Why the west is stagnant

Thomas Piketty, the French economist, calculates that more than half of total wealth in Germany today is inherited — an estimate confirmed by German economists. In the 1960s and 1970s, the share was just a little over 20 per cent.


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Book Review: Tim Harford ~ Messy: How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world (2016)

Britain had a TV show whose catch phrase was, ‘The computer says no’ and it reflected a stifled uncreative world. It satirises the mechanistic attempt at deleting risk from everyday life looking for monochrome ‘perfection’. A hideous uncreative world doomed to sterile failure. Harford’s book is the antidote to, ‘The computer says no’.

Harford’s insight is wonderfully illustrated by his comments on children’s playgrounds and informal kick-about games,

Recent research has found a correlation between playing informal games as a child and being creative as an adult; the opposite was true of the time spent playing formal, organised games.” p260

Chris Gayle who’s probably the greatest cricketer of his generation, “broke into a cricket ground to practice in the nets, Our nets have no nets.” (p16) A world away from the pampered talent spotting world of English county set-ups.”*

Harford’s nightmare is a world organised to suit the convenience of middle-managers, who’s idea of flexibility is a Procrustean Bed. And I suppose that’s the attraction of Dominic Cummings for Johnson. Harford’s world can easily be populated by charlatans but neutering them is to neuter genius. ‘Babies? Bathwater?’ Hard isn’t it?


* https://oedeboyz.com/2019/02/11/book-review-chris-gayle-with-tom-fordyce-six-machine-i-dont-like-cricket-i-love-it/

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Komodo Dragon

They rarely attack humans…that’s a comfort. BUT humans do attack them

If you want to know more about them see

Komodo dragon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komodo_dragon


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Using Torture properly (?) a lesson for the USA

Empirical evidence on contemporary torture is sparse. The archives of the Spanish Inquisition* provide a detailed historical source of quantitative and qualitative information about interrogational torture. The inquisition tortured brutally and systematically, willing to torment all who it deemed as withholding evidence. This torture yielded information that was often reliable: witnesses in the torture chamber and witnesses that were not tortured provided corresponding information about collaborators, locations, events, and practices. Nonetheless, inquisitors treated the results of interrogations in the torture chamber with scepticism. This bureaucratized torture stands in stark contrast to the “ticking bomb” philosophy that has motivated US torture policy in the aftermath of 9/11. Evidence from the archives of the Spanish Inquisition suggests torture affords no middle ground: one cannot improvise quick, amateurish, and half-hearted torture sessions, motivated by anger and fear, and hope to extract reliable intelligence.

* This lasted for about 350 years from the fifteenth century.


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The Mozart Problem: Educating Exceptional Children

He was playing the harpsichord and the violin at the age of five, and writing little pieces of music.*


Mozart’s father was a musician and realised Wolfgang was exceptional. Leopold home schooled his son, constantly expanding his musical frontiers. He monetised his son’s genius and when Wolfgang was six they moved to Vienna looking for patronage. The principal court composer Christoph Wagenseil declared, “You are a real musician!”** Mozart wasn’t burdened by an 18th century version of the National Curriculum and his genius flourished.


The 2011 UK census identified 3,135,711 children in the 5-9 years old cohort. Using an arbitrary cut-off point of 0.01% to identify children likely to have exceptional abilities, we’re left with 313 children. These exceptional children are distributed across 20,832 primary schools.*** This offers an insight into the Mozart problem. 313 children is a tiny cohort. Primary schools can go for decades without seeing an exceptional child. This leaves them floundering when they do encounter one.

Because primary schools are inexperienced in educating exceptional children, they’re challenged. Ruth Lawrence was home schooled. She was awarded her Ph.D in mathematics, at Oxford University, as an 18 year old. Ruth became a doctor of mathematics whilst her cohort were sitting university entrance A-levels. John Stuart Mill’s father set impossible standards for his exceptional son, But my father, in all his teaching, demanded of me not only the utmost that I could do, but much that I could by no possibility have done.**** At least Leopold Mozart pushed very hard but within the boundaries of possibility.

Ruth’s father took decisive action because he had the ability to, as did Leopold Mozart. But exceptional children don’t always have talented parents. The conundrum is this: if schools and parents have exceptional children but can’t cope, what happens then?

It isn’t hard to imagine an exceptional six year old regarding year one mathematics with contempt. Suppose the teacher lacks the confidence to declare, like Wagenseil of the six year old Mozart, that this child is a genius. What happens next? Obviously it’s hypothetical but the frustrations of exceptional children are well known. Many are regarded as nuisances. Is it feasible for a primary school to provide and teach year eleven work to a six year old? Children with exceptional performative talent gain recognition readily: their talent is visible. Intellectual talent is more challenging. Exceptional children criticise their teachers, are bored and disruptive, day-dream, and disrespect entire activities.

Alan Turing’s school was Sherbourne and he was a very difficult student, Alan always preferred his own methods to those supplied by the text book.”***** Alan’s attitude made teaching a class very difficult. He was sufficiently ‘odd’ for allowances to be made but he attended a private school so he was a ’customer’ as it were.

Home schooled children are one solution if, and only if, parents appreciate it’s a full time job and they’ve sufficient intellect to cope with a turbo-charged mind. They must also be mature enough to realise that their child may say that they’ve nothing left to offer intellectually.

The 0.01% of British children who are exceptional have a very hard time of it. They’re a tiny cohort with special needs. Private education through personal tutors, specialist schools or home schooling appears to be the only viable solution but even that’s flawed as Ruth Lawrence found out. The Mozart problem is very challenging and there are no quick-fixes.

Addendum: The Sorites Paradox

The Sorites Paradox is classically expressed using the concept of a pile of sand. One grain at a time is removed from the pile and eventually it no longer exists: but when? Likewise with exceptional children. The ‘pile’ is 5% of all children in a cohort. The 5% cohort of children are very clever but not exceptional. However as children are removed, the concept moves towards exceptional: but when? The entirely arbitrary 0.01% was used in this blog to highlight the challenge.


* https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart

** http://www.mozart.com/en/timeline/life/first-travels/

*** About 1.5% of primary schools would see one if there was a statistically average distribution.

**** Mill’s father saw John was exceptional and pushed him to breaking point

***** Alan spent a great deal of time in the sixth form studying Einstein in the original and working through his equations. The quote is from Andrew Hodges Alan Turing: an enigma p 43


For Hayden and Mozart see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haydn_and_Mozart “I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior.

For the 2011 UK Census see https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/demographics/age-groups/latest#:~:text=at%20the%20time%20of%20the%202011%20Census%2C%2021.3%25%20of%20the,aged%2060%20years%20and%20over

For the Gifted and Talented programme see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gifted_education

For the number of primary schools see https://www.besa.org.uk/key-uk-education-statistics/

For Ruth Lawrence see https://oedeboyz.com/2016/08/26/home-schooling-the-british-educational-scandal/ See also Magnus Carlsen, a chess grandmaster at 13 years old, and Pele, the footballer, who played for Brazil at 16

For J S Mill’s Autobiography go to Gutenberg Project for a free download

For sample questions that children looking to enter the Maths Olympics must do see https://bmos.ukmt.org.uk/home/bmolot.pdf

For the identification of suitable students Warwick University focus on 5% as the benchmark access point, which is 500 times more than my arbitrary figure. https://warwick.ac.uk/alumni/news-events/latest/iggy/

For the frustrated gifted child see https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/choosing-a-school/educating-the-gifted-child This is a quick simplistic guide but serves to illustrate the principal point.

For Turing’s biography see Andrew Hodges Alan Turing: an enigma The film The Imitation Game was based on this book

For an interesting mini-biography of a four and half year old girl see https://www.potentialplusuk.org/index.php/family-stories/lily-maes-story/

For the Sorites Paradox see https://oedeboyz.com/2016/06/28/the-sorites-paradox-problems-of-vagueness/

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Solving a Marital Problem

A woman went into a pharmacy and looking straight into the pharmacist’s eyes said, “I’d like to buy some cyanide.”

“Why do you need cyanide?”

“I going to poison my husband.”

The pharmacist exclaimed, “I can’t sell you cyanide to commit murder! I’ll lose my license and they’ll throw us in jail! Absolutely not! You CANNOT have any cyanide!”

She smiled and showed him a photo of her husband in bed with his wife. 

Looking at the picture he smiled and said, “Well! You didn’t tell me you’d got a prescription.”

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Book Review: E M Delafield ~ The Diary of a Provincial Lady (1930)

Through the magic of Amazon’s pricing policy this costs 99p on Kindle. On the other hand if you wish to buy all five of the ‘Provincial Lady’ series you pay only 49p! Obviously it’s your decision but I risked 49p and didn’t regret it.

The ‘Provincial Lady’ series was written in 1930 and reflects the period. It’s a biting satire about the cares and tribulations of a women living on the edge of the aristocracy. There are constant money worries. Unpaid tradesmen’s bills are a nightmare as are the rates on their, substantial, house. A son at prep school adds to the tension. His friends are wealthy and when he has them back during the school holidays she cringes. I creased myself with laughter but then I love PG Wodehouse. Absolutely not to everyone’s taste but 49p? Come on. Dip your toe into something quirky and lovely.

Try this:

Find that history, as usual, repeats itself. Same hotel, same frenzied scurry round the school to find Robin [her son], same collection of parents, most of them also staying at the hotel. Discover strong tendency to exchange with fellow-parents exactly the same remarks as last year, and the year before that. Speak of this to Robert [her husband], who returns no answer. Perhaps he is afraid of repeating himself? This suggests Query: Does Robert, perhaps, take in what I say even when he makes no reply?”

For those who like audio books https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diary-Provincial-Lady/dp/B01M10HYTC/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr= This costs nothing.

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A very brisk Mother Superior in a French convent

[Her] account includes being told by the [Mother] Superior that if a doctor advised a surgical operation, “your Superiors will decide whether your life is of sufficient value to the community to justify the expense. If it is not, you will either get better without the operation or die. In either case you will be doing the will of God and nothing else matters.”

E M Delafield’s account on entering a French Religious Order, 1911

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Havering’s ‘Streets in the Sky’

Tower Block Residents

High rise tenants and leaseholders pay for communal lighting as a separate charge. This additional to Council tax. Apart from Tower Block Residents Council tax covers street lighting, which is part of the service embedded within the tax.

Havering residents not living in Tower Blocks

Street lighting is simply ‘there’ for those living on horizontal streets.

A modern street scene with small townhouses lit by street lamps. 

On the other hand Tower Block Residents have to pay for their street lighting despite the fact that a tower block is a vertical street.

Lighting for a vertical street


Lighting in stairways, lifts and communal areas must have lighting, which is on 24/7. It’s essential that lifts, lobbies and basement areas are well lit at all times for Health and Safety reasons, which hardly needs remarking on. Additionally tower blocks have to install emergency lighting through the use of a battery or generator.

Tower blocks are ‘Streets in the Sky’ but unlike ‘horizontal’ streets Tower Block Residents pay for street lighting twice. Like everyone else they pay Council Tax and then a further amount as part of the rent or leaseholder charge for amenity lighting. Worse than this is the fact that the so-called ‘administration’ charge is completely opaque. It feels like a disguised profit margin to many tenants.

Tower Block Residents subsidise non-tower block residents. This in justice has been going on for decades and needs to be changed. Why should the poorest people in Havering pay twice for lighting?

People who live on an ordinary street, pay for street lighting as part of the Council Tax charge. Those living in Council high rise flats pay a Service Charge of £992.03. from which the communal electricity charge is extracted. The levy is currently £134.69 in addition to Council Tax, which is about £1,197.23 p.a.

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An old blue song book

In a pile of old papers
Just tossed aside
Not even considered
Bereft now, of any pride.

Bought, after the war
Cut price at threepence
Words to one-hundred songs
Lost to its world of credence.

Some remembered song of yesterday
Nostalgic to thoughts, so long – faraway
A world where we sang for fun
Truly encompassing, everyone.

Family would gather round
Piano would make the accompanying sound
Melodic harmonies, strained to reach
All the better, voices beseech.

Song were just part of life
They almost became, our toys
“Fire, fire – fire down below …
So fetch a pale of water – boys.

Old King Cole, was a merry old soul
Gracie Field’s, could bring a sob
‘Now is the hour’, or,
‘The girl who made the thingamabob’.

I could close my eyes in wonder
At the things – then done and seen
Those hills of Tipperary
And the forty shades of green.

Sally in her Alley
With the hole in her stocking…
We could all understand
We all knew the Alexander Ragtime band.

Each old yellow page
Inside my old blue book
Still make me remember
An ember of a forgotten age.


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