Foretelling the Present

There’s been a lot of chatter in the media lately about so-called super-forecasters. They do love a new phrase, don’t they? As far as I can tell this latest one comes from a Dominic Cummings’ latest and somewhat disastrous hire to the Civil Service, Andrew Sabisky, a man whose views would not have been out of place in the Third Reich. Sabisky has now been sacked, but he should never had been allowed anywhere near government – that much is obvious – but then neither should Dominic Cummings. Yet here we are.

So what, if anything, is a super-forecaster? Apparently the word comes from this book which suggests that people with a certain kind of native intelligence do better than so-called experts when it comes to forecasting. Which, surprise surprise, fits in precisely with Johnson and Cummings’ hatred of experts. Why trust someone who’s been in the Civil Service for decades and built up a detailed knowledge of their area when you can hire a maverick with special powers? It sounds kinda appealing, a bit like MacGuyver or Poirot, but this guy was no Sherlock. In fact he was more of an Eichmann with a final solution in his head. It’s not that his views are utterly repellent; it’s that he was allowed to bring them into government – that is the scary thing. He’s the sort of person you’d expect to find beavering away on a mad blog somewhere in a basement, perhaps preparing some sort of terrorist attack. He has no place in Whitehall.

This hatred and distrust of experts is also a power-play. Mavericks are dangerous allies but if their views are in line with yours you can cut through red tape like a knife through butter without all of that tedious paperwork and research. Let us not forget that in the end, Thatcher’s worst enemy was not the Labour Party or the trade unions but the civil service. She, having at least some principles and respect for democracy, shrank from using the sort of power-plays Johnson resorts to. God, it’s a sad day when I start praising Thatcher.

But I’m getting off the point here which is that forecasting, or prophecy, or whatever you want to call it, is basically just seeing the present. If you observe the present clearly you will see where it’s leading, just like this traditional story shows (Nasruddin is a figure known throughout the East as the archetypal fool.)

One day Nasruddin was pruning the branch of the tree. He was sitting on the branch facing towards the trunk and sawing it in front of him. Along came a man.

Oi!’ said the man.

What?’ answered Nasruddin.

If you carry on doing that, you know what’ll happen?


The branch will fall and you’ll fall with it!

Interfering idiot! thought Nasruddin, and he carried on sawing. Sure enough, several minutes later the branch fell to the ground and he fell with it. No bones broken, he jumped up and ran after the man, crying ‘Stop! Tell me more about the future!’

Lol. So – today I predict that I shall finish a blog post and have a cup of tea. More than that I cannot say… except that it’s possible Cummings will overstep the mark once too often and end up having a very short shelf-life.

Have a good one. Day, that is, not shelf-life.

Kirk out

And another thing…

Here’s another thing that annoys me.  Actually, before I go there I must mention a media phenomenon (yes, phenomenon is the singular, not phenomena, as so many people say who should know better).  The phenomenon is this:

“These numbers are very worrying for the government…”

“…when you look at the numbers…”

“the economic numbers don’t add up…”

It’s “FIGURES!!!!”.  I jump up and down and shout.  Figures!!!  Figures!!!

I can’t explain why this makes me so angry.  After all, language changes all the time – why should it bother me so much?  But it just seems wrong.  Numbers, as I explain to the radio on a daily basis, are a mathematical symbol standing for something in the real world: figures are an accounting phenomenon (sic).  I think it really has to do with trying to appear “down-to-earth”, adopting a “back to basics” or “down with the people” attitude.  Not sure, but that is what occurs.  Anyway, I hate it.

I’ve seen the future

So, the other thing that annoys me (if you still care) is people making statements of fact about the future:

“robberies will increase by 1/3rd” a police spokesman asserted confidently not five minutes ago in this very boutique (sorry, the parrot sketch got in there by mistake).

People do this all the time and what they really mean is, “if current trends continue” or ” I believe that this will happen”.  They don’t actually know.

Reminds me of a story.  (Nasruddin is a character in India who is synonymous with a foolish person and there are a lot of stories about him).

One day Nasruddin was pruning a tree.  He was sitting on a branch and cutting it at a point between him and the tree.  Another man came along.

–  If you carry on doing that, you will fall, said the man.

“this is some foolish interfering person” thought Nasruddin – and he carried on.  After a while he cut through the branch and fell to the ground.  He got up, dusted himself off, and remembered what the man said.

“That man knows the future!” he thought, and rushed after him.

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