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Always follow the Herring Convention

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Richard Herring has come up with an excellent solution to the problem of ‘person in your way, what to do?’, and backed it up with impeccable Science and Logic. In short – go left, and slate anyone who doesn’t, and all will be mathematically fine.

Now, if Mr Herring can also solve the issue of corrievorrie, he’ll be elected a god amongst men. Relatedly – blimey, you can get the entire Meaning of Liff online. This is the best thing ever (except for sellers of books to keep in one’s toilet, who’ll presumably lose out slightly. And John Lloyd, but I’m fairly sure his invention of QI is keeping him fairly sorted in the lavatorial book market…)

Categories: Uncategorized

Terror police, arrest this man

November 28, 2008 12 comments

In case anyone’s wondering why Damian Green was arrested by ‘anti-terror’ police – it’s because all investigations involving potential breaches of the Official Secrets Act are dealt with by Special Branch, which was renamed to Counter Terrorism Command when it was merged with the Met’s Anti-Terrorism Branch in 2006.

As with the freezing of Landsbanki’s UK assets, it has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism at all – neither in terms of the crimes that Mr Green is accused of committing, nor in terms of the laws under which he was arrested.

Rather, the media have picked up that one of the other functions of the legislation (for Landsbanki)/police force (for Mr Green) in question is terrorism, and jumped to entirely ridiculous ‘MP Arrested Under Terror Laws / Brown Brands Iceland Nation Of Terrorists’ conclusions.

Categories: Bit of politics

World of Chutzpah

November 27, 2008 4 comments

BBC City Diarist ‘Stephen’:

During the chancellor’s pre-Budget report and the opposition’s response, there were alternate gasps of disbelief and jeers of contempt across our trading floor. It’s utterly bewildering how our political system has managed to put such innumerates, however well-meaning, in charge of our economy.

Hmm. Perhaps, after you – not the politicians at all – were directly responsible for screwing the economy, you might lay off on jeering at them for trying to clean up the mess you created? And given your complete inability to price or understand liquidity risk, perhaps ‘innumeracy’ jibes might be considered especially inappropriate?

As ever, Dan Davies has the sensible economist’s take on things: viz, it’s all to the good but probably won’t be enough. And prophet of doom Willem Buiters is as terrifying, well-argued and appallingly badly written as ever.

Categories: Financial arcana

Generic response to generic ‘oh no, the trains are so expensive’ wittering

November 24, 2008 23 comments

Inspired specifically by this piece, but more generally by the dozens of such pieces, left and right, which perpetuate ludicrous myths about the cost of travelling on the trains.

The fact is, in Great Britain, train fares rise at a couple of percentage points above inflation every year. This isn’t surprising – most of the cost of running a railway is that of paying people, and (at least when the economy’s growing, as it was for the last 10 years) people like to be given pay rises above inflation every year too.

So every year, trains get slightly more affordable to the average person (because the average person’s income rises by 2-3% above inflation), but slightly more expensive in cash terms, than they were the year before. Like sandwiches, or pies, or haircuts, or pretty much any other consumer service that can’t be imported from China.

(since such stories are rarely complete without a questionably chosen anecdote about outrageous prices – I went from London to Birmingham and back at the weekend, heading out in the Friday rush hour, with a £30 return ticket bought on the day. That works for me…)

Categories: Transport

‘How Racist Are The BNP?’

November 20, 2008 4 comments

BNP apologists frequently claim that supporters of the group aren’t necessarily racist, they’re just misguided working-class souls who’ve been abandoned by the mainstream parties and feel the BNP speaks for them. Non-apologists suggest, with equal frequency, that perhaps if people weren’t racist then they wouldn’t vote for a party whose primary feature was racism, even if it did better match their views on employment policy.

As Alex Hilton points out, the leaking of the BNP membership list, including several thousand email addresses, provides an excellent opportunity to answer these questions: send out a surveymonkey to the people on the list, asking them to rate how racist they are on a scale of 1-10. Problem solved…

The BBC do my job, again

November 18, 2008 1 comment

Once again, they’re running with the sort of content I’d normally put up here – an excellent piece on understanding debt/deficit statistics.

God-damn public sector bureaucracies crowding out private enterprise, etc etc…

Categories: Statistrickery

Traditional ‘where’s your grammar?’ line

November 11, 2008 5 comments

(“in t’front room watching telly, what’s it to you?”)

An apparently valid study has shown that 25-34 year olds are best at using apostrophes correctly, while over-55s are worst. While this doesn’t fit with the traditional narrative of ‘it’s all gone to the dogs since trendy liberals took over teaching’, it does fit with the available evidence on functional literacy rates: it’s clear that the comprehensive system has provided its alumni with a more effective education than the grammar and secondary modern system did.

I’m aware that ‘bring back grammar schools’ is a dogmatic, rather than an evidence-based, position – but one might have thought the fact that older people are demonstrably worse-educated than younger people might impinge on their consciousness somewhere down the line…

Categories: Statistrickery

George Formby vs Mohammed Atta

November 7, 2008 1 comment

Sure, we’ve all been making this bad joke for years, but none of us never got around to recording the song:

Electoral impairment

November 5, 2008 1 comment

Two things are going to impair my analysis of this election: brennivin, and my landlady’s inability to make the wi-fi work. On aggregate, however, I’d rather be spending it in Iceland than pretty much anywhere else.

update: yeah, that pretty much worked. been liveblogging on lc, will link sometime. Yay Obama, yay the American people, yay worst fears averted; let’s see how landslidey it goes, how the senate looks, and then what gets done afterwards…

Categories: Bit of politics

Final word on Teacupgate

November 1, 2008 5 comments

5CC wins:

At least the Daily Mail is doing its best to ensure this sort of thing never happens again. Its asylum coverage is working towards there never being any future Andrew Sachses by making sure they die in a war zone rather than be allowed in the country. Just like it tried in the 30s, when it opposed giving asylum to Jews fleeing the nazis, like Andrew Sachs.

Categories: Bit of politics