They call me Black Stacey

As you may have noticed, I haven’t updated for a while, as I’ve been in the poorest country outside of Africa (*) with only a mobile phone for connectivity. And while my mobile phone is more of a mini-laptop, it’s not really conducive to full-on blogging.

And while I haven’t checked rates, I’m fairly sure GPRS roaming charges in the few bits of the country where GPRS works are a billion dollars per kB…

So my online presence has been confined to Twittering (I hate ‘tweet’ as a verb to describe anything other than bird noises). You can see the latest updates on the left of the scren, or you can follow me by clicking the link there.

When I get back I’m planning to blog on:
* amusing historic leaders of Hispaniola
* French versus English colonialism
* How nearly all the mistakes made in decolonisation were visible 150 years before in Haiti
* the Citadel and King Henry Christopher
* NGOcracy and the new colonialism – not a bad thing
* the death of solitude

That’s mostly so I remember and feel obliged to actually write at least some of them, although do feel free to critique and throw peanuts based on the titles…

* my phone suggested ‘outside of France’ as an autocomplete here, which is inaccurate but bizarrely appropriate.

Yes, it’s another exciting round of Easy Answers To Simple Questions

DK:

do you think it just slightly possible that [Polly Toynbee’s] attitude, and that of her fellow [Guardian] commentators, might possibly have led to [advertisers] feeling—during these turbulent times, when costs need to be cut—that GMG, whose employees constantly attack said companies, can just fucking whistle for their business?

No. I would happily stake my life on the fact that absolutely none of the companies withdrawing advertising from GMG’s local papers have done so on the basis of the Guardian’s left-wing editorial stance. For one, that would obviously be insane; for two, the DMGT and Johnstone local titles are doing just as badly as GMG’s.

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…?

Barclayery

As far as I can make out with reference to the Grauniad/Barclays tax evasion dossier:

1) Barclays has done nothing illegal
2) Barclays hasn’t receieved any aid from the UK taxpayer.

…so this isn’t an issue.

Should Barclays request aid from the UK taxpayer at any point, its activities should, obviously, be taken into account when deciding how much of a haircut its shareholders deserve to be given. But at the moment, it’s trying to stop the UK taxpayer from making it take ‘aid’, which is kind-of the opposite…

A note to excitable conspiracy theorists

No-notice, turn-up-and-go international travel out of the UK will not, ever, be banned.

Rather than reading incoherent rants in half-witted newspapers and drawing conclusions from the information they leave out, read the actual details of the eBorders scheme:

[Passenger] data are only mandatory when they are requested to be provided at the time when passengers are on board in preparation for departure and it is no longer possible for further passengers or crew to join the service. When it is requested before that time it only needs to be provided to the extent to which it is known to the carrier.

In other words, the 24-hour rule for data communication only applies to data that the carrier happens to have, and there is no requirement at all to collect data right up until the point where everyone has boarded the plane, train or boat in question and it’s about to set off. The e-Borders programme will do absolutely nothing to restrict people’s freedom to travel – it just means that information on where they’ve been will be passed onto the government afterwards.

Fraser Nelson: ignorance and paranoia, in one simple package

RBS:

As part of our implementation of FSA guidelines around Anti-Money Laundering activities, we introduced questions on Politically Exposed Persons as part of our account opening procedures.

Genius financial columnist Nelson:

what on earth is a Politically Exposed Person?

The FSA anti-money-laundering guidelines, which have been in force for three years:

customers who, by virtue of their position in public life, are vulnerable to corruption

This isn’t earth-shattering stuff; any professional or financial services firm has to ask those questions of its clients, and RBS would be remiss for not doing so. Taking UK political party membership as an indication of PEP status was technically incorrect, but fair enough I reckon – if you’re a member of a UK political party, you’re either corrupt, stupid or massively over-optimistic…

Nelson then goes off into an insanely paranoid rant about banks asking people whether they occupy any political offices. Oh noes! A majority-government-owned institution is asking me whether I’m a political party member. The gulags surely do beckon…

If you’re worried about this, you’re a moron.

In defence of ad-hominem

One of the most tedious aspects of online debate is that, as soon as you call someone an idiot, or suggest that their argument is of the kind that would disgrace a retarded chimpanzee, they accuse you of arguing ‘ad-hominem’, which they believe to be a terrible thing.

As the holder of a philosophy degree from a mildly respected institution, I can confirm that this is bollocks.

There is a fallacy in argument called the ‘ad-hominem fallacy‘. It applies to irrelevant personal insults (or compliments) – “yes, Dave Smith is in favour of cutting the speed limit, but he drowns kittens in a sack so we shouldn’t”.

However, this is seldom the way the term is used online: normally, it’s used against two entirely legitimate forms of criticism.

1) If you make a revolting argument and I call it revolting, that’s legitimate comment, not ad-hominem (if you make a revolting argument and I call you fat and ugly, that would have been ad-hominem.)

2) If your background suggests strong and unreasoned partisanship for a particular cause, then it’s more reasonable for me to doubt the factual underpinnings of your case (clearly, not the logic of whether your conclusions flow through your premises) than for an impartial observer.

Since all real-life argument outside of thought experiment relies on accepting some evidence that you’re unable to verify yourself, this means that it’s reasonable to form different opinions on the same argument presented by two different people.

For example, imagine a discussion on lowering the age of consent, as presented by a) a well-respected child psychologist b) a notorious paedophile…

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).

The idle musings of John B