Saturday, May 12, 2012


There once was a man who wanted to know what two plus was equal to. He could remember the answer he had been given at school but he wondered if there might be more to this question than he thought.  His next door neighbour was a mathematician so maybe he should be able to enlighten him.

He asked the mathematician, "What exactly is two plus two equal to?"

"Four", said the mathematician, without hesitation.

"Are you sure?" he said.

"Absolutely", said the mathematician.

"All the time?" asked the man.

"All the time", reassured the mathematician.

"Are you certain?" he asked

"Of course", said the mathematician

The man went away feeling happy with the answer he had heard.

However, as the days passed he began to think more deeply about the mathematician's answer and maybe it would be a good idea to get a second opinion, just to be sure.

He knew accountants dealt with numbers so surely an accountant would know the answer to his question so he went down the high street until he spotted an accountant's office.

He asked the accountant, "What exactly is two plus two equal to?"

"Well, hmmm - round about four, usually", said the accountant.

"Are you sure?" he said.

"Well, more or less", said the accountant, "but anything between three point six and four point four is near enough".

"All the time?" asked the man.

"Well, sometimes it might be a bit less or sometimes a bit more than that, but most of the time between three point six and four point four".

This was not the answer he had hoped for, which troubled him a little.  After pondering over it he thought it might be good idea to see a lawyer, after all, lawyers deal with truth so he should get the right answer.

He asked the lawyer, "What exactly is two plus two equal to?".

The lawyer sat up and looked around the room.  He walked quietly to the door, opened it sharply and then looked out down the corridor.  After he closed and turned the key in the door he stepped over to the window and pulled the curtains closed.  Then he returned to his chair, put his hands together, smiled and asked, "What exactly would you like it to equal?".

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fairy Tales are good for kids?

If you think fairy stories are just harmlessly entertaining tales which are ideal for teaching children good wholesome moral values take a look at this posting on the mental floss website. Several medieval fairy tales are summarised but with their original plots and endings. Some are quite well-known in their modern format, such as 'Cinderella' and 'Snow White', and others are less well known, but what they all have in common is that these original stories abound with murder, treachery, incest, cannibalism, torture and, this is bad news for those who like a neat and tidy ending, there are very few 'and they all lived happily ever after' conclusions.

Click here and enjoy, but don't read them to your kids.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Crime doesn't pay?

This is a topic close to the heart of many people; money and what happens after someone steals, embezzles or obtains it in a dishonest fashion and is subsequently caught. It seems that there is no simple answer to this; how society responds depends on a lot of rather complex, largely unwritten, rules. For instance, the type of crime you commit and how much you have stolen both have a bearing on the outcome but also where you have stolen it from, who you are and who you are connected with.

Take the recent case of the MP who allegedly misused Parliamentary allowances to feather his nest, reported here in The Times and here in The Independent. Over a period of 3 years he paid his eldest son, Henry, a salary as a research assistant, while he [Henry] was studying at Newcastle University. More recently he entered into the same scheme when his second son, Freddie, went to university. After the second time around someone blew the whistle and it was claimed that the money was being paid for no real purpose whatsoever. An enquiry was held into the matter and the committee could find no evidence of any work being done. The only supporting evidence was the say-so of the Conway family members.

Reports are a little fuzzy and confusing regarding how much money was involved, a lot depends on which newspaper you read, but so far as I can gauge the figures below are somewhere in the region.

HC £11,773 per year for 3 years, plus 4 £10,000 bonuses. Total £75,319
FC £10,000 per year for 3 years, plus pension contributions. Total £45,000

For siphoning off a sum of money in excess of £120,000 from public funds Derek Conway was suspended from Parliament for 10 days, must repay £13,161, and has now lost his place in the Conservative Party. No prosecution, no instant dismissal from employment, none of the of the penalties which would have applied automatically had a canteen worker or cleaner stolen a few supplies from the storeroom. Apart from the loss of party membership and the 10 days lost pay, it is now back to 'service as normal' for The Honourable Derek Conway, having made a net gain for his offspring of over £100,000.

A few articles covering this . . . . .
The Daily Telegraph
Guido Fawkes' blog
The Guardian

Saturday, March 01, 2008

**** you Jack. I'm alright.

Contrary to popular belief The Times isn't every Englishman's favourite newspaper but it does throw up interesting little articles now and again. While rummaging amongst some old copies recently I came across this item. The British, and English particularly, have always considered themselves as kind-hearted and generous though perhaps not overly so. Within our isles there are many variations, as you might expect, and some regions are well-known for opposite traits; the Scots, Aberdonians especially, are reputed to be thrifty and Yorkshire people are careful, as they put it, for example [or just plain tightfisted], but behind our stoic outward facing masks we all have beating hearts of gold. At least that is what we like to tell ourselves and anyone else who is listening. Unfortunately, as Richard Morrison points out this notion simply doesn't square up with facts collected by the Office for National Statistics. During the last 50 years we have become less willing to give to charity, and at the same time have become more and more uncaring for others. If you have the means and the opportunity it is OK to flaunt your wealth, preferably in the most contemptuous and shameless manner possible, it is perfectly acceptable to cheat others and to put down those less fortunate than yourself. Morrison pins everything down to an absence of 'love' in our society, I would use the word 'care' but otherwise, in essence. agree with what he says, if anything I would be even less charitable than he is in describing our society, we are simply a bunch of greedy and selfish, uncaring tightwads.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Italian Hero

I was passing the time in a reading room recently, working my way through the newspapers of the backcopy which I idly glanced through until I came across an article about a marathon runner. This was a character who had been briefly introduced to us at school but I had never really got acquainted with him as he was quickly pushed back out of my mind to make way as we moved on to Corn Law, Tariff Reform and other more important matters. This was not the original marathon runner, Pheidippides the soldier who fought in the battle of Marathon, ran to Athens to deliver the good news and then dropped dead, but a pastry shop assistant whose achievements were no less remarkable in that he completed the 1908 event, lost the medal, but won the hearts of millions of people around the world.
day, as one does, filling in bits of crossword puzzles, dozing and drinking tea, though not necessarily in that order. Stuffed a way in a corner was the remnants of a

Dorando Pietri began his running career in an almost casual fashion, perhaps by accident, when, in 1904, he took part in a local race at Carpi which featured Pericle Pagliani, the then top runner in Italy. According to accounts available, Pietri was still in his working clothes when he ran but he beat Pagliani. A few days later he participated in a 3,000 metre race at Bologna and won! What had prompted him to do that, bravado, a bet with his pals or Italian dottiness and eccentricity, is unknown but during the following years he began his rise to international fame. In 1905 he won the Paris 30 km race and in 1906 won the qualifying Italian marathon for the Athens Olympic games, held later that year. During the Athens marathon he retired from the race, due to an intestinal illness, while he was in the lead by 5 minutes. By 1907 he was the undisputed long distance champion of Italy, for every event from 5,000 metres upwards.

At the 1908 London Olympics the day of the marathon race was an unusually hot one by UK standards (78 degrees F) and this took its toll on all of the 56 starters. Three-quarters of the way in to the race Pietri was in second place and several minutes behind the leader but when he was told Hefferson was having trouble he increased his pace and a few miles later overtook him. After entering the stadium for the final lap his troubles began when he took a wrong turn and was redirected by an official. He then fell from exhaustion but was helped back to his feet and struggled on. Different stories give varying counts of the times he fell, all we know is that it happened several times and each time he was helped on his way by officials and Arthur Conan Doyle, no less, who happened to be standing by. Of his 26 miles and 365 yards, taking 2 hours, 54 minutes and 46 seconds the final lap had taken 10 minutes to complete [no one actually timed this section so we only have anecdotal information]. And only in the final moments had any other competitor entered the stadium!

Several theories have been suggested to explain his condition on entering the stadium - excessive heat, his efforts in the final half of the course to speed up, gargling with wine during the race - but these are speculative. And the nearest he got to using drugs was to take balsamic vinegar during training.

From any of the BW photographs available of those final moments many differences between Pietri and a modern athlete can be seen. There is even a difference between himself and the officials surrounding him. There is no imagery or PR at work, he is noticeably small, skinny, one might say weedy, the very picture of the underdog and this had an immediate appeal to the masses. He had finished by sheer will and determination.

Immediately after the race the USA team lodged a complaint which was accepted by the committee and Johnny Hayes, who came in second, was awarded first position. Undoubtedly the USA complaint was technically correct, Pietri had been redirected, assisted and helped to his feet by officials who should have had no influence on his performance. But whatever anyone wants to say no one can alter those staggering ten minutes when he was in the stadium alone. That is an impressive lead to have gained, coming up from behind, by any standard.

In the months following he was invited to America to compete in a tour of races. Twice he competed against Johnny Hayes and twice he beat him. Of the 22 races he participated in on tour he won 17. He continued his professional racing career for another 3 years and retired after winning his final race at Goteburg, Sweden.

He died in 1941, at the age of 56, of a heart attack.