Category Archives: Bit of politics

Worried about stabbings? Don’t be

Here’s a nice report by a real statistician on how London’s low murder rate is nothing to worry about unless you’re a gibbering paranoid ignorant fool.

Unsurprisingly, it’s received almost no media play at all. I mean, what news value is there in a study proving that the ‘OMG t3H knife crime!!!!’ narrative is bollocks and that there’s nothing to worry about…?

Dumbing down, and that’s just the fogeyish commentators

In England and Wales up until 1986, there were two sorts of exam a child could take at the compulsory school leaving age of 16.

CSEs weren’t very academically rigorous and were aimed at kids who weren’t planning to take further academic qualifications. O-levels were more academically rigorous; they were aimed at kids who were planning to take A-levels at 18, and possibly head on to university.

After 1986, the system was – officially – changed to have a single qualification at 16 encompassing both streams of kids, known as the GCSE.

However, almost all GCSEs are divided into two tiers of paper, Foundation and Higher, which are separate exams based on related but different syllabuses [*]. All kids who would have taken an O-level in a particular subject, and some who would have taken a CSE, take the Higher paper; the highest grade possible in the Foundation paper is a C.

(I note, in passing, that 1986 fulfils the criterion of ‘being a year that happened after the current generation of crusty old farts finished compulsory education’.)

For more or less the following 23 years non-stop, commentators born before 1970 have failed to point out the fact that nothing has really changed – whether this is due to their idiocy or their dishonesty is not quite clear – and instead have had great fun comparing Foundation GCSE (i.e. rebadged CSEs) papers with O-level papers. They discover, shock-horror-ish-ly, that the paper the thick kids take is harder than the paper the bright kids used to take.

For example, this post from the Libertoonian Alliance links to a GCSE physics paper, fails to point out what the foundation/higher distinction means, and labels it ‘for intelligent 16 year olds’. Since the foundation questions, answered by the dumb kids, make up the first 16 pages of the test, most readers will end up skimming those, assuming they represent ‘bright kid’ questions, and hence that the paper is moronic.

But it isn’t, for the ‘higher’ section at least [**]. It’s a reasonable test for bright-ish kids of theoretical knowledge on energy and electricity, with a couple of fluffier ‘social impact of science’ questions thrown in for a total of approximately 2 marks.

So, a fail, then. But the attempts to mislead get better. In the comments section, the post author, a (but not the, one would assume) David Davis, says:

In the “further” physics papers (only for the really bright people doing what is called “separate” sciences

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

Later, he says:

Yes [this linked paper is the equivalent of an O-level paper]. Passing this, is what those who will go on to do “A” levels in the sciences will have to do.

This is what is known as ‘grossly misleading’.

In a final and epic demonstation of his elite science-y skills, he says:

I don’t know [why the paper spells sulfur correctly]. It has sort of crept in the last year or so. I thought like you do that these people were supposed to hate America, but they adopt its spelling of “sulfur”.

If you’re going to mouth off about the ignorance and evils of people setting science exams, perhaps you might want to check the conventions actual scientists have agreed with each other on how to spell words. Or not.

There might, possibly, be an actual case that there has been a dumbing-down in educational standards (damn unlikely given relative skill and literacy measures by cohort, but possible). This paper, dramatically and massively, certainly doesn’t present it, and the dishonest codgers putting it forward do themselves no favours.

[*] English words don’t require Latin plurals. Fact.

[**] with the exception of the rather bizarre question 4D (the actual answer, given the levels of ignorance of more or less everything held by people who object to planning applications for wind turbines, is ‘all of the above'; but I’ve no idea what answer the exam board wants).

99% of men are rapists or nose-pickers

I’m not a fan of violence against anyone, irrespective of their gender.

But I don’t give a toss about ‘violence against women’, any more than I give a toss about ‘violence against ginger people’ or ‘violence against taxidermists’.

If women were disproportionately likely to be the victims of violence, then perhaps there would be some sanity in focusing campaigns about violence against them. The shooting of a young black man is no more or less bad than the shooting of an old white woman, but focusing anti-gun-crime efforts on young black men does make sense, as they’re the most likely to suffer from it.

But since men are twice as likely as women to be the victims of violent crime, that logic doesn’t seem to apply here.

So, while I’d urge anyone reading this blog who commits acts of violence against people to stop, I wouldn’t be backing Amnesty’s OneTen campaign even if it were honestly promoted and based on real evidence.

But it isn’t.

According to the press release for said campaign: “Each year, around 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence”. This is an epic piece of dishonesty, and anyone with any integrity at all should rail against Amnesty for it, no matter how much they oppose wifebeating.

For one, we know, based on the most accurate data collated – the British Crime Survey linked above – that the figure is one in 40, not one in 10.

More importantly, even the one in 40 figure is for all violent crime. Bringing rape, which is perpetrated on less than one in 100 men or women, into the mix is tabloid chicanery at its absolute worst – it is the same literally true but completely misleading statistic as this piece’s headline. Anyone who quotes the incidence of something less serious, but mentions something more serious in the same sentence, is deeply suspect – no matter which particular political direction they’re trying to nudge you in.

And finally… shouldn’t Amnesty be campaigning against abuses of government power, rather than against crime? It’s as if the RSPCA were suddenly to start funding schools in Africa – whether or not it’s a good thing, it’s certainly not what they’re for.

In conclusion: 1:10pm, March 6, 2009 – Time To Finally Give Up on Amnesty International Forever.

Update: oops. Sorry. No, the people who tweeted this campaign aren’t idiots and don’t lack integrity – they’re well-meaning people who presumably didn’t expect a respected and generally good organisation like Amnesty to base its campaign on dishonesty, and who’ve been conned into repeating lies. And that’s precisely why I’m so fucking angry about it..

Is Britain really going bankrupt?



Britain is not Iceland. Iceland is the size of Coventry. Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world (although it also has the third-largest current account deficit). The pound is still a reserve currency that people want to buy, despite the efforts of the speculators. We are bankrupt only in the sense that we could not pay if all debts were called in right now – which is true of many countries. A falling pound will be good for exports, assuming there is someone to buy them. The UK’s credit rating was reaffirmed last week. The only thing that could push Britain into bankruptcy would be a full-scale panic.

Anyone who proposes a worse policy wins a prize

OK, so we appear to be in the early stages of a major recession, which may well go on for years. A whole load of people may well lose their jobs, pay rises will be a thing of the past for people who keep them, and overall incomes from working will fall substantially.

Meanwhile, inflation has fallen to pretty much nothing. Falling fuel and food prices are among the main drivers of the fall in inflation. Imported consumer goods, of the sort that kept inflation low during the boom, have risen in price due to the pound’s devaluation.

So let’s think about the people who’re left worst-off by this. Are they:
1) people living on fixed incomes (ie pensions or savings), who’re seeing their living standards remain pretty much flat, who have no chance of a catastrophic decline in incomes, and who spend disproportionately on heating;
2) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have relatively large savings to cushion the blow if anything bad happens;
3) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have debts to service that will utterly crucify them if bad things happen?

The answer, fairly obviously, is group 3. People with decent net savings are just fine: if they never had jobs, they’re insulated from anything bad happening anyway; if they have jobs now, then they can afford the time taken to find a new job if they lose the current one.

So the new Conservative party policy of punishing people in group 3 to reward people in group 1 [*] can only be viewed in two ways: either breathtaking, witless stupidity, or the intergenerational equivalent of class warfare, deliberately screwing over economically productive people even more than the recession will do anyway to give money to the elderly, who the recession won’t have any impact on. [***]

[*] in group 2, where I’m lucky enough to sit, we’ll gain slightly on the tax breaks but lose out from the spending cuts [**].

[**] To “they’ll be funded by cutting waste not productive spending”-ists, that’s not the point. If you’ve got a plan to cut waste, great – but you still need to explain why the benefits from that plan should accrue to people who’re doing fine, rather than something sensible like a rise in the income tax allowance to benefit the working poor.

[***] Of course, the working poor are busy either working or drinking themselves into a stupor to forget their miserable lives, whilst pensioners spend their time talking to Edna in the post office about absolutely nothing, and therefore voting rates for the latter group are far higher than the former. This is another reason why democracy is A Bit Pants, Even If It’s Better Than The Alternatives.

Epic political theory WIN

Andrew at LC on bloggertarians:

Libertarians almost all seem to believe that they have achieved everything in life entirely by themselves, having struggled against mighty odds and overwhelming enemies to become moderately successful computer programmers, despite the horrible disadvantages of being born white, English-speaking heterosexual males in middle-class families.

I admit this is slightly unfair: some bloggertarians are gay, and some are from upper-class families.

Constitutional clarification

Parliamentary privilege, as traditionally viewed in the UK constitution, grants MPs freedom of speech on what they say within the House of Commons. It doesn’t:

a) give them the right to run spies in the civil service; or
b) cover what they say or do outside of the House of Commons.

Its relevance to the Damian Green case, therefore, is rather limited.

Update Dec 3: Sam Coates at the Times has been doing some digging, and has found that – of course – my interpretation is correct:

Parliamentary privilege is a narrow beast. Article IX of the 1689 Bill of Rights guarantees that “Parliamentary proceedings” – anything said on the floor of the Chamber or published in Hansard – cannot be used in evidence against MPs during a prosecution. But, citing a 1999 committee report, it says Parliamentary privilege “does not embrace and protect the activities of individuals, whether members or non-members, simply because they take place within the precincts of Parliament.”

The report cites the precedent of Lord Cochrane, who was arrested in 1815 while sitting on the Government front bench in the Chamber, having escaped from prison. The arrest took place before the sitting of the of the House, and the Committee of Privileges concluded that no breach of privilege had taken place.

Terror police, arrest this man

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.

‘How Racist Are The BNP?’

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…