Wednesday 30 July 2008

Nod's as good as a wink to a blind man

What's this? A sign at last? David Miliband has written something! About Labour! Whatever can it mean? Certainly not what it says - that would be a ludicrously naive reading of the text. Why would a senior Labour figure possibly want to write a call to arms in the pages of Britain's mainstream left-wing paper at this point in time? To drum up support and get supporters focused on the big issues? No, no, no: cui bono, my friends, cui bono. True understanding is granted to those with the wit to focus on what Miliband did not say.

Know this, and you will soon see that this gambit is the first stone in a broadside that will bring the house of cards crashing into a brick wall, leaving Gordon holed below the water line while Miliband picks up the pieces and forges them into a new direction as Labour climbs out of the hole and digs in against the Tories, but this is only the tip of the iceberg they will use as a stepping stone to clear blue water.

UPDATE: Oh, sweet Jesus

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Virtual success

As we're in a holding pattern waiting for Labour to do something juicy and interesting like call an election or mount a palace coup, rather than just formulate policies and govern the country (BO-RING!), here are some timewasters creative challenges:

1) Wipe out all of humanity with your own customised disease. NB: Madagascans are distressingly health-conscious.

2) Unleash your inner Scrapheap Challenger: it took me c.1.5 hours to build a working catapult, but it was probably the greatest achievement I'll have all week.

Games are weird like that. Last week's greatest achievement was defending the town of Hatra against a besieging Egyptian army with nothing more than 3 militia hoplite platoons, 2 peasant rabbles and one peltast unit. A combination of "not one step back" bravery from the hoplites and (frankly) superb tactical nous from their general soon had the Pharoah's levies fleeing the field, despite outnumbering the defenders 7:2. Sure, from the outside it looked like a grown man manipulating pixels while screaming "Die, die, die you cat-worshipping bastards!" but from the inside it was a steel-nerved triumph against the odds.

And surely, that's the view that matters. Right?

Friday 25 July 2008

Ballad of Glasgow East

We are of course awash with comment on the Glasgow East by-election; evidently it would be a gross dereliction not to discuss the whole ghastly topic here. But taking my lead from Tom Freeman, I'm going to impose a poetical restriction. Instead of the limerick, however, we're going to be a bit more parochial. Scotland rejoices in a poet who achieved greatness in the genres of both reportage and disaster lays, and was also a sorry judge of his own talent. Taking all things into consideration therefore, it seems the case is well met by William McGonagall:

'Twas in the early hours of July 25 2008
That Scottish Labour met its grisly fate
For that was the night that the SNP were elected in Glasgow East
A momentous and politically damaging event to say the least
Alas! their sizeable majority was swept away
By voters anxious to have their say
By sending a message to Gordon Brown
That with petrol prices up he had grievously let them down
And so the balance of power shifted to Alex Salmond
Who found victory as sweet as a sugared almond
He declared that the people of Scotland had spoken
And of forthcoming SNP gains in Westminster this was surely a token
Pundits too were quick to seize this
As further evidence for their oft-preached thesis
That Gordon Brown's days were surely numbered
And that by him the Labour Party was sorely encumbered
Cameron claimed that this was one more rejection
Of Labour and called for a snap election
Tho' he knew this was a proposal of which Brown could only have thought ill
He wanted another chance to accuse him of lacking bottle

Contributions gratefully accepted...

Wednesday 23 July 2008

A learning experience

Pootergeek is customarily good on the idiot who tried to glue himself to the PM today. One part of Mr Glass's account leapt out at me as deserving further attention/scorn, however:
“He was just grinning about it. He didn’t seem to take me seriously.”

Think about that, Danny Boy. Cogitate upon it. Does this differ from your expectations in some way? Why might that be, you narcissitic, headline-hunting, shallow protest tourist? Had you succeeded, would he have taken you more seriously, or less, do you think? If you want to be taken seriously, and make your point at the highest level of government, what would be the best way to go about it?

Yes, that's right. Base your entire strategy on Fathers 4 Justice. It worked for them.

Too good not to

So, I'm weak.

Some of you may have noticed the latest (minor) Tory scandle - their PPC in Watford, Ian Oakley, has had his collar felt by Hereford's finest, in relation to hate crimes:

Ian Oakley, 31, resigned as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Watford after the allegations were made. He is on bail pending further police inquiries into “a series of criminal damage and harassment offences”. He has not been charged[...] According to the Lib Dems, senior party activists in the area have received offensive literature through the post, been subjected to anonymous telephone calls in the middle of the night, and been targeted in whispering campaigns.
I've been in two minds about posting anything on this. Partly because he's been arrested, not charged, innocent until proven guilty yadayada. Mainly because I knew Ian quite well when we were both at Durham, and I liked him, and it just seems a little mean. So I was leaning towards drawing a dignified veil over the whole thing.

Then, looking for more details, I found this, from Nov 06 and my resolve shattered:

At 6:47 PM, Ian Oakley said...
Hello My lefty comrades. I can assure you my quote was very deliberate. I intend to give 109% while Claire Ward continues to give 9%. As for my sartorial elegance I am not as well dressed as Tony Blair, but then again I don't think I am going to be interviewed by the police either!

Sadly, this is one of those situations where "We'll get it right next time" doesn't really cut it.

Monday 21 July 2008

Must try harder

Yet another interesting post at Stumbling and Mumbling, this time on the (financial) value of self-esteem. There is it seems, a value in rating yourself too highly: you persuade yourself to try what no sane man would, and persuade others that you can do it.

But as GK Chesterton points out, Chris may be guilty here of survivorship bias:

(To clarify: Hanwell was once home to a large lunatic-asylum, hence the fell message of the omnibus)

"The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell." I said to him "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."

"He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself.That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room - he believed in himself[...]

Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the man who has it has 'Hanwell' written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus."

Furthermore, Chris's prescription of giving more praise to children in order to boost their future earning power turns out to be fraught with peril. This experiment showed that praising intelligence in kids who did well in tests made them less likely to want to learn; it was praising effort that made them try harder. Happily for England's cricketers, it seems it really is the taking part that counts:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

Sunday 20 July 2008

Blu-tacking your colours to the mast

"The protesters have chained themselves to the building"
"Stay back! Back I tell you! Or I'll press the button and we'll all go up together! Ah-ha. Ah-ha-ha-ha. AAHAHAHAHAHA!"
"Our new fiscal rules will end boom and bust"

Anyone spot the difference? In theory public commitments work because cutting off our freedom to act gives us power over other people's. The bulldozers aren't going to tear down the old warehouse because doing so would clearly kill the idiots who have manacled themselves to the railings and tossed the key in the river. We're not going to take another step towards the evil genius because "he's just crazy enough to do it".

But we are going to break the 40% borrowing rule (or we broke it already and we're going to rewrite it.) Why? Because it turns out the government had the key in its pockets all along. Making public commitments only works if you genuinely leave yourself with no options. Imagine if the rule had been "Should borrowing go over 40%, we will call a no-confidence vote in the Commons." For right or wrong, it's a rule they'd have stuck to. As it is, with the only penalty being some slight tarnishing of Brown's reputation (which is, let's face it, no worse nowadays than getting dirt on a turd) and with the alternative being taxes or spending cuts, out it goes.

But there's another point here, which is that it actually doesn't matter if there's a rule or not. Either borrowing >40% is bad or it's not. (See here for reasons why not.) Whether or not the government has broken its own rule is secondary to the question of whether it's managing the economy as well as possible. Michael Vaughan, for example, may or may not have imposed on himself a rule against getting out early against South Africa. But if he hasn't, it doesn't make things OK.

Sunday 13 July 2008


If you want to waste time creatively, join in here.

If you want to your day to slip away from you while you have, go here

Friday 11 July 2008

All in good fun

It's been a good week for Presidential humour. The gold standard, of course, is Reagan's "I've signed legislation to permanently outlaw Russia - we begin bombing in five minutes", which highlights not only his puckish wit but also a due sensitivity to the responsibilities of office.

Bush's intentional jokes have been few and far between - understandable given his commitment to building international respect for the USA- but it seems the prospect of forced retirement has enabled him to kick over the traces:

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his
presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."
He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Not to be outdone, Presidential wannabe John McCain has got in the act. Building on the early popularity of his "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" work

McC moved onto subtler ground in the following piece of improv:

I know some killjoys would insist that candidates for "World's Most Powerful Man" need to be a little circumspect, but frankly the procession from "we have major differences with this country" to "let's hope that its citizens slowly poison themselves" is so hilarious that we can give him a pass this one time.

Monday 7 July 2008

All in the family

One of the first rules of rhetoric, of course, is to Know Your Audience. (Not to be confused with other rules handed down by the Ancient Greeks, such as: Know Thyself; Know That You Know Nothing; Know Doubt - the motto of the Skeptics - and Know, Know, Know, Know, There's No Limits, the educational philosophy which made growing up as a young Spartan male such a laugh riot.) But the converse to this rule is that we the Audience can Know our Speaker by paying attention to who he thinks he's talking to.

For example, take George Osborne's recent efforts on his latest wheeze, the Fuel Duty Stabiliser. A radical and timely proposal for change, but who's it for? Well, obviously the entire citizenry of the UK will be swept over the Jordan into the land of milk and honey, but who does George particularly want to impress with this one? Let's have a look at the consultation document (pdf):

I understand that the cost of living is currently the number one concern for Britain’s families. That’s why I believe that it’s vital to take forward our green agenda in a way that strengthens family finances.

Any reform should help families when the cost of living is rising.

The Fair Fuel Stabiliser would bring three key benefits:
1. It would increase the stability of family finances.

Under the current system, instead of cushioning the blow and helping families to cope, the government adds to the rising cost of living.

...a time when family finances have been under pressure.

The impact on family budgets has been considerable.

A policy that reduced the sensitivity of inflation to oil prices would make the job of the Monetary Policy Committee easier at the same time as helping families plan their finances.

Any reform should help families when the cost of living is rising.

If you're single (and the fact that you're reading this blog leaves that question entirely up in the air) you probably noticed a pattern there. (If you're a haulier, you probably noticed a glaring absence.) It's not just the written language either - watch Osborne here and marvel at how naturally he does it while speaking. (Wind forward to 6.16 to both save time and avoid the rising urge to punch the screen)

I don't know what the young, the widowed, the divorced, the "empty nesters", the gays, the co-habiting, the infertile, the career-focused or the simply unattractive did to earn the contempt of the Conservative Party but they have it in spades. Tories' regard and affection is reserved for families.

Why? Well, I'm not privy to Conservative Party Rhetorical Training Guidelines but here are some options:
  1. Availability heuristic: they're all family men, so they unconsciously use the arguments and language that would persuade them if they were the audience.
  2. Naked electoral strategy: they've worked out that families are more likely to switch votes than pensioners or the young and single.
  3. They're playing sweet music on their dogwhistle: "family" is code for "deserving people who look like me and have similar problems affording both school fees and three holidays a year" or "not chavscum" if you're being pithy.*
  4. Ever since Michael Howard gave comics and sketchwriters an easy laugh by referring to "pipple", the plural of "person" has been written out of Tory speechwriters' dictionaries.
Be it some, all or none of the above, I can only recommend to those of you predicting a Tory government in the near future that you act in your own best interests and get (someone) impregnated pronto.

*which, clearly, I'm not