I proudly bought myself a pair. The heels were not the highest possible, but they were a good 2” higher than anything I had worn before
I only wore them once, at least when I had any walking to do. The experience was absolutely excruciating. I tottered & clip clopped along, barely able to keep them on my feet
Il faut souffrir pour être belle? Perhaps. But vaut? Never
The experience did however imbue me with curiosity about how some women can manage to look good & to walk well in very high heels. Is it the way you put your feet down? Do you have to stand up straight, tummy & bottom tucked in as they always insisted at school, or sit a bit more comfortably in your pelvis? And so on
I do not actually subscribe to the oft repeated view that high heels make a woman look good, extending the legs & all that. On very thin or slender legs high heels can give undue prominence to the knee cap, turning it into an unsightly protuberance. For more muscly legs the effect can be to produce an unsightly bulge in the calf
One type of woman can both look sensational & walk beautifully in high heels. She is what I would probably still call plump. Fat, obese even, if you must. But what we used to call well covered, with the fat pretty evenly covering the body like a well-tailored garment. And the fat itself is neither watery & flabby nor hard & painful looking, but firm & soft like a well-plumped pillow
Such women are usually energetic, supple & even good at school sports & organised games. They are also very good dancers
As are certain fat men. In those days of ballroom dancing it was a real pleasure to be guided round in a quickstep by such a confident dancer. Light on his feet, people used to say
Whether one is light on ones feet or not has very little to do with weight. I once had a neighbour who made my life a misery by sounding like a herd of elephants as he walked around his flat, & shook the whole house when he came downstairs. He was very thin
I thought about all this again just recently when I saw these photos. The lady stands so beautifully balanced, you could drop a plumb line from her crown to her heels. But it was her calf muscle which I really noticed. Finely proportioned & unusually elongated, it seems to me. One day I may get round to Googling a site which can turn me into a bit of an expert in the anatomy of the human leg. In the meantime I shall just content myself with speculating whether there is any plausible mechanism which means there is a correlation between BMI & length of calf muscle
And rage a little more that in these days of worrying about obesity we should put more effort into understanding human plumpness & form rather than just shoehorning all into the uninformative one-size-fits all number that is BMI
I started out with the story of my own small feet because over 30 years later I was diagnosed as having pedi-something which means an unusually high & rigid arch. My foot just does not flex as much other peoples, & women with this condition most certainly can not walk in high heels, or in very flat ballet-style pumps with a low welt. Or get their feet into boots which do not have a side or front opening all the way down to the foot. We just have to settle for something that will do the flexing for us
I thought of this too yesterday when I saw another picture in The Times. It comes from a book by Nick Veasey who uses X-ray photography to reveal ‘a curious world of intricate beauty hidden beneath everyday objects'. (I did not know you could get full-colour X-rays these days).
Monday, April 14, 2008
But twice now I have been ill enough to be causing concern - whatever that means - and from my point of view it was probably absolutely the most relaxed I have ever been. There was no point in worrying about anything because there was nothing I could do about it. There is no alternative to just letting go
The last few months, weeks, days (please not years) may be painful or unpleasant
Otherwise the prospect is not nearly so scary as was, for example, the prospect of giving birth for the first time. And even that turned out to be not the unimaginably painful experience it had been cracked up to be
Death is truly horrible, to the point of being unbearable, for friends, family & loved ones left to mourn
None of this means that I am in any hurry to end things. I still wake up looking forward to the day
But I am also certain of one other thing. Whenever it comes I shall say: Yes, yes, all right. I am coming. But just let me ...
Related posts: My idea of heaven They used to do WHAT?
Why should one have to stop, even for a millisecond, to work out that 16th century means 1500 to 1599?
And most of us, not used to counting backwards, have to take 2 milliseconds to work out what 2nd century BCE means
Saturday, April 12, 2008
It is good to see economists thinking harder about what is meant by rational behaviour in response to economic stimuli, circumstances or incentives. That weird Rational Man of the Old Economics should have been strangled at birth
And I certainly have no problem with statistical tendencies v individual behaviour
My Yes, Buts are:
· It is all very US based – even more obvious since Harford is writing from England
· Cross sectional analysis has its problems eg the study of abortion in notification & non-notification States. This would perhaps be clearer if repeated using comparisons of abortion or any other rates between EU members when the mind might turn more readily to alternative explanations. I assume the question of who pays for teenage abortions does not vary between States?
· It is always difficult to get hold of long runs of statistical databases, leading to short termism in analysis. This particularly shows in the section about whether specialisation or diversity is better for city growth, which uses data for all of 3 decades
· I am definitely happy to see arguments in favour of the benefits of population growth & density. But statements about how estimates of population size in ancient history match Kremers model of technological innovation unnervingly well just remind me of Fishers Too good to be true
In some ways I suppose it is touchingly endearing that Harford takes care sometimes to use the feminine pronouns when making a general point about the behaviour of, say, lawyers. I just find it irritating. But then I have never had a problem with a generic male embracing the female. Nor do I have a problem with the use of They or Their as 3rd person singular pronouns – any awkward ambiguities in a particular sentence or phrase can be got round some other way. But I do not think even the most liberated man or 3rd wave feminist could ever think that her includes him
The book did set me thinking about some old conundrums
Such as the equivalent of Acting White for girls. The hostility has been reduced some – Nobody says Don’t be a bluestocking anymore, & binomial families have done their bit to change attitudes towards the education of girls
But there are still problems. Women get criticised if they adopt what is perceived to be too masculine a management style. In the Conservative Party, until recently at least, it was said that women party members were particularly hostile to the idea of female candidates. And it is still harder for a girl to do subjects such as maths & physics, even if her tastes & inclinations lie in that direction
On this latter point I am particularly curious about women in the computing industry. I have not checked recently but, proportionately speaking, numbers went down in the 1980s. Feminists tended to blame pushy boys keeping the girls off the computers in school, but I suspect something more interesting or depressing was going on.
It was relatively normal for women of my generation to go in to computing – especially programming. But the maths then was, to oversimplify, algebra. Then it changed to geometry & logic. So perhaps it is just another instance of womens inability to read maps
I was pleased to see the demolition of the oft repeated notion that modern communications reduce the need for face to face contact & living in the city. This is far too attractive a proposition for politicians keen to boost regional development (for much the same sort of reasons as Harford shows apply to agricultural subsidies). I for one fear for Radio5 after its move to Manchester (sorry, Salford). BBC sport may not fare so badly, since Greater Manchester has a national & international position in the sporting world
The sex ratio is something of a King Charles head of mine, ever since I learned that (until recently in some countries because of PND & selective abortion) there are always more boys born than girls in human populations. Harford concentrates on the effects of even a small excess of women in American cities. I have always been more interested in the effects of a surplus of men. Even more so now with the situation in China & India
In the 1970s I speculated that changes in the sex ratio in the marriageable age groups (in this country) would mean that men would become the losers in the marriage market
Improvements in infant mortality meant that the extra males were more likely to survive to adulthood. The sudden drop in the birthrate after 1964 would exacerbate the position, given that men tend to marry a woman who is on average 2-3 years younger than themselves. At the same time the pressure on women to marry would increase. There would be no statistical excuse for spinsterhood. But the premium on virgin brides would decrease, if women held a stonger negotiating position. One might also expect an increased tendency to marry slightly older women
Immigration, the unpopularity of formal marriage & reconstituted families have made it difficult to track if any of this has happened, though there were a few small signs. The proportion of women ever-married rose, for men it dropped slightly. The marriage of a man to a woman 3 years his senior causes no comment these days
I sometimes wonder if the great change in the social acceptability of male homosexuality came about in part because there was no longer the same kind of pressure on men to do their duty by marrying another mans sister or daughter
I end on the topic which Harford deals with in his first chapter - the analysis of teenage sexual behaviour. The change which came about at the end of the 1980s in America (and, it seems, this country too) reversed the change which had taken place in the late 1960s/early 1970s
In the 1950s & 1960s pregnancy was the price to be avoided for giving too free a rein to your passions. Teenagers had their own, much discussed, codes about what constituted safe sex. We called it petting
I was somewhat taken aback when, a bit older, I learned, mainly through reading, that in America petting could include oral contact of a kind that my friends & I never even considered Now, especially in the light of Harfords book, I am really wondering why not
I can think of 2 reasons.
The first is purely a matter of culture, taboo & belief. My feeling is that men who really enjoyed this activity were thought to be secretly gay. In an age when some people could still hardly bring themselves to mention the name of Oscar Wilde, & homosexuality was in fact still illegal, there would be a high price to pay for gaining such a reputation
The other is more directly economic. American teenagers had much more ready (universal?) access to cars as the venue for their dating. Few British teenagers were that lucky, had to conduct their dating in places where they might be discovered, even observed
Can one fit the change to unsafe sex & then the change back again into the same economic theory?
Related posts: Dont be a bluestocking Binomial families
Friday, April 11, 2008
Todays final episode really kept me listening.
Constance Kent was found guilty in 1865 of the murder of her young half brother & served 20 years in the notoriously insalubrious Millbank & Parkhurst prisons.
On her release she emigrated to Australia where her brother was a noted marine biologist. She became a nurse, tended to patients during a typhoid epidemic & spent several years at a leper colony
Constance Kent lived to be over 100 years old, & died in 1944
Which just goes to show how unpredictable an individual life can be
The answer to the question What is the probability that I will die of X or that I will live to the age of Y is not some number between 0 and 1. It is either 0 or 1
Related posts: Will the sun come back again? A collage
There is one small aspect of the reporting that has really intrigued me
When Shannon was first found, the media were unanimous. She was hidden in the drawer of a divan bed
Since then there has been wavering. Sometimes she was hidden. Sometimes she was hiding
3 little letters. Such a big difference in meaning
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Occasionally one may ask if they can buy a cigarette from you. These are to be particularly wary of – they will probably discover they have no change on them once they have your cigarette in their hand
My response to all this used to be to put on my fiercest grumpy old woman face & growl No! & risk the occasional abuse
Then I picked up a very useful trick from a young woman – obviously an office worker taking a break – sitting nearby in a park
My version is now to tell anybody who asks: I‘m sorry, I’ve only got my ration
Works a treat. Poor old thing!
And says something interesting about social relations. Though search me what it is
The common cry is even religions test;
The Turk’s is, at Constantinople, best;
Idols in India, Popery at Rome;
And our own worship only true at home.
And true but for the time; ‘tis hard to know
How long we please it shall continue so
Would dryden be surprised to see the world in 2008?
I find in my commonplace book a note to say that The voice of the Mobile is the voice of heaven was a common parody of the Latin Vox populi, vox Deii, which seems doubly delicious now
Related post: You will die for my beliefs
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
She heard the front door open
“Who is that?” she called
“It’s me” he said (ungrammatically)
The (ungrammatically) was added to try to head off shoals of pedantic letters to the author pointing out that the correct form is It is I
How odd then that these days the opposite error has become almost the correct form. Few people would now use an expression such as My friend & me. It is always My friend & I.
Even in statements such as My father took my sister & I to the pictures
Only a Rasta would say My father took I to the pictures, so usage has not changed all that radically
I blame the Queen. To make it clear that Prince Philip is included, she has to use (quite correctly) the formulation My husband & I because We might mean just the royal I in her case. Somehow this just came to seem like the correct formulation, regardless of the grammar of the particular statement
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
I have long harboured a suspicion that our constant tendency to increase the amount of time that the young must spend in formal education (rather than in the labour market) is just a disguise for the fact that we cannot provide enough jobs. Just imagine what it would be like if the school leaving age were still 14
But even that is not enough & now we must add another layer of make-work, employing well-paid armies to monitor, measure & report on all this education
I cannot make up my mind whether this news makes me want to hold my head in my hands or should be just taken as a sensible division of labour.
Why waste your own time trying to make comprehensive comparisons, not just of headline interest rates, but of detailed terms & conditions & availability, when others specialise in knowing all this stuff?
On the other hand a mortgage adviser must tend to be biased towards selling you a mortgage rather than not, & however small, this bias must increase the number of unwise, unserviceable deals entered into
And it must make quite a substantial addition to the overall costs of housing
Related post: House prices
Well yes, I agree
But they should trust us too
Trust us to do our jobs for which we are trained
Trust us not to be a paedophile despite our suspicious desire to work with children
Trust us not to be money launderers when we go to the bank
They feel uncomfortable & embarrassed to have details of their household expenditure exposed. They would like privacy & protection of personal information
So would we. If we thought they thought they had a serious duty to care for our personal data, then we might trust them
Related posts: Labour blames the servants again
Its a fair cop
It is particularly cruel on the elderly – particularly women unlikely to make use of the smoking areas provided by pubs. In the weeks just after the ban was introduced, when some people believed the headline version that all smoking in public is banned, it was surprising how often people would enquire Oh – is it OK to smoke here? of anyone sitting on an open-air bench. But that is of no use if it is or just has been raining
A lot of bus stops seem to be exempt from the ban because they do not fall into the enclosed category. I do not, did not even before the ban, generally smoke in or under a shelter because I do not want to blow my smoke over any non-smoker who may be there. One day I was standing smoking to one side when an elderly lady came along. We know each other by sight as regular passengers. I do not know what age she is, certainly well into her eighties, & despite quite severe arthritis still sprightly & cheerful.
She said something I did not catch about smoking - I assumed it was derogatory. But no – she had said I am damn well going to sit down & have a cigarette
Next we are going to get dirty pictures on cigarette packets to make us see the error of our ways
The last time that the medical profession (in this country) embraced aversion therapy with such enthusiasm was for the ‘treatment’ of homosexuality. Of course most doctors have seen the error in that – there may even have been a fashionable apology.
With smoking there are even siren voices calling for doctors – for our own good you understand – to use smoking as a diagnostic criterion for sectioning under the Mental Health Act. Very Soviet
And as the Economist points out they are going after supply next
People like Amanda Sandford of ASH should really sit down & think hard about the wisdom of that, & think hard about whether people who continue to smoke are just as ignorant or deluded or held in the grip of a demon addiction as she believes
Otherwise we may find ourselves trapped even further into the McMafia world described by Misha Glenny
Human beings have always needed their drugs & there is no reason to suppose that they will not continue to do so. Society needs to work out ways to control or mitigate the harm.
Tobacco has provided a good model of how to do this. Legitimate companies provide legitimate employment of products for sale in a controlled market. The industry contributes very significantly to government revenues
Although smoking may shorten the life of the individual who smokes, the damage it may do to others has been exaggerated – compared to the damage done by alcohol.
Or driving. Quite apart from accidents, the toll of death & damage to health through exhaust emissions is thought to be one worth paying because of the benefits of individual mobility. We attempt to mitigate the ill effects by changing the composition of the fuel, using catalytic converters, or turning the exhaust pipe so that it points at the car behind rather than the baby in a buggy on the pavement
Society has sought different ways in the past to control smoking – the provision of special rooms, bans on smoking in certain places (including most workplaces up until the permissive late 1960s). And, in my youth, it would not have been possible for me & my elderly friend to smoke at the bus stop because A lady never smokes in public
If I were a conspiracy theorist I would be tempted to believe that anti-smoking campaigners & those who sue tobacco companies are all being secretly financed by international drug barons who profit handsomely from dealing in the shadowy, unregulated, violence-controlled economy
Related post: Want to see a filthy postcard?
Monday, April 07, 2008
If you offer me something which, really, I would much rather not have, it is open to me to decline your kind offer. Sometimes simple politeness or kindness, or just plain old embarrassment, may make refusal impossible. Sensitive people will spot my reaction & will withdraw their unwelcome offer. Overbearing bullying insensitive idiots will insist that I take it anyway
Why then are we so ready to sympathise with those who are all too ready to take offence, even when none was intended? For whom no apology can ever be enough?
Related post: Hate crime?
PARAMEDICS SAVE TRAPPED MAN BY CUTTING OFF HIS LEG WITH A SCALPEL
Last year we had the truly distressing story of a young man who drowned with his foot trapped in a drain, with emergency services watching on helplessly as their efforts to free him proved fruitless. It appeared that no one had the courage to literally cut him out
That may be grossly unfair on the rescue services involved – it may simply not have been a feasible option. And in this latest case it sounds rather as if the leg was effectively already lost anyway
But in these litigious days would you want to take the decision to remove a healthy leg to save a life?
Saturday, April 05, 2008
I am not talking about daffodils. It is the bits which should be green which are yellowish brown
It may be dead stuff left over from winter – we got a lot of early green in our February spring but then new growth came to a halt so there is still plenty of dead grass & foliage around
Or is it the result of something even more unusual?
Because there is also a lot of unusually lush green moss growing on walls
NOTHING is so beautiful as spring— Gerard Manley Hopkins
Related post: The turn of the year
When Lady Lyttelton died after the birth of her twelfth child her eldest daughter - still a teenager herself I think - had to take over the running of the house. When she got married, her sister Lucy took over
Granted this was an unusually large, aristocratic (though somewhat cash-strapped) family, but the job was at the very least the equivalent of being the manager of a modern medium sizes country house hotel
Related posts: Lady Frederick Cavendish The advantage of marriage
Then yesterday evening, a whole week later, I was just sitting packing up my shopping in Sainsburys when I found the entire song, word perfect was running through my head. I don’t think I can have thought of it for over 50 years, when we learned mainly as pronunciation practice
Au clair de la lune
Mon ami Pierrot
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot
Ma chandelle est morte
Je n’ai plus de feu
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu
Friday, April 04, 2008
Two points caused some surprise to Jenni Murray. The first is that Enriqueta Rylands, who founded the Library in memory of her husband, was born in Cuba. The second was that she married him in 1875, without scandal, only 8 months after the death of his second wife. She was 32 & he was 74. She had been employed for over 10 years as a companion to his wife
Neither of these points causes me any surprise, but only because I got over most of my assumptions about Victorian England, & in particular about Victorian Manchester some years ago when I was trying to get to the bottom of one particular event which took place in the 1860s. Few of the people involved in this story were prominent enough to have biographies, memoirs, Lives& Letters, published about them so I had to use the methods of family history to track down as much as I could
A high proportion of ‘my’ characters were born abroad. For example the Chief Constable was born in Bombay & his wife in Philadelphia
Empire & trade, rather than ethnic origins were the main explanations. The Chief Constable for example was the son of an Indian army officer, his wife the daughter of an Irish born merchant who eventually settled in Manchester
Enriqueta Rylands was the daughter of a Cuban mother but her father Stephen Tennant was a Liverpool-born merchant
I became very surprised at the number of elderly marriages undertaken by my cast of characters. Far from being old men marrying young women it was often widower marrying a widow of much the same age – for example Abel Heywood married Elizabeth Goadsby, the independently wealthy widow of a fellow alderman.
There was even one example of a marriage between a widower & the woman who had been first governess to his children then companion to his wife, also within months of the first wife’s death. Such comment as appeared in the press was totally approving
I tried to place such elderly marriages within a wider statistical context, but ran into the problem that age at marriage was not routinely recorded until 1862. Even then, for years afterwards, the Registrar General would complain in his annual report that too many of those who officiated at a marriage disregarded the instruction & merely put down Of full age for anyone over 21. Nevertheless, even the incomplete statistics showed that marriages of both men & women aged 70+ or 80+ were not at all rare
I have no information about the personal emotional, romantic or sexual motives for such marriages. There is no reason to assume that there were none. Nevertheless it is also clear that marriage offered considerable advantages over & above those of companionship. A husband gained a household manager – a role not to be underestimated.
Even today it can be hard for an older woman to live a life as socially full as she would like it to be without a husband, & that was so much more the case in the 19th century, when travelling about on ones own was not easy
And respectability was important. There is no way that a young woman governess or companion could continue to live in a household without wife or children. Her only option would be to look for a new position
Enriqueta Rylands was a lively & accomplished young woman, who proved by the way that she administered her husbands estate that she was more than equal to her role. Why should Victorian society see any cause for scandal in such a suitable arrangement for them both?
Link: William Neild
Thursday, April 03, 2008
This new race was the main stock of our forefathers, sharing the primeval German pride of purity of extraction; still regarding the family tie as the basis of social organisation, migrating in groups of allied & kindred character, & commemorating the tribal identity in the names they gave to their new settlements; honouring the women of their nation & strictly careful of the distinction between themselves & the tolerated remnant of their predecessors
Bishop Stubbs. Select Charters 1st edition 1870, 9th edition 1966
How things change
We might cringe these days, but that passage from a much respected constitutional historian is not what ir seems through our rearview spectacles
Even at school in the mid C20th I was taught that the free Anglo Saxon inhabitants of England were enslaved as serfs by the Norman French. The proof is there in our language, which retains the Old English words for animals - cow, sheep, pig - while they are still alive & need hard work to tend in the fields. Once they become expensive meat, affordable only by the aristocratic owners of the land, the french words take over - boeuf, mouton, porc
He usually asks a simple question such as What is the most scary book you have ever read? People ring in
But the people who ring are not the usual suspects at all. Neither in the sense of being typical of the sort of people who too often dominate late night radio phone ins, nor the sort you usually hear discussing literature on the BBC
Such as men who are not part of the artistic or literary establishment. Many are quite elderly – no doubt listening to late night radio because of insomnia or other health problems. Some have been life-long readers & may mention a book, long out of print, of which neither Dotun nor his book-reviewer studio guest has ever heard
Others have touching stories to tell of how, perhaps quite late in life & certainly long after school, they have discovered the joys of reading.
Dotun is particularly good at giving his callers the encouragement & space to open up & genuinely respects their opinions
One story which sticks in my mind was of the man who had found that charity shops are a very good source of cheap books to buy – perhaps from the backlist of an author he had only recently discovered. So any day trip or visit to a new town or city now offered him & his wife the additional pleasure of a new shop to rummage in
Related post: Romantic books for boys
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Talk about keeping on desperately paddling your feet after running over the edge of a cliff
Link: Lending to individuals: February 2008
I was left feeling I will never fly with them again. Particularly since the second leg of that journey, with PANAM, was a joy. BOAC, I thought, are very good at saying Modom, but that is where their idea of customer service – even plain kindness – begins & ends
Well, it was not a resolution I could keep to all the time, but give me a choice & it will not be BA for me. In truth there have been some quite pleasant experiences in the intervening years – especially since cabin crew no longer had to be well-spoken young ladies under 5’ 6” in height & 27 years of age. But they still have too much of the knack of making you feel as if, somehow, you are not quite the right sort of person to be on one of their planes
So in one way I feel a sneaking schadenfreude over the T5 debacle
I am not qualified to comment, or even understand what may be the problem with the much-vaunted computerised baggage system. What bothers me most however are the hints that a large part of the problem, on the first day at least, was caused by basics such as staff not knowing where to go in the vast new terminal, or not having the correct passwords, or parking places
The foolish faith in technology which can seduce too many in these days of targets & tick boxes, allied with a total failure to understand the difference between different kinds of computer applications - If Google can find me 3 zillion references to Britney in 0.2 of a second computers must be able to keep track easily of a few suitcases – just keeps adding to the tendency to treat people like so many bits of computer data themselves, ignorant automatons who will somehow just miraculously obey the computers instructions.
And engenders all too easily a confusion between keeping track of luggage & actually moving the awkward heavy stuff around
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The company intends to repay a large chunk of the money it owes to the Bank of England by increasing to 60% the redemption rate at the end of ‘customer product period’
This will be done by making customers who come to the end of a fixed rate period an offer which they must refuse – because it is far too expensive
The assumption presumably is that customers will just switch to a different mortgage provider
Easy peasy! Problem solved!
Well the Government saved the depositors. Perhaps they will do the same for the mortgagors
So what am I worried about?
Link: FULL YEAR RESULTS FOR 2007 AND FURTHER DETAILS OF ITS PROPOSED BUSINESS PLAN
Related post: Never mind the debt