Monday, August 21, 2017

Ex- Hurricange Gert doesn't seem to have been as bad as was feared ..

After being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, Gert has been something of a damp squib, which I dare say most people will be grateful for.

There has been some rain in Northern parts and will be more over the next 36 hours or so but basically what was one a ferocious storm has arrived in Britain as not much more than a slow moving area of low pressure.

Monday music spot: Simon And Garfunkel, "The Sound Of Silence"

Quote of the day 21st August 2017

As Cumbria is expected to get some filthy weather today from Storm Gert, I thought this quote was appropriate ...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday music spot: Haydn- Insanae Et Vanae Curae

After a day of techno-hell trying to sort out various problems with my computers and electronic devices I need some "hard stuff" to get me to relax, and as I don't drink alcohol the nearest equivalent of a strong dose of whisky was a piece of powerful music such as Haydn's musical masterpiece.

As I have previously posted, the lyrics can be roughly translated into English as follows:

"A crazed and hopeless passion invades our minds,
Again and again madness fills our hearts and robs us of hope."

"How can it profit you, O mortal, to seek for earthly riches but take no thought of Heaven?"

"Yet if God is for you, all things are possible for you."

This magnificent recording is by the choir of St John's Cambridge.

Bad weather warning - Storm Gert expected to hit Cumbria tomorrow

The tail end of tropical storm Gert is expected to hit the UK tomorrow (Monday 21st August) and there was at one point some concern among the relevant authorities that it might cause problems such as flooding.

Teams of officers from various authorities have been discussing how serious a problem this is likely to be, and making sure appropriate measures are in place to deal with any issues.

The current expectation is that

1) Prolonged rainfall is expected across Cumbria from 2pm to 9pm on Monday with some localised intensity.
 2) High ground figures of expected levels of rainfall are circa 50mm on Monday afternoon and 40mm at lower levels. (This is a rather less than was expected last week)
3) This may trigger several Flood Alerts and worst case scenario (Environment Agency modelling) 1 Flood Warning for the lower Eden. We’ll know more on this by Monday morning.
4)  The Environment Agency are engaging with communities in higher risk areas such as Glenridding and the Kendal area.
The EA are using social media (tweets) to reassure the public. CCC will re-tweet their messages in order to ensure consistency
Summary - expect an afternoon of filthy weather tomorrow if you are in Cumbria or the North of England but it looks less likely than it did earlier that there will be serious flooding. Emergency services and other relevant authorities have been asked by the Environment Agency to remain on standby in case that situation changes.

Quote of the day 20th August 2017

"I think we should just ignore Doctor Mengele over there."

(Response by one colleague when Lord Danny Finkelstein, who is Jewish, suggested in a discussion on education policy that "the natural ability of pupils might differ" as described in an article in The Times this week by Lord Finkelstein.

For the avoidance of doubt I am quoting this not with approval but as an illustration of the degree of venom some people are willing to use to try to shut down the expression of a viewpoint they disagree with.)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sir Bruce Forsythe RIP

Bruce Forsythe, who has died at the age of 89, was a great entertainer with a remarkable stamina, a great sense of fun and who was capable of enormous empathy.

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace

Back from holiday

I have just returned from a short family holiday on the Norfolk Broads.

Working through the long list of post and emails items sent while I was away. Will try to get back to people as soon as possible.

Music Spot :The Barron Knights parody top of the pops and MASH

To finish off what has become and informal "Barron Knights" week ...

In the 1980's spoof below the Barron knights first sang a parody of "Top of the Pops" and then for the "Number One" spoofed the theme tune of the contemporary comedy "MASH," which was about a US Army field hospital in Vietnam, as the "Masochistic and Sadistic Hospital Song" about the NHS.

There are a certain number of contemporary "in jokes" in this clip which cannot be explained without ruining them but most alert people should get most of the jokes.

For the avoidance of doubt I have posted this because it is funny and no endorsement or statement of any political view whatsoever is intended by doing so.

Quote of the day 19th August 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday music spot: Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band sing "Love Divine"

Maddy Prior, who sings with Steeleye Span, is here with her other group, the Carnival Band, singing the familiar hymn "Love Divine" to an older tune. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me this music was written by Henry Purcell as "Fairest Isle."

Quote of the day 13th August 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Climate change and free speech

Lord Lawson and Brian Cox are both highly intelligent men.

The former ought to know better than to dismiss the evidence for the impact of human activity on the climate as lightly as he does.

The latter ought to know better than to attack the BBC for allowing Nigel Lawson to express that view on Radio 4. in the manner that he did

You do not win arguments by claiming that the other side does not have one and should not have the right to a platform, no matter how strongly you believe - possibly correctly - that the evidence is overwhelmingly on your side.

Quote of the day 11th August 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

More doctors and nurses to be trained

About time too!

This ought to have been done fifteen years ago but it is very welcome that it is finally happening.

Don't lose your vote

If you want to be able to vote in any elections , scheduled or otherwise, over the period of the next electoral register, don't forget to register to vote.

Copeland Borough Council sent out the registration form this week and other local authorities will be doing the same about now.

I certainly never imagined when I registered this time last year that there would be two parliamentary elections - a by-election and a general election - to vote for in the period covered by that registration.

Quote of the day 10th August 2017

I think Google could think about this one too ...

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tuesday music spot: Handel's Chandos Anthem No.9

The movements of this mini-oratorio are

1. O praise the Lord with one consent
2. Praise him, all ye that in his house attend
3. For this our truest interest is
4. That God is great
5. With cheerful notes let all the earth
6. God´s tender mercy knows no bounds
7. Ye boundless realms of joy
8. Your voices raise, ye cherubim

Most people will find the recurring theme of the first movement rather more than slightly reminiscent of the first line of "O God our help in Ages past" ...

Still fighting the last battle ...

It's evidently a slow news day. Some pro-remain papers had a retrospective go at the Leave campaign this morning over their exaggerated claim during the referendum last year that the UK sends £350 million a week to the EU.

Not to be outdone, the BBC fact checkers had a go at both sides, saying,

"EU Cost: why £350 million and £156 million per week are both wrong."

The BBC is right to say that we do not "send to Brussels" either of these figures in the sense that the former is the approximate value of a purely notional gross contribution, and Maggie Thatcher's rebate is deducted before anything is paid.

£156 million a weeks was the net contribution - Britain actually sent £252 million a week to the EU in 2016 but received back £96 million of EU spending in the UK.

The net contribution is a far more representative measure of the net cost to the UK of payments to the EU than a notional gross contribution millions of pounds of which was never actually paid, but if you are going to nit-pick over the exact words used the amount we "sent to Brussels" was the actual gross contribution e.g. £252 million a week.

But come on guys, the referendum was more than a year ago.

And since then we have had a general election in which the two main parties standing on a platform of implementing Brexit increased their share of the vote and got well over 80% of votes and seats between them, while the anti-Brexit parties (the Lib/Dems and SNP) both did very badly.

Isn't it high time for both sides to stop fighting the last battle and concentrate on making the best of the present situation?

Whether we like it or not Brexit is going to happen.

I don't, but as a democrat I respect the decision of the electorate.

Let's try to get the best and fairest deal for everyone on both sides that we can.

Diversity, sexism, and the need for open discussion

Many issues are too complex to have a perfect solution, but there is almost no case where you get towards a better one if you penalise people for expressing a view about them which you think is wrong.

Even if that view really is wrong, the resentment you create if you make martyrs of those who express it - and the risk to honest debate if people keep their heads down on consequence - does more harm than good.

It appears to be just as well for one of the regular posters on the comments threads of this blog that he works for Sellafield rather than Google, since one employee writing a memo expressing what were labelled as "anti-diversity" views at the latter organisation on issues like the gender pay gap appeared to have caused quite a furore at Google.

Personally I do think that racial and gender inequality exist, as does the gender pay gap (though it is also estimated in Britain that it is as low as it has ever been and is reducing) and that we ought to find positive and constructive ways of reducing them. Nor do I agree with every word in the controversial memo, far from it.

However I take the author at his word when he wrote

"I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group "

In a healthy organisation or society people who in a polite and constructive way express even highly controversial views should absolutely not be penalised for it.

Quote of the day 8th August 2017

"If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem."

(James Damore, extract from the controversial memo which caused a stir at Google)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Useful Idiots

Both communism and fascism have destroyed the lives of millions of people and turned entire countries into giant prison camps.

In a free society we are entitled to hold, and express within the law, any opinions we wish, but anyone who uses the liberty of a free society to express support for authoritarian tyrannies whether of right or left casts doubt on their judgement.

The vast majority of people would have no truck with fascism or nazism and would regard support for either as putting the person who expresses such support outside the pale. Yet a surprisingly large proportion of those who - rightly - condemn fascist or Nazi regimes and their sympathisers do not express the same condemnation of Marxism or communism.

This is astonishing given that avowedly communist or Marxist regimes have been responsible for crimes which have destroyed even more millions of innocent lives than Nazi and fascist regimes.

Lenin is reported to have described those in the West who supported the propaganda of his regime as "useful idiots" and there have been a long history of people who have allowed themselves to be duped by far-left regimes, governments which claimed to follow idealistic policies but which left a string of ruined countries, shattered lives and murdered opponents.

Oliver Kamm on CAPEX has an excellent article at

which chronicles the story of some of these "useful idiots" and notes that Jeremy Corbyn's support for the disastrous regime in Venezuela is the latest in a long line of people who have given uncritical support to dire hard-left governments our of a wish to believe that hard-left policies can succeed.

The corruption and incompetence of previous governments in Venezuela had previously been very damaging but the history of the Chavez and Madura regimes demonstrates that hard-left policies were no solution and that in the medium and longer term only made matters much worse. Chavez is still popular with some people in Venezuela because he managed to die before most of his chickens came home to roost. Maduro is continuing the same economic policies which have manifestly failed while effectively trying to abolish democracy to cling to power.

History will not be kind to either. Nor will the wise be impressed by those who held up Venezuelan socialism as a model for Britain to follow.

Sunday music spot: William Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" sung by The Sixteen

Quote of the day 6th August 2017

"Success is like an Iceberg" (Wright Thurston)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday music spot: "Ghost Riders in the Sky" (Johnny Cash)

From Johnny Cash's album "Silver."

The painting is called "The wild hunt: Åsgårdsreien" by Peter Nicolai Arbo. This song was written by Stan Jones on 5 May 1948. It was originally recorded by Burl Ives on 17 February 1949.

Quote of the day 4th August 2017

One thing Nehru and Churchill agreed about (WSC, of course, is responsible for a very similar quote.)

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Music spot: Steeleye Span "Somewhere Along The Road"

Ken Haywood RIP

I have just learned that my former friend and colleague Honorary Alderman Ken Haywood has died at the age of 91.

Most readers of this blog in Cumbria and the North West will not have heard of Ken but if I have any readers in St Albans or indeed in Hertfordshire they will almost certainly remember him.

During his twenty years as a member of the Council of the City and District of St Albans Ken was Mayor of St Albans in 1982/3 and again in 1988/9, and he was leader of the council in 1990-1

He was my immediate predecessor as leader of the Conservative group on the council and also served a term on Hertfordshire county council - he was in fact my county councillor from 1989 to 1993.

Ken was a dedicated public servant with an eye for getting to the heart of the matter and he had a number of favourite expressions for concentrating on the big items and not getting so hung up on minor details that you forget the more important ones.

"Fish where the fish are" was one of those expressions, and another, referring to what takes up most of the costs of local government, was "costs walk in on two legs."

You probably would not get away with that latter comment today but back in the eighties and nineties someone like Ken could say it without meaning or causing offence. 

Ken Haywood worked hard for his constituents, was a loyal friend, had a good sense of humour and was a sympathetic and patient listener, and I will miss him.

He is survived by a widow, June, and a son and daughter-in-law, David and Cathy.

Usual Obituary rules apply to this post.

Rest in Peace.

A Canadian perspective on their form of constitutional monarchy

I stumbled by chance on a fascinating piece in a Canadian paper which you can read  here describing the form of constitutional monarchy in those Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia where the Queen is their head of state as a "fluke work of genius."

I don't think you could ever plan for such a model - hence the valid reference to a fluke - but it makes a most interesting point.

Quote of the day 3rd August 2017

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Midweek music spot: Dixit Dominus (first chorus) by Handel

A thank you to HRH Prince Philip

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, carried out his final public duties today in a career of public service which has lasted by my count for nearly seventy eight years - since he joined the Royal Navy early in World War II.

His naval career was impressive and it is not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that if he had not married the Queen he might still have become an Admiral of the Fleet by working his way up to the job as his grandfather and uncle did.

After his marriage to the Queen, he has spent sixty years, well into his nineties, carrying out a punishing schedule of royal engagements.

We owe him our thanks for all his work on the nation's behalf, for his untiring support to his wife, and our good wishes for a happy retirement.

The silly season - or not

My first reaction to the Times front page with the headline

"Labour MPs urge Corbyn to condemn Venezuela"

was to laugh uproariously and think "The silly season is off to a good start."

My second thoughts was that actually the situation in Venezuela is too sad to be funny. More than a hundred and twenty people have died in riots over the past four months as the economy becomes a basket case.

What should be one of the richest countries in Latin America is spiralling down into collapse.

CNN reports, "Venezuela is running out of food. Hospitals are overcrowded with sick children while doctors don't have enough medicine or X-ray machines. Electricity isn't guaranteed. About the only thing Venezuela has in abundance is chaos."

As that well known right-wing newspaper The Guardian (irony warning) commented after a disputed election for a constituent assembly,

'The European Union has condemned “the excessive and disproportionate use of force by security forces” and said it had serious doubts whether the election could be recognised. On Wednesday, one of the companies who worked on the voting system for Venezuela’s constituent assembly election said it believed results were inflated by at least 1m votes.'

Since the vote, Maduro’s government has continued to arrest representatives of the country’s beaten-down opposition.

It would be oversimplistic to blame everything which has gone wrong in Venezuela on Hugo Chavez or socialism, and this more nuanced account argues for a broader view but it is beyond dispute that the present socialist government which Jeremy Corbyn praised to the skies has catastrophically failed to resolve the country's problems and is resorting to increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial measures to try to hold on to power.

Even many of those socialists who used to praise the Chavez and Maduro regimes have, like  Asa Cusack in a mea cupla in the Guardian, changed their minds.

Of course, the left are on a hiding to nothing. If they condemn the Maduro regime, we will be reminded that they used to support policies - and advocate them here in Britain - which have contributed to complete catastrophe in Venezuela. If they don't, their silence about the dictatorial and brutal methods used by the Maduro regime will be all the more deafening.

Quote of the day 2nd August 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday music spot: "I'm a Believer" song The Monkees

Another song from the Monkees TV show which became a huge hit five decades ago (and had another burst of popularity a little more recently courtesy of Shrek and Donkey ...)

Action on Mental Health

Mental health is often a Cinderella service which has been neglected by governments of all political colours.

So I am pleased to learn of the announcement by Jeremy Hunt that 21,000 more mental health nurses will be recruited and that £1.3 billion will be spent to treat an extra one million people by 2021.

Quote of the day 31st July 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Remembering the 3rd battle of Ypres.

This weekend we remember one of the most terrible conflicts in which Britain was involved during the 20th century: the third battle of Ypres, also known as the battle of Passchendaele, is generally considered by historians to have lasted from 31st July 1917 to 10th November 1917.

Nobody has ever agreed exactly how many people were killed and wounded but it would appear to have been a little over half a million (around 260,000 on each side.) Huge armies fought in dreadful conditions over a landscape which had been turned to a quagmire of mud and lunarised by heavy artillery. Those of us who have been lucky enough never to be within a hundred miles of a battle can have no conception of what it was like, but we can understand that it was horrible.

The last few survivors of the battle died of old age within the past decade.

The cost of the battle, and the sacrifice of those who took part, must not be forgotten.

Rest in Peace.

A hard border in Ireland would be a tragedy - and a sea border would be a farce

When on holiday or visiting family in Ireland I usually arrive on the island via a ferry at Larne and drive through Northern Ireland before reaching the country of Ireland.  So have occasion to cross the UK's one land border, which when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019 will become Britain's border with the EU.

It is a meandering border, several hundred miles long, which is not marked or policed. In many places you only know you have crossed it because the speed limit signs change.

People on both sides of the border work, shop and socialise across it. Many shops and businesses anywhere near the border take both pounds and Euros.

After a lot of agonising about which way to vote, the difficulty of finding a satisfactory means of dealing with this border which does not sabotage either the economies of both parts of Ireland or the ambition for Britain to regain control of it's borders was a significant factor in my eventual decision to vote Remain.

The re-creation of a "hard border" between the two parts of the island would have severe consequences for the economy of both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Equally, it is difficult to see how you can have freedom of movement between Ireland and the rest of the EU, freedom of movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland, plus freedom of movement between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and yet not have freedom of movement between Britain and the EU.

Which means that there is no simple solution so we have to find a compromise which works.

Some form of the present Irish "freedom of movement" area with monitoring of movement into and out of the island by people who are not citizens of either Britain or Ireland appears to be the least worst solution.

A "Sea Border" between Britain and Ireland would be unworkable and quickly become a farce.

Sunday music spot: Tallis "If ye love me" sung by The Sixteen

Quote of the day 30th July 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday music spot: The Monkees "Last Train To Clarksville"

I used to watch the Monkees TV show as a small boy because it was often very funny and I liked the music. The significance of the words of songs like this one completely escaped me at the time.

Now I understand that Clarksville was a departing station for young men drafted to fight in the Vietnam War I realise that lines like "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home" had a lot more kick than I appreciated ...

Charlie Gard RIP

In a statement issued on yesterday evening, the parents of Charlie Gard said: "Our beautiful little boy has gone, we are so proud of you Charlie."

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "I am deeply saddened by the death of Charlie Gard. My thoughts and prayers are with Charlie's parents Chris and Connie at this difficult time."

Pope Francis tweeted: "I entrust little Charlie to the Father and pray for his parents and all those who loved him."

Quote of the day 29th July 2017

"A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence."
(Jim Watkins)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday music spot: The Pointer Sisters "I'm So Excited"

This 80's classic song was used as the opening theme and at certain key points of the 1990 film/TV version of Judith Michael's book "Deceptions" so I can'[t hear it without thinking of Stephanie Powers dancing on a boat ...

On enlightened capitalism:

Last week Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson MSP published a most thought-provoking and excellent article on the "Unherd" site which was titled:

"Ctrl + alt + del Conservatives must reboot capitalism."

This article was well worth a read and anyone who has not done so can find it here."

It was a very wide ranging piece which began by pointing out some of the massive benefits which the market economy has brought to greatly improve millions of people's lives, but went on to point out that, particularly in the past decade, those benefits have not always been visible or evenly spread and that for some people. as she put it,

"market failure piled upon social failure piled upon political failure "

have left them with poor options and no stake in the system. It is hardly surprising that many such people have turned to the siren voices of populists of right or left who reinforced their feelings that "the system" is stacked against them, offering instead what sound like simple and clear-cut remedies.

As Ruth wrote in that article,

"How does a teenager living in a pit town with no pit, a steel town with no steel or a factory town where the factory closed its doors a decade ago or more, see capitalism working for them?

Is the route for social advancement a degree, student debt, moving to London to spend more than half their take home pay on a room in a shared flat in Zone 6 and half of what’s left commuting to their stagnant-wage job every day; knowing there is precisely zero chance of saving enough to ever own their own front door?

Or is it staying put in a community that feels like it’s being hollowed out from the inside; schoolfriends moving away for work, library and post office closures and a high street marked by the repetitive studding of charity shop, pub, bookies and empty lot – all the while watching the Rich Kids of Instagram on Channel 4 and footballers being bought and sold for more than the entire economy of a third world nation on Sky Sports News?

Not a single person familiar with this impossible choice should be surprised at the rise of the populist right and left, of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, with their simple, stick-it-to-the-broken-system narrative."

Ruth goes on to write about some of the solutions we need to consider - fixing the housing market (a policy, please note, which is likely to require less government intervention rather than more), reforms of corporate governance, restrictions on tax avoidance, lowering barriers of entry to market competitors and reforms to education are among the things she touches on.

But it is also necessary to foster the ethos of responsible capitalism. The most successful and effective business leaders in today's world are rarely the "robber baron" type of capitalist but those who use their economic power in positive ways. And even those companies which have come in for criticism - much of it justified - may have got other things right which we can learn from.

This week she has also linked to an another article on the Unherd site, this-one by Chris Deerin, which calls out examples of good business practice of the kind which can lead us towards a model of good corporate practice. It's a moderately long read - thirteen pages - but worth the effort.

The idea of ethical capitalism has been someone discredited both because some of those who promoted it were naïve idealists and because some companies who should have known better have been caught out in very unethical capitalism.

It is time to revive it.

Quote of the day 28th July 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday music spot.

I originally posted this comparison two years ago and was disappointed to notice today that both the performances I linked to at that time have since been removed from YouTube.

So here it is again with two links to some of the (many) performances which work today.

In 1711 Antonia Vivaldi published an excellent concerto for four Violins and supporting instruments. I believe that like most of his music it was popular for a time, almost forgotten for many years, and then revived in popularity in the 20th century.

(Yehudi Menuin and Nigel Kennedy had, I think, rather a lot to do with the revival in popularity of Vivaldi, and I used to own an audio cassette, in the days of that now largely vanished technology, with a great performance of this piece led by Y.H.) 

Here is a more recent performance ...

Johann Sebastian Bach liked this piece so much that, some two decades after it was first published  he transcribed it for four harpsichords. Here is a modern performance of his version:

Which do you prefer?

Quote of the year

"Anyone who thinks the West Cumberland Hospital doesn't have a future, or that we are closing it, can think again."

Stephen Eames, Chief Executive of Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, on the news that  between £35 million and £50 million of new government money is to be invested in improving facilities and services at West Cumberland Hospital, as quoted in today's Whitehaven News.

Melanie Phillips on the tragic case of Charlie Gard

The tragic story of Charlie Gard is every parent's nightmare. There are no right answers about how to deal with such a case: no decent human being can feel anything but sorry for the plight of this infant and his mum and dad. All parents must be thinking something along the lines of "There, but for the grace of God, go I" (or the equivalent is for those of other faiths or none.)

To have such cases resolved by the courts should be a last resort: it is far better than decisions about the clinical care of any child should be taken by doctors in consultation with the family rather than by juidges and lawuers. The only thing even worse than having such decisions end up in independent courts would be having them taken by politicians, commentators or twitter - let alone by politicians commentators or twitterati thousands of miles away.

There is a thoughtful piece on the subject by Melanie Phillips on the subject which you can read here and which I recommend.

She concludes her piece as I will conclude this one by saying that the last word should be given to Great Ormond Street hospital when a statement from the hospital said that all their thoughts

“go with Charlie and his mother and father – the hospital wishes each of them peace in their hearts at the end of this day and each day to come”.

Quote of the day 27th July 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Of philistines, maths and log tables

One of the things which most disappoints me which stops people achieving their full potential is a disdain for key educational subjects, and there is no worse example than people convincing themselves that they cannot do maths, or that this essential subject is more difficult than it actually is.

There was an example on BBC Radio Cumbria yesterday, with two presenters who referred to a sportsman with a degree in maths. I think they were trying to suggest that he was more clever than people often assume athletes are, but it came over as "maths is boring and difficult" and this is not an opinion which people in positions of influence in the media or anywhere else should be encouraged to promote, even accidentally.

Examples of the comments made on Radio Cumbria included one about algebra being difficult and another which was disparaging about logarithmic tables "what are they and what use are they?"

Oh dear, oh dear. Sigh.

I suppose it doesn't help that dictionaries are often written by people who are good at English and not necessarily good at maths - I've just checked the definition of a logarithm in an otherwise quite good dictionary - one of the Oxford range - and if I didn't already know what they are I would have found that definition given completely incomprehensible. It's so poor I'm not going to quote it.

I find logarithms quite useful in the statistical aspects of my job as an economic analyst, though I usually get a computer to work them out rather than looking them up in a table.

My late mother, who was a teacher, once jokingly described log tables as "a means of multiplying and dividing for people who only know how to add and subtract."

That is an example of a true word spoken in jest because you can indeed use them that way, though it is not really what logarithms are most helpful for.

Let's see if I can explain why logarithms can be useful.

A logarithmic table is a table which expresses the value of the numbers in the table as powers of a base number; most often that base number is ten.

(Occasionally instead mathematicians use a number called "e" which is about 2.718 - it is used because certain formulas incorporating this number have useful properties in differential and integral calculus.)

Any number to power Zero is One.

Any base number to the power One, is the base number itself.

Any base number to the power Two is the base number squared.

Any base number to the power Three is the base number cubed/

In a table with the base of ten,

One expressed as a log 10 value is zero (because ten to the power zero is one)
Ten expressed as a log 10 value is one (as ten to the power one is ten)
100 expressed as a log 10 value is two (as ten to the power two, or ten squared, is 100)
1,000 expressed as a log 10 value is three (as ten to the power 3, or ten cubed, is 1000)

The point where most people's eyes start to glaze over when even a very good teacher (which I do not claim to be) tries to explain logarithms is when you start on the two components of a logarithm, which are called the characteristic and the mantissa, and yet understanding these is really helpful if you want to be easily able to manipulate numbers.

Any "real number" (the definition of a real number is an issue for another day) can be expressed as a number between One and Ten multiplied by a power of ten. This is known as "standard form" (or sometimes as scientific notation.)

So for example. 100 in standard form is equal to One times ten squared (ten to the power two)

e.g. 100 = 1 * 10(2)

2,000 is two times ten cubed (ten to the power three)

e.g. 2,000 = 2 * 10(3)

31,623 is 31.623 times ten to the fourth power

e.g. 31,623 = 3.1623 * 10(4)

If you convert any of these numbers to a logarithm using base ten, the whole integer part of that logarithm - the bit to the left of the decimal point - is equal to the power of ten in the standard form of the number. This is called the characteristic and it tells you what order of magnitude the number is for which this is the logged value.

The left-over part, the fractional value to the right of the decimal point, is called the mantissa
and it tells you what the first (and subsequent) digits of the number are, e.g. the first term of the standard form will always correspond to the same mantissa.

So in the above examples,  the log of 100 is 2.0, with the characteristic of 2 representing ten to the power two and a mantissa of zero representing the number One in  100 = 1 * 10(2)

The log of 2,000 is approximately 3.301, with the characteristic of 3 representing ten to the power three and a mantissa of 0.301 representing the number 2 in the standard form 2,000 = 2 * 10(3) and whenever you see a logarithm with the fractional component or mantissa of 0.301 or thereabouts it means that the number for which this is the log is approximately equal to two multiplied by ten to the power of the part of the number to the left of the decimal point.

So if you see any logged figure of around 6.301 it's in the ball park of the log of two times ten to the power six, which is about two million.

The log of 31,623 (or thereabouts) is 4.5. In this case the characteristic of 4 representings ten to the power four so the number is in the tens of thousands, and a mantissa of 0.5 representing the number 3.1623 in the standard form 31,623 = 3.1623 * 10(4) and whenever you see a logarithm with the fractional component or mantissa of 0.5 or thereabouts it means that the number for which this is the log has a first integer of three (and if the mantissa is exactly 0.5 the next four digits will be one, six, two and three.)

OK, you may or may not find this interesting, and many people probably will not have read this far, but some of those who have will be asking "but what actual use is all this?" More than you might think.

In the days before computers, log tables could be used to speed up complex calculations provided you only needed an approximate answer. (My calculation of "about two million" above was actually off by 38, to the nearest whole number,  because I had only cited the logarithmic value to three decimal places.)

We no longer need log tables for that now that almost everyone has easy access to computers (an iPhone has more computing power than NASA had when they sent men to the moon.) But logarithms they can be very useful to statisticians when you are looking to measure or predict proportionate relationships rather than linear ones.

Suppose you are an economist looking to chart the a demand curve which shows how sales of a product increase, other things being equal, when the price falls. If the relationship is a nice straight line on a graph - a fall in price of £5 per unit always causes a 100 units a week increase in sales, that sort of thing - you can estimate it with a simple linear formula.

But most real world relationships don't work like that and do not produce nice straight lines on a graph. As "The Economist" once wrote

"Beware of forecasters with rulers!"

Real world relationships are more often non-linear, and produce a curve when graphed.

Non-linear relationships, particularly those which take a proportionate form - e.g. whenever the price goes up by 10%, the volume of sales drops by 15% - are much easier to calculate and model by incorporating logged terms into the calculations.

I was lucky enough to have teachers who could make this sort of thing interesting. But it is more than interesting to be able to understand the different patters which numbers can take: it is genuinely useful in many numerate professions (including mine.)

Teachers like that are worth their weight in gold. A wise society recognises their value - and that of education. And does not encourage people to mock the value of numerate skills or any other type of learning.

Quote of the day 26th July 2017