by John Carmody on 25 June 2016 · 1 comment

Sometime Stubborn Mule contributor, John Carmody, finds himself in the UK at the time of the Brexit vote and has filed the following report. Meanwhile, back here in Australia, the Mule is watching anxiously for signs that we are on the verge of the end of Western civilisation “in it’s entirety”.

On the night before the “Brexit” poll, London had heavy rain with much thunder and lightning: Donner and Blitzen if we want to be Europeans. Later that day London had further downpours with associated disorder with transport and traffic all of which created real difficulties in what was regarded as a “Remain” stronghold. It was very striking to me – having been in London for the past few days, how prominent the “Remain” supporters were on the streets (as was also the case when I visited Cambridge”: the “Leave” supporters were silent and not to be seen there.

Many schools were closed for the day because they were commandeered as places for voting (oddly, the British still vote on Thursdays because, as I’ve been told, that was “Market Day” hundreds of years ago, therefore people “came to town: so much for progress and change here). If the day seemed “business as usual”, I saw some hint of the latent tensions late in the afternoon when I strolled into a polling place in Charing Cross Road. It looked like a second-hand bookshop, and apart from a few officials I was the only person. A prim woman told me that if I “did not have the right piece of paper”, I was not permitted to enter. I protested that I simply wanted to see how the British vote: she said that I might be a terrorist and simply had to leave (so I went to the opera down the road and felt part of a greater reality).

The polling closed at 10.00 pm and, to the television watcher (the coverage was less lively than we’re accustomed to in Australia) the results seemed to be declared rather slowly. But it was different from an election: it was the actual numbers that were crucial and, astonishingly early, the trend became clear. By the end, before 5.00am, it was 52% to leave, with the greatest turnout (72% in a country without compulsory voting) in more than 20 years: the political and financial leadership had been rebuffed and, before 8.30am, standing outside Number 10 in Downing Street, David Cameron – having suffered the fate which, maladroitly, he had brought on himself – announced his resignation. That was inevitable: but, curiously, he will remain as “caretaker” until the party conference in the autumn. The result will be a Tory party that is focussed, not on national problems or the negotiations with the European Union, but with their leadership battles. Not that it is more cheerful for Labour. That party also needs a new leader. Jeremy Corbyn was, plainly, conflicted during this campaign – a “Eurosceptic” he found campaigning with conviction for “Remain” was beyond him and in an interview after the result was clear, he was equivocal, pallid and deemed utterly out of his depth. As with Australia, a big section of the electorate seem to be disillusioned (or worse) with the two political power-blocs.

And if the forthcoming politics seem turbid, it is just as perplexing and concerning for the economy. The immediate result was a fall in the value of the pound and of the stock market fell by 8-10% and we were told, the banking stocks fell by 20-30%, the pound by a margin which has, allegedly not seen since 1985. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, made an impressive and emollient speech (which was plainly directed to the markets) but words have a limited utility. The metaphorical economic storm clouds are serious for Britain.
Even the very use of that word seems problematic at present. The country is seriously divided. The out votes were 53% in England, 53% in Wales, 44% in Ulster and 38% in Scotland. No less significant is the fact that whereas certain results were expected (notably with London and the major cities strongly for “Remain”), in traditional Labour areas, notably in the north, there were strong “Leave” votes. Cameron gave the electorate the opportunity to repudiate the government, and they took it; but it was also an expression of “no confidence” in the Opposition.

So there is already serious talk about another independence referendum in Scotland (and even in Northern Ireland); Nicola Sturgeon will clearly feel emboldened. And there is, understandably concern in the European capitals: the talk about Britain not being able to “cherry-pick” the conditions of its exit. The politicians in Brussels and elsewhere do not want to encourage the waverers in the EU.

Meanwhile, though there is much brave talk in Britain – about “reclaiming independence”, or “protecting democracy” or “taking back control” – this is a step into an uncertain future. There’s a wide and exciting world out there, but a timid majority of Britons seem unwilling – or afraid – to want to live in it. It’s their choice, their risk, their lost opportunity. But as a great British writer and Divine once wrote, “No man is an island”.

{ 1 comment }

Has it really been so long since there was a post here on the Mule? It would appear so and my only excuse is that I have been busy (isn’t everyone?). Even now, I have not pulled together a post myself but am once again leaning on the contributions of regular author, James Glover.

From pictures of the transit of Mercury you might think that Mercury is really close to the Sun and that is why it is so hot that lead is molten! In actual fact Mercury is about 0.4 Astronomical Units (AUs) from the Sun (Earth is about 1AU) and only receives about a 7 fold increase in sunlight intensity. So it is hot but not that hot. Mercury is about 40 solar diameters from the Sun. If the Sun were a golf ball then Mercury would be about 6 feet away and the Earth about 15 feet away. On Mercury the Sun subtends an arc of 1.4 degrees compared to 0.6 degrees on Earth.

Mercury Transit

Pictures of the Moon in front of the Earth seem to have the same effect, to me at least, of making it look much closer than it is, whereas in reality the Moon is about 30 Earth diameters away. Roughly the same “size of larger body to distance of smaller one” ratio as Mercury is from the Sun.

Moon in front of the Earth

This optical effect (modesty prevents me from giving it a name) seems to occur when photographing one astronomical body over another. It can’t be that we are using the relative sizes as a proxy for distance since Mercury/Sun is very small and Moon/Earth is relatively large. Lacking other visual clues, that a terrestrial photograph might provide, my guess is that we use the diameter of the larger body as a proxy for the distance from the smaller one. Mentally substituting  “distance across” for “distance from”. Or maybe it’s just me?

One possible explanation is that there is insufficient information in a 2D photo like this to determine the distance between the objects. But if asked “how far do you think the one in front is from the one behind?” rather than say “I can’t tell”, you choose one of the two pieces of metric information available, or some function of them, such as the average. Perhaps the brain is hardwired to always find an answer, even a wrong one, rather than admit “I don’t know”, “I have no answer” or “I have insufficient information to answer that question, Captain”. That would explain a lot of religion and politics.

{ 1 comment }

Direct Action

27 September 2015

It has been a very long time since there has been a post here on the Stubborn Mule. Even now, I have not started writing again myself but have the benefit of a return of regular guest poster, James Glover. This is a post to explain the Australian Government’s policy called “Direct Action”. I will […]

3 comments Read the full article →

The Role of Cycles in Charting the Unknown

23 April 2015

After penning a paper on the insidious Sleeping Beauty problem last year, Giulio Katis returns to the Mule with this guest post exploring the central ideas of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries. Starting with the immediate application to business startups, Giulio develops to a broader view: […]

4 comments Read the full article →

Bitcoin and the Blockchain

14 March 2015

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since I last wrote on the topic of bitcoin, and my remaining 1 bitcoin is worth rather less than it was back then. During the week I presented at the Sydney Financial Mathematics Workshop on the topic of bitcoin, taking a rather more technical look at […]

3 comments Read the full article →

The New Normal

8 March 2015

With the Intergenerational Report now released, the meme of “intergenerational theft” is spreading. Bill Mitchell has already shredded the core assumptions of the report, and now first time guest author Andrew Baume brings to the Mule brings the perspective of a financial markets practitioner to our possible future wealth. In broad strokes, he concludes post-paid retirement […]

3 comments Read the full article →


5 February 2015

Last year I wrote on a couple of occasions about the Sleeping Beauty problem. The problem raises some tricky questions and I did promise to attempt to answer the questions, which I am yet to do. Only last week, I was discussing the problem again with my friend Giulio, whose paper on the subject I published […]

6 comments Read the full article →

Musical Education

9 November 2014

On our longer family drives I take an old iPod crammed with even older music. Usually I take requests, and almost inevitably the children choose They Might Be Giants, and preferably the tracks Fingertips and Particle Man. But, our last trip was different. Instead I took the opportunity to the children some exposure to artists formative in the history […]

76 comments Read the full article →

Sleeping Beauty – a “halfer” approach

29 September 2014

If you read the last post on the Sleeping Beauty problem, you may recall I did not pledge allegiance to either the “halfer” or the “thirder” camp, because I was still thinking my position through. More than a month later, I still can’t say I am satisfied. Mathematically, the thirder position seems to be the […]

57 comments Read the full article →

Sleeping Beauty

26 August 2014

For the last couple of weeks, I have fallen asleep thinking about Sleeping Beauty. Not the heroine of the Charles Perrault fairy tale, or her Disney descendant, but the subject of a thought experiment first described in print by philosopher Adam Elga as follows: Some researchers are going to put you to sleep. During the two days […]

29 comments Read the full article →