Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Political capital markets go into freefall

David Cameron has, perfectly reasonably, made a statement about the financial crisis and how he’s willing to put aside normal party politics for the moment. I’ve had the good luck to come across an early draft:

We've got to get the policy response right, and our principle is clear: we must protect the taxpayer where possible, and stabilise the system where necessary. So I and this party stand ready to help in whatever way is necessary, to help the Government to do the right thing for the sake of our economy and for our future financial security.
If what’s needed is an injection of more funds into the financial system, then I can help; for I’ve got loadsamoney. And if bank bailouts are required, then George Osborne, who is considerably richer than you, can play a vital part.
Indeed, as I have wisely appointed a shadow cabinet consisting mostly of millionaires, I can today announce that the Conservative Party is uniquely placed to weather this financial storm. We understand money so very well because we are made of the stuff.

Less flippantly, it’s notable that he says that politicians should “put aside party differences” and avoid “political wrangling and point-scoring” on this.

This sits somewhat awkwardly with the many ferocious soundbite attacks on Labour’s economic policies over the last few days from Cameron and his team. But maybe that’s just the old politics of the past; let’s focus on the future: it also means that he has to avoid any political point-scoring in his speech tomorrow.

It’s not the end of the world

I know it’s clichéd to moan that Americans are both laughably litigious and arrogantly imperialistic, but this just takes the piss:

A federal judge in Hawaii has dismissed a lawsuit trying to stop the world's largest atom smasher.
U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gilmor ruled Friday that federal courts don't have jurisdiction over the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, near Geneva.
Two Hawaii residents sued because they feared that the machine could create small black holes or other phenomena that could destroy the planet.

The LHC, of course, has broken down without either discovering any Higgs bosons or creating any black holes that would consume the Earth.

Maybe they should have been aiming their lawsuit at the financial sector: that seems much likelier to take us all to oblivion.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Washington boffins calculate new sub-prime number

Hot on the heels of the new prime number discovered by mathematicians at UCLA comes a new sub-prime number – the largest yet.

The number, 700,000,000,000, was hailed by Professor Nancy Pelosi of the Congressional Mathematics Faculty as a “great find”. However, she added that if Dr John McCain, Supernumerary Visiting Fellow from Arizona Polytechnic, hadn’t spilled coffee all over the computer last week, they’d have worked it out much sooner. Professor Hank Paulson, Dean of the Federal School of Pure and Applied Nervous Sweating, was unavailable for comment.

A sub-prime number is one that can be divided by the total number of American taxpayers and still leave a figure large enough to make each of them wince at the cost of bailing out the banking system.

Northerners can’t run banks

Look at the British banks that have got into the worst trouble:

  • Northern Rock (Newcastle)
  • Halifax (Halifax)/Bank of Scotland (Scotland)
  • Bradford (Bradford) and Bingley (Bingley)

I’m just saying.

Update: Chris Dillow also sees a pattern: “Not a single building society that demutualized in the 90s now survives as an independent company.” Well, it’s a nice theory, but my one’s clearly better.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama vs McCain: liveblogging the debate

In my current state of post-pub tiredness I'm not completely sure whether the debate is starting at 2 or 3am our time. If it's 2, I'll probably watch and try to liveblog it. If 3, then thank you and goodnight.

Game on! I guarantee typos...

here they are! the moderator, whose name escapes me alreayd and whom I'll call Mod, likes the sound of his own voice.

he's called jim. score one to BO already. it's going to mainly be about foreign affairs (that's us) but they're starting off with the whole economy thing.

BO sounding passably 'i-know-about-economic-policy'. aiming for authoritative. kinda getting there. sneaks in a pop about JM's philosophy being to blame.
JM opens with concern about ted kennedy being ill. tlaking pretty slowly, downbeat. trying to sound casual. kinda succeeding.
Neither of them has really said much that i can discern.

JM is blinking a lot.
BO keeps glancing at the camera rather than jim.

JM also apparently warned about corporate greed.
Jim wants them to say whether they support the bailout deal. they're hedging, probably as the deal's not fully fleshed out.
Now jim wants them to tlak to each other rather than make their critical points thoruhg addressing him. it's a bit like an unhappily married couple, asking their son to ask the other parent to pass the salt.

JM has a "fundamental belief". they both think reforms are needed. JM wants less spending. he makes a joke about studying the DNA of bears in Montana. nobody notices. he says he has a pen here to veto bills with but that it's quite old. hmm. anyhting else quite old?

BO says that $300bn is more important than $18bn and that JM's tax cuts would leave people out.
it's funny - JM seems both more hesitant and more self-assured, if that makes sense.
JM mentions some nickname he reckons he used to have. he alone chuckles. he wants to clean things up.
I'm going to slow down a bit. there's more than an hour of this to go. so far deathly dull.

they're having a go at each other's tax plans. BO is not, i think, successfully dumbing himself down. making too much effort to explain things. both staying pretty calm (ie flat) though. JM is looking tired.

BO mentions that China has just had "a space launch and a space walk - we have to make sure our children are keeping pace". huh? oh, he's segueing into soemthing about edukashun.
JM says there was a bad defence contract signed a while back: "we fixed it and we killed it". both?
feels a bit like a cross between chunks of their standard spiels plus semi-random job interview type anecdotes about 'a time when you showed leadership/teamwork/initiative...'

JM wants (pretty much) a spending freeze. except on veterans. he doesn't declare an interest. BO says this is "a hatchet when we need a scalpel".
JM is bigging up nuclear power. arnie vinick, anyone?

onto iraq. JM says he was right all along about strategy. BO says they should have finished the job in afghanistan. JM much more fluent on this.
minor point-scoring off each other.
now BO getting a bit feisty for the first time - JM was wrong about all sorts of things. says the troop surge was a tactic borne out of serial failure
JM giving personal tales of soldiers. says BO doesn't know the difference between a tactic and a strategy.
BO "I absolutely understand the difference between tactics and strategy" - not sure it was wise to say that. bit defensive.

just relaised - both of them hesitate in their speaking here and there - who wouldn't? - but BO's faster, more energised style of speech makes it seem more jerky when he does it than when JM, talking more slowly, does the same.

JM derides BO's suggestion that he might attakc pakistan. BO says that would only be if they needed to hit bin laden. says that warnings about intemperate speech are a bit rich coming from the man who sung a song about bombing iran ('bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb iran' to the tune of 'barbara ann').

JM says he's been voting on military deployments since years ago. he got a bracelet from a dead soldier's grieving mother, and he's honouring the sacrifice.
BO says he has such a bracelet too.
neither of them shows their bracelet.

iran. JM is talking about nukes and existential threats. maybe it's just my being tired but this all seems sooooooooo dull.
JM wants sanctions. BO wants to talk to iran. JM is scornful that BO wants to talk to ahmadinejad, but fluffs the pronunciation. probably why he doesn't want to talk to the guy. oh no, it's about legitimising him by sitting down together. but BO reckons it's worth moving towards trying it. JM ridicules this.

russia. blah blah blah.
BO sounding more assured than he has so far. saying pretty standard stuff though.
JM: "I looked into Mr Putin's eyes and i saw three letters: K, G, B." cute - distances him from bush.
oh god, he's off on another of his travel anecdotes. saying lots of foreign names - well, he must know his stuff.

will there be another 9/11?
JM thinks it's less likely than it was. but we need to have better intelligence and not torture people. and tighter borders.
BO thinks they're safer in some ways. but we need to guard stuff. suitcase bombs are a worry so we need to stop nuclear proliferation. and stop al-qaeda. and restore america's standing in the world.

blather. and it's over.
overall impression:
I saw no notable gaffes, no significant hits inflicted. it never really came to life as a debate. BO had more better lines and spoke with more force, but in terms of overall impression JM seemed surer of his case. neither of them said anything particularly interesting. i'd say either a draw or a narrow edge for JM, but i doubt it's going to change too many minds.

thank you and goodnight.

I am awake again. A couple of instant polls lean toward Obama:

An immediate telephone poll by CNN and Opinion Research Corp found 51% said Mr Obama had won, to 38% for Mr McCain.
A poll of uncommitted voters by CBS News found that 39% gave Mr Obama victory, 25% thought John McCain had won, and 36% thought it was a draw.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You saying I’m boring?

My manager has given her feedback on my ‘personal development review’ form. At one point, she says this:

Tom tackles seemingly tedious and mundane tasks with surprising enthusiasm.

Hmm. Not sure if that’s a good thing… Anyway, filling in that damn form was an undeniably tedious and mundane task, which I tackled with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

Or maybe I just hide my contempt well.

Who will answer the 3am call?

Not Hillary, despite her earlier campaign ads. And not me, either.

Assuming that it actually goes ahead, the first presidential debate will be tonight, and I’d been planning to liveblog it. But it turns out that the bloody thing starts at three in the morning. So I think that, whichever of McCain and Obama impresses or trips up, I will certainly prove my own unfitness to lead the free world through any wee-hours emergencies that might erupt.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cameron: “wanting things to get worse”

CCHQ is arguing that Shadow Cabinet member Andrew Mitchell was not gloating about being able to make political capital out of people’s hardship when he said this [emphasis added]:

We have seen the effect of the credit crunch, the looming recession -which I hope doesn't come but is now increasingly likely- and people are beset with problems and difficulties and they want to know how the Conservative party would tackle them. This is an incredibly good moment for us, both in terms of policy and in terms of the fact that David Cameron has earned us the chance to be heard, for us to get across how we would tackle those problems.

And I think that defence is probably fair. The quote is momentarily wobbly at worst. But much more damning on this score is this quote:

In opposition you spend the whole time moaning that people should realise just how bad everything is.
This leads to the most depressing aspect of opposition: part of you actually starts wanting things to get worse.
…an enthusiastic Tory backbencher like me can hardly wait to switch on the Today programme every morning in order to listen to all the bad news.

The quote’s a little old, but I’m sure this enthusiastic Tory – a backbencher no longer – will be sticking to his guns.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain takes another gamble

This is extraordinary:

John McCain has said he is suspending his campaign and returning to Washington to help deal with the economic crisis. And he called for a TV debate with Democratic rival Barack Obama, scheduled for Friday, to be delayed.

Will people take this seriously? Might they think he’s running scared? Does he really mean it or does he just think that ‘focusing on the issues’ will play well? Do two senators – presidential candidates they may be, but with no special constitutional role – matter that much in getting this legislation through? Is he trying to grab credit for a deal on the banking bail-out that in some shape or form would happen anyway?

Can Obama accept without looking like he’s ceded the initiative? Can he refuse without looking like he’d rather campaign than save the economy? Can he argue that a would-be president should be able to handle legislative deal-making as well as preparing for a debate?

Grr. I was looking forward to watching the debate. Was planning to stay up late with a beer and liveblog it.

Update 20 mins later: Obama’s going back to Washington as well to work on this, but still wants the debate to go ahead. A random thought: maybe they could have the VP debate on Friday instead...?

My left hand

Caveat: this may be of no interest to anyone. Unlike everything else I write, of course.

There’s something (very slightly) wrong with my left hand.

On and off for years now – the first definite memory I have of it is during a maths lesson when I was 14, but even then it was familiar – there have been short periods when my left hand feels really odd.

It’s very hard to describe, as it’s not like a sensation I’ve had anywhere else. It doesn’t hurt, it’s not too hot or cold, it’s not numb, it’s not stiff, it’s not pins and needles, and it doesn’t impair movement. It isn’t cramp or itching, although both of those words somehow get vaguely near it. It just feels wrong – throughout the hand, not just on the skin, and sometimes extending up into part of the arm. It generally lasts under an hour, sometimes much less, and I get it maybe on average once every few weeks. I’m right-handed BTW.

It really pisses me off when I get it – it can be pretty distracting and I tend to wriggle my hand around to get rid of it, which doesn’t work, but I can’t stop trying. And after a bit, it fades out.

Anyway, I’ve just had a really annoying bout of it – the second in a fortnight – and I want to let off some steam. Dunno why I’m telling you lot rather than a doctor, but I don’t think it’s remotely worth troubling a doctor with. It’s just puzzling, and occasionally irritating, but basically trivial. Much like Noel Edmonds’s career, really. If anyone can explain either…

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I wish to register my stupidity in the stupidest possible terms

Nelson of spEak You’re bRanes peruses the latest rantings of fools to be flocculated by the BBC’s incomparable Have Your Say facility.

This is an actual comment, made in earnest by a real person:

I am registered blind and rely on accurate weather reports. I live in Stevenage, but it was not stated that it would rain today on any BBC weather forecast. So, I decided to put my washing out as it would be dry, only to return to my washing line hours later and find my clothes had been drenched. Thanks for ruining my wardrobe BBC.

Nelson’s response:

Perhaps you should register as stupid instead. To be honest, I’m a little worried that you might just have had your balaclava on back to front all these years.

(Via Paulie.)

I like this idea of being registered stupid. I might get a card made.

Flocculation and other linguistic adornments

In a sly piece of PR, a dictionary has announced that it plans to cut a number of obscure yet often delightful words from its next edition – unless these words can make it into regular public use. This offer is made in partnership with a newspaper owned by a conglomerate that also owns the dictionary in question.

I’m not going to name the dictionary, the paper or the parent company, because I don’t approve of PR stunts, even when I actually quite like them (you can find out here).

The words include agrestic (rural; rustic; unpolished; uncouth), apodeictic (unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration), embrangle (to confuse or entangle), fubsy (short and stout; squat), griseous (streaked or mixed with grey) and niddering (cowardly). Lovely.

(Whoever decided ‘agrestic’ was up for the chop had clearly never seen an episode of the rather enjoyable TV series Weeds, set in the fictional LA suburb of that name. It’s a bit like Desperate Housewives, only good.)

I stumbled across another corker of a word yesterday: flocculant (a substance added to a suspension to enhance aggregation of the suspended particles). It’s something that makes the particles flock together (the associated verb is flocculate). As a scientific term, it’s of little everyday use, but you could easily adapt it to cover anything that makes people or things come together.

David Cameron would like to be a flocculant for Britain’s Broken Society; Fabio Capello needs to flocculate England’s underperforming football superstars; and so on.

Not a Heseltine but a Portillo moment

The BBC is reporting a supposedly overheard comment from David Miliband:

The foreign secretary, tipped by some as a future leader, was discussing his speech with staff who told him that it was being given six marks out of ten. He was heard to reply: "I couldn't have gone any further. It would have been a Heseltine moment."

The reference is to Michael Heseltine’s direct challenge to Margaret Thatcher, which succeeded in bringing her down but not in his own victory. As the saying goes, he who wields the dagger never wears the crown.

I’ve just watched Ed Miliband undergo an unhappy interview with Jeremy Paxman on this, in which he took the ‘can’t comment on an alleged remark anonymously overheard’ line; I snorted when Paxman said that the source for this quote was beyond doubt. Funny how media folk are entitled to our total trust without explaining themselves.

But that now hardly matters – the comment is wholly consistent with everything we’ve heard about David Miliband over the past few months. Whether he said it or not, it’s plausible and it will be believed.

No, he is clearly not challenging Gordon Brown directly; it certainly wasn’t a Heseltine moment. But thanks to this report, his desire to replace Brown will be assumed near-universally, endowed with the curious authenticity of something inside speech marks.

It puts him into the same position as Michael Portillo during the Tory leadership election of 1995. Portillo didn’t stand, but it emerged that he’d had a large number of telephone lines installed, in preparation for a late entry into the contest. This signalled to everyone that he wanted the job even though he didn’t want to attack John Major head-on at that time. In the end, Major stayed on and Portillo licked the wounds of his miscalculation.

This reported quote has, whether by accident or design, given Miliband his Portillo moment. It makes his ambition a public assumption. It’s tempting to say that the Milibandwagon must now either speed up quickly or grind to a screeching halt. But I suspect that the result will just be another bout of awkward, pathetic squirming in the media by all the usual suspects.

[Update: While I don’t doubt that Miliband wants to succeed Brown, preferably soon, it’s debatable how much he’s actually trying to push Brown out rather than merely positioning himself. And I think this comment (if indeed he said it) could be cast in quite a different light: he’d made a decent yet unremarkable speech, again, and when this was pointed out to him he gave an excuse for why he hadn’t done better. Just a thought. In a similar vein, the only reason I haven’t unveiled my guaranteed plan to save the world economy is that I don’t want to upstage the policymakers.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Obama meets Bartlet: when life interrogates art

Aaron Sorkin imagines Barack Obama going to see Jed Bartlet for advice (via Gordon at HP and Maureen Dowd):

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.



OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

Read the whole thing.

And he’s also quite impish

Jackie Ashley describes David Miliband as “spritely”.

Hmm. ‘In the manner of a sprite’?

Representative democracy – and that means you do exactly what we say

I’ve often thought that when people say they want politicians to ‘listen’, they actually mean that they want politicians to obey. A new poll from Ipsos MORI bears my suspicion out. It asked:

People have different views about this country and about Prime Ministers. For each of these pairs of statements, please tell me which one comes closest to your ideal:
  • I would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly trusts his own judgement and experience to make decisions
  • I would prefer a Prime Minister who mainly acts on the views and opinions of the general public to make decisions

The result: 32% wanted a PM to make his own mind up, 64% wanted a weathervane.

The demographic breakdown offers a few more details:

  • Men favour the weathervane by 56 to 40, women by 71 to 25.
  • 18-34-year-olds favour a weathervane by 76 to 20, 35-54s by 62 to 34, those 55+ by 56 to 40.
  • ABC1s favour a weathervane by 56 to 39, C2DEs by 73 to 23.
  • Tabloid readers favour a weathervane by 74 to 23, but broadsheet readers favour an independent decision-maker by 50 to 46.

Now, of course, this question may well have been understood by the respondents in the context of an unpopular PM whom many of them find deeply unresponsive, but I doubt that accounts for very much of the result. Unfortunately, Ipsos MORI doesn’t give a breakdown of answers to this question by voting intention.

Another thought is that there’s a difference between politicians’ doing what I say and their doing what the public says – but I also suspect that most people think that their own views are pretty widely held. Certainly all those who argue that ‘the party can regain popularity only by adopting my own favourite policies’ must think this; and that letters-page standby ‘Am I alone in thinking…’ is always rhetorical.

A hint of evidence on this comes from another recent poll, by Populus, which asked voters to place themselves on a political scale from 1 (very left-wing) to 10 (very right-wing). All of 52% gave themselves a 5, and another 14% 4 or 6. There must be a world of disagreement within that 52%, but people tend to think of themselves as being in the middle ground – presumably in much the same place as most others. Sadly, while Populus did ask people to place the main parties and their leaders on this same scale, there was no question on where ‘the average voter’ or ‘the typical voter’ or ‘most people’ would be placed. But do you doubt the answer’s mostly going to be 5 as well?

But regardless of this, I’d expect a very strong correlation between thinking one’s own views are in the majority and wanting government to follow public opinion.

Those politicians who chase polls will, of course, take heart from this and redouble their efforts. Those who make up their own minds regardless of popularity will, bless them, ignore this – but they’ll be fighting a strong populist tide.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The upside-down rainbow, and other science news

(a) Atoms 1, Smasher 0

(b) Europe to collide with asteroid

(c) What people think affects what people think

(d) Upside-down rainbow coincidence:

So, I’m sitting in the garden with my dad, a bit past 4 this afternoon, and he holds up his local paper to show me a story: there’d been an upside-down rainbow visible over Cambridge the other day, which he’d seen himself. I asked him how that would happen, and he leant back in his deckchair to formulate the answer, but then said: “My god!” I asked what, and he pointed up:

Unlike normal rainbows, it was in the same direction from us as the sun, although higher up. You can see the sky getting lighter in the direction the trough points. It lasted for about half an hour after we first noticed it.

Apparently it’s something to do with rare ice crystal formations in the upper atmosphere, which can refract sunlight differently to the way that raindrops more usually do. The technical term for an upside-down rainbow is a circumzenithal arc. Cool. (It also got coverage in a fair few national papers too. And find out more rainbology here.)

Economy saved as government injects narrative, values and emotional signals into markets

Here’s what Gordon Brown says our priority should be:

all the efforts of our party and our government must be concentrated on the needs of the British people, whose paramount concern is how this week's events will impact upon their families, and how we can help them through this crisis.
… We have acted to secure people's savings, support the housing market, and underpin liquidity in the banking sector. And with our support, the Financial Services Authority has banned short-selling of financial stocks.

But Jon Cruddas sees things differently:

We need policies to tackle the economic meltdown, but most of all we need a politics. … We have to rediscover our idealism and our belief in our founding values

Likewise Polly Toynbee:

It's about more than managing the crash efficiently, it's about sending the right political and emotional signals to people

I’m sure the two of them didn’t mean to sound so airily-fairily dismissive of policies to deal with the financial carnage, but that’s how it comes across. There’s a certain sort of person who cares about politics primarily for the feeling it can provide of being part of a narrative. Brown, whatever his other faults, is not such a person.

(Toynbee also offers the observation that “This is the last make-or-break chance for Labour”, which is unintentionally funny, a classic piece of journalese. There should be a comma after “last”: if so, it would have meant that this chance was both final and make-or-break; as it stands, it says that there have been make-or-break chances before but that this is the last one – a contradiction that illustrates the laziness of the cliché.)

Mangled rhetoric

Let’s bolt those clichés together, shall we?

So instead of repeating the solutions of yesterday we must embrace the new policies of tomorrow and restate the case for our party and our values. Meeting this challenge will not be easy and it will not happen overnight.

Just a couple of semantic points. If you’re intent on not “repeating the solutions of yesterday” then you’re not going to be “restating” a previously existing case but stating a whole new one. And if the new policies you want to embrace are those of “tomorrow”, then I rather fancy it’s going to have to “happen overnight”, or at the very latest by the following nightfall. Otherwise the new policies of tomorrow will have become the old solutions of yesterday and then you’ll have to find another new case to state for the first time. But I do agree that, given such a tight schedule, “meeting this challenge” will indeed “not be easy”.

(Do you really need to be told who writes like this? Although, to be fair, he has a nice line here about the Tory instinct against government interventionism: “You cannot ‘nudge’ your way through a financial crisis.” Perhaps he’s been getting help from a more successful writer.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

The global credit crunch explained in words of one syllable

(The second in a very occasional series. Inevitably, I’ve simplified things - mainly because I don’t myself understand all the complexities of this.)

The shorter version:

No one knows how much bad debt there is or who holds it. And how can the banks trade when they need to raise cash but they don’t know who to trust?

The longer version:

Back in the old days, you used to get a loan from a bank to buy a house, and then pay the bank back for years. From the bank’s point of view, you were then a source of cash for years. And if you found that you could not pay, then they’d seize your house and sell it to make their cash back. If your house price had crashed, though, the bank would risk a loss. And if this went on a lot, the bank would be stuffed.

Now, though, what the banks have liked to do is to sell your home loan on. Huh? Yeah, me too.

So: say you get a home loan with Bank A and then pay them back each month. You’re a flow of cash to them, backed by your house if need be. But the bank can choose to shift that flow. They can say to Bank B: “Give us a wodge of cash now and we’ll give you the rights to this flow of cash. If it dries up, there’s a house you can grab.” If they both think that’s a good plan for each of them (if Bank A wants a big wodge of sure cash now, Bank B wants a flow of cash for the next few years), then they’ll do it.

Of course, they don’t just sell your loan. They bunch lots of them up – some high risks, some low – and sell them on in a block.

This, though, has made it tough to tell how much risk there is in the whole of one of the blocks. All the more so if Bank B makes a new bunch out of parts of the first, plus some more, and then sells that on to Banks C and D.


This in fact worked quite well for the banks for some years. But it went too far. They lent too much. Rates were low, growth was strong, homes went up and up in price – if you found that you could not pay, then they could just take your home and they’d be fine. So they lent to quite a lot of folk who, to tell the truth, were not a great bet. They were not, as the banks say, ‘prime’. And the more the banks lent, the more loans they could sell on to make yet more cash.

Then the price of homes went up and up no more. What went up now was loan rates. And homes went down. And down. And you could not pay your loan back. And the worth of your home was not much use to the banks now.

In the past, Bank A would have been hit by your bad debt and all the rest of the banks would have laughed and then bought it up (or watched it die). But now Banks B, C and D have all got mixed up in what was, to start with, Bank A’s loan book. Some of these loans have turned out to be bad debt, but none of the banks knows how much risk each of the rest holds. Bank B, say, can’t trust A, C or D. And it needs to know this – it lends large chunks of cash to them all the time, and they to it. The rest of the banks feel the same way. They all need to raise cash in the short term – lots of it, all the time – to trade.

But now they daren’t lend, as they don’t know which of them might not have the cash to pay the loans back. So…

Crunch. No one can raise cash. And if a bank needs to do this to trade, then it’s stuffed. Oh, and of course you can’t get a loan now. They just don’t have much cash, and they won’t take much risk – not on your house, the price of which just goes down and down.

The state has tried to muck in, with its own loans for the banks, and this has helped a bit. But the mess seems to be too big for this to do much good. Thing is, this whole crunch thing has not just hit the banks. The shock means that growth has slowed all round the world, and jobs have been lost. Banks have gone bust. And those slick guys on Wall Street and in the Square Mile are on the prowl for more banks that might look a bit weak, and then they take them down.

This thing has built up size and strength and speed all of its own, and while we do need to sort out the bad loans that set it off in the first place, that on its own won’t make things all fine once more.

What next? I don’t know.

[Update: I am a complete, meat-headed, drooling moron. I was deeply anxious when I posted this that I might have let a rogue polysyllable slip through. I've just re-read it and found a 'happened' and even an 'another' (corrected now). Fool! I don't know whether this makes me illiterate or innumerate, but either way you may be assured that I'm hanging my head in shame.]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A shower in a teacup

It has been brought to my attention that some unnamed (and possibly fictional, but never mind that) They have decreed that the term ‘brainstorm’ should no longer be used, as it may cause offence to people with epilepsy.

Now, using the word ‘brainstorm’ is almost as an unpleasant experience as having to sit through – sorry, taking a pro-active part in – one of the bloody things, but even so I think it’s a decent enough name for the process of coming up with a lot of ideas of indeterminate quality in a group. Although, like ‘smear test’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘ITV comedy drama’, you can accept the term while shuddering at the prospect of what it denotes.

The suggested alternative is ‘thought-shower’.

Go on, say it out loud. See how it feels. Use it in a sentence, if you dare. “Mr Dalliard, we’ve got to get going to the departmental thought-shower in a few minutes!”


I’m almost tempted to use ‘head spasm’ instead, just to really piss off anyone who thinks a ‘brainstorm’ causes any more discomfort to people with epilepsy than it does to those without.

Thought-shower. Utterly appalling. It conjures up images of a group of American women bringing presents round to a party for one of their friends on the occasion of her having had an idea, and at the same time it ominously yet drably connotes a deviant sexual practice in which one partner cogitates all over the other for their mutual perverted pleasure.

But, of course, the real, killer objection is that it itself is offensive (and not just to those of us who foam in horror at corporate bullshit). The word ‘shower’ is likely to cause offence to ineffectual groups of people, and ‘thought’ to those who have never had an original one in their gurning little lives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

For a wild guess at what the state pension is worth, please press 1

Blogging’s a bit light here at the mo, as I’m ill and busy. These things often seem to go together, I find.

But here’s a nice little item.

Remember when Gordon Brown was getting stick for ‘cold-calling’ voters (actually people who had written to him and given their numbers)? Well, the Lib Dems have decided to get in on the act:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is to "telephone" 250,000 homes in 50 targeted constituencies to ask for opinions on his party's policies. An automated voice message will be played out during the early evening, with recipients tapping numbers on their handsets to respond to questions.

But don’t worry, folks – this is the party of liberty, so they’re not going to force you to answer:

The Lib Dems said people would be free to end the call if they wanted to.


Friday, September 12, 2008

The bottom line

Does this surprise anyone?

The government has admitted that it is powerless to stop energy firms passing on the cost on its fuel assistance package onto customers.

And did this surprise anyone?

An executive at energy firm E.On has sparked anger after saying that the continued high gas and electricity prices would mean "more money for us".

These are businesses. They exist to make profit. If you want them to do something other than that, you have to force them. This sort of comment only shows the limitations of ‘nudging’ companies towards socially desirable ends.

E.On says: “We have now launched an investigation into the context of the comment.” The context is that people think they are somehow entitled to ‘corporate social responsibility’.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

CBT and psychoanalytic snobbery

Darian Leader, a psychoanalytic therapist and writer, is (unsurprisingly) critical of cognitive behavioural therapy.

To his credit, he offers a passable opening summary of its approach:

Developed by the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck in the 1960s, CBT was based on the idea that our emotions and moods were influenced by our patterns of thinking. The aim of therapy was to "correct" these processes, "to think and act more realistically". It would allow the patient to avoid the misconstruction of reality that had led to their problems.
Rather than focus on the patient's history - say their childhood and early experiences - like most other psychotherapies, CBT is mostly directed to the here and now. Patient and therapist agree on targets and formulate ways to achieve these in each session. Patterns of negative thinking are pinpointed and alternatives discussed. Homework is set at the end of each session, which might include self-monitoring, record-keeping and other tools of self-inspection.

For example:

A woman convinced that she emits an unpleasant smell is persuaded to travel around on public transport with a portion of fish and chips to monitor how people react to her. This will allow her to assess the "evidence": she will realise that there is a difference between times when she is the bearer of a strong smell and when she is not, and this will help her to "correct" her beliefs.

After her strange sojourn on the tube, the woman with the fish and chips would meet her therapist and discuss the events of the day. If she realised that people in fact reacted to her less when she didn't have the malodorous meal, then she might be able to change her thought pattern, to see her life in a more positive way. She would learn that her symptom was an incorrect interpretation of reality and hopefully come to see the world as everyone else does.
But why did she suffer from this olfactory symptom in the first place? What function did it have in her life? If she was certain about it, what role did certainty play for her? Could it have been a solution to some other, less obvious problem? And if so, what would be the consequences of trying to remove it?
Most therapies aim to hear what is being expressed in a symptom: not to stifle it, but to give it a voice and to see what function it has for the individual. CBT, by contrast, aims to remove symptoms.

Without knowing the details of this case (assuming it is a real case), it’s hard to say, but it strikes me as very unlikely that somebody would have this one irrational belief about their smell and nothing else. CBT would indeed help her to discover that she doesn’t smell unusual, but that would be only a small part of the process.

The biggest psychoanalytic lie about CBT is that it only looks, superficially, at “symptoms”. It takes feelings of anxiety, depression, phobia and the like that the client personally judges to be a major problem in their life, and the client and therapist then investigate what lies underneath these feelings – which situations tend to bring them out and which don’t? What thoughts go through their head in these cases? What, if anything, do they do to avoid or reduce this distress? Then, through careful and utterly personalised exploration, the pair try to work out not just which thoughts are linked to which feelings, but what the deeper, underlying assumptions are that lead people to think, feel and react in such distressing ways. These assumptions may be things that the client has never explicitly articulated, or finds so fundamental as to be beneath notice, or perhaps finds embarrassing to admit even to themselves.

Then these deeper beliefs in turn are articulated, questioned and challenged. It’s by changing these that the symptoms – nervousness in public places, feelings of worthlessness, etc. – are removed. This process, in Leader’s terms, does precisely “hear what is being expressed in a symptom: not to stifle it, but to give it a voice and to see what function it has for the individual”. The eventual dealing with the symptom is not a stifling but a dissolution.

CBT is fast to get results as well as cheap, compared with psychoanalysis. Hence Leader’s dismissal of it as a “quick fix” – as if being slow and expensive are themselves virtues in a form of therapy.

The market has triumphed here, as our inner worlds become a space for buying and selling. We pay experts such as life coaches to teach us how to change in the desired way. … The new psychology is thus in the service of the market.

This is just partisan nonsense. Of course CBT is something you can pay for – you can also get it (alas, with a waiting list) on the NHS. You can also pay – typically more – for Leader’s own brand of less directed therapy, where an “expert” (another of his bogey words for CBT) will help you to self-explore in the desired way. If that’s what you want, fine.

He doesn’t deny that CBT can achieve results, but he argues that these are narrowly defined and quantified in way that diminishes the human experience:

On paper it looks good: symptoms appear reduced. But there is no tracking of so-called "alternative symptoms", the problems that will emerge in mind or body when the original symptom is removed. …
This denial of the legitimacy of people's symptoms may have dangerous consequences. Diverting psychological processes from proper working through can result in both new symptoms and acts of violence.

Well, what’s written “on paper” is the client’s own judgement of how they feel and whether their life has improved as they had hoped. Certainly, there are diagnostic questionnaires that do indeed abstract a long way from the individual’s state of mind – but no practitioner would dream of using them in isolation. What determines whether a client’s depression has been satisfactorily dealt with is how they feel, not whether the therapist thinks the client is superficially functioning the right way.

And what “alternative symptoms”? Is there evidence that people successfully treated with CBT develop these more than those not successfully treated? What evidence is there of post-CBT “acts of violence”? This looks overwhelmingly like hostile hand-waving based on the view that the ‘psychological energy’ involved in a neurosis has to go somewhere, and can’t possibly be effectively dissipated by something as crudely ‘practical’ as CBT. But this view is pure ideological snobbery on the part of the psychoanalytic industry.

As Maureen Rice says:

The fact that classical psychotherapy is slow, hard to quantify, of limited availability and wildly varying quality are not by-the bys – they go to the heart of the roll-out of mass CBT and the rise of the quick fixes.

Most – though not all – classical psychotherapists make Leader's argument, and a gorgeous, moral high-ground argument it is. The fact that it's totally disengaged from the way most people perceive their own problems, their aspirations for dealing with them, or the way they perceive or receive help for them is something they don't seem to consider or grasp.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Journey through the centre of the Earth

This, by Phil Plait, is exactly the kind of thing that awakens my inner nine-year-old nerd (via Matt):

But what if you did dig a hole through the Earth and jump in? What would happen?
Well, you’d die… But if you had some magic material coating the walls of your 13,000 km deep well, you’d have quite a trip. You’d accelerate all the way down to the center, taking about 20 minutes to get there. Then, when you passed the center, you’d start falling up for another 20 minutes, slowing the whole way. You’d just reach the surface, then you’d fall again. Assuming you evacuated the air and compensated for Coriolis forces, you’d repeat the trip over and over again, much to your enjoyment and/or terror. Actually, this would go on forever, with you bouncing up and down. I hope you remember to pack a lunch.

As you pass the centre, you’ll be doing about 5 miles per second (18,000 mph or Mach 23).

Beats the hell out of Chessington World of Adventures.

There’s one practical problem, though (“one”?): you need to make sure that when you dig your hole, you won’t come out in the sea at the other end. About 70% of the Earth’s surface is water and 30% land; and because most land is in the northern hemisphere, very little of it has antipodean land.

But if you don’t fancy the yo-yo effect, then my understanding is that you could be gently lowered down to the centre and then released, where the equal gravity from both directions will keep you floating where you are. Just watch out for anyone doing the jump.

Missing the point on faith schools

Madeleine Bunting:

In the vituperative debate on faith schools, a continuing programme of research from the London School of Economics has been used as ammunition by the critics, as it shows that faith schools have a lower proportion of children on free school meals. Critics accuse them of "cherry-picking" the more affluent pupils. But… we don't know whether this is evidence of faith schools choosing more affluent pupils or of a bigger proportion of their applicants coming from more affluent homes.

Either way, though, this still means that any claims faith schools might make of better exam results are likely to be due to their better-off intake, and that they contribute to the economic polarisation of education.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Personal development review (2)

I'm still filling in the bastard form - at quarter to ten in the evening, with the actual meeting tomorrow. Why is it so difficult? I guess it pains me that I have to lie quite so much.

And here I am bloody blogging about it... does it still count as displacement activity when you're quite up front about trying to avoid doing what you should be doing?

Vote for me as Blogger Laureate!

Michael Gove makes an interesting suggestion. He notes that there’s speculation about who will succeed Andrew Motion as Poet Laureate, and wonders whether we should “confer the Laureateship not on a different individual, but on a different calling”.

I love poetry, but the days when it was the primary mode of public discourse are long gone. …
So if a public intellectual is to be honoured for writing on the events of the day wouldn't it be better instead to appoint a Philosopher Royal?

Not bad… but still too 20th-century. Britain needs a Blogger Laureate. More specifically, Britain needs me.

Unless, of course, they go even farther in reform and appoint a Txtr Lrt instead.

Not just the public sector that has IT problems…

Great. The day the US mortgage bail-out sends world stock markets shooting up, and this happens:

The London Stock Exchange has suspended trading due to a technical problem that has affected its trading system.
A spokesperson said "connectivity issues" meant traders could not connect with the LSE trading platform.
The problems mean that no share orders have gone through, the LSE said, but it is working to restore the system fully as quickly as possible.
A well-spoken electronic woman added: "Your trade has been placed in a queue. Please hold. Your business is important to us."

(That last bit is a paraphrase.)

The divine tragedy

Justin Thacker discusses, in light of the problem of evil, why it is that “so many people persist with faith despite their own experience of suffering”.

He notes that human suffering is at its worst across Africa, “yet still the vast majority of Africans trust and pray and hope”. Why should this be?

Of course, one of the answers given at this point is to posit a form of cultural intellectual hegemony and suggest that the reason all those Africans retain their faith in God is simply that they haven't thought through the issue sufficiently. If only they had the benefit of the enlightenment eyes with which we are blessed then they too would realise that the reality of suffering disproves the existence of God.

Thacker cites an appropriately noxious quote from David Hume about about “negroes” being “naturally inferior to the whites”, and argues: “Such blatant racism, either from Hume or his contemporary followers, must not be tolerated.”

A sly move. And a ridiculous one.

Let’s set aside the fact the most Africans are not Christians, set aside the fact that Thacker names none of these “contemporary” racist atheists and set aside the peculiarly selfish (unchristian?) idea that one’s own suffering is a more proper motivator of belief than the suffering of others.

Now let me use some strong language of my own. I think that people who believe in god – whether they are black or white, African or British, healthy or ill, destitute or prosperous, intelligent or stupid, illiterate or well-read – are (wait for it)… mistaken.

Thacker thinks back to when he used to be a paediatrician, in which role he “had to give treatments or conduct tests that were uncomfortable and distressing for the children”. He himself was not viewed warmly by the children as a result, but the parents who let these painful, incomprehensible things happen, escaped similar blame and retained their children’s affections: “Even though they couldn't always understand why their parents let this particular thing happen, they knew that their parent loved them despite it.”

Similarly for the attitude of people undergoing great suffering towards god.

Marvellous: Africans maintain their faith despite their troubled lives because they think like children. This perhaps isn’t Thacker’s intended message, but that’s how it comes across.

He further argues, on why tragic suffering elicits such different reactions in atheists/agnostics and theists:

Atheists or agnostics do not have a context of God's love into which this particular painful tragedy can be relativised. All they have is the tragedy itself, and no wonder their response is an even more ardent form of atheism or animosity towards the god hypothesis. In contrast, the people of faith do have such a context. This means that even though they may not be able to explain why God would allow this particular event to occur, they know that the God who on countless other occasions has demonstrated his love and compassion must have a reason …
Christians, then, who have an awareness of God's love and compassion, are entirely rational to conclude that their own particular suffering must be fitted into a wider context

But how rational is it to have this supposed “awareness” of god in the first place? Once you skate over that question, the subsequent ones become that much easier to answer or dismiss.

This is the trouble with faith. Religious people may be fantastically intelligent, but the epistemology of faith mandates that this intelligence be deployed in limited, circumscribed ways. First you attach yourself firmly to the desired conclusion (god exists) and only then do you set about looking at evidence and reasoning about it. Theological apologists may deploy, brilliantly, many of the intellectual tools of philosophy and science, but their approach can be more that of the lawyer with a brief than that of the open-minded truth-seeker.

I should note that people can and do have faith in matters other than religion (such as politics or family life) and that people can and do have reasoned and evidential (but in my view mistaken) arguments that motivate them to believe in god.

But only somebody already committed to theistic religion could possibly look at the amount of suffering in the world – even excluding that caused by ‘free will’ – and judge that this would most likely be what a perfect being would want. An observer committed neither way would conclude that any omnipotent being that may exist is at best largely indifferent to human suffering and at worst positively insistent that a very hefty amount of it – distributed with striking inequality – should exist.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

O for a zero

This has been annoying me for a couple of weeks now. Not enough to cost me sleep, but… well, enough to make me blog about it.

This is the logo the BBC has been using for its coverage of the American election campaign:

See the problem?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Personal development review

I don’t mind the fact that, well over 200 times a year, I have to get up, go somewhere I don’t want to be and do things I don’t want to do for several hours at a stretch just in order to feed myself. Well, I do mind, but rather I’m not complaining about that: I don’t think the world owes me a living.

What I really mind is that I have to pretend to buy into the ideology of personal development, requiring me to act as though this predicament is something I actually want and that I’m brimming with bright ideas as to how I can immerse myself in it all the more. And, of course, there’s the associated paperwork that this dogma insists is for my own benefit.

Just let me do my job. I’m good at it. If they disagree, they can sack me.

Figureheads and adminstrators

Sam Harris (via Norm) says:

Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. President Bush kept his edge on the "Who would you like to have a beer with?" poll question in 2004, and won reelection.

This ilustrates one of the problems of the US presidential system: the one job is both head of state and head of government, and the former aspect (symbolic) is much easier to think about than the latter (administrative) in terms of a candidate’s suitability. You may well pick a national figurehead based on what they’re like as a person, but the trouble is that they also get their hands on the levers of executive power.

People in the UK sometimes wonder whether Charles will be as good a monarch as his mother. But just imagine for a moment how he’d fare as PM.

Majoring in soundbites

Just as Joe Biden nicked a Neil Kinnock line about being the first in “a thousand generations” of his family to go to university, so has John McCain looked across the water for his rhetorical inspiration:

The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.

Oh, yes.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Say what you mean


Charles Clarke has said Gordon Brown has a matter of months to improve the standing of the Labour Party or quit as prime minister.

Asked on Today what Mr Brown had to do, he said "establish his authority and set a very clear leadership direction". And he said the government's performance must improve "significantly" or Mr Brown should "stand down as prime minister with honour and have a proper leadership election and address the proper issues".
Asked how long he gave Mr Brown, the former home secretary said: "I think it's a question of months really."

I would respect Clarke ever so slightly more if he’d been honest and said:

I don’t think Gordon Brown can improve the government’s performance and poll ratings, and frankly I don’t really want him to. So I’m trying to further undermine his authority in order to guarantee that he can’t recover, so that more people in the party will come to agree with me that he has to be forced out.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Shoddy VP candidate vetting

“Senator McCain, tell us about your surprise running-mate pick. For starters, where is Sarah Palin from?”


“Well, go ahead. But don’t you think you should have checked that before?”

(The tragedy is that it’s taken me the best part of a week to think of that joke.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Where was I when…?

Peter has tagged me with this one.

Princess Diana's death - 31st August 1997
I’d been in my student house that weekend and was due to go home that day. I got up a bit after 9, flicked on the radio en route to the kettle and started making coffee. It took a couple of minutes to realise what had happened, and then I stood in the middle of the sitting room processing it. Then I got on with my breakfast, shower and packing, after which time she was still dead, so I went off to get my coach.

Margaret Thatcher's Resignation - 22nd November 1990
I was 13, and heard from someone just as we were coming out of the changing rooms after PE. I was surprised, as I thought she would cling on for ever, and a bit disappointed, as I thought she’d become a surefire election loser. None of this ‘hooray, everything will be all right now’ nonsense for me (I saved that for May 1997). After school, I raced home on my bike to watch PMQs. I was a very popular, well-adjusted teenager.

Attack on the twin towers - 11 September 2001
I, along with half the small market research company I then worked for, had been made redundant the previous Friday. We were still going in to sort out loose ends, and I was only in the office that morning. I got home, had lunch, and settled down in front of the TV to watch Tony Blair’s speech to the TUC (in my 20s, I was still very popular and well-adjusted). There were intermittent mentions of a plane hitting one of the towers, and I presumed some poor idiot had lost control of his Cessna. Then somebody – Jackie Ashley, I think – said that reports of a second plane crash had been confirmed, and my heart sank. I changed channels and gaped as the second tower fell.

England's World Cup Semi Final against Germany - 4 July 1990
No idea. Wasn’t into football back then. But I’ll compensate by saying where I was when England beat Germany 5-1 (1 September 2001). I would have watched it in the pub with my mates, but I’d got food poisoning the previous day from an ill-advised piece of Virgin Train pastry. So I watched it in my poky bedsit with a glass of water. After a couple of minutes Germany went 1-0 up, and I thought ‘here we go again’. Within 30 seconds of this, my landlord – my German landlord – knocked on the door demanding the month’s rent. I gloomily handed it over. Then we, and by ‘we’ I mean 11 footballers who have never dreamed of my existence, got our own back.

President Kennedy's Assassination - 22 November 1963
1963 was T minus 14, I’m afraid. I could tell you where I was when I watched Oliver Stone’s film JFK, but that somehow seems less interesting.

Can’t be bothered to tag anyone. If you want to do it, go ahead. If you don’t, then apparently you don’t have to.

Talking down to the voters

David Cameron may have just boxed himself in. He criticises Alistair Darling’s gloomy message about economic conditions, saying that this amounts to “talking the economy right down”, which risks creating “creates a crisis of confidence”.

It is, as he says, unusual for a chancellor to suggest that the economy is improbably bad. But it’s also very unusual for the opposition to buy into the concept of ‘talking the economy down’. How do the Tories now attack the state of the economy without looking like hypocrites? For instance, their first response to Darling was when George Osborne said:

It's not clear whether Alistair Darling meant to tell us the truth about the mess 10 years of a Labour government has left our economy in, but he has certainly let the cat out of the bag.

How is that not talking the economy down?

And another thing: isn’t going on all the time about a “broken society” talking society down? If you give the impression that masses of teenagers go around all the time carrying knives, say, in which direction is that going to “nudge” teenage knife-carrying rates?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Running mates

(I’m starting to get US election fever.)

John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as running mate is intended to promote a blend of ‘experience and youth’. But looking at Palin’s brief career (18 months as Governor of a state with a quarter the population of Chicago) and then pictures of the two of them together, there’s a danger that it will come across as ‘decrepitude and inexperience’.

Barack Obama chose veteran Senator Joe Biden as his running mate – the adjective commonly used about him is ‘scrappy’. The man relishes a good poltical fight in a way that Obama appears not to.

I’ve heard it said that Biden simply won’t be able to use his standard knockabout approach against a much younger woman in the VP debates. Setting aside that this is pretty patronising to Palin, who presumably is no innocent, in perception terms there’s some truth in this. But it doesn’t matter: Biden’s feistiness is on the ticket for the purpose of taking McCain down, while Obama gets on with looking presidential and unifying.

However, Biden has far more knowledge of foreign affairs than Palin – as long as he can wield it against her without sneering, he should do pretty well in debate.

On the other hand, Biden has a long record of Senate votes and speeches that the Republicans will certainly trawl for ammo. And Palin could play very well as an outsider who wants to clean up politics. Although there is the small matter of the investigation into her. By contrast, the biggest scandal of Biden’s 35-year career appears to be that he plagiarised Neil Kinnock in a 1987 speech.

Then there’s the fact that Palin is a woman, and a lot of Democrat-leaing women were dismayed that Hillary Clinton didn’t get the nomination. Their votes could well be up for grabs.

Clinton should, very quickly, say something like:

I congratulate Sarah Palin on getting John McCain’s vote. We need more women in politics, and I’m glad that she feels a woman can make it all the way to the vice-presidency. But I don’t believe in democracy by quota – I earned my votes in the primaries on my own merits. People who voted for me believed in my values, my vision for America.
And now I stand fully with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, because I support their values and their vision. As a woman, I wouldn’t want there to be – just a heartbeat away from the presidency – someone who was so ideologically anti-choice, even in cases of rape and incest. I’d rather have as vice-president the author of the Violence Against Women Act –and if that happens to be a man, I won’t hold it against him.

It also occurs to me that if Palin does mention how she’s carrying the torch for women in Clinton’s absence, Biden could shoot back: “Governor, you’re no Hillary Clinton.” (Although, at time of posting, 680 other people on Google have already thought of this…)