The Slog keeps a weather eye on the meteorologists, and tries in vain to lasso the Labour Party’s ethereal “policy” on Brexit. In doing so, he both uses and abuses the promises of Accuweather, and our national treasure trove of arrogant élitism, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
I know we’ve been here before, but I can’t help saddling up this hobby-horse again, because it is such a perfect exemplar of faux expertise….and the ability of digital technology to make witch doctors look as if there could well be some truth in their mumbo-jumbo. Just as digital photography and its manipulation have enabled the fantasies of a million wannabe David Baileys, so too the contemporary immediacy of climatic monitoring has given many media anchors an air of genius.
I refer of course to the role of the meteorologist in the role of weather forecasting.
Given the pretentious name they award their field of endeavour, I would be very happy if their job consisted entirely of predicting the arrival in our atmosphere of meteors. I say this because, throughout all of my 71 years on this beautiful planet, no life-threatening meteors have blasted through the ionosphere and wiped out life as we know it, Jim. Thus, people called meteorlogists (there to predict mortally threatening meteor collisions with Earth) would have been 100% correct in predicting an absence of such irresponsible missiles.
Being such an ologist would justifiably confer scientific status. But being a meteorologist in the real sense of the term – that is to say, a weather forecaster – is at base such a hit-and-miss poke with a water-diviner, dubbing their calling a science is like suggesting that Prince Andrew missed his way and should have become an ascetic philosopher monk. (Being a self-assigned royalty-watching expert, I can confirm at a 97.668% level of certainty that Prince Andrew thinks Philosopher Monk was a jazz musician from his youth).
My normal indulgence in digression should not draw your attention away from the fact that weather forecasting – the very verb itself suggests time-travelling powers to make Merlin seem an Einsteinian couch potato by comparison – has used programming hitech to pretend that real-time observation is in fact prediction.
Take Accuweather as an example. Three days ago, Accuweather predicted (based on my exact postcode) that we would have rain here on Sunday. Two days ago, it predicted we’d have a bit of rain today [Saturday]. This morning, it predicted we had a 65% chance of a lot of rain later today…..as a result of which I charged about the garden burning waste, lopping ash hedging, bringing tools under cover, hacking overgrown creepers, putting their remains on the aforementioned fire and driving the tractor mower over the grass in the manner of an F1 racing driver with a death wish.
At 4.15pm today, Accuweather observed that it’s prediction was deficient on the accuracy dimension, and thus cut the chances of rain from 65% to 25%. As I write, it is 10 pm, and rain is absent from the weather mix. I can see this by the use of my experiential use of stereoscopic vision in The Now. It is a genetically-inherited gift I possess; I try not to talk about it, for fear of appearing boastful. Or sounding like an expert.
It would be a refreshing change, would it not, if the clue to Accuweather’s talent was in the name. You know – as in the case of Accurist back in the day. Accurist was a medium-priced wristwatch brand that fitted easily onto your wrist and (having embraced digital technology applied to an analogue watch-face) told you the time to an accuracy level of 17 seconds a year.
Accurate, wrist, Accurist….join up the dots and hey presto, you have a product that delivers. Accuweather (and most meteorological websites) don’t so much deliver as deliberate, before engaging two reverse gears to correct the last massively flawed forecast they offered.
Meteorology is, in truth, a short-term form of futurology: it doesn’t predict the future, it merely monitors what’s happening with the use of near-instant feedback of change using contemporary technology. It works along a straight line constantly condemned by a quixotic ecosphere whose wind systems are imperfectly understood. [Cue shoals of emails and comment threads from weather professionals keen to dismiss me as a bigoted amateur]
I remember that – in my childhood spent under the curse of northern English weather’s propensity to dump precipitation on every outdoor celebration – there was a near-universally used phrase on invitations that warned weather permitting. The fact that such universality still exists right across Europe suggests the alchemic “science” of meteorology is still treading water.
One of the huge benefits of gardening against false deadlines all day is that one doesn’t succumb to the temptations of demon drink, and the news channels/bulletins/sites are ignored. So by the time the early evening is upon us, that thoroughly deserved sundowner tastes even better, and the slightly stale news looks even sillier that it was in the first place.
For example, Emily Thornberry (left) the shadow foreign secretary, speaking at the People’s Vote rally in Brighton (where Labour is holding its Party Conference) urged activists to make their voices heard, and declared she would not back a Labour ‘leave’ Brexit. I confess to being both amused and confused: she confirmed that “Labour campaigns for Remain and that we lead the campaign for Remain”. I had hitherto felt that this insidious position was not in doubt – viz: Labour plans to ignore its core voter franchise’s wishes, and – despite having promised to “honour” the 2016 referendum – argue that any deal to leave the EU must be put to a second referendum, and that Remain should be on the ballot paper.
But now it seems I am wrong, and that some pernicious forces in Labour do not want to go down that Road of Betrayal. Addressing the crowd in recognition of its wisdom, Thornberry declared, “This is what democracy looks like”.
Part of my confusion was whether her refracted view of what democracy ‘looks like’ was a reference to the portrait of Dorian Gray, or what her Leader Jeremy Corbyn really feels: that the EU is a neoliberal hotbed of thinly disguised technocratic autocracy.
I still can’t make my mind up. One pro-EU backbencher didn’t come to my aid by saying, “This conference is our one chance before an election to get out of the fudge – we cannot allow that to be taken away from us in some procedural stitch up.”
Um, er. If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s the use of procedural stitch ups to enable continued presence in the fudge. Far better – surely – to fudge the procedural stitch up and thus escape any clarity whatsoever, the better to set Labour voter minds at rest.