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Home | 2016 | February

Scrapbook for February 2016

29.02.2016 – Solar Impulse update

The Solar Impulse aircraft, following the insertion of new batteries and 20 million Euros, is pluming for flight. In the circumnavigation 'not a drop of fuel' has been used, thank goodness. Suspension of disbelief: Solar Impulse (update)

26.02.2016 – Spare the rod, spoil the child

Oliver James asserts that the nature vs. nurture debate is settled: a new book (his own) has 'proved' that genes have no influence on 'psychological traits'. Nurture has won the battle.

At least he confirms what I have thought for a long time:

When I was ten, my parents were informed by my headmaster that I was born stupid, and would have to move to a school for the congenitally defective.

To be fair, I was a badly behaved slacker who was always at or near the bottom of every class (the weekly beatings did not help).

I'm with the headmaster here, except that before giving up on the brat entirely I would have tried daily beatings, since weekly ones didn't seem to be working.

Setting aside his defective grasp of scientific method and 'proof', our 'chartered psychologist and psychotherapist' assumes that 'nature', that is, the physical make-up of a person, is totally encompassed by genetic inheritance. It is not, as a moment's reflection will show.

Many aspects of a human's physical constitution are not determined by his or her genetic constitution. Arguing that no one has ever found a gene that is responsible for a brittle personality or hyperactivity does not mean that such features of personality may not have physical causes. And such physical causes my result from the presence of combinations of genes. Einstein, Feynmann and co. had powers of mathematical imagination that were surely not just the result of the way they were brought up and whether their parents loved them or not.

Nor can 'psychological traits' (only psychologists use such phrases) be entirely the result of nurture. When parents are talking about their children I have often heard them emphasise their personality differences rather than their similarities: one child is outgoing, another child is reserved and so on. Given the same nurture we might expect more uniformity.

In the animal kingdom, some species are more intelligent than others, others more aggressive, some exhibit pack or herd behaviour and so on. Even Oliver James must admit that genes have something to do with these differences.

His headmaster was definitely right. Hands on the chair, boy!

16.02.2016 – Swiss snow having orderly fun in the playground.

Swiss snow having orderly fun

16.02.2016 – The propagation of nonsense

(Better two months late than never, sorry.)
Brendan Cole, MailOnline, 24 November 2015, from the inquest into the death of a helicopter pilot who crashed in a London street: source

– Senior coroner Andrew Harris asked her: 'Was he a man who took risks?'

– She [former partner Rebecca Dixon] replied: 'Within limits. He knew what he could and couldn't do. I wouldn't say he took adverse risks.'

Not sure what an 'adverse risk' is. Perhaps she means a 'serious' or a 'dangerous' risk. In the context of flying a helicopter, can we think of risks with trivial outcomes – lunchbox falls out of open window – or even beneficial outcomes – and falls on head of David Cameron?
Nevertheless, the phrase 'adverse risk' was clearly so gripping that it was repeated in a picture caption and a strapline. Will it catch on?

15.02.2016 – Accumulated wisdom

Tim Worstall

I've always liked the one about the insomniac dyslexic agnostic who would lie awake at night wondering whether there really was a Dog.

Which reminded me of some other by now nicely matured texts I have accumulated:

  • Sixteen sodium atoms walk into a bar, followed by Batman.
  • What's the difference between an etymologist and an entomologist?
    An etymologist knows the difference.
  • How can you tell the difference between a chemist and a plumber?
    Ask them to pronounce 'unionized'.
  • I invented a new word today: 'plagiarism'.
  • Who is this Rorschach guy and why does he paint so many pictures of my parents fighting?
  • I tried walking up a hill without a watch but had neither the time nor the inclination.
  • A linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. 'In English,' he said, 'a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn't a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.'
    A voice from the back of the room piped up, 'Yeah, right.'
  • There's a fine line between numerator and denominator.
  • I saw a dwarf prisoner climbing down a wall. He turned and sneered at me. I thought: 'that's a little condescending'.

13.02.2016 – Some more people not saying things

Nigel Farage MEP, Farage for Breitbart, 13 February 2016

I missed Question Time last week having been stuck on the A1 in a huge traffic jam. Fortunately for me the program invited me down to Llanelli to take part in this week’s program.

Think you missed a sentence out there, Nigel:

…traffic jam. Fortunately Paul Nuttall was able to appear in my stead at extremely short notice and did an excellent job. I'm grateful that the program invited me…

There –that wasn't too hard, was it. Makes you seem a much nicer man.

13.02.2016 – Eamonn and Ruth's little secret

A tedious and silly piece about UK 'TV personality' Eamonn Holme's double hip replacement in MailOnline

I only read it to see if I could find the p-word, 'private'. I assume he is relatively well-off. As such he would be a fool to expose himself to the indignities of the soup kitchen that is the National Health Service.

Not a peep. In fact there was no word about the hospital, the staff, the surgeons or anything about the treatment, which I would have imagined is something the grateful survivor of an operation would want to mention. The only hint is that Holmes had a single room.

We can therefore assume that it was private medicine. Had it been the NHS the piece would have been full of the noisome 'angels in uniform' guff and a photo or two of suitably diverse groups of grinning minders.

I can't find a word to describe the making of such politically tactical omissions. We have plenty of words to categorize the things people say, but not many to describe what they don't say. Dissembling?

13.02.2016 – A nomination for the headline of the year award…

…Goes to today's MailOnline

Entire home town of Italian Cambridge student found tortured and murdered in Cairo come out to bid him a tearful farewell as country's PM warns Egypt over the incident