Friday, January 29, 2010

Here comes the science bit – segregate!

Giles Wilkes muses on the libertarians and other assorted right-wingers who take climate change ‘scepticism’ to the point of ideological denial – and, by extension, the anti-consumerists who almost religiously grab the opportunity to argue that we need to replace the whole economic system:

For a great proportion of our scientific beliefs, we have to rely on a long-established consensus. … For views on evolution, the Holocaust, whether transfats cause cancer, or carbon dioxide causes global warming, no single person can themselves compile enough evidence. You need to rely on scientists who themselves rely on more scientists.

However, people often form opinions, or choose which ‘consensus’ to trust, on the basis of feelings. This particularly works in a negative way; if you really hate X and his/her group, then X believing something, and in particular X thinking it is important, then thinking and proclaiming it as untrue gives enormous pleasure. This happens whether X is some braying redfaced foxhunter or sanctimonious good for nothing leftie student. Most political extremes have convoluted theories for why their opponents think the rubbish that they do.

A very interesting paper in Nature last week supports this, explaining finding on the ways that “ordinary citizens react to scientific evidence”:

People endorse whichever position reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments. As a result, public debate about science is strikingly polarized. The same groups who disagree on 'cultural issues' — abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer — also disagree on whether climate change is real and on whether underground disposal of nuclear waste is safe.

A process that does account for this distinctive form of polarization is 'cultural cognition'. Cultural cognition refers to the influence of group values — ones relating to equality and authority, individualism and community — on risk perceptions and related beliefs. …
For example, people find it disconcerting to believe that behaviour that they find noble is nevertheless detrimental to society, and behaviour that they find base is beneficial to it. Because accepting such a claim could drive a wedge between them and their peers, they have a strong emotional predisposition to reject it.
Our research suggests that this form of 'protective cognition' is a major cause of political conflict over the credibility of scientific data on climate change and other environmental risks. People with individualistic values, who prize personal initiative, and those with hierarchical values, who respect authority, tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire. By contrast, people who subscribe to more egalitarian and communitarian values are suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as sources of unjust disparity. They are thus more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted. Such differences, we have found, explain disagreements in environmental-risk perceptions more completely than differences in gender, race, income, education level, political ideology, personality type or any other individual characteristic.
Cultural cognition also causes people to interpret new evidence in a biased way that reinforces their predispositions. As a result, groups with opposing values often become more polarized, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information.

It’s a fascinating piece.

(Update: Just remembered I came across this paper via Chris (I think), so consider my hat tipped.)

Blair denies Iraq war

Tony Blair today told the Chilcot inquiry that his detractors were wholly wrong to accuse him of having taken the UK into war with Iraq.

“Of course critics can disagree with my policy and the way I carried it out; I respect that,” the former Prime Minister said. “But I do ask people to accept that that in following the diplomatic route, I did what I thought was right.”

Rejecting the charge that he traded the independence of UK foreign policy for influence abroad, he said that he came to an anti-war view as a matter of principle, “not to cosy up to Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac and Hu Jintao”.

He added: “I am a man of peace. This notion of me taking part in some sort of war is just the usual media hype. If you don’t believe me, you can ask President Saddam about our latest round of negotiations.”

But seriously.

Were it not for the heap of Iraqi corpses in the background, I’d think the earnest and ferocious attempts to ‘prove’ Blair a liar were senseless. But not because they’re mistaken.

I pretty much take it for granted that almost any major contentious policy – from any government of any party in any country – is justified with some mix of exaggeration, selective omission, specious interpretation and outright falsehood. Introducing the minimum wage, privatising the railways, last year’s fiscal stimulus, the wars in Afghanistan and the Falklands – does anyone really imagine that these policies, whatever their true merits, were presented and advocated with such honesty that a string of inquiries and a pack of media wolves wouldn’t have something to get their teeth into?

That’s why I’m so unmoved by all the furious arguments that Blair lied (and why I’m so indifferent to the occasional counter-argument). Now, I resent being lied to as much as anyone else, especially by the people I pay to run my country. But what are the ‘Bliar’ brigade trying to achieve? He’s not going to be put on trial for war crimes in Iraq (why not war crimes in Kosovo?), so all they can do is to sully his reputation. But everyone’s opinions were set in stone long ago. Yes, there’s value in saying ‘the truth will out’, and Chilcot has been eking out a few more scraps here and there, but who at this stage is listening with an open mind?

I’m angrier about the needless and massively fatal incompetence of the whole affair than the unremarkable fact that the usual grubby political shenanigans went on behind the scenes.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tough on the causes of crime

Via Ophelia:

A 16-year-old girl who was raped in Bangladesh has been given 101 lashes for conceiving during the assault. The girl's father was also fined and warned the family would be branded outcasts from their village if he did not pay. According to human rights activists, the girl, who was quickly married after the attack, was divorced weeks later after medical tests revealed she was pregnant. The girl was raped by a 20-year-old villager in Brahmanbaria district in April last year...Muslim elders in the village issued a fatwa insisting that the girl be kept in isolation until her family agreed to corporal punishment.

Her rapist was pardoned by the elders.

Out of recession – by £1 a week

I’d like to congratulate everyone in the UK for reaching the end of the recession. It’s provisionally reported that the economy grew by 0.1% in the final quarter of last year. In cash terms, that means that our GDP was about £350 million larger in that fourth quarter than in the third.

There are about 28.9 million people in work across the country, so that makes a shade over £12 extra output each. A quarter of a year, once you take into account the Christmas break, is roughly 12 weeks.

So we’ve each been producing a pound a week extra. Good work, team!

Matthew Dent, who did in fact produce that pound he’s holding.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The prose is purpler than the sword

Matthew Norman used to be a good diary columnist on the Guardian, inventive and cheeky yet understated. He’s also said to be (I wouldn’t know) a decent restaurant reviewer for various publications. But as a Serious Political Commentator at the Independent, he’s trying to do a very different kind of writing, and the results are perhaps not so good.

Here’s a digest of his latest column, on Tony Blair and the Chilcot inquiry:

feverishly awaited appearance … fresh revelatory nuggets … a vicious little irony … an indecently cute vignette of a warped morality … elite corps of commentators … heroic armchair warriors … cabal of staunch loyalists … Pinochet-type indignity … Olympian arrogance … soul-crushing futility … insouciant unconcern … Petit bourgeois notions such as international law … forever be eagles pecking at his liver … staggeringly defiant attitude … impossible to quantify, but it must be many millions … loyal to his own avarice … tosses and turns in the desolate small hours … the sunken eyes and haunted expression betray his fear of arrest … a demigod whose stature far transcends the insolent judgments of mankind … an outcast in his own land.

This is slightly unfair of me. You could probably create an edited torrent of bilge out of the work of many newspaper columnists, or plenty of Blair’s speeches, or maybe even some of my own writing. Actually, no, I don’t think I’m quite that bad. Not usually, anyway.

But you get the flavour of Norman’s piece. The thrust of the argument seems to be: (a) I can write all fancy; and (b) contrary to all available evidence, Tony Blair really does care that people like me hate him.

Ah well. I’d guess the man knows his readership.

This is a blog post consisting of nothing more than a reference to someone else’s blog post

This sentence states that Chris Clarke is a genius. This sentence includes a link and an exhortation to click on it. This sentence elliptically implies that even though I love Chris’s post, I could have thought of that and even done it better myself. This sentence does not explain why I didn’t in fact do it myself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The only way to end poverty

(This excellent post by Neil Robertson, about wider awareness of poverty and coverage of things like the Edlington child torture case, prompted me to write the below – not a reply, just a riff on one of his themes.)

We hate the poor. And we’re right to hate them.

We try to ignore them, and usually we succeed. Then sometimes they go and do something monstrous, and they’re all over the news. We see it and we hate them all the more, and resolve to ignore them even harder. Everything we’re forced to find out about them is disgusting, and proves how right our instincts were, and proves that their material poverty is caused by their poverty of conscience. Is it any wonder we want to keep them far away?

But we’re good people. Really, we are. After all, we’re not poor, so that pretty much makes us good by definition. And, of course, hate isn’t a bad thing when it’s justified. So even despite our loathing for them and our desperate need to have nothing to do with them, we still want to help the poor. Even though they don’t deserve it, we show them such saintly kindness.

So we gave them social services. These are people we pay to go into whatever noxious holes poor people live their repellent lives and make them become, if they can, just a little bit less vile, just a little bit more like us. Especially the children. Because children born poor haven’t yet proved that they deserve their poverty (although almost inevitably they will grow into the kind of people who bloody well do – it’s like a kind of predictive natural justice, or at least a sign of their tainted genes).

Anyway, social services seemed like a good idea. And they did achieve some good – or, at least, we presume so. We weren’t really paying attention. But now two things have gone horribly wrong.

First of all, the people from social services sometimes give our own lives some of their suspicious, interfering attention. How dare they? We’re good people! What the hell right do they have coming into our homes and telling us how to raise our children? Don’t they know who we are?

Their attacks on us clearly prove that they too have been infected with the moral sickness of the poor, eager to cause us harm in their bitter resentment of the things that they have become. And we’ve had to protect ourselves from this contagion – which, after all, we’d only been trying to help with. Because if an intruder in your house threatens to come between you and your children, then you’re entitled – no, obligated – to defend yourself by any means necessary.

So we’ve done the only thing we possibly could, and got our politicians and newspapers to savage these jumped-up do-gooders who wouldn’t survive a day in the private sector, so that they would be too intimidated and too entangled in bureaucracy to ruin our lives, as the poor so surely ruin their own.

And then something else went wrong. Social services started tolerating the poisonous, callous irresponsibility that the poor are naturally driven towards. These dead-eyed, clipboarded council drones have clearly gone completely native and lost any sense of right and wrong. Overexposure to the poor has made them degenerate into part of the problem.

Poverty is a pestilence in our society. The poor corrupt everything and everyone that comes near them. We’ve tried, god only knows we’ve tried to help them, but in return they just threaten to engulf us in their plague.

This can’t go on. They don’t deserve our help, and we don’t deserve the evil that they spread. We can’t tolerate the threat the poor pose to us any more.

It is tragic that it’s come to this, but there is no alternative. And of course we must insist that it be carried out as humanely as possible.

We have to save ourselves. And in a way, by destroying the poor, we’ll be saving them too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Loss aversion and the bias towards conservatism

Anatole Kaletsky ponders the US Democrats’ political troubles:

Left-of-centre parties the world over might learn from this electoral disaster. They might start to understand why conservatism has an inbuilt advantage in all advanced democracies…
The conservatives’ advantage is simple: they know exactly what they are trying to achieve. They seek to preserve, as far as possible, existing structures of economic privilege, power and social traditions. … To achieve this, conservative politicians and voters are willing to bury all minor ideological differences and use every conceivable mechanism to keep power.
Progressives, by contrast, are united only by what they are against. They do not like the status quo, which they consider unjust. But once they gain power, as shown by the Democrats’ internecine struggles over healthcare, they are riven by conflicts. Because progressives are fighting for an infinite range of possible reforms, it is much harder to unite behind any specific programme.

I think he’s painting with a bit of a broad brush – a new government could well seek to transform things in a rightwards direction (Thatcher in 1979) – but he does have a point.

He doesn’t get to the bottom of it, though: even most of the people who are pretty comfortable with the way things are could think of changes to their advantage, and there are plenty of changes that parties of the left might introduce that would benefit more people than they harm. But even individual reforming policies often face an uphill struggle to be implemented, on top of left-wing parties’ difficulties in keeping together in power. So why a systemic bias in favour of conservatism?

Partly, no doubt, because the people who are doing well out of the status quo can exert more influence than those marginalised.

Partly also because of different campaigning styles of right and left: it’s easier to point to sins of commission than to sins of omission, and active-government parties of the left will have more of the former while anti-state right-wingers will have more of the latter. The right can be more gung-ho and direct in its campaigns because the points it’s making seem more concrete (‘they’re going to tax you for driving’ vs ‘they’re not going to tackle climate change’).

But part of the answer is psychological: loss aversion. People respond more strongly to losses than to gains. We’ll fight harder to keep something we have than to get an equivalent something more. This means that the potential losers from any policy shift will make more noise than the would-be winners, even if they are fewer. So it’s hard to assemble and maintain a popular coalition for reform.

If this is true, then we’d expect that psychologists would be able to pick up a greater bias towards loss aversion in people with right-wing politics. I don’t know of any studies that have looked at this. (Anyone?)

And there’s a strategic tip for the left in all this: if we want to succeed, we need (more than the right needs) to find policies that will demonstrably benefit as many people as possible. A party that’s seen as just the party of the poor is going to get shafted.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nudge nudge, wink wink, doublethink doublethink

Ben Brogan is wondering how detailed the Tories’ plans for government are:

Certainly, the message from on high [in the party] is that all is in hand, that we should have faith and be patient. "We are Thatcherites, we are ready to take difficult decisions, but we can't say it publicly in case nobody votes for us," is how it was explained to me last week. But we have no way of testing whether that is true, or whether all that hard work we keep hearing about is producing something credible. For the moment, we are being asked to accept on trust that Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron have a robust plan that will be equal to the task.

So, if I’m reading that right, we’ll only vote Tory if we trust the off-the-record hints that they really do have secret plans that are so horrible that if we knew about them we wouldn’t vote Tory.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

VAT and inflation

Inflation has jumped. And it’s jumped quite a lot for one month.

Those lovable monetarist scamps at the Spectator blog are creaming themselves. The ever-excitable Fraser Nelson is perhaps too busy changing his trousers to have posted about it yet, but in the meantime his colleague David Blackburn tells us:

We are now seeing the long-term effects of Quantitative Easing and the use of debt to finance further government borrowing.

Well, not exactly. What we’re now seeing is the short-term effects of a tax cut that lasted for 13 months. As you’d expect, after 12 months the effect of this cut disappears from the annual rate of inflation.

Let’s have some numbers.

The 12-month change in the Retail Price Index dropped from 3.0% in November 2008 to 0.9% in December 2008, the month when the VAT cut came in. Now that the start of the cut has fallen out of the 12-month figures, the RPI has reversed this drop: it rose from 0.3% in November 2009 to 2.4% in December 2009. So a 2.1% fall was followed, a year later, by a 2.1% rise.

As for the RPI-X measure of inflation (excluding mortgage interest payments), it fell from 3.9% to 2.8% a year ago and has now risen from 2.7% to 3.8% (down 1.1%, then up 1.1%).

And the CPI measure, which is the Bank of England’s target, dropped a year ago from 4.1% to 3.1%; it’s just risen from 1.9% to 2.9% (down 1%, then up 1%).

The similarity of the pairs of numbers is partly a coincidence, of course – many factors affect inflation. The Beeb’s Stephanie Flanders reports:

All told, Capital Economics calculates that about three-quarters of the headline rise in the CPI from 1.9% in November to 2.9% in December is due to the "level" effect of last year's VAT cut. The fact that oil prices were falling sharply at the end of 2008 had an impact as well.
It's not over yet. We can expect the rise back to 17.5% in January to push the headline rate up even higher, perhaps to 3.5% or more, before falling back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Teach to their own

The Tories say they want to improve the quality of teachers in state schools, and to raise the status of teaching by making it “the new noble profession”.

(The old noble profession, I presume, is medicine. And I guess the oldest noble profession would be high-class prostitution.)

Chris Dillow is sceptical about the efficacy of demanding higher qualifications for teachers.

One way to test this – as well as, presumably, a way to improve underperforming schools – would be to require all private-school teachers to spend parts of their careers working at comps in poorer areas. It’s the same sort of principle as having GPs do work for the NHS as well as running private practices. Then we’d be able to see what effect these super-teachers have.

Another good lark would be requiring private schools to take an entire schoolful (not just a few assisted places) of low-achieving kids from sink estates, just to put paid to the socialist lie that good schools are good mainly because they have a well-heeled intake.

(NB I’m sure all of us can remember some really crappy teachers we had at school. Thing is, I’m not sure the worst ones are necessarily the least academically able. The job requires a wide range of skills, and I’m in awe of people who can do it well. I myself have – ahem – a pretty decent degree, and I’d be a terrible teacher.)

The ‘missing words’ round

From the Times:

Youngsters from poor backgrounds will be helped to break into _____________ under measures to be announced today by Lord Mandelson’s department.

(a) lucrative professions
(b) your house
(c) song
(d) ???

Total competence failure

Having to describe my lost scarf over the phone to someone who works at the cinema where I left it.

I really have very little idea. Pretty sure it’s a mix of fairly sedate colours, with some brown and some grey in there somewhere. Although at one point I realised I was describing the scarf that I’d had when I was 15.

Well, I don’t know. I don’t really get the whole clothes/fashion/style thing; I’ve never really paid much attention to what the scarf looks like, other than to notice that it’s nice enough. It keeps my neck warm.

But I’m sure I’ll know it if I see it, and they say they’ll let me come in and inspect the line-up (they have five).

(Apologies to JE, who bought me it.)

Update: Ha! Got it. And I have to say my description was a lot better than either I or the cinema bloke were giving me credit for.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Serious policy critiques of David Bumface Cameron

Finally, I've found a 'make your own Tory poster' site that doesn't crash or require Photoshop!

It's here, and is courtesy of Andy Barefoot.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Labour’s election campaign: a sorry sight

Alex Massie (via Hopi) has a strategic lesson for Labour (in the little time that remains for the party to shape its fortunes), borrowed from Domino’s Pizza, another deeply sullied brand:

Step One, then, is admitting you have a problem. Step Two is doing something about it.

[This might appeal to] people who aren't convinced by the Tories' own reinvention but would like to see Labour up its own game, address its past mistakes honestly and demonstrate a commitment to doing better in the future.

It has a lot to recommend it, not least the fact that trying to deny any past mistakes is both dishonest and implausible. And with the government under attack from almost every direction, a bit of self-criticism may be one of the few things that could make people sit up and take notice (is it ju-jitsu where you use your opponent’s strength against them?).

So what might this approach look like for Labour? Obviously, the below is too wordy for a poster, but it might be a starting point for the elements that the message would have to contain:

We’re sorry we didn’t see the credit crunch coming.
But we stopped the recession from becoming a slump.
And now we’ll help get people back to work again.

It begins with an admission of failure. Then it explains how they adapted to the storm, and then makes an offer for the future. With GDP growth returning (touch wood), the two big economic issues will be the deficit and unemployment. I think Labour will be better off, campaign-wise, focusing on the latter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bloated writing and the media urge to ‘add value’

I agree with Michael Kinsley, who says that newspaper writing “is encrusted with conventions that don’t add to your understanding of the news”:

Take, for example, the lead story in The New York Times on Sunday, November 8, 2009, headlined “Sweeping Health Care Plan Passes House.” …
Handing President Obama a hard-fought victory, the House narrowly approved a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system on Saturday night, advancing legislation that Democrats said could stand as their defining social policy achievement.

Fewer than half the words in this opening sentence are devoted to saying what happened. If someone saw you reading the paper and asked, “So what’s going on?,” you would not likely begin by saying that President Obama had won a hard-fought victory. You would say, “The House passed health-care reform last night.” And maybe, “It was a close vote.” And just possibly, “There was a kerfuffle about abortion.” You would not likely refer to “a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s health care system,” as if your friend was unaware that health-care reform was going on. Nor would you feel the need to inform your friend first thing that unnamed Democrats were bragging about what a big deal this is—an unsurprising development if ever there was one.

Once upon a time, this unnecessary stuff was considered an advance over dry news reporting: don’t just tell the story; tell the reader what it means. But providing “context,” as it was known, has become an invitation to hype. In this case, it’s the lowest form of hype—it’s horse-race hype—which actually diminishes a story rather than enhancing it. Surely if this event is such a big, big deal—“sweeping” and “defining” its way into our awareness—then its effect on the next election is one of the less important things about it.

This happens all the time. Look at these two opening lines from today’s Independent:

Gordon Brown drew the final line under the failed backbench coup against him by declaring last night that Britain's "hard-won economic recovery" could still be Labour's platform for election victory.

The Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, yesterday stepped aside temporarily as his party staged a damage limitation exercise in the wake of the sex and financial scandals surrounding his wife.

Both keen to tell you about the political significance of the events. The Northern Ireland piece does at least state the key fact first, although it then explains it in terms of party politics rather than what might be going on with the governing of NI in his absence. The Labour story, which admittedly is of no significance at all other than for internal party politics, manages to open by saying something about the future (“drew the final line”) before reporting what Brown had said.

One of my personal hates is “in a move that will be seen as”, which reporters use to report on how other reporters will report on stories that the reporter thinks can’t simply be told. Googling the phrase gives 1.3 million hits.

What are your pet journalistic (or, for that matter, blogging) peeves?

Monday, January 11, 2010


One thing I can strongly recommend is go-karting in the snow. It’s great fun, and completely safe – as long as you don’t try any complex manouvres such as steering or braking.

Have a go while weather permits!

Friday, January 08, 2010

The economy freezes

Recent events may end up hastening the end of Gordon Brown’s premiership.

No, not the witless flailings of a couple of has-beens. I mean the weather.

With the transport system struggling and people’s general unwillingness to go outside, severe weather like this does have some short-term economic impact. Not a lot, but if this very cold spell lasts much longer it could become statistically significant.

GDP growth figures for the last quarter of 2009, due out in a few weeks, are almost universally expected to show that the recession is over. However, even before the snow, there have been concerns that this quarter might not be so impressive, especially with consumers taking a breather after the December sales and the rise in VAT.

The chances of negative growth for the current quarter have increased, then – not so much a ‘double-dip’ recession as a wobble, but distressing all the same. The NIESR’s monthly GDP estimate, due out in February, should give us some kind of steer on this. But the official figures for the current quarter will be published in late April – shortly before the likeliest election date. And far enough away for memories of the snow to be fading.

Would Brown want the announcement that his economic recovery has failed to be the last thing voters hear before they go to the polling station? If not, then the odds of an early election have just shortened.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Labour’s inept suicide bombers

Hoon and Hewitt’s suicide attack on Gordon Brown demonstrated all the competence of the Christmas pants bomber. They carried just enough explosives to splatter their own innards all over the Labour party, but no more.

With every clumsy, self-destructive coup launched by Brown’s enemies, it becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear that he is, somehow, the most politically competent person in the PLP.

That this odd, feeble little farce of an effort could be thwarted by such lukewarm, half-hearted Cabinet support shows that plenty of Labour politicians – whatever their views of Brown – seem to be going through the motions, ambling towards defeat.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Apropos of nothing

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well 

It were done quickly: if the assassination 

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch 

With his surcease success; that but this blow 

Might be the be-all and the end-all here, 

But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, 

We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases 

We still have judgment here; that we but teach 

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return 

To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice 

Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice 

To our own lips.

(Hat tip: WS.)

Historical pedantry and the leadership plot

Nick Robinson says:

Weeks before the country gets to choose who should be its next prime minister Labour MPs are considering taking the decision for them. If they succeed a man or woman who has not been elected by the public would replace a man who has himself not been elected by the public.
This is without precedent - in this country at least.

Not true: such a thing has happened here. Stanley Baldwin won the 1935 election and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who was in turn replaced by Winston Churchill in 1940, both sans election. Not a bad precedent, although I do believe the circumstances were ever so slightly different.

(Update: To be even more pedantic, nobody has ever been elected Prime Minister by the public. But you know what Nick sort of means.)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Day one: the horror, the horror

I don’t know if I can bear this.

The prospect of four months of ‘their sums don’t add up’, ‘they’re misrepresenting us’, ‘they can’t say how they’ll do it’, ‘here’s a nice poster of me looking stern yet smart-casual’, followed by the media reporting on how the media will be reporting on how assorted fragments of this will have been reported by the media.

I don’t know if I can bear four months of this, and I’m a political junkie. God only knows how normal people will react, other than by ignoring the whole thing.

As the poster says: we can't go on like this...

Update: See Paul's comment below about the eyes.

"Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes... you're under."

Update 2: I've just worked out what the Cameron stare reminds me of. It's Ben Linus, sinister and murderous leader of the secretive 'others' from Lost:

"I'll cut your throat, not the NHS."

I knew I could find a way to enjoy this!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Seal or no seal

Despite the likely outcome, I'm really looking forward to the election for at least one reason: we won't have to hear that awful cliche "seal the deal" in the media any more.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Dot-com boom hits Westminster, ten years late

If I even attempt to ridicule this, I fear my head will explode:

A £1 million taxpayer-funded prize will be offered by the Tories in a competition to produce a website that can "harness the wisdom" of voters if it wins the general election, the party has announced.

Announcing the cash prize, which would be taken from the Cabinet Office budget, the party said it believed "the collective wisdom of the British people is much greater than that of a bunch of politicians or so-called experts".
It would be paid to the individual or team "that develops a platform that enables large groups of people to come together online to solve common problems and develop new policies".

To save me the brain haemorrhage risk, I’m just going to point you towards Marina Hyde and Paul Sagar, who trash the idea.

Actually, no. I’m being too sneering. I’m a blogger, for heaven’s sake: I’m supposed to disagree with the view that (as The Now Show’s Jon Holmes puts it) online political discussion forums are like “an adventure playground for mentals”. In fact, I’m going to enter the competition myself:

Rather than having parliamentary committees scrutinise legislation, just publish all bills as wikis.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

‘Our dodgy expense claims are above the law’

I don’t know which is more staggering – the arrogance or the stupidity:

Three Labour MPs being investigated for expenses fraud are arguing that they should not be prosecuted because their suspect claims are covered by parliamentary privilege.
The MPs have hired legal experts to assert that the 1689 Bill of Rights protects them from prosecution.
The lawyers are understood to have sent detailed submissions to police and prosecutors which contend that the House of Commons rule book on expenses is “privileged” and cannot be subject to scrutiny by the courts.

Two members, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, are being investigated by the Metropolitan police over allegations that they received taxpayers’ money for non-existent mortgages on second homes. … The third MP facing prosecution, Jim Devine, is alleged to have submitted a claim for £2,157 for rewiring his London flat using a receipt bearing a bogus Vat number.

The question of whether the prosecution of the MPs is unlawful revolves around interpretation of article nine of the 1689 Bill of Rights, which states: “Proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court.”

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Twenty-ten: the Hastings precedent

After the end of the Noughties, without doubt the most recent decade in living memory, the new year begins and expert opinion comes to bear on the critical matter of what to call it. Norm draws our attention to a campaign to call it ‘twenty-ten’ rather than ‘two thousand and ten’, mainly on grounds of brevity.

But most of us have been saying ‘two thousand and X’ for the last decade, so why should we change style now?

A Times leader has half of the answer:

At present euphony dictates “two thousand and ten”, on the model of how the film 2001, A Space Odyssey is promounced.

Yes, “promounced”. Oh well. But the other mistake there is to forget that we also have a very well established precedent that supports ‘twenty-ten’. It’s one of the best-known years in all of English history.


Don’t try to tell me that you read that as ‘one thousand and sixty-six’. So it seems fair to conclude that once we get past the first decade of a millennium, we go from ‘two thousand and nine’ to ‘twenty-ten’.

On the subject of what to call the decade, that’s going to be harder (the 2010s works - no apostrophe please! - but we seem to need an abbreviation). I think the Times’s suggestion of the ‘Tennies’ is the best I’ve heard.