Outwitting Murphy / Thoughts on Sod’s Law

Wikipedia defines Murphy’s Law (aka Sod’s Law) thus: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” In some formulations (Murphy 2), it is extended to – “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.” An example: a man arrives on time for a bus that invariably leaves late but finds that this one time it has left early and/ moreover it was vital that he caught it as it was going to take him to an interview for a job he badly needed… in an extreme case (Murphy 2) when he tells his partner that he is not going to get the job she leaves him etc.

He could only have defeated this by arriving very early and not assuming that the bus would always leave late. It is very difficult to outwit Murphy except by taking tiresome, almost infinite precautions or so I thought…

This example of outwitting Murphy’s law is based on our experience of selling books online. It is compelling but very site specific. Many of our books are kept at a warehouse 15 miles away from our sorting office. Quite often customers want pictures of a book before buying it. You can either bring the book from the warehouse to the office and take the photos there, then wait for the customer to order the book. If they do not buy the book (very likely– only 20% who want photos do) you have to take the book back to the warehouse. You can also  take the photos at the warehouse, leave the book there and pick it up when ordered. Both methods are about equal in terms of time and effort – as we go to the warehouse quite often. We discovered that if you photographed the book at the warehouse and left it there it was much more likely to be ordered. If you took the book to the office, eagerly expecting a sale, it was noticeably less likely to happen…The esoteric, wu-wu explanation is that Murphy had been outwitted and thought he was putting you to greater effort by making the book still at the warehouse sell and the book you had optimistically bought to the office fail to sell… Murphy’s law deniers (among them Richard Dawkins) would say ‘bollocks’…although they are usually talking about Murphy giving malign power to inanimate objects (their cussedness etc.,) which is, at the very least, fanciful..

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A prophecy of War in Europe: Cyril Joad on writing, speaking and the fatal perils of muddled thinking

Jot 101 Joad thinking and writing cover 001Found in the Jot 101 archive, is a pocket-sized book of 320 closely printed pages, bound in Rexene with a dust jacket and published by Odhams, which is entitled How to Write, Think and Speak Correctly. Undated, it appears to date from the late nineteen thirties, possibly 1939, and is edited by C. E. M. Joad, otherwise known as Cyril Joad.


Joad, who was professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College at the time, was arguably at the height of his fame, though he had yet to become that ‘ controversial ‘ member of the BBC ‘Brains Trust’ programme whose most famous riposte to any philosophical point was ‘ It depends what you mean by…’ Joad’s first book appeared in 1907, but by 1939 he was averaging two books a year on subjects ranging from ethics, rationalism, socialism, pacifism and psychology, with departures into more exotic areas such as ESP and the Paranormal.


Joad was what we today might call a ‘popular ‘philosopher—a category into which we could place such writers of our own time as A. C. Grayling and Alain de Botton. If pushed he would have described himself as a Rationalist, but his range of interests would seem to suggest that he saw himself as a bit of a political and philosophical maverick. His Wikipedia entry is so crammed with detail regarding his various volte-faces and intellectual re-inventions of himself that it is hard sometimes to pin him down. Here was a Rationalist who wrote on the Paranormal, a one-time pacifist who supported the war effort against Hitler, an agnostic who eventually embraced Christianity, a one-time Socialist and admirer of G. Bernard  Shaw who supported Mosley’s New Party for a short while, a writer on ethics who blithely admitted a desire to defraud the railway companies. Eventually, as we all know, he came a cropper by being discovered holding a third class ticket in a first class carriage. This come-uppance, which was reported gleefully in all the papers, resulted in his expulsion from the BBC and Birkbeck. And though publishers continued to publish Joad’s  books until his death five years later, his public career was effectively over. Continue reading

Richard Nixon v JFK at the 1960 Presidential election—an astrologer’s prediction

In the December 1959 issue of the British magazine Prediction is a remarkable attempt by an astrologer named Katina Theodossiou to predict the political careers of the two contenders for the imminent 1960 Presidential election.


By temperament he will be a pacifist, not a war-monger; but he would not be inclined to veto armaments, nuclear or otherwise, because of this. He has a very realistic streak blended with his well-publicized religious principles. Mr Kennedy will believe that the best way to assure peace is to remain strong.

His capacity for compromise (a Libran trait) would lie in his responding, within limits, to any concessions made by the Communist bloc, but he would not go the whole hog, nor would he initiate concessions…For all his instinctive adaptability, Mr Kennedy’s shrewdness would come badly off if any sudden crisis were precipitated upon him. Taken unawares, he would react over-hastily; the façade of strength, of imperturbability, would disintegrate; his decisions under such strain would tend to rashness…

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The year 1975 in prophecy

If you ignore the boils, this could be a scene from any number of war zones around the world today. But it isn’t. It’s the vision of destruction that Mad Magazine cartoonist Max Wolverton has conjured up after having read the blistering anti-technology rant of American Radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong entitled 1975 in Prophecy. 

This pamphlet of some 32 pages contains other examples of Wolverton’s artwork, including a rather chilling reminder of 9/11 in which bodies are shown falling from a cliff to their deaths. There are also photographs of the technological miracle that was post-war West Germany—all to show how the 'fantastic push button world' brought to us by scientists and technologists was likely to turn us into a 'western world of soft degenerates, irresponsible, immoral, sick of mind and diseased of body’  prey to a take-over by Communism, and even, more absurdly, Neonazism.

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Wonders of the 1930s

Some amazing covers from Modern Wonder: the Pictorial Review.(Odhams, London 1937 - 1940)

An astonishing magazine of modern invention, science and future prediction (visions of the future) subjects include: photography (miniature), aviation & flying boats, trains, shipping, wireless, television, military machinery, car racing, world record speed attempts, deep-sea diving & submarines, power stations and manufacturing. Striking, colourful covers, mostly by Bryan de Grineau and Lashwell Wood. Most issues have stories, (thrillers and science fiction) by such writers as Clifford Cameron, Stanton Hope, W. J. Passingham, Peter Barr, and in the first issue, John Wyndham (writing as John Beynon) Issue 1 also includes the required supplementary booklet 'Marvels of Today'. Issue 105 sees the appearance of Alex Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' comic strip, for about 30 issues, mostly in colour.  From issue 134, as Britain moves into the war, it's name changes to Modern Wonders (War Pictures).