Monday, November 30, 2020

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

 A message from me to Full Fact, sent via their contact form Sunday c. 16:15:


1. Ms Allen-Kinross says 'We do know that many polls that predicted a landslide for President elect Joe Biden were out in their predictions.' Mr Biden is NOT yet 'President-elect' and should not be described as such; a Congressional committee woman wrote on 13 November to the General Services Administration to correct this error and explain why the claim is factually incorrect; text reproduced in this article: and transcribed as attached:

2. Ms Allen-Kinross says 'He also repeatedly speaks of “ballot fraud”, which there is no evidence of.' A fact-checker should know the difference between 'evidence' - and I understand there are over 200 sworn statements - and 'conclusive proof.'

This is sloppy work echoing the radio news reports e.g. from Global News (Classic fm etc) that immediately qualified Trump's claims as 'without foundation.' I can't imagine that Full Fact would wish to be written off as partisan activists.

Please amend - I would appreciate the courtesy of your advising me when you have done so.

Let's see how whether these independents are. Quis custodiet etc.

Reply from Full Fact (today, 09:00):

Thanks for your email.

The letter you cite is now irrelevant following the GSA's decision on 24 November to start the Biden transition:

Regardless, the term "president-elect" has no constitutional definition and so the GSA does not have authority over how that term is used. The GSA does have a legal role in determining the winner of the election, but that doesn't mean we are wrong to use the term "president-elect" with justification.

On your second point, I think again you're claiming that certain words have undeniable definitions which I don't accept. In my eyes, ​unsubstantiated claims do not deserve the label of "evidence", irrespective of whether they are sworn to be true or not. 

To which I reply:

Dear Xxxxx

1. Preparation for handover is 'just in case'; there has been no concession of victory. My point is therefore not irrelevant and to date, still stands.

2. Everyone (I would have said) understands that evidence is what is presented to put a case whether in court or elsewhere, and is not the same thing as proof. Mr Trump made 'claims', but that is not what I am referring to - there is lots of 'evidence' (whether reliable or not).

Your ripostes therefore fail. The news media have already failed to be accurate and impartial. If your organisation is to fulfil the role of independent fact-checker, your claims and language need to be particularly scrupulous; unless you are simply a referee who has joined one team to play against the other.

So I still say that your writer's piece needs a degree of amendment, or a statement of correction.

Basham's article appeared in the Sunday Express on 7 November and Allen-Kinross' 11 November update said it had been pulled off the SE site, where it it now returns a '404' message: 

However the article was also reproduced here and remains up:

and a piece by him on the same theme appears in the American Spectator for 27 November:

At this juncture I have to stress that I don't know what to think about the claims, but surely there is enough 'evidence' to raise the issue. Why, among other things, does there seem to have been a coordinated suspension of vote-counting in several swing constituencies? Has this happened in previous Presidential elections?

Returning to Full Fact's reply to me from the team editor I would further comment:

1. When he says 'The letter you cite is now irrelevant' I see no evidence that he has read it, for if he had he would see that to use the term 'President-elect' implies either a formal concession by the opponent, which has not yet happened, or a decision by the Electoral College, not due until next month. Further, the 'it's too late' argument could be read as an admission by 'Ed.' that at the time Allen-Kinross originally published her piece, she was in fact using the term inappropriately, or in other words, the implication of her usage was in fact untrue.

2, In a manner reminiscent of Humpty Dumpty*, the team editor wishes the English language to mean what he wants it to mean, but however shaky, there is indeed evidence for the claims about ballot fraud - see Basham's 27 November article linked above - and the courts have not finished their consideration. So I think I could be justified in saying that on this point the piece was misleading, if not positively untrue.

Now both those two assertions have been echoed in many places across the media; the reason for my criticism is that when public feeling is so febrile, we should be able to depend on fact-checking organisations like Full Fact to deliver cool, accurate, objective and politically unbiased assessments. Otherwise, they risk becoming 'media influencers' themselves, both by

(a) the targets they select (do they do this more to the 'right-wing' than to the 'left-wing', and if so, are 'right-wing' articles - in mainstream news such as the Express, we are not talking about social media here - more frequently wrong or inaccurate?)
(b) the sloppy and tendentious way that they attack those targets.

'Untrue'... 'misleading'... Just the things that fact-checkers are there to find and correct. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

Who funds fact-checkers? Who recruits their staff, and how? Are they members of political parties or organisations that have links with political factions?

* 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
  'The question is,' said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
  'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'

The Bombers Are Back

Barack O'Bomber and his co-pilot

The Presidential election debates seemed careful to avoid letting Trump talk about foreign relations. 
It's left to anti-neocon dissident Paul Joseph Watson to  explain what America has let itself in for.

In a way, it's understandable. It's not just the concerted complicity of the MSM, but the fact that America is so vast that it's difficult for the people to look up from domestic issues to realise what the US is doing in the rest of the world. Less than half the population even has a passport.

And now - it seems likely - Bomber Biden is in. 'A turkey is for four years, not just for Thanksgiving.'

Sunday, November 29, 2020

SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND: 'Classic Cars' - or not? by Wiggia

I have lived long enough and had a decent exposure to a few decent cars and even raced for a brief very expensive period during the Sixties, that of course does not make me the go-to for advice or solid opinion on automobiles but it does give me some credence in what follows.

During this long period on Earth I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly on two and four wheels and have even owned (briefly) one of the ugly despite it being revered by what seems everyone else - my awful 1300 Beetle. The reasons for my ire with that car I have written about before, what I want to show here is what I call the faux classic car movement.

There was a time when a classic car had to have certain credentials: rarity, but not without some merit, advanced engineering, ahead of its time style-wise, and sheer quality; some have or had all that and more.

Yet if you go by today's various programs such as the auctioneers in Yorkshire or some of the cars on Bangers and Cash for instance, and even the various magazines devoted to the subject, all appear to have lost their integrity on what constitutes a classic car. Now pages and programs are devoted to cars that never had a reputation for anything but appear to have become ‘classic ‘ simply because an example has been found in a shed and restored; with many of them I ask myself why?

Naturally there are some cars restored by people because they owned one in the past and the vehicle reminds them of a good period in their lives or a special person, these can be discounted. What I am getting at is the glorification of certain vehicles that when new were considered a pile of junk or something approaching that level, and cars don’t improve with age just because someone decides they are ‘classic’.

Whatever I write here will inevitably bring forth the ‘you are wrong ‘ response from some and they are entitled to their opinion, but so am I.

I can only mention cars that were made here or Europe, no doubt people in the USA and elsewhere could compile similar lists as the desire to own a ‘classic’ car has no boundaries.

I haven't driven all of these so it would be easy to say ’you don’t know what you are talking about’ all though I have had more than a passing interest in and also first-hand owner accounts at the time.

Some cars fail the classic car title in my eyes not because they were not good cars in respect of design and execution, but because of the atrocious build quality and reliability. A classic example, that word will crop up here more than I wish, is the Alfasud, a delightful early hot, for the time, hatchback. I did drive one of these in its earlier incarnation and it was a peach regards handling and response, a flat four OHC engine, four wheel disc brakes and design feature from the Lancia Flavia. It sold in large numbers. Its Achilles heel was rust, big-time: poor quality Russian steel was stacked outside the factory in all weather and completed bodies ditto; this also applied to other Alfa models during the ‘nationalised’ period and all suffered the same fate, the advance of rust was so rapid many were rust buckets in five years max. Sadly no car however meritorious that would never see even middle age because of rust and poor quality assembly should ever be a classic car, but as with all these here some of these rot boxes now fetch quite good money.

All Alfa models during the nationalised period, like BL here in the UK, also suffered from poor workmanship and build quality, which was sad as some models deserved a better fate.

Triumph, renowned for its TR sports cars which do attract classic status in the TR2-4 models, also have the Herald which I can only describe as a waste of space, and that was about its only redeeming feature: the whole front bonnet lifted to give great access to a very dated engine, the car shared suspension with the Spitfire (another would be classic), neither had handling that could be considered adequate even in those long ago days, it was rubbish as was the build. A six cylinder engine version of both gave some improvement but the basics remained poor.

It was unusual in that it was built on a chassis when unitary construction had become the way forward, which allowed various body types to be easily affixed to the ladder chassis. If you read the classic bumf on the car they omit that the handling was dire and that the chassis rusted and the old engines were a pre war design with little grunt.

The rear suspension was transverse leaf spring and they had the cheek to call it independent suspension. A friend at the time had an ex works Le Mans Spitfire in which he was lucky to escape serious injury when the back end drifted out of control at the old Crystal Palace circuit and crashed heavily; the car was designed for Le Mans which is not exactly twisty, the modifications on the works car were shall we say extensive and it was still no good. Oh, and the Spitfire had raised welded ridges on the bonnet that they claimed were a design feature but looked like the factory could not afford proper welding equipment. Classic? I don’t think so.

Triumph also had the disaster that was the Stag. Any car that had the engine problems this one did - overheating, corrosion, aluminium heads on an iron block, timing chains broke and water pumps burst, poor quality engine construction compounded it all - should have been withdrawn from production until the problem was solved, but no, they ploughed on, replacing God knows how many engines, many that didn’t make it to six months. It was so bad that many had Ford V6s inserted in them, nice-looking but didn’t go far. A classic? Yet there is a thriving classic car club for the model; amazing.

The disastrous story is here in all its glory:

Typical ending to a day out for a Triumph Stag.

Injecting a bit of humour into this is the Peel Trident, not really a car though it claimed to be the world's smallest. Why anyone would want to buy one of these let alone collect them is beyond comprehension; the only thing guaranteed with them was that in hot weather you could bake potatoes in them and similar for the unfortunate driver.

And yes there is an owner's club, who consider it a collectable classic.

The NSU was the car that broke the firm, who before they got involved with cars were the biggest motorcycle producers in Europe. The car for the time was gorgeous, advanced with four wheel disc brakes, semi auto transmission, and a low drag coefficient. The problem was its engine, a twin rotor Wankel rotary design. Beautifully smooth as later Mazda owners would attest to, it had an enormous double whammy: the rotor tips wore very quickly if the engine was revved at all and it simply drank petrol. That didn’t stop it being voted, prematurely, as car of the year in ‘68, but the engines were being replaced at an alarming rate even then. The tip wear was finally overcome to a large degree after different ceramics were used but the fuel consumption was never addressed as the later Mazda owners of rotary models found out.

NSU ended in a parlous financial state and were purchased by VW I ‘70 and subsumed into Audi. The Audi 100 model 15 years later had a remarkably similar body shape. The NSU should have been a classic but like the Triumph Stag the engine relegates it to an interesting try, and as with that many had Ford V4s implanted in them, not the greatest of lumps but the only one that would fit.

Trabant: the name conjures up visions of Stasi and razor wire borders. People actually seek these out. The construction alone was so poor very few have survived and the Duraplastic body had an attraction for pigs that ate them. Certainly the people who purchased them and drove them had no choice, but that doesn’t change the fact this was an abomination of a car, why bother? When the Wall came down the Trabant should have been buried under it. Another attraction was the fact it had no brake lights! Or indicators. Still, you always knew were it was as it left a trail of smoke everywhere.

Giving one a two-tone paint finish is frankly taking the proverbial.

The De Lorean: what can one say? Back to the Future may have made it a collectable cult car, but the reality was it never became more than a poor attempt at a sports car. The gull wing doors may look cool but if you park anywhere you can’t get out unless you have a car's width each side. It was also painfully slow for a sports car and the stainless steel finish produced comments such as 'saucepan' though it did have the advantage that small scratches could be removed with a Brillo pad, but on the other hand small iron particles in the steel gave the appearance of surface rust; and it cost a fortune for what it was, the people of Northern Ireland where it was built named it the 'con car' in some circles for obvious reasons after huge sums were given to the factory to build the things. Even bringing in Colin Chapman of Lotus fame who almost completely redesigned the car could not save it.

Another of similar ilk was the absolutely gorgeous in many people's eyes, others more 'meeh', yet always striking: the Aston Martin Lagonda (1976). Sadly Aston Martin in their haste to make this a car of the future put all their faith in digital electronics before their time; employing Joseph Lucas, a company renowned for failure to ever produce anything reliable and known as Lucas the Prince of Darkness, was an error on a catastrophic scale.

Hugely expensive, fuel economy (mpg) down in single digits and totally unreliable because of the electronics, it amazingly staggered on in small production in various editions until 1989. The latter versions were more reliable to a degree but the body shape was emasculated and by that time no longer cutting-edge.

The Allegro represents everything that was wrong with the British motor industry at the time: atrocious build quality - a fault not just reserved for the Allegro - anaemic engines, a flexing body that meant in certain conditions the rear windows fell out, doors that would not open because of the flexing, poor interior space... it was a dog. Reams have been written about how bad this car was, yet again it was or is becoming collectable; would anyone in their right mind exchange money for one of these?

Sir Digby Jones summed it all up rather well: "It is what I call 'the British Leyland model' – you put a lot of money in at the top, and an Austin Allegro comes out at the bottom." Not many survive; it became a favourite vehicle to be broken up for parts as its engines fitted several BL models including MGBs!

BL or BMC could have the whole article to themselves: so many cars of inferior quality emerged from their factories during that industrial strife period, and many have a devoted following, sort of a death wish for many.

Yes, people do actually collect restore and form clubs devoted to the Reliant Robin. There was a garage not far from the last house we lived in that ‘specialised’ in these three wheelers, and when it closed the numerous bodies and complete cars were rapidly bought up. Once again unless you have a sense of humour, why?

The fact that it was classified as a motorcycle for tax purposes and could be driven? The cheaper motorcycle licence does not redeem it and yet the company made the bloody things for thirty years and even boasted a chief designer. They even had limited editions with a gold plaque on the dashboard with the owner's name inscribed; why would anyone want to admit to owning one? Wonders never cease.

The MGB is a classic car. Why? Mainly, by the standards of its period it was reliable, cheap to run and it looked good. Other than that,  and I did drive a few, it didn’t exactly set the world alight with an engine design dating back to ‘48,  but it sold well and became much loved. What is sad is that abominable plastic-bumpered and castrated power wise by US emission control regultaions version is also a classic car as are the equally rubbish V6 versions. The extra weight spoiled what was half decent handling and they were not that quick either, so why buy any model other than the wire wheeled chrome bumper version?

Maserati, such a proud name in Italian racing and sports car history, went through hard times and in 1984 underfunded and desperate for a ‘hit’ car they produced the Biturbo in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. To put the proud trident badge on the front of this monstrosity was an act of blind faith or downright stupidity, you choose. The name evokes amazing cars and they came out with this: you name it and it went wrong the litany of claims for failure would fill Encyclopedia Britannica, and it looked like a cross between a van and a Datsun. How could they do it. Yet again the fact it had the badge means it is a ‘classic.’ God help anyone who owns one, they need very deep self-filling pockets. I actually drove one of these, not mine I might add, the engine was quite powerful for the time but suffered from severe turbo lag that made driving ‘interesting.’ Sales in the US came to a halt after the unreliability problems but surprisingly the Biturbo sold well in Europe; the cheap price tag as it always does lures people to a badge and it staved off the financial hawks circling Maserati. To me it remained a good engine, as the lag problems were largely sorted in later versions and there were a lot of them, but for me this is a car that is still cheap to buy for obvious reasons and does the marque no good at all despite the relative success. Rather like the entry in to the everyday market by MB today, only the badge sells them.

Some of these cars qualify for the 'worst cars ever' category, the list for that is very long but most fortunately have sunk without trace; it is those that have survived to become classic as defined by their deluded but enthusiastic owners.

Some categories of car fall outside the mainstream. Kit cars following on from the Lotus 7 have appeared and disappeared with astonishing speed, most simply because they offered nothing different to that which they copied, and most did copy something, and most were on a nostalgia trip for a time when most have moved on.

I lived not far from the Ginetta factory in Essex years ago. The Ginetta was a successful, one of the few attempts to build a road worthy modern version of a Lotus 7 and succeeded. It has a loyal following where very few others do, they don’t warrant it; Ginetta went on to bigger and better things but still eventually folded.

TVR are another classic sought-after make, yet again and I have driven three versions including the incredibly quick at the time Tuscan. TVR failed again because of quality issues; the Tuscan on a couple of brief drives showed why, parts from current production mainstream cars shoe-horned in badly to save money, carpets that didn’t fit, strange non-fitting side windows, an exhaust that was stupidly noisy for the driver - it appeared to be placed by your ear - and a penchant for oil use, plus reliability problems. They went under several times and have a loyal following as a classic car. It failed, all it has is novelty value; it was not a good car, and the earlier ones like the M series were heavy to drive, had kit car build and unless you were always preening them unreliable, so too near to a kit car for me and not good enough for a classic. One to two of the later V8s may be a different story but the company was always in financial trouble and produced new models just to stay in the game.

It also had so many parts from other manufacturers, in itself not unusual for this type of vehicle, but in the TVR excessive to the point that in some models there was little that was TVR, the driving position and ergonomics on the early ones were atrocious.

Only the British could produce a ‘sports car’ that had a top speed of 62mph and took over thirty seconds to reach 50 mph. The Berkely did just that. Really a kit car in disguise, it had several editions up to 1960 when the firm went bust, but you have to ask yourself how did it last so long (3 years)? Amazingly there is a Berkely owner's club so it is officially a classic car; oh well, if you say so.

There was one car that was the reverse of the NSU and the Triumph Stag: the Daimler SP 250 sports car. It had a beautiful 2500cc V8 engine that Daimler stuck in the pig-ugly plastic body you see in the picture. The police even purchased them for motorway duties, but the body was terrible, it flexed so badly the doors flew open and road holding for a sports car was woeful, it never sold and especially in the States, its intended market. There were few made, under three thousand, and it finished Daimler who were purchased by Jaguar. Yes, there is an owner's club and they consider it a classic. How they could mess up with this having such a gem of an engine is beyond comprehension; Jaguar used the engine previously in the Daimler 2.5 V8 which was a Jaguar Mk2 with the Daimler grill and engine, this was a cracking car and for many better than the actual Jaguar straight sixes. Again, how could they waste such an engine later in the 'Dart' as it was known?

This one is short and sweet. The car is quite good and it has an owner's club which is commendable for a standard medium class saloon, but how can anyone delude themselves that this is collectable and warrants classic status? It is a Ford Mondeo with a Jaguar grill, I know it and so does everyone else, cheapskate Jaguar motoring minus the blue oval it should have; mind-blowing.

The Renault Dauphine is a classic, that is, a classic case of advertising winning over substance,. Those of us who are of a certain age remember the relentless catchy ‘seventy miles an hour bags of power’ advert; it worked, two million of these cars were sold world wide. The Renault Classic car club welcomes members with Dauphines, as they only can find 26 in the country (that many!); the reason for the scarcity is the atrocious handling and the gutless engine, along with having to be a midget to enter the thing which then cooked you because of the rubbish ventilation system. As one journalist said…."the most ineffective bit of French engineering since the Maginot line" and saying that it could actually be heard rusting." Yes, this is a classic car.

A car that was relatively successful because it was an American car in miniature and therefore stood out at the time of its introduction (1956). Based vaguely on a Hudson design in austerity times it seemed a breath of fresh at first glance. Was it a bad car! It had the wallowing suspension of American cars of the time, vague steering to match and for a small car a turning circle of a bus because it had covered wheels that restricted wheel movement.

An acquaintance had one, he was the boyfriend of singer who fronted the Johnny Howard  band at the time, and the first time he turned up at the dance hall in it I thought it looked like he was driving a bath tub coated in multi coloured ice cream. Awful and cheap, but it made you look and that was a difficult thing to achieve with a car in those times; but a classic, no.

Brian Sewell the late art critic was also a writer about automobiles and his words sum up the Metropolitan: "now perversely recognized as a collector's car"; exactly.

It is difficult compiling a list of cars considered classic by some but not by me, as many start falling into the ‘worst cars ever’ category, and the list for that is endless, but luckily cars like the Yugo and Lada (the mobile skip) and Morris Marina, too many to list, are great fun to write about but don’t have a classic car club for them as far as I know, well not yet but the way it is going it won't be long.

The VW Karmann Ghia has become a classic car, much sought after,  and fetches good money, yet again it is a car that flatters to deceive. The lovely body is dropped onto a standard VW Beetle chassis and engine, so no sports performance there and all the other handicaps of a Beetle. What is the point? Fine if you want to pose in one on the Promenade des Anglais but to drive a waste of time and I have driven one; absolutely gutless, apart from sitting in, what’s it for?


See what I mean...?
Personally I would prefer to start from scratch:

There is now another side of owning a classic car: many are purchased as investments and over the years owners have benefited from spectacular price rises in some cases. It is a guessing game getting it right though; no doubt the Ferraris and similar will stay valuable, but lower down the order there are going to be fewer people wanting an ICE powered car at all as time goes on, presuming of course we are allowed to have one?

There is a chance that generations born now will never own an ICE powered vehicle; it will become  a historic oddity, something we have since passed by, and that will mean outside the die-hard collectors of exotics those other classics will simply disappear. After all, where will you fill up and what would it cost, even if you are allowed to drive them?

Naturally this might not happen for reasons that would fill another article, but it is something in this new age to consider before embarking on what could be a very expensive undertaking.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

SATURDAY ESSAY: America's choice... nurture mathematics or face poverty, by 'Paddington'

Via email interview, a retired American maths professor explains why a crisis in maths education threatens the future prosperity of the country.

1. Am I correct in saying that all college students in the USA have to do a math course? If so, how and why was this rule introduced, and what do the students have to do?

To my knowledge, at one time every US college student had to pass a Calculus course. This was gradually weakened over the years, and Mathematics became known as the 'weed-out' subject. As more universities opened up and so needed more students, the requirements were made easier. It came to a head in 1968, when failure (for male students) meant getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and administrators seriously watered down the coursework.

With the push for the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the early 1980's, especially in Computer Science, many universities tried to increase the Mathematics requirements, only to find out that failure rates were 'unacceptably high'. When 40 years of college-level remediation efforts were shown to have failed, lots of 'experts' began pushing the idea that one should learn Statistics instead, and a watered-down version of an introductory course began to be accepted instead of an actual Mathematics course. Unfortunately, actual understanding of Statistics requires ability in Algebra, which is the very material that the students can't pass. This is all too often the problem with the Statistics in Sociology, Psychology, Education and related areas.

Some universities accept a very cursory course in Logic, doing less in 15 weeks than I used to teach in 3 weeks in Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science. Others accept a course called something like 'Math Appreciation', 'Excursions in Mathematics' or 'Math for the Liberal Arts'.

Theoretically, the standard Mathematics course requirement at many universities is something called 'College Algebra', which is an Algebra course dealing in functions, matrices, logarithms, exponentials and some minor topics. The material is the same as that usually done in high school Algebra II, at age 16-17. This is the material that I did in 3rd year of Secondary School.

Such a course would be the jumping-off point. Students headed to STEM areas would take Pre-Calculus, or Algebra with Trigonometry, and then on to at least 2 years of Calculus. Students in Business would likely take a watered-down Calculus course, and something in Statistics.

Throughout all of this, students and administrators blame the Mathematics departments for the failure rates, which haven't changed much in over 40 years. For reference, when I started teaching in 1978, the typical state university had a graduation rate of about 33% within 6 years. This was blamed on the Mathematics requirements. However, when I asked for the data on that, it did not exist. On the other hand, when we looked at predictors for college success, it turned out that grades in Mathematics courses and standardized tests were the best ones available.

2(a). The start date still isn't clear. Would it have anything to do with JFK and the response to the realization that Russia was pulling ahead in the Space Race? (Over here in the UK, I recall that at least Oxford and Cambridge made a pass in 'O' level maths an entry requirement; a friend who got a scholarship to Cambridge in History tried and failed in maths four times and the college let him through anyhow.)

I honestly don't know when. Certainly, these was a great 'crisis' in 1957 when the USSR launched Sputnik, and leaders recognized that we were behind in ICBM technology. Then, as now, we temporarily fixed the problem with immigrants, at that time from post-War Europe.

2(b). Do you think a universal maths course is still a good idea?

After years of frustration and watching failure, I would abandon the Mathematics requirement. BUT success in all of the 'good' areas (read entry-level salaries) requires Mathematics, from Accounting and Finance to Nursing to Engineering and Actuarial Science. So, we have the do-gooders saying that it isn't 'fair', and watering down all degrees.

3. You have previously told me that maybe only 15% of students are capable of higher level math. Is that because of natural ability, or failures in high school teaching?

When I started in 1978, about 15% of high school graduates, and 20-25% of entering college students had mastered enough Algebra to pass a placement test, and take College Algebra. When I retired in 2017, after multiple rounds of reform and the inclusion of Technology, those numbers were the same. The only difference was that the top 10% of students had weaker skills than their predecessors. I attribute the latter to the overuse of calculators and related software.

I have argued with my colleagues, administrators and all over the internet for decades that the problem appears to be something in the brain, while others argue that it is defective teaching. My argument is that, while the latter most certainly takes place, it would have to be almost uniform across the US to get such consistent results. This is probabilistically unlikely. My argument is aided by some research in brain development, showing that difficulties in learning Mathematics seem to be connected with either immaturity of the hypothalamus, or of the myelin sheaths in the brain, the latter being connected to the ability to move from concrete thought processes to abstract ones.

It is worth noting that the historical pass rates for the standard first-semester Calculus course are the same in Sweden as in the US.

4. You refer us to a paper on the cross-currents in mathematical education from the eighteenth century on:

What would be your answers to these questions, which seem to be the core issues:

4(a). What mathematics should all people learn, useful to them in their future work and daily lives?

Before I attempt to answer these questions directly, let me note a further problem. Not only does it appear that every person has a natural level of Mathematics attainment (my experience suggests 95% can learn Arithmetic, 85% can learn Algebra, perhaps 5% can learn Calculus, and much less than 1% can learn higher-level Mathematics), but there appears to be a 'window of opportunity' for that learning, as there is for languages. Hence, if we allow large portions of the population to opt out of the subject, they can never get back on track.

Useful math: in a modern world, every functioning person should have an idea of weights and measures, percentages, and basic probabilities. Most do not, and are not even close. That's why many people make such terrible financial decisions.

4(b). What should be taught to all, for the sake of national military security and economic prosperity?

We need as much of the population as possible ready to learn in the STEM areas. As more jobs are automated, the need for technical repair people goes up exponentially.

4(c). What mathematical learning should be reserved for an elite naturally qualified for the study? How, and how early, can such people be identified?

See the answer above, and add the need for experienced Mathematical modelers in all fields of study and research. The National Academy of Sciences in their report on the year 2025, suggested a scheme of collaborative research including an Applied Mathematician in just about every discipline, including the Social Sciences. Much of the issue with research in the fuzzier subjects is that it is Statistical in nature. That means that it is descriptive of what is (if you are lucky and people aren't lying). It is very rare to take the next step, and model the phenomena. Instead, people express opinions as to why things are the way that they are. In short, it is much easier to explain the past than predict the future. In the current climate, it is also more financially and socially valued, but totally stagnant. The science and SF writer Isaac Asimov noted this in his first ‘Foundation’ novel.

5. I was heading for this one and you have anticipated me. 

5(a). When would you say the 'window of opportunity' closes? 

Our hypothesis was that the window was around the typical age to move to formal operational thinking, at age 12-14 or so.

5(b). Does this mean there should be a wide-spectrum maths education up to that age?

In short, yes.

5(c). Is there a good way to assess aptitude for higher math?

Sadly, the only way seems to be for the student to try, although you can clearly see the tendencies in very young children - counting and sorting.

5(d). Does this also raise the issue of having sufficiently skilled math teaching in school?

Of course. In the US, most Mathematics teachers have far less than an undergraduate degree in the subject. A lot is taught by people who only had cursory education in the field, due to teacher shortages and seniority rules. Most of the most talented Math Ed students that I taught ended up not going into education at all, since the opportunities in areas like Finance were more lucrative and less stressful.

6(a). Continuing with secondary age math education, you have previously told me that your college freshmen come to you thinking they know material when they don’t. There appears to be more behind this than the school-teachers' lack of expertise - can you tell us what goes on in school to allow their students to maintain that illusion of knowledge? How are students assessed in American schools?

I would say that it's partly the Dunning-Kruger effect (, and largely the difference in views on schooling between the US and Europe. Here in the US, there is zero respect for most teachers, unless they give good grades to the little darlings. Politicians and parents claim that 'good' teachers can teach anyone to mastery. People have tracked high school graduation rates (and tout them) as they rise over time. College grade averages and graduation rates go up every year. At the place where I worked, the rate went from about 31% over 6 years to 50% or more, with a discernible lowering of standards. It's one of the many reasons for these degrees in Media Studies and the like.

As for testing, we have the ACT and SAT, but lots of parents and administrators don't like them, because they show the actual weaknesses, so they claim that 'tests don't measure students'. We did a study on 7,400 of our students, looking at the ACT Math sub-score versus whether they graduated in 6 years or less, and found almost perfect correlation. When we presented this to administrators, they were less than impressed.

Our problems are compounded by the rules by which the state legislature supports the public universities. It used to be based on total numbers. Then, someone thought that we were wasting money by flunking out so many students, and changed the system to reward grades and graduation rates. Surprise, surprise, both went up immediately. By the way, the same legislature artificially increased the requirements (especially in Mathematics) to graduate high school, and then made it harder for the state universities to refuse students. The private schools and colleges had no such issue. Some remained highly selective, others just pretended, as there is no national exit exam in most disciplines.

Over the years, Ohio generated various competency tests for graduation, to be taken by sophomores (5th year students). The ones that I saw could be passed easily by a decent 6th grade student (age 12 or so), but they had to set the pass bar at 42%, and still many students failed it repeatedly.

Then, an impressively well-meaning and totally inept set of reforms changed the minimum Mathematics to graduate high school from Algebra I plus one more year, including numeracy courses, to 4 years, including Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, courses only previously taken by the top 30% or so. Because the less-talented students were thrown into the classes, and failure is failure by and of the teacher, students who would previously have obtained C's in courses were suddenly A students, which reinforces their illusion of mastery (a phrase which I coined when I was chair of our department). One of the reforms consisted of having State-wide end-of-year exams in those three courses. When they piloted the one in Algebra I, only 35% of students passed, even though the bar was set fairly low. The 'experts' at the State Board of Education tried to cover their tracks by changing the threshold, only to be admonished by the Federal officials. That test appears to have vanished into limbo. Interestingly, that 35% rate pretty much coincides with the historical 20-25% of incoming freshmen ready for college-level Mathematics. No-one that I ever talked to wanted to hear that either.

6(b). Leaving aside (for a moment) the teacher's own subject expertise limitations, do schools need better texts to guide the students, and better tests to check their progress?

There is certainly an issue with the quality of teachers, since they need to know the material. As the great Mathematician Polya said, "One cannot teach what one does not know". However, that same 15% of 12th-grade students who know enough to take a college-level Mathematics course becomes the 5% or less that can make it through two full years of Calculus and beyond. From that number comes all of our hard scientists (Computer Science, Geology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Statistics), and a lot of Biologists, plus all of the Medical Doctors and Engineers, the top Finance and Accounting people, Actuaries, and most technicians. That doesn't leave many people to go and teach. In the UK they offered scholarships and signing bonuses for Mathematics teachers, and got very few takers. We worked with a Foundation to take Math majors and get them the Education credentials that they needed. For obvious reasons, they were weak students, or they would not have taken this route. Getting them to pass Education courses was a doddle. Not so much to pass the Math certification exam. We gave them one such, then coached them for 8 weeks, and administered the identical multiple-choice test. Not one student changed their score substantially.

Textbooks are a whole other ball of wax. They are big business here, and written by professional writers who usually know no Mathematics or Education. What they try to do, very badly, is to give a script to a teacher who does not know what they are doing. The good news is that there are loads of free resources out there, such as Khan Academy and, which can help students. The bad news is that these sites are used instead of brainpower, so that the skills are decaying even further. It doesn't help that so many rely on calculators (many with Algebra and Calculus features built in), to the point that they might get the right answer by accident, but can't correctly transcribe the results, or understand them.

Personally, I would do what Singapore and many Asian countries still do, and that is to not require Mathematics beyond age 14 or so. This cuts you off from the Sciences, but not the Arts and Humanities. I would go further and have licensure (the old O-levels and A-levels would be fine) at several stages. I would not use the new GCSE stuff, as political pressure has degraded their quality as well. I would use those certificates to limit what people were permitted to do in the Sciences.

7(a). There is also (is there not?) an issue (in the UK as well as the USA) of social pressure on academically-inclined students, ranging from under-trying in order to be tolerated by their 'cool' peers, through to outright bullying of the nerd or 'swot'. 

There has actually been a lot less of that in the past 20 or more years, now that computers and computer games have become ubiquitous. However, there was also the movement that 'we need more women in STEM, other than Biology'. That meant open encouragement and nurturing, which is largely a good thing. It contrasted with the common experience of older female friends, who have told me about being told that, "Girls can't do Mathematics" (by contrast, in my years as an undergraduate at Exeter, 60% of the Mathematics students were female). This nurturing also meant that many students got great grades thanks to the miracle of 'extra credit', in spite of failing tests. I believe in tests in Mathematics. I will repeat something that I said years ago: In my 39 years of teaching Mathematics, perhaps 5,000 students, I had exactly two who failed tests repeatedly, yet could pass the equivalent of an oral exam. Both had burned their brains with street drugs as teenagers. One went on to work for NASA.

In the binary mode of thinking which is so common in the US, nurturing female students meant elevating them above the males. My eldest son, no slouch in the brains department, told me that the parade of girls getting the high school awards each year were often carefully manipulating their teachers. We had many such operators (both male and female) arrive as undergraduates, to find out that they actually had to perform, and fold under the pressure.

7(b). You have said how hard it is to recruit able math graduates to school teaching. May I suggest that not everyone is motivated solely by money and that such graduates might be more likely to apply for posts in schools where pupils were selected for their academic talent and commitment to learning?

No, it isn't just money. In fact, there are even public-school systems in rich towns and suburbs where typical teachers earn double what public college professors do. This comes at the price of very 'involved' parents, including those who bring lawyers to parent-teacher conferences. Again, a lot of the US is Lake Woebegone, "Where every child is above average".

8. In conclusion, and looking at what you have said here, please summarise why mathematics matters for the USA. What detailed program of action would you recommend for the reform of mathematical education to meet the nation's needs?

The US has always got a lot of innovation from immigrants. First in the 1800's, with many peasants displaced from Russia and Germany by farm industrialization, then by refugees from Europe after WWII, then by emigres from the Soviet Union, India and China in the 1990's. Government policies and racism have discouraged such immigration, although we still get quite a few from Vietnam, Bhutan and Nepal. Many of the other nations have encouraged the educated to return home. Our officials, of both parties, seem blind to this, as they tout 'American ingenuity' and destroy the quality of the education system.

If they realize in time, and make investment in the STEM areas, it will have to be done against the vacuous idea of 'equality'. If my experience and observations are correct, no amount of coaching will help the untalented. What would help would be to create the equivalent of grammar schools in the STEM areas, perhaps one per county, and move students there in grade 6 or so. Such selection would be brutal by tests, and data suggests that it would be called racist. Not to mention the children of the richer parents, who would cause the real stink.

The cost, if we do not do something correctly, will be to sink into Third World status. The coin of a vibrant economy is innovation and technology, and always has been.

Given the large numbers of very loud groups who insist that the Earth is Young and/or Flat, that vaccines are worse than the diseases that they prevent, that twisting people's necks can cure all ailments, and similar stupidity, I do not hold out a lot of hope!

Friday, November 27, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Buskers, by JD

We have all seen buskers on our streets, we may even have given them money now and then in appreciation of their talent. It might be my imagination but there seem to be more buskers than there used to be (until the government locked down our joy.) Some of these street performers are very good while others have more enthusiasm than skill.

Wiki has a fair summary of the history of street entertainment and its history.The term busking comes from the Spanish word 'buscar' (to look for, to seek)

And there follows a random selection from the many thousands posted to YouTube and, no, I haven't looked at all of them! One or two of the performers here are obviously professionals but they are out on the streets so that would qualify them as unpaid amateurs hoping to pick up loose change.


Here is a link to an earlier post on buskers I did for Nourishing Obscurity:

The photo of the violinist (reproduced above) is one I took on the U Bahn in Frankfurt and there is also a video of the 'Tuna' in Madrid. I would have included them but couldn't find a suitable video. Like I said I haven't seen all of the millions of clips on YouTube

This is a better clip for the 'Tuna' in that piece:

It is not Madrid, I'm not sure where it is; Mexico perhaps?

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Electoral misdemeanours - the narrative not yet quashed

 In The Conservative Woman today, Daniel Miller argues that it is still too early for President Trump to formally concede defeat (a Congresswoman was obliged to write to the GSA some days ago to point out that Biden is not yet 'President-elect', and the latest MSM reports about first steps preparing for a transfer of power are still wrong in implying that Trump has quit or abandoned his allegation of cheating); Miller sketches some of the concerns about the conduct of the voting and counting:

We await convincing proof of malpractice, but there is indirect evidence that may ring little alarm bells. 'Zman' outlines some of the odd features of the results-as-reported:

James Howard Kunstler echoes the implausibility of JB's alleged landslide and points out that Biden, if he wins, faces settled Republican opposition, just as Trump had four years of 'he's not MY President!'

This election is reminiscent in some ways of Tony Blair's path to the British premiership in 1997: every fault of the incumbent government, every minor scandal, was damning proof of their complete unfitness to rule, while most of the media saw it as their duty to boost New Labour, the moral new broom that was going to sweep clean.

'Marry in haste, repent at leisure.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A rationale for lying

 Scott Adams often focuses on persuasion techniques. He understood back in 2016 how crucial it was for Trump (and not only Trump) to steer what the news media and hence the public feel is important; to seize control over the news agenda.

A point Adams made in this podcast a couple of days ago is interesting: it's better (for a persuader) to say something that cannot be completely true in order to fix the audience's attention, rather than make a nuanced point that will be quickly passed over.

In this case it's a tweet by someone who says of nuclear waste that it has never hurt anyone 'and never will.' Scott observes that it's obvious no-one can be sure of the latter assertion but by that token it gets the brain working on just how far it may be true, so the reader's wandering eye has been arrested. Adams notes that our smartphones etc are shortening our attention spans, so tricks like this are needed to shepherd our wayward thoughts.

We are in a post-truth era.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

SATURDAY ESSAY: Are we seeing the decline of Western Civilisation? by Wiggia

This tumultuous year has thrown into relief so many items that we should all worry about yet no one appears to see the bigger picture.

In all the major western countries there is a divided population, populism has raised its ugly head as far the establishment is concerned and they can’t put the genie back in the bottle where they would like it to stay.

The seeds of discontent go back a long way but until recently the eruptions were contained or just fizzled out and we went back to the acceptance of what we had was what we would put up with. Trying to pin down the what that caused this upsurge in populism is not easy; a Pandora's Box has been opened and we are none the wiser,

As far as Britain is concerned you could go back to Blair and the open borders and immigration he instigated on a scale never seen before. It has never been checked despite assurances it would be. Various reasons have been put up for that,  none of which stand the test of time. Certain countries have managed to halt or severely restrict immigration, Trump even managed to stem some of the surge from the south that the USA has had for years, so you have to ask why not here and in Europe generally. The answer we now know: it was never intended to halt immigration.

Only now have certain countries like France begun to admit that a certain group are getting beyond control and the numbers are reaching the tipping point when they will be too big to say no to; the way forward if nothing is done will bring the nation down in the long run.

The frustration of the populace is compounded by the words and actions of those in power. Merkel says ‘multiculturalism has failed’ and then welcomes in over a million migrants; our own government says we will cut immigration to the tens of thousands and does nothing; and so on around Europe. Only the likes of Poland and Hungary go against the tide and are then put on the naughty step for daring to go against an EU edict and are inevitably called ‘racist’.

What really put the divide in the public domain was the double header of Brexit and Trump. For the progressive left it was as though Satan himself had been elected, and with Brexit, the little people should not be allowed to have that much of a say in things. There was a very, very good piece on the front page of the Times on the 5th of November by the Washington correspondent describing the election over there. I can only reprint a couple of paragraphs but you will get the drift. Amazingly there was another piece which echoed some of the sentiment on the inside pages the same day.

Gerard Baker said this….

“The Democrats failed to retake the Senate as they assumed they would, and they actually lost seats in the House of Representatives as the great American people in their wisdom, declined to anoint one party to seize control of the government. Even if Biden wins the White House almost nothing will get done without the consent of Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republicans.”

This next bit relates to us with Brexit……

“The American people have spent the last four years being told by their elites (and the rest of the world)  that they have committed something close to a historic crime by voting for Donald Trump.

"That they needed to repudiate the man and expiate their sin and never again to think outside the lines laid down for them.”

There is a lot more in a similar vein. What we have seen is a political elite aligned to the centre left with virtually nothing outside of that narrow band to vote for. The Brexit vote was a chance for the disenfranchised to vote for something without the pull of the big parties; though the latter tried their best to intimidate and cajole for us to remain in the EU amazingly it didn’t work, so despite pledges to respect the vote they all embarked along with a complicit media and big business on an attempt to overturn the vote by other means. The little man has spoken but we will ensure he does not have his way, oh no siree.

So over four years were wasted at great cost in a one way agenda to remain in the Union. Has it all failed, will we leave on the first of January? Well, there's not long to find out, and also find out what we have sacrificed to attain freedom, if freedom it is.

Trump did exactly the same. The faces of the pundits, news media and commentators world wide showed just how far the march through the institutions had gone: no one apart from those that voted for him wanted him in power and from day one spurious efforts to impeach were put in progress. None of this on either side of the pond was anything to do with the country's welfare or the people, it was about retaining power, power that the same elites believed should be theirs alone. ;rom day one the disdain for Trump was obvious, he wasn’t even allowed the courtesy of all previous Presidents of being called Mr President, the battle lines were drawn.

This has nothing to do with how good or not Trump is or has been. As here, there has not been much to beat for a long time in the competence and achievement stakes, it is simply a stance-taking, left or right, with the right becoming ever more a mirage - we have forgotten what real Conservatives looked like - so to a certain extent it makes no difference who you vote for: the people may have become polarised but the parties all share the same ground.

Satire is good, no politician should get a free ride, but this was just plain nasty, another unheard of leftie comedienne who is not funny, there seems to be an endless stream of them, mainly congratulating themselves on like-minded panel programs.

Attempts here and abroad to break the monopoly of the ‘heritage’ parties have all met with either a strong rebuff or worse. Anything that could be called vaguely to the right is labelled racist by opponents and the press; despite the word being so overused to be baseless it sticks so 'right wing, Nazi, Hitler' are trotted out even when Trump became President and before he actually went to work.

Yet the Democrats/Labour have nothing to offer but handouts, identity politics, and suppression of debate, the working class to be despised and ignored, and the Conservatives having become suited socialists also give away hard-earned taxes with a relish never before seen.

The level to which modern politics has sunk, cannot completely verify this tweet, but it was deleted post haste and never denied as one would expect.

In France the Front National has been up against the same wall for years, even a sanitised front that garnered more votes than was comfortable for the incumbents was thwarted by all the major players combining in the last round ensuring the Front had no power. In Germany, in Holland and elsewhere the same has happened; here Nigel Farage should have won Thanet, the Conservatives not only threw the kitchen sink in to stop him with unprecedented advertising and effort but they illegally overspent which in a democracy should have meant disqualification of the ‘winner’ but nothing happened - an investigation went on and on and disappeared down the memory hole (oh, and whatever was done about the three missing ballot boxes? Same as with the overspending: nothing.)

This is manifestly corrupt but with a compliant MSN and seemingly impotent legislating bodies or worse it is nigh impossible to break the cabal in power or even the ones out of power, so we end up with the Catch-22 situation: whichever way we turn we get the same result.

Along with that result is a political class that is not fit for purpose, placemen and women appointed by their peers on quotas and nepotism and graft. Is anyone ever appointed these days on their record in business or genuine merit. All come from the political university output of political BSc graduates who have never had a job in the outside world. 

The infiltration of the institutions has been going on for years. When you see front line teachers believing young junior school children should be be informed about trans gender issues you have a problem, and the same goes for a myriad of issues like the latest from Scotland (and being mooted to become law here) that dinner table conversations can be charged as hate crimes. The attempts to erase our history by left wing activists continues unabated, and we have a police force that does more than appear to have taken a stand with the same people; how else do you account for the two different approaches to demonstrations? Muslims are escorted to the French embassy to make their point, ER are allowed in full view of the same police to put a boat in Piccadilly Circus causing mayhem and are guarded by the same force and ditto with a demo in Cambridge,  no attempt is made to stop various statues being defaced or toppled,  but several peaceful anti-lockdown demos have the full riot squad turned out and used on them. This can only come from the top but who gives these orders? As with everything else we are fobbed off, the truth does not emerge.

After the public were refused entry to Whitehall by large numbers of police on Remembrance Sunday, ER were allowed to deface the Cenotaph for their political ends and the police just looked on!

BLM are a political Marxist operation wanting to shut down the capitalist West, yet everyone jumps on board with no scrutiny and even throws money their way. Even when the truth of that one came out they still would not change their tune and still they back them, why? Is it like the Coronavirus, where mistakes have been made and no one wants to be seen as having been a touch stupid, so bugger the country carry on and shut everything down again? 

Trump blames China for the flu and everyone else blames Trump, yet this virus, the Spanish flu and Sars all came from China, they do have a record so why the denial by Western countries and the media?

Politics has never been ‘clean’ but we had a press and media that for many years kept things in check. Not any more: the delight which they have shown in jumping the shark over the defeat of Trump, if that is the final outcome, is nothing short of a disgrace whatever individuals think of him, but we have got used to the bias shown by news outlets over time, yet it still grates when their obvious pleasure at a result is shown now in such an unbridled fashion.

If Brexit fails to deliver what 17.4 million voted for expect the same gloating from the same media and everyone else who said the little people were thick and uninformed.

Those commentators that go against the narrative are in very small numbers, hence the surprise at the Times front page.

And still they come up with pieces like this in the feminazis wet dream newspaper the Guardian, here eulogising over Comrade Kamala even before the caretaker President has taken office…

A woman who made it to the top from when under Willie Brown, literally, and has never looked back.

In fairness you could do the same investigation into most Western politicians today. Hardly any come out smelling of roses but you get what you vote for and these days it often comes down to the least bad option. What a way to run countries! The integrity that politicians and commentators need is no longer there and has gone missing for several decades.

The absurdity of politics has a good example (h/t to JD): one of Biden’s senior advisors has suggested 75 is long enough to live - that puts Joe on the spot, does he take one for the country or as usual it will not apply to the elites?

One thing I do know, I didn’t vote in the last election and will not again unless a viable (unlikely) alternative appears. As George Carlin said  “The planet is fine. The people are f*cked.”

Sometimes we delude ourselves that we are still a nation with world wide clout. In reality we arem just another Western country that thinks it is a big player on the world stage. One hundred years ago we were the biggest of all on that same stage, but two world wars have impoverished us; our once-mighty navy now can’t even patrol our own coastline.

A nation that led the world with nuclear power now has to have the Chinese build power stations for us. It seems that everything that made this country great has gone, yet we survive but in a different way. Evolving is not a problem, the problem is evolving alongside other nations: doing exactly the same thing is not a recipe for long term success.

France is going down even faster than us, Germany is struggling with its power house manufacturing base tackling ever rising energy costs, Italy has bumbled on in its own sweet way for longer than anyone can remember etc etc. But the virus has lit a match under all of them: debt mountains are still growing, zero or negative interest rates are used to help governments borrow but undermine the thrifty who are no longer important, and unemployment has only just started to rise; the old and the sick are being thrown under the bus and no one knows why or pretends not to know.

And still illegal immigrants pile in everywhere adding to the welfare costs of nations that are becoming (or have become) strapped for cash, and also constantly swelling the numbers that are a terrorist threat, and increasingly impossible to monitor.

The country is making catastrophic decisions with ever-dwindling capital reserves: the following of the climate change cult in some strange belief it will actually benefit us is merely a distraction to the woes set in progress by the various governments all going down this route. Huge sums are being spent on projects that simply don’t stack up. When the lights start going out who will take the blame? No one now in government, you may be sure.

France with 75% of its energy needs supplied by nuclear is closing one nuclear plant and no one has been given a clear explanation as to why, it alone supplies reliably more power than all of France’s solar panels combined which gives as good an example as any as to why wind and solar can only ever be supplementary never the base of supply, yet again all are going down this route to stop start energy supply. The cost is staggering, the outcome unknown.

How much longer can the West limp on, the elites blindfolded or following agendas of their own, not caring but almost encouraging this state of affairs. Your guess is as good as mine, but it cannot go on this way indefinitely, the elastic will break.

It is interesting reading how the fall of the Roman Empire came about, little changes:

  • Invasions by Barbarian tribe = no difficulty seeing the parallel there.
  • Economic problems, reliant on slave labour = ditto
  • The rise of the Eastern Empire = China
  • Overexpansion = as the EU would have it.
  • Government corruption and political instability = all around us.
  • Mass migration = yes
  • Weakening of the military = it has certainly been weakened
  • Severe Financial crisis and overspending = surely not

The livelihood of the Roman people was reduced and with that the population started to decline. In this situation, the only thing that the Roman Empire did was to increase taxes and then to offset the decline in population to bring in labour from abroad - the commonalities are obvious.

These reasons were taken from several pieces on why the Roman Empire fell. All have a parallel with the West today. I won't be around in fifty years but I would wager it will be a very different West from today and not for the better. Overly pessimistic? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Friday, November 20, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Dani Klein, by JD

According to the web site "Famous Belgians" this is their list of the ten most famous Belgians:

1. Eddy Merckx; 2. Adolphe Sax; 3. Herge (George Remi); 4. Audrey Hepburn; 5. Plastic Bertrand (really?); 6. Peter Paul Rubens; 7. Rene Magritte; 8. Georges Lemaitre; 9. Albert Claude; 10. Leo Baekeland. Stretching a point there with Audrey Hepburn and Belgium didn't exist when Rubens was born.

I would like to add another name to the list; Dani Klein. She is not famous but she ought to be. She was the singer of a very popular music group called Vaya Con Dios, one of the most successful Belgian music acts ever, having sold more than 10 million albums and more than 3 million singles. They were active from 1986 until 2014 when they disbanded, Klein thereafter continuing with a solo career.