Somewhat over a week ago I did a posting here about maths. What use, I asked, is it? I always knew there were plenty of good answers, but the quantity and quality of what the Samizdata commentariat came up with amazed and delighted me, as it did a number of those same commenters. Someone even suggested we have other postings here about what use other educationally controversial things are, like poetry, Latin, and so on (I am thinking: media studies, which I definitely do not assume would have to be useless).
At the end of that piece I mentioned that Michael Jennings and I were about to record a conversation on this subject. Its been up and listenable to at my Education Blog for a while now, so apologies for the delay in mentioning it here, but far better a week late than never. This is not the kind of thing that will be going out of date any time soon. Here is the link to it.
I did most of the asking, and Michael did most of the answering, and it must be admitted that Michael is not what you would call a hundred per cent fluent speaker. It sounds like he suffers from the mild remnants of a childhood stutter, which means that he would not be the ideal choice to perform on Just A Minute, a BBC 4 radio show where your mission is to talk uninterrupted nonsense and where you get penalised for the slightest suggestion of hesitation or repetition. For, on the plus side, Michael does not do nonsense either, which is part of the reason why he still often hesitates. He wants to get things right. Basically, the man just knows so much, about so many things, which means that when he answers a question he is as likely as not choosing between four or five equally relevant facts that he might then serve up. You can see why the people in the City of London get so rich, if they have people like Michael keeping them informed about the world and its business. I strongly urge anyone who resents even the hint of a lack of verbal fluency to, as the Americans say and pardon my split infinitive, deal with it. I found my talk with Michael about maths and its uses absolutely fascinating. Word of mouth already tells me that others have liked listening to it also, and I know that many more will if they click on the above link.
The delay in telling Samizdata readers about this recorded conversation enables me also to mention here another such conversation involving Michael Jennings that has been more recently immortalised by another of London’s libertarian recording angels (so to speak), Patrick Crozier. This time, the subject is aviation, landing slots at Heathrow, international aviation treaties, and the like. If you have any doubts about Michael’s credentials as an expert on this industry (which of course could never have got off the ground without the relentless application of mathematics), then do what Patrick Crozier suggests and have a(nother?) read of this Samizdata posting from way back, on this same subject. Sadly, there was a mix up with the first attempt to record all this (might Patrick perhaps benefit from a media studies course?). The first conversation got stopped in mid flight through a wrong button getting pressed, and a separate concluding recording was done. But here they both are, and they are both well worth listening to. Patrick’s brief bloggery about them is to be found at Transport Blog, here and here.
By the way, Patrick Crozier and I seem to have very divergent ideas about what is the correct volume at which to record these things, so be ready to do some nob twiddling if you go from one to the other. Technical comments about which of us got it wrong (both I dare say) and by how much would be very welcome. More media studies.
Getting back to what was said, there are many delightful moments in these discussions, especially in the maths one, which I would say, wouldn’t I? Nevertheless, my absolute favourite bit of all happens towards the end of the first of the two aviation conversations, a soundbite which Patrick also featured on the short trailer that he did for that. The dialogue goes like this:
Patrick: “Can you trade your slots?”
Michael: “Er … kind of. Not legally. Well, sort of.”
There are times when hesitation is the most eloquent thing there is. Listen, and all is explained.